Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

High speed in the southeast

Steve Ford, in Raleigh’s News-Observer, has a great column dealing-with the discussion of HSR in the booming southeast region. You can read it all on-line, and here is a segment.

What will it take? To build the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Washington through Raleigh to Charlotte would require an investment pegged at $3.5 billion.

No small potatoes there — but at $7.5 million per mile, cheaper than typical interstate highways. And the whole idea would be to help take pressure off our increasingly congested roads for trips of a couple hundred miles or so. Raleigh to D.C. certainly would fit the profile.

The concept of a high-speed rail corridor for our region was hatched in the early ’90s under federal auspices. Planning began in earnest in 1999, and a route was selected. Virginia and North Carolina now are cooperating on detailed environmental studies. Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration has looked at what would have to be done to cut travel time between Richmond and Charlotte to four hours and 25 minutes.

Last week’s high-speed rail summit in Raleigh was a be-there-or-be-square event for all kinds of folks with a stake or interest in moving the project forward. Prominent on the agenda was an issue that’s emerged as a stumbling block to efficient rail service — how to blend freight and passenger operations while improving both.

As most Amtrak passengers in these parts can attest, delays because of competition with freight trains for track space are frustratingly routine. Too many freights, not enough tracks. It’s an impediment to better low-speed passenger service, let alone high-speed. The summit promoted the idea of freights also taking advantage of the high-speed corridor. And, oh yes, freight companies such as CSX would be asked to help pay for the upgrades.

Cost, in fact, is the real impediment, at a time when transportation funding and every other kind of government funding that doesn’t involve our troops in combat is stretched super-thin. But beefing up the country’s rail network looks like the sort of investment that would pay big dividends.

A new study by the Association of American Railroads lays out a formidable number — $148 billion, to be raised from both private and public sources — as the cost of infrastructure improvements needed by 2035. It’s either build more and better tracks, bridges, signals and so forth, or see the nation’s already crowded primary rail lines become so overloaded that service would deteriorate severely.

That would be a blow to the economy, with shipment of everything from coal to new cars thrown for a loop. And it would generate even more pressure on highways. Don’t we have enough trucks on the road already?

Rail was once the most practical means of long-distance overland travel, and it’s always been key to shipping cargo. The interstate highway system made it more feasible to rely on cars and trucks. Now that the interstates are reaching their capacity limits, rail’s time could come again.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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October 2007


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