This is a great article from Forbes comparing the two (two!) high speed rail operators in Italy. This is true high speed rail -- 200 mph peak travel -- with brand new, modern trains running on electricity (not foreign oil). And they have two companies making it happen!
The second paragraph in particular is most compelling to a policy wonk like me as an example of policy development:
Right now, Italy is Europe’s cutting-edge country when it comes to high-speed trains. It not only has two versions, but they’re competing in a socialist-capitalist drama. In one corner is Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa, Italy’s state-owned TGV, and in the other, the privately owned Italo, which launched in April.
Italo competes with TrenItalia’s Frecciarossa on the country’s two major trunk routes: Milan to Naples and Turin to Venice. Now, before you red staters start to cheer, let me introduce two other relevant facts. Italo exists because in 2003 the Italian parliament passed a law that ended the government train monopoly, but more pertinent, starting around that time, the state built an entirely new system of high-speed track to create the Frecciarossa. (There are some spectacular runs over viaducts and, on the Milan-Florence route, an astounding traverse of tunnels.) And before you blue-staters start groaning, Italo doesn’t get a free ride: It pays the Italian government about $156 million annually to use the high-speed infrastructure.
The lesson for us: the government should build brand-new passenger-only, electrified railroad tracks. And then the government should allow any private company to use these new tracks to run their own trains if they pay a fee -- in Italy's case, $156 million a year.
That's what the Illinois Tollway Authority can do now, thanks to a new law signed by Governor Quinn in August of this year. They should start work on costing out new tracks and then see what toll revenue it would take to finance those new tracks.
Every tollway or turnpike in the country that build and maintains roads should also get in the business of building new high-speed electrified tracks, paid for by tolling the train companies that use them.
Wouldn't it be great to have a few different choices of which high-speed train to take to get around (all of which used electricity instead of foreign oil)? Italy has figured it out. We just have to implement the same public policy of the government building the tracks and paying for it with tolls from private train companies to get similar results.