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Why California Needs High-Speed Rail, in Real Time—Updated

Right now my mother is on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, paralleling California’s Highway 101 south, on her way to visit me in Santa Barbara. Her train was scheduled to leave Emeryville, California, at 8:25 am. The train left four hours and five minutes late, at 12:30. I just checked Amtrak’s estimated arrival time into Santa Barbara: instead of the normal 6:02 arrival, Amtrak tells me today's train will arrive at 9:18 p.m. Yeah, that isn't going to happen.

Mom just texted me from Salinas, California. Which means that the train she is on has traveled 100 miles, at an average speed of 29 miles per hour. From Salinas to Santa Barbara is 220 miles. If she does arrive at 9:10—five hours from now—her train will be doing an average of 44 miles per hour. Seems way within reasonable, right?

Nope. On any normal day, the Amtrak Coast Starlight is schedule to leave Emeryville at 8:25, and arrive at 6:02. It always takes 9.5 hours to make the 320-mile trip from Emeryville to Santa Barbara. An average of 33.68 miles per hour. That is the normal speed! (Already, each time I check the update status, the arrival slides later and later.)

Mom and I will drive back north this weekend, at an average of 70 miles per hour, making the 320-mile drive in about five hours—including pit stops.

(Why didn’t Mom fly? It’s nearly $350 for the one-hour flight from San Francisco to Santa Barbara—and don’t get me started on the frustratingly few number of flights that go into Santa Barbara from the Bay Area. Amtrak is $75.)

UPDATE: Mom arrived at 11:07 p.m. (I feel asleep waiting for her.) That means her train moved at the lightening speed of 28 miles per hour on average. On the up side, she had enjoyable conversations with a number of interesting fellow passengers.