In a good post on HSR Yglesias makes a common sorta-true observation:
Now a separate question is whether there’s any feasible way to actually do this in a country that doesn’t have a French (or Chinese) level of central political authority empowered to build straight tracks through people’s suburban backyards. The answer seems to be “no.”
Of course it would be very difficult to build a sufficiently straight right of way through sprawling single-family subdevelopments, much less a place like Greenwood. As luck would have it, however, we’ve built very straight, wide, reasonably graded rights of way between all our major cities via the interstate highway system.
Although building local transit lines in the freeway is a suboptimal choice, HSR has limited stops. Building connecting tracks into the center of cities, or linking with existing tracks for these stops, is comparative child’s play, and can even enforce discipline with respect to the number of stops between major destinations.
That’s not to say that we’re on the cusp of change; for starters, Washington’s 18th amendment would almost certainly prevent taking lanes in places where the median wasn’t wide enough. And there are undoubtedly lots of necessary projects beyond putting down tracks and stringing wire. But the necessary political change is “merely” a shift from total preeminence of the car, rather than a sudden willingness to have bullet trains in the backyard. It’s clear to me that if true bullet trains are ever going to happen in the Northwest it’ll be this way.