ICE Train Line
ICE line (with a non-express intercity train) near Dusseldorf, photo by davipt
  • The Transport Politic has a list of competitors for stimulus money grants for high speed rail. I think the analysis for our local Amtrak Cascades service (the line between Oregon and BC through Washington) is a bit off: there are a few projects that would greatly increase (pdF) both the speed and reliability of passenger rail on that corridor. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cascades gets some of the money.
  • The President’s budget includes another $1 billion a year for high speed rail, on top of the $8 billion in the stimulus package. US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that Obama wants to make intercity rail his legacy. This is a huge improvement over every previous President since the 19th century, but it’s not going to be enough to revolutionize transportation the way Eisenhower did with the Interstate Highways.
  • Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is trying to get into the US’s passenger rail market via the Stimulus plan’s $8 billion in High Speed Rail money. Though I’ve never been on Virgin’s West Coast Main Line in the UK, but I’ve flown Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic and I’d say that what Virgin brings to transportation may just be the thing to make intercity rail attractive again in the United States.
  • The San Jose Mercury news is reporting on the dispute around running high speed trains through the suburbs on the San Francisco Pennisula. California approved the first stage of a $40 billion high-speed-rail project through out the state, and part of that plan was to run high-speed trains on tracks next to the existing Caltrain right of way. This has alarmed some wealthy NIMBYs (the worst kind, in my opinion), but according to the opinion of the author of the Mercury News piece, putting much of the line in a retained cut, so called “trenching”, could temper the controversy. It’d also cost a ton of money, adding to a project that is already very ambitious in scope and extraordinarily expensive. Caltrain runs 40 trains a day along that line, topping out in the 80 mph range, so putting a train going twice that couldn’t be that big a deal, could it?
  • The Overhead Wire, based in San Francisco, has a round-up with more California HSR links, and some good analysis.

13 Replies to “High Speed Rail News Round-Up”

  1. Thanks for the links Andrew.

    I think Politica needs to do their homework when they characterize the Cascade HSR project as “Very limited planning thus far..”
    Fact is, Washington and Oregon have been planning and building towards HSR for nearly two decades, in spite of the last administrations best efforts to let Amtrak whither and die for lack of support.
    The Cascade corridor has an adopted plan, complete with numerous studies of cost and benefits over a wide range of scenerios.

    Sources at WSDOT tell me they will apply for several hundred million dollars of the stimulus funding, which would go a very long way to completing option 3 of the Cascade Corridor Mid Range Plan.

    As Washington and Oregon State have been on the front lines of HSR since day one, and put their money where their mouth is, we are in very good position to capture nearly 1/2 Billion (no match $$) to increase the corridor ridership by double in just a few years, increase on-time performance from 65% to 97%, increase trains by 50%, increase speeds to 110 mph on certain segments, reduce carbon emissions from autos and planes, and increase fuel efficiency for riders choosing the train.

    Some will argue the virtues of maglev, or other 200+ mph technologies, but we have a plan, it’s a work in progress, and is only lacking funding. Here’s our chance to make it happen… now, not decades from now.

    A wise old transit planner once told me “a bus at the stop is worth two on the schedule”. Likewise, a good plan in place is worth several pipe dreams of maglev.

    1. I agree. I don’t think the author looked hard into whether or not Cascades had done planning on this.

    2. The numbers for pricing are out of whack. I rented a car and drove to Portland (actually just Vancouver but close enough). Avis at $30/day and easily made it on one tank of gas. That puts the cost of driving at $70 round trip. If you bump it up by saying you have to rent two days because the return trip isn’t the same day then it’s still only $50 one way; less than half the $106 figure in the report. Air travel is more like $170-190 round trip advanced purchase (not counting airline miles or special discounts). The reported $190-300 assumes last minute travel plans. Also they fail to note that depending on time of day one way coach fare on Amtrak Cascades can be $47.

      The mid range report avoided any actual transit times in the comparison to air and auto travel. The on time percentage is an important start. Upgrading the rails is essential for that even though it wouldn’t decrease travel times until signaling improvements are made.

      The Long Range Plan gives travel times. Two and a half hours by 2023. That’s very competitive with driving but won’t lure the Golden Egg business traveler away from air. And the train loses out to anyone that needs a car at the other end so the market is still fairly limited until the travel times are cut to less than two hours.

      The report lays out a pretty convincing arguement for Option 2. Beyond that it may make sense to abandon the incremental approach and hold off until the funding is available to actual accomplish something that approaches high speed rail.

      1. At the moment the Seattle-Portland trains have about as much ridership as they can handle. There’s not really any reason to drop the price if the trains are full.

  2. Correction: you mean “not” going to change transportation like Eisenhower did.

    Good post though.

  3. I’ve ridden the Virgin trains in the UK. A pretty good experience as a rider – clean, sleek and well-run. I’d love to see them get in on the action out here.

    1. The only thing Virgin trains brings to the UK and would bring to CA is Branson’s annoying beard and more annoying ego. Those new trains? The purchase was arranged by the government. The track upgrade and high speed sections? Paid for by the UK taxpayer to the tune of £11bn pounds. I don’t mind paying for HSR but I do mind paying to line Bransons pockets with subsidies when we could save ourselves money and have the government run the line directly. It already owns and operates the tracks and wires.

  4. You may complain about privatization of railroads, but private companies operating on state-owned and maintained infrastructure does have the advantage of them focusing on service and marketing. Two things that frequently the government frankly just plain sucks at.

    I can’t remember EVER seeing a TV ad about riding a bus or train in this country. Thats just pathetic, but equally pathetic is the signage and route information they usually provide (some systems are, of course, actually quite good in this area).

    1. I think there were TV versions, I heard it a lot on radio, but “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round” campaign ran for quite a while.

Comments are closed.