Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

International Railway Gazette reports onUSA developments (and lack thereof)

This  is a blockbuster report in the International Railway Gazette. Long distance train advocates, among which I count myself, will not the absence of any discussion of this aspect of the domestic transport scene. Nonetheless, this one is must reading.

Joseph P Schwieterman is Professor of Public Service Management at DePaul University in Chicago. His publications include ‘When the Railroad Leaves Town: American Communities in the Age of Rail Line Abandonment’. He is the author of this expansive profile that includes a chart of proposed and existing corridors.

A few highlights follow, including a very needed and appreciated clarification of terms.

A proper account of US passenger rail aspirations requires acknowledging that ‘high speed rail’ is a term loosely defined on this side of the Atlantic. In Europe and Asia planners often limit its use to trains running at 200 km/h and above, but in America the term often applies to corridors achieving only 175 km/h (110 mile/h), hardly a standard of performance that will put the USA among the world’s high speed elite.

Limiting speeds to 175 km/h avoids having to comply with federal regulations requiring total grade separation of road and rail alignments above this speed, which would be a major obstacle on routes with numerous level crossings. ‘Much of what we’re proposing really isn’t high speed, but a way to give travellers more attractive options,’ notes Richard Harnish, Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, an advocacy organisation based in Illinois with 1 700 members.

Considering high real estate costs for the kind of construction required for true HSR, the conventional route makes a lot of sense in many areas.

Here is something you did not know. The younger generation is on our side. It is another reason to shun nostalgia around here.

Students and other young travellers are responding to improvements in a particularly noteworthy fashion. ‘The current generation is not as fascinated with cars as their parents and grandparents were. They are not “anti-car” as the environmentalists might wish, but they don’t feel any particular social stigma if they ride a train or the local transit system’, notes F K Plous, a consultant with Corridor Capital LLC. ‘Consumer electronics are also changing travel patterns, especially among young people, who bring BlackBerries, iPods and DVD players onboard.’

And, yes, the South is lagging.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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September 2007


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