Posts Tagged ‘HSR’

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.

Desert Success!

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

by Lance Meister

The DesertXpress Project, a proposed high-speed rail (HSR) line between Victorville, CA and Las Veags, NV, released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  last month.  This is actually the first high-speed rail project in the country to complete its environmental review and documentation (not including the Florida HSR between Tampa and Orlando, which was cancelled) and is now ready to begin final design and construction.   If this post about the project on the US DOT’s “Fastlane” website doesn’t get you excited, you clearly are happy with losing the future!

HMMH was the noise and vibration consultant on the DesertXpress HSR project.  We have been working with the other team members on this project since 2006, from the DEIS, through SDEIS and finally the FEIS.  We modeled both electric and diesel vehicles on the project, and had to address concerns with noise and vibration impacts on national parks and preserves, along with impacts on wildlife and archeological sites.  The top speed is projected to be 150 mph, which is true high speed rail!

Some of the challenges included conducting noise and vibration measurements in the Mojave Desert during July in extremely hot conditions.  One of the benefits was seeing this awesome landmark, which read 117° F one day!

It’s been a long road, but it’s good to see a HSR project moving forward.  The DesertXpress is a private operation and is not using any federal stimulus money.  The project is applying for a federal loan guarantee through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program.

For anyone who has had to sit in traffic on I-15 heading to Las Vegas on a Friday or coming back to Los Angeles on a Sunday, this has to be good news.   This will provide a relaxing and speedy option to get back and forth to Las Vegas.  Hopefully this project will succeed and be a catalyst for other HSR projects to move forward.  Enjoy this video!

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.

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