If you’ve ridden a train any time recently in the United States, you’ve probably noticed that the nation’s passenger trains are, by and large, slow, loud and late. Sure, there are regional pockets of decency in the nation’s rail infrastructure, but the country’s only high-speed rail link, the Acela Express between Boston an Washington, D.C., is still not cheap — and when compared to
High Speed Rail
On December 17th 2009 the Sapsan (Russian for Peregrine Falcon) high-speed train made its maiden voyage from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Nothing has ground America’s collective gears worse than losing to the “Ruskies” for the majority of the past century, so this development could provide the spark needed to ratchet up speed rail development in the United States as a matter of national pride.
When Sputnik slung Yuri Gagarin into orbit, the United States launched into the space race with the Apollo missions. America prides itself on its tech capabilities, which makes it even more puzzling why the high speed rail resistance has held out for so long and why we are behind the Russians in this regard.
The Sapsan is the latest and greatest of Russian rail, and adds to the heritage the zheleznya doroga (meaning railway, or literally “iron road”).
China has launched what is being called the world’s fastest rail line, a high-speed train that can reach speeds of 245 miles per hour (394 kilometers) over long distances, and will cut the 601-mile commute from Wuhan, in central China, to Guangzhou, on the southeastern coast, from 10.5 hours to less than three hours.
The “WuGuang” line trains, a variation of Japan’s Shinkansen and Germany’s InterCity Express, have reached speeds that far surpass France’s TGV, which had been the world’s fastest train, with an average speed of 169 miles per hour.
England has added itself to the growing list of countries redesigning its transportation paradigm to include high speed rail. With the launch of the Javelin line from London to Kent this past December, the British government has ushered in a new era of travel in the British Isles. The Javelin travels east/west and has cut the rail travel time from along this route from 80 minutes to just over a half hour.
The Javelin is the first British high speed rail passenger service and will soon be part of a much bigger network that will link England’s major urban areas with a service that travels at 220 mph. An ambitious north-south corridor is planned that will run from London and end in Edinburgh Scotland. “It will radically modernise our transport infrastructure and bring about a significant shift of traffic from car and the plane to the train, while potentially transforming the geography of our country as our cities are bought closer together,” proclaims UK Transportation Minister Lord Adonis.
Since 1981, France has had a true high speed rail service, the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). We here in the US are only about 30 years behind the French in the regard…and counting. As US politicians continue to dither on high speed passenger rail, throwing loose change at development, the French corporations like Alstom have perfected this product for export to its former colonies in the developing world making big profits. Since the US is on par with developing world rail infrastructure, we may be best served by swallowing our pride and purchasing this technology from French post haste.
The TGV’s maiden voyage was between Paris and Lyon on September 27th, 1981. Ridership is expected to hit the 2 billion mark in 2010. It is a smashing commercial success, but goes further than that as a symbol on national pride and technological prowess. It is a cornerstone of European integration as it connects France to the UK and her continental neighbors with speed and dependability. Let us parse out the credit for this success to everyone, but one small group of people deserves a mention: the riche.
The first stop on the international showcase of high speed rail that I am writing for CleanTechies, will be in Germany. As much as I try to avoid writing in first-person narrative, this topic is quite close to my heart as Germany (where I lived for most of 2002-2003) is where my eyes were opened to how great public transportation can be and how it’s presence or absence severely affects quality of life.
The calamitous state of transportation in the US became apparent when I returned to my old Pennsylvanian home. Being thrust back into the car-dependent nightmare is still the source of much of my angst to this day.
Deutsch: Durch Erfahrung wird man klug.
English: Through experience man becomes clever.
April 16, 2009 was the high-water mark for high-speed rail in the United States. The leader of the free world stepped up to the podium and delivered the pitch. It was for a system of high-speed trains that would give citizens an affordable, fast and comfortable intercity travel option.
President Obama’s speech hit all the right notes. It outlined the need for high-speed rail, pointed out examples of international success and expressed the shortcomings of America’s infrastructure. The press corps covering the event seemed genuinely inspired, laughing at the president’s jokes and engaging him actively.
New England has some hard learned lessons for the rest of the country when it comes to infrastructure. Boston is home to the nation’s biggest highway project, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (a.k.a. “the Big Dig”).
The Big Dig has become synonymous with corruption, cost overruns, delays, shoddy workmanship and waste. It is a model for what not to do when building national infrastructure. High speed rail planners should review it step-by step and formulate a plan that is an exact opposite of the Big Dig.
Why was the Big Dig such a calamity? Many reasons can be singled out, but the primary one is that it’s the way we Americans do business: contract the work to the private sector that seeks maximum profit while giving minimum return.
Slow down, high-speed rail seekers. In the race for stimulus money, the Obama administration has received applications from 24 states requesting $50 billion for high-speed rail projects, reports The New York Times.
That’s more than six times the amount of money designated. Joseph Szabo, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, told the Times that the selections will be merit based, and will be made this winter.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is involved in a fickle love affair with stimulus money. Two days before the Republican senator voted against the nearly $800 billion package – which he said would only stimulate the national debt – Bennett wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking him to pay special attention to a few projects in Utah. He wasn’t alone, reports the Tribune. All four of Utah’s Republicans in Congress voted against the bill, before using congressional stationery to try to nab a portion of the stimulus package for their state.
NPR’s On Point never disappoints, and their show with Christopher Steiner, author of $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better was no exception. Steiner’s thesis is that as liquid hydrocarbons become all the more difficult to naturally extract and regulation makes them all the more costly to refine and use, prices will inevitably rise. At $20 a gallon, we might not recognize our lives…all for the better, says Steiner.
People will live and buy their locally-grown produce in mixed-use developments clustered around high-speed rail lines. In Steiner’s view, $6 a gallon is an inflection point that begins to redefine the way we live our lives. But, will innovation (or the US government) ever allow prices to remain at that level? Not according to Mark Mills, co-author of The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy.
This is the 12th of a 13-part series on high speed rail in the USA. For previous articles, see below.
City or upstate? That is the usual question that follows any New Yorker after they tell people where they are from. The proposed Empire Corridor would link these two entities that make up New York and bind them together with a transportation link would end in Buffalo nearly at the Canadian border.
Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo are the major cities that would be linked to NYC on this line that would also be connected to the nationwide HSR network via the Keystone Corridor and the already in service Northeast Corridor. New York City as the vital intersect point for rail plans for this part of the country, and needs a complete makeover in both regional and interstate passenger travel.
The British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in July unveiled a plan to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
In par with the 2007 IPCC recommendations and far beyond the United States’ and Europe’s goals on climate change mitigation, the United Kingdom is willing to act as leader in the fight on global warming ahead of the Copenhagen discussions in December.
This occurs as China is urging developed nations to cut their emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and as the 49 least developed countries (and many others) are demanding even more drastic cuts.
This post is dedicated to my hometown, Hazleton Pennsylvania
This corridor hits close to home for your humble correspondent as I, Alexander John Lennartz, am a born and raised Pennsylvanian…who did not step foot on a passenger train in the state until age 25 when I moved to the greater Philadelphia area.
In my part of the country there is no passenger rail. A fact of life for the good people of Northeast Pennsylvania is that you cannot live without a car. This was, is and for the foreseeable future will be to only mean of transportation over mid to long distances. Pennsylvania’s proud locomotive heritage has fallen to the point that many in the state regard trains in the historical sense, no longer are a form of modern transportation. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Lancaster Country is a testament to when rails crisscrossed the Keystone State and help build and power America, moving goods and people quickly and efficiently.
The Southeast Corridor will traverse the South on its way to link up to the Northeast Corridor in Washington D.C., but since the proposed line in these states (Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia) is so underwhelming and mediocre (110 mph top speed and no electrification of the line) the politics of high speed rail in this region is much more interesting and will be subject to analysis.
Here the focus will be on two major Southern politicians and their views on the Southeast Corridor and all high speed rail projects. The two men in question are Virginia House Republican Eric Cantor and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. These men will be spotlighted because of the recent discrepancy between their words and actions. Republicans like Cantor and Sanford have been the hatchet men of passenger rail for nearly 60 years. If politicians like them are to end their resistance to high speed rail, the American people would have the viable option of fast, convenient and comfortable trains.