US stimulus package and high speed rail
- 1. New York Times article on the optimistic but diluted effect of th
$8 billion for high speed rail in the US stimulus package:
Slice of Stimulus Package Will Go to Faster Trains
State of California
The federal stimulus package has a modest investment in California’s
plan for a bullet train. A conceptual view of high-speed rail on San
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By MICHAEL COOPER
Published: February 19, 2009
It may be the longest train delay in history: more than 40 years after
the first bullet trains zipped through Japan, the United States still
lacks true high-speed rail. And despite the record $8 billion
investment in high-speed rail added at the last minute to the new
economic stimulus package, that may not change any time soon.
Designated High-Speed Rail Corridors
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Qilai Shen/European Pressphoto Agency
Passengers board a high-speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou, China.
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Alain Julien/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The high-speed TGV in Bezannes, France.
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Japan Railway, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The 500 series Shinkansen train near Tokyo.
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The German ICE high-speed train arriving in Paris.
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That money will not be enough to pay for a single bullet train,
transportation experts say. And by the time the $8 billion gets
divided among the 11 regions across the country that the government
has designated as high-speed rail corridors, they say, it is unlikely
to do much beyond paying for long-delayed improvements to passenger
lines, and making a modest investment in California’s plan for a true
In the short term, the money — inserted at the 11th hour by the White
House — could put people to work improving tracks, crossings and
That could help more trains reach speeds of 90 to 110 miles per hour,
which is much faster than they currently go. It is much slower,
however, than high-speed trains elsewhere, like the 180 m.p.h. of the
newest Japanese bullet train. (The Acela trains on the East Coast are
capable of 150 m.p.h., but average around half that.)
To some longtime proponents of high-speed rail who have watched with
envy as other countries built ever-faster trains, failing to build a
world-class high-speed train now would represent a tremendous missed
opportunity to lure drivers off choked roads and fliers away from long
delays at airports.
“What are we trying to achieve?” asked Joseph Vranich, a rail expert
who wrote “Supertrains” (St. Martin’s Press, 1991). “If we really
wanted to have high-speed rail in this country, and have it be a great
success, then what we would do is concentrate the funds on the New
York-Washington corridor, which is the top corridor in the country.”
Mr. Vranich warned that spreading the money around the country could
dilute its power to build a true high-speed system, and he predicted
that making incremental improvements to the speeds of trains around
the country would not be enough to get large numbers of people to stop
Even with full financing, it could take a decade or more to build a
bullet train line. The state now closest to building a true high-speed
system is California, where voters approved borrowing $9 billion last
fall to begin building a train that can go faster than 220 m.p.h.
“The California high-speed rail project is the only genuine pending
project,” said Judge Quentin L. Kopp, the chairman of the California
High-Speed Rail Authority.
Mr. Kopp has outlined plans to spend up to $2 billion of the stimulus
money by the deadline of 2012 — one-quarter of the available federal
money, but only a small part of the $45 billion the project is
expected to cost.
Many other states also have big plans. North Carolina, which is part
of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, will seek some of the
stimulus money to speed rail service between Charlotte and Washington.
Wisconsin wants to use some of it on a line linking Madison and
Chicago, hoping to have trains running up to 110 m.p.h. Officials in
Alabama want to be on a faster line connecting Atlanta and New Orleans.
Many rail advocates said that it would make sense to move to higher-
speed rail before building true high-speed rail, and that getting the
nation’s long-neglected rail system into working order could lay the
foundation for future high-speed projects.
“You’ve got to walk before you can run, and we’ve just been crawling
up to now,” said Ross B. Capon, the president of the National
Association of Railroad Passengers, an advocacy group for riders.
Many passenger trains run on tracks owned by freight companies, and
they are slowed on long stretches of single track, where trains must
pull onto sidings so others can pass.
Federal transportation officials said that they were still drawing up
guidelines for how the money would be spent, and cautioned that it was
too early to predict what they would do. Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood told reporters in Washington this week that he believed high-
speed rail would be President Obama’s transportation priority. Mr.
LaHood said the department had recently given the White House a
memorandum describing plans for high-speed rail in “at least six
corridors” across the country.
But people who were excited by that prospect may be surprised to hear
that the federal government defines “high speed” as much slower than
other countries do. A diesel train in the United States that can go 90
m.p.h. is still considered high-speed under the government’s definition.
So some projects financed by the bill may simply get intercity
passenger rail back to where it was earlier in the 20th century,
rather than closer to the futuristic vision of the trains of Europe
and Asia, like the magnetic levitation, or maglev, train that whisks
passengers from Shanghai to its airport 19 miles away in seven
minutes, attaining a speed of 259 m.p.h.
The Acela is the United States’ fastest train. But because the tracks
it runs on are curvy, and are shared with many other trains, it is
only able to reach its top speed of 150 m.p.h. on about 35 miles of
track in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Its average speed is 84
m.p.h. between New York and Washington. Still, Amtrak has captured 62
percent of the combined air and rail market between New York and
Washington, company officials said.
High-speed rail has a long, tortured history in the United States,
going back to 1965, when Congress passed the High-Speed Ground
Transportation Act. Since then, it has been proposed by many governors
and studied in countless plans, always holding out the promise of
catching up with other countries.
Voters in Florida passed a constitutional amendment requiring the
state to build a high-speed rail system, only to repeal it a few years
later after several prominent businesses, along with Jeb Bush, who was
then the governor, complained of its expense.
C. C. Dockery, who sponsored the campaign for the amendment, said in
an interview that he and the other members of the Florida High-Speed
Rail Authority were planning to meet late this month to discuss how to
go about seeking some of the federal money.
“It would be a huge benefit to Florida,” Mr. Dockery said.
Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington.
2. An organisation promoting a "Steel Interstate" for the US:
Montreal QC Canada