Restarting Amtrak’s System from Scratch

US Rail Map 1

I’ve always thought that Amtrak would really have a go at success if it had a more comprehensive network of routes and stations. It’s difficult as-is to get on a train and go anywhere in the U.S. That’s a problem because people don’t want to take the train just to have to drive five hours more upon arrival.

So, I messed around a bit, pretended that bullet trains were here, that topography didn’t matter, and that funding was unlimited, and came up with a new network plan for our rail system.

Because it was for fun and does not represent a serious proposal, the rules were somewhat loose. All metro areas with a population over two million in population were designated bullet rail hubs (adding Billings, MT to complete the national grid), which I defined as being able to get on the train and go basically any direction. All metro areas above one million were secondary hubs, meaning they must be connected to the bullet rail. In addition, states without a metro area meeting this criteria still received a secondary hub. All other metro areas were connected to the bullet rail directly when possible, but otherwise using a quick, automated light rail network. As-is, this puts the rail network within 25 miles of nearly 280 million people, nearly 90% of our country’s residents. Any of these residents would be able to travel by rail to any other metro area in the lower 48 states within 20 hours, theoretically. All with fuel that can be renewable (biodiesel, electric) and far less carbon footprint (excepting the massive infrastructure circus).

After I made that map and slept, I saw a few things I didn’t like and made a second version:

US Rail Map 2

Cross-posted to

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.