Trains For America

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Support for Calgary-Edmonton high speed rail corridor

Paul Langan of the High Speed Rail Canada blog gave me a heads up to this post dealing with the recent opinion piece in the Calgary Herald. It is posted here with permission.

Flawed Calgary Herald Editorial on High Speed Rail

The July 7th, 2009 Calgary Herald editorial entitled, “Reasons to go slow on high speed rail” on the newly released Alberta government high speed rail study was severely lacking in quality, for a number of reasons.

The argument against high speed rail focused only on a paper by Randall O’Toole of the USA-based libertarian organization Cato Institute. No other research into credible Albertan and Canadian sources was done, and this oversight is objectionable. The Calgary Herald chose not to mention who funds the Cato Institute. The Annual Report by the Institute clearly states that their donations come from General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagon, American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, and the Charles Koch Foundation, among others. For those who don’t know, the Charles Koch Foundation is the USA’s largest privately-held energy company.[1]

The Calgary Herald also chose not to investigate the background of Randall O’Toole who has made a living arguing against public transit. His weak arguments against rail transit have been strongly rebuffed by well respected Todd Litman, the Executive Director of the Victoria BC Transportation Policy Institute., in his paper entitled, “Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism,” dated April 2009.[2]

Mr. O’Toole’s anti-rail theories, like his attack on Portland’s successful light rail system, have also been dismissed. Read Professor Mike Lewyn’s study titled, “Debunking Cato: Why Portland Works Better Than the Analysis of Its Chief Neo-Libertarian Critic” [3]

Two quality Alberta based studies have been done in the last 5 years clearly showing the economic, environmental, and societal benefits of high speed rail. The 1995 Federal government study on high speed rail possibilities for the Ontario/Quebec corridor also showed that investing in high speed rail is viable in this corridor. [4]

Tragically, the Calgary Herald chose to ignore these professional studies and support the USA auto industry funded Cato Institute diatribe.

The growth and popularity in high speed rail around the world is indisputable. There are 18 countries and counting currently implementing high speed rail. China alone has thirty-five high-speed rail lines, measuring 11,000 km being rolled out in 2009.

Canada is the only G8 country without high speed rail and Alberta has no passenger rail of any kind between their two biggest cities.
There are many Albertans who want modern passenger rail between Calgary- Red Deer- Edmonton. It is hoped in future editorials that the Calgary Herald will rely on Canadian and internationally peer-reviewed studies to support their opinions .
[4] all these studies are available at

Posted by HSRC at 9:36 AM 2 comments

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Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

On David Sanders “idiotic” comments about high speed rail

The following was posted today on my Lynch at Large blog.

David is a fine guy and calling him a “worm,” as I did earlier today on Twitter may have been somewhat harsh. On the other hand, it may have been a severe disservice to worms, which have a useful purpose.

Sanders’ recent column in the Stephens Media Group deals with two things that anoy him. The first items is various plans to shake up “a system of health care that works well for most Americans.” Without getting knee deep into it, let’s just say that Republican conservatives truly do live in an alternate universe.

Of much greater import is Mr. Sanders ill-considered attempt at a discussion of transportation policy. In the same column, he colors the decision by the state Highway Commission to seek $100,000 in matching funds from the Federal Railroad Administration for a story of the proposed high speed rail corridor from Memphis to Little Rock as “idiotic.”

The use of such derisive terms, of course, conceals an inability or unwillingness to consider factual elements of other viewpoints. Sanders has his mind, foggy as it is, firmly made up.

Why should we spend a dime on studying this? Here are the results: To build, operate and maintain a high-speed rail system would cost billions of dollars. Who would ride it, the thousands of people commuting from Little Rock to Memphis orTexarkana to Little Rock everyday? They don’t exist.

The real shame of this is that David Sanders really is a bright guy and such dribble is merely symptomatic of the intellectual fatigue so prevalent in the realm of so-called conservatives.

The “results” to which Sanders so proudly points are easily refuted.

  • the billions of dollars supposedly needed presupposes the institution of true European-style high speed rail. Trains that operate at 200 mph. require special right-of-way builtspecifically for that use from the ground up.
  • The Federal Railroad Administration recognizes as a category of high speed rail development something called “high performance rail.” Such facilities are conventionaltrains operating at around or over 110 mph.
  • High performance rail makes use of existing railroad tracks and relies on upgrading tracks, sidings, cross-overs, signals, dispatching, and whatever else is necessary to operate at speeds higher than the 79 mph. maximum allowed Amtrak out in this part of the country (and the actual speeds are shockingly below that).
  • Because developing high performance rail does not require buying land or the higher demands of 200 mph. operation, the cost is significantly lower. We are still talking hundreds of millions, but not millions.
  • The corridor in question effectively extends from Fort Worth to Memphis. Although the original designation was Little Rock-Fort Worth, the extension to a larger population base in Memphis makes this route more attractive and viable. Of course, that should be determined by a professional study (which might prove more reliable and informative than Sanders’ right knee jerk).
  • Spreading initial planning and associated costs among three states is an added benefit. Furthermore, this project could conceivably connect three airports, including two of America’s busiest on each end. This makes potential public-private partnerships more possible.
  • Had we used Sanders’ illogical argument that nobody travels along this route, we would never have built the interstate highway system. (Alright, I am bending David’s argument, but only a tiny fraction. You get the picture.)
  • The I-40 corridor between Little Rock and Memphis is among the most congested. There is a little tid-bit I picked up at the recent Intermodal Transportation Committee meeting in Little Rock. Very many people with business on either end might gladly hop on for a quick ride.
  • Many people “commute” between the Little Rock and Memphis airports for airline connections. If the system were designed to reach airports, we have new and exciting travel possibilities.
  • The existence of high performance rail service between Memphis and Fort Worth would be especially beneficial to smaller cities such as Searcy, Arkadelphia, Texarkana, Marshall, and Longview. This would open up possibilities for college students, people doing business with state agencies, and people with doctor’s appointments in any of the region’s medical centers.
  • The economic benefits of drawing a region’s cities closer together for easier trade and commerce ought to be obvious, but that will have to be demonstrated in the professional study which David Sanders has already conducted inside his somewhat narrow mind.

David, you’re still my friend and I know damn good and well you just wrote that idiotic babble to get a little rise out of old Lyncho. For goodness sakes, let’s try to think about more than how things have always been.

Texas has 16 million people living in the “footprint” of the proposed Texas T-bone high speed rail project. It would be a 200 mph. true European style system. Whether or not that particular network is constructed, Texas will face such transportation needs that it will have real inter-city high speed rail. Arkansas should be part of a connecting service.

It is an accident of geography that Arkansas so benefits from the junction of interstate highways at the center of America. We should likewise have enough sense to take part in a similar movement in the form of both high speed rail and high performance rail.

Finally, I really like David Sanders, while abhorring his politics. I hope we get to sort all this out over lunch soon!

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

How to increase your state’s chances of getting federal HSR money (Illinois knows) – UPDATED

Of course it’s all well and good to apply for federal stimulus money to try and get your state’s rapid rail dream built. But the federal government being what it is, they’re likely to look more kindly on states that are substantially committing their own resources to the project. The Midwest HSR Association must have pulled off some successful lobbying in Springfield, because here’s a snippet from them:

With the governor’s signature of the capital bill, Illinois becomes a national leader in high speed rail. The $850
million for rail infrastructure in the legislation is the largest state capital investment in railroads in the nation
outside of California.

By making its own investment in high-speed rail, Illinois is solidifying its chances of receiving a larger portion
of the $8 billion high-speed rail federal funds under the stimulus.

The legislation signed today provides not only $400 million for high-speed rail and $150 million for Amtrak-
related improvements, but, $300 million for CREATE, which will address many of the bottlenecks in and around
Chicago that have plagued freight and passenger trains nationwide.

These funds will be used for immediate construction work on already planned projects such as the 110 mph St.
Louis-Chicago rail line, and Amtrak extensions to Rockford-Galena, the Quad Cities and other initiatives.

Good news certainly, although I’m a bit curious about parts of the money being appropriated specifically for the 110mph Chicago-St. Louis line. Did someone trip on the red tape and forget about the 220mph proposal?

UPDATE: Rick Harnish from the Midwest HSR Association very kindly cleared up the 110mph-220mph confusion for us in the comments:

We didn’t forget about the 220-mph proposal. In fact, we are excited that the Illinois DOT submitted a pre-application for planning money for the 220-mph proposal.

110-mph and 220-mph lines are not mutually exclusive, they serve different purposes and different markets.

The press release you quoted was designed to celebrate a major win and to provide background on how the money might be spent.

The 110-mph line in Illinois is a critical project. It will link downstate IL to Chicago & St. Louis. It will also be a testing ground for operating fast, frequent and dependable trains on heavy haul freight lines and provide valuable lessons that can be applied nationwide.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail

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July 2009