Trains For America

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Little Rock – Memphis corridor advanced

My pal Max Brantley and I had some fun over an important transportation development. This ran on the Arkansas Times Blog and you ought to surf over and read the comments. Of course, as one of the resident “rail heads” I took the bait.

Route of the Rockets

U.S. Rep. Marion Berry says he’s added to continuing authorization of Amtrak a provision requiring a feasibility study of a high-speed rail corridor from Little Rock to Memphis. (Would that be the old Rock Island route, hence my reference to the Rockets?)

Berry says high-speed rail would help the national transportation system and economic development and give people a way to cope with high fuel costs and highway congestion.

This corridor would be an extension of a previously designated corridor from San Antonio to Dallas and then branches to Tulsa and Little Rock.

I love trains. And no offense to the congressman. But the population density between Little Rock and Memphis seems lacking for rail service on the current U.S. model. I’m sure railheads out there will correct the record.

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Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

16 Responses

  1. Loren Petrich says:

    Little Rock – Memphis could be worthy of a 90 – 110 mph train; those two cities have fairly flat land in between. However, Memphis to Nashville or even Louisville has the serious problem of the mountains in between.

    In fact, one could have high-speed trains from Chicago to Texas on account of the flatness in between.

  2. Wil says:

    YAY! Progress. now just get light rail from Searcy to LR and get all those lil towns connected. Heck, If it was cheap enough id ride a train to little rock and then to memphis.

  3. Courtney says:

    I’d love an improved mass transportation system in central Arkansas FIRST. CAT is just not cutting it and I understand, they have a very small budget. In this day and age of volatile gas prices and climate change, I don’t see why more people are not clamoring for more mass transit.
    It’s your tax dollars and you need to elect people who will spend it wisely.
    Metroplan, the planning agency for central Arkansas is asking for public opinion when it comes to public opinion and pedestrian and cyclist safety. Their survey can be found at metoplan.org. Once you’re done with that, they have an optional survey on transit. I urge you to take it soon. You can also write them and express your opinions as well.
    I’d love to ride the bus around town but a lot of times it takes twice as long.

  4. If Arkansas ends up with a HSR Train before California even though we’ve had the plans for one for nearly a decade I am going to flip.

  5. Allan says:

    Loren – there are no significant mountains between Nashville and Memphis. It’s pretty much rolling hills. The mountains are on the other side of Nashville.

    The problem with extending a line to Nashville is that it would be the end of a line. There is currently no Amtrak service to Nashville. Whereas connect LR and Memphis would connect to other existing Amtrak lines. A LR-Memphis line makes sense whether it is HSR or not.

    There are plenty of people who drive to LR from Memphis just to take the cheaper Southwest flights.

    I doubt if HSR is needed between LR and Memphis unless it is an extension from Dallas.

    Again, in most cases, maglev makes more sense that HSR.

  6. Well, first of all this is about designating a corridor.

    That’s pretty different from actually spending money on something!

    And then, in this context, “high speed” is defined as over 90 mph (IF any money ever gets spent).

    Little Rock – Memphis is actually one of the larger US travel markets, as is Memphis – Nashville.

    Even if there were mountains, that’s no obstical to high speed trains – French TGV’s have very stiff grades. The problem is the curves.

    If service between Little Rock and Memphis was established with any reasonable frequency, they’d BOTH be the end of the line, almost as much as Nashville. Neither the City of New Orleans nor the Eagle would be contributing a great volume of connecting travel (more from the Eagle, I suppose, but it only runs once a day). Besides wherever you start, you’ll always have ends of the line.

  7. Loren Petrich says:

    Why would maglev make any sense? It’s a MUCH less mature technology, and it is incompatible with existing railroad infrastructure. The French recognized that with their TGV, making it capable of going into existing stations and RR lines.

  8. Allan says:

    Loren,

    Oh where to I begin? lol

    It is important to note that the TGV can only achieve those speeds safely when running on specially-designed track. Old track has to be replaced with new track known as LGV3. Altho the TGV trains can use existing track, the TGV trains cannot travel at full speed on the old tracks.

    So, the argument that you shouldn’t use maglev because it isn’t compatible is non sequitur. You can’t use existing track for high speed.

    Besides, have you never heard of intermodal??? Using your argument of compatibility then we shouldn’t have trains at all since they can’t use the highways with buses.

    HSR is at the zenith of its technology while maglev is just beginning. Given the long construction time, etc., you’ll be putting in ancient technology by the time this is finished if you use HSR.

    Maglev and HSR cost about the same to build
    Maglev has lower operating and maintenance costs than HSR
    Maglev uses less energy than HSR
    Maglev can handle steeper grades than HSR
    Maglev can handle tighter turns than HSR
    Maglev is safer because is it elevated
    Maglev accelerates up to speed faster than HSR
    Maglev is quieter than HSR
    Maglev is faster than HSR

    Need anymore reasons?

  9. Bill says:

    Allan,

    Your infatuation with Maglev is interesting, but seriously flawed. You propose a litany of reasons why Maglev is better than HSR, but many of the benefits you tout are grossly disputed by other comparisons between conventional rail, HSR, and Maglev.

    Please provide some documentation to support your assertions about the superiority of Maglev. I particularly question your comments that Maglev and HSR cost about the same to build, and that Maglev has lower operating and maintenance costs than HSR.

    Maglev is an unproven technology, with no current usage that could truly be called a commercial operation of any length of time. Long-term maintenance costs for HSR are generally know, but the same is not true for Maglev.

    In any event, there is NO serious interest in HSR (or Maglev) in the near term future for any higher speed rail lines in the Memphis-Little Rock-Texas region. Passenger rail development over the next 20 years will be more like 90mph conventional trains on multiple frequencies. These speeds will allow travel times considerably faster that drive time, or even fly time for shorter trips. See California’s Capitol Corridor service (San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento) for one example of this sort of highly utilized “higher” speed rail (not HSR) system.

    Perhaps in 50 years, this system might evolve into HSR, but at this point, arguments about HSR and Maglev in this application are truly academic in nature.

  10. Allan says:

    Every site is different but we know that it cost $1.2 billion to build the 30 km (18 mile) Shanghai route thru an urban environment. That $65.6 million per mile and this total includes not only the line and the stations but also the infrastructure capital costs such as manufacturing and construction facilities, and operational training.

    Do you think you could put HSR thru on the same route, include the stations, manufacturing and construction facilities and training for less?

    Whether traveling at 30 mph or 300 mph, a maglev’s maintenance cost remains about the same. Can the same be said be said for HSR?

    No, it can’t because a steel-wheel-on-steel-rail system creates an ever increasing friction as speed increases. This in turn results in higher heat and increases the rate of wear where to two surfaces meet. The friction quickly eats up tracks, wheels, brakes, bearings, axles, motors, the overhead catenaries, and pantographs.

    I believe the article I read in Engineer World magazine (it’s been a while and I don’t even know if I still have the hardcopy around) stated that O&M costs were about 30 – 50% less than HSR. Indeed, the low 7,000/yr ridership of the Shanghai line covers the O&M costs.

    HSR must overcome more friction just to accelerate to speed. We all know that we get a lower gas mileage (higher energy consumption) in the city because of the constant stop and go (acceleration consumes more energy that steady running). The same applies to HSR. It has more friction to overcome. More friction means it consumes more energy. Above 100 mph overcoming air resistance is what consumes much of a vehicle’s propulsion energy, whether rail or maglev.

  11. Allan says:

    BTW – HSR is generally considered to be trains running 125+ mph. A 90-mph train, while fast, is not considered to be High Speed Rail.

    It may indeed be more economical to upgrade tracks to handle 90-mph trains and that may be sufficient. But if you want HSR, it will take a lot of expensive construction with special tracks. Could freight trains run on them? Sure, but would you want slow freight trains wearing out your fast track?

  12. I share Allan’s enthusiasm for maglev, regardless of the corridor in question, even if its commercial acceptance lags behind HSR around the world (for now).

    The reference Allan made to “…the article I read in Engineer World magazine [that] stated that O&M costs were about 30 – 50% less than HSR…” was captured in the April/May 2005 issue of Engineering World (Australia), and was called, “Shanghai’s Maglev Project — levitating beyond transportation theory.” It can be found and downloaded at

    http://thetransitcoalition.us/MagLev/MaglevAustraliaEngineeringWorldAprMay05.pdf

    In the article, which is a comprehensive review of the Shanghai Transrapid project, states on page 7, “The low maintenance and labour costs [for maglev], combined with the advantages the system confers in the areas of speed, reliability and safety, mean that SMTDC [the Chinese owners] can expect a steady and rapid return on investment and even a profit. [Project leader, "Chief Commander"] Wu reported last July [2004] that even with a daily volume of only 7,000 passengers, which is lower than expected, the system was already able to cover its operating costs. This is significant. No transit system in the world could make that claim based on such low passenger numbers. Even with much higher volumes of passengers, few train or transit systems can survive without government operational and maintenance subsidies.”

    Of course, my enthusiasm might have something to do with my chosen profession…I’m a consultant.

  13. karl says:

    im no track layer.
    but i have been driving/riding greyhound/catching rides between memphis and little rock since 1997.
    this would be a great thing for me.
    id pay anything to not have to ride greyhound.

    as someone mentioned before. the southwest flights are sometimes necessary and the “betty bus” quit running years ago.

    there is no satisfactory transport from mem to lr but plenty of business between the two.

    im sure the casino lobbyists will get invovled.
    they will have buses waiting at the train stop for all that money coming from up the hill.

  14. jonathan says:

    It’s an interesting idea, more so due to the fact that by extending the line from Little Rock to Memphis, you are effectively connecting Memphis with Dallas and (if it ever actually comes to fruition) the Trans Texas corridors which include a high speed rail component. As mentioned in the Memphis Business Journal, perhaps this extension will eventually lead to the inevitable Atlanta- Dallas high speed connection via Memphis.

  15. Jim Masen says:

    I think there would be a good loop for this type of Maglev/commuter rail type system. I like Maglev personally. The route would be Hot Springs to Little Rock to Memphis to Jonesboro. That way you would be able to connect Hot Springs to Little Rock and Jonesboro to Memphis. The stops could be Hot Springs, Little Rock Train Station, Little Rock Airport, Brinkley, Forest City, Memphis Train Station, Memphis Overton Park Mall, Memphis Airport, Jonesboro ASU Campus or Downtown. Overton Park or Memphis Airport could be a hub or connector point to cat trains to the airport from Jonesboro or to change and catch trains to Little Rock

  16. Jim Masen says:

    Maybe someone should be talking to their representatives to get some of the stimulus funding. This could be a “locked and loaded” transportation package. I might add if Brinkley isn’t right, then maybe Stuttgart.

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