In the same vein as Pat’s post yesterday, Amtrak chief Joseph Boardman is, unsurprisingly, emphasizing incremental increases in rail speed rather than a focus on faster and more expensive “true” HSR. As much as I think that “European-style” projects such as California’s are important, Boardman’s idea that increased frequency and more modestly competitive speeds could make a big difference certainly rings true. From the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s really not about the speed. It’s about reduced travel times and more frequency,” he told the Illinois House Railroad Industry Committee. “The competitive advantage is with the train.”
Boardman said plans in the Midwest for trains traveling up to 110 m.p.h. on corridors stretching over nine states make more sense. He said the immediate focus must be on modernizing infrastructure to increase train speeds in the Chicago area that currently are as slow as 5 m.p.h. because of freight-train congestion and antiquated track and signaling equipment.
Getting up to even 40 m.p.h. on stretches between Chicago and cities less than 50 miles away, such as Joliet, would be a big improvement, Boardman said.
“One hundred and ten is double the national speed limit” of 55 m.p.h. on highways, noted Boardman, who was administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration during several years of the Bush administration.
While the 55mph highway comparison is a bit silly considering that most states have higher limits that people tend to exceed anyway, it’s true that you have to walk before you can run. Right now, we’re really just crawling. There’s no sense in stalling improvements to important corridors in the hope that we can leapfrog them in a couple of years. Pat’s definitely right on this one. There’s demand for passenger rail right now, and if we don’t fulfill it we will be missing a huge opportunity for sustainable transportation.