There’s a vast potential market for composite engineered products in high speed rail, so why isn’t it going anywhere?

Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR), spent two and a half hours on a train traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City on his way to a recent high speed rail conference. If a new proposal by Amtrak to implement a high-speed rail train capable of reaching 125 mph is accepted by Congress, that same trip would take only one hour and thirty minutes. To Kunz and many others, time is not the only benefit of high-speed rail in the U.S. A new train system would mean adding additional tracks and new electric trains, equating to more jobs and a niche for composites parts.

In preparation for future implementation, groups like the California High-Speed Rail Project (CA HSR) have specified that it will use steel-on-steel engineering and steel wheels on a steel track. However, composites could be used to help lightweight train bodies and several other interior and exterior car applications. For example, composites were used on several interior applications for Amtrak’s Acela trains, implemented in 2004, and internationally, train companies are researching new ways to use composite components in lighter, faster trains. So, what exactly is the hold up? Can the U.S. expect to see high speed rail anytime soon and if so, will that equate to more contracts for composite manufactured parts?

Destination: Who’s on board HSR


Exterior livery / Exterior view of the AGV Italo in December 2011.

Today the U.S. train system lags far behind other leading countries, for example Spain, France and Japan, which have been using high speed trains since the 1950s. Within Asia, the Japanese bullet train was introduced in 1964, and the newer MagLev Train in Shanghai can zip tourists from the airport to downtown (an 18 mile journey) in five minutes. In comparison, the U.S. Dulles International Airport (28 miles from downtown Washington, D.C.) is not accessible by train, which means international visitors must take shuttles to connect to area transportation. Regan National Airport (only 3 miles south of Washington D.C.) is still a 15 minute journey on light rail. Washington, D.C., isn’t the only city to blame, New York City and other cities around the country are just as difficult to access via public transportation.