Washington Post article on high-speed rail progress in the United States

Monday, March 09, 2009

Portland, Oregon, only 421 km from Vancouver (and don't forget Seattle in between). High-speed rail from Vancouver to Eugene sounds awesome.

Lots of interesting developments in high-speed rail right now in the United States, so take a look at this article if you're interested. A number of projects that were continually delayed for quite some time seem to be on the front burner now.

Quoth the Post (with metric measurements added by me):
The Northern Lights Express is little more than an idea -- a proposal for a 170-kph passenger train between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn., that has crept along in fits and starts for years.

But the slow ride may soon be over. The project is one of dozens nationwide that are likely to benefit from President Obama's initiative to fund high-speed and intercity passenger rail programs, including $8 billion in stimulus money and $5 billion more over the next five years in the administration's proposed transportation budget.

I had no idea where Duluth is, but found it: it's to the northeast of Minneapolis, 330 km or so away and right on the shore of Lake Superior:

And more on transportation funding in general:
High-speed rail has emerged as the cornerstone of Obama's ambitious attempt to remake the nation's transportation agenda, which for half a century has focused primarily on building highways and roads. Nearly half of the $48 billion in stimulus money for transportation projects will go toward rail, buses and other non-highway projects, including $1.3 billion for Amtrak and its successful rapid rail service, Acela. The Transportation Department also would receive $2 billion more under Obama's proposed 2010 budget, most of it for rail and aviation improvements.

The dream of rail backers is a nation connected by high-speed lines that would be faster and more convenient than driving or flying. For instance, a trip on a proposed 695-km line between Los Angeles and San Francisco would take 2 1/2 hours.

But experts and government officials caution that despite the billions, the amounts are still not nearly enough to pay for the kind of sleek "bullet train" systems that crisscross Europe and Japan at speeds of 320 kph or higher. The California project, for example, would cost an estimated $45 billion, including $9 billion in state bonds that voters approved last year.

"It sounds like a lot of money to Americans, but it's really just a start," said James P. RePass, president of the National Corridors Initiative, a nonprofit rail advocacy group. "We're not going to wake up in a year and see a bullet train. But we are going to see much faster service for relatively little money."

The easiest way to get the best results for the least money would be to identify areas of high population where "slow" high-speed rail (a bit over 200 kph for example) which is relatively inexpensive to construct would result in much less need to use other sources of transportation (cars, planes). The way to make this calculation is to take the time it takes to board a plane plus flight time (let's say 30-60 minutes to the airport, arrival at least 60 minutes before the flight, plus flight time) and see if high-speed rail would be an improvement on this. Since rail usually brings you to the centre of a city (or close to it) you can also add on another 30 to 60 minutes afterward.

This also means that at the moment high-speed rail shouldn't try to compete with air travel over much longer distances, because costs for this will be too high and it won't be able to compete in terms of efficiency.

A good example would be the proposed line from Vancouver (Canada) through Seattle, Portland, and into Eugene, Oregon. The total distance from top to bottom is under 600 km and the total area has a population over 10 million. Also keep in mind that there wouldn't be all that much traffic from Eugene to Vancouver (most traffic would be university students and others in Oregon going to Portland) so the longest distance rail would really need to complete with air travel would be the 421 km from Vancouver to Portland. Even "slow" high-speed rail could complete this journey in a bit over two hours, which is about the time you spend getting to, waiting in, and leaving the airport, even without counting flight time as well. It's these areas that high-speed rail is most likely to succeed.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP