If the amendment passes, as it is likely to do in the Democratically-controlled chamber, the amendment would provide $1.5 billion more for New Start and Small Start projects and $1.5 billion more for formula grants to transit, adding $1 billion and $6 billion respectively to the numbers proposed in the original draft of the stimulus bill.
This is the first piece on a national rail network. The second, revised version is here.
A public-works precedent
On June 29th, 1956, the creation of a 41,000-mile U.S. Interstate Highway System was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Today, the system of grade-separated, high-speed highway corridors extends across more than 47,000 miles of the national landscape. For a large percentage of Americans, the Interstates have come to define daily life. Largely because of the Interstates, travel within metropolitan areas and between cities is effected primarily by automobile.
In an age of increased environmental consciousness and in an era in which more and more people desire an alternative to the car for commutes long and short, it is time for the Interstate’s heir. That successor must be a system of interconnected high-speed and standard-speed railways. the transport politic’s vision for such a network is presented here.
The need for a national system
Today’s Amtrak system, pictured below in thin black lines, is anemic at best. It is slow and inefficient, and it doesn’t even serve a significant number of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. All of the nation’s metro areas with populations of above 100,000 people are represented in proportion to their population sizes in the maps below. Amtrak is poorly connected to the Canadian VIA Rail system, and it is hindered by reliance on freight-owned tracks. It must be improved, or the American passenger rail network will never advance to international standards.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers recently published its Grow Trains report. NARP suggests expanding the existing Amtrak system to serve many of the cities and towns that trains simply skirt by currently, arguing that the national rail provider could relatively easily expand along existing rail right-of-way. But NARP’s vision doesn’t go far enough.
Similarly, the Federal Railroad Administration has authorized the development of high-speed rail along a number of the nation’s corridors, illustrated in bold yellow in the map below. The States for Passenger Rail Coalition has recently been pushing for the development of medium-to-high-speed rail along FRA’s proposed lines. But the FRA’s vision is now decades old and the corridors it has authorized focus either on unpopulated areas – such as the route from Dallas to Texarkana – or miss obvious connections – such as between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Neither the FRA nor the States for Passenger Rail Coalition have been active in working with Canadian authorities to consider how the two nations’ systems might function as one.
And yet, abroad, governments are planning massive new systems of railways. In Spain, 10,000 km of high-speed rail are under construction; in China, 13,000 km of high-speed and 40,000 km of standard-speed track are being built. The United States, to put matters bluntly, is quickly falling behind. It doesn’t help matters that we simply have no national framework for developing our rail network, and must rely instead on a hodge-podge of local actors to get anything done.
It is time for a new vision, national in scope and ambitious in form.
Existing National Rail Route Network – Amtrak and FRA-Proposed HSR
A new vision
California is leading by example. After the passage of a $10 billion bond last fall, the state has begun the serious planning of a new network of rails that will extend from San Francisco to Los Angeles and eventually from Los Angeles to San Diego and from Fresno to San Diego. Trains will run at 220 mph, equal to the fastest trains in Europe or Asia today. The system will require a massive investment, but it will bring down travel times between the state’s two biggest metro areas to 2 hours 40, dramatically changing the role of rail there. In a single swoop, California will have made traveling by rail fast and convenient. If the foreign precedent applies, the success of California’s plan is virtually assured.
Below is the transport politic’s vision of the 21st century’s Interstate system: a network of 10,000 miles of high-speed rail and roughly 30,000 miles of upgraded standard-speed track. The system would provide electrified 200 mph service (in yellow) between the biggest cities on the East and West coasts and connect every metropolitan area of more than 100,000 people in the continental states with at least standard-speed rail (in brown). Standard-speed rail could be implemented relatively simply along existing freight right-of-way; in many cases, these tracks only need minor touch-ups to be readied to serve passengers. The system would rely on existing Interstate and rail right-of-way and extends on both the NARP and FRA proposals, but narrows in on the most cost-effective and interconnected corridors, focusing on the most densely populated regions. This is why each map of the rail system included here has as its backdrop the concentrations of population in metropolitan areas in red.
The system would have an emphasis on connecting destinations separated by 500 miles or less; for such distances, high-speed rail outpaces airplanes and in other countries has commanded up to 80% of the market share on such routes. The high-speed system would not traverse the Great Plains or the Rocky Mountains, as such a trip would likely attract few passengers and be relatively cost inefficient. It would not provide high-speed service for Denver or Salt Lake City, but both are so isolated that high-speed rail to and from them would be relatively underused. But the whole system, including standard-speed rail, would allow for a high degree of interconnectivity between the cities in the densest areas of the country and allow for the time efficient replacement of the automobile and airplane on a large percentage of trips.
Such a system would require an active federal government funding an expensive national system, maintaining its infrastructure, and running its trains. Our government is currently not capable of doing as much, but with a defined vision such as this – to provide rail service to all of the nation’s metro areas and to connect the biggest ones with true high-speed rail – Washington could mature to the task. Bck in 1956, the federal commitment to highways was minimal; in one bill, under one president, the system changed.
Proposed National Rail Route Network – Standard and HSR Routes
The system as developed here would allow for trains to travel throughout the nation, with connections with a Canadian high-speed network at Detroit, Buffalo, and in northern Washington and New York States. An ideal system would mean electrification of the entire network, both standard and high-speed; electric trains are faster, quieter, and better for the environment than their diesel counterparts. Trains on a national network might be equipped to travel on both high-speed and standard-speed lines, thereby giving even that part of the population not directly on the high-speed lines access to the high-speed network.
Below are regional maps of the system, showing stations in every metropolitan area of above 100,000 people.
The proposed high-speed network
The spine of this new interstate railway system would be the high-speed rail network, totaling 10,352 miles in length and directly serving metropolitan areas representing 60% of the population of the United States and 46% of the population of Canada. It would include large upgrades to the two currently electrified portions of the system – the Keystone Corridor and the Northeast Corridor – and the creation of brand-new railways along the rest of the system.
A high-speed system of more than 10,000 miles in length would be the longest in the world. But the United States remains the world’s wealthiest nation, and its need for improved mobility is great. An investment of this sort would not be out of line.
Construction of the system would be implemented in four phases, each with 2,000 to 3,000 miles of service, and ordered according to relative merit within the network as a whole.
In order to evaluate the different lines, the transport politic developed a system by which it could examine the cost effectiveness of each line both in terms of travel within the corridor alone (the Corridor Score) and within the system as a whole (the Overall Score). Travel between every city pair in the system between 50 and 500 miles apart was evaluated, and the results were compiled by corridor, whereupon they were divided by route mile to appraise potential ridership by mile of new construction. The results provide the basis for prioritizing routes and suggest a method by which the federal government could begin to imagine how such a high-speed rail system might be developed. (PDF with description of methodology, evaluation of every city pair, and scores for each corridor or here.)
HSR Route Network – Phasing
HSR Route Network – Corridors
Above left is a diagram of the high-speed rail network’s phasing plan. The first phase would provide service in the Northeast, in the Midwest, in Florida, and in California; subsequent phases would fill out the system in the Northwest, the Southwest, and the Southeast. Above right is a diagram that demonstrates the locations of the 15 high-speed corridors as defined by this proposal.
Below is a chart that provides data on the 33 different sub-corridors evaluated for the system, providing the mileage, Corridor Score, and Overall Score for each of the lines. The data demonstrate why an initial focus on routes in the Northeast and the Midwest makes the most sense: the corridors there are likely to attract the highest ridership, because of the dense concentration of large metropolitan areas in those regions.
California, Florida, and Texas all, too, deserve strong high-speed connections within their respective states. The Florida and Texas plans are similar to those proposed in the mid-1990s. The California CrossState proposal is the same as that proposed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority; the first phase from San Francisco to L.A. has been prioritized ahead of its higher-scoring (according to the transport politic’s criteria) L.A.-San Diego and Fresno-Sacramento extensions because of the political realities in California and because of the text of last fall’s Prop 1A, which required that the trunk line between the two biggest metro areas in the state had to be built first.
The research done for this proposal does suggest that certain lines, such as that connecting Macon, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida and that connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas, are relatively expendable. Lines in Phase 4 are simply not as cost-effective in terms of likely passengers per route mile as corridors in the other phases. The ordering proposed here, however, is simply a suggestion based on a series of a few objective criteria. Other issues were not considered, such as a desire for an East Coast north-south route as soon as possible or a connection between New Orleans and Houston. So there’s no reason why this proposal would be the be-all end-all.
That said, the vision presented here of a unified national system with a phased-in order based on expected ridership, makes sense. A well thought-out high-speed rail system could be an effective tool in fighting climate change and in providing an alternative to automobile and airplane travel. Any such plan must be implemented with consideration for the system as a whole and with a greater vision for serving the populated areas of the entire country.
First, however, we need a national government that’s willing and able to take charge.
|Phase 1 Corridors – 2,757 miles|
|Route||Order||Mileage||Corridor Score||Overall Score|
|NEC / Boston-NYC-DC||1||454||2,486||3,436|
|NY CrossState 1 / NYC-Albany||2||141||781||3,592|
|NorthEastern / Boston-Albany-Hamilton||3||499||829||2,091|
|MidWestern 1 / Chicago-Cincinnati-Louisville||4||350||557||1,456|
|MidWestern 2 / Cincinnati-Columbus-Akron||5||258||553||1,800|
|Lakes 1 / Detroit-Toledo||6||57||454||3,133|
|Florida CrossState / Jacksonville-Orlando-Miami||7||498||878||907|
|California CrossState 1 / San Francisco-LA||8||500||516||1,091|
|Phase 2 Corridors – 2,272 miles|
|Route||Order||Mileage||Corridor Score||Overall Score|
|California CrossState 2 / LA-San Diego||9||167||1,408||1,877|
|Lakes 2 / Chicago-Toledo-Cleveland||10||371||477||1,879|
|California CrossState 3 / Fresno-Sacramento||11||120||636||1,342|
|CrossCanada 1 / Hamilton-Detroit||12||197||407||2,074|
|Crescent 1 / DC-Raleigh-Charlotte||13||409||556||1,092|
|Crescent 2 / Charlotte-Atlanta||14||252||489||1,039|
|Lakes 3 / Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Harrisburg||15||357||396||1,277|
|NorthWestern / Portland-Seattle-Vancouver||16||301||564||564|
|Keystone / Philadelphia-Harrisburg||17||98||198||1,474|
|Phase 3 Corridors – 2,405 miles|
|Route||Order||Mileage||Corridor Score||Overall Score|
|Texas CrossState / Dallas-Austin-Houston||18||412||485||581|
|CrossCanada 2 / Hamilton-Toronto-Montréal||19||434||318||793|
|MidWestern 3 / Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis||20||438||429||655|
|Crescent 3 / Atlanta-Birmingham||21||142||268||710|
|SouthEastern 1 / Chattanooga-Atlanta-Macon||22||193||233||761|
|NY CrossState 2 / Albany-Montréal||23||205||128||1,321|
|MidAmerican 1 / Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis||24||290||271||579|
|SouthEastern 2 / Louisville-Nashville-Chattanooga||25||291||217||705|
|Phase 4 Corridors – 2,918 miles|
|Route||Order||Mileage||Corridor Score||Overall Score|
|SouthWestern 1 / LA-Phoenix-Tucson||26||434||186||366|
|MidAmerican 2 / Dallas-Oklahoma City||27||217||169||351|
|MidAmerican 3 / Oklahoma City-Kansas City-St. Louis||28||615||189||226|
|CrossCanada 3 / Montréal-Québec||29||168||161||338|
|Crescent 4 / Birmingham-Jackson-Dallas||30||639||158||260|
|SouthWestern 2 / LA-Las Vegas||31||227||113||294|
|Crescent 5 / Jackson-Baton Rouge-New Orleans||32||296||108||170|
|SouthEastern 3 / Macon-Savannah-Jacksonville||33||322||43||220|
The following Congressmen voted for the Flake Amendment, which would have shut off all funding for Amtrak in the stimulus bill. It fortunately failed, 116-320.
|Todd Akin (R-MO 2)
Steve Austria (R-OH 7)
Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6)
Gresham Barrett (R-SC 3)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD 6)
Joe Barton (R-TX 6)
Judy Biggert (R-IL 13)
Brian Bilbray (R-CA 50)
Gus Bilirakis (R-FL 9)
Rob Bishop (R-UT 1)
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN 7)
Roy Blunt (R-MO 7)
John Boehner (R-OH 8)
Mary Bono Mack (R-CA 45)
Charles Boustany (R-LA 7)
Kevin Brady (R-TX 8)
Paul Broun (R-GA 10)
Michael Burgess (R-TX 26)
Dan Burton (R- IN 5)
Steve Buyer (R-IN 4)
Ken Calvert (R-CA 43)
David Lee Camp (R-MI 4)
John Campbell (R-CA 48)
Eric Cantor (R-VA 7)
Joseph Cao (R-LA 2)
John Carter (R-TX 31)
Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3)
Howard Coble (R-NC 6)
Mike Coffman (R-CO 6)
Mike Conaway (R-TX 11)
John Culberson (R-TX 7)
Geoff Davis (R-KY 4)
Nathan Deal (R-GA 9)
David Dreier (R-CA 26)
John Duncan (R-TN 2)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ 6)
John Fleming (R-LA 4)
Randy Forbes (R-VA 4)
Virginia Foxx (R-NC 5)
|Trent Franks (R-AZ 2)
Elton Gallegly (R-CA 24)
Scott Garrett (R-NJ 5)
Phil Gingrey (R-GA 11)
Louie Gohmert (R-TX 1)
Kay Granger (R-TX 12)
Sam Graves (R-MO 6)
Brett Guthrie (R-KY 2)
Ralph Hall (R-TX 4)
Gregg Harper (R-MS 3)
Dean Heller (R-NV 2)
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX 5)
Wally Herger (R-CA 2)
Duncan Hunter (R-CA 52)
Bob Inglis (R-SC 4)
Darrell Issa (R-CA 49)
Lynn Jenkins (R-KS 2)
Sam Johnson (R-TX 3)
Jim Jordan (R-OH 4)
Steve King (R-IA 5)
Jack Kingston (R-GA 1)
John Kline (R-MN 2)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO 5)
Bob Latta (R-OH 5)
Jerry Lewis (R-CA 41)
John Linder (R-GA 7)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO 9)
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY 1)
Dan Lungren (R-CA 3)
Connie Mack IV (R-FL 14)
Kenny Marchant (R-TX 24)
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 22)
Michael McCaul (R-TX 10)
Tom McClintock (R-CA 4)
Patrick McHenry (R-NC 10)
Howard McKeon (R-CA 25)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA 5)
Jeff Miller (R-FL 1)
|Gary Miller (R-CA 42)
Jerry Moran (R-KS 1)
Sue Wilkins Myrick (R-NC 9)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX 19)
Devin Nunes (R-CA 21)
Pete Olson (R-TX 22)
Ron Paul (R-TX 14)
Erik Paulsen (R-MN 3)
Mike Pence (R-IN 6)
Joseph Pitts (R-PA 16)
Ted Poe (R-TX 2)
Bill Posey (R-FL 15)
Tom Price (R-GA 6)
George Radanovich (R-CA 19)
Dave Reichert (R-WA 8)
Phil Roe (R-TN 1)
Harold Rogers (R-KY 5)
Mike Rogers (R-MI 8)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA 46)
Tom Rooney (R-FL 16)
Edward Royce (R-CA 40)
Paul Ryan (R-WI 1)
Steve Scalise (R-LA 1)
Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI 5)
Pete Sessions (R-TX 32)
John Shadegg (R-AZ 3)
Adrian Smith (R-NE 3)
Lamar Smith (R-TX 21)
Cliff Stearns (R-FL 6)
Lee Terry (R-NE 2)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA 5)
Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13)
John Tiahrt (R-KS 4)
Pat Tiberi (R-OH 12)
Zach Wamp (R-TN 3)
Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA 3)
Joe Wilson (R-SC 2)
In yesterday’s State of the State address, Governor Ted Strickland (D) announced that he’d be working towards the development of a new rail corridor – the 3C – between Cincinnati and Cleveland, via Dayton and Columbus, connecting the states’ four largest metropolitan areas and implementing the first phase 0f the Ohio Hub plan.
This will be the first time in forty years that Ohio’s major cities have been connected by rail – and will mark the first rail service for Columbus, the state capital, in decades. According to the Toledo Blade, however, residents of the state’s fifth largest metro area were a bit dismayed by the lack of proposed service for Toledo. On the other hand, the Ohio Hub’s second phase proposes improving the existing train line between Cleveland and Chicago, which would serve Toledo. And while service to Toledo already exists, there is none to Columbus currently, so the 3C line probably makes the most sense as a first phase.
The plan Mr. Strickland wants to implement would rely on economic stimulus funds from the federal government, but it would not produce high-speed rail. Rather, it would allow for Amtrak-style service at speeds of 60 to 90 mph along the corridor. Ultimately, the Ohio Hub would form a part of the greater Midwest High-Speed Rail system. (Perhaps the system should actually be referred to as Midwest “High-Speed” Rail?)
The Houston Chronicle reports that the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, generator of the Texas T-Bone plan, is actively pushing its project for a true high-speed rail connection (200 mph) between Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, with a spur running from Temple to Houston.
The proposed project, whose price tag is likely to run in the $12 to $18 billion range, could be completed by 2020 and would represent the state’s second serious attempt at implementing a high-speed rail system after the early-1990s Texas TGV project failed because of its inability to receive enough funds from private sources (that proposal was supposed to be funded entirely through non-governmental money).
This time, the project won’t face opposition from now-neutral Southwest Airlines, as the Texas TGV did. And the federal government’s willingness to open its coffers to high-speed rail investment suggests that the T-Bone may in fact find the funds it needs to be implemented. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) has expressed his support of the project, though he’s been unwilling to commit state resources to the project thus far, convinced instead that as the state becomes more populated, the project will be able to pay for itself.
Let it be known that the transport politic considers it highly unlikely for a major high-speed rail investment such as this to ever be constructed with solely private funds.
Honolulu’s 20-mile proposed rail system to be re-routed via airport and Pearl Harbor
Say Yes to the Honolulu Rail System blog reports that the Honolulu City Council voted yesterday in favor of a change in the planned routing of the city’s rail system, which is currently being planned. Instead of running along Salt Lake Boulevard, the line will now be redirected via the Honolulu airport and Pearl Harbor, adding a predicted 8,000 daily riders and increasing the system’s cost by $200 million. With a total project cost of more than $5 billion, this represents chump change.
This change has been under consideration since the week after the election, when Mayor Mufi Hannemann suggested that it would make more sense to include airport access in the first phase of the project, rather than as a spur to be built in the future, as it would add significant ridership and help residents and tourists alike get to the airport, which is a huge economic generator for the region as a whole. The Salt Lake alignment now becomes a potential future extension.
Fantastic news for transit advocates… but Senate action is still necessary
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) proposed an amendment that would increase funds for transit by $3 billion; we discussed it last night. $1.5 billion of the funds would go to New Starts; the rest would go to formula transit funds. Representative John Mica (R-FL), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, came out very seriously in favor of the amendment, saying that infrastructure projects are expensive, that they need funding, and that this is simply a small percentage of what is needed. Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA) said he reluctantly opposed the amendment, because of the size of the bill in general, and his concerns about increasing it.
The amendment passed on a voice vote, with no audible “nays.”
This is excellent news for transit advocates, who have been asking for a significant increase in transit funds from the limited amount provided in the stimulus bill – only $1 billion provided for New Starts, for instance.
We’ll have to wait to see how the Senate handles this issue, because the equivalent Senate bill is different enough that it will need to be altered significantly if it is to increase mass transit funding by similar amounts.
the transport politic will be following this important bill over the next days and weeks, focusing on the Senate’s actions.
Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) proposed an amendment that, in official federal parlance, “Would clarify that federal funds received by States under the bill for highway maintenance shall not be used to replace existing funds in place for transportation projects.” Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, rose up in support of the amendment, arguing that the funds from the Transportation Committee should go to projects that have not yet already been funded. States would not be allowed to replace existing funding with federal outlays, only provide a “net increase in total spending,” according to Mr. Shuster. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) came out in favor of the amendment, speaking about Houston’s Metro Solutions project as an example for this.
The amendment passed on a voice vote, with no audible “nays.”
Mr. Oberstar sponsored an amendment to ensure that 50% of funding towards transportation be exercised within 90 days, down from 120 to 150 days as the stimulus bill currently suggests. The amendment passed on a seemingly unanimous voice vote, with no audible “nay” votes.
Mr. Mica offered his strong support. Representative Tom Lathan (R-IA), however, did suggest that the timeline in the proposed bill is already too short and that the Congressional Budget Office was against the amendment; Mr. Oberstar responded quickly that jobs exist and that transportation agencies are ready to get started immediately.