Yesterday, we covered the first part of the Cascadia Rail Summit. The next sessions were more technical and covered lessons learned from high speed rail systems around the world and also an overview of rail equipment. Below are only the highlights.
Andy Kunz, President & CEO, USHSR
Andy Kunz spoke about what circumstances make high speed rail a viable transportation choice.
Rail is often seen as competing favorably with other modes in the 100-500 mile range, but it is great to see his chart showing potential beyond that. He had a great slide exemplifying the time advantage of rail vs air travel (due to the different overheads involved).
He also made a great point about scale – the United States compares in size to either China or the European Union, both of which sport extensive high speed rail systems. The argument that the country is too big is not applicable.
Jerry Ray, Consultant at SNCF (US division)
Jerry Ray had great slide showing how HSR market share varies by travel time and where it competes well with air travel.
Also some interesting technical details:
- 125 mph track is half the cost of 200 mph track
- Of note is that the existing Cascades Long Range Plan includes a list of upgrades worth $3.5b in 2006 dollars with a planned top speed of 110 mph. That plan does not cover the full length of the corridor, however.
- Current Amtrak Cascades equipment (Siemens Charger locomotives + Talgo passenger cars) is rated at 125 mph.
- Average stop on a high speed train at 200 mph takes 15 minutes with most of it being deceleration and re-acceleration.
Dr. Andrea Giurcin, Consultant at NTV HSR (Italy)
Dr. Giurcin spoke at length about a new private rail operator NTV in Italy which used no public funding and has been very successful in taking over about half of the air and road transportation market.
It’s also interesting that the line has been quite profitable:
Part of the way they captured so much market is by offering 3 different levels of service:
And it is able to carve a place for itself in the overall transportation market dominated by airlines.
Scott Sherin, Vice President, Alstom
While Alstom is an equipment maker they work in close collaboration with SNCF. An interesting slide was on when to upgrade existing lines vs build whole new lines:
Based on this it looks like Cascades is a good fit for an upgrade of existing infrastructure rather than building a whole new line as well.
Also a very interesting slide on time to study and ultimately build new lines:
Juan Matias Archilla Pintidura, International Manager, Renfe
Again, one of the most interesting aspects is the air-vs-rail market share split.
There were some additional speakers that won’t be covered in this article. The full list is on the USHSR website.
The last sessions were panels on funding and next steps.
Karen Hedlund, National Rail Strategy Advisor, WSP
- Highly unlikely that rail line VAC-SEA-PDX to be financed only from revenues from ridership
- Funding non-options (what won’t work)
- Federal programs won’t pay for a big project like this
- CRISI (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program), only $25m/project – not going to pay for a big project.
- State budget does not provision for it either – existing money today to be used for existing programs, no money for a new project.
- Federal programs won’t pay for a big project like this
- Funding options
- Tax increment financing – finance off increase of value of real estate using real estate taxes. It currently can’t be done in the state of Washington.
- TOD special assessment districts – not dependent on future growth – a district within a walkable distance of the station or along the alignment and add an additional tax – e.g. sales tax.
- Cap and trade / carbon tax – used for a major portion of the California HSR project (25%-50% of cap and trade funds). In WA state cap and trade has failed twice.
- Congestion pricing
- Joint use of ROW – e.g. lay fiber on the right of way as a source of revenue.
Irene Plenefisch, Government Affairs Director, Microsoft
- Irene Plenefisch was the key person from Microsoft organizing the conference. USHSR association CEO Andy Kunz awarded Microsoft the “Hero of High Speed Rail” award for their contribution to the cause.
- During the panel Irene spoke about how working together on shared goals (e.g. dealing with wildfires) will increase our prosperity as a region more than if we worked independently.
- She also mentioned the coming study which will look at governance and funding:
- Governance plan is crucial given 3 states, 2 federal governments.
- Financing plan is must address how we will handle existing projects on the backlog for funding: .e.g. bridge to Oregon. The study must show how this project won’t compete with really important other projects that need to be completed and can happen on a parallel timeframe as well or the public will not be supportive.
- Raised the question of what benefits will the public get during the long study and construction period of the project.
Representative Andrew Barkis, WA House Transportation Rail Caucus Chair
- Rep. Barkis suggested to increase frequency of trains on the existing Cascades service as an improvement during the study and construction period. That can be delivered with orders of magnitute less capital investment than the actual HSR line.
Additionally, if there will be any overlap in the new HSR corridor and the current Cascades corridor, new sections that can be connected to the existing network should be built first as they would enable an improvement in service before the entire system is done (just like the Pt Defiance bypass is a fairly small part of the line to Portland but is expected to relieve a major bottleneck on the line once operational).
In conclusion, high speed rail appears to really be the next big transportation initiative for our region. The transformation it promises to unleash is unmatched by anything else. It really is a sort of ST3 for WA state.
I leave you with the remarks of…
Paige Malott, Chair, Cascadia Rail
- We have to get out of our way to get this done in a timeframe that makes it useful given our current constraints:
- climate change where we have roughly 10 years to do something radical to change the course we are on (and we see cities like Vancouver, as presented earlier at the conference, really responding to that)
- reaching the limits of existing highway and airport capacity – by 2034 SeaTac airport would be at capacity