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High-speed rail in the United States

Development of high-speed rail in the United States can be traced back to the streamliners in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. These systems, in turn, can be traced further back to the competing companies operating different routes between London and Scotland, and to railways in Germany and France. Several factors, including a blanket 79 speed limit set by the FRA in the 1940s, as well as the easy availability of national air travel, contributed to the stagnation of rail passenger transport in the U.S. just as Europe and Japan were pushing forward. However, high jet fuel prices, congested airports and highways, and increasing airport security rules regarding liquids and electronics that force most travelers to check baggage make high-speed rail options more attractive. There has been a resurgence of interest in recent decades, with many plans being examined for high-speed rail across the country, but current service remains relatively limited.

Federal involvement

The major passenger carrier in the U.S., Amtrak, has been operating Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington, D.C. since 2001 and had operated Metroliners before then, with trains capable of going up to 125 mph ; Penn Central inaugurated Metroliner service in 1969. Acela Express trains tilt into curves along the track, reaching a top speed of 240 km/h (150 mph). The scheduled transit time for the 5 a.m. departure from Washington DC arriving in Boston's South Station on Acela express service is roughly 6 hours 36 minutes; subtracting a fifteen minute scheduled layover in New York City, the average speed is 109 km/h (68 mph) for the 720 km (450 mi) trip.

High-speed rail in the U.S. today remains largely in an early, conceptual stage. The U.S. efforts have been multi-pronged. Various states have promoted study and design of high-speed rail lines, and six corridors have been designated by U.S. Department of Transportation for study:

The Clinton Administration proposed a High Speed Rail Development Act in 1993 to study the issues involved and provide seed money. Money was set aside in Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA 1991) for maglev development, and proposals for deployment have been made in Orlando, Florida and in Texas, but there is still no operating maglev in revenue-earning passenger service in the United States. Amtrak's North East Corridor has been electrified and has seen elimination of grade crossings.

In terms of its top-down planning, the development of high-speed rail in the U.S. borrows conceptually from the interstate highway system. Typically modes emerge without either significant or central planning at the outset. Examples include air travel, highways, and rail. Later, central planning is tacked on, as when the government established specific trans-continental routes, or began funding airports or the interstate highways. In all likelihood this probably confirms high-speed rail's role as a successor to conventional rail rather than holding status as a new mode on its own.

Operationally, the systems are largely adapted from conventional rail systems, with similar labor organization and ownership in Japan and France and similar architectures in many other respects.

Details by area

California

California Proposition 1A, scheduled on the November 2008 state ballot, would authorize the state to issue $9.95 billion in bonds to fund the first phase of a planned multi-phase high-speed rail network. Steel-wheel on rail technology is the adopted mode. Los Angeles to San Francisco, via California's Central Valley, would be the first phase of the network. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is the lead agency charged with planning and implementing the system. If built, high-speed trains will be able to travel across California at speeds of up to 220 mph (350 km/h), potentially linking San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as two hours and forty-two minutes.

Florida

Development of a high-speed rail system in Florida was mandated by a constitutional referendum in 2000, but taken off the books by another referendum in 2004. Talks on the system have remained dormant since.

New York State

New York State has been actively discussing high-speed rail service since the 1990s, but thus far little progress has been made. Amtrak Acela service between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts, is available to New York City, but the cities in Upstate New York and Western New York remain isolated from high-speed rail service. Further, destinations outside the New York metropolitan area have been plagued by delayed service for decades. Nonetheless, New York has been quietly endorsing and even implementing rail improvements for years.

Closer and faster railroad transportation links between New York City and the rest of the state are frequently cited as a partial solution to Upstate's stagnant economic growth.

Ohio

The Ohio Hub is a project created by the Ohio Department of Transportation that is intended to connect Ohio with four other states, as well as Canada, by a passenger rail network. The main proposal is a four-corridor system based Cleveland with branches terminating in Detroit, Toronto, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Both a 79 mph and 110 mph high-speed rail network have been proposed, costing a total $2.7 billion and $3.32 billion, respectively.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone Corridor was upgraded in 2006 with two segments of 110 mph operation between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, with express service taking 90 minutes over 103.6 miles, which is the fastest average speed outside the North East Corridor.

The Midwest

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative or Midwest Regional Rail System (MRRI, MWRRI, or MWRRS) is a plan to implement a 110 mph passenger rail network in the Midwestern United States, using Chicago, Illinois as a hub and including 3,000 miles (5,000 km) of track. Primary routes would stretch across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, possibly reaching Kentucky. Secondary routes would operate at a somewhat slower speed across Missouri and Iowa, just touching Nebraska and nearly reaching Kansas. Existing Amtrak routes would probably be upgraded as part of this plan, which has been in development since 1996. Michigan has begun upgrading track and signals, already resulting in increased service speeds for Amtrak's Wolverine service. However, similar efforts in Illinois have met with considerable technical difficulties. In most states funding remains a problem making it unclear when construction might begin.

The Southeast

The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is a passenger rail transportation project to extend high speed passenger rail services from Washington, DC south through Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia through Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina and connect with the existing high speed rail corridor from DC to Boston, Massachusetts known as the Northeast Corridor. Since first established in 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has since extended the corridor to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Incremental improvements to existing rail lines have been taking place while the environmental impact study required under the National Environmental Policy Act is being completed. The two-tiered EIS began in 1999, and completion is expected in 2010, with passenger service expected by 2015 to 2020, depending upon funding availability.

Texas

In 1991 the Texas High Speed Rail Authority awarded a 50-year high speed rail franchise to the Texas TGV Corporation - a consortium of Morrison Knudsen (USA), Bombardier (Canada), Alstom (France/UK), Crédit Lyonnais (France), Banque IndoSuez (France), Merrill Lynch (USA), and others. Texas TGV won the franchise after more than two years of litigation instigated by a rival consortium backing German ICE technology.

The plan was to connect the "Texas Triangle" (Houston - Dallas/Fort Worth - San Antonio) with a privately financed high speed train system which would quickly take passengers from one city to the next at prices designed to compete with or beat other transport options. This was the same model Southwest Airlines used 20 years earlier to break in to the Texas market where it served exactly the same three cities.

Funding for the project was to come entirely from private sources, since Texas did not allow the use of public money. The original estimated cost was $5.6 billion, but the task of securing the necessary private funds proved extremely difficult.

Southwest Airlines, with the help of lobbyists, created legal barriers to prohibit the consortium from moving forward and the entire project was eventually scuttled in 1994, when the State of Texas withdrew the franchise.

A more recent proposal for high-speed rail in Texas is part of a larger proposed, state-wide super-infrastructure, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

In 2002, the Texas High Speed Rail & Transportation Corporation (THSRTC), a grass roots organization dedicated to bringing high speed rail to Texas was established. In 2006, American Airlines and Continental Airlines formally joined THSRTC, in an effort to bring high speed rail to Texas as a passenger collector system for the airlines.

See also

References

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