High-Speed Rail

Breaking: SNCF Proposes Development of High-Speed Rail in Midwest, Texas, Florida, and California Corridors

SNCF Plans for American High-Speed Rail

» French organization submits detailed proposals for 220 mph train operation.

Last December, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Representative John Mica (R-FL) announced that the Federal Railroad Administration would begin accepting Expressions of Interest for the development of high-speed lines in the United States. By February, more than 80 groups, including a number of states, train operators, and train constructors, had sent letters describing their interest in being part of the development of American fast train travel. Final responses were due on September 14th.

I’ve obtained documents that show that SNCF, the French national railroad operator made famous by its development of the TGV system, has responded with detailed descriptions of potential operations in four U.S. corridors, all to benefit from train service at speeds of up to 220 mph. The organization refers to this service as HST 220 (220 mph high-speed trains). With the exception of a description of plans by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, SNCF appears to be the only group that submitted a serious, corridor-based response to FRA’s demand, though infrastructure companies Vinci, Spineq, Cintra, Global Via, and Bouygues all sent in letters promoting rather vague interest in involvement.

There is no funding associated with this call for expressions of interest; it is unrelated to the stimulus. Nonetheless, SNCF’s large response — totaling 1,000 pages — exemplifies the degree to which it sees American corridors as a good investment and suggests that the French company is planning an all-out assault on future U.S. rail operations.

The documents indicate that SNCF “Believe[s] the United States is ideally suited for HSR: it features large metropolitan areas that are relatively far apart, a highly mobile population (2.5 times the European average), and a fast-growing awareness of the importance of the environmental challenges HSR can address.” In addition, SNCF’s response was conditioned on viability: it suggests that high-speed rail investment should only occur where operating and maintenance costs would be covered by rider revenue and that socio-economic benefits offset initial public investments in the system. Based on its conclusions, the corridors it has picked for study would meet those guidelines. This is a wholehearted endorsement of U.S. rail investment from the point of view of a very successful European rail company.

SNCF argues that ideal corridors for investment will be up to 600 miles in length, providing service in four hours or less. It contends that the majority of ridership and benefits will come from former road users, though it suggests that up to 90% of mode share could be captured from today’s airline operations on corridors with travel times of less than two hours. Outside of urban cores, tracks would have to be newly constructed to accommodate fast trains that cannot share corridors with freight cars.

The most exciting proposal is the 1,400-mile system it envisions for the Midwest, a network that has never been so fully studied. I’ve detailed SNCF’s proposals for all four of the corridors below.

Midwest Corridor

The first phase of rail investments for the Midwest would extend from Milwaukee to Detroit, via a bypass around Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Toledo, by 2018, with a link to Cleveland opening by 2020. The full system would include new connections from Chicago to St. Louis; Chicago to Cincinnati; and Milwaukee to Minneapolis. SNCF predicts full operation by 2023, though further links along the Ohio 3C corridor and to Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Toronto could be considered for future development.

SNCF expects that the system would more than cover operations costs, allowing the network’s revenues to be used to repay some of the initial construction costs. The public would subsidize 54% of the $68.5 billion total cost of right-of-way, construction, and trainsets. Benefits from reduced car and air travel, however, are expected to make up for 150% of the government investment in construction costs over a period of just 15 years of operation.

New tracks would would be laid near existing lines and high-speed trains would share existing tracks in urban areas, such as through Chicago. That said, a bypass around Chicago would play a very important role here, especially in shuttling passengers to the city’s airports. SNCF envisions the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative as an important feeder system.

Service would be provided to 28 stations, including to new stops at Chicago O’Hare, Chicago Midway, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Cleveland airports. City stops would almost all be located in downtown cores. Trains would be standard European high-speed rail trainsets, 200 meters long, with 500 to 550 passengers per unit.

Potential journey times would connect Chicago and St. Louis in 1h44; Minneapolis and Chicago in 2h42; Chicago and Detroit in 1h53; and Indianapolis and Detroit in 2h52. Each journey time is shorter than required today for equivalent air or automobile travel. The first phase would attract 15.8 million passengers a year by 2022; the completed system would serve 42.3 million passengers by 2028.

Travel costs would be in the middle range of fares on peer high-speed systems — from $0.40/mile for trips up to 400 miles to $0.24/mile for trips beyond 600 miles. This is generally lower than equivalent air fares but about a third higher than the cost of non-business automobile travel. Farebox revenue would stabilize at $4.15 billion a year, providing a strong profit source for the operating company, which would more than make up for maintenance costs.

Texas Corridor

SNCF has an entrenched interest in Texas high-speed rail, having been the majority member of the Texas TGV project of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That proposal collapsed in flames after intense opposition from Southwest Airlines and subsequently state legislators. The company has a sincere interest in moving forward with a new project in the state, and has chosen to focus on a Ft. Worth-Dallas-Austin-San Antonio link, rather than the Dallas-Houston link that’s been much-discussed in recent weeks. The company argues that building the former line first would allow further consideration of the connection to Houston; it is clear that SNCF still considers the Texas Triangle an option, despite recent efforts to promote the T-Bone corridor, portrayed on the map above.

At $13.8 billion in construction costs, SNCF expects benefits to outweigh public infrastructure costs by 170% over a period of 15 years. This project would have the highest rate of return of any of the corridors profiled in the studies presented here. The study projects 12.1 million annual riders by 2026 and 15 million by 2040. After predicting 11.4 million annual riders for the Dallas-Houston corridor last month — far higher than the 1.5 to 3 million economist Ed Glaeser assumed in his study of the line — I feel vindicated.

Dallas and San Antonio would be connected in 1h50, with links between Dallas and Austin in 1h13 non-stop. Seven new stations would be built, five in traditional downtown hubs and two located adjacent to airports in Dallas and San Antonio.

Florida Corridor

Florida would be well suited to high-speed rail according to SNCF’s analysis. For $20.5 billion, the company proposes a Tampa-Orlando link by 2018 and connections west to St. Petersburg and south to Miami by 2025. These phases are similar to those already advanced by the Florida High-Speed Rail program, which is currently competing for stimulus funding for the first phase. SNCF expects 3.5 million trips between Tampa and Orlando in 2021, with ridership on the statewide system reaching 20 million a year by 2038. Trains would connect Tampa with Orlando-area attractions in 0h30 and Tampa with Miami in 2h30.

Problematically, SNCF follows Florida’s existing plan a bit too closely, choosing not to program center-city stations in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, or Miami, focusing on airport connections instead. Building a line on this corridor without providing access downtown would deprive Florida’s downtowns of significant rail-based redevelopment opportunities.

California Corridor

SNCF’s plans for the California corridor diverge little from those already put forward by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which has $10 billion in voter-approved funds but which will need billions more from the federal government and private sources if a fast rail line in that state is to be built. SNCF proposes an Anaheim-Los Angeles-San Francisco link by 2020, with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego by 2025, with a total cost of $37.5 billion in 2009 dollars. The organization would set fares at 50% of air travel costs, and expects to attract up to 65 million passengers by 2040; that’s about a third lower than the state currently expects. There is little new analysis here because we’ve already seen so much from the state organization, but the SNCF study does reaffirm the project’s economic viability even with lower-than-expected ridership.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority also submitted a respond to the FRA’s request. Its contents are simply a description of that organization’s well-known and publicized plans for the state.

Update: Here are the documents:
Letter | Midwest | Texas | Florida | California

53 replies on “Breaking: SNCF Proposes Development of High-Speed Rail in Midwest, Texas, Florida, and California Corridors”

Are you sure about that Chicago-Milwaukee travel time? Just shy of two hours seems pretty much standard for highway travel at off-peak time, especially if you speed a little. In fact, the current Amtrak service is faster than that, and that’s at 79 mph.

Thanks for posting on this. It’s really good to hear that such a serious proposal was made, and it’s even better to get some details on it.

I think there’s a typo in the section on the Midwest network. Chicago-to-Milwaukee travel time must be less than 1h44.

“…a highly mobile population (2.5 times the European average)…”

That’s interesting. That’s the first time I’d heard that.

65 million is actually exactly what the CHSRA gives as their “base” ridership for 2030. Even if SNCF figures 65 million is the low end, they still don’t think they’ll get it until 10 years later.

Jon: people who care about transportation politics in the US, especially rail politics, aren’t anti-French. The anti-French sentiments are restricted to foreign policy and to Republicans who think any government spending is evil unless it’s on the military.

Middle America has been brainwashed by the constant lies from Fox/far right about France and its culture..I think its a great country and their HSR system is something to admire. If they can help build the CAHSR more power to them

How can this not be great news? If nothing else, it should inform Americans as to what is possible, the technology is really out there. btw, Representative “Freedom Fries” has long since acknowledged the stupidity of his anti-French stance (and has major problems himself with the war).

It is nice to see that at least one entity took the Bush-era bait regarding HSR “expressions of interest.” As you note, other parties were initially interested, but all but SNCF apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort since the real action is now in the ARRA-funded PRIIA programs, rather than this un-funded “beauty contest”. Nonetheless, I hope that the SNCF proposal encourages further discussion, debate, and interest — especially regarding true 220mph HSR.

Taking a look at SNCF’s corridors and general approach, it’s clear that this is a blue-sky vision unencumbered by much understanding of state and local political dynamics (i.e. alternatives that allow bypassing rather than require going through downtown Chicago will never get sufficient political traction in Illinois, just as alternatives that connect Chicago to Detroit via Fort Wayne will never get sufficient backing from Michigan officials — nor should they, one might argue).

But it’s nice to see that a highly experienced outside party sees a strong business case in all of these corridors, and I would hope that SNCF’s proposals can’t do anything but further buttress future variations of these plans that are more sensitive to (and indeed take advantage of) the nuanced local political realities regarding train routing and phased implementation decisions.

SNCF thinks like a private company rather than like a government entity. It only serves large cities with HSR. It builds lines without regard for local politics: it funded the LGV Sud-Est by floating bonds on Wall Street, only getting state money for subsequent lines after the TGV became an instant success. It avoids political fights whenever possible – that’s why it’s building HSR to Nice via the longer, more expensive coastal route instead of the NIMBY-prone inland route.

Wow that’s awesome. But no Cascadia Corridor? I live in Seattle and I think that 220mph HSR from Seattle to Portland and Vancouver would really get quite high ridership. Flights do the Seattle to Portland run about every half hour, and very frequently for the Seattle to Vancouver run as well. HSR could definitely siphon off ridership from these flights as well as from all of the people who drive between these cities.

I do not know what this study cost, but it is interesting that SNCF spent enough to produce a 1000 page report on these three areas. I believe the Midwest High Speed Rail Association (a not for profit funded by donations) spend a little less than 100k on the Chicago-St. Louis HSR report which was released in July. I do not know how to get the full report, but would love to read it. As a few notes. The route east from Chicago to Cleveland with a spur to Detroit is the best way, it would take a little longer, probably 20-30 minutes, to get to Detroit, but would also open the Detroit-Cleveland route and would avoid the cost of building an additional 200+ miles of HSR. (The current Chicago-Detroit route could still be used at 110mph for which it is already prepared in sections). It is also smart to go Chicago-Cleveland as this will allow for connecting to the east coast through the Empire route (Pittsburg-Harrisburg-Philadelphia).
Either way, lets get HSR moving and eliminate the red tape. We can either continue to fight over this for the next 30 years or do something now while the administration is interested.

The anti-French sentiments are restricted to foreign policy and to Republicans who think any government spending is evil unless it’s on the military.

exactly. hence the potential for a roadblock from mccain, piyush, those wacko senators from oklahoma, that crazy woman from minnesota, wicker (mr. guns on amtrak), the c street orgy crowd, that texas congressman complaining about DC Metro service, huckleberry, etc.
– – – –
SNCF plan: i’m assuming they are leaving the NEC to Amtrak to run and improve. same with the Cascades, afterall the cascades in 10 years from now (or even less time depending on HSR funds) will be greatly improved, no not ‘HSR’ but definitely outstanding by US standards… faster than I-5, close to hourly departures, damn near profitable at build out.

simple — Chicago would have 2 routes in their proposal. Through the city via the Loop at Union Station and also the “bypass” route serving the airports.

Glen — SNCF has stated they believe HST 220 is the solution in all 4 of the regions, including the Midwest.

Was there any rationale given by SNCF in their analysis for excluding the two largest mega-regions on the Atlantic (NEC and Piedmont)?

Aw, it’s probably easier to just connect the two halves of Union Station than to build a bypass. It will also increase capacity, because this way, every Milwaukee-Detroit train will also stop in Chicago, providing extra Chicago-Milwaukee and Chicago-Detroit service. You don’t want to get stuck in a situation like the TGV, where the LGV Sud-Est is at capacity even though there are only 4 tph peak between Paris and Lyon.

Brian –
The report’s introductory letter (the whole report is now linked at the bottom of the post) suggests that the SNCF believes that this list of corridors is not exhaustive, so they don’t give a good explanation for why they focused on the routes described in the piece.

Alon –
I’m not sure where you’re getting the 4 tph peak Paris-Lyon number. For tomorrow morning, between 7-8 am, I count 10 high-speed trains using the Southeast LGV corridor (and I could be missing some):

» Lille-Lyon TGV#5102 (leaving Lille at 05h59)
» Lille-Lyon TGV#9804 (leaving Lille at 06h25)
» Paris-Marseille TGV#6103 (leaving Paris at 07h16)
» Paris-Montpellier TGV#6203 (leaving Paris at 07h20)
» Paris-Lyon TGV#6643 (leaving Paris at 07h24)
» Paris-Chambéry Artesia#9241 (leaving Paris at 07h42)
» Paris-Avignon TGV#6171 (leaving Paris at 07h46)
» Paris-Avignon TGV#6191 (leaving Paris at 07h50)
» Paris-Lyon TGV#6605 (leaving Paris at 07h54)
» Paris-Dijon Lyria#9261 (leaving Paris at 07h58)

Hi Yonah,

Do you know where i can view the full list of train times for a week on the LGV Sud-Est line?

where did you get the ten train times from that you posted?


Just looking at Paris-Lyon gives 4 tph peak – I believe between 8 and 9 in the morning. I’m not sure why they’re excluding trains that go through Lyon but terminate in Marseille or Avignon.

Why these? Think of these as preemptive contract proposals. Texas, SNCF has a history with. If it gets funded, there’s no obvious incumbent contractor looming to build the line, no obvious contractor to operate it. SNCF humbly offers itself. Florida and California, there may be incumbent contractors to build the networks (Balfour Beatty just bought Taylor Brinkehoff), but there’s no obvious contractor to operate them. This is SNCF pointing out its advantages as an operator. There’s a fairly substantial section on ticketing and reservations, for example.

They may simply have run out of time to do the others. The midwest proposal shows signs of not having been fully edited. Appendix 8 on route alignments only discusses Milwaukee to Detroit. In the appendix the bypass is thought of as one possible way to get round the limitations of Chicago Union Station. A tunnel under the concourse is explicitly given as another possibility. In the main text, though, a full set of spokes is discussed and the bypass is described as providing spoke to spoke service. The notion is that service along one spoke will run into Chicago Union Station, service in one spoke and out another will bypass it. Minneapolis-Chicago runs in and out of Chicago Union Station; Minneapolis-St. Louis takes the bypass and stops at O’Hare.

Why not the NEC? I can think of a couple of reasons. As Alon noted upthread, SNCF avoids political issues. HSR in the NEC would replace an Amtrak service and the Amtrak legislation says when you do that you have to comply with a whole bunch of union protection rules. The SNCF MO is to build their own pair of tracks — on someone else’s RoW if agreement can be reached, next to it if agreement can’t be — to their own specifications, electrified their way. If they have to run on mixed tracks (because there’s no room to build new trakc son the existing RoW and there’s no way to widen it cheaply) they want to designate a pair of tracks as primarily theirs, upgrade them to their specs and electrify just them. That won’t work in the NEC.

Too, the four proposals are for projects either wholly contained in one state or where there is an existing multistate compact for HSR. SNCF’s preferred setup is that the state or group of states establish a company to which they give loan guarantees and grants and which, in turn, contracts for construction and operations. As Alon and I discussed in another thread, such an entity doesn’t exist in the NEC (nor in Cascadia).

I like the fact that this report lends legitimacy to the existing state authorities’ estimates. It confirms the construction costs and ridership estimates. That Texas Triangle needs to get built!

the great lakes to keystone to northeast corridors. chicago to cleveland to pittsburgh to philly/the nec with branches to detroit and cinncinnati. this should be the only dedicated true hsr system built!(connecting 140 million people…email for more details…

Alon, I agree that it would be better (whether it’d be easier is hard to say) to connect the two halves of Chicago Union Station than to build a HSR bypass around Chicago, and for the reasons you say. With two dedicated HSR tracks connecting Milwaukee, O’Hare, and downtown, and then splitting to go east and south on Chicago’s south side, there would easily be capacity for 10+ trains per hour per direction with all trains stopping downtown (a 4 track terminal may be needed downtown). Why would anyone want to operate a train to and from any city pair in the midwest and bypass downtown Chicago rather than serve it if they could? That makes no sense. It would be like the Shinkansen bypassing Tokyo to get from Nagoya to Niigata. A totally stupid transportation and business proposition. From a marketability and operations perspective it gains nothing and loses a lot. You want your most intensively used trackage to be serving your highest demand station — jacking up effective frequencies as routes converge approaching that city. Any operating plan that doesn’t do that is sub-optimally allocating capacity.

The City of Chicago’s West Loop Transportation Center proposal would achieve this north-south connection by way of a 2-mile connector tunnel under Clinton Street, connecting the Milwaukee District tracks (north) with either the SCAL/IC or the NS tracks (south). My preference is SCAL/IC so that it can have special event service to McCormick Place and because the IC would be a much better high speed ROW than the NS. Incidentally, the WLTC would also include space for a new CTA Red Line “bypass” subway connecting North/Clybourn to Chinatown via the West Loop, which would free up capacity in the State Street subway for high frequency future CTA Circle Line service…

Guerrilla giving:

I suspect that SNCF wasn’t interested in Portland-Seattle for two main reasons.

1) Neither Portland nor Seattle have a very large population and there are no intermediate destinations. While each city would make a nice addition to a larger network, there really isn’t enough traffic for real HSR between the two to make any money.

2) The route between Seattle and Portland has lots of curves that will slow down the TGV type trains that SNCF wants to run. Remember SNCF is proposing 220 MPH trains for all these corridors.

This is great! To see SNCF throw their hat in the ring gives the HSR debate a huge boost.

However lets say hypothetically this pans out, lines get built and all is hunky dory,

Would the laws passed in the 70’s during the Amtrak creation, prohibiting private passenger rail ownership, need to changed or amended to allow for a private company to be the operator of the services or does the law solely relate to ownership of a passenger rail company?

The laws governing rail need an overhaul. FRA compliant won’t reach 220 mph, maybe down a hill.

Also I think that there needs to be and ‘SNCF’ setup in the US, or rather their business model (if you can call it that) would be a good one to follow, We need an authority that has the power and resources to get shit done.

Alon said “It builds lines without regard for local politics”

Here something like that would be tough. Every local politico is going to want to either claim they secured the future of the regions mobility or claim they defeated the big bad french socialist/commi plan that was going to ruin their lives, ban any dog other than poodles, raise their taxes and destroy the fabric of American society. Local politics can’t be avoided here in the good ol USA. Also don’t tell Fox news about the SNCF plan they’ll flip balls.

To extend Deacon’s point, under current US laws and procedures we won’t even get an environmental approval for new rail by 2018. The very first thing that needs to happen for SNCF’s project to become realistic is to revise antiquated safety and approval laws to at least make them on par with equivalent highway laws.

Yes, “on a par with equivalent highway laws.” That would be nice.

What is the problem with having seat belts on Amtrak or those of us who feel safer wearing them? ‘Not invented here’ or what? For those who don’t like them, OK, don’t wear them.

I’m not afraid of the passenger rail car I’m riding in crumpling like a paper bag, which apparently is the obsession of rail safety authorities. Accidents like that seem to happen about as often as someone gets hit by a bit of meteorite from space.

But every time I read about a routine road crossing accident, some number of passenger have “minor” injuries — broken bones, bruises, lacerations — stuff that seat belts could significantly reduce.

I’d like to see the rail safety board or whatever is the appropriate body be composed of experts from the auto and airline industries, with two or one or none of the members having railroad experience.

Maybe throw in expertise from NASA and the Navy. Because how come planes can come to a stop on an aircraft carrier deck but trains can’t stop for a mile to two? Yeah, I know, they’ll say it’s physics. Does making trains heavier in case of meteorites or crumpling crashes make them harder and slower to stop when something gets on the tracks?

I’d like to see the physics problems attacked by folks with no previous record of failure in the railroad business. Folks willing to look at parachutes and reverse firing emergency engines and whatever it takes.

The route between Seattle and Portland doesn’t have very many curves. And Seattle is the 12th largest combined statistical area in the country, with about 4 million people. Portland would come in at about 18th or 19th and if Vancouver, BC was included, it would be about 20th. 220mph HSR would reduce the travel time between Seattle and Portland from 3.5 hrs to about 50 minutes, and Seattle to Vancouver from 4-6 hours to 35-40 minutes. There are also intermediate smaller cities that are fairly large destinations including Vancouver, WA, the fourth largest city in the state, Olympia, the state capital, Tacoma, the third largest city in the state, and Bellingham, a quite dense college town.

One issue the Seattle/Portland route DOES have–is flooding.

I-5, as well as the UP mainline, both pass through lowlands in the vicinty of Chehalis and Centralia, which turn into a giant lake every couple of years. Unless one wants to carve a new line in the Cascade foothills, or similar difficult terrain, HSR will have to deal with this.

Last winter, Seattle (and NW Washington in general) was pretty much cut off from the rest of the US, at least as far as overland routes were concerned–record snowfall closed the Cascade passes, and the aforementioned flooding closed off the freeway south. You could still reach BC IIRC,and a route to Oregon via US101 might have still been passable.

But a big problem for HSR up here in the Pacific Northwest is that we are VERY geographically isolated from the rest of the US and Canada. Once you leave the Cascadia corridor (Eugene OR to Vancouver BC), the nearest major city would be Sacramento, over 400 miles south of Eugene (Reno is a similar distance). Salt Lake is 800 miles from Portland, Calgary is 600 miles (1000 km) from Vancouver, etc. And any route out of the corridor will involve some pretty nasty terrain. (Obviously I’m excluding medium-sized burgs such as Spokane, Kamloops, Redding, and Boise from my list of “major cities”).

I’d love HSR here, but 220MPH HSR is probably overkill for the population densities and distances involved.

Engineerscotty, i don’t know the lay of the land so to speak of the flood areas you mention but wouldn’t an elevated line through these areas combat the problem?
Something to the same effect as those used in Taiwan. Its the longest in the world at 157 km (97.3 miles). At a hight ranging between 10m and 15m.

It possibly could–not sure how need you be to get above the floodplain. It wouldn’t need to be as long as the example you cite; OTOH I suspect such a thing would face opposition–both from environmentalists, and from those who would rather elevate I-5.

Fair enough, I’ve always thought that an elevated line of sorts, no matter where you stick it, would have a smaller footprint impacting the surrounding area less than if you would do the standard ROW and Clear out a 15m – 20m wide

I believe that in Germany where they had the TransRapid Maglev test track, it ran through the middle of a farm field and the farmer just kept farming away after the construction and by the looks of it he got right up to the columns.

Like you said it would probably face opposition.

Talgo speed:
What is the highest speed at which a Talgo is run in Spain? I think there is a new model that exceeds 150 m.p.h. The real problem is inertia in FRA, Congress, and local political bodies. The NIMBY problem is often a mask for other, nastier interests: FELA, crossing collisions with jury trials, local pols whose relatives are car dealers, &c, &c. A federal law declaring any damage suit for a pedestrian or a motor vehicle hit on a railroad right of way an undue burden on interstate commerce (accompanied by a federally-administered accident insurance scheme to pay periodically people utterly disabled) in such accidents could help.
As long as there is a significant class of people who try to make a living by getting their fingers stuck on money not theirs, we will have extreme difficulty getting anything done. If we eventually permit subdividing rural land for housing without building any streets or roads so people get around in ATVs, civilian Strykers, &c, then our citizens might learn that aside from living alone a huge ranches people need to share improvements–costs and uses.
In France administrative law favors the government. When the French decide to build, they do–straight.
Lots of suburban housing is flimsy compared to pre-1940 houses.
When the suburbs begin to fall apart, become slums filled with squatters, then the middle classes may come to their senses; be certain to hedge any bets!

Nate — You want to reform insurance? Make all medical costs from automobile accidents payable under the mandatory auto insurance policies, rather than being charged to the employer-paid plans as now.

You want to reduce accidents at grade crossings? Have the costs of overpasses, improved barriers, etc paid out of the highway trust fund money. The highway lobby likes to tell the lie that highways are self-supported, so let the gas tax (and other appropriations to the highways) support crossing safety. Why should Amtrak and the railroads pay for the crossing safety measures, when usually the RR tracks were there long before the paved roads?

One important thing to remember about SNCF is that they’re strictly at this point a train operating company, not an infrastructure company. The business model they have now in Europe, which I suspect is what SNCF is counting on evolving here too, is one where government hires or franchises a train operating company to run the service and a separate infrastructure company, which for high speed rail in the US would presumably be government owned as with the Interstate Highway system, is then paid by the train operator for the paths (slots) to run trains over the network.

So SNCF, given this business model, is cherry picking — picking out the routes that, given the proposals that have been talked about, have the best shot at making money. California, there’s a huge government commitment to high speed rail. The Midwest and Florida, you have flat geography and wide rights of way and therefore the possibility of doing HSR on the cheap, at least in relative terms to California.

As for Chicago, it’s a bit of a barrier, but here’s what’s proposed, and then I’ll go on to add what they ought to do.

THe city has proposed a “West Loop Transportation Center”. This would involve digging up Clinton Street and installing multiple levels of infrastructure — high speed rail platforms, a new subway line (the Clinton Street subway), a busway and a pedestrian concourse linking Union and Ogilvie stations. It’s a good start, but only a start because two HSR platforms won’t be enough in a finished system.

So the city needs to find some way to mate the two halves of Union Station. At present, the 222 Riverside Plaza building and the former CMEX change (now a health club) block the way and the passenger concourse sits in the basement between the two sets of tracks. The Riverside Plaza building is immense, more than a million square feet of prime office space, and therefore not cheap to buy out. The former CMEX structure is more easily expendable. But if you were to gut out the Riverside building up to about third floor level and remove the CMEX building altogether, you’d create the opportunity of having an above-ground passenger concourse over the tracks, and through tracks below.

There’s still the matter of the bottleneck at the north end of the station where the only way of adding to the three tracks that are there is with massive demolition of high rises, so in reality, probably both West Loop AND through platforms in the main station are needed if we’re to have a truly high-capacity system.

No, the LGV Nord doesn’t have a train every 3 minutes. It has an express train followed by a slower local train departing Paris 3 minutes later. That’s not a 3-minute headway because it can’t be consistently maintained with two trains running at the same speed.

Here’s a point to consider about SNCF’s Chicago bypass route. It would take less time to build and get running. Once it’s up and running then the heat would be on the city of Chicago to get the lead out.

I’m in California and use various train services (SFMuni + BART) regularly. Sometimes you’ve got to do things in stages. The previous poster that talked about the difficulties of tying Union Station together left out the furballs that would be triggered by such an effort. The cut and cover tunneling of the Market Street Subway and BART’s Mission Street bore were monster headaches to plan and very painful in their execution. The distance in Chicago may seem short but I expect the infighting will be epic.

The high speed train proposed by the great Governor of Wisconsin has a blistering top speed of 75 MPH. Not sure why we need it if you need to get somewhere fast in the US try taking that thing called a Jet. Time to stop waisting tax money on things the government should keep there hands out of.

Woody – if you really want seat safety in a trainwreck, you don’t want a seatbelt – you want to sit in a backward-facing seat.

To all

I’m french, living in Paris. I’ve used HST for over two decades to go all over France, in Brussels, in London, even Netherlands. Journeys were private or professional ones. U cannot possibly know how comfortable it is to schedule a meeting in Lyon, leave Paris around 7:00 am , have an efficient day work with your clients and be back home around 7:00 pm. New TGV trains have laptop energy plugs (hope this is a correct word) and many people see the two hours trip as an opportunity to work and be prepared for their meetings, work, whatever.

We have 4 central stations in Paris that give access to HST railways, all connected to the subway network, three of them on the same subway lane. Major french cities are connected to the HST net, the ones (Toulouse for example) that have not yet access to the net fight hard to gain this opportunity asap. Business asks for it. Toulouse (which I know for having studied there) is about to have this connexion (through Bordeaux hub) in mid 2010’s and people can’t wait for it. Paris Toulouse takes today more than 5 hours by train. This will be shorten to about 3 hours.

Connexion with the Spanish HST is under discussion (crossing the Pyrenées Mountains east and going to Barcelona, or west with San Sebastian), Italian connexion is studied to put Torino just a few hours away from Paris. Eurostar, putting Paris and London in about 3 hours away (downtown to downtown) has completely changed the way Parisians and Londoners do business together. And Brussels in now less than 1h30 away from Paris. Three major capitals linked together with HST is a huge change. Europe is “smaller” and can act quicker.

I don’t have any advise to tell you but I know from my experience that this technology changed MY life. I live better, smarter and I travel more often for a smaller price than in the early 80’s. It’s not that I don’t like planes (god I like to fly!) but wasting my time in a short flight with going to the airport (30 min from Central Paris to Orly or Charles de Gaulle airports), waiting for my flight (at least 30 minutes, even more if I have luggages), and the same patience after the flight ? All of this to go to Marseille ? No way !

Don’t believe me blindly. Come here in France and try the SNCF – TGV system. U’ll have a few days off in a country that will seduce you (I hope) and see the comfort and efficiency of a travel in a HST. One last thing : TGV is one of many technologies available for HST. Japanese, German have their own. I’d be happy to see french technology used in the USA but it’s not the point. Choose the one u want but I’m pretty sure your life will deeply change using a high speed transportation system.

Answer to Mr Alon LEVY comment #44 :
what you say is not true : there is no locazl train on HSL North from Paris to Lille and Channel Tunnel : you certainly speak about Paris North Station where suburban and regional trains can leave at same time than HS TGV.
On the HSL TGVs are running at peak hours at 3mn headway.

John Mica really needs to see this. It is the best private sector view on what it will take to build out HSR in this country.

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