Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The President gets back into Pip’s good books

Posted in America, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 13 December 2009

President Obama today announced what he termed as a "vision for high speed rail" in the United States, with the release of his plan to spend the $8 billion he announced for rail investment as part of the fiscal stimulus package just after he took office. This plan will apparently see the creation of several ‘corridors’; both short haul and long haul routes up to 600 miles serviced by trains capable of up to 150mph (240 km/h). Although this is some way short of the top speeds of trains that run both on Europe’s high speed network and on the Shinkansen network in Japan, it is still a marked improvement on the average speeds of most current Amtrak services in the US. Indeed, Amtrak’s only dedicated high speed service running currently is the "Acela Express", which operates between Washington DC and Boston along the North-East Corridor. The rolling stock used on this service is formed by eight car (2 power car, six passenger car) trainsets that are capable of tilting, much like Virgin Trains’ Pendolino trains, and can run at up to 150mph. The problem is that there is only 18 miles of track where this is possible. Although south of New York there are long stretches of straight track that could support 150mph running, the infrastructure cannot support it. Thus the average speed of the journey is around 86mph. But I digress. There are ten potenial corridors that have been identified for high speed rail:

1. California corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
2. Pacific Northwest corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver)
3. South Central corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
4. Gulf Coast corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
5. Chicago hub network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
6. Florida corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
7. Southeast corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
8. Keystone corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
9. Empire corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
10. Northern New England corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

The thing is that there don’t seem to be many interchanges. The idea shouldn’t be to create isolated corridors, but to create a network. For example, why does the Florida corridor end at Orlando? There’s no reason that it couldn’t be extended to Atlanta (I know that Atlanta isn’t in Florida people), thus turning that city into the major high speed interchange for the Gulf coast and south east. Similarly, a route could extend from Houston to Dallas, thereby connecting up those two corridors. So, as I see it, the President has got the right idea; now he needs to start joining it up.

“Vision of High Speed Rail in America” – Federal Railroad Administration

“Obama Unveils High-Speed Rail Plan”

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