High Speed Rail – 12 Corridors to be Stimulated

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German high speed trainEnergy efficiency in transportation is now in the national spotlight. Washington is  acknowledging an “energy crisis,” and as part of a solution to this problem, passenger rail in the United States is set for an upgrade. With the inauguration of President Obama, new impetus has been given to constructing a nationwide high speed rail network intended to accelerate US ground travel to speeds upwards of 220 mph. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, eleven corridors have been earmarked for construction:

1. Northeast Corridor

2. The California Corridor

3. The Pacific Northwest Corridor

4. The South Central Corridor

5. Gulf Coast Corridor

6. Chicago Hub Corridor

7. Florida Corridor

8. Southeast Corridor

9. Keystone Corridor

10. Empire Corridor

11. Northern New England Corridor

These eleven corridors will be electrified with trains like those currently used by European passengers. The twelfth line proposed between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the so-called Sin Line, is envisioned as a magnetic levitation (or MagLev for short) train.

When it comes to high speed rail, the United States is an emerging market. Billions of dollars are at stake for train manufacturers whose products are in the shop window for this massive infrastructure project.

Heavyweights in the arena of high speed rail are European and Japanese firms. The one with probably the most name recognition in America is the Bavarian conglomerate Siemens. The Munich based company has proved Deutsche Bahn, the federal German rail company, with high speed trains since the inception of the country’s high speed rail network in 1991. Siemens has also sold a number of trains to Spain and China, establishing it as a major player in the train manufacturing business. The French were pacesetters in Europe for high speed rail with their network, the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) and their national rail manufacturer Alstom. Japanese firms Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, who are better known in the States for making cars and electronics, also will be eager to get into the American high speed rail market.

One other option is being mulled over by some politicians and pundits. In an effort to keep America’s manufacturing base in tact and to create jobs, US industry could turn its attention to producing high speed trains. Auto manufacturing in America has been in decline for decades. Detroit is in unprecedented crisis with both GM and Chrysler going through bankruptcy, shuttering plants and shedding jobs in the process. A conversion from car manufacturing to high speed train production is an option worth considering.

High speed rail in America as part of a more sustainable transportation network is still in a very nascent stage. For now the project faces a number of problems. The one at the top of the list is a lack of funding.

The next series of posts will analyze each corridor’s progress, impediments to the corridor’s completion, technology debated for rail use and the businesses being considered to implement their vision on the network.

photo Credit: Flickr

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3 Comments

  1. Chris Robbins on

    If the USA really wants high speed rail, the conservative element there will have to shut up and stop opposing any attempt at progress. Also, they will have to make a commitment like the Spanish government – $150 billion paid out at $10 billion a year over 15 years. $8 billion might build a line between Chicago and St. Louis. Maybe.

    Unfortunately, short-sighted and functionally retarded Republicans in the US will always stand in the way of a better future for their citizens.

  2. I agree with Chris; I’d just add that Republicans aren’t “functionally retarded”, they’re looking out for the vested interests of their states. Oil, air, auto and highway construction firms lose out when money gets put into trains, and those existing industries have huge lobbying power. Moreover, it’s impossible to make a short-term profit off the vast, expensive infrastructure required for trains, which is why the government has to step in and treat it as a public good. Ironically, private capital will benefit enormously from the advantages that high-speed rail brings to the faster transport of goods and people. But it will ask the public to foot the bill. A truly progressive government would tax the dirty industries to pay for creating clean ones; I suspect the current administration will try not to offend the vested interests and make individuals pay instead.

  3. Fast forwarding nearly three years since their publication, these comments seem not to have aged well, at least in CA. Okay, it’s speculative, but it appears CA’s HSR project will end up way over budget, driving substantially higher ticket prices and will carry profoundly fewer riders, if its ever fully funded.

    We might be better off applying scarce public funds to improving regional mobility problems, where the most infrastructure degradation has occurred over time, and where most congestion happens.

    CA’s HSR project was hatched in 1996, when the internet was called the “information highway”. Today, we routinely transport our ideas and services

    to one another via the worldwide web, obviating the need to leave the comfort of our homes and businesses. Where will we be in another 10 years?

    When CAHSR was put before the voters (and approved) in 2008, the underlying marketing assumption was that all transportation technologies and modes, except rail, would remain unchanged. So much for CA’s education system.

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