Connecting cities with unprecedented speed, comfort, and convenience, high-speed rail has redefined the experience of intercity travel worldwide. High-speed rail is synonymous with sleek, modern trains that cruise between cities with ever increasing speed. Internationally, train velocities above 200 kph (124 mph) are considered high-speed, whereas the United States Federal Railroad Administration uses a substandard of 110 mph. Once viewed as the technical ceiling for rail velocity, the current standard operating velocity ranges from 156 to 220 mph for wheel on rail, and beyond 250 mph for magnetically levitated vehicles along special guideways.
Inherently, politicians are quick to call any rail service in excess of their local benchmark high-speed rail. Under this definition of new rail service, does any moderately fast train qualify as a high-speed train? For example, Acela Express service operated by Amtrak (America’s National Railroad Passenger Corporation) may attain speeds of 150 mph, although only briefly since the train operates on shared track. Promoted as high-speed service, the train averages velocities less than 90 mph. This service is not radically different than traditional train service, and certainly does not redefine the experience of intercity travel or offer greater mobility to the population. “Current discussions of high-speed rail programs and policies sometimes fail to clearly distinguish” between shared and dedicated track infrastructure.  Among the benefits associated with dedicated trackage, it should be noted that maximum speed is only one component of high-speed rail (HSR) service.
Bringing people, their ideas, and urban locations closer together, a new context of intercity connectivity is realized. Specifically designed, grade-separated HSR passenger corridors offer punctual service at speeds in excess of 187 mph, coupled with a record of unsurpassed safety and reliability. Whereas highways and airports require wide tracts of land, high-speed lines simply require straight and level track alignments over viaducts and through tunnels. Too often modern transportation infrastructure lacks harmony with the environment as a result of scale and visibility, however as a result of HSR’s limited right-of-way requirement, the structural engineer has the unique opportunity to design elegant bridges and viaducts to promote a barrier free landscape. Reversing the trend of wasteful land and energy use for intercity transportation, HSR offers practical solutions to society’s growing environmental concerns while allowing “for the establishment of more solid relations between the small urban centers and the large cities.” 
Icons to the advancement of society, new avant-garde stations have become an enjoyable part of the journey and integral fabric of cities. Historically, railway stations took shape during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Inspired by function, “‘cathedrals of transport under the canopy of the railway heaven made from glass and steel’ were created.”  Today, “railway architecture has entered its second great age . . . the revival is prompted by . . . the advent of the high-speed train,” along with “the reemergence of the structural engineer as a creator of station architecture.”  The role of the modern station is perhaps best demonstrated by stations located within the urban context.
Promoting urban development, conveniently located stations are increasingly essential to a city’s economic success. At the confluence of pedestrian-friendly avenues, urban stations have the opportunity to engage the city around. “Great cities have vibrant urban districts. These exist at a variety of scales that range from very dense downtown core areas to medium density mixed-use districts focused around commuter transit facilities.”  Attracting customers in transit, retail has long taken advantage of the high volume of foot-traffic in and around stations. However, Santiago Calatrava points out that within some stations “you get the feeling that you are in a shopping mall,” and it is therefore important to maintain logical organization of a station’s layout.
Portal between train and urban landscape, the station provides access to infrastructure with an inviting character. Whereas “airports are always out of town and do not affect our daily experience of living in, or being a visitor to, a city. The train station provides not only a first impression of a city, it is also our point of reference while in that city.”  Offering service directly between city centers, high-speed train service benefits from a significant reduction in overall travel time associated with the journey to and from the airport. Additionally, rail passengers benefit from less wait time and delays resulting from security and weather.
Surpassing the experience of flying, a comfortable ride can be expected onboard sleek high-speed trains. The modern train typically provides a comfortable environment featuring ergonomically designed seats with ample leg room in all classes. Conducive to business, select high-speed trains have wireless internet along with electrical connections from every seat, and premier trains offer conference rooms for a private meeting on the go.
Where built, HSR has often entered into competition with airlines, often putting air routes out of business. While this may adversely affect some airlines, other airlines have formed beneficial transportation alliances with high-speed rail operators, allowing passengers to seamlessly connect at airport stations to regional high-speed service. For underserved rural destinations, this in turn helps airlines reduce unprofitable short-haul flights. As evidence of improved appreciation for HSR service, net profits in 2009 from HSR service reached six billion dollars worldwide—tripled from the year 2000. 
Investment for HSR is frequently the source of intense transportation policy debate. Often government funded and reliant on subsidized fares, opponents cite “that virtually no HSR lines anywhere in the world have earned enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs.”  While this is true with the exception of the world’s first high-speed lines in Japan and France, this narrow perspective fails to recognize the indirect, diverse economic benefits beyond the platform’s edge. Promoting commerce, governments worldwide already subsidize transportation infrastructure. Recognized as a practical investment to alleviate future highway and airport congestion while promoting interregional and urban development; HSR offers a superior mode of intercity transportation that also meets strategic energy and environmental goals associated with petroleum consumption.
The advantages of a well-developed HSR system are clear. Although this report is not a study of the HSR’s potential economic benefits, measures of societal impact must not be based solely on ticket revenue. Specifically, this report instead focuses on the role of HSR station and viaduct architecture, often brought forth by innovative structural form.