DOT High-Speed Rail President

More on the Federal High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan

Proposal reveals a little – and a lot – about how the administration wants to proceed with its rail programs

As many of you commented in the previous, and unfortunately inadequate, post on the administration’s high-speed rail strategic plan, the report – though significant – doesn’t tell us all that much more about how the U.S. government will spend the $8 billion approved for fast rail by Congress in the stimulus bill. On the other hand, I want to point out that the administration never promised such information: for god’s sake – the states haven’t even submitted their proposals for the use of the funds yet! I think that our collective enthusiasm for rail projects may be getting a bit ahead of reality.

But I think the report’s basic outlines of the kinds of projects the federal government wants to fund with rail money are demonstrative of the administration’s seriousness in undertaking this project. By arguing that high-speed rail is most applicable for corridors between 100 and 600 miles in areas of moderate to high density, we can be assured that the government won’t be funding just any project with the limited funds available for rail. It’s good to know, in other words, that a line between El Paso and Phoenix isn’t going to get money over the connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The report’s attempt to define different qualities of rail is also an admirable response to the fact that no one thus far has been able to come up with a concrete series of words that can be used to provide meaningful definitions of different types of rail services. I think there’s been a major problem in discussions about high-speed rail because of the lack of uniform agreement about what the term means, so it’s nice to have officially-sanctioned definitions. For the time being, I’ll attempt to incorporate them into the transport politic:

  • HSR-Express – 200-600 miles apart, more than 150 mph, dedicated rights-of-way.
  • HSR-Regional – 100-500 miles apart, 110-150 mph, some shared track with positive train control
  • Emerging HSR – 100-500 miles, with 90-110 mph speed service – developing the passenger rail market
  • Conventional Rail – 79-90 mph
  • IPR – Intercity passenger rail

Several blogs have pointed out that the report’s discussion of positive train control indicates that the Federal Railroad Administration will likely alter its rail safety requirements, which currently require passenger trains running on shared track to be able to survive accidents with extremely heavy freight trains. The negative consequence of the existing policy are trains that are too heavy and too slow, making it difficult to develop faster rail in the U.S.; a forthcoming policy change by the FRA could make it far easier to implement high-speed rail.

Funds, once states have submitted their proposals, will be distributed for projects (like a specific straightening of track that is “ready to go”), corridors (like the California High-Speed Rail program), and planning (for projects not yet ready for construction). The federal government has established a schedule for the distribution of the funds, with the first round of appropriations being made in the end of September. The schedule is below.

HSR Implementation Timeline

The document also mentioned the mandated national rail plan, which will expand the discussion of the goals for train service in the United States and be released by mid-October. This document, which will be elemental in defining the future of rail in America, must be “consistent with approved State Rail Plans and national rail needs to promote an integrated, cohesive, efficient, and optimized natioal rail system for the movement of good and people… [it] will expand upon the vision outlined in this document, including identifying specific corridor goals and measures of success. The plan will likely provide an opportunity to revise the high-speed rail designation, including a new category of approved corridors, i.e., those corridors for which a detailed corridor plan and institutional framework are in place to permit development of a successful corridor that meets the national rail goals.

Does this mean that the national rail plan will revise the much-maligned national map of designated high-speed rail corridors? We’ll have to see – I certainly hope so. But what’s clear is that today’s document is the first step towards a major national consideration of high-speed rail for the first time in decades.

39 replies on “More on the Federal High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan”

Washington and Oregon, through our own DOT’s have been working towards HSR along the Cascade Corridor since 1999, linking Eugene, OR and Vancouver, BC.
Tilt trains, capable of 125 mph, have been gradually defining a market share and offering an alternative to driving or flying. Results so far are impressive. Trains carry many more travelers between Seattle and Portland than do airlines, using half the fuel and producing half the pollution per passenger.
This is even more amazing, considering our fast trains are still limited to just 79 mph for lack of federally mandated safety, signal and track improvements. Reducing bottlenecks with freight trains will finally allow our fast trains to go fast.
We look forward to working with President Obama and Sec. LaHood to offer America an additional option for travel, while reducing our needs for imported oil and polluting our atmosphere less.

Mike Skehan, Member, All Aboard Washington

Which plans for High Speed Rail throughout the country are actually passed and not just a proposal? I know that Proposition 1A passed in Cali and they’re ready to go on it, but where else?

I’m generally optimistic about what Obama said yesterday. I was very nervous seeing how $8B could be divided up so quickly we wouldn’t see much improvement at all. While there still might be an element of truth to that – I was encouraged to see he and his transportation folks are getting a better understanding of true HSR is all about.

In part of the dialogue on HSR that has now been recognized at the federal level it is crucial in my opinion that we craft a “mission statement” or develop very clear expectations that we can expect from high-speed rail.

I say that in terms of operating high-speed rail at a subsidy or profit. I tend to think that Amtrak has become such an easy target because some think it should run a profit (which is beyond its capability with its lack of track ownership, independence from Congress etc), and others think of it as a public good whereas a subsidy is not only in order but money well spent (my take on the issue).

By envisioning the a high-speed rail system one way or another you can let people know up front what they are signing up for. If we say it’ll be subsidy driven because transportation is a public good (highway and air modes are subsidy holes – while rail has hardly been in comparison) then people will know to expect that a new high-speed rail system will run with government funds. If we say the HSR system will run at a profit then people will expect that. From the documents I’ve read on Cal HSR they say they’ll run at a profit free of govt subsidy. If they end up in a subsidy position some people will be angry and resent the system, furthering the ire of some against rail as a legitimate mode.

Lastly – I think it’ll be crucial to link airports along the high-speed rail network. That way we can assuage the airlines that we aren’t gunning for all their business rather can be a mode in which to funnel passengers to their flights. Regional flights often run as a loss leader as regional jets are profitably risky (see Independence Air – oh wait they don’t exist anymore) and passengers don’t tend to like turbo props which are less expensive to operate. Let then HSR funnel those regional passengers into major airports around the US for an inter-modal long distance trip. Long distance/international flights are where the money is for airlines anyway.

Its all about inter-modality for me.


North Carolina and Virginia’s Southeast High Speed Rail project fits into the “Emerging HSR category described in the Obama plan.

As part of this project, NCDOT Rail Division has several projects advancing right now that will improve existing passenger rail services but also provide benefits to future Emerging HSR services.

For example, see NCDOT’s Track Improvement Status Page.

Several projects have environmental work complete or are close to that stage. Here is a description of a new siding that will raise speeds from 50 mph to 79 mph for two miles of track, that could later become 90 mph+ service:

Haw River – milepost H23.5 – H25.5

This project will build 10,000 feet of new track to create a passing siding between Graham and Haw River, approximately halfway between the passing sidings at McLeansville and Mebane, a distance of 22 miles. As part of the project, four curves will be straightened. The project will install two No. 20 turnouts to allow trains to enter the siding at 45mph. The speed on the main track will increase from as low as 50mph to 79mph maximum.

Estimated Cost: $12 million
Construction Schedule: Preliminary plans and environmental is complete and right of way acquisition is expected to begin in 2009.
Result: Building a new siding and realigning the track will increase capacity, modernize the railroad alignment, improved reliability of on-time service and save about a minute of travel time per train.


Patrick gives a good example. There are several others too. There aren’t really any plans that “need passed”, it’s just where they are in the planning, funding, and construction phases. Prop 1A wasn’t a referendum on a plan, it was a referendum on authorization to sell 10 billion in state bonds to fund the HSR system in CA. The plans are up to each individual HSR corridor’s respective governing agency (state or multi-state) to come up with a plan, do the environmental impact statements and engineering, and work with the state and federal government to secure funds for construction and operation.

So there’s a general consensus that the California, Midwest, Southeast, and Northwest corridors are in good shape for some portion of the funds. Other projects may have been dormant for a while (Florida, upstate New York) but may have new life breathed into them due to political leadership (Patterson in NY and the congressional delegation) or the possibility of federal funding (Florida). And these areas may also qualify for a good bit of money if they already had made progress on acquiring right-of-ways and what-not. In short, if they can pick up where they left off before funding or political will dried up several years ago, then they could get some money.

And then there’s always the Northeast Corridor which has something like a $10 bn maintenance backlog and could use any or all of the money for upgrades and track improvements. My guess though is that FRA will be looking for Amtrak appropriations to pick up more of the tab for NEC improvements since they own the tracks and that’s their bread-and-butter for revenue. Amtrak has already dedicated 160 million of its stimulus funds to the NEC just for two projects (the Niantic River bridge in CT and the electric converters in PA).

I’d like a little more info on just where California is in terms of HSR. They obviously have it all planned out. But which stage are they in in the EIS? Do they have a final record of decision? A stage I EIS and a stage II EIS or just stage I EIS? It sounds like they, like the southeast corridor are already making incremental improvements, especially in terms of removing at-grade crossings.

The big Southeast project that is ready-to-go is double-tracking the line from Greensboro to Raleigh. That’d be $500 mn right there and if the SEHSR got that done I think they’d be very happy.

It seems like the money allocated to rail is to small to make much of a difference. While you could make some valuable improvements with signaling, rolling stock, etc. I think the real value will be made in the prep work. The Obama administration needs congressional support to fund the HSR network. The easiest way to accomplish this is to put a project in terms that any congressional rep can understand…jobs. So the administration doles out the money to do engineering and environmental studies and allows states/regional groups to get all their ducks lined up. All they have to do is go to their congressmen and say ‘We are ready to go on a project that will bring X number of jobs with X amount of tax revenue to your district.’

Like fish in a barrel.

Also, any plans to update the national HSR maps on this site to reflect the different levels of HSR as defined in the Obama plan?

Andy – Well I think some of that will happen (the planning). But for some corridors like the Midwest, they’ve been planned out the whazoo for years now. They have a figure ready to go, ~3.4 bn need to get phase I done. And they really want to get at least parts of it done to help Chicago get the 2016 Olympics.

But I do think a lot of planning money will go out too so that the dollars can be authorized in the upcoming transportation bill for out-year construction. It’d be nice if Congress authorized $2bn a year for HSR instead of the $1bn Obama is asking for. You’d get bi-partisan support for that too, at least in the House, where Bob Mica (R-FL) and Bill Shuster (R-PA) are very big HSR supporters (and they’re also ranking members on the full committee and sub-committee with jurisdiction over the issue) .

t joey: In countries with developed HSR systems, they run at a profit. Unlike in the US, passenger rail subsidizes freight rail in France. When you think about it, long distance routes are always the most profitable in terms of making money by moving people. The Chicago-New York route was one fo the biggest money makers when there were no planes. There are intercity bus companies that makes a profit (Greyhound), but intracity bus routes require subsidy.

Yet, in the US, Amtrak operates at a loss. The purpose of Amtrak is not to make a profit or move a large number of people. Amtrak is a caretaker agency and vehicle for subsidizing a decrepit system we want to preserve for the future. Giving up on passenger rail completely would make it much harder to get it back when we need it (and rail is simply too good a system to throw away.)

As intercity HSR routes start to make money (a couple decades away), they will eventually be semi-privatised. Amtrak will always just be the agency that runs the losers of the US rail world. That the California system has nothing to do with Amtrak is telling. Frankly, if the northern representatives to Congress wanted better service on the Northeast Corridor, they would privatize the Acela and ownership of the track. That way the profits that are made from the service could go into maintaining the track instead of subsidizing service in nowhere land.

“That way the profits that are made from the service could go into maintaining the track instead of subsidizing service in nowhere land.”

Good thing the northern representatives care about the entire country and don’t have these kinds of attitudes.

Also, what successful HSR lines around the world are run privately?

tjoey –
“Let then HSR funnel those regional passengers into major airports around the US for an inter-modal long distance trip. ”

Well I think that’s where improved public transit comes in. Part of the comparative advantage of HSR is it gets you city-center to city-center. Something airlines can’t do. So I don’t think there will be much enthusiasm for running passengers on HSR lines 45 minutes away from downtown to drop them off at the airport.

Good and interesting comments here and in yesterdays comment section as well. The glaring missing piece, to me, is the lack of a dedicated Trust Fund, similar to the one set up 50+ years ago to build the Interstate Highway system. US$8B this year, and a billion a year for the next five years will obviously accomplish very little. This is a quarter century plus project that will require a guaranteed source of construction money in the billions per year. And, yes, HSR can and does operate at a profit in Japan and elsewhere – the key word is operate. Infrastructure construction and maintenance is a communal responsibility which must be shared by all.

Alex B: I totally agree with you – I guess I’m trying to get the transportation community thinking about how to deflect the “rail is a loser mode” mentality. One way I think we can do that is by saying it straight out: this network will run with subsidy or make a profit. If that profit will come down the proverbial track than so be it – it just needs to be said that way. All the junk I’ve read against Amtrak all comes down to people being fixated on the idea that somehow its supposed to make a profit. That foolishness came from somewhere and we need to have a well prepared line of defense saying that transportation (not just rail, but all modes) has an element of public good (sometimes entirely) and to that effect it needs investment. We’ve done a poor job of explaining that in the transportation community in my opinion. But you are certainly right about the NEC – if we wanted it to be better would fight harder for it. But I don’t think we’ve convinced the politicians in the NEC that rail is the way to go ergo the lack of fight for it.

Adam: I agree with you about public transit. I wasn’t clear though (at all) about what I would like to see in terms of airport linkages. If and when the tracks are radiating out of the city centers on their way to another city center – if possible and logical run the track to the airport first and then onto the other city center. Now this wouldn’t work in all case and shouldn’t be done in all cases. Otherwise we’d have fantastic high-speed trains to airports where everyone would promptly disembark the train for a flight – risking the business model of HSR.

In the national HSR plan we should identify major airports to serve regions to be the points for which passengers make links for flights that take passengers beyond the scope and capabilities of HSR. For example – think of Atlanta. Atlanta is a prime regional hub for this to happen. It also happens to be a hub to two airlines. It wouldn’t be impossible to link Hartsfield-Jackson to an HSR line before going onto another city (or even being a secondary stop to serve metro Atlanta). That way a passenger could quickly come down from Chattanooga, TN for a flight onto New York lets say. Currently there are nine flights a day on Delta alone from Chattanooga to ATL. That is a 119 mile trip. It is a 45 minute flight (not counting time in security and waiting at the gate). A 120 mile per hour train (lets hope for higher speeds) could make the link in one hour. That is time and likely money saved for the passenger. But it is also good for the airline. The airline would fight that rail link bitterly because they would certainly lose all market share. They would be less embittered if they knew that train was going to pour passengers into the airport anyway. Otherwise, if we don’t provide high-quality linkages between the rail and the airports that person from Chattanooga would be found having to poke his way through the Atlanta metro region to Hartsfield because Delta certainly would no longer be able to afford the seamless link the passenger previously enjoyed by taking a regional jet to ATL and then onto New York.

Sometimes providing the HSR rail link straight to the airport will not be cost effective. Sometimes it wouldn’t be wise. Sometimes we might want to heighten the public transit from the city-center to the airport – through an express train link (say like AirTrain in JFK or the like). Sometimes we might be able to make the airport a stop on the HSR rail network altogether (like EWR or BWI). All I am saying is that when we plan for a national rail plan to keep the ire of the airlines in mind – we don’t want to destroy them. We just want to replace their regional service when HSR is applicable.

I am a Doxiadis trained planner – its all about scales – and inter-modality is central to that. In terms of transportation planning I also take cues from Eero Saarinen who designed Dulles and kept the comfort of the passenger in mind through his entire journey through the airport (the mobil lounges didn’t quite work out though… they could’ve though). We need to bring out concepts of a passengers experience away from just one station, one airport to an entire system where there are smooth linkages. We have that opportunity in building HSR. If we don’t focus on inter-modality in the early stages we’ll end up with poor linkages and or haphazard fixes later.

so long as the tracks are well built allowing full speeds, i dont see any reason why we cant promise profitable operations.

my concern of course is that to save money building the systems when deciding where to locate the tracks, we build them in places with lower ridership potential or that requiring lower speeds… and therefore harming the operating income.

you already see this with the california system, with nimbys near palo alto and the UP in the central valley not wanting the tracks near them (which i understand is the more optimal route over the parallel BNSF line).
– – – –
California HSR needs to serve the main bay area airport (SFO) and the main southern california airport (LAX). SFO is covered in the plans and LAX could be a fairly simple extension from LA union station for the trains that dont continue onto san diego. kind of out there but i suppose that with a quality HSR system in place there could possibly be a mega airport for much of california in the central valley particularly for international flights with no issues of expansion difficulties, nimby noise concerns. and obviously now with an airport is serving all of california and its 30 million people it might even support flights every 30 minutes to tokyo and hong kong.

somehow the pacific northwest cascades line needs to directly serve SeaTac Airport clearly the main airport in the pacific northwest, while it is between seattle and tacoma its not exactly on the cascades line… not sure how this could be addressed but transfering to the new yet slow LINK LRT line is less than ideal

What are your opinions on the best area for high speed rail? Or where your preffered area is?
I would say Midwest Corridor just because it connects so many cities throughout the heartland. It’s also the midwest that’s not too far from the East Coast so that it could be easily connected to the NEC in the future.
Plus, I’m biased since I live here.
This is an area that needs MAJOR uplift. It would connect a lot of the Rust-Belt cities and hopefully revibe them.


Well I think many of the corridors have merit in terms of their usefullness to their respective regions and to the country. My own personal ranking of the 10 corridors (exclude NEC) would be two tiers. This is just my current prediliction for what I think would be nice to see developed first, it has nothing to do with where each corridor is in terms of development.

Tier I (in no particular order):

Tier II (no particular order)
South central
Gulf Coast
New England

This article and the one cited in the article offer some great insight into Obama’s announcement. Still, one of the larger questions to be asked is whether the plan laid out yesterday is the right way forward. Should we upgrade routes or just build new ones? This debate is similar to the different approaches France and Germany have taken in building HSR.

France essentially built an entirely new rail network. Germany took a different approach: they upgraded many lines and built a couple of true HSR lines that are integrated with the rest of their rail infrastructure.

At Switching Modes I discuss the merits of the approach announced by Obama yesterday. Please take a look and add your input.

the ohio system is really a critical piece that needs to be on the HSR map, if not true HSR then at least 90-110 mph operation.

i believe this is the ohio system…

and if anything else it should help shut up john boner

front range (cheyenne-denver-alberqueque is another, again in the 90-110 mph range.

France built new lines, but they didn’t actually build an entirely new network (that was a marketing creation). The infrastructure is integrated into the network and TGV trains use the conventional network to get into the middle of Paris and go beyond the high-speed portion of the line (for example the early line ran Paris-Lyon, but TGV trains ran all the way to the Mediterranean and Geneva.

That’s what we should do too. A high-speed line between Chicago and St.Louis is great, but it’s exponentially better if it includes branches on the existing network, for example, to Peoria, from Champaign-Urbana, and beyond St. Louis to Springfield MO, Branson and Kansas City.

If you run trains Chicago – St. Louis, stopping (say) at Bloomington and Springfield IL, you’ve serving 6 travel markets (CHI-SPG, CHI-BLOM, CHI-STL, BLOM-SPG, BLOM-STL, SPG-STL). As you add stations you increase the utility of the system exponentially – and add riders from all those new markets right on top of those existing 6 markets.

True, our existing rail network needs work so as to improve timing and not interfere too much with current freight needs. That was true in France as well. In fact our existing rail network needs capacity improvements anyway, but that’s a different topic.

Step by step . . .

Christopher: all HSR and rapid rail proposals in the US plan on running to many intermediate stations. The Midwest proposal only highlights the major cities, but since it’ll run on existing track, it will serve all current Amtrak stations. The California HSR route serves many minor urban areas, and even detours to serve Palmdale.

On the other hand, most traffic on HSR is between the largest cities; adding stops does not increase traffic much. We can see it with the Tokaido Shinkansen, where out of 14 tph, 10 are Nozomi, a super-express class that only stops in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and their most important suburbs. The Tokyo-Osaka market eclipses all others, so the increased speed that comes from express service turns out to matter more than the extra markets – even though these markets include fairly large metro areas, like Hamamatsu, population 1.2 million.

I’m just worried about just using existing lines. I’ve read many many stories and heard stories of people that work for CSX and they say that with recent scares of high gas prices freight travel is up, a lot. THey say that freight lines are very very crowded as it is. I don’t want to compromise freight for passenger or vice versa. I don’t know, it could be exaggerated. Just something to keep in mind.

Patrick M. Thanks for that link to the NCDOT page listing the individual North Carolina rail projects underway. I love the detail. This is the kind of info needed for the accountability some folks talk about. Describe the project, the location, the goal, give the budget, and the timetable for completion. But, oh dear. I added up all the stuff underway between now and 2012 (and one 2013). Grand total $112.5 million.

And not to sneer at spending $100 million on improving rail. That is more than 40 other states are doing. But this is the tangible progress toward getting travel time down to 4 hours 25 minutes between Richmond and Charlotte? At this rate, by the time they get this line to 79 mph the ice caps will have melted and the Outer Banks will be a memory.

Of course, we’re talking about changing the rate of progress. And $8 or $9 billion could speed things up here and there. But we need to be saying loud and clear that this funding is just a drop in the bucket!

Woody –

“But this is the tangible progress toward getting travel time down to 4 hours 25 minutes between Richmond and Charlotte?”

Yes and no. First of all, at this point it’s not about Richmond (in VA). These are all projects strictly done by the state of North Carolina (so the trip they’re worried about is Raleigh to Charlotte). And because it’s completely state-funded and there’s no other sources of funding (i.e. federal), then yeah it’s hard to invest say 1 bn or 2 bn in improvements in a short amount of time. The “no” part is that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the improvements. They’ve been working on this for about 10 years now, so there’s a lot of projects that have been completed.

There used to be a site on NCDOT’s webpage listing potentiall ARRA projects for rail and transit. They’ve taken it down now apparently. But on that list was a request for funds to double-track the entire length of rail from Greensboro to Selma, NC. That right there would go a long way towards the SE HSR corridor and it would also cost ~600 million. So the basic strategy of NC is to survive on the modest amount of money it put towards rail right now and wait for the feds to wake up and help out. Hopefully that day has come.

t joey/adam: I was taking a pessimistic attitude towards Amtrak as a vehicle for subsidy and the norther legislators who advocate for it to make a point.

I don’t think transportation should be privatized across an entire country and I tend to agree with the post from April 18. However, I am often very annoyed at the debate in city, state and federal governments over transportation dollars. For example, I remember reading that almost none of Missouri’s stimulus money went to St. Louis. These are the people we have entrusted with our rail system.

I believe long distance routes in the middle of the country should be subsidized and I think we need to become comfortable with that as a country. I just think the subsidies should come from taxes, not from the success of the NEC. All that money is not divided up by what dollars would do the most good. It’s divided up in the market for votes. Does it really make sense that the subsidy per passenger is so much higher for train riders in Montana than for those in New York? Wouldn’t a dollar spent on a train in New York yield a much higher economic and environmental return?

In my opinion, if Acela were partially privatized, or at least managed by an new Amtrak-like company, the shareholders of Acela, Inc. would encourage the company to put its profits back into the upkeep of the tracks and rolling stock and provide constantly improving service. I trust that model to provide better service than the wisdom of the House of Representatives.

AlexB –
Well I’m just not sure that what you would like to see (most revenues going back into NEC) isn’t already the case. Really the only rail corridor that gets significant Amtrak investments is the NEC. In the other corridors, maintenance and operating expenses are left to the freight companies (maintenance), the states (maintenance and operating subsidies), or a federal subsidy.

But you could think of it this way too. With the expansion of HSR, we could have multiple NEC’s. Then those amtrak subsidies you don’t like going to the rural routes, whatever the subsidy levels actually are, will be less and less of a drag on the entire system. The whole rail system will be stronger instead of relying on one corridor as the revenue producer.

@ Jake, the Ohio Triple-C corridor from the Ohio Hub plan has passed, but the Ohio Hub is a plan with conventional and “Emerging HSR” options, and its the conventional rail Triple-C that’s passed. We lag far behind Illinois in getting moving, but at least we are getting moving.

The Cascades in the Pacific Northwest and the Chicago / St. Louis corridor in the Midwest Hub are two corridors that are ready to go for upgrade to 110mph.

@ Jon, the full Ohio Hub is:

Buffalo / Cleveland / Columbus / Cincinnati / Indianapolis
Pittsburgh / Cleveland / Toledo / Fort Wayne
Pittsburgh / Columbus / Toledo / Detroit
Pittsburgh / Columbus / Fort Wayne

Cleveland / Toledo / Fort Wayne and Cincinnati / Indianapolis were original parts of the Midwest Hub. The Triple-C corridor was later added to the DoT designated corridors as part of the “Midwest” corridor system.

Obviously there is no rush to add the full Ohio Hub to the DoT map, since the Triple-C has to be established first before there’s going to be progress on the rest of the system.

Connecting via Buffalo to the Empire Corridor and points east, via Pittsburgh to the Keystone Corridor and points east, connecting via Fort Wayne to Chicago on the Midwest Hub and points west, connecting via Indianapolis to Chicago on the Midwest Hub and points west, connecting via Detroit to the proposed Windsor to Quebec City corridor in Canada.

@ Adam, a main point of interest in HSR is the ability to gain operating surpluses once the trains are going fast enough for the particular transport market. That shifts the debate from operating subsidies to capital spending, where the Federal government has a long established practice of subsidizing the construction of new transport corridors, from the early 1800’s in the days of the Erie Canal on to the present day.

Conventional passenger rail will continue to provide net economic benefits without being able to operate at a profit, because of the large share of the benefits that are external benefits … but HSR can be operate on the basis of “seed” investment in a backbone corridor getting operations going, and then when operating surpluses are achieved, those can be used to generate revenue bonds for the local match for Federal capital subsidies.

“Conventional passenger rail will continue to provide net economic benefits without being able to operate at a profit, because of the large share of the benefits that are external benefits … but HSR can be operate on the basis of “seed” investment in a backbone corridor getting operations going, and then when operating surpluses are achieved, those can be used to generate revenue bonds for the local match for Federal capital subsidies.”

Well put. Thanks.

I really hope the 3-C corridor gets up and going soon. I think the potential benefits are greatly underestimated as anyone can tell who’s tried to drive from Columbus to Cleveland on I-71.


Well that’s where we come in! It’s up to us as citizens to elect people that will support continued funding for HSR (preferably through a dedicated revenue source like the gas tax is for highway construction), or to work with our current elected officials so that they know how important this is and that we want it funded. Luckily we not only have a very pro-transit administration right now, but we also have a much more pro-transit Congress than in years past.

Adam –

I was trying to make a point about Amtrak and I think I misrepresented myself. I fully believe that train lines should be subsidized all over the country! However, Amtrak is constantly fighting for its very survival and doesn’t have the resources to really re-construct the train system or build new lines. I wish it did, but it doesn’t. Under Amtrak ownership and operation, I think the NEC is operating far below its potential.

When you compare the proposed California High Speed Rail to the Acela service, for example, I think the inadequacies on the east coast become more clear. The proposed train trip from San Francisco to LA will cost $55, take 2 hours and 38 minutes, and be 438 miles long. Currently, a trip on the Acela from Boston to Washington DC costs $174 (minimum), takes 6 hours and 36 minutes, and is 440 miles long. Same distance, triple price, triple trip time.

Combined Amtrak service along the NEC has a ridership of about 15 million a year and does a bit better than breaking even. The California line estimates 88-117 million a year in 2030 and will turn a billion dollar profit in the first year (in theory). Given that the cities along the NEC have such better connecting options and there are twice as many people along the corridor (more or less), the discrepancies in ridership, speed, and profit are pathetic.

Maybe ME, MA, CT, RI, NY, NJ, PA, MD & VA could create their own version of Amtrak with dedicated tax revenues. The new agency’s purpose would be to build a TGV style line next to the NEC. Maybe they could allow a private company to operate and manage it. I don’t know what the solution is. I just know the Acela is too slow and too expensive to be as helpful as it should be. Imagine Boston to Washington in 3 hours!! DC-New York in 1.5 hours!! It would drastically change the northeast, and I can’t imagine Amtrak or the federal government that oversees Amtrak ever doing it.

It costed me only $67 to travel from Richmond to Lancaster PA and around 7 hours with Amtrack as of now. During the great oil panic of 2008 airlines and driving were running out of control with run away rising prices on suit cases and fares. Amtrack during that time only had to rise prices 6% on some of their train routes but most of the routes didn’t even change their prices. During the oil panic Amtrack broke record riderships to the point they ran out of passanger cars and trains.

The railroad fare was $68 dollar from Richmond to Lancaster PA in 2007 and it’s $67 from Richmond to Lancaster as of now. Amtrack currently could cut about three to four hours of this trip to Lancaster PA by adding two to four more trains from Harrsionburg to Philli and add more railroad tracks between Richmond and Washingtion and extened the eletric catenary to Richmond and Pitsburg and extending the catenary under current speeds would have knocked off two hours off of my 7 hour trip. On a lot of TV programs they say that Washingiton DC to Boston is were 60% of Amtrack’s revenew comes in. If we have another oil panic in 2011 and we have some of these high speed rail lines in Amtrack will make some big profits.

$8 billion isn’t going to go very far (especially if it is $800m, not $8000m – I’m never sure how many zeros you include in your number in the US, but in the UK we have 3!). In the UK the first 120 miles of the high speed rail project between London and the West Midlands will cost between £15.8bn and £17.4bn according to official figures. On that basis $8bn (even assuming it is $8000m) would get you around 40 miles !

$8 billion = $8,000 million. Globally. The UK-US distinction is that in the US a billion means 10^9, whereas in the UK it used to mean 10^12.

Before you trot out High-Speed 2, you should note that it’s extraordinarily expensive. Its projected per-km cost is more than twice the projected per-km cost of tunnel-heavy California HSR and four times the per-km cost of the even tunnel-heavier airport HSR in Norway.

The per-km projected cost of HS2 is roguhly the same as recently finished AV/AC Bologna-Firenze that’s essentially a tunnel-chain under mountains (73.8 out of 78.5 km is in tunnels).

It sounds like the reason why the Britain high speed rail might be so expensive is it might be the land buying costs to buy up land for the high speed rail line consdering that all the land in England already is built up and very expensive. The high speed rail projects would most likely be cheaper pur mile in that we can run them along interstates or buy up open land between cities while in England it is one sold town of buildings.

Britain has plenty of freeways. The M1 and M6 rights of way can get you from London almost all the way to Manchester. They’re not always straight, but the sections where significant takings would be required aren’t that long or expensive. It’s more expensive than sticking to existing ROW, but it’s not $100 million/km expensive.

I actually had to do a computation like this for the sections of the Northeast Corridor that have to carve ROW through the suburbs; it’s about $40 million/km in the favored quarter. And the areas where HS2 would need takings are not favored quarters.

Some article mentioned they preferred disused GCML ROW for part of route – that would make a lot of sense since the ROW has minimum radii of 1 mile, so takings for faster curves should be minimal.

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