Jul 26, 2022 - News

What if Salt Lake had high speed rail?

Illustration of a multi-colored train moving fast towards the viewer.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

American rail travel is famously nightmarish, but it's even worse when you look at what other countries have.

  • Not only is rail travel faster in Europe and Asia, it's often incredibly cheap compared to U.S. travel.
  • The train from Paris to Barcelona costs less than $40 — "like NYC to Columbus for the price of a meal," as one writer recently noted.

State of play: Gas is extremely expensive in Utah, with the average price still nearly $5 per gallon. Having the option to travel by high speed rail could be easier on Utahns' wallets.

  • Mass transit has big environmental benefits as well.

Our thought bubble: So what if we had high-speed rail here in Salt Lake? Where could we go, how long would it take, and how much would it cost compared to driving?

Details: For a fair comparison, we looked at cities that are roughly the same population as the Salt Lake metro area and found destinations that are a similar driving distance to cities in the western United States.

  • The cost of a one-way drive is calculated using a car that gets 25 miles per gallon (the U.S. average) and the price of gas averaged for Utah and the states en route to the destination.

By the numbers: Both the cost and travel time are way less in many cities.

A list comparing driving routes in the Western USA to train routes of similar length in other countries.

Even where the cost was higher (see: Japan), travel time was way lower and vice versa.

  • What's an extra hour to Portland when you don't have to drive and it costs half as much?
A list comparing driving routes in the western USA to train routes in other countries.

What's next: Probably nothing. There are a lot of reasons high speed rail hasn't taken off in the U.S.: Low population density, a reverent car culture, and a comparatively thin history of rail travel in general.

Yes, but: That hasn't stopped us from dreaming.


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