No time is wasted. The bullet train is moving all the time. If there are 30 stations between Beijing and Guangzhou, just stopping and accelerating again at each station will waste both energy and time. A mere 5 min stop per station (elderly passengers cannot be hurried) will result in a total loss of 5 min x 30 stations or 2.5 hours of train journey time!
Factor in slowdown/speedup time and it's even longer. (thx, nick)
A 4,000-mph magnetically levitated train could allow you to have lunch in Manhattan and still get to London in time for the theater, despite the 5-hour time difference. It's not impossible: Norway has studied neutrally buoyant tunnels (concluding that they're feasible, though expensive), and Shanghai is running maglev trains to its airport. But supersonic speeds require another critical step: eliminating the air -- and therefore air friction -- from the train's path. A vacuum would also save the tunnel from the destructive effects of a sonic boom, which, unchecked, could potentially rip the tunnel apart.
A raspy-voiced woman in her 40s, one of the engineers, calls down from the cab and invites a few of us to come take a look. Without hesitation we clamber up. She tells us that they're off duty, as her partner, a mustachioed, red-faced man with faded tattoos, nods. When engineers hit their driving quota, apparently, they're done. It's an unbendable rule. "They knew, though," the woman says, speaking of Amtrak. "They should have had someone here." So this could've been prevented? "Oh yeah," the man says, "but leave it to them and they'll fuck it up." And so we wait, in the middle of nowhere, for new engineers. After a couple of hours a truck pulls up with the new drivers.
In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.
Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.
Train travel, particularly high-speed train travel, should be *the* way to get anywhere on the East Coast, mid-to-southern California/Vegas, and between moderately large cities clustered together (Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit; Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston; Florida; Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa; Portland, Seattle, Vancouver; etc.).
Could European airlines such as Air France-KLM, Lufthansa or Ryanair lose business as high-speed rail service expands? After all, the Eurostar now carries more than 70 percent of passenger traffic between London and Paris. And air service between Paris and Brussels has ended altogether now that trains connect those cities in 1 hour and 20 minutes.