Continuing on thoughts on high speed rail, we get to the question of rights-of-way. Acquiring rights-of-way for new HSR corridors is likely to be expensive. The owners of the best rights-of-way are freight railroads. Of course many of those lines are used for freight travel.
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway recently purchased BNSF for $28B.
http://stocks.investopedia.com/stock-analysis/2010/Buffett-Rides-The-Rails-CP-NSC-UNP-CSX0504.aspx?partner=YahooSA">Buffett Rides The Rails
Current market capitalizations for major US railroads are (from yahoo finance:
So these six RRs (assuming BNSF at $28B) could be purchased for a mere $122.5B. (Which is apparently nothing in the modern world of Washington, and less than the market value of Apple, Inc.)
Then, the good passenger tracks for both HSR and urban transit could be stripped, and the remainder of the RRs re-privatized for some large (but not quite as large) sum of money.
I posit this would be cheaper than negotiating for lines on an individual basis. To illustrate, the cost of merely running rights for the Northstar Commuter line on BNSF track for about 40 miles, plus paying BNSF to operate the train was $107.5M. This is not grade separated, and even more importantly, has to share tracks with freight, prohibiting high-speed operation. This is well less than 1/1000 of the scope of a national HSR network (which has been estimated at $2T), (though perhaps more than 1/1000 of the distance).
At any rate, if HSR advocates are serious, they should contemplate nationalizing the freight RRs, and stripping them of RoW rather than negotiating piecemeal.
Mind you, I do not think this is a good idea.