Spring, 1990

I’m waiting on a train.

My grandparent's home in Dowagiac. The Amtrak zips along in a field behind this house. Source: Author's Father.

My grandparents live on a narrow cul-de-sac just north of a small town in Michigan. Behind the house, down the hill and across a big field of corn lie the tracks for Amtrak’s Blue Water and Wolverine routes from Chicago to Detroit and Port Huron. I’m seven, I’m in second grade, and I spend a lot of time at this house. Four times a day, the iconic locomotive zips across the field and out of sight behind some scrubby trees, the stainless steel glinting in the sun. The tracks are pretty far away, but the whistle is loud and clear across the field and always draws my attention.

The train is a time traveler itself, the lost American vehicle of our ancestors, or perhaps our past selves.
Tom Zoellner

My grandpa and I watch the train from the back porch. I remember asking him the same questions again and again. I know it’s a train, and I know that trains take people places, but I don’t understand why we never take it anywhere since it runs right behind the house. “We have cars now, Missy,” is always his answer. Then who takes the train? “Other people take the train, to Detroit and to Chicago,” he says. But not us? “Nope, not us.” Why not? “Because we have cars now.” Ok. Maybe someday we’ll take the train? “Yes, maybe someday.” This conversation repeats itself for years, and I never really understand what makes us different from the people who take the train. But even at such a young age, the conversation with my grandpa makes it clear to me that trains are a part of America’s past: something that has been replaced by cars and planes.

Me and Grandpa at Hesston Steam Museum in La Porte, Indiana. Source: Grandma.

In many ways, this project is an attempt to resolve those circular conversations about the fate and future of the American railroad. To even begin to address these questions, I needed to know about the history of the railroad and urbanism in nineteenth and twentieth century America, as well as the history of the railroad and the urbanism of high-speed rail in several international contexts. I would also be remiss if I didn’t attempt to apply some of my research in the form of a case study. Yet such a broad research inquiry was really too much to tackle in a two-year fellowship. So my approach was tactical: a broad grounding of the spatial implications of the railroad in America (Part 1), a deeper analysis of international examples of high-speed rail (Part 2), and a brief, experimental application of the research in a case study (Part 3). In reality, I could have spent two years on each of these parts alone, and would have enjoyed doing so.


In order to cover all this ground in just two years, I have relied heavily on the important research of others: geographer John C. Hudson, historians Christian Wolmar and Paul Wallace Gates, authors James McCommon, Jacob Meunier, and Tom Zoellner, and urban designer Rob Lane’s work on megaregions have been of particular help. I’ve also traveled extensively, exploring nineteen countries, wandering through hundreds of cities and train stations, and riding a variety of trains on over 36,000 miles of track. (For reference, that’s about 1.5 times around the Earth.) I’ve read articles and books, visited museums, met with planners and government agencies, talked with my mentors, worked with my friends, and argued with my editor. But more than anything, I just rode the trains and observed the passengers, the stations, the cities, and the nations at the forefront of high-speed rail—it is these observations that inform the bulk of the research.

The completion of this project is, in no small way, attributable to a number of people who supported me by graciously offering their time for conversation, advice, and the sharing of knowledge. Although I had a wonderful network of support throughout the research, any errors or oversights are mine alone and suggestions for improvement will be welcomed. I offer a humble thank-you to the following people and organizations:

  • • Mike Borsare
  • • Ryan Bruels
  • • Ashley Dunn
  • • Christian Ervin
  • • Dongsei Kim
  • Nicolas Rivard, Urban Designer, Overland Partners
  • Lizzie MacWille, Project Manager, bc Studio
  • Emily McMillan, Designer, bc Studio
  • Chris Lazaro, Urban Planner, City of San Antonio
  • Antonio Petrov, Professor, University of Texas San Antonio
  • Ryan Westrom
  • Maite Pena-Alcaraz
  • James McCommon
  • Tom Hane, Site Manager, B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicot City Station
  • California State High Speed Rail Authority
  • Rob Lane, RPA
  • Petra Todorovich-Messick, Amtrak
  • • Greg Nemes and his design team at Work-Shop
  • • Matthew Bennett at Cascadia Editors Collective
  • • Tom Klein, Research Assistant
  • • Britt Ambruson, Research Assistant
  • • Sophie Bignet, Research Assistant
  • • The Boston Architectural College Library
  • • The Baker Library at the Harvard Business School
  • • The Loeb Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Special thanks to Prof. Alex Krieger, for his constant support, helpful advice, and the occasional pep talk; to Mr. Ron Druker, patron of the Druker Traveling Fellowship; and to the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University for administering the fellowship and supporting the research with access to academic resources.

Boston, MA San Diego, CA Zaragoza, Spain Bordeaux, France Prien am Chiemsee, Austria
Narita, Japan Dallas, TX Camp de Tarragona, Spain Versailles, France Leipzig, Germany
Tokyo, Japan Fort Worth, TX Llieda, Spain Nantes, France Erfurt, Germany
Yokohoma, Japan San Antonio, TX Vilanova, Spain Rennes, France Berlin, Germany
Nagano, Japan New Orleans, LA Sitges, Spain Strasborg, France Dresden, Germany
Utsonomiya, Japan Salisbury, NC Girona, Spain Massy, France Copenhagen, Denmark
Nikko, Japan Raleigh, NC Valletta, Malta Chessy, France Stockholm, Sweden
Omiya, Japan Washington DC Pozzallo, Italy Lille, France Turku, Finland
Kyoto, Japan Baltimore, MD Catania, Italy Brussells, Belgium Helsinki, Finland
Nara, Japan Reykjavik, Iceland Salerno, Italy Bruge, Belgium St Petersburg, Russia
Nagoya, Japan London, England Naples, Italy Antwerp, Belgium Moscow, Russia
Osaka, Japan Ashford, England Pietrarsa. Italy Den Haag, Netherlands Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Hiroshima, Japan Swindon, England Rome, Itlay Rotterdam, Netherlands Beijing, China
Kagoshima, Japan Birmingham, England Florence, Italy Utrecht, Netherlands Shanghai, China
Kumamoto, Japan Milton Keynes, England Bologna, Italy Amsterdam, Netherlands Nanjing, China
Nagasaki, Japan Derby, England Padova, Italy Kiex, Ukraine Hefei, China
Dowagiac, MI York, England Venice, Italy Istanbul, Turkey Wuhan, China
Seattle, WA Edinburgh, Scotland Verona, Italy Pendik, Turkey Chongqing, China
San Jose, CA Faro, Portugal Milan, Italy Ankara, Turkey Chengdu, China
Gilroy, CA Porto, Portugal Torino, Italy Izmir, Turkey Lhasa, Tibet
Bakersfield, CA Lisbon, Portugal Arona, Italy Vienna, Austria Shigatse, Tibet
Corcoran, CA Madrid, Spain Novarra, Italy Hannover, Germany Guangzhou, China
Merced, CA Valencia, Spain Tirano, Italy Bremen, Germany Hong Kong, China
Modesto, CA Alicante, Spain St Moritz, Switzerland Münster, Germany Busan, South Korea
Sacramento, CA Albacete, Spain Lucerne, Switzerland Essen, Germany Daegu, South Korea
San Francisco, CA Seville, Spain Mulhouse, France Köln, Germany Seoul, South Korea
Emeryville, CA Córdoba, Spain Lyon, France Frankfurt, Germany Iksan, South Korea
Glenwood Springs, CO Valladolid, Spain Paris, France Freiburg, Germany Mokpo, South Korea
Chicago, MA Medina del Campo, Spain Dijon, France Mannheim, Germany Yongsan, South Korea
Utica, NY Ourense, Spain Nîmes, France Stuttgart, Germany Incheon, South Korea
Los Angeles, CA Santiago de Compostela, Spain Avignon, France Nuremburg, Germany
Portland, OR A Coruña, Spain Nice, France Salzburg, Germany
New York City, NY Barcelona, Spain Marseilles, France Munich, Germany

Narita Airport Station, Japan Estação de Porto Campanhã, Portugal Gare de Nîmes, France Alexanderplatz, Germany
Ueno Station, Japan Estação de Lisboa Oriente, Portugal Gare d'Avignon-Centre, France Leipzig Hauptbahnof, Germany
Shin-Yokohama Station, Japan Madrid Puerta de Atocha, Spain Gare de Nice-Ville, France Erfurt Hauptbahnof, Germany
Nagano Station, Japan Estación de Valencia Joaquin Sorolla, Spain Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, France Berlin Hauptbahnof, Germany
Utsonomiya Station, Japan Estación de Alicante, Spain Gare de Bordeaux-Saint-Jean, France Dresden Hauptbahnof, Germany
Nikko Station, Japan Estación de Albacete, Spain Gare Montparnasse, France Berlin Südkreuz, Germany
Omiya Station, Japan Estación de Seville Santa Justa, Spain Gare Saint Lazare, France Copenhagen Central Station, Denmark
Kyoto Station, Japan Estación de Córdoba, Spain Gare Versailles-Rive Gauche, France Stockholm Central Station, Sweden
Nara Station, Japan Estación de Madrid Chamartín, Spain Gare de Nantes, France Turku Satama, Finland
Nagoya Station, Japan Estación de Valladolid-Campo Grande, Spain Gare de Rennes, France Helsingin Päärautatieasema, Finland
Shin-Osaka Station, Japan Estación de Medina del Campo, Spain Gare de L'Est, France St Petersburg Finlandski Station, Russia
Hiroshima Station, Japan Estación de Ourense, Spain Gare de Strasbourg, France St Petersburg Moskovsky Station, Russia
Kagoshima Station, Japan Estación de Santiago de Compostela, Spain Gare de Massy TGV, France Moscow Leningradsky Station, Russia
Kumamoto Station, Japan Estación de San Cristóbal A Coruña, Spain Gare du Nord, France Moscow Airport Station, Russia
Nagasaki Station, Japan Estación de Barcelona Sants, Spain Charles de Gaulle TGV, France Beijing Airport Station, China
Emeryville Station, California, USA Estación de Zaragoza Delicias, Spain Marne-la-Vallée Chessy TGV, France Beijing South Railway Station, China
Glenwood Springs Station, California, USA Estación de Camp de Tarragona, Spain Gare de Lille Flandres, France Beijing Railway Station, China
Chicago Union Station, Illinois, USA Estación de Lleida-Pirineus, Spain Gare de Lille Europe, France Beijing North Railway Station, China
Boston South Station, Massachusetts, USA Estación de Vilanova, Spain Gare de Bruxelles-Midi, Belgium Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, China
Utica Union Station, New York, USA Estación de Sitges, Spain Bruge Railway Station, Belgium Longyang Road Maglev Station, China
Los Angeles Union Station, California, USA Estación de Girona, Spain Antwerp Centraal Station, Belgium Pudong Airport Maglev Station, China
Bakersfield Station, California, USA Stazione di Catania Centrale, Italy Den Haag Centraal Station, Netherlands Shanghai Central Railway Station, China
Sacramento Station, California, USA Stazione di Salerno Centrale, Italy Rotterdam Centraal Station, Netherlands Shanghai South Railway Station, China
Portland Union Station, Oregon, USA Stazione di Napoli Centrale, Italy Utrecht Centraal Station, Netherlands Shanghai West Railway Station, China
Seattle King Street Station, Washington, USA Pietrarsa San Giorgio a Cremano, Italy Amsterdam Centraal Station, Netherlands Nanjing South Railway Station, China
NYC Penn Station, New York, USA Stazione di Roma Termini, Italy Amsterdam Airport Station, Netherlands Nanjing Railway Station, China
San Diego Station, California, USA Stazione di Roma Tiburtina, Italy Pendik Tren Istasyonu, Turkey Hefei South Railway Station, China
Dallas Union Station, Texas, USA Stazione di Roma Ostiense, Italy Ankara Garı, Turkey Beijing West Railway Station, China
Ft. Worth T&P Station, Texas, USA Stazione di Firenze Santa Maria Novella, Italy Basmane Gar, Turkey Wuhan Railway Station, China
Ft. Worth Intermodal Transportation Center, Texas, USA Stazione di Bologna Centrale, Italy Vienna Airport Station, Austria Hankou Station, China
San Antonio Station, Texas, USA Stazione di Padova, Italy Wien Rennweg, Austria Chongqing North Railway Station, China
New Orleans Union Station, Louisiana, USA Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, Italy Wien Hauptbahnof, Austria Chengdu Station, China
Salisbury Station, North Carolina, USA Verona Porta Nuova, Italy Wien Meidling, Austria Chengdu East Railway Station, China
Raleigh Station, Virginia, USA Stazione di Milano Centrale, Italy Wien Westbahnof, Austria Xigatse Railway Station, Tibet
Union Station, Washington DC, USA Turin Porta Nuova, Italy Hannover Hauptbahnof, Germany Lhasa Railway Station, Tibet
Baltimore Penn Station, Maryland, USA Stazione di Milano Garibaldi, Italy Bremen Hauptbahnof, Germany Guangzhou East Railway Station, China
Dowagiac Union Station, Michigan, USA Stazione di Rho Fiera EXPO Milano 2015, Italy Münster Hauptbahnof, Germany Guangzhou Railway Station, China
King's Cross Station, England Arona Railway Station, Italy Essen Hauptbahnof, Germany Hong Kong Kowloon Station, China
Ashford Railway Station, England Stazione di Novarra, Italy Köln Hauptbahnof, Germany Hong Kong Airport Station, China
Ashford International Railway Station, England Turin Porta Susa, Italy Frankfurt Flughafen, Germany Busan Station, South Korea
Paddington Station, England Stazione di Tirano, Italy Frankfurt Hauptbahnof, Germany Dongdaegu Station, South Korea
Swindon Station, England Bahnhof St. Moritz, Switzerland Freiburg Hauptbahnof, Germany Yongsan Station, South Korea
Birmingham New Street Station, England Luzern Railway Station, Switzerland Mannheim Hauptbahnof, Germany Iksan Station, South Korea
Milton Keynes Station, England Gare de Mulhouse Ville, France Stuttgart Hauptbahnof, Germany Mokpo Station, South Korea
Derby Station, England Gare de Lyon-Part-Dieu, France Nuremburg Hauptbahnof, Germany Seoul Station, South Korea
York Station, England Gare de Lyon, Paris, France Salzburg Hauptbahnof, Germany Uiwang Station, South Korea
Edinburgh Station, Scotland Gare de Dijon-Ville, France Munich Hauptbahnof, Germany Incheon Airport Station, South Korea
Estação de Faro, Portugal Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupéry, France Bahnhof Prien am Chiemsee, Germany


I am happy to share all of the data I have collected and generated as a part of this research. Please contact me via email if you would like to discuss this project and my findings.


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