High Speed Rail is not the starting point

From birth, Amtrak has had more than its share of problems. I've always believed its biggest was a route network whose size falls far short of critical mass. "You can't get there from here" - even in the northeastern U.S. (outside of the much vaunted N.E.C.) - remains a true, if shopworn, cliche.

Therefore, when well meaning people begin preaching the benefits of High Speed Rail, I simply consider the source. "Poor misguided souls," I think, clucking my tongue.

But, when a bad idea becomes so prevalent and supporting proposals so numerous that general acceptance follows - "Oh, everybody knows that!" - it can only be ignored at one's peril.

Of course, here in these United States, we're creating an even bigger mess by touting the concept of "HighER Speed Rail" and pretending that "incrementalism" means improvements to specific steam road corridors can eventually, over time, deliver true H.S.R. service.

This is all so fatally flawed, on so many different levels, that it's difficult to know where to begin a rebuttal!

Perhaps, as a starting point, it's time for us to define "high-speed rail" once and for all.

Although U.S. politicians tend to have a field day with this issue, gleefully making things up as they go along, we can reach a reasonable conclusion.

I realise Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said "there is no definition of high-speed rail" (during a speech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois) and that many might argue his statement is true - at least in the regions under his purview. Still, he was referencing international technologies at the time, which made his comment unjustifiable.

It is far better to rely upon David Briginshaw, Editor-in-Chief of the International Railway Journal (as quoted in the August, '09 issue of Railway Age) for a definition: "What exactly do we mean by high speed rail? The baseline is normally regarded as 125 miles-per-hour."

Please note that Mr. Briginshaw translated his lower speed threshold from Metric to English measurements in order to reduce potential confusion!

Now, is that 125 m/h figure reasonable in the U.S., given current standards?

Well, C.F.R. 49 defines transition from Tier I to Tier II equipment standards as occurring at 125 m/h.

The point at which the F.R.A. begins absolutely prohibiting all grade crossings under any circumstances is at Class 8 track. Class 7 trackage ends at 125 miles-per-hour.

The International Union of Railways defines H.S.R. "on existing trackage" as starting at 125 m/h (literally at 200 km/h). [H.S.R. on new, dedicated infrastructure begins at 250 km/h.] Members of the U.I.C. include Amtrak, the A.A.R., and the U.S. D.O.T.'s own F.R.A.!

Question: why wouldn't the F.R.A. accept the official definition of H.S.R. as adopted by an organisation of which they are a member? The only logical reason is politics, which is no basis for a technical definition!

Secretary LaHood may possess various reasons why it's in the administration's best interest to play games with semantics. That's his (and his boss') business. But, for the sake of consistency and preciseness, it is unreasonable to embrace any minimum speed figure of less than 125 miles-per-hour for true H.S.R.!

So, can any one of us confidently state that the political will necessary to accomplish the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a true U.S. high-speed network now exists? I find it doubtful. Surely, as has been the case for two generations, it's likely that a "high-speed or nothing" approach will give us precisely that: nothing!

Even if such a thing was politically tenable, I don't believe the best way to allocate limited capital resources for an improved/expanded North American passenger train network is through the establishment of true high speed railway services. The idea of U.S. H.S.R. is dramatically overplayed and, although I have no doubt it would be successful, spending even the smallest amount of funds toward dedicated, passenger-only rights-of-way and infrastructure without FIRST creating a comprehensive domestic transportation/energy/environmental policy is sheer folly!

Naturally, some will say that, even without existing political support or national policy in place, H.S.R. should remain a long-term goal, helping to generate jobs and restore the country's morale. I'm not prepared to argue the case one way or the other (although I'd always prefer that ANY transportation project stand upon its own merits). Still, before we embrace the H.S.R. concept, we should accept the various intermediate steps necessary to make high-speed projects work.

First and foremost, we must realise that there is not a single location in the world where true high-speed train transportation has been developed prior to the buildout and maximisation of its conventional railway network. Not one! In order for H.S.R. to be successful, passengers must have access to local transit, commuter and regional services, and a healthy intercity system, so their trips may be completed in an efficient and timely fashion.

Many people are preaching some sort of 21st century passenger "intermodalism," where the primary purpose of H.S.R. would be to serve short- to medium-haul markets formerly covered by commercial airlines. After all, there are many examples worldwide where high-speed trains have overtaken airlines in such markets - Amtrak's N.E.C. being among them. The British government has recently gone so far as to make that a national policy goal: the formal replacement of all short-haul domestic airline services with true H.S.R.!

Here in America, considering the complete absence of a national policy, that will be quite difficult. [Anyone care to find an elected official who'd be willing to suggest it?!] Besides, even if we did take that approach to intermodalism, it would place our new passenger train services in a ridiculously inferior position. Intermodalism has worked in the freight world because, without coercion, several relatively healthy modes joined forces and, recognising each others strengths and weaknesses, pooled their resources to make it happen. Conversely, in the domestic passenger world, trains are the lowly, unwanted stepchild. If we begin making our H.S.R. investments by concentrating upon the needs of the commercial airline industry, serving only end-point markets and creating little "planes-on-the-ground," that's all we'll ever have!

H.S.R. would end up exclusively operating to and from existing airfields, totally eschewing central city depots. This would eventually force railroad passengers, due to the location of their trains' station facilities, to be subjected to all the "security" requirements of their airline-based cousins.

I suppose all of this makes sense (in some weird and twisted way) to many members of a drive-or-fly society; however, by taking this approach, we're completely ignoring the need to address the United States' auto-centrism: the unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable over-dependence upon motor vehicle transportation.

True H.S.R. will end up competing with airways, not highways! High-speed railway networks will not offer any real alternative to the family car which is not already available by air. H.S.R. will not improve intra- and inter-urban rail-based transport; rather, the construction and operation of high-speed trains could easily consume all available capital, making even the smallest investments in other rail-based initiatives - things that are not very "sexy," but extremely vital in the scheme of things - even harder to come by.

A dedicated high-speed network of passenger trains would do absolutely NOTHING to improve service to the vast majority of destinations currently (or potentially) available to railroad travelers. In fact, it would not directly benefit existing railroad properties, whatsoever; therefore, by definition, it would do nothing to increase U.S. freight handling capacity - something which is far more important to the national economy. Any publicly funded improvements to railroad freight service would end up being a separate budget item derived from a separate set of plans and come to fruition through a completely separate infrastructure, increasing the cost to taxpayers and (presumably) making the entire programme politically unsupportable.

Without shared infrastructure, future-minded plans such as the electrification of railway main lines would be that much harder to accomplish and, in a way, even more difficult to justify, at least in the near term.

My point is not that U.S. H.S.R. should never happen. I've seen all the ill founded, unlearned arguments against it. None of them will stand against facts!

The lack of density is supposedly a serious drawback - until one realises that high-speed trains traverse a great deal of open countryside, overseas. Some will wail, "we can't afford it!" - but will seemingly support anything in their attempts to uphold auto-mobility. Others enthusiastically remind us that "the United states isn't Europe" - even though most current projects are state-centred and many U.S. states are comparable in size to European countries. [Of course, that's not what many people mean when they say we're "not Europe," as if human nature isn't a universal constant, or the way we spend our tax money is inherently superior to the way they spend theirs!]

"Government boondoggle" is a typical refrain, requiring a leap of faith to hurdle. Yet, since faith is ultimately based upon evidence (Hebrews 11:1), we gain assurance by seeing the myriad success stories, worldwide.

No, the question isn't if H.S.R. should have a role in U.S. society, but when. One learns to walk before he can run!

People are actively looking for alternatives TODAY! The sort of improvements which can be achieved through serious investment in our domestic railroad system can bear fruit in a relatively short period of time, and can prove to the skeptic that U.S. citizens will not only be willing to ride trains when gasoline is costly and traffic horrific, but will choose to ride trains simply because they're efficient, relaxing and fun!

The use of railroad technologies as political pawns may be predictable, but that doesn't make it justifiable. The longer it's allowed to continue unchecked, the longer we'll be forced to wait before any substantive improvements are made regarding U.S. passenger train service.

Certainly, High Speed Rail has its place; but, it CANNOT be our starting point!


  • High Speed Rail was added to very comprehensive and competent existing passenger & freight rail infrastructure in Japan and Germany and China.    English speaking nations seemed less inclined to maintain the legacy rail lines of the 1950's.    The Japanese had a very notable Interurban Electric Railway system, intact after WWII, as photographed by US servicemen rail buffs.   We paved over our local rails to make way for "happy motoring".

    So, we must give very comprehensive consideration to moving into HSR as a National Vanity!    We did this to ourselves, of our free will, with some corporate deceptions along the way.   We became a borrowing not a lending nation, in part because we embarked on the notion that ever increasing dependence on foreign oil was OK.    We added inventory tax and "just in time" to suit trucking and help pay for roads, very synergistic...   Downside, we demolished the Interurban and branch line rail links, making ever more import oil a necessity.  A vicious circle, but at this late hour seen as unsustainable.    State & Federal politicians riding the HSR vanity must consider the mundane local railway links along with the headliner projects.    If not, HSR becomes a millstone, not a harbinger of railway renaissance.

    "tahoevalleylines asks readers interested in a railway "SYSTEMS" approach to see postings at "theoildrum" and book: "ELECTRIC WATER" by Christopher C. Swan and companion website "Suntrain Transportation Corporation".    Mr. Kauffman's knowledgeable comments are a mainstay of this PR blog, and need to be considered by the railroad executives as well as the enthusiast cadre'.   Please refresh recollection of the Constitution, Article I Section 8, the "Post Roads" clause.   Then, see US Act of Congress July 10, 1838, defining ALL RAILROADS to be Post Roads, "Guarantors Of Societal & Commercial Cohesion".    This is an Oil Interregnum requisite, more than than just a national HSR fling.

    Many believe we are at the cusp of an energy emergency, including such stalwarts as Boone Pickens and Matthew Simmons.    Political scapegoating is soon to be seen as a non-productive rabbit trail, as events deal with America.    Officials, please snap out of this HSR reverie, and understand North America MUST HAVE a comprehensive rail freight & passenger program back in place first.

    Keep  'Em Rolling

  • Tahoevalleylines and RAILWAYIST do share one trait.  Neither of them seems concerned with fundamental economics.  You know, that's the dismal science that say a business must cover all of its operating expenses and fixed costs or it doesn't get to remain in business.  The passenger conundrum, whether it be HSR or conventional, is that if you set fares at a level that will cover all expenses, the fare will be so high that customers will flee and expenses still will not be covered.  That facts (messy things those facts) are that except for the long-haul "name" trains, the rest of the passenger business was going into the tank back in Depression days.  It only accelerated after the war.  Even when you combined a milk train with a passenger car, there was not enough revenue to support the service.  Interurban and mass transit?  Not a railroad issue, I submit.  Railroads never were a factor in that business.  I cannot get involved in Railwayist and tahoevalleylines paranoia about oil.  If need be, railroads can be electrified and then you'd be burning coal or natural gas, or perhaps even using nuclear fission to produce the electricity.  As with everything else, the economics will determine when or whether that occurs.  Perhaps it is easier to explain away the unexplainable by believing in plot theories.  Sorry, but I don't.  The people who started trucking companies were just like the people who started railroads, only a half to a full century later.  They hung out a shingle offering to move other people's property for a price.  They did it to make a profit.  Just as with railroads, many succeeded, some failed.  They lobbied for more and better roads.  Government listened to them.  I do not see any plots.  I don't believe there were any, unless you want to consider offering a product or service at a price that customers are willing to pay as a plot.  

  • I'll chime in now as the discussion (in C.H. White's Baltimore Sun Opinion) suggests freight railroad operators as America's "real rail experts".  While advances have been made in recent years, most U.S. Freight Railroads still do not run scheduled service for a vast majority of their traffic.  Meeting service level goals is complicated by numerous impediments which include issues related to maintenance levels and standards.  There are also seemingly countless arguments against fully automating train control.  

    With all due respect to our U.S. freight railroad operators, their mission is radically different than the mission of would-be (regular scheduled and on-time) passenger train service operators.  

    Some of you may or may not be aware of significant advances in train-control which exist today that were developed and successfully deployed in North America  (on grade-separated light rail transit systems) about 25 years ago.  These systems include fully automated driverless trains which run on schedules as tight as any European system.  This technology is unknown to most U.S. "rail experts" as previously defined. I'm not suggesting that this technology is appropriate for at-grade systems with crossings and no positive barriers, but I'm trying to make the point that the moving (regular scheduled and on-time) passenger trains involves a radically different approach than moving (unscheduled) freight trains. Integrating the two systems on shared corridors will require resources beyond those of our current freight operators if the level of public subsidy is to be minimized.

  • Respectfully, I don't agree with all of your statement above, Blaine.  The freight railroads operate a system that is sufficiently "on-time" to satisfy customers, which, the last time I checked, is the real reason people are in any business, once you get past making a profit.  For time-sensitive traffic, they measure on-time as being plus or minus a specified amount of time.  It may be one hour, or it may be four hours.  The point is that a service level is specified, a price for the service is quoted, and the service is provided.  Airlines use plus or minus 15 minutes as an "on-time" arrival or departure.  Yet, in the hey-day of rail passenger operations, the railroads expressed their on-time standard as plus-or-minus five minutes.  They did, in fact, hold themselves to a rather rigid level of performance.  Perhaps part of the problem you have discussed is the separation between the railroad as owner of the infrastructure and the provider of freight service over that infrastructure and Amtrak as a tenant providing passenger service, with federal authorities looking over everyone's shoulder.

    I think we're in a bit of a semantic difference where you state that integrating the two systems on shared corridors will require resources beyond thos of our current freight operators.  I don't believe such capability is at all beyond the current freight operators.  The key term is your final phrase: "if the level of public subsidy is to be minimized."  That is so, and we probably need to figure out how much public subsidy will be available and then figure out if a decent passenger system can be provided with that level of public subsidy.  I just don't think the freight operators deserve any further cudgeling for their performance when they do not have the authority to truly manage the system for all concerned.

  • I am afraid in many ways Americans have misinterpreted the meaning and the purpose of high speed rail. It is NOT a commuter rail, it is a mode of transcontinental travel, better alternative to outdated, dysfunctional puddle jumping we call airlines that have lost their service level, travel that takes all day to get you through strip search, wait all day on the tarmac just to take off or dock in, where request to use restroom is considered a "threat to national security"... the list is long. Now, if we could only seriously consider true high tech HIGH speed rail, not some cropped and chopped off half-measure to passify everyone- those who are for it and against it.

    It is very cute, wamr and fuzzy to have nostalgic street cars that look like characters from granpa's comic bookc, but why would someone use slow clumsy "old fashioned" tram that does nothing but clogs traffic rather than fast, efficient, quiet super modern way to commute by rail. Well, nostalgic might be good, but what feelings can I gain from something that was gone long before I was even born???? Slow trains are like cars from 50's or 70's. For the most of us it's just an ancient history that we have never experienced and have no feelings excpet the fact that it is too slow and inadequate to consider as a transportation.

    High speed rail should not be consdered a substitute to any old fashioned forms or travel by rail, it requires different infrastructure, different geometry standards, sifferents operational models. It should be resulting from a new PPP type of ownership and management in a similar way to what Europeans have been doing for decades.

    Also, please keep in mind that high speed rail was not originated in Asian countries. The high speed rail culture had started in Europe, and that's where we shoudl be looking for various examples, resources and possible partners, and using their experience to modify and implement the system here in the USA. I myself have spent quite a few years in UK and continetal Western Europe. High speed rail is one of the greatest things I have seen. It's like driving Porsche or high end BMW or Benz in fast lane on Autobahn, only FASTER, and you get to check your emails, have a beer or just see nice Alpine landscape.

    Another aspect to worry about: There have been a lots of allegations about Chinese pressing California to get contracts for high speed rail. Well, I do expect CA to make strange decisions, but not to the degree of spending taxpayers money for cheap low quality imported product, sort of Walmart grade of rail services, and taking thousands jobs away from Americans by outsourcing the entire program or piece by piece.

  • United says they are #1 in on time performance.  My flight that is announced on the plane at 3:30 is automatically 30 minutes "ahead" of schedule.  If that's the on time bar...no wonder everyone does it.

    Larry is correct in the aspect of on time performance for freight railroads.  There are the occasional screams for plant shut down loads or the like.  But for the most part freight performance is roughly on time.  The users of freight rail after all of these years understand that they have to build some time into the schedule and their contract for what they expect on time to be.  I don't think many have an absolute, drop dead, it-has-to be-here-by-xxxx-time.  If they do they put it on a plane.  If they have some spare time, they go LTL or UPS.

    I think at this point HSR should stand for Higher Speed Rail.  We all love the idea of 300mph trains ripping through Kansas or Nevada "wasteland" to our destination.  Reality though tells us the cost is incredibly high for not just building it, but buying the land to even start the discussion to build it.

    Freight lines can't handle European HSR.  So let's just get Higher Speed Rail and get Amtrak to 125.  I am not the engineering expert but would think 136lb CWR can handle that.  

    Now can someone find Amtrak the insurance to cover a train going on the ground at 125mph and the cost to repair the rail and cover the lawsuits?

  • Larry, I don't disagree with your position.  Freight operators today work towards and are gauged against different on-time performance measures than should normally be used for passenger service.  To their credit, they are doing a commendable job.

    I spent a great deal of time working in maintenance management for North American Class 1 railroads.  After working overseas on systems governed by European standards, I realized that I was not suitable for a comparable position in maintenance management.  The philosphies are so radically different that I felt that I could not be effective.  In the long run, I likely could have made the adjustment but this would certainly have increased the level of public subsidy.

    It is not my intent to criticize the freight operators.  As the engineering departments of most, if not all, of the Class 1 railroads work under their operating departments, I'm essentially one of them.

  • I hope I wasn't too harsh, Blaine.  It was not my intent to ridicule your comments.  Compared to some of the comments on this message thread, you qualify as downright brilliant.  The fact, there I go again, referring to facts when others would prefer raw emotion, is that the Sinkansen in Japan operates over an exclusive right-of-way.  It may be in the same corridor as freight, but they don't share tracks.  This is for two reasons.  First is safety.  Second, the track doesn't take the beating of heavy tonnage freight rolling over it, reducing the maintenance burden on the HSR track.  Reducing maintenance burden is synonymous with reducing taxpayer subsidy.  I am reasonable sure European railroads follow the same or similar practices, but I am not certain.

  • The incremental approach is the only reasonable viable

    approach ideally operated by the private sector as was the 100 MPH plus trains that used to traverse our Nation where frieght and passenger happily coexisted until the 50's and 60's socialistic mindset took the movement of people from the private sector thru building competitive infrastructure for aviation and hignways . Don't know to turn back the clock but High Speed Rail being built from scratch is not the way to go, when funding improvements to our present rail infrastructure would help both freight and passenger might finally set the modal competition in proper persepctive, of letting the fittest survive, such as was proven in the Pennsylvania Harrisburg - New York corridor where the airline exited the market.  This success can be duplicated if given a level playing field.    

  • Larry,  your comments weren't overly harsh.  I was just clarifying my position.  To your further comment, remotely brilliant people don't have to work nearly as hard nor as long as I do to make a living.

    You're right about the Shinkansen maintenance philosphy although you may be a bit surprised to learn that the signal system used on much of their original system is antiquated by European standards.  It's actually not set-up to permit full-speed bi-directional traffic on each line. In my opinion, the maintenance philosophy in Europe is somewhat more relaxed than in Japan, although still much further to the left than ours. The Japanese (and European, for that matter) philosophies are too far towards the lefthand side of the scale in my opinion.  But again, my opinion is based on years and years of North American maintenance conditioning.  

  • Railwayist said:

    "AMTRAK was originally created as a giant model train layout..."

    Actually, Amtrak was created to fail.  Nixon went along with the creation of Amtrak as a way to ease the country out of having passenger trains.  It allowed the freight railroads a way to get out of operating passenger trains without having to keep going through the bad PR of ICC "Train-off" hearings that were giving the industry a black eye.  It allowed them to dump their aging passenger rolling stock and passenger departments, in exchange for requiring them to operate a very limited, skeletal network of passenger service, for at least break-even subsidy payments.  The idea was that after five years of further declines in ridership because "you can't get there from here", the administration could justify pulling the pin on Amtrak since the people clearly didn't want to ride trains anymore.  Well, guess what?  People did and do want to ride trains.  Political pressure was brought to bear on Congress to improve passenger service, and Amtrak became an agency that could not be killed-off.

    I have been making the case for years that we need to have an extensive network of conventional trains before we even consider something at the level of TGV.  It's not politically "sexy".  It's grunt-level political work.  But it's necessary.  

    Take a look at this week's blog by energy and urban planning pundit James Howard Kunstler (author of "The Long Emergency") (kunster.com).  He's making the case that the U. S. is probably never going to have the financial means to build true HSR.  We've squandered our treasure buying cheap crap from the Chinese, and fighting wars to fill the coffers of defense contractors.  We currently have rail passenger service that would embarrass much of the Third World.

    Goodness knows that Amtrak has problems.  I used to work for them, on the front lines, in a contract position.  Yeah, that's right, I'm a union railroader, and not ashamed of that.  I've also fought for over 30 years for more and improved rail passenger service.  I may have left Amtrak, but I still believe it can effectively operate the nation's passenger trains.  It just can't do it if everyone there thinks it's going to end some September 30th.  You've got a bunch of people at headquarters constantly burnishing their resumes instead of thinking about what needs to be done long-term.  You've got management, labor, and rail-passenger advocates fighting over scraps from the budget instead of demanding a fair piece of the pie.  

    You want to improve the rail passenger situation in the U. S. somewhat, in a relatively short time-span?  Ask yourselves what it would take to do something that should be relatively simple.  What would it take to double the train frequency on every long-distance Amtrak route and make every train daily?  No need to build new stations, or rebuild existing freight routes.  One additional train per-day, about 12 hours apart from the existing service.  It would give every community served by Amtrak at least one daylight train.  It would improve utilization of the current infrastructure and reservation system.  

    So, how practical is this politically?  We'd have to basically double the long-distance equipment fleet, and on-board and T&E service rosters.  But it would result in infrastructure spending and productive jobs that create tangible things and services.  This should be something that can be sold.  It is just the kind of stimulus spending that the Obama Administration should be pursuing.  It's more than shovel-ready, it's long overdue.  But it most likely will never, ever happen.  Not in the current political climate.  And that is what makes the entire HSR debate look like an argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin - a pointless exercise in mental masturbation.  We can't even get the obvious stuff done.

  • Truthteller tells the truth on the creation of Amtrak.  I won't comment on the political portion of his comment, but I do note that there is no discussion or even recognition of the role economics plays in having or not having decent rail passenger service.  There are groups like the Cato Foundation, Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation, etc., that could be called libertarian.  They oppose government involvement in anything other than national defense (hyperbole on my part) and perhaps not even then.  They are loud.  Many members of Congress cannot even pronounce the word "economics."  They run scared at all times - scared that they might lose their cushy $160K jobs and all the perks that go with them.  Just where will the money come from to refleet Amtrak, pay the wages and benefits of the additional T&E people (sorry Truthteller) or cover the increased subsidy that would be required to double the service levels?  Just wondering.....

  • TT>"But it most likely will never, ever happen.  Not in the current political climate.  And that is what makes the entire HSR debate look like an argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin - a pointless exercise in mental masturbation.  We can't even get the obvious stuff done."

    I dunno.  The thing is, vague new plans are a politicians dream: when you don't know exactly what you are doing, accountability is difficult, and large amounts of money goes roaring out into the economy -very good for some people in the short term, and a lot of the electorate has about the memory of flea, and doesn't connect the later crash, when the bills are still coming in, but the promised return isn't- and it is very easy to spread the money around.

    LK>"Truthteller tells the truth on the creation of Amtrak."

    A minor cavil: even inside the Nixon administration, there were people who wanted  and expected some types of passenger rail to survive, and Amtrak's founding paid at least lip service to that.  I don't think the administration was entirely clear on exactly what it expected to happen, except that they expected passenger rail to shrink a hell of a lot, down to zero in parts, and they expected to pay as little as they could get away with in that process.  Bad compromises led to bad results.

  • Your minor cavil is valid, anmccaff.  Before it was Amtrak the vehicle for "saving" passenger rail service was Railpax, but wiser heads prevailed and the decision was made to find a name that would annoy people less.  Thus, Amtrak.  Right from the start, the idea was 1) to reduce necessary government subsidies as much as possible; and 2 through infinity, to make the problem go away.  The principal planners at DOT accepted that there were a few corridors where service would be justified even if subsidized.  NEC was the obvious one.  Detroit-Chicago was another, as was LA-SF and perhaps Seattle-Portland.  The idea was to run high density corridors and a very small number of long-haul trains that would cater, as one official said indiscreetly, to tghe blue-hairs and others who simply would not fly.  They almost got their wish.

  • Garl,

    Couldn't agree more.  

    I'd listened to European transportation officials and read about the Shinkansen in the 1970's; and they all made the point that HSR was an evolving imperative to supplement capacity and improve competitive position in existing traffic-saturated corridors.The TGV and later lines were planned to augment the existing national networks with high speed trunk lines that most often connected with the conventional speed network to reach dispersed destinations and intermediate points.  Even the once-segregated Shinkansen network has been extended in a like manner over mixed-service lines to reach outlying destinations.

    I was the lone voice for incremental expansion and improvement to support future HSR in the founding of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association in the 1980s.  The MHSRA vision that shaped the Illinois plan was to serve only cities and cut of existing rural community access in the quest for faster service with fewer stops.  A uniform program of improvement to 125 mph was adopted.  Smaller communities opposed increased impacts of noise and crossing closures without the compensating benefit of local service!  Cities where speeds were reduced for stops imposed a disproportional cost for grade separation for theoretical 125 mph speeds.  Interestingly, because it isn't discussed much, one of the greater HSR costs was for alternative private access - akin to the cost of frontage roads along an Interstate.