About ready to roll: American high-speed rail

When the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act was authorized in 1976 (also known as the 4R Act) it had been 10 years since the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965, introduced by Congress, passed. Interest seemed strong through the 1980s and ’90s but funding for and forward momentum in this direction failed to materialize.

Now, almost 45 years later, the Transportation Technology Center located some 25 miles from Pueblo, Colorado is the facility where one of Amtrak’s new 160 mph-capable Acela high-speed trainsets is currently undergoing extensive testing. This is being done in preparation for actual service on the National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor (NEC) set to begin in 2021.

Making tracks for faster trains

The newest Acela’s, a product of Alstom, will replace the now 20-year-old versions from Canadian builder Bombardier, in use in the NEC Boston-to-Washington, D.C. service lane since year 2000. These trains, due to railway track limitations, are restricted to 150 mph; only two relatively short stretches on the corridor permit this high a speed.

And, this is only the beginning. Another electrified high-speed train service, this time planned for the western U.S., is XpressWest’s initial 180-mile-long Las Vegas, Nevada to Victorville, California pike, the start of operations estimated to be in 2023 with eventual extension to Los Angeles, this along with a proposed tie-in in Palmdale, in the Golden State’s high-desert region, one that would could enable a direct connection to California’s own high-speed rail project there when it arrives: More on the California system in a bit. Max speed is expected to be 150 mph and indications are that project groundbreaking will occur late this year.

With the Texas Central Railroad and Infrastructure, Incorporated’s program now declared an actual railroad by a Texas appellate court recently, unless an appeal is filed and advanced by interests opposed, presumably at the State Supreme Court level, could be up and running as soon as 2025 or 2026, according to information on the company website. Construction cost of the 240-mile-long Dallas-to-Houston line is estimated to be $14 billion, approximately $20 billion being the project’s total investment. Maximum speed for trains making the presumed 90-minute trip is an even faster 205 mph.

And, the fastest of all is, of course, California’s planned Phase 1, 520-mile-long network linking Los Angeles and Anaheim in the coastal south with San Francisco in the coastal north, trains to operate at a top speed of 220 mph. Total non-stop L.A.-S.F. and S.F.-L.A. trip time, according to language spelled out in the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century (California Proposition 1A passed by 52.6 percent of state voters in 2008), must not exceed 2 hours, 40 minutes, meaning an average speed of 195 mph must be maintained. The complete Phase 1 infrastructure package, estimated to be in place by 2033, will be built to 250 mph standards. Total projected cost: some $80 billion.

In elaborating further, and of import, from “Calif. high-speed rail: Regarding ‘fast-track’ building, progress steady,” there is this: “Now granted, there are some places where posted speed limits will be lower. For instance, between San Jose and San Francisco trains may be limited to 125 mph. And, it should not be lost on anyone that trains can’t get up to maximum speed and stop instantaneously. So, this too needs to be taken into consideration. But, all things considered, meeting the time-frame objective should be doable. Something else you should know: the track to be built, from what I understand, is specified (in some locations) as 250 mph-capable.” Estimated total Phase 1 construction cost: about $80 billion.

In the meantime, as it currently stands, California’s is the only project with actual construction work begun. Train testing is slated to commence by 2026 with full service being available on 171 miles of track between Bakersfield and Merced. This stretch’s investment plus that of electrification work on 47 miles of currently active Caltrain line between San Francisco and San Jose, $20.4 billion.

Again, in the “Calif. high-speed rail: Regarding ‘fast-track’ building, progress steady” article, it was written: “From Bakersfield to San Jose, meanwhile, that cost is projected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion.”

Planned for the interim until California high-speed rail reaches from the San Joaquin Valley to the San Francisco peninsula is what is referred to as Valley Rail, a collaboration between the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (operator of the Amtrak San Joaquin passenger trains) and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (which manages the Altamont Corridor Express – ACE – service).

Justification for trains, high-/higher-speed

As road-based travel becomes more constrained what with the growth in population coupled with driving on the rise and roadway capacity upgrades being modest at best, the need for alternative solutions becomes self-evident and ever more relevant. As to those alternative solutions rail, more often than not, has proven to be the best bet. Not only where speed is a factor, but with regard to a host of other benefits and features.

“ … dollar for dollar, railways go so much farther in terms of handling capacity than do highways, all things being equal,” the railways thus have the far better value. This was explained in detail in “Rails vs roads for value, utilization, emissions-savings: difference like night and day” here.

The Association of American Railroads furthermore notes that truckloads in the hundreds can be removed from highways via a single freight train move, that action not only providing a sort of relief valve so to speak for limited-capacity highway infrastructure, but in providing relief to the air as well. (See: “Trains: No better mode than rail for providing air (pollution) relief” here).

American high-speed rail: Coming soon!

Images: Federal Railroad Administration (upper); San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (lower)

This post was last revised on May 27, 2020 @ 3:47 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

5 thoughts on “About ready to roll: American high-speed rail”

  1. I do not find this is cause for celebration. This will not happen in the timeframes given and are no celebration of America’s can do spirit. This is pathetic, expensive, limping into the future far in the future. As an example we will be able to go from Merced to Bakersfield in 2023 at 180 miles per hour 15 years after the bond was passed. This mark will be missed by six years at least so 21 years in reality. That is compared to the promise of trains running from Los Angeles to San Francisco already.

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  2. This is the worse CA boondoggle ever created with little or no empirical evidence by a group of out of control politicos that were ensuring their union obligations are being taken care of through a bait and switch occurring within minutes of passage November 2008, AB 1882.

    They’re over budget, massive mistakes, lies, not HSR as of April 30, 2019, per HSR COO Joe Hedges see this link – https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/bullet-train-delays-put-state-funding-at-risk/192148/

    They are over budget by 35%++, with no track, no engines, no passenger cars, no stations built, for a standing non-HSR train using diesel fuel with a maximum speed of 110 Mph between a field north of Madera to an almond orchard south of Wasco.

    The first contract was awarded March 2012; however, due to poor management of the design-build, the construction was delayed 18-months with a penal payment to the contractor of 61 million taxpayer dollars for doing nothing in the 29-mile section from Madera to Highway 99 and American Avenue.

    The second contract award in early 2014. Again the same type of delay creating a secret payment in the range of 50 million taxpayer dollars range was paid to that contractor for zero work. The number of do-overs, failures, and the seriously flawed design-build vendor is why the delays, the cost increases.

    On October 25, 2008, Mr. Joseph Vranich testified before the State Senate Transportation Committee at the State Capital. The video is 11+ minutes of riveting reality that was allowed to metastasize into a failure of epic consequences on the back of the taxpayers of CA. Furthermore, the other 49 states due to the award of ARRA funding are on the hook for over part of a 2 billion ARRA award!

    The video dramatically proves that be careful what media is available to the public years later, and this link is proof positive he was right; however, union and political politics won:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS0RD6dqpKY

    I have attended over 130 HSR sessions from SFO, Sacramento, the Penisula, the San Joaquin Valley, Palmdale areas, and LA County. There has always been one mantra – “We’ll get back to you, and they never do; nevertheless, there is one persistent paradigm – incompetence!

    This link is the YouTube derailhsr link and has video form today back to 2008.
    https://www.youtube.com/user/derailhsr/videos

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    • As to your point about the ” … non-HSR train using diesel fuel with a maximum speed of 110 Mph between a field north of Madera to an almond orchard south of Wasco.” reference, I’m not sure what prompted that.

      It is my understanding that full service will not begin in the Valley until year 2026, then between Bakersfield and Merced as I have indicated above.

      It is also my understanding that the service that will be offered will be fully electric, the electricity supplied to electric trains via overhead catenary infrastructure. It is conceivable that these trains could operate at speeds well above 110 mph in this section.

      And, regarding the delays you mention, you did not reference a single lawsuit filed, which could partly explain the reason for some of that delay.

      Regardless of what happened in the past, it is my sense that the project will proceed apace, critical deadlines will be met, track will be laid, procured trains during the testing phase will follow rigorous testing protocols, and Valley operation to serve at least three cities – Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, initially – WILL happen.

      High-speed rail in America is sorely needed!

      Reply

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