Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Confronting the “speed” issue in high speed rail

The Minneapolis Star -Tribune runs an excellent item on the distinction between faster American trains and European HSR. It raises some excellent points and I must admit some areas of conflict as to whether some of us are demanding enough.

“There are people that have expressed a concern that we’re not making that big leap into what more people would call true high-speed rail,” said Mike Schadauer, director of transit at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Officials in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois need to be more aggressive, said Rich Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association in Chicago. “We had trains running at faster than 100 miles per hour … in the 1930s,” he said.

To operate faster conventional trains, say between Minneapolis and Chicago for example, is not necessarily a waste of money. People often forget that Acela is the leading “airline” between Washington and Boston.

We can afford conventional improvements on existing tracks. It is a beginning on a longer term plan. This time last year, nobody would have considered it possible to even have this discussion.

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

8 Responses

  1. Spokker says:

    Incremental upgrades or going all out on a 220 MPH railroad? Whatever happens, it’s better than what we’ve got now.

  2. HockeyFan says:

    “We had trains running at faster than 100 miles per hour … in the 1930s,” he said.

    That’s a powerful argument which we should all use in our pro-rail conversations. The 79 mph limit is woefully outdated gov’t cap, worse even than the FRA crash standards that make passenger trains so heavy.

  3. […] The “high speed” link between Chicago and the twin cities would average 78 mph. Make it go faster, you say? That can get really, really expensive. (Minn Star Trib via Trains for America) […]

  4. Joe Klein says:

    We had high speed with steam:

    “By 1940, the Chicago-St. Paul schedule was reduced to 6 hours, 15 minutes, at an average speed of 65.6 mph for the 410-mile trip. Train No.6 was allowed 58 minutes for the 78.3 miles from Sparta to Portage, Wis., at an average speed of 81 mph. There is an early authentic record of one F-7 averaging 120 mph over a five-mile stretch of a 19-mile run at which speeds exceeded 100 mph for the entire distance.”

    http://www.ironhorse129.com/Projects/Engines/Hiawatha/F7HudsonHiawatha.htm

  5. I’m happy to see that others are aware of what the Hiawathas were capable of in 1934. That Ironhorse tribute to the F-7s, which were certainly the world’s fastest steam locomotives on regular schedules, and probably the world’s fastest on trial (if not, the As were) has a few errors in it.

    The real performer, however, might have been the Burlington’s Twin Zephyrs which avoided most of the major population centers. I did some research on the 1954 schedules. See these posts for a comparison of Zephyr timings with those of the Acela.

    And yes, the 79 mph speed restriction is silly when one contemplates those steam trains pushing 110 on jointed rail and protected by semaphore signals. Positive Train Control offers some possibilities for running the trains on closer headways.

    http://coldspringshops.blogspot.com/search?q=acela+afternoon+zephyr

  6. NikolasM says:

    Here is a great article on the Zephyr and Lost promise of the American Railroad. It might take a while to load but this is a must read IMO. It details all the destructive policies the government put in place to kill passenger rail in America.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20010614133724/wwics.si.edu/outreach/wq/WQSELECT/TRAIN.HTM

  7. Nathanael says:

    Thankfully the 79 mph limit will go away on its own. The government is now mandating PTC/ATS on all passenger lines (“shared with freight”, which is all of them which matter), and the 79mph limit is a limit for lines without ATS! As of 2012 or 2015 when the PTC mandate is implemented, that’s it, the 79 mph limit is gone.

  8. […] The “high speed” link between Chicago and the twin cities would average 78 mph. Make it go faster, you say? That can get really, really expensive. (Minn Star Trib via Trains for America) […]

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