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{Reprinted from the Hillbilly Report.org, April 21, 2009.}
{ Except for updating images to correct for link rot, edits in braces and italics.}

This last weekend I wrote up a small diary, cross-posted to various places ... which even stumbled into being wrecklisted at Agent Orange ... about the High Speed Rail plan released by the Obama administration.

That diary focused on laying out the three "tiers" of HSR in the announced plan. "Express HSR" is one of the bullet train systems, like they are planning for California. But between that tier and conventional rail, are two more tiers:

  • "Regional HSR", with a top speed of around 125mph, able to provide trips at average speeds in the range of 100mph, operating in existing rail rights of way, but mostly on its own track, with upgraded signaling and substantial investment in grade separation and/or the top level of "hardened" level crossings, normally with electrified lines; and
  • "Emerging HSR", with a top speed of 110mph, able provide trips at average speed in excess of 80mph, operating on existing rail right of way with improved capacity, but sometimes sharing track with freight rail, the 110mph standard of quad gate, speed sensitive level crossings, and provided by either electric or diesel 110mph tilt-trains

The bullet trains are the show ponies ... but for small town and rural America, the genuine seat at the table for Emerging and Regional HSR is the real good news from the announcement.

Now, I do not want to give the impression that Express HSR is somehow "anti-rural development". Far from it ... all forms of HSR share a key feature that is very good news for small town and rural America.

Trains lose much less time on a stop than airplanes do. And while an Express HSR route might be built in order to serve transport markets between two big metro areas ... you need two way track pretty much all the way to run them properly, and once you have it, adding services to serve smaller cities in between is very cost efficient.

That doesn't mean a station in every little village and hamlet, but it does mean that there can be a station every thirty to fifty miles, which means the areas that the HSR passes through are likely to see far more frequent services at the closest HSR station than at the closest airfield.

So, compared to the current state of affairs, there are going to be more rural areas with more effective transport options in reasonable driving distance with "Express HSR" than with the two level system of short-hop flights and interstate buses.


Cost Matters

No, what makes the seat at the table for Emerging HSR and Regional HSR so exciting is that they cost so much less per mile to get built.

Consider that basically one Express HSR corridor from San Francisco to San Jose through the Central Valley then LA and ending in Anaheim California ... {was} projected to cost $46b, {and is now projected to cost $68.4b due to project design inflation, reaction to NIMBY opposition driving further design inflation, and an increase in underlying cost estimates due to difficulty geography descending into the San Fernando Valley.}

However, to build the Ohio Hub for 110mph service (blue and orange lines) would cost under $10b ... maybe under $5b. That's Buffalo to Cleveland to Columbus to Dayton to Cincinnati ... connecting to Indianapolis and Chicago, Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Toledo to Fort Wayne .... connecting to Chicago, Pittsburgh to Columbus to Toledo to Detroit, and Pittsburgh to Columbus to Fort Wayne.

The thing is, when existing rail sees light freight traffic, it can be upgraded, 10miles of passing tracks added in each 50 miles of track, when existing rail sees heavy freight traffic, a new passenger track can be laid ... and all in existing rail rights of way. Most of the worst headaches of establishing a new rail line in terms of environmental clearances, property fights, etc, ... just are not there when building inside an existing rail right of way.

The track is built for 60mph freight traffic, and then the extra tilt that has to be added to allow trains to go through turns at 110mph without tossing the passengers around is added by the train itself.

And consider the stations ...

... while it is patronage involving the three largest cities in that provides the financial foundation for the Ohio Hub system, once the rail line is passing through, it makes sense to add a station every so often, to get an additional increment of passengers.

And so there are stations laid out in Coshocton, Springfield, Kenton, New Castle PA, Findlay, Defiance ... a lot more stations a lot more accessible to the rural counties of the state than a single Express HSR system could be, and for less money.


And its not just the Regional HSR Systems

The red corridors in that map is the Midwest Hub ... one of the main inspirations of the Ohio Hub, as the Midwest Hub was originally to connect to Cleveland and Cincinnati, and someone said, "Hmmm, something seems to be missing here".

The Midwest Hub is a product of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (FAQ), an alliance of states.

And the membership of the MIRPC extends beyond the boundaries of the Midwest Hub, extending on to North Dakota.

North Dakota? Why are they a member of the alliance?

Note that North Dakota may not {host a Midwest Hub corridor}, but rail is still important to North Dakota. The transcontinental Amtrak system is quite important for many North Dakota towns and rural counties. And so the Midwest Hub will benefit North Dakota in two main ways:

  • First, the Amtrak to Minneapolis will then connect to a Regional HSR corridor to Chicago, offering a substantially quicker train trip than what is currently available; and,
  • Second, when the Amtrak is running through an area with a Regional HSR system, it will be able to use the improved track as well, avoiding the delays from freight trains that currently plague the transcontinental routes and can put them many hours behind schedule.


Getting down to work

Note that the plan set down is not a centralized, top-down plan. It involves states, one at a time or in groups, sitting down, deciding what kind of improved rail service would benefit them, working out a desired alignment, and going through the process to get it added to one of the existing systems of HSR corridors.

Some states have taken a lead, like the alliance led by Illinois, and the Southeast corridor led by Virginia and North Carolina.

Some states are scurrying to catch up, like Colorado, which started studying a corridor from Cheyenne through Denver and Colorado Springs to the New Mexico border last year.

Some states have had stop-start-stop approaches, like Florida and Texas, both of which almost got started on HSR systems, and both of which had their HSR projects killed by a Governor Bush.

And some states have lagged behind. There ought to be a Southeast hub spreading out from Atlanta, similar to the one spreading out from Chicago, but Georgia seems content to sit on its hands, letting others do the work{, though, as covered in a recent Sunday Train, they are at least proceeding with planning the corridors for a Southeast Hub.} And Tennessee seems to be completely asleep at the wheel. That means obvious lines, like Atlanta to Nashville connecting to the Midwest Hub at Louisville, are missing.

But the advantage of the system is that we do not need to get heard over the noise in Washington DC in order to get the ball rolling in our own neck of the woods. What we need to do is to corral our own State Legislator, State Senator, even Governor, and talk to them about when they are going to get off their fat asses and get to work on working up a Regional HSR system to serve both the cities in their states and the country in between the cities that the rail lines will pass through.

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:35 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Just like the old Indana Railroad... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, Calamity Jean, Railfan

      ...but without that crappy street running!

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:47:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm for every college to get a train station ... (6+ / 0-)

        ... that can, including Wabash College.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 07:58:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The Denver & Interurban electric traincars... (8+ / 0-)

          ...ran the Denver-Boulder rail route (and places in between) from 1908 to 1926. One of the stops was right in the middle of the campus of the University of Colorado, my alma mater. The cars ran at 60 mph but because of the many stops, the trip to the main stations between the two anchor points took 55 minutes, according to a 1910 timetable.

          Unfortunately, due to lack of communication, two of the electric train cars struck each other head-on in 1920, killing 12 and injuring 214. While the route continued to run for several more years, the handwriting was on the wall when the Colorado & Southern, the line's operator, was stuck with $145,000 in personal liability for the crash. (That's $1.7 million now, and a company that was negligent in the way the D&I was in that crash would be lucky to get off with 20 times as much today.)

          The 41-mile replacement line is under construction right now.

          Sadly, it will take one step backward from the old line in that it will be powered by diesel, not electric power.

          Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

          by Meteor Blades on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 09:04:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  IIT has two stations...on the L. (0+ / 0-)

          There was never a stop on the old Rock Island main line, now a Metra commuter line, that ran along the west side of the campus.

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 09:33:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Huh, what? IIT? (0+ / 0-)

            Indiana Tech? Aren't they in Fort Wayne? I didn't know Indiana Tech had a campus on Wabash Avenue in Crawfordsvile, Indiana, I thought it was just Wabash College there.

            Though I guess their main campus would be on the proposed Columbus to Chicago alignment from the (now dormant) Ohio Hub proposal.

            Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

            by BruceMcF on Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 10:42:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  That would be the Monon (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF

        with tracks running through Bedford and Lafayette.

  •  Trains provide romance airlines lack (7+ / 0-)

    Whoever wrote a song about an airliner?  And, nope, Bob Dylan's "leavin' On A Jet Plane" doesn't count.  

    I'm a Boomer, but from my parents back, all my older relatives lamented the collapse of passenger railroads.  Sure, most were Southerners, and enjoyed the subservient patois of the mostly African-American porters, but that wasn't the only thing they liked.  

    Trains united us as a country.  What do airports do except provide mediocre standup comics with jokes?  

    Look at Rick Geary's account of the funeral train of the assassinated President James Garfield, taking his body from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, in Geary's graphic novel "The Fatal Bullet."  Geary notes "The grieving people lined the tracks....rich and poor, white and Negro, men and women and children...his widow glanced out in amazement at the spectacle."  Now contrast that with Kennedy's body flown on Air Force One to D.C. from Dallas 82 years later.  Not the same.    

    Some have mentioned that bigots hate mass transportation because it puts them in contact with people whose group affiliations are those they're prejudiced against.  It's absolutely true.  

    BTW, for areas too small to merit a train stop, a device was used to deliver mail without having the train stop:  the baggage handlers would prepare the package and affix it to an external hook from the baggage car, and a hook on a pole in the town would take it effortlessly as the train rolled by.  Perhaps Al Franken, the Senator who during a previous career played a baggage handler in "Trading Places," could champion refurbishing these.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

    by Kangaroo on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 07:48:38 AM PDT

    •  Yes, it would be nice if ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BYw

      ... a Rapid Rail corridor in Illinois would give a speed boost to this famous name (though actually there were two named Chicago/NOLA services, and the Amtrak route is more like the schedule of the other one):

      "And the sons of Pullman Porters, and the sons of engineers, riding their father's magic carpet made of steel"

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 04:00:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well, there's this one: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, JeffW
      Whoever wrote a song about an airliner?
      http://www.youtube.com/...

      "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

      by Calamity Jean on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 02:30:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's the one I thought of ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... (yiou need one of the ones that says "live", which isn't the recording the record company owns ~ they block the record track on YouTube)
        ... "don't carry me too far away" is not really a son to the airplane llke Wabash Cannonball, Rock Island Line, Chattanooga Choo Choo, or City of New Orleans.

        I guess if we work hard enough, we'll find one. Maybe an ode to Flight 370, like the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 04:22:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, trains are just plain old more exciting. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF, JeffW

          If you're watching one from the ground, the experience lasts longer; first there's the sound increasing and the anticipation builds.  Then the whoosh and roar of the train actually passing, shaking the ground, then the sound fading into the distance.  

          Not like watching from inside the terminal as airplanes take off and land.  You can hardly hear them.  Pfui!  As Nero Wolfe used to say.  

          "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

          by Calamity Jean on Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 08:27:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  In the Regional HSR plan (0+ / 0-)

    you mention "hardened" level crossings, but I can't find a definition of this.  I know what a "level crossing" or "grade-level crossing" is...but what makes it "hardened"?  

    Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

    by Big River Bandido on Sun Apr 27, 2014 at 05:37:24 PM PDT

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