Why are Amtrak trains so slow?
Looking at the legal and operational framework
Amtrak trains usually operate at about 2/3 of the technically possible speed on curvy track, and could operate at about 1/2 of the technically possible speed on really steep curvy mountain routes. This result is rather easy to compute, and easy to state as a fact. Unfortunately, finding the reason is far more complicated, because there isn't a single one. There are multiple reasons, and interdependencies between them. The most important points are:
- Railroads in the USA have a special traffic function, replacing the ocean traffic of other areas on the planet.
- Influence of railroad organization and traffic policies, especially regarding public infrastructure investment.
- Track maintenance procedures, and their influence on track geometry.
- The special history of US railroad operation.
- Quality of regulations.