Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eight billion! Barack Obama is the high-speed rail President

Eight. Billion. Dollars.

The federal government is going to invest eight billion dollars in high speed rail in the next year or two.

This is transformative.

This is how to modernize transportation and energy in this country.

And according to this Politico report, it was President Barack Obama who pushed to make high speed rail a "signature issue" in the stimulus.

He gets it. He gets that electric-powered 220 mph service between major cities instead of oil-powered airplanes in congested airports or oil-powered drives on congested highways is the future -- if we embrace it.

And he'll be reportedly asking for an additional billion every year in every budget for high speed rail.

Elections have consequences. Could you imagine if Mr. anti-Amtrak John McCain was President? It would have been disastrous for our energy and transportation networks!

Nothing could be better for the future of high speed rail than President Obama's exceptionally exciting commitment to implementing it.

Thank you Mr. President. And if you'd like to thank President Obama for his visionary leadership on high speed rail, visit our site at www.MidwestHSR.org

7 Comments:

Blogger plaws said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:50 PM  
Blogger plaws said...

(oops)

Yeah, well. Certainly I am pleased that there was significant rail funding in The Stim and also that the President was instrumental in getting it there, but what is "High Speed"?

Being a die-hard incrementalist, I believe that we can make huge strides by making sure that we have 79 mph trains that run frequently and on-time and that we can do that for a lot less money.

The Northeast's HSR (such as it is) works because there was already a strong market for rail travel.

I worry that the California HSR project will be less than successful. After all, there is no existing rail market to speak of between SoCal and the Bay Area.

In Cali's instance, I'd rather see electrification of the LOS-SAN and Capitol Corridors. PTC is already mandated by law, so with appropriate track upgrades Cali could have 110 mph electric service for a fraction of what the other project will cost - and on corridors that are already 2 of the largest in the nation.

IMHO, Illinois is following exactly the right path. Build the market on existing routes by adding trains and eliminating bottle-necks (good bye, Brighton Park Crossing!) and by planning to extend services to the Quad Cites and elsewhere. With PTC in the near future, tracks that are already built for 110 mph can be used at that speed ... and gosh, Illinois has already some lines like that.

$8B for "High Speed Rail" is a fine thing, but I want to see value.

2:03 PM  
Blogger CNU said...

According to the Politico post, this also wasn't Reid's priority; LA-to-Vegas is not a designated FRA high speed rail corridor, and the language in the bill does not appear to designate anything for that corridor. (The US Code references in the Act don't seem to line up with what's on GPO's site, so I can't be sure..)

4:27 PM  
Blogger David said...

@ plaws:
I live in L.A., and am a supporter of the CA-HSR project. You make good points about the potential for incremental improvements with electrification of the L.A. to San Diego Surfliner line and the Capitol corridor. While that electricification would be good for the environment, I doubt it would change anyone's opinions about whether they should drive or take the train. The $8B for HSR is transformative because it will hopefully make HSR seem like a potential reality for many people, and could actually lead to people changing their transit habits.

Of course, there currently is no rail market between SoCal and the Bay area. You can book a trip through Amtrak's trip planner, but it currently involves taking a bus a huge part of the way; I think the whole trip takes something like 15 hours. The HSR program will construct a brand new rail corridor with NO at-grade crossings near any major cities. (At grade crossings, which require the trains to slow down a great deal, are one of the reasons the Northeast HSR has an average speed that's not much faster than the non-Acela Amtrak trains. Sure, it can get upwards of 80MPH on some stretches, but it has to slow down so often that you can hardly call that an HSR at all. The CA HSR will not have that problem, and will be able to AVERAGE 180 mph.)

The numbers to justify the projected ridership of the CA-HSR trains are coming largely from the # of people who currently fly between LAX and SFO, Ontario and San Jose, etc. Plus, there is plenty of ridership on the surfliner lines, and it makes sense to think those numbers would skyrocket if the trip could be made in less time than it takes to drive.

Besides, we wouldn't WANT to construct a non-HSR rail corridor between SoCal and the Bay area, as I doubt the ridership could come close to justifying the cost: people would still choose to drive and fly unless the train can beat drive times and be comparable with door-to-door flight times.

I actually WORRY about the idea of putting HSR on existing rail lines, as you are talking about for the midwest. At-grade crossings will slow the average speed, and sharing the rail lines with freight trains will cause administrative complexity and higher risk of accidents. The dedicated line that CA is planning will not have those problems.

Regardless, the voters in CA have already passed the bond measure to fund the CA-HSR, so, like it or not, this project will likely be moving ahead first. Let's hope it's a successful experiment, because other parts of the country will be watching.

2:17 PM  
Blogger BruceMcF said...

@ plaws ... however, the financial projections for the Ohio Hub is under 100% operating cost recovery with a 79mph system and over 100% cost recovery with a 110mph system ... and since I doubt Ohio will subsidize inter-urban rail service the way that California does, 100%+ operating cost recovery seem to be worth the extra effort to me.

And of course, we can improve the Triple-C by a 10% increment each year for a century and 10% more of nothing is still nothing.

It might not qualify as "incremental", but at under $2b, a 110mph Rapid Rail corridor from Cleveland to Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton is well worth the investment.

"The Northeast's HSR (such as it is) works because there was already a strong market for rail travel." ... no, the NEC's Acela works because the trips are quick enough between cities that are big enough. At 80mph, even largely on its own track in existing rail rights of way, Ohio's cities are too small and too far apart, just, to run without subsidy. At 110mph, Ohio's cities are big enough and close enough together.

At the same time, its much cheaper to do a 110mph system in existing rail rights of way with partial grade separation and upgraded rail and road corssings than to do a fully separated 220mph system primarily on new alignment.

Therefore, I'm a Rapid Rail enthusiast.

5:13 PM  
Blogger plaws said...

The average speed on the south end of the NEC (NYP-WAS) is about 80 mph where the top speed (for Acela) is 135 in places. On the north end (NYP-BOS) it's more like 65 mph ... nearly 10% of that segment is good for 150 mph (Acela) and lots more are good for 125+. The two segments together are about the same distance as from the Bay Area to LA. And in the NEC, you've got all the in-between markets like New Haven, Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore.

You can in, fact, take the train directly from Los Angeles to the Bay Area (Oakland). The 464 mile route is covered at an average speed of about 40 mph.

Unfortunately, there is only one train per day versus *dozens* on the NEC.

What would happen if you grade-separated the entire route between the Bay and LA (always a good thing regardless of speed), removed any bottle-necks like single-track segments, and ran 10 trains a day between the two points?

Again, PTC will be in place within 5 years, so the speed on all lines where it is in service will be limited only by FRA track class and congestion/choke-points, so the 79 mph limit will be essentially gone.

I'm tellin' ya, it's not all about speed - look at those averages again for the NEC. And those are Acela numbers - Northeast Regional trains run slower and are still packed.

I want bang for my transportation buck and I don't mind spending it on routes that are already sucessful (Cascades, Pacific Surfliner, Capitol Corridor, Lincoln Service, etc, etc).

But I worry that the CAHSR will be a huge flop that will set back the cause of improved rail service nationwide for decades.

I'd rather see the big gobs of money spent on corridors like Chicago-Detroit or Chicago-Twin Cities or Cheyenne-Denver-Albuquerque where small improvements would yield huge rewards.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Sujan Patricia said...

First off we would like to congratulate you on your fine public speaking skills. It looks like those who said the Obama Administration would strike while the iron is hot may have been correct, and the Administration may be doing it in a way that does not require them to even get a vote in Congress.

Thanks,
Sujan
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12:36 AM  

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