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Understanding Representative John Mica’s Transportation Agenda

» Florida Congressman has been a major supporter of high-speed rail in the past, but his approach on the issue appears opposed to that of the Obama Administration.

No one questions just how important the Northeast Corridor is to the American economy. The metropolis that encompasses Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston constitutes the world’s wealthiest mega-region and it is the United States’ densest agglomeration of people, talent, and capital. If there is any one place in the country where true high-speed rail, featuring trains traveling at speeds averaging 150 mph and up, would function effectively, it would be here.

That philosophy has been repeatedly endorsed by Republican Florida Congressman John Mica, who in January is likely to become the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure after the Republican wave in this week’s midterm elections allowed the GOP to take over the House. Mr. Mica, who has served in the Congress since 1993, will be a major player in discussions on federal transportation spending over the next two years, though he will have to negotiate with the Democratic Party-controlled Senate and the Obama Administration to advance any policy change.

Over the past few years, Congressman Mica has shown himself to be a supporter of infrastructure investments and thus seems likely to be willing to promote increased government spending on the matter. This position, however, has not been rock-solid in the past: Though President Obama’s early 2009 Stimulus included a huge down-payment to improve the nation’s highways and transit systems, Mr. Mica voted against the bill, like the rest of the Republican contingent in the House. His position in favor of transportation spending is likely to be moderated by his otherwise very conservative record, thus he will likely only be able to move forward with legislation ramping up allocations if he can convince most of the GOP to follow along.

Congressman Mica has not been particularly outspoken on most transportation issues, though he was apparently in support of former Committee Chair Jim Oberstar’s proposal for a $500 billion, six-year transportation authorization bill (Oberstar lost in this week’s election). He has also been a modest supporter of alternative mobility solutions like cycling. Yet as committee chair he has an opportunity to play an important role in determining how transportation appropriations are made and how the Department of Transportation moves forward on allocating funds for new highway, transit, and rail programs.

In previous statements, Mr. Mica has argued strongly for the development of true high-speed rail, with trains operating at very fast average speeds. In October 2009, he saidWe cannot take the funding to be invested in high-speed rail – $8 billion in stimulus funds, $50 billion in the pending surface transportation bill – and try to fool people by giving them anything less than true high-speed rail service.” Only Florida and California are currently developing plans that would produce service of such quality. Similarly, he has criticized the Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation for being political in its decision-making about who has received rail grants.

From that perspective, Mr. Mica has been particularly upset about what he perceives as the lack of national investment in the Northeast Corridor, since for the reasons stated at the start of this article it would be the ideal route for high-speed rail in the United States. This week, the Congressman repeated his sense that the government had been remiss in its choices about investments. “I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, but it has to be where it makes sense,” Mica said, according to the Associated Press. “The administration squandered the money, giving it to dozens and dozens of projects that were marginal at best to spend on slow-speed trains to nowhere.” He seems to feel that way about his own state’s project, which he has argued might be shortened from a now-planned (and virtually all funded) 84-mile route from Orlando Airport to Tampa to a 20-mile corridor between the airport and the Disney Amusement Parks.

Because of his interest in the Northeast, Congressman Mica may be a major supporter of Amtrak’s recently released 30-year, $120 billion proposal for the route between Washington and Boston. That project currently lacks funding and Mr. Mica may be interested in developing a national funding source for the project during his time as committee chair.

Unfortunately for the Northeast and Mr. Mica’s agenda, that approach would likely be difficult to undertake in the context of the United States’ federal system. For one, it is hard to imagine congresspeople from across the country supporting a project whose benefits would be concentrated in just one region. One of the major advantages of the Obama Administration’s approach to transportation has been its nationwide scope. For example, the government’s TIGER discretionary grants have been distributed to all but three states; funding for construction and planning of high-speed rail projects has gone to 36 states. In a country that prioritizes geographical equity, this seems to be an appropriate system; how would a focus on the Northeast fit in under those parameters?

Meanwhile, the Boston-Washington region itself lacks a coherent vision for high-speed rail. While states clearly do want faster train services, they have focused most of their energy and local dollars on peripheral corridors like Philadelphia-Harrisburg, Albany-Buffalo, and New Haven-Springfield. Can we expect them to alter their priorities quickly in response to Mr. Mica’s goals?

Mr. Mica has not stated that he is against any funding for projects outside of the Northeast. And his position is not necessarily in contradiction with those of the new anti-rail Republican Governors of Ohio and Wisconsin, John Kasich and Scott Walker, respectively, who on the face of it would seem to be in utter disagreement with the Congressman. In his first post-election press conference, Mr. Kasich announced that his state’s 3C plan to connect Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati via intercity rail is “dead” and that “passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.” The current Democratic governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, has shut down work on his state’s Milwaukee-to-Madison line following Mr. Walker’s election. Neither of those projects, however, fit Mr. Mica’s criteria of being true high-speed rail; both would have linked cities at speeds of less than 110 mph.

California’s proposed fast train system, which would allow passengers to journey between the huge San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolitan regions in just 2h40, seems more up Mr. Mica’s alley. Thus the federal government’s decision to grant that state billions of dollars for the Central Valley segment of the network, where trains will reach 220 mph, likely won’t be put in question by Mr. Mica. One could even imagine him asking the Federal Railroad Administration to reallocate the more than $1.2 billion in federal dollars planned for Ohio and Wisconsin to California — or the Northeast.

When it comes to developing funding sources, Mr. Mica has repeatedly argued for increasing private spending, rather than augmenting the gas tax, which he has previously labeled “dead.” He asked corporations and consultants to develop proposals for investments in high-speed rail corridors across the country in 2008 and 2009. His focus seems to be on routes that would pay for themselves over time both in terms of operations and construction. From that perspective, his statement on the matter in October 2009 was particularly interesting:

“Successful routes at competitive speeds should attract high numbers of riders and strong revenues. Those revenues could be bonded to help pay the cost of building the infrastructure. This model has been used in many successful rail projects around the world. With the right mix of public and private participation, the United States could leverage this federal investment to build high-speed rail corridors that are economically competitive and actually generate a profit.”

This implies that the Congressman wants the rail transportation system the government is developing to be self-supporting. This has not been a position held by the Obama Administration, which expected states like Ohio and Wisconsin to absorb operating losses. If Mr. Mica sticks to his guns on this matter, it could mean he will oppose future spending on loss-producing Amtrak corridors (including the politically popular long-distance routes) and perhaps also any new intercity rail line that cannot guarantee major profits. This, again, will pose problems for those who hope for a national rail program that would service rural and semi-urban areas that simply do not have the demand to support such lines. His position on these matters — only really beneficial to the biggest cities — is unlikely to appeal to many members of the predominantly non-urban Republican delegation in the Congress. Will he hold the same standard to rural highways, also the beneficiaries of net federal subsidies because of their relative under-use?

Mr. Mica, of course, will not be operating in a vacuum in the 112th Congress, since when it comes to transportation issues he will be sharing power with the rest of the GOP-controlled House, the Democratic Senate, and the White House. Agreement among the three is likely to be difficult to come by on any issue, which means that finding revenue sources to pay for a new transportation bill will be quite difficult. President Obama’s hope for a $50 billion down-payment on transportation spending could pass with bipartisan support, but that action would accomplish little more than assuring next year’s federal commitment to highways and transit. Anything more will be subject to intense controversy considering recent calls for fiscal austerity from both sides of the aisle.

Even as Democrats held control over both houses of Congress over the past two years, no agreement could be concluded about how to pay for transportation spending. Democrats and Republicans alike are hostile to the idea of using general funds (income tax-sourced) for highways and transit; nor have many seriously pushed new fuel taxes or a vehicle miles traveled fee. A protracted period of negotiation over the question of transportation funding awaits us.

Whatever Congressman Mica’s goals for transportation, he will have to operate within a labyrinthine system of conflicting goals and limited funds. Whether he — or anyone — will get anything done under those conditions remains an open question.

150 replies on “Understanding Representative John Mica’s Transportation Agenda”

I’m afraid that Congressman Mica will be hamstrung by his own party, which has decided to oppose anything proposed by Democrats, just on general principle. Whether they like it or not.

I think Nathanael nailed it right on the head. Especially when you have the likes of Senator Mitch McConnell proclaiming that the Republican’s primary goal is to make Obama a “one-term president”…

What a pity that the gasoline tax isn’t setup in such a way as to keep up not only with inflation but also with the need for investment. I’m not holding my breath for wise compromise, but perhaps the a consensus can be forged that joins the virtues of a market-driven infrastructure bank free of undue political meddling with sufficient user-fee derived revenue streams with whatever adjustments are appropriate for negative externalities and mobility support for the non-driving public.

If it were indexed, the federal highway fund gas tax may well have kept up with the need for investment in the road ~ it would at least have come closer to being able to keep up with needs for maintenance now that we have reached the position where we ought to have a moratorium on new road construction funding out of the highway trust fund.

If the transit gas tax is to support projects needs to provide relief valves on road congestion, then if it was indexed for inflation, it might have kept up with that.

Obviously no gas tax can sustainably fund an effective system of providing a replacement for private motor transport to the extent necessary to support an escape from the obsolete sprawl development system, since the more escape is funded, the less gas is sold to be taxed.

It would seem that a good policy would be somewhere between Obama and Mica. Some of mica’s criticisms are quite valid. The 3C’s is ridiculous and will do nothing to change American’s opinions that trains are an outdated transportation form. It would have been more helpful, IMO, to fully fund a handful of regional projects. St. Louis (110 mph proposal), Detroit, Cascades, Keystone (actual high speed), downeaster (faster service), VA and put a large payment on California (FL is the wrong place for a number of reasons). We shall see.

Keystone (actual high speed)

Only in Amurika. The rest of the world would consider it medium speed regional rail.

As far as I can tell, the proposal is to build it in America. Its higher speed than what we have had outside the overcrowded NEC ever since the FRA regulation requiring PTC at 80mph+.

They are aiming for 125 on the Keystone Corridor. 125 isn’t high speed in the rest of the world. That does make it faster than driving, especially to Philadelphia or New York where traffic atrocious and parking expensive. Faster than flying too. But it’s not high speed.

It’d be high speed in the DRC, but not in other high income to middle income countries.

However, the project is not proposed to be built anywhere else in the world, its proposed for the US. For the US, it’s higher speed than all but a few stretches of the NEC.

And indeed, 125mph was the first generation of bullet trains, so its not like 125mph was never called high speed anywhere else in the world. Just not for the last three decades.

The difference is, the 130 mph HSR of the 1960s achieved an average speed of about 105 mph.

And for the record, what the FRA euphemistically calls Regional HSR and Emerging HSR has never been called HSR before. The 100 mph lines of the early 20th century were called cutoffs or air lines.

Except in the US since the 90’s, when anything over 90mph was designated HSR. The “Emerging HSR” tier is more restrictive than the preceding HSR category, the the “Regional HSR” more restrictive in turn.

As long as the fastest mixed use, fastest conventional corridor, and designed for HSR corridors have their own categories, its a bit silly to complain that the nomenclature reflects a different history of passenger rail in the US than in other countries.

The problem is that it’s a bait and switch. Politicians promise high-speed rail because it evokes visions of the Shinkansen and TGV. If they neutrally called it “Trains running on legacy track with a top speed of 110 mph,” then people would be forced to compare it to what other countries have, in which case they’d realize that it’s nothing like the bullet trains they hoped for.

High speed rail evokes visions of faster trains than conventional rail. In the US, that includes both the kinds of express interurbans that most high and middle income countries of the world takes for granted, as well as bullet trains, because rail in the US conventionally travels as “LSR”.

When American tourists go abroad and take trains that average 55 mph, they don’t think “Wow, fast.” At most they think “Wow, clean,” or “Wow, punctual,” or “Wow, gets me exactly to where I want to go.” Non-railfans don’t care that the train is marginally faster than driving; they wait half an hour outside in the rain for Megabus because it’s barely slower than Amtrak’s fastest trains.

They wait outside a half an hour in the rain because it’s cheap. Offer almost any of them an Amtrak ticket for the same price and they’d sprint to Penn Station naked to get it.

What percentage of the US population take trips to Europe or Japan?

And the upgrade from 110mph to 125mph is a more than 14% increase in transit speed, given the dedicated passenger track in the conventional corridor. You argue as if the corridors that can generate operating surpluses at 110mph will stay at 110mph indefinitely.

I argue as if the FRA and most states think that 110 mph diesel loco-hauled service on freight lines should get the same name as bullet trains. They’re not saying, “This is not HSR, but in the future we’ll upgrade to 200 and make it HSR.” They’re saying, “This is HSR.”

I don’t follow laying this on the FRA. The legislation in the 90’s that defined HSR as faster than 90mph was not passed by the FRA, it was passed by Congress, in 1991:

(d) Operation Lifesaver and High Speed Rail Corridors.

`(B) A corridor selected by the Secretary under subparagraph (A) must include rail lines where railroad speeds of 90 miles per hour are occurring or can reasonably be expected to occur in the future.

What is the point of complaining that the FRA works within the framework set down in legislation? If you want them to stop calling the operations in the gap between conventional US rail and bullet trains “HSR” and start calling it something else, simply get Congress to pass a law to that effect.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: by the standards of Congress, the FRA are geniuses.

That said, members of Congress they don’t actually sit down and make up HSR definitions; they work with what people feed them. Those emerging and regional HSR definitions come from the FRA, and adhering to them just because Congress said so is like calling French fries freedom fries.

The source of the legislative nomenclature does not change the fact that its a legislated definition, embedded in law for nearly two decades, its not in the USDoT scope to stop calling 160km/hr or 200km/hr “HSR”, and so it would be up to some stakeholder fighting and winning the change in name.

And since getting things passed through Congress involves coalition building and winning political arguments more than winning fine technical arguments, that’s a fight with limited prospects for success, in addition to its non-existent pragmatic benefit.

Its in the scope of the USDoT from more recent legislation to sub-classify “Higher than convention Speed Rail”, and having done that, Congress has categories they can use to direct funds to specific types of “HtcSR”.

And out in the real world, whatever Rapid Passenger Rail is called, the 3C at 110mph would be faster than ordinary driving on the northern half of its route and equivalent to driving on the southern half of its route, and will be appreciably faster than driving on both legs when upgraded to electricity and provided with dedicated 125mph track Mansfield/Columbus/Dayton.

For transport markets between urban centers too closely spaced for significant air travel markets, appreciably faster than driving occupies the “High Speed” competitive position in the marketplace, which is surely more relevant to its status in the eyes of its users than the technical details of how it got into that position.

Members of Congress do not actually care about what the technical definitions are. They go with what they’re fed. Someone fed them the line that 90 mph is a type of high-speed rail.

In the real world, “faster than ordinary driving” doesn’t cut it. SNCF discovered that the hard way, when its rapid services were decimated by the arrival of cars. It built the TGV out of realization that the only way trains could compete with cars was by being much, much faster. Amtrak would realize the same thing if it stopped lying to itself that intercity rail is subsidized abroad; it loses money on Keystone and Empire South even though it’s the fastest way to travel between New York and Albany and between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

Alon, regarding

It built the TGV out of realization that the only way trains could compete with cars was by being much, much faster.

… as opposed to the other common characterization that they concluded that with the Southeast mainline approaching capacity, a HSR corridor was the new alignment that seemed likely to offer the best performance in the market …

… reference?

Feel free to correct me if you have better info than I’ve gathered.

We all know that 124 mph (200 kmph) is the old International minimum standard for High Speed Rail. But train technology and high speed operational experience have advanced over the decades. The new HSR top speeds will range from 217-236 mph (350-380 kmph).

My understanding is that everyone’s operational experience and modeling shows that HSR lines achieve solid profitability when they average 105 mph (170 kmph) or more. At that speed for 3 hours or less, more business travelers choose trains over long drives or short flights. Assuming average speed is 2/3rds of top speed, that translates to roughly 155 mph (250 kmph) top speed required. For some unclear reason, the UK recently built a new 230 kmph feeder line, the Javelin.

From what I gather by 2025, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Germany will recycle their 186 mph (300 kmph) trains to peripheral legacy routes that will be upgraded. The quality of those legacy route upgrades will vary. As a result, we’ll see new minimum HSR speeds that range from 250-300 kmph in most of Europe. China and Japan will have 250 kmph feeder lines.

There is nothing wrong with 110 mph DMU trains for low traffic corridors like Tucson-San Antonio, California Zephyr, Empire Builder or shorter routes like Greenville-Columbia-Charleston, Richmond-Roanoke or Springfield-Burlington.

But unless we change HSR momentum, by 2025 we’ll have a bunch of 110 mph legacy routes in Top 50 Metro Area corridors feeding token HSR routes in the Northeast, Illinois-Missouri, Florida and California-Las Vegas.

Bruce, I didn’t see your demand for a reference before, sorry.

The reference is New Departures, by Anthony Perl. It used to be available for free on Google Books; it may no longer be.

Thomas, there isn’t a single place in the world where trains run at 300 km/h on legacy track (as opposed to new lines on legacy ROW). I think they should on parts of the Northeast Corridor, but that’s because of globally unique conditions.

China has 250 km/h HSR lines, but Japan doesn’t. The Shinkansen mainlines are built for 270-320; some lines have a lower top speed, such as 260 or 240, but that’s not because they’re feeders, but because they’re shorter so the benefits to upgrading them are smaller. The non-Shinkansen lines top at 160, but are built for local service so the average speed is much lower. I only know of a single non-Shinkansen line in Japan that averages even 100, a 120 km/h tilting DMU in Hokkaido.

I don’t see your characterization in that work. The most clearly relevant passage seems to be: “Following the fiscal crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Prime Minister Raymond Barre embraced economic liberalization to reduce public enterprise deficits.” …
“In the 1970’s, SNCF management sought to introduce a break from past railroad passages, as the Japanese had done a decade earlier. But the SNCF would have to do even better in terms of revamping service characteristics, since the train was now competing to lure travelers back from the skies and the roads.”
“As in Japan, the point of departure was the most promising market niche. In France, this meant the travel corridor between the two largest urban conglomerations, the “Ile de France” surrounding Paris, … and the Rhones-Alps region surrounding Lyon … . This was France’s equivalent of the Tokyo-Osaka transport corridor, and like its Japanese counterpart, the existing rail infrastructure was reaching the point of overload.

Of course, the loss of patronage to cars had happened decades earlier, and in its early phase had been in part responsible for the establishment of SNCF in the first place. The transport problem faced by SNCF in Paris/Lyon was not a collapse in demand for rail transport in the 1970’s, but transport demands that was overloading the existing rail infrastructure. The financial problem faced was the neoliberal policy stance of the government insisting on a reduction in subsidy to publicly owned enterprises such as SNCF.

How France got from point A to point B is quite relevant, but we do have to take care not to draw conclusions beyond the scope of the evidence, because the US is not starting at point A, it is starting at point C. If SNCF had had the number of rail corridors with corridor capacity for capacity improvements, next to no existing Express Intercity trains, and prospective passenger demand to support a surplus for Express Intercity trains, then under the same neoliberal government policy stance they could well have pursued establishment of a range of Express Intercity services capable of delivering a surplus.

And, indeed, the 3C could well be established under current driving costs, similar to the driving cost prevailing in France after the 1981 oil price shock subsided, on the basis of hourly corridor services and additional Express and Limited services … and if pursued on that level of service under current conditions rather than at the proposed eight service each day each way, would require subsidy.

Its just that the extant proposals are to operate these services at service levels that can sustain operating surpluses, which implies that the increase to 20 or 30 services each way each day would be in the context of a substantially different cost of driving.

I’m not sure how you’re getting from “SNCF invested in HSR on its most crowded corridor” to “the US should spend money on legacy routes in Ohio” instead of “the US should spend money on HSR on its most crowded corridor.”

In reality, SNCF had a lot of corridors with surplus capacity – for example, anything other than the Gare de Lyon network. But it made the choice to start with the highest-demand corridor and not to compromise on speed or standards, which at the time were the highest in the world. The French equivalent of what the US is doing would be to instead put small amounts of money into each of the Grandes Lignes.

Neoliberalism is completely irrelevant here. In the time period we’re talking about, neoliberalism didn’t even exist, let alone have any traction in Continental Europe. In the 1970s France was dominated by dirigiste conservatives. The purpose of the TGV was not to get SNCF into the black fast, but to respond effectively to the 1973 oil crisis. The government built nuclear power plants; SNCF built an electrified high-speed rail line.

While doing some research on John Mica and his transportation “work,” I stumbled across this discussion.

Alon, I greatly appreciate your various attempts to inject logic into the debate concerning the definition of true H.S.R. In one sentence, your comparison between french fried potatoes and “freedom fries” is right on spot!

Bruce, your insistence that a technically accurate description of H.S.R. can simply be legislated into existence leaves me cold. Perhaps if I had any respect for Washington, the U.S. D.O.T. or its F.R.A., I’d feel differently. Of course, one of the primary reasons I maintain my opinion is BECAUSE of things like this!

The following is based upon fact (and not the blind wishes of some federal sycophant). I sincerely trust it will copy efficiently:

“Perhaps, as a starting point, it’s time for us to define ‘high-speed rail’ once and for all.

“Although U.S. politicians tend to have a field day with this issue, gleefully making things up as they go along, we can reach a reasonable conclusion.

“I realise Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said ‘there is no definition of high-speed rail’ (during a speech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois) and that many might argue his statement is true – at least in the regions under his purview. Still, he was referencing international technologies at the time, which made his comment unjustifiable.

“It is far better to rely upon David Briginshaw, Editor-in-Chief of the International Railway Journal (as quoted in the August, ’09 issue of Railway Age) for a definition: ‘What exactly do we mean by high speed rail? The baseline is normally regarded as 125 miles-per-hour.’

“Please note that Mr. Briginshaw translated his lower speed threshold from Metric to English measurements in order to reduce potential confusion!

“Now, is that 125 m/h figure reasonable in the U.S., given current standards?

“Well, C.F.R. 49 defines transition from Tier I to Tier II equipment standards as occurring at 125 m/h.

“The point at which the F.R.A. begins absolutely prohibiting all grade crossings under any circumstances is at Class 8 track. Class 7 trackage ends at 125 miles-per-hour.

“The International Union of Railways defines H.S.R. ‘on existing trackage’ as starting at 125 m/h (literally at 200 km/h). [H.S.R. on new, dedicated infrastructure begins at 250 km/h.] Members of the U.I.C. include Amtrak, the A.A.R., and the U.S. D.O.T.’s own F.R.A.!

“Question: why wouldn’t the F.R.A. accept the official definition of H.S.R. as adopted by an organisation of which they are a member? The only logical reason is politics, which is no basis for a technical definition!

“Secretary LaHood may possess various reasons why it’s in the administration’s best interest to play games with semantics. That’s his (and his boss’) business. But, for the sake of consistency and preciseness, it is unreasonable to embrace any minimum speed figure of less than 125 miles-per-hour for true H.S.R.!”

From my column, “High Speed Rail is not the starting point”

Garl B. Latham
Dallas, Texas

How was the 3C corridor going to be ridiculous? The 39 mph average speed was a early study worse case number; the more recent estimate was in the low 50 mph range. The plan was that the $400 million would be the first phase to start the service. Future improvements would make it a 90 to 110 max speed corridor.

You praise the Keystone, Cascades, Downeaster, all of which are examples of the incremental improvement approach.
Downeaster: run time ~ 2:30, 116 miles, average speed = 46 mph
Cascades: slow south of Portland OR, so just for the Seattle to Portland section: run time ~ 3:30, 187 miles, average speed = 53 mph
Keystone East: Harrisburg to Philly section: run time ~ 1:45, 104 miles, average speed = 59 mph. The Keystone is slowed down by the many stops, especially since most of them have low platforms. The planned upgrades to all high platforms with 125 mph max speed will reduce run times between Philly & Harrisburg and reduced run times from Philly to NYP due to NEC improvements (along with consistent shorter dwell times in 30th street station) should eventually get the Harrisburg to NYP run times comfortably under 3 hours (3 hrs, 189 miles = 63 mph average).

50 mph average speed is not a bad place to start a train service, so long as the plan is to raise it to > 60 mph because then it is competitive, if not faster than realistic car driving times. This is where I disagree with what appears to be Mica’s postion – improved Amtrak service is a good place to start, especially for corridors that are not realistic candidates for true HSR.

The problem with improved Amtrak isn’t just the speeds. It’s the entire business model of FRA compliance, traditional railroad staffing levels, low platforms, and infrequent service. Because the trains only arrive a few times per day, people have to orient their lives around the schedule, which isn’t reliable to begin with.

The best operating practices don’t involve any of the above problems. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, trains run on a clockface schedule. Stations have level boarding even if they have no amenities. Trains run with just a driver, or a driver and one conductor at longer range.

Using better operating practices, foreign railroads have achieved much better speeds than Amtrak without an increase in top speed. JR-Hokkaido’s 75 mph tilting DMUs achieve an average speed of about 63 mph on the curvy single-track line between Sapporo and Hakodate. And Israel Railway’s 87 mph diesel loco-hauled express trains average 75 mph on the Tel Aviv-Haifa mainline, which is straight and double-tracked.

Going by the Israeli standard for speed, Ohio could easily shoot for an average speed higher than 70 mph north of Dayton, and not too low between Dayton and Cincinnati. Thus, a two-hour clockface schedule would require two trainsets for service from Cleveland to Columbus, and four for service from Cleveland to Cincinnati. This would probably require a 90 mph upgrade, though.

I do feel they need extra people on the trains to keep order on them and to prevent people from trashing the place on them. Other wise it would get out of control fast.

You don’t know much about the 3C corridor. The northern half of the 3C–Cleveland to Columbus–has great bones. It has good gradient, most freight traffic is on a parallel line to the west, and there’s strong traffic volume. If the 3C were funded for a first phase only between Cleveland and Columbus, the planned number of trainsets would’ve allowed for at least 7, maybe 9 or even 10 roundtrips per day. Also, remember that Cleveland-Hopkins is one of a very few American airports located on an existing rail corridor already identified for HSR potential. Adding a station at Crestline would’ve opened up connection to north central Ohio without wrecking the schedule.

The problem really lies with the alignment south of Dayton. The track is in poor condition, both the existing trackbed and the alignment. In honesty, this corridor might be better viewed as a strong conventional line, but true HSR might do better by using a largely abandoned r/w which runs southwest from Columbus, roughly parallel to I-71. Ultimately, at average speeds of 125-150 mph, the schedule from Cinci to Cleveland would allow for a 2-hour trip time or less.

Of course, there are two reasons this will only be a concept. One is that stopping the 3C at Columbus would be politically unacceptable to both southern Ohio and the state GOP (which is based in Cincinnati’s northern suburbs). The other is that incoming Gov. Kasich is hell-bent on killing this plan. Yet another example of Ohio becoming a shadow of its past.

You failed to mention that Congressman Mica has been a frequent critic of Amtrak so I would look for him to support competitive selection processes for rail service operators on new high speed lines.

Which would be an overall good thing. The mindset needed to run a subsidized conventional passenger service well and that needed to run a Express HSR franchise for a profit are likely substantially different, and Amtrak probably needs to stick to its knitting on making headway toward the first rather than getting distracted by the second.

Competitive selection would be fine. I am sure that on those corridors where Amtrak is most suited to run the trains it would win the competition.

I disagree with your assertion Yonah;

“For one, it is hard to imagine congresspeople from across the country supporting a project whose benefits would be concentrated in just one region.”

New York’s three major airports account for almost one-quarter of all nationwide air traffic delays. An investment in NEC HSR – perhaps coupled with a congestion charge on short-haul flights between city pairs with high-speed service that would encourage those passengers to shift to rail – would pay dividends across the nation and reduce the cost and impact of air traffic delays for many thousands of travelers.

Among the benefits of Northeast HSR, diverting air traffic to rail doesn’t even crack the top 10. Only about 5% of air passengers in New York go to other NEC cities; Amtrak and the express buses have already poached most of the air shuttles’ traffic. HSR in the Northeast would actually have a larger effect on Boston, which due to the greater distance has a proportionally larger intra-NEC air market.

Technically you are right about true HSR improvements in the Northeast Region (NEC+New Haven+Springfield+Albany+Rochester+Syracuse+Buffalo+Portland+St. Albans+Harrisburg) may only cut air traffic delay by 5-6%, but we should NOT underemphasize that benefit when writ large as an Interstate HSR network.

Add the benefits of extending 220mph HSR from in the DC-Raleigh-Charlotte-Atlanta-Orlando-Miami air corridor. Add the major Midwest corridors. Add the number of days that San Francisco fog won’t introduce as how much air traffic delay because regional planes don’t need to land there when they reduce to 1 runway.

Point is, building HSR between our major metro areas likely totals as 20-25% fewer delay source events that would ripple throughout the air traffic system when our population is much larger in 2030 and beyond. Less delay means NextGen air traffic control becomes easier. We also know those regional flights, for the foreseeable future, are the worst greenhouse polluters per passenger mile and that by reducing regional flights in our Top 100 Metro Areas,

NET: The whole of Interstate HSR reducing air traffic delay is greater than the sum of its parts.

In other regions, HSR would have a bigger impact. What I said about HSR not doing much about air traffic is very NYC-specific. Elsewhere, the ground transportation alternatives aren’t as good, so a lot of air traffic is within HSR range, especially in California.

Different regions’ networks meeting would definitely be part of it, especially in the Midwest. Although the Midwestern network would only put about 8-10% of Chicago’s air traffic within HSR range, once the Northeastern and Midwestern networks met, HSR would be able to divert a small portion of the 15% of Chicago’s air passengers going to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

When did transit and infrastructure become a conservative vs liberal fight? If we are going to not fund transit then let’s not fund highways and see where the private market takes us. Infrastructure should be supported by both sides or we are doomed to become a 3rd world country that competes for the crumbs.

You are right that most American live in the 100 Metro Areas, but you also raise a conundrum. Many exurbanites wish they were ruralists. They don’t conceptualize that people living in denser metro areas pay most of the taxes supporting their highway infrastructure. There are more Republican politicians who represent this group.

But you can also find a number of urban Republicans like Bloomberg who support HSR and Rapid Transit because they know their city could not function properly without it. Unfortunately, Urban Republicans hold little sway with Exurban and Ruralist Repubs.

US politics has long been gerrymandered in favor of rural interests–starting with the US Senate, which has since the Constitution’s ratification allocated two Senators per state, regardless of population. (And likewise, rural states enjoy an advantage in the Electoral College).

Furthermore, Congress is slanted toward rural areas. In the Senate, each state has two Senators, meaning that Wyoming residents get about 68 times as much representation as California ones, and more generally, that the more rural states tend to have more representation per resident. However, the House much more closely parallels states’ populations, with most states having similar numbers of residents per Representative.

Thad, urban areas live under the tyranny of the Constitution. :)

You see, the Constitution was framed at a time when America was full of agricultural and passive areas, with only a few urban areas.

The combination of a divided Congress, the states as the recognized unit of government, and the distribution of House of Representatives seats by population means rural areas are given too much power.

Besides the two senators to every state, low-population states are guaranteed at least one representative.

This might be an unintended check and balance imposed on governance. Economically powerful areas tend to have high populations, and this dilutes their influence at the federal level.


In fact this was an INTENDED check and balance on power. Our founding fathers were very smart people. Cities were not non-existent in the early days of our nation, remember Philadelphia and New York were around, and they accounted for this. The house and senate balance each other out, the House so that large populations get fair representation and the Senate so that smaller communities do not get drowned out by the mob in the city.

I do not think small states are over-represented and I do not think this is an entirely Rural Republican issue. I think it is more of an American Freedom/Standard of Living Republican Issue (let me say the following as a Republican myself). They see High speed rail as an attack on the American way of life (cars, ultra freedom of movement, etc.) They see public transport as a waste of money because they see cars as a sufficient and efficient means of transport which is American in character. They see public transport as something which is European in character and inhibits freedom of movement.

Ironically, as they push for more highway and road spending, they increase suburbinification of rural areas ( and if they are concerned with loss of rural identity as you say) they will deplete rural areas faster with road spending than they will with rail spending, as rail spending leads to densification, which preserves rural areas.

There are other issues at work, but it is mainly an issue of life style preference, not urban versus rural.

The unintended element was the spread in population size between big states and small states. To get back to the founding balance of power, we would need to have at least California, Texas, New York and Florida break up into smaller states.

But with winner take all on the Presidential level, no over-grown state would ever surrender their national clout, so first proportional allocation of electoral votes is required.

Frank, there were cities in 1787, but they weren’t big. The US was about 90% rural then, and with a few exceptions like Hamilton, the Founders didn’t conceive of any other option. Virginia was the most populous state until the early 1800s. It’s actually the Virginians who wanted both houses to be proportional to population and Connecticut that insisted on one state, one vote in the Senate.

There were four big cities in 1790. Baltimore had a population of 14,000, Boston – 18,000, Philadelphia – 29,000, New York – 33,000. The population was just under 4,000,000. In other words the whole population of the US could fit into New York City twice. Or into Chicago.

Unauthoritive reference I googled had the split as 95% rural and 5 % urban. Urban in 1790 meant you lived near the crossroads with a church and inn.

Frank, yes the Senate and House compromise on equal seats and proportion was intended.

As Bruce McF explained, the Founding Fathers forgot to factor in population and instead used state units to mete representation.

The unintended consequence was the distribution of House seats based on state population. Each state gets at least one guaranteed House seat. This gives a House seat tremendous power as well, as there are fewer constituents to please.

This gives low-population growth states outsized political power. The rule of conspiracies: They are more effective with fewer numbers. (I am not implying a criminal conspiracy, but instead mean its far easier to get three or four minds on the same page than a California, Texas or Florida-sized delegation.)

A state’s economic clout is offset by the loss of political clout.

The House doesn’t actually overrepresent small states. Congress was conscientious enough not to admit states into the union before their population was high enough to justify a seat. Today, very small states are just as often seriously underrepresented (Utah, Montana) as they are seriously overrepresented (Rhode Island, Wyoming) – it depends on whether their population is just below the threshold for getting another seat or just above.

I didn’t say they forgot to factor in population, I said that the evolution of population since states were admitted has resulted in a much wider range.

Since under the winner take all system of electoral vote distribution, which emerged from the rivalry between large and small states in the evolution of party politics, large states have disproportionate power in Presidential politics, the political classes of the oversized states have no incentive to divide into more reasonably sized units in order to provide for more balanced representation in the Senate for their residents.

If by political classes you mean the fine upstanding self reliant rural folks who suck great big drafts of subsidies out of cities and their suburbs, no. …. places like Upstate New York, where almost everybody complains endlessly about how downstate gets all the money. … welllll that’s where the money comes from because that’s were all the people, and almost all of the ones who make lots of money, live.

The political classes in that case would be upstate politicians and political operatives who stoke the view that all the money is hoovered up downstate and downstate politicians who stoke the view that all the money comes from downstate.

Of course, to the extent that upstate New York does in fact lie within the hinterland of Greater New York City, that’s a more organic in-family fight between a large metropolis and its hinterland. California is more a classic case of an oversized state, entered as a state as part of the Free State / Slave State compromise before the Civil War, with self-identification between Northern and Southern California laid on top of the divide between major urban centers and their hinterlands.

They do hoover it up. In nice round numbers there’s 20 million people in New York State. 8 million of them live in New York City. Another 2.5 million live in the suburbs right outside of the city, Westchester and Nassau counties. They tend to have higher incomes than upstaters and therefore pay more income taxes. They even get screwed on things like Mc Donald’s because Micky D’s charges more in metro NYC and downstaters pay marginally more sales taxes for the same goods. Or upstate prisons housing downstate prisoners…

Of course, to the extent that upstate New York does in fact lie within the hinterland of Greater New York City,

Buffalo is roughly halfway between NY and Chicago. It’s much closer to Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto than it is to NYC. They even have midwestern accents out there. If the signs on the Thruway are correct Buffalo is ten miles closer to New York City than Montreal….

But Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are a bit of a set, and a set that economic geography places substantially more in New York’s orbit than in Chicago’s. Any division would have to leave that set intact.

Regarding upstate NY issues.

Up until the 1960s, there was a symbiotic relationship between upstate and the City, and it was clear that investments in upstate benefitted the city. Upstate farms loaded fresh food which was delivered straight to New York City (for instance, the “egg trains” to the old West Side freight terminal). Upstate industrial towns loaded manufactured goods which ran straight to New York City. Travel times from upstate to NYC were competitive for passengers, and city dwellers went to Niagara Falls to get married or to the Finger Lakes for vacation.

This was made possible in the Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse-Albany corridor by (in historical order) the Erie Canal, the New York Central Railroad, and the NYS Thruway. In central and southern NYS it was made possible by the Susquehanna and then by the railroads.

Unfortunately, the link got badly severed. We’ve still got lots and lots of small family farms producing fresh vegetables and meat, and Niagara Falls is still a tourist attraction — but the connection to NYC is now much worse than from NYC to alternative destinations.

It’s now easier to get from NYC to Western Massachusetts or to Harrisburg than to upstate.

Some *Democratic* upstate politicians have been working to reinforce the transportation links between upstate and NYC — by, for instance, building frequent higher-speed rail on the Erie Canal/Thruway/NY Central route. If we were better connected, NYC might be happier about sending us money (as it does now), and those here might be better able to appreciate money which goes to NYC.

Canada has described their transcontinental railroad as allowing for the continued existence of the nation, by tying together the interests of provinces which saw little in common with each other.

The Erie Canal and the railroads did the same thing for New York State. If we fail to keep our transportation links up to date, we will eventually have to break the state up or remain completely ungovernable.

And as an urban versus rural fight, the Democrats are inherently disadvantaged and urban areas are inherently disadvantaged by a) the all-time record Democratic alignment of urban areas and b) the fact that most urban seats are 80-20 Democrat and most rural ones are 60-40 Republican. The Democrats have to beat the Republicans decisively simply to get an equal number of seats in the House of Representatives — and don’t even get me started on the malapportionment in the Senate.

We have a huge rural bias in the United States in the way our political system works and absent proportional representation in the House and redistribution in the Senate, the latter of which would require a constitutional amendment and the former which would require changes in the law of every big state, the only way we even ameliorate that is to slough off responsibility for transportation to the states. And even that’s not a sure fire solution; because of the way many major metro areas are located close to state lines and therefore split and diluted between states, you effectively have a rural bias in those states, too.

Urban and inner suburban vs rural and outer suburban fight. And since its only state boundaries that are not susceptible to gerrymander, the rural and outer suburban side of the fight has a permanent built-in advantage.

One advantage of HSR, whether Express or Regional, is that unlike mass transit, it offers benefits to outer suburban and rural areas as well. That’s why the Oil Lobby has to fight to keep the first systems from being built, since once they are built, there will be no stopping the construction of more.

I’ll make a different analysis: it became a conservative vs. liberal fight when conservatives went completely bonkers. Sane conseratives still support rail improvements, there just aren’t many left. Instead you have people who parrot “cars are FREEDOM MACHINES, rail is SOSHILLIST”, based on what the oil companies have shoved into their heads.

Of course the comments above on rural vs. urban malapportionment are all true, but before the right-wingers went instance, rural areas wanted rail service too, and didn’t mind driving to the nearest city or town to get it. And they still want their service in Minot, ND, and quite probably in plenty of other areas, but apparently a bunch of areas just have gone bonkers.

Historically, the opposite happened. There was a bipartisan consensus for roads beginning in the 1950s. But then came the freeway revolts and urban liberals and environmentalists became increasingly pro-transit and pro-rail. It cascaded up from movement environmentalism to urban policy in the 1980s and early 90s, and further up to the national Democratic Party when Obama won.

The reason I bring up the urban/rural divide is that that’s where the original impetus for roads came from. There were a lot of urban reformists who believed in suburbanization, but the primary push for roads as we know them today – toll-free, public, predominantly intercity or exurban – came from rural populists. The road consensus of the 1950s was really a consensus that rural and pretend-rural suburbs were better places to live in than inner cities. And the Obama victory was really a city victory – recall all the punditry from 2008 about the new urban diverse America.

I hope that’s a misquote concerning California. If its not, then I take away the kudo I gave him. I will also ask the USHSR how they could endorse this guy with such a stance.

Again I hope its a misquote.


I just spoke with US High Speed Rail Association CEO who has personally met Mica and discussed Mica’s HSR position with him. To his knowledge, Mica has only spoken against funding slow speed lines. It is possible that Mica has critiqued some California HSR details, but the USHSR has not heard Mica criticize whether California HSR should be built because it fits his and the international definition of high speed rail that now effectively starts at 300 Kmph (186mph). Thus, the CAHSR Blog post would appear to be accurate concerning Ohio, but a misquote/out-of-context quote concerning California.

Since Mica wants to see trains operating at 186 mph or higher, it explains why he criticizes Acela for only running 135-150 mph top speed. Of course, he’s waiting for Amtrak to present a less expensive & more credible upgrade plan that he can approach GOP colleagues for backing. Perhaps the far less expensive Acela NEC Upgrade plan that you publish will influence him. If you like, I can ask the USHSR CEO to share it to Mica since they can easily catch him in DC.

I’ve written up the more technical parts of the proposal, and can send it to you, sure. But it’s still incomplete – I’d like to talk more about how to fit high-speed and commuter trains on two tracks, present more alternatives in case the higher-impact segments face community opposition or cost overruns, and talk about the general idea of spending priorities.

It’s already four tracks wide from Wilmington to New Haven…… except for the fiddly bit bit between NJ and NY…

I’m kind of not nuts about Amtrak’s 113 Billion idea in that when the 113 billion is mentioned it kills any suport for the idea. What they need to do is set up something that could be done for say 20 billion over say five years or eight years.

As for building a alternet NEC route though New Jersey there is a loop shaped railroad line that some people call the Old Mainline that breaks off of the NEC before the NEC goes into the system of bridges and tunnels into New York City in Northern New Jersey. This odd railroad loop breaks off of the NEC heads towards the shore line and breaks into a Y shape with the southern part of the Y going down though some very uban areas in New Jersey. This route on street view as old 138Kv high voltage catenary masts standing there rusting away wtih no wires and it looks like the tracks used to be a double track. the old former eltric loop then goes under the New Jersey Turnpike and meets back up with the four track wide NEC.

What they should do is restore this eletric loop and if they don’t have enough 25Hz Amtrak power for they old loop line they could build a small Static Conveter for it and first restore the catenary and redouble tracks to it and add a new chain of stations along it. And allow commuter or high speed trains to go on it to take pressure off of the existing NEC railroad line.

Then after they restore this loop line in New Jersey they should look at going to the sectino of the loop line before it turns to cross under the New Jersey turnpike and goes back into the NEC they should then extend the loop line south 50 to 80 miles south in New Jersey and then have it have another tie in point to the NEC to take pressure of the NEC and to add more commuter acess to the rail lines.

I’m talking about Providence-Boston specifically.

The legacy line in Jersey is completely fine, by the way. Amtrak is if anything proposing to do too little in it – based on the speed profile, it looks like it’s not planning to fix the Metuchen curve, which is the second worst south of New York away from station approaches, after Elizabeth.

He opposes California too, which surely would have the second-highest ridership of any proposed HSR line after the Northeast Corridor? It sounds like he just wants to kill HSR entirely by supporting “Northeast Corridor only”, given that the NEC upgrade project proposed by Amtrak is extremely expensive.

Huh. When I first read Mica’s quotes, the first thing that I thought was “oh, he’s just posturing in order to be head of the House Transportation Committee.”

In other words: The GOP leadership has made it clear to moderates that they can continue being moderates but that the new Republican line is for the Tea Party. If moderates don’t walk that line (at least in public) then they can just be congressmen, and not on any important committees making important decisions.

If Mica does end up being head of the House Transportation Committee, I wouldn’t surprised if he goes back on what he’s saying now.

Ohio’s Governor-elect is an idiot. It’s a pity Ohioans were so short-sighted and narrow minded in choosing him to “lead” the state for four years. Those of us with the ability to analyze and reason knew from the first moment John Kasich opened his mouth that were were doomed if he got himself elected. But any candidate or issue oriented campaign in Ohio knows all one has to do is promise “jobs, jobs, and more jobs” and the electorate will flock to the ballot box. This definitely says something about Ohio but not much about the electorate’s ability to discern what will create jobs (like the 3C rail project would have)let alone question these lofty promises and how they plan to produce the jobs they’ve promised prior to pulling the lever on the ballot box.

Here in Ohio, we saw it last year with voter’s approval of a casino gambling issue which was a poor deal for Ohio from a business perspective but lucrative for private interests who, with but the construction of three casinos in major Ohio cities will clean-up with profits once they are up and running. The few jobs these casinos will produce did not warrant voters flocking to the polls, ignoring the well-publicized truth! But a year later politicos did it again and voters have elected a wealthy man who, like P.T. Barnum, hawks much and will deliver little to the peons.

Stay tuned fellow Ohioans! Rosy days are not ahead as Johnny comes marching through Ohio, destroying public transportation in his wake as he distributes all new funds to highways, bridges and freight. Don’t believe it? Well, he’s stated it publicly so don’t wonder why when more of your public transit service is cut next year. And please don’t yell at and complain to your local transit systems. We didn’t vote for him and we’ll be suffering the consequences along with you.

Just thank the new governor!


The 3C project was ill-concieved from the get-go. It never should have seen light of day.

The smartest thing Doyle and OhioDOT should have done is join the neighboring states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania in proposing a 220 mph Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo (+Detroit spur)-Cleveland-Pittsburgh route. I-80 and many regional flights in that corridor are evidence of demand. The debate would have been over cost and precise routing, rather than becoming a 39 mph average speed laughingstock to the USDOT who wanted to give Ohio its fair share.

The Feds and the nation prefer true high speed interstate, not low speed intrastate projects. Do the math, 10 senators and 5 governors who can attract stimulus funds, create areal transportation solution, and claim green job growth is a lot stronger than 2 senators and 1 governor. Doyle and his OhioDOT failed political calculus.

Partially correct, 3 states,6 US Senators, 3 Governors. Intention was never to have a Detroit spur. People in Detroit do not ride AMTAK now with the 3 trains that serve it.

Pittsburgh to Chicago on the existing Capital route, with upgraded concrete ties and continous welded rails.

In Ohio, Alliance, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky, Toledo, and Bryan would be the stops.

You are changing your tune. First you said it was the 2004 MRRS agreement you are talking about. That only went as far as Cleveland and connecting to Chicago via Fort Wayne. Now you are saying it is the existing Capital Corridor route that you are talking about, despite the fact that the Capital Corridor route will cost substantially more capital works through Indiana to allow 110mph passenger rail service to mix with mainline freight service on a busy mainline freight corridor.

Which one is it? Or is this all new information that you never read at an 8th grade reading level in the USA Today?

From 3 November 2010 23:16, you linked to the following grant application:

The Indiana Chicago-Cleveland Corridor High Speed Rail Service Program will implement high speed passenger rail service at speeds of up to 110 mph in the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Eight round trips per day will be provided from Chicago to Toledo via Fort Wayne and nine round trips from Toledo to Cleveland with an end to end corridor express travel time of 4 hours and 22
minutes. A map of the corridor is attached.

That’s an application for $2.8b out of a $8b national total. Ohio and Indiana are going to get 35% of the total and leave Florida, California, and Illinois sucking hind tit? For a route that you partisan Republicans will attack for leaving out Columbus and Cincinnati?

So that’s your argument appeared at Nov. 3 23:16. The 3C application was foolish because it undermined the extremely ambitious effort for Ohio and Indiana to land over 1/3 of the ARRA HSR funding. Assuming half of the pot would go to Express HSR and half to Regional HSR, it would have taken the lion’s share of the Regional HSR money and left almost nothing for the Chicago/STL corridor.

The Indiana application itself made perfect sense, of course, since if you don’t ask, you can’t get it, and its entirely the USDoT decision whether they want to pick two or three big flagship corridors or spread the Regional HSR share of the pot around.

But once the USDoT decided to spread the Regional HSR money around rather than put it into a single flagship project, the numbers just don’t work. The fate of that application was determined at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, DC, not in Columbus.

And then in the same comment thread, at 4 November 10:14, you say:

The Pittsburgh to Chicago service was to run on the exact same route that the Capitol Limited does at a much higher speed during daylight hours. Lima and Fort Wayne was to be bypassed.

SO: which? The Indiana application which is based on the Fort Wayne alignment? Dated 10/1/2009? Or the Capital Corridor route?

Saying the second without acknowledging that it directly contradicts the evidence linked to in the first makes it seem very much like you habitually skip the step of actually reading the evidence that you are linking to, when its dry technical reading.

People in Detroit do not ride AMTAK now with the 3 trains that serve it.

Is this intrinsic preference, or is it the transit speed available without 110mph improvements and the Detroit / Toledo link?

Detroit / Chicago ~ +5:40
Detroit 6:48am EST / Chicago 12:24pm CST

Detroit / Cleveland via Chicago: +18:07
Detroit 11:23am / Chicago 4:16pm
Chicago 9:30pm / Cleveland 5:30am

It would be absurd to take the ridership on existing Amtrak routes as the ceiling for 110mph with its own track in heavy freight areas and frequent passing loops in light freight areas that assumes that the only passengers available …

… it is, indeed only one part of the floor.

Detroit-NY is the most requested nonexistent route among people who blindly call up Amtrak, apparently. Why can’t it be done? No Detroit-Toledo connection.

I personally witnessed a couple trying to get from Syracuse, NY to Detroit, who when told that it would involve a bus from Toledo to Detroit looked disgusted and walked off.

As for Detroit-Chicago service, it is actually fairly well patronized, but it is painfully slow compared to what it should be. Hopefully the (recently approved for funding) state purchase and upgrade of Kalamazoo-Dearborn will fix some of that, and the Englewood Flyover will fix some more of that, and the West Detroit Junction works (IIRC) will fix some more of that.

A 220mph project along those lines would never have got a piece of the $8b, the projects were not far enough advanced.

How would you define a well-conceived bid for that $8b?

For Ohio, I’d say the definition of a good bid:
+ a project that already had a plan in place, otherwise Ohio is out of the running for the kind of funds that can employ 8,000 people and are looking at a much smaller preliminary design grant.

++ That means the Ohio Hub routes, which are the ones that had their preliminary planning finished under Taft as a political consolation for not really doing anything about easing the severe oil-addiction of Ohio’s transport.

+++ That means Stage One or Stage Two of the Ohio Hub, since Stage Three was completing the connection with the MRRS by linking the Stage Two Cleveland/Toledo route to the MRRS Fort Wayne to Chicago route, but Indiana was not in a position to guarantee that there would be anything there to connect to. And the Cleveland / Pittsburgh route needed more preliminary environmental work before it would be ready for prime time. So either Cleveland / Toledo / Detroit, connecting there with Chicago service, or Cleveland / Columbus / Cincinnati.

+ And on a scale that Ohio would have a chance of actually getting the bid funded

++ which nails down the 110mph route, as included in the Ohio Hub, rather than a 220mph system: California had approved $9b in state bonding, up to a 50:50 match per segment, Florida had reserved a 160mph capable expressway alignment, slashing the per mile cost and project completion time for an Express HSR system, the NEC has the only formally Express HSR system in operation, already running an operating surplus (though of course operating at Regional HSR transit speeds, the 150mph is only for a very small percentage of the total route) ~ no other Express HSR would be in the running for that money.

++ The corridor where a 110mph service would hit break even on the smallest share of the total transport market. Say that a rail service is in competition for 20% of trips on a corridor, and is in a position to win 10% of those trips. That’s a 2% mode share. Some corridors would need subsidy at a 2% mode share, some would break even, some would generate massive surpluses. And a service normally launches around half its mature ridership, building to its mature ridership over five years: the stronger the mature operating surplus, the quicker it hits break even.

The 3C corridor is the one where a passenger rail service would hit break even at about a 1% mode split, which is the smallest break even mode split of any proposed corridor in the state.

++ But the full Ohio Hub 110mph 3C corridor is around $1b~$1.2b, including contingencies, which is not something Ohio would be likely to get out of $8b nationwide. However, at about half of that, including contingencies, the 110mph track and works to trackhead level could be done, supporting an Amtrak speed service, and the signaling and level crossings, could then be finished in incremental segments. That’s the quick start application.

Given the Quickstart, each incremental upgrade would bring the operations closer to break-even, cutting the required operating subsidy, and it would hit break-even before the full corridor hit 110mph.

What Ohio was awarded was the Design and Build without the contingencies. At which point, because it was a Gubernatorial election coming up, the Republican spin-masters started demonizing the Quick Start project.

In retrospect, if we had known in 2009 which way the Citizen’s United ruling was going to go, and that Kasich would have unlimited funds, it might have been better to apply for the final Design of the full 110mph 3C (which would have been not much more than the Quickstart $25m), and incremental 110mph upgrades of existing Cleveland / Toledo route, with a single daytime return subsidized Amtrak corridor service to Chicago. That could have allowed ground to be broken this year. That was the only other real option available.

The lie behind the “if only Strickland had done this, it would have had bipartisan support” was revealed in Kasich’s announcement that his victory meant not just the sending of 8,000 jobs to some other state, but also no new passenger rail service anywhere in Ohio. So the idea that there was some other Ohio passenger rail project that the Republicans would be willing to support is revealed for all to see as the absurdity it always was, in reality.

Said by someone who supported an attack on the Ohio Hub design by presenting evidence that the Ohio Hub design is the capital-efficient way to get 110mph corridors in the context of Ohio freight corridors.

Stick to the political football, you are in over your head when weighing the transport merits of a rail corridor.

I don’t disagree with the tech details of your point to aim for 110 mph. I disagree with the notion of settling for a 110 mph route in the Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor.

We must aim for world class 220 mph HSR to meet 2020 and beyond demand, even if it means skipping 3-4 years of construction funding to do the proper EIR homework and build political consensus. Consider this 2014 likelihood.

The economy will be stronger and petro prices will be higher. There will be far more train demand than today. Florida Phase 1 completes. Substantial construction of DC-Richmond-Raleigh Acela extension plus of 220 mph Chicago-St Louis (and possibly KC) and California HSR are well underway or near completion. More Amtrak NEC, Keystone and Northeast Regional upgrades complete.

Just completing Amtrak’s SOGR plans for PTC, mild curve straitening, interlocking upgrades, and better catenary between Newark, Philly, Baltimore and DC will enable current Acela trains to hit 162 mph top speed over longer stretches than 150 mph over 18 miles in Connecticut. Without counting the bridge, tunnel and Wilmington bypass work to come, that would quickly whack 15-20 minutes from DC-NYC trip time and build more HSR support in 2014.

Just looking at population demographics, VMT and air traffic in the Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo(+Detroit spur)-Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor, we can predict with 98% confidence that the numbers will pencil out for successful 220 mph service by 2020.

(1) Buckerychuckle’s argument is over what route Ohio should have applied for for the $8b ARRA application.

(2) You say:

I don’t disagree with the tech details of your point to aim for 110 mph. I disagree with the notion of settling for a 110 mph route in the Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor.

(3) There is not even preliminary study for a Chicago / easterly 220mph corridor. So irrespective of the merits of a 220mph Chicago easterly corridor, it couldn’t have been in the application for the ARRA funds.

(4) Standard practice for general alignment is to study multiple alignments to first determine which can meet the minimum standard, then among that set which offers the best full economic Benefit:Cost ratio. It is clear that a Chicago – easterly 220mph service cannot reach the NEC in three hours, and given geography, it needs to connect to Cleveland in some way.

There are, however, multiple alignments to do that.

At the same time, the high capital cost of a 220mph corridor and the low population growth and existing intercity highway capacity means that multiple Chicago – easterly 220mph are highly unlikely to have a Benefit:Cost ratio over 100%, and the distance between Cleveland and Cincinnati implies that anything faster than electric 125mph Regional HSR is overkill.

No matter where the Chicago-easterly 220mph alignment would go, clearly its junction or interchange with the 3C corridor will only benefit the 3C. Since the 3C at 110mph is strong enough to stand on its own within its first five years of operation, that is one sensible place to start the complementary 110mph network.

For the application, less ambitious would have been incremental improvements to the Stage Two Cleveland / Toledo corridor, continuing to Chicago on the existing route.

However, my preferred alternative, given that the 110mph 3C was out of reach, was a Design application for the the full 3C 110mph and a Build application for Cleveland / Columbus 110mph. There is a sound financial case for the Quickstart, but its not a very inspiring vision. 110mph 2C with the third C to come later would be a better fit to the hidebound highway oriented ODOT.

Roll the tape …

That’s nonsense, just the Pittsburgh to Cleveland portion of the enhanced faster service to Chicago had twice the passenger figures of the entire 3C.

You don’t know what you’re talking about.

This route had the best opportunity to not only break even, but actually post a profit.

In this clip, you are arguing about whether the 3C route was the best route to start with.

The fact that its a evidently flawed argument, comparing a 110mph speed limit corridor to a 79mph speed limit corridor before all 110mph works have been completed does not change its status as an explicit argument about the merits of the corridors.

Bruce McF,

I know the funds and buckeryechucke’s statement were concerning this ARRA funding. I also see that your 3C counterproposal is better than THE 3C proposal:

“Design application for the the full 3C 110mph and a Build application for Cleveland / Columbus 110mph … 110mph 2C with the third C to come later would be a better fit to the hidebound highway oriented ODOT”

But you have not convinced me that 2C Build option is better for America than 220 mph Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Detroit and Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Clevleand-Pittsburgh. Those two routes are critical building blocks to a true Interstate HSR network, rather than aother provincial of 90-110 mph route connected to even slower Amtrak routes. Can you imagine how lousy our Interstate Freeway/Tollway network would be, if Eisenhower’s USDOT hadn’t developed a comprehensive interstate map with uniformly high roadway standards?

So even though the two Trans-Midwest routes have lots of freeway/tollway capacity between them, they will be highly vulnerable in the 2020s when gas is $10/gallon and jet fuel is more expensive, see Provincial routes between top 50 metro areas, 60-65 mph average speed, frequency under 10 times a day, and too many places where cars cross tracks may be an alternative, but it is not a solution.

This speaks to my biggest complaint against Obama’s USDOT. By not publishing a 220 mph Interstate HSR map that also represents uniformly high frequency, on-time performance and walk-in platforms that will 20X train demand, they give shortsighted Repub ruralists an easy out.

The Express HSR and the Regional HSR are not rivals, they are complementary. As the French do not restrict their TGV to their Express HSR corridors, but use their Intercity Express corridors to both get into their major cities and to connect regional centers into the system beyond the Express HSR corridor network …

… when segments of the 110mph tier HSR corridors are upgraded to electric corridors on their own track to operate as 125mph tier Regional HSR corridors, the Express HSR can run onto that track to connect more centers into the system.

And the 110mph tier provides transport services that we will need in any event. We need more intercity transport than the Express HSR that can be justified on status quo Benefit/Cost can provide, because we need to provide intercity transport to more locales than the Express HSR that can be justified on status quo Benefit/Cost can provide.

And the strongest 110mph corridors can provide that transport service with operating surpluses, so they don’t compete with needed oil independent local transport for operating subsidies.

Say that the best Chicago/NEC 220mph route turns out to be the shorter line distance between New York and Chicago … along an I-80 alignment through to Canton/Akron, Findley, Fort Wayne and up to Chicago. Junction to Ohio Hub Cleveland Pittsburgh give NYC-Cleveland, NYC-Pitt, and Chi-Pitt. Junction to 3C gives NYC-Columbus-Cincinnati. Junction with Columbus-Detroit gives Chi-Columbus, Chi-Toledo-Detroit, NYC-Toledo-Detroit.

Similar if the best Chicago/NEC route is Phillie / Pitt / Columbus / Indianapolis / Chicago.

And add to that interchanges with Regional HSR services.

The first Chicago-NEC Express HSR corridor reduces the Benefit/Cost of a second, but increases the Benefit/Cost of all the complementary Regional HSR corridors.

The frequencies of the MRRS and Ohio Hub are driven by mode splits. Higher demand allows higher frequencies. And they are designed to allow substantial capacity upgrades: a year of new passing loops and new trains and going from 8 trains per day to 20 trains per days is straightforward. By the time a real frequency wall is hit, having Express stations upgraded to double length and upgrading Express trains to double decker double length is a straight line upgrade in capacity.

Given the complementarity, if we build the Regional HSR lines where they make sense on their own Benefit/Cost, given that they are 1/4th to 1/10th the cost per track mile, their Benefit/Cost will only go up when Express HSR systems are completed.

The biggest obstacle to both is “not invented here” syndrome, so the most critical thing for both is to have systems of both type getting up and running so that people can experience them inside the US rather than having to go to evil wicked Europe or incomprehensible Japan to experience them.

Other than the fact that both forms of investment are called high-speed rail by their respective governments, the US and French rail models are nothing alike.

First, the French modernized their rail regulations before starting to invest in new lines. There are no FRA regulations on cant, cant deficiency, or weight in France. A non-tilting TGV is allowed the same cant deficiency as the tilting Acela, the cant used is 7″ rather than a freight-friendly 4″, and the axle load is 17 metric tons.

Second, in France the only services that are called TGV are ones that use TGVs and run at least partially on LGVs. If it doesn’t run on an LGV then it’s called a Grande Ligne.

And third, the French model of how to build high-speed rail is the exact opposite of what the US is doing. SNCF didn’t spread money to different regions; it concentrated on one high-demand corridor. And when it needed to compromise on costs it did not compromise on top speed or track standards, but instead built the LGV two thirds of the way, showcasing the difference between high-speed and low-speed rail.

Much of that if confirmation of the benefit of having the Express Interurban rail grid that France has and that the US lacks. Including, of course, the regulatory capture by vested passenger rail interests rather than vested heavy freight rail interests ~ one of the pre-requisites for regulatory reform in the FRA is political clout by passenger rail interests, which can only be built by having a broader range of interested stakeholders.

I echo Alon’s comments about the French approach compared to the American approach thus far, plus several counterpoints.

First, you still envision the 3C corridor as a 110 mph provincial route. But I and many others envision the first HSR line in Ohio as part of a larger Interstate HSR Network. A network that has world class HSR standards like those in France, Japan, Spain, Italy and China. Since the latest top speed around the world has elevated from 186 mph to 220 mph, the US should do no less, even if they were not ready for the ARRA funding and may take more years to get the plans right.

Second, after Milwaukee- Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Detroit line and a Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Harrisburg-Philly line, population growth numbers suggest this 220 mph interstate HSR line should be built:


The stage would be set for Nashville to plus into both a Memphis and Atlanta connection later.

Third, I don’t propose a straiter line distance between NYC-Chicago. For time-sensitive business travelers, that should be left to planes, just as Paris-Madrid and Paris-Rome will be even when their HSR lines connect.

Fourth, from a patronage/mile perspective Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Ft. Wayne-Chicago makes more sense and has future flexibility to connect from a 220 mph Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo-Rochester-Albany-NYC.

Lastly, we did not build a great nation settling for transportation mediocrity over excellence. So I agree with Mica on one thing … we must build true high speed trains between our top metro areas (includes 3Cs), see

Caltrain asked for a waiver, and got it. SEPTA seriously considered severing half its commuter network from FRA control entirely, before the employees rebelled against the management’s thinking too much like modern transit operators and not enough like steam-era railroaders. Ottawa got a full waiver from FRA-like rules for the O-Train, even though Canada has even stronger freight rail operators than the US and even weaker passenger rail. But Amtrak hasn’t even tried doing anything other than thinking inside the FRA box.

Although a full-fledged study was not completed for ARRA to start funding a portion of 220 mph Milwaukee-Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Detroit route, earlier in 2010 this U.S. Mayors report was circulated to the USDOT, Congress, governors and local officials. It requests 220 mph EIR funding and seeks bi-partisan consensus and job creation in America’s 3rd largest economic region,

Since 2009, the USDOT has been studying a 110 mph Cleveland-Pittsburgh upgrade. If the outgoing OH Gov joined the PA Gov to make it happen, Toledo-Cleveland-Pittsburgh could have been inserted in the same mayor’s proposal for 220 mph Midwest routes.


Since the Buffalo / Rochester / Syracuse corridor is north of Cleveland, and NYC south of Cleveland, going via Albany is a round about way to get to Cleveland and the southern Erie Lakeshore.

The point about a more direct routing is not that NYC/CHI lies in the sweet spot of transit time for 220mph Express HSR, but that the more direct the route, the broader the three hour or two radius from prospective junctions with 125mph Regional HSR corridors.

Line of sight, Pittsburgh is 315mi (507km) to NYC, metro 2.3m, Cleveland is 402mi (647km), metro 2.1m, Columbus 477mi (767km), metro 1.8m. For a fraction of the cost of a single 220mph corridor between any pair of those, all three can be connected by a triangle of 125mph corridors that justify their cost on the benefits from those intercity connections alone, so that using those corridors to pool the cities onto a single Express HSR corridor to NYC would be a very capital efficient approach.

And drawing lines on the map and saying, “we’d like to have 220mph corridors there” is easy, but it takes substantially more time to build an all-grade-separated corridor on a new alignment, and the spare decade or more that we had to pursue oil-independent transport at a leisurely, measured pace has already been squandered. The more start-up function we can get from completing a 220mph corridor because it can link into an existing express intercity network that is already up and running, the better.

You make a good point about the cost to build 220 mph lines as it pertains to the mountain chains in Western PA and Western NY. Even if those segments are limited to 155 mph with some tunneling and the new 220 mph-capable tilt trains will still come in handy for Ohio, Indiana to Chicago.

Yes I know it would take longer and be more expensive than a series of 125 mph routes, but 155-220 mph between NYC-Philly-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Ft. Wayne-Chicago would be worth it.

ThomasD, I think we all agree on that! The MWHSR plans call for very high speed from Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland, which is the “easy to make fast” part of the route from Chicago to the East Coast.

I’d add to what Bruce said: Detroit-Toledo was a blatantly better corridor to build, but *it didn’t have the environmental documentation ready* — they haven’t even done an alternatives analysis to work out which of the multiple possible Detroit-Toledo routes to take — and therefore it made little sense to apply for ARRA (“shovel ready”) funds for it.

What makes it all the more infuriating is that there are two major ODOT capital projects–the Inner Belt in Cleveland and the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati–which could very easily be contracted out as toll-financed projects. The Inner Belt in particular would be much more functional if the original proposal–running the expressway through University Circle and up to Bratenahl–were done in the context of rerouting I-90 out of that lousy downtown cut. ODOT previously placed this proposal in the $1.6 billion range, but it would’ve allowed ODOT to negotiate with the Feds to transfer FHWA and stimulus funding to either rail or to other road projects, for a far more efficient use of funds. If Kasich were really about carefully tending the public purse, he’d be contracting out the two big road projects and accepting Fed money for 3C from Cleveland to Columbus. But that requires logic and something beyond ideology and short-sightedness, and we know how that goes here in Ohio.

Someone needs to get through to Mica. Take him to France, where strategically placed high speed lines merge with conventional ones and support each other — and where the population density is comparable to the Midwest and Southeast and actually lower than the portion of California that matters (i.e. west of the Sierras. This shtick the Republicans hide behind of “it can’t work here” is bogus and needs to be attacked head on.

Nah, just focus on protecting the Florida and St. Louis / Chicago systems from Mica and make sure that the CA-HSR can ride out the next two years based on funds already appropriated. If he sends some token funding to the NEC, great.

There’s another House election coming up, with a Presidential Year electorate. And if the Chicago-St. Louis system is up and running, we can send people to ride on that train instead of having to send them to France.

“We were supposed to have this good thing, we could have had this good thing, and you took it away from us” is a lovely platform to build on.

I’m very much afraid that Chicago-St. Louis will continue to be a bust due to working with Union Pacific. Remember the PTC signalling system they were supposed to install on the line — the one which *didn’t actually work*? I simply don’t trust them to get anything useful done, and Chicago-St. Louis is unfortunately proposed to be done *by* Union Pacific as contract labor.

In the mid-West, I would put emphasis on getting both the Chicago-St Louis and the Chicago-Detroit corridors to the < 4 hour travel times called for in the Mid-West Regional Rail plan. In the recent FY10 HSIPR awards, Michigan got $150 million (out of $308 million asked for) to buy 135 miles of NS rail line from Kalamazoo to Dearborn and start incremental improvements & another $8 million to fix a bottleneck in west Detroit. Combined with the 97 miles of the Amtrak owned line, 77% of the Chicago-Detroit route will be owned by Amtrak and Michigan, which means priority can be given to 110 mph operation (or faster) over freight rail operations.

It is better to have 2 Mid-West corridors upgraded to 110 mph serving major cities in 3 states than just 1 corridor reaching 2 states. If Gov elect Walker in Wisconsin is determined to kill the Milwaukee- Madison extension, I say re-direct a majority of that $810 million towards additional upgrade projects on the Chi-StL and Chi-Det(-Pontiac) corridors. Chicago to Iowa City is essentially fully funded, so that new service is set.

Definitely getting a genuine 110mph upgraded corridor Detroit to Chicago would open up the options for the Ohio Hub in 2015 or later … Pittsburgh / Youngstown / Cleveland / Toledo / western Detroit would come into the frame.

So I’d personally be quite happy to see the $375m that Strickland won and Kasich is sending back go to Michigan instead.


Based on Mica’s M.O. for world-class trains, the 220 mph St. Louis-Chicago route and the Florida HSR seem safe. Though I’m sure he’s asking Florida HSR to pick faster trains than 168 mph.

79-110 mph projects may be on the chopping block, if they don’t show a credible phased plan to upgrade to 186-220 mph. I sure hope the Seattle-Portland-Eugene and the DC-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte folks have a Phase II 220 mph upgrade ready to present in Q1 2011. I don’t want Mica to catch them with their pants down.

They can’t defund the money that has already been assigned unless they get 60 Senators and the President to go along, so none of the money that has been already awarded is on the chopping block.

Indeed, there was never any guarantee when the ARRA funds were awarded that there would be any ongoing funding ~ the White House was proposing $1b for HSR in the annual budget, and the Democratic House was able to crank that up to $2.5b, but the key thing about the Stimulus spending was to get some projects started that would get finished.

The demonstration effect will take over once the trains are up and running, which is why the Oil Lobby would prefer to kill off all of the projects in their cradle. They’ve succeeded in Ohio and Wisconsin, but Gov. Quinn is talking about taking any jobs that Wisconsin turns up its nose at, and there are noises out of the Pacific Northwest to go after some of the money that Ohio and Wisconsin are handing back in.

After demonizing passenger rail in their campaigns, the new Governors of Wisconsin and Ohio have boxed themselves in politically, and are going for political theater that makes it the Federal government’s fault for “taking money” that they “only wants to divert to roads”, but they should both know full well that its dedicated funds and another state gets it … certainly Kasich does, from his days in Congress.

My dream is that mainstream new media show:

A. States building new HSR
B. Wisconsin and Ohio govs blathering about why they turned down HSR jobs.

Could happen since we know both MSNBC and Fox News are pro-HSR.

The article mentioned seems to be more of a personal opinion of the writer and not facts.. so we still don’t know his true opinion of California’s project but it sure seemed to have everything he wants for a high-speed project. As far as the ARRA what at this point can he do with it. It’s part of the stimulus bill that has been approved by the president and both houses and now in the Department of Transportation’s administrative duties? Would you not have to have a new bill introduced to remove the funds or have them redirected? I think they’re safe, unfortunately for most of the projects this will be the end of it for while unless they can bump speeds up to over 150 mph because I have a feeling that will be the minimum standards for him in the new transportation bill to receive any kind of funding and even that is going to be short of what Oberstar first proposed.

Yes, new legislation would have to pass both the Republican House and Democratic Senate and either be signed into law by the President who supports the projects or else the veto overidden, which with the slaughter of the Blue Dogs this election requires most of the President’s own New Dem caucus to break ranks or else lots of support from the Progressive Caucus led, de facto, by San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi.

So, no, nothing is going to happen to the HSR funds already appropriated. If some Governor does not want them, it will go to some Governor that does.

As BruceMcF said, the ARRA HSIPR funds should be safe, but also the FY2010 HSIPR and Tiger 2 grants. The Obama administration and the Democratically controlled Senate are not likely to roll over and let the Republican controlled House rescind the funds.

What I have not seen discussed is the FY2011 appropriations. FY 2011 started back on October 1 and much of the government is operating under continuing resolutions. The lame duck session of Congress is supposed to pass the appropriation bills for FY11. I think there will be several new Senators sworn in right away because of special elections (WV, DE, CO?), but it will be a Democratically controlled House. The new Congress is to have responsibility for the FY12 and FY13 funding.

The House passed a FY11 transportation bill which had $1.4 billion for HSIPR, $400 million (IIRC) for Tiger, and $1.767 billion for Amtrak. The Senate appropriations committee had voted for $1 billion for HSIPR, $800 million for Tiger, and $1.963 billion for Amtrak, but it not been voted on by the full Senate. The Senate Republicans may well try to stonewall the FY11 process so it is all continuing resolutions until next spring. But if the Senate passes their bill and it goes to conference, hopefully there will be a push to pick the largest of each amount, although splitting the difference is what they did last FY.

So while there is a huge fight over transportation and transit funding going on next year with Mica as one major player, there may be $1 to $1.4 billion of HSIPR and $400 to $800 million of Tiger FY11 funds for La Hood and DOT to award. The decisions for those possibly last HSIPR grants for several years could get interesting.

If Mica really is against California HSR, then there’s several million California voters who approved a $9.9 billion HSR bond measure, that fervently disagree with you.

The 2010 midterms were the triumph of the willfully ignorant. The public’s serious disconnect between the reality that their votes are the root of a state and nation’s public policy agenda is stunning.

Don’t underestimate the professional skills of the opinion makers. There’s a lot of willful ignorance where the will and the ignorance are in two different people, especially given unlimited outside corporate money by supposedly non-partisan not for profits for blatantly partisan ends.

You have go to read Walker’s latest quote. He says: “More than 60 years ago, the federal government had the foresight to recognize that the American people no longer wanted to be limited by fixed-track passenger rail.” “The massive investment in our federal interstate highway system spurred the greatest economic expansion in our nation’s history. For us to now to go backwards on transportation makes little sense.”

A lot of romantics pine for preindustrial technologies, like roads, and hate what came out of the industrial revolution, like trains. But I don’t think Scott Walker thinks he’s one of them.

Even if one ignores auto pollution contributing to Global Warming, it is a fact that the world hit Peak Oil condition in 2010. So every other leading nation is rapidly building electric-powered HSR, Rapid Transit, Bikeways and Sustainable Energy infrastructure to prevent greater dependance on oil.

Population Growth forces us to add more transportation infrastructure. Lets say we chose to build more freeways and freeway lanes. We are already importing ~90% of our oil and transportation consumes 70% of that oil. Our roadways will not have 75% electric cars for many decades and hybrids don’t reduce enough oil consumption to make a big enough oil dent by themselves. There isn’t enough oil in Alaska, offshore USA, Canada, or Mexico to satisfy our pace of oil demand. That makes America the most oil-vulnerable nation on Earth.

Is your solution to become more dependent on oil, even from nations that may not like us? By 2030, do we manufacture lies to invade remaining countries with cheaper oil?

I’m a guy who loves big-engine sports cars to my core, then I got enlightened. The future is not just about my selfish pursuits. Its also about leaving a better or at least a more tolerable world for my kids. Get enlightened,

Given the broken politics of infrastructure funding, the best outcome would dusting off that $50-60 billion/6 year HSR proposal starting with FY 2011 appropriations channeled towards:


Northeast Corridor
Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis-KC


Springfield-Hartford-New Haven-NYC-Philly-Baltimore-DC-Richmond-Norfolk

At least every project would fit the minimum definition of High Speed Rail and most 125 mph routes could be upgraded to 220 mph later.

DC-Richmond can’t do 125mph on the RF&P sub. On a “greenfield” alignment (I-95 from the Occoquan south), it can do considerably better than 125 mph (though probably not 200+). Richmond-Raleigh, along the S-line, can probably do better than 150mph if it’s double tracked and electrified. If it isn’t, then 110mph is as good as it’ll get.

Vrginia and North Carolina did have high speed rail plans for the S line that would have them taking out a lot of the sharp turns in it and turning every railroad crossing from the City of Richmond VA to the state line to Raleigh. The railroad would first be a singel track railroad with double track passing sections but it would have all the railroad crossings removed with the roads going over the tracks on bridges. The S line also has a lot going for it in that it also goes though a very rural area of Vrginia so that there are very little houses near it and the railroad bed is still clear of homes built on top of it and there are a lot of pre existing highway overpasses left over from when the railroad was still active.

I think they should take maybe 200 million from Ohio or maybe 400 million and they could really get a nice 110 mile on hour high speed rail line going. But if they extend the Catenary H beams south to Raleigh then it wouldn’t be out of the question to see trains going a 140 to 170 on this section of track.

Thanks for the clarification …

“DC-Richmond can’t do 125mph on the RF&P sub. On a “greenfield” alignment (I-95 from the Occoquan south), it can do considerably better than 125 mph (though probably not 200+)”

I know that even with significantly upgraded routes and FRA regulation changes, top speeds will range from 110-125 (NYC-New Haven) and 162-200 mph everywhere else in the Northeast and Southeast. I also know that new routes in the Midwest, Texas and West could support 200-220 mph.

So we need a 220 mph High Speed Train Standard that lets every state or region buy High Speed Trains at volume discount, then run 162-220 mph top speed as appropriate for their upgraded or new HSR line. Excluding the NYC-New Haven section, we also must set minimum standards of 120 mph average speed to attract the most mode-switchers from driving and short flights. Lastly, the industry ecosystem for parts and technicians will form around that standard much like an ecosystem formed around Boeing 737 jets.

Then the standard is going to be “Northeast Corridor” The commuter agencies have been busily building NEC standard platforms for the past century. There’s too many of them to use any other standard.

Great discussion. But one simple premise is missing.

If any of these intercity passenger rail systems, programs and projects (of any speed) are worthwhile projects, than why can’t private investment and private dollars be used to build and operate them?

Why can’t states work with the private sector to secure funding for these projects?

Why do the project sponsors always have to seek funding from the Feds?

There is a huge problem in constantly seeking federal dollars for transportation infrastructure projects. It almost always leads to mediocre outcomes.

If the program or project were required to be profitable and actually pay back investors, then it would have to perform to a high enough standard to meet investor’s expectations in order to secure funding. Projects would have to be innovative, competitive and strive for excellence in design and function in order to attract funding. But instead every state DOT got in line with their hand out for the Obama ARRA HSR free money give-away. What kind of excellence could this possibly lead to?

The Obama ARRA HSR program also ignored the growing intolerance of taxpayers to continue to fund everything under the sun. This is at the heart of the midterm Republican victories. Taxpayers are saying enough is enough. If a project or program is so great, then let the private sector pay for it. I realize that this is not a completely rational argument. However, we must recognize that there is huge and growing sentiment throughout America regarding very high price projects and programs to demand that government officials encourage private investment and relieve taxpayers from shouldering the entire burden for these very expensive endeavors.

Today, we have an entitlement program for state governments and even state DOT’s and it’s called the Federal government. Most state governments by law have to have an annually balanced budget. What a concept! The Feds don’t, so they develop programs to spread money to the states to secure political support for one party over the other. The ARRA HSR program was all about political favors and had very little to do with making good passenger rail decisions and good passenger rail investments. It wasn’t an enlightened vision as many had hoped for to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage Livable Communities, encourage economic development, create jobs, or any other “greater good” that HSR was supposed to do for America. It was simply the Obama Administration engaging in politics as usual.

The tough love for HSR proponents is that if you want to develop a real HSR system in America, then we need to have Americans stand up and tell their representatives that if a high-speed intercity passenger rail project can’t make money, then don’t build it. Force these projects to attract private dollars and tell the project sponsors to stop begging for federal dollars. If these projects and programs have any genuine merit then let their sponsors look for private investors and private operators and promote high performing, excellent projects. If these projects have little merit and will require endless annual operating subsidies, THEN DON’T BUILD THEM and stop asking the Feds for endless amounts of money for projects that won’t ever pay taxpayers back.

There will likely be some private involvement, but these projects are too large to be funded solely by the private sector, just as our road system. If you are going to use this standard to fund HSR, then lets use it to fund roads as well since the gas tax does not come close to funding road maintenance.

Private interests might build some urban freeways where they could charge tolls and have sufficient usage to cover the tolls. However, in rural areas and most red states, no road building would take place as it would not be economical. Contrast with the republican positions of the past with bridges to nowhere and heavy rural road building funded heavily by those that live in the cities and there is a complete disconnect.

Harry Dale wrote:
“If any of these intercity passenger rail systems, programs and projects (of any speed) are worthwhile projects, than why can’t private investment and private dollars be used to build and operate them?”

Why would you ask for private funds to build a world-class HSR network, when private funds did not build our world-class interstate freeway network or major airports? That simply does not happen in any modern society.

But other leading and emerging nations, aware that Peak Oil, Air Pollution and Global Warming are rapidly upsetting the applecart, are building robust HSR networks, see

So by de fault, you are suggesting that America continue drifting into backwater transportation status in the oil-depleted 21st century.

Why can’t private investment and dollars be used to build our entire road system? How about our airports?

The fact is they can’t, and they aren’t. This is a feature of *transportation*, not of roads. Transportation is a quintessential “public good” — many of the benefits accrue to people who aren’t paying to use it (displacement of traffic from other routes, increase in business due to increased mobility, etc.), so it’s generally impossible to make a private-sector profit on it.

I agree in part with some of the criticism about relying solely on private funding for intercity rail projects and programs. But most states treat Federal dollars as if they are free. We all line up in a row to get our fair share from the federal trough without fully understanding the consequences. And since Federal money is available, the projects don’t have to meet the same financial performance standards they would have to meet if only private funding were available. This actually creates an incentive to fund and build mediocre projects with mediocre performance standards. If the project sponsors had to go out and secure private funding only from private investors, you better believe they would have to prove that their projects would be innovative, productive, high performing and profitable! But since the project sponsors are depending on easily obtainable federal pork, these projects and programs can be mediocre with little or no return on investment to taxpayers. I’m not saying that this will happen with every HSR project, but it is certainly a possibility, especially in the Midwest where low-speed systems are the norm for requesting federal funding.

The current HSR mind set in America also ignores the current fiscal crisis in this country and especially the massive shortfalls in transportation funding. Clearly our pockets are not bottomless and we will be forced to make transportation funding decisions more and more based on performance in the future. We were in a very different position in the 1950’s when the interstate highway program was developed. Also taxpayers were much more trusting of government programs and willing to support taxes to pay for large infrastructure projects in the 1950’s. This same mindset does not exist today. No one trusts the federal government anymore. The Tea Party Movement is a case in point.

Current federal HSR policy reflects traditional federal government spending patterns developed over the past 50 years which were much less constrained than they may be in the future. Like it or not, federal government spending in the future must pay attention to our massive federal deficits and not everything we think we want will get funded. There will be lots of very difficult decisions in creating priorities.

Our federal HSR policy also ignores the national trend of taxpayers becoming increasingly more resistant to higher taxes to pay for large infrastructure projects and programs and their desire to see the private sector take on these projects and programs instead of government.

In my mind the “business as usual” approach of the Amtrak fare subsidized intercity model is not sustainable. We need to stop handing out federal dollars to intercity passenger systems that will forever require annual operating subsidies and punish the freight railroads by taking away the capacity they currently use to make a profit. We just can’t afford to continue to do this and ultimately it will take much needed public funding away from our urban transit systems which provide many more times the number of person-trips. The urban transit systems will be competing for the same taxpayer subsidized funding pot of money via legislation or at the ballot box. We cannot overlay a new system of fare subsidized intercity passenger rail that connects our existing fare subsidized urban transit systems. Taxpayers can’t support to subsidize all of this infrastructure and operations. It is insane to think that they can. Ideally intercity systems need to be self supporting and self sustaining based on ridership and revenues. I have a problem with the lower speed systems being proposed in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois) because they may never be advanced to the speeds necessary to actually turn a profit an may require taxpayer subsidized annual operating dollars forever. I just don’t think this is a sustainable model that should be encouraged.

To be fair, I also don’t see our highway program advancing as it has in the past either. I see private toll roads in America’s future as the majority of additional new highway and roadway capacity. I am not necessarily a proponent of private toll roads and in fact, I am not generally a proponent of increasing highway capacity at all. I believe it encourages the wrong type of land use and inefficient and dispersed development that will make us much more vulnerable economically when the inevitable higher fuel prices hit us as the result of Peak Oil.

What I think all HSR advocates need to remember is that we are not just trying to create an option to driving. Yes, we need to create more and better options to driving. But we also need a very competitive travel mode that people will freely choose to use in high numbers. No one is forcing people to ride HSR. People need to see the advantages in terms of time savings and convenience over driving or intercity bus. Typically average speeds in the 50 to 60 mph range don’t provide this advantage.

I chaired an organization of 52 local governments in Colorado that recently completed a HSR feasibility study for Colorado. What we found in Colorado’s Front Range was that until average speeds hit a minimum of 70 mph, the intercity rail system didn’t even compete successfully with intercity bus, let alone driving or flying. Of course, Colorado’s Front Range is more dispersed than some places in the Midwest and we have 75 mph speed limits on our highways in some places. But we saw a direct correlation between speed, ridership, fare revenues, cost to benefit ratios and eventual operational and economic feasibility. Our feasibility breakeven point was in the 130 mph to 150 mph top speed range. Typical 79 mph to 110 mph top speed systems produced dismal results in our modeling. This is one of the reasons I have so much heartburn over the 79 to 110 mph systems being proposed in the Midwest.

The basic problems with relying on private funding for major infrastructure projects are,

1. Infrastructure is risky. The ridership projections may say the properly discounted benefit/cost ratio is 2, but it’s easy enough to miss both cost and benefit projections by a factor of 2 that it could lose money.

2. Infrastructure yields profits in the very long run. Tunnels take more than a hundred years to depreciate; at-grade and elevated projects take many decades. Private investors might not even be alive by the time it pays off the initial investment.

3. Without government guarantees, the interest rate is much higher, and could doom the project. The privately-funded Taiwan HSR line had to pay 8% interest to compete with subprime mortgages. The interest charges forced the line into bankruptcy once it opened, and forced a government bailout. After the interest rate was reduced to 2%, the line became profitable.

4. Because the infrastructure is important to the government, a failing project could be bailed out. Therefore, dishonest investors can plan on being rescued by the taxpayers. A government that’s not competent enough to keep costs down on its own is not going to be competent enough to prevent private investors from looting the public.

Though for contrast, the British funded the Chunnel by “bankruptcy financing” — getting a bunch of private investors (suckers) to put the money up, waiting for them to go bankrupt, then claiming the infrastructure.

I can’t think of a similar scheme in the US… it’s always lemon socialism here.

Harry Dale,

First, the Tea Party does not speak for the majority of American voters, as many people will discover in the Presidential Election year of 2012.

Second, I’m pleased that you clarify that your key objections was “building a bunch of 79-110 mph routes in high traffic corridors that will not operate at a profit.” Many in this forum, myself included, share your sentiment. Acela’s NYC-DC line gets away with a relatively low 82 mph average speed in part because it doesn’t compete with people driving 85 mph for 200+ miles like most other states. To ensure patronage success and operating profit, our HSR systems must aim for at least 185 mph top speed, 120 mph average speed everywhere else.

Third, we need to be truthful to ourselves and make some tough choices. Ray LaHood says it will take about $500 billion federal, state and local funds to build a world-class HSR network that significantly cuts our oil consumption and CO2 production. It is equally true that Americans don’t want to pay more taxes and that the world hit Peak Oil condition in 2010. The average American would also like to kick Middle East oil to the curb. Another truth is, Russia and China want to beat on the Balance Sheet, not the battlefield. Our defense budget is over 4 times bigger than both combined. Our national moment of truth should be to stop building weapons for the type of enemy that no longer exists. We don’t need more intercontinental missiles, battleships and aircraft carriers to fight terrorists. Its a different kind of war, that fortunately requires less money.

A bi-partisan group of former & active Congressmen with think tank support reached the conclusion that we can reduce military spending by $960B in 10 years, without making America less safe. See

If we siphon just $36B/year of those saved military expenses to build world-class HSR, Rapid Transit and Sustainable Energy, we will do more for national security (less oil, lower trade debt) and still pay $60B/year towards the national debt. And we can do this with the added benefit of fewer highway deaths from speeding.


First, to assure “operating profit”, cover sufficient costs out of public funds to that the operator is able to cover the balance out of their revenue. That is how we get operating profit in the airlines (some years, not all), private coach operators, etc.

For operating surpluses, the fact is that the unwillingness of a segment of the driving public to switch to trains if the trains offer trips that meet their needs, run on a reliable basis, and with less of a travel time penalty compared to driving …

… that universal unwillingness is a figment of political argument. When passenger services have been offered with improved reliability, frequency, transit speeds, and even without matching driving traveling time, increased numbers of passengers have shown up to take those trains. That’s true in California, Illinois, Washington/Oregon, even Michigan.

Now, those conventional rail services have not generated an operating surplus, but many of those improvements have resulted in a lower operating subsidy per passenger mile.

And, sure, its projecting in terms of transit time that they will keep the same elasticity response as transit time meets and then beats driving time … but there other trip characteristic improvements are well within existing experience.

Frequency: when you drop a trip time from just under three hours to just under two hours, you get more frequency, and especially more frequency at the higher demand times of day, with the same number of trains. And since operating costs are a mix of per mile and per hour costs, traveling the same passenger miles in fewer hours per trip means the frequency gain comes at similar or lower operating cost per passenger mile.

Operating at 110mph requires dedicated passenger track through portions of a corridor with heavy freight traffic … but sharing track that is used by heavy freight traffic is one principle cause of delays, and so operating on dedicated track through those segments increases reliability.

And about the one of the three main proven patronage drivers that is a projection rather than inside existing passenger rail experience … the uncertainty goes both sides. While there is certainly the possibility that the demand elasticity with respect to transit time is lower in the Emerging HSR transit time range than in the current conventional rail range … there’s no evidence that it is, and it is just as possible that the demand elasticity with respect to transit time is higher in the Emerging HSR transit time range.

The way to find out is to build it and see. Start with the strongest corridors and then we’ll no longer be projecting on that front, and we can project ridership on the more marginal corridors with more precision. The strongest corridors would be able to mature into operating surpluses even if the demand elasticity wrt transit speed improvements drops way off from current experience.

And of course, if the uncertainty in the projections of trip characteristics from conventional rail to Emerging HSR is seen as disabling, why would the the greater uncertainty in the ridership projections for Express HSR requiring capital subsidies in much larger amounts per route mile not be equally disabling?

You make several good economic arguments about demand elasticity of Emerging (110 mph) vs. Express HSR (186-220 mph). BTW, I think Florida should be at least 186 mph, not 168 mph to qualify for the HSR Express designation.

Aside from my arguments about Peak Oil and Global Warming, I am convinced that we don’t have to test the patronage at 110 mph top speed (70 mph average speed) in sub-500 mile corridors between our projected Top 50 metro areas by 2030 for these reasons:

1. We know from the NEC, millions of people will ride 125 mph HSR Regional trains, provided they are dependable and frequent, even when they have freeway/tollway and airport options.
2. U.S. Population is growing to 400 million before 2040; concentrating mostly in the 50 Top Metro Areas,
3. The Top 50 Metro Areas are build more HSRT, LRT, BRT, CRT and Streetcar, which compliment passenger trains
4. By 2030, several corridors will be more similar to the NEC population of 2000

We doing the right thing building in California, Illinois, Florida and more to come for NEC-VA-NC, though we could use connective HSR tissue between the NEC and Midwest for a faster network traffic induction effect.

“I have a problem with the lower speed systems being proposed in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois) because they may never be advanced to the speeds necessary to actually turn a profit”

The analyses show that the speed breakeven points are substantially lower for the Chicago Hub than for a Front Range system, probably due to the massive congestion on Chicago radial expressways (many tolled), which extends out over a hundred miles from Chicago. High top speeds are not needed on the rails to compete with this. Removing the low-speed zones in downtown Chicago is needed.

As for the Ohio 3C — not the greatest starter design.

I know that in other parts of the world, many other HSR trains run at 240-270 kmph (149-168 mph), but we do see them upgrading those speed between their largest metro areas. That suggests the speed boost will deliver significant benefits

But From my perspective, America must aim for 200-220 mph top speed, 130+ mph average speed, high platforms and 15 trips/day between major pop. corridors under 500 miles for at least 3 reasons:

1. Those HSR speeds divert traffic from short flights and long drives and when planned in the right routes, run at a profit.
2. True HSR really cuts oil consumption and greenhouse gases.
3. From a marketing perspective to Congress and the public, we could claim to have a world class train network. I can remember the first day a stretch of I-95 Freeway opened between Baltimore and Washington in 1974. It was a thrill to drive 110 mph for about 20 miles on a world class roadway. Of course you can’t do that speed today, but I and so other Americans got hooked with 100-90-80 mph days similar to that.

HSR needs to duplicate that feeling with 200-220 mph top speed, but it needs to ensure that average speed of HSR trains is double the most common 65 mph speed limit. That alone is good marketing.

Congressman Mica is in bed with private industry providing TSA screening. One of the prime contractors from his state manages to profit off the contracts that end up costing the taxpayers more money when compared to cost to hire Feds. Not to mention the private industry/ security contractors can hire whoever they desire In one instance hired a felon to conduct screening. Just so happens he goes to dinner with the company execs and the are contributors to his cause. I don’t trust that he is objective he seems more interested in increasing is multiple millions in assets ran our security.

Mica in bed with TSA execs? If true then, I’d bet NYTimes and CNN will investigate. But we should separate the notion of getting private industry involved in HSR from whatever is or is not happening with the TSA & Mica.

I know that Mica wants private companies to compete with Amtrak on HSR lines. That “can” be a good idea. I emphasize “can” only if Congress lets Amtrak compete fairly by not forcing Amtrak to run unprofitable routes for political reasons.

No, Mica is not in bed with the TSA. On the contrary: he’s received corporate contributions from some of the private contractors that are gunning to replace the TSA. He’s proposing privatizing the security operations, letting the TSA write the guidelines but having private companies bid, as is done at Orlando’s secondary airport.

Somehow we got to really think out of the proverbial box.
This country has serious deficit problems and a growing older population
Somehow we should think of converging technologies to solve our problems and make a solution with the little resources we will have

FAA/FCC?FTA/FRA got to out their noggins together and figure out how to make a system that provides our transportation needs for older people with NO Rail but at a ROW with flying computerized network controls that can safely propel people in HS or Low speed in urban and long haul in such fashion that it is perfectly safe.
If it is not electrical wires and does solve EPA considerations

Being able to use the best of the USA technologies from Aeronautics,NASA,FRA,FTA we can make our financial resources go along way without so much departmentalizing only a specific solution that although works today in each type like in Chinas HSR web cam go up the ladder above the rail at or near ground level on a floating system.

Moving funds from Airplane ,from Freight cars, from Light Rail, subways into something that can be made this way is something to get serious about
If we just go on the present path we will not be able solve this future before us

Usual fantasy material. With transportation, this approach is generally a disaster. Let’s just steal the best of what other countries do, and then improve them.

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