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Seattle PI
Scott Gutierrez

Investing in high-speed rail in the U.S. could help conserve energy and relieve traffic congestion as travelers switch from cars and short inter-city flights to more efficient trains, according to a new report released Wednesday from the Washington Public Interest Research Group.

The report, titled "A Track Record of Success: High-Speed Rail Around the World and Its Promise for America," points to examples in Europe and Japan, where high-speed rail networks already exist and whisk travelers between cities such as London and Paris in a few hours.

"In the United States, similar shifts would ease congestion in the skies and offer alternatives to congested highways, reducing the need for expensive new investments in highways and airports," the report says. "Short-haul plane trips are the least efficient in terms of time and fuel, and replacing those trips allows air travel to be more efficient and focused on long-haul trips."

The report also points to Amtrak Acela Express service in the northeastern U.S., which is slow by international standards, but still accounts for 65 percent of the air/rail market on trips between New York and Washington, D.C., and 52 percent of the air/rail market on trips between Boston and New York, according to the report.

The Obama administration awarded $8 billion in stimulus money this year to enhance the nation's rail networks. Washington state received $640 million to make track improvements and increase the number of trains between Seattle and Portland. It won't mean bullet trains in the Northwest anytime soon, but will lead to improvements in the reliability and performance of Amtrak Cascades, meaning faster trips.

According to the report, high-speed rail could serve as a back-up or alternative to short flights between cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. The report cites research by the Brookings Institution showing flights of 500 miles or fewer accounted for almost half of all flights in the U.S. and 30 percent of all passengers in the 12-month.

"Trips of 155 miles consume approximately 40 percent more energy per seat-mile than trips of more than 625 miles in the same aircraft," according to the report. It's a distance that is increasingly served by high-speed rail in other countries.

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