Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

HSR gets Illinois spotlight

The times they are a-changin’.

Reading sensible words from intelligent people almost gives one hope for the future. AP has a story about getting better transportation choices on the St. Louis to Chicago corridor.

While sleek new passenger trains streak through Europe, Japan and other corners of the world at speeds nearing 200 mph, most U.S. passenger trains chug along at little more than highway speeds — slowed by a half-century of federal preference for spending on roads and airports.

But advocates say millions of Americans may be ready to embrace high-speed rail for everything from business travel to vacations because of soaring gas prices, airport delays and congested freeways that slow travel and contribute to air pollution.

“We have to change these things really fast. The era of cheap oil is over,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the nonprofit Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “People want choices in how they travel, and it’s time for the states and feds to start providing those.”

This is a well balanced story that presents the benefits of good transportaiton and the fiscal challenge of getting around well entrenched, powerful and wealthy special interests.

There is something very remarkable in this story. It is realistic. Check this out.

Few envision U.S. high-speed rail would stretch coast to coast or match the dizzying speeds of other countries in the next few decades, even if Congress approves the matching funds for intercity rail projects.

Instead, supporters see most trains running at about 110 mph between major cities 200 to 300 miles apart, similar to Amtrak’s Acela line that trimmed about a half-hour from the usual 4-hour trip from Boston to New York and about 15 minutes from the three-hour ride from New York to Washington.

The six-year-old Acela Express is the only U.S. rail line that tops the 125 mph considered “high speed” by international standards. And even supporters concede it barely qualifies, hitting its maximum 150 mph for less than 20 miles from Boston to Washington, D.C., and averaging just 86 mph over the full 456-mile run.

Even so, Acela’s ridership rose 20 percent in May as gasoline prices topped $3 a gallon nationwide, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole. Nationally, Amtrak is poised for its fifth straight year of ridership gains this year, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for the railroad.

Ridership was up nearly 18 percent through May on a Pennsylvania line that bumped speeds from 90 mph to 110 mph last October, cutting 15 to 30 minutes off the two-hour ride from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

Reasonable speed and reliability. That’s the ticket.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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September 2007


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