NPR - As it stands now, Amtrak pays private companies in the center of the country to run its low-speed passenger trains on freight-rail tracks. But high-speed trains would need their own tracks, depriving the freight-rail system of some of that revenue.
How to build a high-speed system without hurting the freight industry is a problem that has not yet been solved, says professor Christopher Barkan, director of the RailTEC center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"The freight railroad network is a great asset to our economy and environment," he says, "and we need to be careful that expansion of passenger service does not harm the viability of that efficient freight-rail transit system we've developed."
...Edward Hamberger is the president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, a freight-rail industry group.
"We have 140,000 miles of track, an interconnected network that binds this country together," he says.
"Not everyone knows that the freight-rail system in America is privately owned. This year alone America's private freight companies will spend $24.5 billion — that's 40 cents of every revenue dollar — back into the infrastructure in terms of new locomotives, railroad ties, miles of track, signal systems, rail cars," he says.
Hamberger says freight rail is a geographic necessity in America.
"In the U.S., with 3,000 miles from coast to coast, we better have a pretty effective, efficient and cost-effective way of moving that freight just to get to ports so we can compete in world markets," he says.
Even though freight trains are heavier and slower than trucks, they're more fuel-efficient, and therefore more cost-effective. Plus, many American highways and bridges need infrastructure repair.
But most Americans don't see trains every day, like they do trucks. So Hamberger says their idea of the railroad is kind of out of date.