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Thursday, January 28, 2010

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It's a start. Read the history of HSRail in Europe - it started with modest improvements, and as political support mushroomed, so did the cash flow. You can't go from 0 to 120 until you first go 0 to 60.

I predict these announcements are just the beginning, and within a few years we will see annual Federal appropriations (of billions each year) for these projects, across a wider group of states.

Rail may end up being the Interstate Highway project of the coming decades, but it won't happen overnight without a gradual building of political support.

What is worrisome, however, is the fact that the nation's rapidly-growing commitment to HSRail is not being equally matched by a commitment to TOD, smart growth, walkability and improved bus lines. Bus service is being cut all across the country, which will hurt the progressive political base needed to implement rail improvements.

If this doesn't change ASAP, we'll just end up with "rail sprawl" and more social inequities, rather than successful communities linked by rail.

P.S.:

From http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_fasttrack/2/:

Can we have fast trains in 10 years? Yes we can.

The US hopes to have high-speed lines operational within the next decade. Sound impossible? It’s not. Other nations have shown the way. In 1990, Spain’s rail network was in even worse shape than America’s: Trains were slow and equipment dilapidated. Then the government made a commitment to modernize. Spain now has one of the most extensive high-speed systems in the world. Likewise, Taiwan built its entire infrastructure in just the past 10 years — despite a population density greater than that of the northeastern US. All it takes is planning: According to the island nation’s head of infrastructure construction, by threading the 60-foot-wide corridor carefully through the landscape, the builders had to knock down only about 1,000 homes over 214 miles. Finally, China plans to pour a staggering $300 billion into dedicated high-speed-rail corridors by 2020. Almost all of the first 60 trains will be manufactured in China under a technology-transfer agreement with bullet builder Siemens. In essence, Beijing intends to slash its costs by cloning the Siemens Velaro train, which could provide a model for a cheaper high-speed rollout in the US.

I think the larger concern is not that Illinois or the Midwest didn't get the full amount requested, but will Chicago and the States use it wisely and without corruption.

In Ohio, the much lauded "3-C" Corridor (Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati) has been warmly embraced as a panacea of hope for our struggling state. However, this is only after I-71, which connects Ohio's larges cities has been widened to three lanes, most of the counties this line will serve have seen populations fall because of industry decline and urban planners have moved out of downtown areas for the 'burbs. In addition, the regions of Ohio that need a better transportation solution (southern Ohio, southeast Ohio and northwest Ohio) have been left out.

In addition, the Ohio public has been told this is "high speed rail" when the reality is that it's conventional rail at 79 mph. The images of bullet trains not withstanding, you're going average 40 mph on a trip like this after stops.

Many in the state are citing the growth in California as the goal for this project, but, honestly, these are apples and oranges in comparison.

Yes it is a start, but I thin it's to little to late. Had Ohio developed an intercity passenger service back in 1971 when we lost our "3-C" trains, or even in 1981 when Columbus (our capital) lost it's Amtrak service, this idea may have taken hold.

As someone who advocates rail travel and initially supported this project with full gusto, I am not more reserved in my feelings, taking a wait and see attitude. The Amtrak studies claim Ohio will need 470,000 riders annually for this to break even, knowing how dependent mid-westerns are on their automobiles, this will be a major rethink of values.

The multi-billion dollar question is whether or not the trains run on an entirely new system of tracks or utilize the existing rails (which still need to be upgraded to handle a lot more passenger traffic). Spain runs two systems, the AVE on new tracks and Talgo trains on their existing network. Purchasing right-of-way for a new track would alone cost billions.

Can we sort out wants, needs, and can affords?

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