Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

NPR’s All Things Considered considers HSR in a series this week

I just heard All Things Considered’s first piece on HSR. There’s at least one more part that airs tomorrow, but I can’t tell if that’s it or if they’re doing a week-long series. There’s nothing  too revolutionary in there, but it’s a good assessment of the merits of high-speed rail as well as how it’s likely going to take shape in this country. Unfortunately, like every news report on HSR these days, some extremist from a right-wing think tank is interviewed and presented as a credible dissenting voice on the issue. Couldn’t they at least pick HSR opponents with a little more credibility?

What is rather insightful is NPR’s take on incremental HSR upgrades. The piece largely takes the position that a grand “proof-of-concept” project (read: California) is necessary in addition to quicker, less drastic improvements:

“To make rail a major part of the equation is going to take years of proving to the public that this mode is here,” says Joe Schwieterman, professor of public policy and director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

Schwieterman says an incremental approach — such as upgrading existing Amtrak service to 110 mph on routes like Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit — if it’s done well and soon, can help pave the way for other high-speed trains in the future.

“The public sees it works, they see the ridership, they see the trains, they see the advantages,” Schwieterman says. “Then, that second phase of investment can begin.”

He and others say it took five decades to build the interstate highway system into what it is today. Developing a true high-speed rail network will likely take decades, too.


Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

FLASH: Federal highways unconstitutional

Forget high speed rail. The latest from the right wing is an attack on just about everything the federal government does. The Think Progress blog is watching developments.

In a recent radio interview, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) made the seemingly-innocuous statement that the federal highway system, as well as federal laws ensuring safe drugs and safe airplanes, are constitutional. Nevertheless, Shea-Porter is now under attack by “tenther” activists who believe that virtually everything the federal government does is unconstitutional:

The humorous part of this is how these guys think they are such original thinkers. Some of you law students might recall that the constitutionality lf federal involvement goes back to the 1790s. I think it is called the Port Wardens case. It has to do with a federal issue of interstate commerce. Tell me I am wrong.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

Eurostar marks 100 million passengers

Eurostar has unveiled the 100 millionth passenger to use its cross-Channel train service. Next year the high-speed line faces on-rail competition on its routes between London and Brussels and Paris…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Will BULLET TRAINS come to the U.S ? August 2009

Will Bullet trains come to the U.S ?The highest speed trains in the U.S. – Acela – run at a maximum of 150 mph or 240 kph.Their average speed is 80mph or 128 kph.The U.S, once had the one of t…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Interview with Midwest HSR’s Rick Harnish, discussing true Midwestern HSR, Obama paradigm shift

Yesterday I had the chance to talk with Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. As frequent readers probably know, both Pat and I are big proponents of bringing faster trains in the Midwest. Along with California, it’s currently one of the most promising regions for high-speed rail.

But when TFA praises the Midwestern HSR plan, it’s often because of its proposals to incrementally upgrade existing routes to “high performance rail” 90-110mph standards.  Rick made sure to remind me that the true goal of the organization is implementing so-called “European-style” routes that will connect the region’s major cities to Chicago in less than 2.5 hours. High performance routes are necessary, but they’re not the total solution.

It’s an issue of missing the forest for the trees. Rick pointed out that politicians, journalists, and rail advocates often see plans for 90-110mph “high-speed rail” as a huge accomplishment and are losing sight of getting truly fast trains into our largest cities. The problem is often terminology. High-speed rail is an exciting term that has obtained wide usage in the public (the loose federal definition helps). High performance rail? Rapid rail? Not so much.

Of course, the fact that high-speed rail is now such a desirable thing to have mentioned in your political speech or your newspaper is surprising and wonderful, but Rick makes the good point that confusion and low standards are a threat to the radical change we should be striving for.

He said that MWHSRA’s recent successes on incremental speed and service improvements in downstate Illinois had been a recent focus because of the unfriendly federal political climate at the time. But with Obama’s new outlook on rail, he thinks the time is right for a more ambitious proposal that will show the capabilities of true HSR, such as the 220mph Chicago-St. Louis route his organization proposed earlier this summer.

Besides the obvious windfall of funding, a friendly federal executive could have some other rather exciting possibilities. Rick talked about Spain’s Alvia trains, which can run on both the standard gauge Ave lines and the wide gauge track used on Spanish regional rail lines. This means that regional trains can take advantage of the high-speed lines when traveling down a main corridor. And though FRA regulations currently prohibit such a system here, reforms could mean that a 220mph line to St. Louis would also be able to bring cities such as Memphis and New Orleans much closer to Chicago.

It was a good discussion, and thanks to Rick for taking some time out of his schedule to chat.  The Midwest High Speed Rail Association clearly has a lot going on these days, with the Chicago-St. Louis route in Illinois, plans for incremental improvements in other states, and goals for well-connected station areas, especially in Chicago. They’re all necessary parts if we want world-class high-speed rail in this country’s future, and in the current favorable climate we have to, as Rick said, “aim high” in our ambitions for better passenger train service.

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

Alberta conference planned

Our good friends at High Speed Rail Canada have dropped me a line about their newest happenings.

High Speed Rail Canada Public Educational Seminar Comes to Red Deer Alberta

For immediate release…..(RED DEER, ALBERTA )  High Speed Rail Canada in cooperation with the City of Red Deer, Red Deer County and the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce are hosting on a high speed rail educational seminar for the public in Red Deer on Wednesday, October 14th 2009 from 5:30pm to 9:00pm at Red Deer County’s Council Chambers, 38106 Range Road, 275, Red Deer County.

High Speed Rail Canada,( ) a citizen’s national advocacy group dedicated to the education on, and the implementation of, high speed trains in Canada, will be in Red Deer for its 4th in a series of Canada wide public seminars on high speed rail.

Paul Langan, Founder of High Speed Rail Canada states, “Public opinion polls have clearly shown that Albertans want passenger rail service to return between Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton. This educational seminar will give the public a chance to learn and ask questions about the different modern passenger rail options that are available.”

The symposium will consist of speakers from some the world’s largest high speed rail manufacturers such as Alstom Transportation and Siemens Canada. There will also be a presentation from Alberta Rail Inc. Residents will then have a chance to ask the speakers questions during a panel discussion. Modern high speed rail videos will be shown.

There is no cost to attend the seminar but seating is limited so pre-registration is highly recommended.  Participants can register by calling or emailing Lindsey Hutton at the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce at 403-347-4491

Filed under: International High Speed Rail

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August 2009