Mister Uptempo commented on the blog post Intercity Transit Improvements: The Quest for “Higher Speed Rail”
High-speed rail in Europe and Asia is an entirely different creature from train systems here.
The single biggest difference is that Amtrak has to run on rail lines that are privately owned by the big Class I rail freight companies(Union Pacific, Canadian National, CSX, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) as well a few Class II companies. There are exceptions – Amtrak owns the tracks that make up most of the Northeast Corridor, as well as some of the tracks along the Chicago-Detroit route.
That means 1)while the rules stipulate that Amtrak is supposed to given priority to run its routes, it rarely gets that. If a two-mile freight is ahead and there are no sidings to pass it, Amtrak is stuck behind it – also many of the routes are single tracked, so, for example, a southbound Amtrak will have to wait for the northbound freight to clear before it can travel on the tracks 2)the quality of the freight tracks vary greatly, most are not in good enough shape to allow Amtrak to travel at a speed to be competitive with flying or driving. Also, in most cases, where the tracks of two or more rail companies cross at grade, the speeds can be unbearably slow.
Because Amtrak has to run on tracks that also host freight trains, the Federal Railroad Administration requires that Amtrak locomotives and passenger cars be built to a standard that increases survivability should a passenger train collide with a freight train. That means train equipment that is very heavy, which decreases possible speeds and fuel efficiency. Designs of the new double-level railcars just ordered jointly by California and the Midwest regionals are based on designs that are several decades old. Many companies that manufacture trainsets(almost exclusively foreign) will not dedicate the resources needed to develop FRA-compliant equipment because they can not be guaranteed sufficient orders to make the venture profitable, so fickle is the US passenger rail system. One only needs to look at how Spanish manufacturer Talgo took it in the shorts after Scott Walker got elected in Wisconsin…
With few exceptions, passenger rail in Europe and Asia doesn’t have to deal with those types of problems.
There is another disadvantage passenger rail in the U.S. must deal with-a nearly complete lack of support from the government. For all the complaints about “all the money” spent on Amtrak, the government has spent less money on Amtrak during its entire 40-plus year existence than it has spent for one year on roads, and far, far less than it has spent on airports, air traffic control, and TSA.
So, for all its problems, those responsible for attempting to bring “higher speed” rail to the U.S. are doing the best they can with the sh*tpile they’ve been handed. Consider that the CHI-STL route has, for years consisted of – a)the route from Chicago-Union Station to Joliet(about 40 miles outside of Chicago) using tracks owned by the Canadian National – while they are currently in dispute with CN over the fact that the freight railroad has been less than cooperative over the use of their track, resulting in long delays b)the route from Joliet to Alton, IL(just outside of St. Louis)that has almost exclusively been single-tracked, tracks that have been pounded for years by massively heavy freight trains. c)getting into St. Louis means crossing the Mississippi over one of two antiquated bridges, while having to jockey for position with freight trains using the same bridges.
It is not currently the goal of those building “higher speed” rail to create a coast-to-coast nationwide rail network. The idea is to establish a number of regional networks. In studying the feasibility of upgrading rail service, they discovered that there exists a “sweet spot” where passenger rail is an ideal mode of transportation – between major metropolitan areas that are anywhere between 100 and 500 miles away. And that is the philosophy behind the Chicago Hub Network, of which the Chicago-St. Louis route is a major part. And, of course, this route isn’t just about serving the residents of Chicago and St. Louis. As is the case with nearly all Amtrak routes, there are a number of stops along the route that serve small and medium-sized towns – many that are not served by air service and, in some cases, even bus service.
I have no doubt that those building the CHI-STL route would love nothing better than to have 220-mph luxury trainsets racing on fully grade separated tracks built on rights-of-way owned exclusively by Amtrak, and I am also sure that there are more than enough Americans who could build and manage such a route, indeed networks of those trains. But, given the incredible short-sightedness on the part of much of the US population, there isn’t any chance of that happening anytime soon.
So, what they have to do is build, with whatever resources they can scrounge up, a rail line that is comfortable, safe, and convenient, that is faster than driving, with a price point that makes it competitive with flying.
Many of the regional routes, despite all the adversity they face just to get the routes up and running, have shown steady increases in ridership. The key to profitability(or just breaking even), is to increase speed, increase capacity, and increase frequency.
Mister Uptempo commented on the diary post Is Herman Cain, GOP Clown of the Week, the Koch Bros’ Manchurian Candidate? by Scarecrow.
Seems to me that the motion picture “Trading Places” might be more analogous of the Cain/Koch relationship. Louis Winthorpe III, played by Willard Romney, gets knocked down a few pegs by unscrupulous billionaire brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke, ably portrayed by the even more unscrupulous billionaire Koch Brothers. The brothers find an unsuspecting dupe, Billy [...]
My favorite comedies tend to come in series, such as…
1) The Albert Brooks Series – Lost in America/Real Life/Defending Your Life. All of them incredibly funny, Lost in America being the best of the three.
2) The Guest/McKean/Shearer Series – Spinal Tap/Waiting For Guffman/Best in Show/A Mighty Wind/For Your Consideration.
3) The W.C. Fields Series, most particularly The Bank Dick/Never Give a Sucker an Even Break/It’s a Gift.
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