Posts Tagged ‘high speed rail’

TRB Highlights – Rail

Monday, January 30th, 2012

by Jason Ross

One of the best highlights from the 91st Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. was the “Riding the NEPA Railroad Workshop” on Sunday.  I usually find the workshops interesting and engaging and this year was no different.  Leading NEPA experts from FRA, FTA and FHWA compared the NEPA processes across all three agencies – something HMMH has experienced firsthand.  HMMH is leading the noise and vibration studies for two of the three highlighted projects including the Desert Xpress high-speed rail line proposed from Victorville, CA to Las Vegas, NV and the California High-Speed Rail Project between Fresno to Merced.

NEPA experts helped to again fill the house for Session 737 on “Expediting Environmental Review: Underlying Causes for Runaway Process”.  This session focused on the growing need to streamline the NEPA process.  Did you know the average time to complete an EIS has been 67 months?!  One project for which HMMH is proud to have conducted the noise and vibration analysis is the Dallas Streetcar EA.  This project resulted in a 14-page EA that was completed in 14 months.  Horst Greczmiel, from the Council on Environmental Quality, presented on recent NEPA trends including the availability of a tool to streamline the public comment and response process.  More information can be found on these recent trends and CEQ recommendations here.

National Train Day

Monday, May 16th, 2011

by Dave Towers

There are a number of holidays that occur in early May including May Day, a traditional spring festival celebrated on May 1, and Cinco de Mayo, celebrating Mexican heritage and pride on May 5.  In addition, a colleague recently informed me that the day prior to Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as National Star Wars Day:  May the 4th be with you!  However, for railfans and those who work on projects in the rail industry, the most notable holiday during this period is National Train Day.

National Train Day is a holiday started by Amtrak in 2008 as a means to spread information to the general public about the advantages of rail travel and the history of trains in the United States.  Since then, it has been held each year on the Saturday closest to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah (not Promontory Point as often misstated) which marked the completion of what is generally considered the first transcontinental railroad.

Although the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was a grand achievement, the claim of being “first” needs to be qualified, as one could not yet ride rails without interruption between the Atlantic and Pacific on May 10, 1869.  There was a 1,500-foot gap across the Missouri River between Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and another gap between Sacramento and Oakland, California.  While the California gap on the Central Pacific was closed a few months later, the Union Pacific did not complete its permanent bridge across the Missouri River at Omaha until March 22, 1872.  In the meantime, transcontinental rail service on the Kansas Pacific Railway via its bridge at Kansas City was achieved when the final spike was driven at Comanche Crossing, Colorado on August 15, 1870, marking the completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

First Transcontinental Railroad

In any case, National Train Day was celebrated this year (in conjunction with Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary) on Saturday May 7, with train equipment displays and events at several of the major stations across the Amtrak system.  As a representative of the Rail Group at HMMH, I decided to attend the local festivities at South Station in Boston.  The attractions included a jazz trio concert, a display of an Amtrak Acela train, tours of South Station and various informational tables with souvenir items.

South Station, Boston

The Acela is the first and only “high-speed” train in the U.S. and has been operating on the Northeast Corridor between Boston, MA and Washington, DC since December of 2000.  The train travels at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) for brief intervals, but its average speed is much less due to the many curves in the track; not exactly high speed by European and Asian standards.  One popular feature of the Acela introduced by Amtrak is the “Quiet Car” which provides a quiet refuge for train travelers that is especially appreciated by those of us in the noise control field.  This concept has spread to several U.S. commuter rail systems, including those in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston, where it has been very well received.

Acela Train

 

Acela's Quiet Car

I capped off my visit with a guided tour of Boston South Station.  Although the tour was limited to public station areas (not a behind-the scenes tour), the guide did provide some interesting information.  The station was constructed in 1897 as a “union station,” consolidating several existing railroad lines, and became the busiest station in the country by 1910.  As this area of Boston was originally under water, the station is supported by 36,000 piles, one of which is exposed and visible in the passageway between the railroad terminal and the MBTA Red Line subway.  By the 1970s the condition of the station had deteriorated significantly, but the station was modernized and restored to its former grandeur in the 1980s as part of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project.  Although the original mechanical train board (sold on Ebay) has been replaced by an electronic one, the clacking sound that occurred during train information updates has been retained.

Boston's South Station

 

This Building Erected by The Boston Terminal Company

Exposed Piles in Passageway

All in all, participation in National Train Day was a meaningful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, given the current economic and political conditions, the future of high-speed and other forms of rail transit is somewhat clouded.  However, considering the many benefits of passenger rail transportation to the public and to our environment, it can only be hoped that these types of events will help to keep the dream alive.

Environmental Smackdown – Aviation v. High Speed Rail

Monday, February 14th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m inspired by a few recent events to pontificate on this subject; those events are:  (1) Joe Biden’s recent remarks on high speed rail (HSR) in the US, (2) Greg Principato’s response, and (3) a recent session at the TRB Annual Meeting: “Environmental Tradeoffs of Aviation and High Speed Rail”.

First, let me be clear:  I do not think that one mode of transportation is “better” than another.  In fact, I’m quite sure that we have a need for both and our focus should be on complementarity, not competition.  That said, high speed rail advocates in the U.S. are making statements that unequivocally claim that high speed rail is “better for the environment”.  But let’s check the facts, as far as I’ve gathered them (admittedly, a somewhat cursory review):

  • Capacity:  Matt Coogan and others have prepared a comprehensive case study of the impact of high speed rail on aviation capacity in ACRP 31:  Innovative Approaches to Addressing Aviation Capacity Issues in Coastal Mega-regions.  They conclude that while introduction of Acela Amtrak service between Boston and New York has reduced passenger traffic by about 1/3, the number of flights between the two cities has dropped by only about six percent – shuttle operators have just adapted by substituting smaller aircraft on those routes to meet the schedule demand.
  • Noise:  Noise assessments for aviation and high speed rail both rely on Day Night Average Sound Level, but the similarities end there.  The FRA’s HSR Guidance Manual determines impact on noise sensitive communities by comparing project levels to existing noise levels to determine two categories of impact (moderate and severe), while the FAA’s Order 1050.1E determines impact by identifying noise-sensitive land uses that are projected to experience an increase in noise of 1.5 dB or more in those areas already exceeding DNL 65.  To make matters even more complicated, people appear to respond differently to aircraft noise than rail noise (they are more annoyed by it); on the other hand, if the rail vehicle in question is moving fast enough to cause startle (i.e., HSR), it’s not clear whether annoyance reaction is more like aircraft than rail.  Ruth Mazer and I gave a presentation at TRB comparing aviation and HSR in the Boston-New York Acela corridor, using both the FRA methodology and the FAA’s Integrated Noise Model.  We estimated that the number of people exposed to Sound Exposure Levels (SELs) from aircraft flying BOS-NYC high enough to cause speech disturbance (85 dB) ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 (depending on runway, flight path, aircraft type, and airport); whereas the number of people exposed to the same level on the BOS-NYC route is 12,000.  On the other hand, there are close to 30 shuttle flights per day in each direction and only 10 trainsets.  Is it better to expose the same 1,000 people to excessive noise 60 times per day or twelve times as many people only 20 times per day? 
Source: EU Position Paper On Dose Response Relationships Between Transportation Noise And Annoyance, 2002

Source: EU Position Paper On Dose Response Relationships Between Transportation Noise And Annoyance, 2002: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/noise/pdf/noise_expert_network.pdf

  • Air Quality:  Mikhail Chester from UC Berkeley also gave a presentation at TRB entitled, “Life-Cycle Assessment of High Speed Rail:  Total Environmental Accounting”, in which he compared the total air quality outputs from automobiles, aviation, and HSR.  LCA includes not just the operation and maintenance of the vehicles, but the infrastructure development and energy production.  Two interesting figures are presented below, which demonstrate that although emissions per passenger kilometer traveled (PKT) is highly dependent on vehicle loading, HSR consistently produces less CO2 than aviation only when it is assumed that the HSR uses “clean” fuel, and is not a clear “winner” over aviation when comparing NOx.  More detail on Mikhail’s research is here.
Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

Lifecycle NOx Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

 

Lifecycle NOx Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

I look forward to your responses, and to seeing some real data – especially noise – on this subject.

Transportation Funding Inequities

Friday, August 27th, 2010

by Lance Meister

I saw this article and thought it was worth posting here for others to see.  Those of us in the transit business often complain about the disadvantages we face relative to highways and airports, and the bias that exists towards “subsidized” transportation modes.  The following article really sums up quite well the stark difference in funding that exists between highways and transit systems.  It also seems to suggest that highways might also be subsidized by the government.  Gasp!

It would be interesting to see if and/or how much the curves have changed in the last few years.  I’m guessing that the relationship is probably identical.  For all the hype over the amount of money in the stimulus funding for high speed rail, it still pales in comparison to the amount that was provided for highways.  We are still a car culture, but things do seem to be shifting ever so slightly. 

If you care about transit funding, you should contact your representatives and let them know.  The next multi-year transportation funding bill is still being worked on, and you should let your voice be heard.  You could also consider joining APTA, which is a great organization that helps promote transit in the US.

I have to say that I also really like the title of the article, which is probably much more apropos than the title I chose for this post!

Trains and Planes

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

by Lance Meister

A recent article got me thinking about traveling by train and by plane and how we see and use each mode of travel.  Planes are the get you there quick, long distance mode of travel.  Fast and glamorous.  Trains are the slow, leisurely, short distance mode of travel.  Utilitarian and functional.  At least, that’s the way many people see them.  Now, I am admittedly a bit of a train fan, but it’s clear that high speed rail (HSR) is changing those perceptions of travel around the world, even in the US. 

The article from China is a dramatic example of this phenomenon of trains competing equally with planes on time.  In Spain the traffic between Madrid and Barcelona (once the busiest air corridor in the world) has gone from 90% of the passengers on planes to over 50% of the passengers now on trains.  In the US, the Acela service on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York and New York and Washington has 37% and 50% of the market share, respectively.  That’s in the US!  My own anecdotal experience is that when I am going to Manhattan for work, I take the train every time.  It just makes sense. 

When traveling from Boston to New York, the train does take 3:15 minutes and the plane only 45 minutes, but that’s not the entire story.  You have to be at the airport at least an hour early.  There’s security, boarding, taxing, etc. to be taken into account.  In addition, you arrive in New York at either JFK or LaGuardia, and have to get into the city from there, which can add significant time.  The total travel time is equivalent, and at times, the HSR even has an edge.  Imagine if the Acela could go 150 mph on the entire corridor!

Some people see this as a competition, but in reality, the two modes of travel have different purposes.  For city pairs within a few hundred miles, true HSR makes sense and can be significantly shorter than air travel.  For longer distances, such as Boston to Chicago, or Boston to Los Angeles, the plane makes sense every time. 

An example of this is in Spain. The airlines not only didn’t fight the train over price and service between Madrid and Barcelona, but actually welcomed the trains.  The introduction of service allowed them to free up a significant number of landing slots for much more profitable international flights and use the trains to get people to the airports for the flights.  It was the proverbial “win-win” situation for all. 

We have to realize that we can only pave so many roads, or create so many new runways, much less airports.  HSR can be a great option at shorter distances, and can be an excellent form of travel.  Each mode has its advantages and disadvantages, and its own primary purpose.  In many countries, this is already a reality.  There’s a lot of hope that HSR in the US will come into its own and be a real travel mode, not just in the Northeast Corridor.