Interstate High Speed Rail Progress
We know where and how to build High Speed Rail. Many states have vetted HSR projects that will alter travel as they know it, in some corridors. The problem is, states are carrying too much of the load. Federal funding must be doubled immediately, then tripled five years later for America’s road and rail infrastructure to catch up with Global Economic Competitors.
America is largely stuck on old surface transportation infrastructure. Too many highway and rail bridges are falling apart. Excluding NYC, our Top 50 Metro Areas need 2-4 times current rapid transit mileage. By 2019, only 162 Northeast Corridor HSR miles will support at least 135 mph, and 60 of those miles will support 150-160 mph. A Senior Fellow & Director at the Brookings Institute, Robert Puentes, is a credible voice calling for America’s surface transportation to catch up with the rest of the advanced world. Puentes has examined population trend data and Texas Transportation Institute data that forecasts traffic congestion chaos for highways and boulevards. Improvements to Amtrak Northeast Corridor, like the Avelia Liberty HST are more than welcome, but insufficient without more high speed-only tracks.
Puentes knows that U.S. Population Density increased by 37% from 1980-2010. He knows that American population is forecast to grow from 310 million in 2010 to over 365 million by 2035, mostly in our Top 50 metro areas. He knows that without well developed Interstate High Speed Rail, the Federal Aviation Administration says 8 of our largest metro areas will require additional aviation capacity by 2025. More will join the list by 2035. More importantly, Puentes knows other nations with far less wealth than America, are successfully addressing these problems with more HSR and Rapid Transit to balance their transportation infrastructure.
Fortunately, America has 22,000 miles of legacy rail routes. About 10,000 miles can be upgraded to HSR at significantly lower cost than buying new rights-of-way. Building HSR-only track in those rights-of-way requires more railroad grade separations that can be shared via 4-tracks with freight rail or 2-tracks with Enhanced Commuter Rail. Many old train stations can be transformed into Intermodal Transportation Centers at lower cost than building from scratch.
Those and other factors led Puentes to conclude that America has many corridors that merit HSR investment now, simultaneous with more Rapid Transit projects in large metro areas to feed more HSR patronage. He says, when properly executed in combination with highway bridge repair and better airport connections, they can mitigate highway and airport traffic congestion.
The way forward is clear, though construction-financing difficult. Follow the advice of transportation guru Robert Puentes, HSR funding applications from about 20 state transportation departments, and U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) studies backing President Obama’s Interstate HSR and Rapid Transit goals. Obama articulated goals of quadruple federal investment for an Interstate High Speed Rail System that serves 80% of Americans by 2035. Since our Rapid Transit is also underdeveloped, he sought to double its investment too.
Though his 2009-10 economic stimulus funding of HSR and Rapid Transit was a jolt forward, federal funding of HSR progress has slowed since 2011. When Avelia Liberty trains arrive until 2021, they will likely run at 200 mph for 23 miles between New Brunswick and Trenton. California HSR has two new Intermodal Transportation Centers and 119 miles of viaduct infrastructure built, but it can’t operate High Speed Trains until 2027 because, without more federal funding, the state has to solely fund expensive tunnels.
Smarter Criteria For HSR Corridor Decisions
By 1993, French HSR was expanded to Brussels-Lille-Paris-Lyon-Marseille. The 1993 Rand McNally Commercial Atlas & Marketing Guide revealed that Minneapolis-Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis and San Francisco-Los Angeles corridors had more people than Lille-Paris-Lyon-Marseille corridor. Even Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati were the same population density as Lille-Paris-Lyon-Valence-Marseille train corridor.
Fortunately, America 2050 non-profit organization provides better demographic tools that enable politicians and transportation officials to precisely identity corridors suitable for HSR and rank them by traffic merit. America 2050 HSR Study & Map, helps everyone understand primary, secondary and tertiary factors by mega-regions, corridors and city-pairs. By scoring population density, airway traffic and highway traffic in corridors, plus population, office density and transit connectivity in major metro areas, it ranks the Northeast, California-Las Vegas, Chicago-Great Lakes and Texas mega-regions as having the highest merit. Florida, Atlanta-Piedmont and Cascadia mega-regions rank next.
Communicating The Right HSR Speeds
The U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSRA) is attracting worldwide HSR experts to their conferences to discuss best practices for building world-class HSR networks. The current USHSRA map sews together the viewpoints of international experts, many politicians and regional consortiums. Its 220 mph routes spark imagination like our 75-85 mph Interstate Highways did in 1960.
The 2030 USHSRA Map is not without issues. The USHSRA has not developed rigorous city-pair and corridor ranking criteria. Consequently, many city-pairs at 220 mph can be questioned, even by HSR advocates. Another blemish is the USHSRA Map only identifies 110 mph and 220 mph Routes. In-between speeds like, but not limited to 125, 135, 150, 160, 175, 185 and 200 mph also matter. The map also boasts a laudable, but unrealistic 2030 completion date.
HST builders Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, Talgo and Japan Railway Central are building nextgen aerodynamic trains for less wind resistance, lighter weight, better suspensions, lower external noise and lower energy consumption per unit of speed. While traveling up to 199 mph, HST have reached cabin noise levels equal to First Class on commercial jets. HST between Germany and Italy can now travel 124-155 mph in new tunnels under the Alps.
Ferrari, the famed Italian sports carmaker, established passenger train operations under the Italo brand. Italo replaced older 186 mph HST on the Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome route with AGV, a nextgen HST. Designed by Ferrari and built by French company Alstom, AGV are certified for 224 mph commercial operation. Travelers love Italo’s smooth ride, quiet cabins and luxurious amenities. Ferrari loves Italo for faster acceleration & braking, lower energy cost per unit of speed, and ability to support 14-cabin trains for more patron revenue than cost.
To attract more patrons per train, Ferrari would like to speed up trains for a Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples Journey Time that matches today’s Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome Journey Time. The laws of physics however, dictate that the same object in the same path conditions needs 4 times more energy to go twice as fast. Hence, the same train at 150 mph in the same route needs twice as much energy to go 225 mph. For now, Ferrari limits Italo to 186 mph and consumes 20% less electricity than old 186 mph trains in the corridor.
But Italy, like many other European nations is straightening more high speed route segments, installing more durable electrical wires, and higher speed signaling. It is also adding wind & solar energy to its power grid for lower electricity unit cost. As more European and Asian nations upgrade HSR & HST fleets, anticipate 149-155-162-168-174-186-199-205-211-217 mph operating speeds suitable to the terrain and revenue/cost profile of each HST operator.
2 to 3.5-Hour Rule For City Pairs, Important To Ridership
In commercial operation, average speed for intercity passenger trains are typically 70-80% of top speed due to the number and distances between stops along the route. Most HSR nations are motivated to upgrade HSR routes for nextgen HST to 186 mph because they want serve city pairs up to service large city pairs up to 490 miles apart. Many nextgen HST are certified for 236 mph (380 kph), but are currently limited to 199-205 mph (320-330 kph). Faster speeds typically have fewer stops for higher average speeds. Nextgen HST will meet 248 mph (400 kph) certification to operate at 217-224 mph (350-360 kph) for lower maintenance costs. Nextgen HST are also being designed for patrons to enter/leave trains faster. If train operators think they can shave 12-15 minutes of time savings between big City Pairs in under 3 hours, anticipate 217 mph in the near future.
Average speeds multiplied by 3 Hours yields insights of when distances convert the majority of flyers in a corridor to train patrons:
• 80% x 217 mph = 174 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 521 miles
• 80% x 211 mph = 169 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 506 miles
• 80% x 205 mph = 164 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 492 miles
• 80% x 199 mph = 159 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 480 miles
• 75% x 186 mph = 140 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 416 miles
• 75% x 174 mph = 131 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 392 miles
• 75% x 168 mph = 126 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 378 miles
• 75% x 162 mph = 122 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 365 miles
• 75% x 155 mph = 116 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 349 miles
• 75% x 149 mph = 116 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 335 miles
• 75% x 143 mph = 107 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 320 miles
• 75% x 137 mph = 103 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 308 miles
• 75% x 125 mph = 94 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 281 miles
• 75% x 110 mph = 83 mph avg. speed x 3 hours = 249 miles
Successful HSR systems in European and Asian nations have a mix of these speeds for shorter travel times with sub-3 hours demanded by business patrons. HST operators prefer 155-217 mph City Pairs per Labor Shift for more profit. Patrons board/deboard 9-14 cabin trains via 18-28 doors in 3-4 minutes to operate at 95-99% on-time performance.
The Sub-3-Hour Rule has increased HSR business patronage in France, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and United Kingdom because the Regional Flight alternative is:
• Taxi/Uber/Lyft/Shuttle ride to airport
• carry-on luggage security time
• airport terminal wait time
• airplane boarding & runway time
• 40-75 minute flight time
• airplane runway & deboarding time
• walk to Taxi/Uber/Lyft/Shuttle & wait for pick-up
• ride time to CBD
When those times are tallied, no regional flight is time-competitive with 155-217 mph HSR in 3 hours. Faster speed in 2 Hours attracts more business day-trips too. London, Brussels and Paris day-trippers appreciate that Eurostar upgrade from 186 mph to 199 mph shortens their Sub-2 Hour Journey Time by 25 minutes per roundtrip.
With 220 mph HSR travel times vs. Regional Flight travel times in mind, a 2011 Siemens Study for Midwest High Speed Rail illustrates Sub-3-Hour Journey Times on 110 mph and 220 mph tracks:
Chicago-St. Louis 110 mph 4:10 minutes, 220 mph 1:55 minutes
Chicago-Cincinnati 110 mph 4:27 minutes, 220 mph 1:55 minutes
Chicago-Detroit 110 mph 4:24 minutes, 220 mph 1:55 minutes
Chicago-Cleveland 110 mph 4:48 minutes, 220 mph 2:15 minutes
Chicago-St. Paul 110 mph 5:31 minutes, 220 mph 2:40 minutes
Population density in California’s 500-mile corridors is greater than 1990 Western Europe 500-mile corridors, when multiple nations ramped up HSR construction. In the state most famous for auto culture, a 220 mph California HSR project is progressing despite financial challenges. When its 520-mile Phase 1 opens, SF-LA travelers will enjoy productive use of a 2 Hour 40 minute Journey Time unmatched by SF-LA regional flights.
When growth for large metro areas causes 500-mile corridor population to reach 10-15 million, its time to build HSR or suffer higher taxpayer cost for wider intercity highways and additional airport runway.
By 2020, America will have 82% of of residents, sixteen 500-mile corridors of 12+ million people and dozens of metro areas above 1.5 million population, traffic congestion occur more often to rob economic productivity. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts America adding ~60 million residents from 2010 to 2035, with an even larger percentage of our 369 million residents settling in the Top 50 Metro Areas, as listed in corridors on the America 2050 and USHRA maps. We are growing from our Top 35 Metro Areas in 2010 to our Top 50 Metro Areas having 1.5+ million residents by 2035 with denser 500-mile corridors.
Train Frequency & Pulsed Schedules Important To Ridership
We all miss flights. If the next flight is 30 minutes, no problem. If its 60 minutes, manageable. If its 2 hours, that’s usually a missed-connection and if late night, can escalate to an airport sleepover. Catering to the “no problem” scenario, the Siemens Study calls for HST every 30 minutes for 5am-12pm service. As a practical matter for 3 hour runs that works out to 32 weekday trains in each direction.
In the Swiss study of train & transit ridership, they discovered that Pulsed Schedules for trains, synchronized with local transit increased ridership for both transportation modes. Pulsed Schedules for trains should be set to fit the size, density and economic activity of mega-region corridors. For example NYC-Newark-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington HSR and Anaheim-LA-Burbank-Fresno-San Jose-San Francisco HSR have enough size, density and economic activity to support 10-15 minute Pulsed Schedules. The Swiss study indicates that patrons value the combination of frequency & timed certainty of trains, called “Pulsed Schedules”, as much as higher speed. Note however, that trains need grade separations and fencing to sustain frequency and dependability that produce patron confidence.
Amtrak officials are not blind to Acela shortcomings: 83 average speed in NYC-Washington corridor and 59 mph average speed in Boston-NYC corridor. To increase average speed for higher patronage, Amtrak wants federal funding for these incremental improvements by 2030:
• 2-hour Washington-NYC travel time, 113 mph average speed
• 3-hour Boston-NYC travel time, 77 mph average speed
• Acela trains every 15 minutes
• 95% on-time performance in Northeast Corridor
• Acela service extended from Washington to Richmond
Private HSR builders and HST operators have entered the conversation too. XpressWest owned by Las Vegas builders and casino interests, recently sold to a privately-owned intercity passenger rail company, Brightline, that plans to continue Las Vegas-Victorville HSR project. Fedeeral funding is yet to be secured, but the ultimate goal is a 1-seat Las Vegas-Victorville-Palmdale-Burbank Airport-LA Union Station ride, using California HSR track from Palmdale to LA.
At first glance, XpressWest stopping in the small city of Victorville seems unsound. That’s 50 miles from the planned California HSR Palmdale Station. Since California HSR bond money is legally bound to the voter-approved HSR route, no one will propose that California HSR extend 50 miles from Palmdale to meet XpressWest in Victorville. Though XpressWest backers are tight-lipped about specifics, their expansion map showing an extension from Victorville to Palmdale is clear intent that XpressWest connect to California HSR. XpressWest backers are hoping that Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) or other private funding close the Victorville-Palmdale gap.
A $10 billion 205 mph HSR project funded by a private company, Texas Central Railway, proposes to connect Houston to Dallas by 2024. Per current plans, Texas Central Railway wants to build the Dallas HSR Station in Southeast Dallas where they can Value Capture development on adjacent land. Officials representing downtown Dallas, DFW Airport and downtown Fort Worth are concerned that Texas Central Railway may not extend HSR to Central Business Districts to maximize patronage and rapid transit connectivity that also reduces airport and highway congestion.
With proper funding, the FRA can address both public and private interests by helping with public input, environmental studies, assistance purchasing adjacent land and issuing tax credits to Texas Central Railway to extend the project to downtown Houston, downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth. In that manner and others, FRA is a valuable partner to help meet Texas Central Railway’s Value Capture and ROI objectives, while expanding HSR service to more of the public.
At the end of the day, even projects originated by private interests need FRA grants/loans, assistance with planning, public inquiries, environmental clearances, rights-of-way acquisition and safety to maximize ROI.
Political Hurdles Have Been Overcome Before
Interstate High Speed Rail Progress will help airlines switch to more fuel & labor efficient flights, limit airport expansion and limit highway expansion, while preventing intercity traffic congestion from getting worse. Yet, U.S. Surface Transportation Bill has been paralyzed by politics, stalling Interstate High Speed Rail Progress. To get a sense of whether we can overcome those politics, Interstate High Speed Rail Funding is a must read.