Posts Tagged ‘HSR’

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.