Where does everyone stand?

So question to everyone would be what are your feelings on HSR development in the US?  Do you think we should try to use existing rail lines to save money or should we build new ones to gain speed and efficiency?  Thanks.

12 Replies

  • This nation is long overdue for development of modern intercity rail passenger service. We should have started it before the Japanese did -- as U.S. railroads once proposed to do, until passsage of the Interstate Highway Act. That poorly conveived bit of legislation led to our seriously excessive reliance on highways and the functional disuntegration of alternative forms of surface transportation.  Private railroads shelved their service modernization plans until the Japanese retrived them in their desparate search for ways to upgrade their rail system to accommodate the mobility needs of  paricipants and spectators of the 1964 Olympics hat Japan hosted.

    The real question facing us now is not whether but how to modernize U.S. rail service.

    One of this nation's greatest impediments to creation of a modern national rail passenger service network has been the tunnel-visioned-all-new-or-nothing advocates, such as Ohio's Art Wilkowski in the 1970s to Joe Vranich today. Such folks either do not know or have chosen to ignore the history of high speed rail deveopment outside of Japan and Spain. Both nations are special cases, because  their conventional-speed rail networks were not standard guage. Thus they were required to build all new infrastructure to create high speed service. Theirs is not the model used throughout the rest of Europe or in China, and its not the model for successful U.S. HSR development.

    In France, the first new TGV HSR trackage was built to the southeast of Paris toward Lyon because the existing trackage was already congested beyond its effective capacity. Thereafter, new  trackage was added in manageable sections, evetntually all the way to the Medeterannean Coast. Other HSR routes were also added in sections, withe the new TGV trainsets operating over existing tracks between the HSR segments. This pattern continues today throughout France. A similar process is being used in Germany. Sweden has relied primarily on upgrading its previously existing rail network. And, the U.S. Interstate Highway network was developed in much the same way -- adding sections of new roadway connected to existing roads.

    In this country, we are faced with a seriously overloaded freight rail network that desparately needs capacity expansion just to maintain its current service level, including both freight and Amtrak's non-NEC trains. Thus the logical first steps toward a modern national rail service network must include elimination of existing bottle-necks, and restoration of tracks to abandoned but still intact rail rights-of-way. These initial investments will significantly improve service at manageable costs, and the resulting service improvement/expansion will raise the political visibility of rail service. With greater visibility comes greater citizen and legislative support for further service expansion and improvement, inevitably including some wholly new trackage, either adjacent to existing freight lines or on new rights-of-way.

    This evolutionary process is vital for successfull HSR development. It will demonstate in manageable, cost-effective steps the benefits of rail development, in particular the ever-shorter travel times between stations.

    Finally, however the U.S. modernizes its rail infrastructure, we need to keep in mind that (a) travel-time between stations, not maximum top speed, is the important measure of progress; and (b) each incremental increase in top speed beyond 125 mph comes at steeply rising cost for each mile-per-hour, and (c) each such top speed increment has an ever-decreasing impact on travel-time between stations.  The real key to reducing travel time is the ability to maintain whatever operating speed is adopted.

    For all the above reasons and more, MagLev is useless as a means of modernizing  U.S. rail service. Compared with steel-wheel-on-steel-rail,MagLev costs more per mile to build and operate; uses far more energy per mile at almost any speed, is as noisy or noiser that TGV, ICE, etc; cannot easily be connected  with other MagLev lines; and is functionally incompatible with this nation's existing  rail network. It is, in other words, a solution in search of a problem that does not currently exist.



  • In reply to J. Howard Harding:

    Mr. Hardiho, your post contains a number of opinions with which I disagree, however the one to which I will respond is your observation on Maglev.

    As a former Siemens employee, I know as much about the Transrapid maglev design as anybody, and I have ridden the system in Elmsland. The experience of being onboard as the TR8 accelerates steadily and strongly to 260 MPH can only be described as exhilarating. The complete absence of vibration at top speed is almost spooky.

    Your assessment of maglev as useless is simply your opinion, and it's my opinion that you are dead wrong.  Now, in response to your specific points ...

    • Cost per mile to build: this is obviously true, although we don't really know what the number is. The system in Shanghai did not answer this question. No advanced construction techniques (such as the Bechtel beam & bent system) have been studied, so the cost reduction of that kind of approach is unknown.
    • Energy per mile to operate: your statement is clearly untrue. The power needed to levitate is offset by the reduction in power required to provide linear motion. The maintenance cost is far lower with no rotating equipment, bearings, and wheel/rail interaction.
    • Noise: this statement is blatently untrue. There are a couple of locations at the Elmsland maglev test track where you can stand and watch the TR8 pass by at maximum speed, which is a thrill because the only noise you can hear is air resistance. 
    • "Cannot easily be connected with other maglev line": again, blatantly untrue. The Elmsland test facility has a number of switches that work just fine.
    • "Functionally incompatible with the rail network": you say that like it's a bad thing. Maglev is fully capable of 350+ MPH operation, so why would one even consider using it in an existing rail corridor, designed for 79 or 120 MPH?

    There is only one reason why maglev is not operating somewhere in the world, and that's because the Germans are the absolute worst sales and marketing people in the history of industry. "You will buy it because it is the best design" is not a winning sales strategy.

    With as many misrepresentations that you have provided on the maglev issue, one wonders about the veracity of the rest of your arguments. Your diatribe does not emphasize the most important aspect of a succesfull HSR system, which is station location, especially in airports and CBD's, to provide efficient interaction with the other high speed transport system (airlines). 

  • In reply to Dynamiter:

    The following excerpt from a much longer document responds to Dynamiter's Maglev comments far better than can I.

    Is there anything Maglev [TransRapid] can do better than Conventional high-speed trains ?

    By Reinhard Hanstein, graduate of business science

    When invented, railways represented a great leap in productivity, economy, speed and safety, compared to the then usual means of transport. In contrary to that, the often-claimed technical superiority of the German maglev Transrapid is not sound and cannot stand a clear-headed assessment under technical, economic, ecological and operational aspects.


    1         Pretended advantages of Transrapid:

    1.1      Lower energy consumption?

    When related to an equal seating layout, Transrapid’s energy consumption is not lower, but rather higher than the energy consumption of conventional high-speed trains. Due to the fixed amount of power needed for levitation and guidance, this disadvantage becomes particularly relevant at lower speeds like in short haul and local traffic.

    Sources that pretend Transrapid needed less energy than ICE are often based on the energy consumption figures per seat (or per passenger) while using different seating layouts. No question that such "apples-vs. -Oranges"-comparisons are not useful or even sincere.

    The following comparison[1] uses a scale that is independent from seating layout: the secondary energy consumption in watt-hours per square meter basal surface on the train, related to one kilometer.

    Velocity [km/h]

    ICE 3

















    Conventional high-speed trains which are lighter than the ICE 3 (like the Japanese Shinkansen class 300X) should make the energy figures look even better in favour of wheel/rail technology. While ICE 3 weighs 2,0 tons per meter [2], Shinkansen 300X reaches 1,4 t/m [4].

    The omission of mechanic friction with Transrapid does not mean less energy consumption. For levitation alone, it needs as much energy as ICE needs for going 120 km/h Devil. [emphasis added]

    Moreover, Transrapid does have an equivalent for mechanic friction: The magnetic friction between vehicle and guideway due to eddy currents is much higher than the sum of all mechanic friction (wheel/rail, gears, motors) of conventional trains. Additional drag is caused by Transrapid’s linear generator (inductive pickup) that produces the electricity primarily needed for levitation and guidance. Altogether, its maglev-specific drag is about 5 times higher than the railway-related mechanic drag [12].

    1.2     Higher speed?

    The world record in speed accomplished by the French TGV (515 km/h) has not been beat by Transrapid. There is hardly any more „speed gap“ between advanced railways and maglevs. Both cover a similar average speed range.

    Speed increases gradually lose their effect: Example: If a 100 km long line is upgraded, so the trains can go 50 km/h faster, the time-saving-effect decreases as follows:

    ·                     Speed increased from 150 to 200 km/h: 10 minutes gained,

    ·                     Speed increased from 250 to 300 km/h: 4 minutes gained,

    ·                     Speed increased from 350 to 400 km/h: 2 minutes gained.

    ·                     Speed increased from 450 to 500 km/h: 1 minute gained.

    Upgrading a railway line from 160 to 200 km/h has a greater timesaving effect (8 minutes) than installing a 430 km/h-maglev instead of a 300 km/h-ICE (6 minutes).
    This upgrading was withheld from the Hamburg - Berlin railway line for a long time, so it wouldn’t compete with Transrapid. Obviously, Transrapid needed to be protected from competition! Now that Transrapid has failed on this relation, the railway line is about to be upgraded for ICE service.

    Conventional railway technology is fast enough to compete with short haul air travel. On the new German high-speed railway line Cologne - Frankfurt (which is acutely under construction), 300 km/h fast ICE3-trains will take about 40 minutes to go from Frankfurt Airport to Cologne Airport [26]. Planes need 40 minutes, too.

    The fact that an 800 km/h fast jet plane on a roughly 200 km nonstop flight only makes about 250 km/h average speed shows how little top speeds contribute to cutting traveling time on short distances. A maglev with 400-500 km/h that stops every 50 to 100 km (like ICE trains do in polycentric, densely populated Germany) would hardly be able to significantly improve traveling time.

    The conventional railway high-speed train Shinkansen 300 on the Tokyo - Fukuoka/Hakata line makes an average speed (including all stops) of 233 km/h while going „only“ 270 km/h top speed [31]. Failed Transrapid Hamburg - Berlin was supposed to reach an average of 285-295 km/h - with 430-km/h top speed [32].

    Transrapid’s speed peaks may be impressive at first glance, but lead to a disappointingly small advantage in traveling time. Compared to 270 km/h Shinkansen, it’s only 5 minutes per 100 km. The price for this insignificant time saving effect is that the energy consumption caused by aerodynamic drag more than doubles.

    With raising speed, Transrapid and railways have to face the problem that yields benefits (like shorter traveling time) decrease while yield costs (aerodynamic drag, energy consumption, wear) increase.

    Air density on ground level is 5 times higher than in high altitudes Devil, aerodynamic drag increases by square [3]. That means that velocities above 300 km/h for land transport are not worth aspiring to.


  • In reply to J. Howard Harding:

    Dear Hardiho:

    Frankly, you don't get it.

    You send me a set of technical specs that fundamentally agree with my previous statements. And then again, you don't even understand that I already said Maglev was as dead as a doornail, especially thanks to the marketing "prowess" of the Germans, especially Manfred Wackers. So give it a rest man.

    Then, you committ the FUNDEMENTAL mistake of all glassy eyed rail freaks (aka GERFS). You boil the marketing appeal of HSR down to a group of technical stats that the public DOES NOT CARE ABOUT.

    THE THREE C's: COST - COMFORT - CONVENIENCE. That is the real formula, not some stupid analysis of how much energy costs vs a 10 minute advantage. It is MORE IMPORTANT that any HSR system (1) interacts seamlessly with the airline system, (2) serves the CBD's of the major metroploitan areas, and (3) has a marketing capability that responds to needs and changes of the populace (namely comfort, convenience of access and mobility, and that pesky cost thing). THAT is what is important, sir.

    Case in point - CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL. This Authority is headed up by (1) the moron that gave us the $1.75 BILLION BART extension to SFO that carries NOBODY. Also on the Board is (2) the moron that gave us San Jose Light Rail, consistently the WORST LRV System from a cost-per-rider standpoint. Third (3) on the list is the moron Mehdi Morshed, a career politician who consistently lies to the State Senate Transportation Committee and who has never built any system anywhere, and (4) Anthony Daniels, a Parsons Brinkerhoff executive who has successfully milked over $65 MILLION from California, and does not even have a credible EIR to show for it. (Can you spell BIG DIG?)

    THIS is what HSR is all about - namely keeping the corrupt politicians out of the decision process. Unless you can accomplish that, your energy $ per minute saved does not mean doodly squat. In California, this project has been ground to a halt by the uprising of regular citizens who have FINALLY figured out that corrupt politicians are trying to ram a mis-aligned system down their throats for personal gain. (SEE New York Times: I-5 City) This may set the program back a couple of years, but it is better to have a system that works and serves the people, than a one-time shot that makes certain people rich and results in a system that serves nobody and discourages future expansions and other systems.

    Get with the program, HARDIHO.

  • In reply to Dynamiter:

    It is my understanding that contributors to this forum are to focus on issues, not personalities. Thus, I have limited my remarks to technical issues critical to reaching good public policy decisions -- not on either marketing or personalities -- and shall continue to do so.  In contrast, Dynamiter appears to be more concerned with matters other than substantive issues, while producing self-contradictory comments.

    Rather than attempt to address each point raised in Dynamiter's latest submission, may I suggest that he and interested readers simply carefully re-read all of the comments each of us has submitted and reach your own conclusions. Then perhaps those of us who continue to comment on the issue of U.S. high speed rail development can return to the substance of the discussion.

    Hardiho -- retired transportation planner; 32 years experience.


  • In reply to J. Howard Harding:

    Oh I see. It is perfectly acceptable for you to bash Art Wilkowski and Joe Vranich in your original post, but now you want to take the "issues, not personalities" high ground. You refer to these gentlemen as "tunnel-visioned-all-new-or-nothing advocates", [sic] "ignorant of the history of high speed rail", but now that I have confronted your arrogant pedantic view of the issues, you don't want to play in that sandbox anymore.

    My very edgy responses to you are for 2 reasons: (1) Joe Vranich is a friend of mine, and I take major umbrage at your denegration of him. Have the guts to send him a copy of your message if you are going to criticize him online. And (2), I disagree with the majority of your positions, and since the latest Midwest HSR study has been released (i.e. recommending 220 mph between Chicago and St. Louis), apparently many others disagree with you as well.

    Your assertion that politics are not "substantive" is absurd. The technical issues with which you wrap yourself like a comfort blanket mean nothing if you can't fight your way through the bloodbath of politics, especially when the entire alignment of the California system has been changed for personal gain. Don't believe me? Look for the judge's ruling within 2 weeks from Superior Court in Sacramento regarding the viablity of the CA HSRA EIR.



  • In reply to Dynamiter:

    I have no desire or intention to continue this exchange with Dynamiter. I joined this forum to discuss substantive issues related to U.S. HSR development and would be happy to continue such discusssion with anyone who shares recognition that each of us may have differing perspectives on this subject.

  • In reply to Dynamiter:

    July 14, 2009

    5:34:23 P.M.


    State outlines high-speed passenger rail plans

    July 14, 2009 11:19 AM |


    Express passenger trains traveling at top speeds of 220 m.p.h. between Chicago and St. Louis are included in Illinois' preliminary application for federal funding to build high-speed passenger rail corridors.

    Under the proposal to conduct a feasibility study, the trip would take two hours and possibly include stops in Champaign, Decatur and Springfield, according to the pre-application the state submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration.


    But the top priority is to first gear up to 110 m.p.h. service on three routes: Chicago and St. Louis; Chicago and Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.; and Chicago and Detroit, the Illinois Department of Transportation said.

    "Our goal for these routes is frequent, reliable trips on brand new train sets," IDOT said.

    The total cost, including projects to reduce freight rail congestion in the Chicago area, is estimated at $3.8 billion.

    Illinois is competing for a share of $8 billion in start-up funding that the Obama administration has allocated to develop high-speed rail across the U.S.

    A second tier of proposed high-speed rail routes that IDOT included in the pre-application are Chicago to Rockford and Dubuque; Chicago to the Quad Cities; Chicago to Moline and Iowa City; and building additional capacity between Chicago and Galesburg.

    Full applications are due by Oct. 2 for funding to help the states develop the high-speed corridors.

    But the next deadline is Aug. 24 for states seeking economic stimulus grants to begin shovel-ready projects. Some work on the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor qualifies, officials said.

  • Hello,

    I just read through the email chain and found it interesting to note the two approaches to the question: one side appears to be very quantitative, i.e. technical and data-oriented in nature (perhaps an engineer?) while the other is more qualitative, taking into consideration the feelings and needs of the end-users (perhaps a marketer?). Of course both sides are absolutely to be considered and weighed when making a choice.

    With that said, what is the answer to the question?? Taking into account both sides of the equation and the trade-offs that will most certainly exist between them, as well as the ultimate goal, which is presumably to provide the public with an efficient rail network and to provide the rail network with sustainable income, what is the optimum (long term) package?


  • In reply to nfenyo:

    I am the engineer (ME) AND the marketing guy. He is the planner.

  • In reply to J. Howard Harding:

    J. Howard Harding

    This nation is long overdue for development of modern intercity rail passenger service. We should have started it before the Japanese did -- as U.S. railroads once proposed to do, until passsage of the Interstate Highway Act. That poorly conveived bit of legislation led to our seriously excessive reliance on highways and the functional disuntegration of alternative forms of surface transportation.  Private railroads shelved their service modernization plans until the Japanese retrived them in their desparate search for ways to upgrade their rail system to accommodate the mobility needs of  paricipants and spectators of the 1964 Olympics hat Japan hosted.  

    A little more background on Japanese HSR development.

    A good background read is Peter Semmens' book "High Speed in Japan"

    A high speed line replacing the Cape Gauge Tokaido line was originally proposed in the 1930s - in fact work was started and, for some reason(!) abandoned in early December 1941.

    By the early 1950s the Tokaido Line was the busiest double track railway in the world and improvement was imperative. The decision was made to go for a replacement high speed passenger railway with the Olympic Games having little to do with it.

    Tony Bailey

  • We had high speed rail when the private railroads ran passenger service in the 50's and 60's . We must replace the infrastructure that was removed by the railroads because of tax burdens and the governments' subsidies to roads and air . This will include banking curves for high speeds , crossing improvements and expanded track capacity for both freight and passenger.  The "bullet" train" concept is not needed . Frequent reliable conventional service with incremental improvements is all that is needed. North Carolina has proved that with their "Piedmont" service .

    Example: Florida should reinstate service such as the "Silver Palm" that operated as a 403B train from 1982 to 1985 between Tampa & Miami. Even the Florida Fun Train carried locals between Tampa & Orlando .   

    Proper allocation of liablity and operational reliability  of the freight and passenger operators should be negotiated to the satisfaction of each entity.

    Government subsidies for all modes should be eliminated, but until then Amtrak should not be held to a litmus test that other modes are not subjected to and should be funded equitably. Example would be the government mandated PTC . PTC should receive dollar for dollar investment equal to commercial air traffic control systems . 

    All employees should be contributors to the Railroad Retirement System . 

    Lastly these rail projects should be mandated to get the "best bang for the buck" . More jobs will be created, but that should NEVER be the reason for these projects .  




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