I agree with Atrios–while high-speed trains would be technologically groovy, trains that actually got somewhere quickly would be a major, albeit unsexy, improvement (italics mine):
As for inter-city rail, I certainly support it too on the grounds that driving long distances and flying really suck. Flying sucks more than it used to for various reasons, and it is unlikely to suck less anytime soon. Having to travel to the airport, arrive early, deal with the various indignities and potential delays, the discomfort of airline cabins, extra time at the other end waiting for baggage, the need, most places, to throw down a large sum for a cab ride or car rental, to then travel a fairly long distance to the city center, all make for an extended unpleasant experience. Good trains are fast and smooth, easily competitive with air travel up to 400 miles or so, even if they aren’t truly super supertrains. The ride is more comfortable. You can get up and walk around, pay a visit to the bar car. Doing some sort of work while riding is much more of a realistic option than it is on plane. As is a quality nap.
But there’s a basic problem with trains right now.
The Acela ‘high-speed express’ takes three-and-a-half hours to get from Boston to Penn Station, a trip of roughly 215 miles. That’s a realized speed of 60 mph, and this train has no stops. You could drive there faster (during off hours).
Imagine if the realized speed was 90 mph. But because our train system is underfunded and underequipped, the Acela has to share rights-of-way with other trains (freight and regular Amtrak). So we get a train system that really doesn’t work.