The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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October 19, 2009
Vol. 10 No. 44

Copyright © 2009
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 10th Year

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
  Infrastructure Lines…
Wichita Welcomes New Grade Separation
  Stimulus Lines…
Vermont Train Ridership On Rise
Amtrak Using Stimulus To Replace Northeast Corridor Equipment
  Commuter Lines…
Trolley System Would Help Stamford Thrive, Study Says
  Business Lines…
VRE Recommends New Operating And Maintenance Services
   Contract With Keolis
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Events…
Railroad Environmental Conference 2009 October 27-29, 2009
North American High-Speed Rail Summit, Nov 2-3, Canada
  Across The Pond…
Air France / KLM Still In The Market For High-Speed Rail
Deutsche Bahn Settles With Siemens And Bombardier Over
   ICE-3 Wheel Axles
  Commentary…
High-Speed Rail Sounds Great, But Is America Ready For It?
  Editorial…
Driving On To Irrelevance: That Or A 21st Century Train System
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

 

NEWS OF THE WEEK... Infrastructure Lines...

Two Photos: Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County

Then and now - (Top) The first Wichita structure to span the Arkansas River was an eight-span toll bridge at Douglas Avenue and built in 1872. Reconstructed in 1999, the new Douglas Avenue Bridge (above) features pedestrian walkways, seating and 60-foot steel towers.

Wichita Welcomes New
Grade Separation

 

From Progressive Railroading And
The Wichita Business Journal

 

WICHITA, KANSAS, OCTOBER 13 -- Last Monday, state and local leaders held a ceremony in Wichita, Kansas, to dedicate the new $105 million Central Rail Corridor grade separation. The ceremony was held at the elevated platform southwest of Union Station at 701 E. Douglas Ave.

The project, which began in April 2005, involved the construction of eight miles of new track and several new bridges. It required building a new Chisolm Creek Bridge, widening the Douglas Avenue Bridge and installing a Centralized Traffic Control System.

The grade separation will reduce highway-rail accidents by elevating the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad trains above street traffic. It will eliminate traffic delays and reduce air pollution and noise along the local rail corridor, Wichita officials said in a prepared statement.

Photo: David Backlin in September 2009

Chisolm Creek Bridge, Wichita, Kansas


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STIMULUS LINES... Stimulus Lines...  

Vermont Train Ridership On Rise

Burlington Free Press

BURLINGTON, VT -- While Amtrak’s ridership nationally dropped by more than 1 million passengers in 2008, its two Vermont lines – the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter - saw ridership remain flat or increase slightly, reported staff writer Dan McLean in the Burlington Free Press.

The Vermonter, which travels from St. Albans to Washington, D.C., saw a 1.9 percent increase to 74,016 riders in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, and over the past two years, the route has seen 16.9 percent rise in passengers.

The Ethan Allen Express saw ridership remain relatively flat this past year, but over two years, 6.4 percent more people used the service, which runs daily from Rutland to New York City.

Rail advocates have reason to cheer, not only because they helped save the Ethan Allen when it was close to being discontinued for budget reasons, but also because Vermont has a good chance to be awarded millions in federal grant applications to expand the state’s rail system.

Christopher Parker, executive director of the Putney-based Vermont Rail Action Network, said the Vermonter has continued to attract riders because of improving on-time performance.

“Freight trains are not interfering because the trains have been on time,” he said. “I think people’s experience has been positive, so ridership increases.”

If applications for federal stimulus money are approved, Vermont’s rail network will continue to improve, the story continues. Three applications for stimulus money, worth more than $120 million, have been filed with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Charlie Miller, rail-planning coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, announced last week the improvements to Vermont rail if the money is granted:

Burlington’s downtown station, which was first connected to the rail network in 1850, hasn’t been served by passenger trains since 1953 when the automobile began to outshine train travel, according to the Vermont Rail Action Network.

The federal government, Miller said, will decide whether Vermont is awarded the grant in December or January. If approved, construction could start in the spring and trains could be picking up passengers in Burlington in the fall of 2011, (although the final parts of the project wouldn’t be complete until 2012).

Miller is optimistic Vermont will be awarded the money. “My gut feeling is we have three of the best applications that have been submitted,” he said.

Vermont is one of two-dozen states to apply for the money, Parker said.

States are competing for $8 billion allocated by Congress for high-speed and inter-city rail projects that could create jobs in the short-term and economic development over the long-term.


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Photo: Bloomberg.Com

Some of the NEC rolling stock

Amtrak Using Stimulus To Replace
Northeast Corridor Equipment

 

From Bloomberg.Com

 

OCTOBER 15 -- Amtrak is replacing 70-year-old transformers and other electrical equipment on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington as part of a plan to improve travel and reduce delays on the busiest U.S. rail route, writes Chris Dolmetsch in a story for Bloomberg on the Internet.

The national passenger railroad said today it’s using $25 million from the $787 billion economic stimulus package to replace equipment at 40 electrical substations along the corridor, some of which dates to before World War II. Amtrak received a total of $1.3 billion in stimulus funds, said Cliff Cole, a New York-based spokesman for the railroad.

The need for improvements to the corridor’s electrical system was highlighted by a power failure in May 2006 that stranded nearly 40,000 riders on the 456-mile (734-kilometer) route, the first rush-hour incident of such magnitude in U.S. railroad history.

Substations take 138,000-volt electricity from transmission lines and lower it to 12,000 volts, then send it to overhead catenary wires that power trains on the corridor, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said in the statement.


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Trolley System Would Help Stamford Thrive, Study Says

Connecticut Post And DF Staff

Photo: TravelPortland.com 

A trolley similar to this one in Portland, Oregon would fit the bill.
STAMFORD, CT-- OCTOBER 14 – The yearlong Stamford Street Car Study by URS Corporation tells city officials that a downtown trolley route would draw business to the city and create a $13 million bump in property tax revenue.

The system would cost $12 million to design, while constructing tracks, an overhead powering system and station would cost $70 million, according to the study. Acquiring three trolleys would cost $9 million.

City Rep. Robert “Gabe” DeLuca, R-14, chairman of the Board of Representatives’ transportation committee, said while he tends to view the novelty and convenience of a street car system as a possible spur to attract new companies, the $121 million price is daunting without federal funding.

A preliminary estimate for launching a trolley system provided by URS last spring said the city could start a trolley line for as little as $5 million to 10 million.

“We’ll have to see what the final study says, but it seems like a lot of money,” DeLuca said.

In ten years the consultants estimate, economic development along the trolley corridor would get a boost of approximately 10 to 15 percent over present growth.

City officials and supporters of the trolley concept point to other cities including Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wash., where trolley systems have been credited for raising property values and spurred prosperity.

Establishing the route would show companies that Stamford has a long-term commitment to expansion and bringing additional business development to extend the city’s commercial core, which now runs from the railroad station north to Elm Street, said Michael Freimuth, Stamford’s economic development director.

“The center of commercial gravity in the city has shifted to the train station, yet that has a limited or finite capacity,” Freimuth said. “It would have an almost immediate positive impact on real estate just outside walking distance of the train station. If we are going to be able to accommodate the growth, which is critical to our overall tax base, we’ll need to find a way to stretch the tax base.”

One official, City Rep. Terry Adams, commented that buses are more flexible and cost less. She wonders whether the trolley would bring the expected business windfall. “It would be very expensive to build,” she said. “The federal government would have to make a large part of the investment.”

Stamford Transportation Planner Joshua Lecar said the city is hoping to garner Federal Transit Administration funds for the project and that the length of the planned route is partially related to federal requirements that the service provide transport for a wider area.

DF staff interviewed Dick Harper, a Stamford resident about the proposal: “It would be several years before it would pay for itself,” he said. “One would have to see how much property would have to be acquired. It should be partly geared to pick up commuters and take them to the train station. Stamford definitely has traffic problems, heavy congestion: we have a bus system that makes many stops, but ridership is quite low, I think because the buses get stuck in traffic just like cars. If the streetcar had a convenient schedule to take commuters to the train station, that would attract many riders and cut down on the need for parking around the station.”

A trolley system would not be a first for the city, which ran an electrified light rail system between 1890 and 1938.


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BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...  

VRE Recommends New Operating And
Maintenance Services Contract With Keolis

Source: Virginia Railway Express (VRE) And Amtrak Advisory To Employees

The VRE Operations Board announced today that they have recommended award of a contract to Keolis Rail Services America (Keolis) for commuter rail operations and maintenance services. The contract includes train operations, locomotive and railcar equipment maintenance and repair, yard operations and warehouse management. The recommendation is being made to VRE’s parent commissions, the Northern Virginia and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commissions, for consideration at their November 5, 2009 meetings.

VRE has an opportunity to provide enhanced customer service with a more cost effective contract, stated VRE Chairman, Chris Zimmerman. Keolis was able to bring these qualities to the table along with vast experience. Over the past several years, VRE has expanded its facilities so the resources were in place to allow issuance of a competitive procurement for VRE’s largest contract ever. The existing contract is held by Amtrak and was issued as a sole-source when VRE began operations in 1992. That contract expires on June 30, 2010. “I want to make it absolutely clear that our selection of Keolis is in no way a reflection on Amtrak or their employees because they have been a loyal partner from the beginning. They are an important reason why we stand here today.” Keolis has committed to providing comparable benefits and seniority to any Amtrak employee hired by Keolis.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Keolis and continue to improve VRE rail service,” said Dale Zehner, VRE Chief Executive Officer. Zehner added, “Keolis has a proven track record as a major European provider for public transportation authorities, safely operating over 5,000 trains daily and providing service to over 360 million passengers annually.”

According to Chairman Zimmerman, “VRE is entering a new and exciting phase of its development. The Operations Board ensured VRE had the necessary facilities to permit a competitive procurement and VRE staff did an excellent job writing the solicitation and managing the procurement process.

We look forward to working with Keolis to continue to improve the VRE operation.”

If approved by the Commissions on November 5, 2009, Keolis will assume operations on July 1, 2010, with a transition period running from December 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. The contract term is five years with two five-year renewal options.

Amtrak’s statement on the VRE recommendation:

Amtrak issued the following statement today following the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Operations Board’s recommendation to award its commuter rail operations and maintenance services to another bidder. The recommendation is being made to VRE’s parent commissions, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, for consideration at their Nov. 5, 2009, meetings.

“Amtrak and VRE have had a long and positive working relationship since before the commuter railroad began operations.  Amtrak is saddened and disappointed in the recommendation as our employees have invested a great deal of heart, energy, and effort in providing excellent service to VRE passengers since 1992.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)86.3982.18
Canadian National (CNI)52.7051.56
Canadian Pacific (CP)47.5648.00
CSX (CSX)46.7744.46
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)32.9032.52
Kansas City Southern (KSU)28.6627.50
Norfolk Southern (NSC)49.1546.16
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.3010.30
Union Pacific (UNP)63.5359.79


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EVENTS...

Events...  

Railroad Environmental Conference 2009

October 27-29, 2009

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The event is co-sponsored by The Association of American Railroads, American Railway Engineering & Maintenance of Way Association, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, American Railway Development Association and Railway Association of Canada. The conference will feature presentations by railroaders, consulting engineers, academics and others involved in railroad environmental issues on topics such as pollution prevention, energy, emissions and air quality, noise and vibration, environmental management systems, compliance, risk and liability management, remediation and training. Kim Hagemann, 217-244-0841; Email: hagemann@illinois.edu; Web: http://ict.illinois.edu/railroad/RREC/overview.asp .


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North American High Speed Rail Summit
ON THE FAST TRACK

November 2-3, 2009
Hilton Lac-Leamy
3 boulevard du Casino, Gatineau, Quebec

For more information see: http://www.railcan.ca

Janet Greene, Event Coordinator
The Railway Association of Canada
99 Bank St., Suite 901
Ottawa, ON K1P 6B9
Tel: (613) 564-8109
E-mail:
janetg@railcan.ca


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

Air France / KLM Still In The Market
For High-Speed Rail

Via Air Transport World

AMSTERDAM – Air France/KLM, Europe’s largest airline, is still studying the possibility of launching high-speed train services in Europe under its own brand in cooperation with a partner, although the project will not take off as initially planned in 2010 when the intra-European rail transport market opens up, the carrier confirmed to ATW Online. AF declined to comment on a report in Les Echos that talks between the airline and Veolia about a partnership have stopped. “The marriage between Air France and Veolia Transport in rail transport seems to be going nowhere,” the newspaper said, adding that the partners were “no longer on the same wavelength.”

AF never publicly detailed its plans, but a company official confirmed to the ATW website that in a potential first stage the carrier was interested in operating the Brussels Midi rail station to Paris Charles de Gaulle route in cooperation with Veolia but could not secure enough slots to run the service with sufficient frequency. Currently, AF rents seats on the five daily return TGV trains on the route from French railway company SNCF. It stopped flying between Brussels and CDG in 2001.


Photo: David Beale

Faster than a jet plane – a first generation TGV train set bound for Brussels waits in Paris Gare du Nord (North Station) on the 1st of August 2009.


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Deutsche Bahn Settles With Siemens And Bombardier
Over ICE-3 Wheel Axles

End In Sight To Year-Long Drama Over DB’s Flagship High Speed Train Sets

Via Deutsche Bahn Press Release

BERLIN – Deutsche Bahn AG (German Railways) came to an agreement with Siemens, primary contractor for the ICE-3 / Velaro series of high speed trains, and Bombardier, who is a major risk-sharing partner on the ICE-3 program, on the 13th of October regarding development of replacement wheel axles for the ICE-3 fleet. Now Siemens and Bombardier will develop and test new axles for the trains with the goal of substantially increasing both the re-inspection intervals and resistance to cracking due to cyclic fatigue. Included in the development program is certification of the new wheel sets by the EBA, Germany’s approximate equivalent to the FRA in the United States. After a successful certification by the EBA, DBAG and the consortium of builders involved in the ICE-3 will develop a schedule for replacement of all the approximately 1200 wheel sets. Further details of the agreement were not disclosed and will remain confidential.

“We are relieved to have come to this agreement. This was a major step for Deutsche Bahn,” stated Dr. Ruediger Grube, chairman of DBAG, “now the builders must execute this program as fast as possible.”

“The recently signed agreement is a visible sign of improved relations and cooperation between DBAG and the rolling stock manufacturers. This leads to a basis for guaranteeing improved quality going into the future.” according to Dr. Volker Kefer, who assumed the position of director of Technology, Service and System Integration one month ago.

After a low-speed derailment of an ICE-3 train set in July 2008 due to a separated wheel axle, Deutsche Bahn came to an agreement to lower the non-destructive test interval on ICE-3 wheel axles from the original 300,000 km (200,000 mile) interval to every 30,000 or 60,000 km depending on axle assembly part number. Electrical eddy current and ultrasound are used to detect minute cracks or other material defects hidden below the surface in the wheels and axles. The new axles will increase the inspection interval to a much longer period, but the exact interval will depend upon certification data supplied to the EBA at the end of the development and test program.

Keyword “cyclic fatigue”

The axle of an ICE-3 train set which broke apart in July 2008, causing the train to derail, was caused by a phenomenon known as cyclic fatigue. Cyclic fatigue can occur in nearly all structural materials, especially metals such as steel, aluminum, copper, titanium and magnesium. How quickly it starts and how fast it grows depend on numerous factors including geometry of the part, type of material and magnitude of the stress the part is subjected to. Cyclic fatigue in wheel axles is also at the heart of recent service problems on the Berlin S-Bahn commuter rail network, although the surrounding issues and circumstances are quite different than in the case of the ICE-3 wheel axles.

Especially prone to cyclic fatigue are shafts, wheels, axles and other rotating parts of engines, vehicle suspensions, and turbines. As a part such as a wheel or shaft rotates, the material in the shaft or wheel is subjected alternatively to tension and then compression with each revolution. In machines and vehicles such as trains, ships, commercial aircraft and power generation, which are in continuous operation for 12 to 16 hours or longer per day (the equivalent of 250,000 to 300,000 miles annually on an automobile), these stress cycles can easily approach the billions or trillions. This repeated stress cycle over many millions of times can open up minute cracks and defects inherently present in many materials into much larger cracks. After reaching a certain length or size, a fatigue crack can go “critical,” meaning that the growth rate of the crack accelerates dramatically resulting in a sudden separation or failure of the part.

Cyclic fatigue is not only present in parts which rotate, it also affects parts and components subject to vibration and dynamic loads, such as roads, rails and bridge structures. Today, many older bridges are under watch by highway departments across the USA and in other countries due to cyclic fatigue detected in their structures caused by long-term exposure to vibration. The primary source of the vibration is vehicles driving over the bridge. The magnitude and frequency of the fatigue inducing vibration in the bridge structure increases as vehicle mass and speed increase.


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

High-Speed Rail Sounds Great,
But Is America Ready For It?

By David Peter Alan

This report comes from St. Louis, where local transit is in trouble.  Many bus stop signs are covered with stickers that proclaim the temporary restoration of bus service, beginning last August 3d and continuing only until March of next year.  They cover other stickers that were affixed to the signs this past March that announced the ominous news that service would be suspended until further notice.  Service on Metro Link, the light rail line that serves the city and suburbs in both Missouri and southern Illinois, still operates but has been reduced.

Against this backdrop, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) held its Fall meeting.  High-speed rail was the theme of all four presentations, spread over two lunches and a dinner.  Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association, presented the case for high-speed rail in his region.  So did his technical consultant, Mark C. Walbrun of Trans-Systems Corp. and his lobbyist, Dan Johnson-Weinberger, Esq. of Progressive Public Affairs.  Rod Diridon, Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and Chair of the APTA (American Public Transportation Association) Committee on High-Speed Rail, batted cleanup with a highly optimistic picture for high-speed rail in his home state of California.

Needless to say, all of these presentations impressed the audience of active rail advocates.  Will the rest of America be equally impressed?  This writer is not so sure.

As every presenter noted, high-speed rail is everyday transportation in certain places in Europe and Asia.  Japan built high-speed rail when America was getting rid of its conventional trains, back in the 1960s.  China, Korea, Spain, Germany and other countries are either building new high-speed lines or upgrading their conventional rail lines as fast as they can.

Except in California, nobody in America is thinking about the sort of operation that would be considered “high-speed rail” by European or Asian standards. Similar ideas in Florida and Texas ran into trouble from anti-rail governors, and from organized airline (Texas) and oil-company-paid (Florida) lobbyists.

President Obama, one of only two presidential candidates to respond directly to the National Corridors Initiative’s St. Louis Statement of January 2008 calling for a national commitment to high-speed rail (Hillary Clinton was the other) in April 2009 launched a program, adopting in toto NCI’s corridors-based platform for rail development, that will give out $8 billion in rail development grants and an additional billion each year for the next five years.  Compared to the $100 billion given to General Motors and the amounts given to keep the mega-banks going, this is a paltry sum.  Still, it marks the first time that the U.S. government has even thought of improving rail, rather than overseeing the deterioration of our rail infrastructure and the demise of our passenger trains.

At this writing, the Federal Railroad Administration is deluged with applications for “high-speed rail” grants.  In actuality, virtually all of these applications request money for “incremental upgrades,” as planners call them, rather than for truly high-speed operations.   Many of the projects in question were planned as improvements to conventional rail lines and are now prefaced by the buzzword “high-speed” to meet the FRA’s requirements.  The FRA seems to know the difference; Administrator Joseph Szabo told an FRA-sponsored conference in Philadelphia that the objective was “higher-speed” rail service, which could be attained more easily by increasing the “bottom speed” at which passenger trains travel than by increasing the top speed.

So now, states with established records of advocating for better rail service are joined by traditionally anti-rail states, which also want a share of the perceived wealth.  In reality, it would take more than five times the value of the entire Federal program to build just one high-speed line that would meet the European or Asian standard. 

California’s rail planners are pushing for such a line in their state, and they want to build one between Anaheim (the home of Disneyland) and San Francisco, through Los Angeles and San Jose.  Later, there would be extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.  While Diridon anticipates that trains would roll at 220 mph on that line, he characterized other operations as “high-speed” if trains would go 120 to 140 mph.  While such speeds would be a tremendous improvement over the speeds at which most trains travel today, purists will tell you that they fall into the “incremental upgrades” category, rather than true HSR.  Amtrak trains travel at those speeds on part of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) Line and reach 150 mph over a short segment.  Even so, Walbrun told the NARP audience that the average speed today on the entire NEC is only 68 mph.

Herein lies the problem:  transportation visionaries like Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) have experienced true high-speed rail, as have some civic leaders and other travelers on vacation or business trips abroad.  But most Americans have not.

Rail managers and advocates view “high-speed rail” as a feasible shot in the arm for the American economy, as well as an environmentally-friendly method for improving mobility for tens of millions of Americans.  They also view it as economically and politically feasible.  To that extent, they may come into conflict with the views of many other Americans, who do not even know what a train is.  But to many, if not most Americans, “high-speed rail” sounds extravagant at best, and science fiction at worst.   

The “incremental upgrade” approach that most applicants for FRA grants (as well as the FRA, apparently) are taking, seems to make sense.  A train that can go from Chicago to St. Louis in four hours would be a vast improvement over the current schedule of five hours and twenty minutes, or more.  A true high-speed train could make the trip in two hours, but a four-hour schedule is far easier and cheaper to attain, capital-investment-wise, than a two-hour schedule for that 284-mile trip.

California has an ambitious plan, and others will also insist on true Euro-style high-speed rail, but until America develops a funding mechanism to build such systems, “incremental upgrades” are the key to improving our rail system.  Trains should be faster and more frequent than they are now.  There should be more of them, going to more places.  As more people ride trains, more people will support rail expansion with their patronage and with their votes.  Eventually, true high-speed rail will form part of America’s transportation scene, but beware the arriviste High Speed Rail advocates, because the perfect is the enemy of the possible – and the opponents of rail of any kind are well aware of that fact, and will exploit it to the hilt. They will be funding new “High Speed Rail” advocacy groups you never heard of until yesterday ---- prepare for that --- and will decry incrementalism. Unfortunately, politicians are fair game for that sort of lobbying, because they [usually] lack the technical skills to analyze those proposals.

While many Americans may view high-speed rail as science fiction, today’s science fiction often becomes tomorrow’s reality.  Jules Verne wrote in the 19th Century about “20,0000 league” submarines, rockets to the moon, and going “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Those notions, and many others of that time, were science fiction then, but many became reality.  In the case of high-speed rail, the nation should build, mostly, “higher-speed” rail systems that work NOW at four hours between city pairs, rather than wait [forever] for a two-hour schedule that, if forced to front to the exclusion of what may actually be done today, may never arrive.


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EDITORIAL... Editorial...  

Driving On To Irrelevance:
That Or A 21st Century Train System

By Thomas Downs

For Release October 9, 2009
Citiwire.net

Reprinted with permission

There is an old saying that Americans will always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else first.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to make the transition. Latest example: visceral opposition to high-speed rail by those who should be thinking more innovatively. Consider Robert Samuelson’s recent column (http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=9nvgfT9DDfepkApwOAcHWpjFrJhV4aC9) in the Washington Post- “A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed.” Samuelson cites the usual statistics-that we are an auto culture, that not enough people ride trains, that the costs are high. So, he concludes, President Obama’s commitment to high-speed passenger rail is a fool’s errand.

Thomas Downs
But Samuelson’s among those who have been playing this song for over 20 years. Their message has turned into a weird anomaly given what is happening around the rest of the globe.

First, let’s look at the true subsidy costs of a mono focus on highway investment. At least $100 billion of state, county, and city general funds are invested every year in highways and highway costs. Those are direct subsidies to the highway system, outside of any “user pay” trust fund. The federal government has started to invest general funds into highways, in part because no one wants to actually have to pay for the costs of highways with an increase in user fees.

Second, there are over 2 million Americans injured every year on America’s roads, at an annual medical cost of over $200 billion. Saving half of that cost would pay the entire cost of health care reform over the next decade.

Third, the energy and environmental costs of our auto culture drive our defense and medical costs in ways that we have all agreed to turn a blind eye to-though the true cost is probably in the range of a half trillion dollars a year.

If we can manage to ignore the $750 billion cost of our highway fixation, then Samuelson’s argument makes some kind of weird sense-though you have to suspend logic, economics, and global experience to get there.

Why has every industrialized nation in the world made, and continues to make, large scale investments in high-speed rail? That’s what Samuelson’s argument can’t reach. If you look at the roll call of nations with high-speed passenger rail, it includes Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, China, and South Korea. Could all of them be wrong? China alone is pursuing a 3,000-mile high-speed network. What propels all of these industrial nations to invest so seriously in this mode of transportation? They are making hardheaded decisions about their nation’s future and their economic self-interest. We have just started to do so.

In the U.S. House of Representative, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has marked up a reauthorization bill for highways and transit. The bill proposes to spend $550 billion over the next 6 years. The vast majority of those funds would go to the highway program. The bill would allocate $50 billion over the life of the bill for high-speed passenger rail. That’s less than 10 percent of our national transportation funding. The Samuelsons of the world may call it a waste. I see a humongous greater waste-the $750 billion we’re incurring, year-in and year-out, in the indirect costs we incur by failing to build alternatives to our transportation monoculture. That’s the unconscionable economic waste.

I am not suggesting that highways are going to be anything other than the dominant mode of transportation in the United States for a long time. I am suggesting that there are corridors, less than 500 miles long, where density and economic activity make high speed passenger rail the only viable mobility investment. The total trip time of air travel in those corridors, combined with the energy costs, makes high speed rail the logical choice and a far better choice than the costs of expanding highway capacity in those congested and dense corridors. For those trips, high-speed rail delivers you to the heart of the city, not to a remote airport. I am also suggesting that there is simply no comparison between the safety of a train trip verses the safety of an auto trip. In the end, we need a broader set of mobility choices than we have created for ourselves. The public seems to understand this, as editorial and public opinion polling is making clear.

What is discouraging in this debate is that someone as bright as Samuelson cannot think in broader, more expansive terms about the American future. We can do better. Yes, we can!

Tom Downs is chairman of the North American Board of Veolia Transportation and a former president of Amtrak.


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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2009 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, intermodalism, transportation-oriented development, and current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending large images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size. Descriptive text which includes location and something about the content of the image is required. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your web site or e-mail address.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

Destination Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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