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US stimulus package and high speed rail

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  • Christopher Miller
    1. New York Times article on the optimistic but diluted effect of th $8 billion for high speed rail in the US stimulus package:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20, 2009
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      1. New York Times article on the optimistic but diluted effect of th
      $8 billion for high speed rail in the US stimulus package:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/us/20rail.html?_r=2&hp

      =========================================================

      Slice of Stimulus Package Will Go to Faster Trains

      (illustration)
      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
      Francisco Bay.
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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.

      Multimedia

      (Map)
      Designated High-Speed Rail Corridors
      Enlarge This Image

      (photo)
      Qilai Shen/European Pressphoto Agency
      Passengers board a high-speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou, China.
      Enlarge This Image

      (photo)
      Alain Julien/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
      The high-speed TGV in Bezannes, France.
      Enlarge This Image

      (photo)
      Japan Railway, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
      The 500 series Shinkansen train near Tokyo.
      Enlarge This Image

      (photo)
      Benoit Tessier/Reuters
      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
      bullet train.

      In the short term, the money — inserted at the 11th hour by the White
      House — could put people to work improving tracks, crossings and
      signal systems.

      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
      flying.

      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.

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      2. An organisation promoting a "Steel Interstate" for the US:

      http://www.railsolution.org/

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      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada
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