Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

What are we to do?

Posted in America, High Speed, Infrastructure, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 March 2011

Now that Florida is the latest state to reject federal funding for high speed rail (although it strictly speaking wasn’t the state, merely the Governor, the rejected the money), we have to ask ourselves the question “what’s next?”. Oh sure, there is still California, with the initial stage of the main line between Fresno and Bakersfield due to start construction next year. But that is even now still mired in controversy over funding. Of course, sending the $2.5bn promised to Florida out west would yet further reduce the burden on the taxpayers of the Golden State. But what about sending it to the Northeast Corridor, which is home to the only genuine high-speed service in the United States, the Acela Express? The trainsets used on this are capable of 150mph, but for most of the route that the service takes between Washington DC and Boston it is limited to much lower than that, with its average over the entire route estimated at just 80mph. These limits are due to a number of factors – the age of the catenery on parts of the route, the loading gauge (the trainsets are not permitted to use their tilt mechanisms on sections of route owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) due to the distances between trains on parallel tracks) and the infrastructure. Additionally, the route itself is not owned by a single organisation – instead, ownership is split between Amtrak, ConnDOT, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). This means there is no guarantee of uniformity of purpose in any work carried out to improve and enhance the route. Amtrak have suggested the construction of a brand new high speed route to run alongside the existing NE Corridor, but this is a megaproject that would be years in the planning and application. Indeed, even the Gateway Project (a semi-resurrection of the ARC Tunnels cancelled by the Governor of New Jersey) is not due for completition for another decade. So, rather than looking for big banner new projects to throw Florida’s $2.5bn at, the Department of Transportation should give serious consideration to the suggestion from Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse of the great state of Rhode Island that some of this money should go to them to improve the railway in their state, which includes the NE Corridor, and then expand on it by offering the rest to the other states along the route. That way, it would then be possible for Americans to see a genuine high speed service in operation and, by seeing it in operation, and seeing how people may potentially use it, they may be more inclined to look favourably on new build schemes.

“RI senators seek part of rail money Fla. rejected”
“California reaps high-speed funding from Midwest, Florida”

Upgrading the NE Corridor so the Acela Express can run at genuine high speed would not just improve that service, but give the American people a practical insight into high speed rail

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