Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Little Rock high speed rail and intermodal conference wrapup

The quarterly meeting of the Texas High Speed Rail Corporation and the National Multi-Modal Transportation Steering Committee is over and I am still digesting everything presented. The interview with Dr. Bill Pollard of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization has been posted. He may produce an independent analysis of the meeting for TFA and we would gratefully receive it.

I have video interviews with Corporation Vice-Chair Maureen Dickey on the preference for true HSR, and Keith Jones of USR concerning California High Speed Rail developments and operational issues of shared trackage. Scroll down for several important interviews concerning HSR and the Texas T-Bone.

The following thoughts are in no particular order and are based upon discussions and presentations of Thursday and Friday.

The Texas High Speed Rail Corporation is exclusively devoted to the promotion of a European-style high speed network of trains connecting airports at DFW, Houston and San Antonio. They are explicitly and emphatically opposed to federal HSR money being used for the kind of “incremental” programs, such as those favorably reviewed on TFA.

There are several items that recomment this concept, including the population density of the proposed service area. 16 million Texans could be served by the Texas T-Bone. This is substantial. Liabilities for the concept include the deliberate airport-to-airport deisgn, excluding downtown destinations and the lack of a “mature” rail market in Houston and San Antonio.

The existance of DART in Dalas provides a cultural boost to the notion of getting around by a means other than automobile. It also provides a solid feeder service into any operational rail system.

The financing plan demands a very detailed business plan, which does not exist at this time. On the other hand, there seems to be a good amount of determination to organize local communities into a cohesive body to develop the corridors.

Their philosophy explicitly excludes the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which we have considered in the most glowing terms on TFA. Mr. Dean says the MWHSRA is not interested in real HSR.

Some of you may be wondering, with three days of intense talk, what is the perceived role of Amtrak? The National Rail Passenger Corporation was scarcely mentioned by name, except to say that it was a “connector” service between HSR corridors. That is fair enough. The Texas people allow for conventional, high performance, rail in areas where true HSR is not appropriate.

The matter of “positive train control” was looked at from differing perspectives. It is a multi-billion dollar requirement for operating railroads. It is unclear how the expense will be met (of course, we all know who pays in the end). This involves computers and GPS on the locomotive and sophisticated detectors along the wayside.

Everybody admits, even the Union Pacific representative, that this development will significantly increase the capacity of rail lines. The implication of this for passenger service is very positive.

We were addressed by Mr. Lane Kidd, President of the Arkansas Trucking Association. His topic dealt with four “realities.”

  • trucks will continue to dominate freight movement
  • transportation modes will compete with each other
  • there will be no public-private partnerships (Kidd used the example of selling part of the interstate highway in Indiana)
  • congress has no political will

Listen, I can’t make up stuff that rich. Kidd’s main thrust is that truckers are willing to pay additional taxes on diesel fuel, but not if it is used for any purpose other than highways.

My interview with Mr. Jones gives some very interesting statistics on the California High Speed Rail. Travel time LA-SF is 2:38.

Finally, the National Multi-Modal Transportation Steering Committee has produced a paper titled “The Future of the United States Infrastructure System: A Strategic Way Forward.” Some highlights to be addressed in current proposed legislation are:

  • Aviation is included in the transportation plan (honest!)
  • Projects would be classified as local, regional or national (I thought this was already policy, even if it is entirely ignored)
  • Establish a National Infrastructure Bank

Needs and assessments include:

  • highways, bridges and at-grade rail crossings receive the highest priority for critical maintenance
  • safety and maintenance for transit
  • freight rail efficiency, capacity and security are seen as critical needs
  • critical needs in passenger rail include safety, dispatching and signals
  • connectivity at ports
  • streamlining airport security and improving air traffic control
  • repair aging locks and dams (little known urgent need)

The report includes numerous funding options.The paper does not address Amtrak’s critical equipment shortage.

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

2 Responses

  1. Brett says:

    I’m a few days behind in reading TFA, but thanks for the excellent work in covering this conference Pat.

  2. patlynch says:

    Brett,

    Enjoyed doing it. Very enlightening experience.

    There is a major HSR summit coming to Texas in August, and I would cover it in person if I had the resources. There are many events around the country that demand better reports. Maybe some day we will be there.

    It was an absolute pleasure and I do think you will get some more about of me on it and I have asked Dr. Bill Pollard to contribute an essay.

    Thanks,
    Pat

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