But when our Federal government defines these terms, it isn’t all that it should be.
High Speed Rail (HSR)
Take “high speed” rail, for an example. Now, when I think of that term, I’m thinking the Bullet Train in Japan or the TGV in France. Speeds over 150 mph up to 200 mph, and maybe faster.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
BRT is supposed to be a blending of buses and rapid transit. So, it should be as fast as rail rapid transit (like a subway), but cheaper to build with buses and simple pavement replacing more costly and complex rails, power and signals systems.
In theory, the buses would run on a separate busway or a highway HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane, therefore traveling “rapidly” (say, 40 to 60 mph) between stations.
In Boston, the Silver Line is considered BRT. There’s the Washington Street Silver Line, where the bus has a bus lane and some advantages (pre-emption) at the frequent traffic lights. So, maybe between stops and red lights, the bus may get up to about 25 to 30 mph. But when you add in time waiting for lights, the speed averages maybe 15 or 20 mph. What’s so rapid about that? Many in Roxbury and the South End know we’re not talking travel times equivalent to the long-gone elevated Orange Line on Washington Street.
Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line
Another local speed misnomer is the least know segment of Boston’s rail transit system – the trolley line between Ashmont and Mattapan. When it opened on August 29, 1929, it was truly “high speed.” A typical trolley line ran in city streets, which was fairly slow going. The “High Speed” line was built along a partially abandoned rail line, avoiding city streets, and reaching “high speeds” up to 30 mph.
Today, the line still runs, with streetcars approaching 70 years old, still reaching speeds approaching 30 mph. But to many, it’s still known as the High Speed Line.
Speed certainly isn't what it used to be!