Energy 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