Posts Tagged ‘high speed rail’

High Speed Rail Acceleration

Monday, February 1st, 2010

by Lance Meister

In what was, I think, widely regarded as something of a surprise last year, President Obama announced that $8 billion dollars would be allocated to high speed rail (HSR) projects around the country.  This was a complete and fundamental about-face from previous policy and totally unexpected.  The next several months were spent by the administration and the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) trying to determine what projects would qualify and how the money would be allocated.

The late summer and early fall was a frantic time for project sponsors, trying to meet the requirements for the grant applications.  HMMH was involved, in a small part, in a number of those applications, including in Florida, California, New York and the Mid-West.  Since then, it’s been a waiting game.

On Thursday, January 28, President Obama made the announcement regarding the grant awards.  The full list of awards is here.  Given that he was making the announcement in Florida, it came as no surprise that the Tampa-Orlando project was one of the big winners.  Other big winners were the California HSR project, New York-Albany-Buffalo and the Mid-West projects, including Chicago to St. Louis.  Many of the projects on the list are not really high speed rail projects, but are really just upgrades to existing lines to improve speeds and safety.  However, Florida and California are dedicated HSR projects, and if implemented as proposed, would represent real HSR in this country that would compete with systems around the world.

It’s clear that the $8 billion is not enough to build a complete HSR system, even if the entire amount had been given to one project.  However, it is very symbolic, and it’s a jump start at getting projects moving, and hopefully attracting more money at all levels to get the projects built.  The administration is also committing money each year to continue funding of HSR projects.

It’s been a long time coming in this country, and for those who have been advocating HSR for decades in the US, it’s a sweet victory.  Our own Carl Hanson has been involved in virtually every HSR project in the country over the last 30 years, and he’s as excited as I’ve ever seen him at the possibilities.

Now the fun really begins.  It’s time to get HSR moving in this country.  My hope is that one day we refer to the Obama High-Speed Rail System, much like the Eisenhower Highway System.   This may very well be the enduring legacy of the Obama administration.

Japanese High Speed Trains

Monday, January 4th, 2010

by Lance Meister

I just got back from a trip to Japan, Thailand and Cambodia with one of my good friends.  Of all the things we saw and did on the trip, one of the highlights for me was riding the Shinkansen (Japanese high speed train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

We were already planning to go to Tokyo for a few days, but I have a friend living in Kyoto, and we decided that going to see her would be a great idea, and an excellent excuse to ride the Shinkansen (at least for me).

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

There’s been a lot of talk about high speed rail in the US, and we even have a version of it in the Acela, but I was blown away by the Japanese system.  I’ve ridden high speed trains in Europe, but this was something else entirely.

The highest speed trains on the Tokyo to Kyoto line are the Nozomi Shinkansen, the N700 series.  These only stop at a few stations, and are the fastest trains from Tokyo to Kyoto.  The trip is 476 km (296 miles) and takes only 2:15!  The trains regularly exceed 300 km/hr (186 mph) and average 210km/hr (130 mph), including all stops! 

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

To put that into context, the distance between Boston and Philadelphia is roughly the same as the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto.  Based on the Acela timetable, that trip takes 4:52!  The Acela exceeds 150 mph (240 km/hr) on two short sections of track and averages 60 mph (98 km/hr), including all stops!  And that’s our fastest train.  But there is hope that we will have real HSR in this country soon.

While the speed of the Shinkansen was really amazing, that’s not what impressed me the most.  What impressed me was the schedule.  In the US, and even to an extent in Europe, you decide on the train you are going to take, you buy a ticket and then you make sure you get on that train.  For the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, you just buy a ticket and go to the platform.  The Nozomi Shinkansen trains were running every 10 minutes or so!  It was like a subway, and not a high speed rail system.  It was unbelievable how many trains there were running on the line.  And yes, you could set your watch to them.

In Japan, there is a lot of effort at controlling noise from HSR trains.  The Japanese take great care in designing the shape of the trains, including the nose, shown in the pictures above, and also in designing the pantograph structure to minimize noise.  At high speeds, aerodynamic noise is a significant portion of the noise from the train.  The Japanese work very hard at controlling the noise at the source as the primary mitigation measure.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

They also utilize noise barriers to reduce the noise generated by the trains, primarily from the wheel/rail interface.

Noise Barriers

Noise Barriers

Finally, I’ll leave you with a great travel tip that was given to me.  If you take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, be sure to sit on the right side of the train so you can get a view of Mt. Fuji.  I’m told that you can only see it about 1 in 10 times due to clouds and fog, but I had a great view of the mountain on the way down.  Here’s hoping that this is the decade of HSR in the US!

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji

Summary: Midwest High Speed Rail Association Annual Meeting

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

by Lance Meister

So I attended the Midwest High Speed Rail (HSR) Association annual meeting this past weekend.  In some ways is was very good and informative, and not so good in other ways.  There was plenty of information provided, but I think that the association was a bit overwhelmed with the response and number of attendees.

It appears that outside of sub-committees at AREMA and other groups, there are no current HSR associations currently operating in the U.S.  I think the reason for that is clear: we don’t have any HSR, and outside of the Northeast Corridor, there were really no projects to warrant a trade group.  The High Speed Ground Transportation Association disappeared a few years ago, mainly due to the lack of projects.  So this group appears to be the one group that is actively promoting and discussing HSR. 

With the recent passage of the Stimulus bill, among other funding sources, there is suddenly a huge amount of money available for HSR in this country.  Not enough to build any projects, but a lot of money to start the discussion, and a lot more than previously ($0).  President Obama has said that HSR is a high priority, and he wants it to be one of his legacies.  The stimulus bill has $8 billion dollars available for HSR projects around the country.

And there’s nothing like a large amount of money to bring lots of people out of the woodwork!  I think that was the case this past weekend.  I got the sense that this group typically has had maybe 60 people come to the conferences in past years, mainly academics, HSR enthusiasts and passenger advocates.  Well, $8 billion resulted in 250+ people, and a large number of consultants in the mix.  As one of my old math teachers used to say, “a very small percentage of a very large number is still a very large number.”

The panel was very informative and provided a good overview of HSR, with focus on funding.  The guest speakers included:

Ron Diridon from the California HSR project – spoke about the various funding streams, including:

  • $8 billion stimulus to be divided among 3-5 promising projects in already defined corridors (appropriated)
  • $1.5 billion from the rail safety bill passed in response to the Metrolink accident in L.A. last fall (not yet appropriated)
  • $25-$60 billion in tax credits under the Kerry/Spector bill (not up this year)
  • The next version of SAFETEALU, the Oberstar/Boxer bill is pushing for a dedicated funding stream for HSR

He also discussed the CA HSR project and declared that it would operate profitably (but with my guess that that doesn’t include the design and build costs factored in) and the schedule, which would have the starter-line operating in 2018 and full build-out by 2020-2030.

Allen Rutter, who is now with Cambridge Systematics, spoke about general HSR issues around the country.  He spoke mainly about incremental HSR, which involves improving existing corridors to allow 110 mph operations, as opposed to new, dedicated HSR systems which can have much higher speeds.  He also discussed the need for FRA to move from a “crash worthiness” mentality for passenger trains to a “crash avoidance” mentality.  He is discouraged by the “tanks on tracks” approach, with no current suppliers for FRA approved vehicles to use on projects.

A representative of the Spanish HSR system spoke about their network and the commitment the government has made to HSR.  They started in 1992 with a line from Madrid to Seville and by 2010 will have 1,400 miles of HSR, the most in the world!  He also talked about the contractors and construction companies in Spain involved in the HSR projects and other infrastructure projects and how the Spanish government has fostered these companies to compete on the world level.  He said that 6 of the 10 largest construction management firms in the world are now Spanish.  The coolest thing he mentioned was that Spain has a different track gauge (the distance between the rails) and that CAF is producing a train that can change guage at 30 mph!

Two Amtrak representative spoke about how Amtrak wants to use the stimulus money.  Amtrak also got an additional $1.3 billion in the stimulus with $850 million for capitol improvements and $450 for security.  They will have a list of projects up soon on their website and on the recovery.gov website.  There was a lot of talk about adding permanent funding for Amtrak going forward.

Another interesting thing they mentioned regarded the stimulus money.  The package has $30 billion for highway spending, but at least some of this money allows for flexibility for each state to use the money on whatever transportation projects they deem worthy.  This is something completely new and potentially very exciting for the rail/transit community.