High-Speed Rail

Report: High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers

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Report: High Speed Rail in America

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A Phasing Plan for High-Speed Rail

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Report: Where High-Speed Rail Works Best

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Recent Entries

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.

The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.

In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of an Acela Express train optimization program which, along with other NEC Now projects, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.

Download RPA's NEC Now Legislative Proposal & Infrastructure Program.

Download Bob Yaro's testimony as prepared.

The independent, nonpartisan, federal watchdog agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), gave the California high-speed rail project passing marks in an audit released last Friday. The report found that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has produced "reasonable" ridership and revenue forecasts in its Revised 2012 Business Plan, while also pointing out that the project's cost estimates could be improved and that future funding for the project remains uncertain. Jeff Morales, CEO of the Authority, called the GAO's report, "an important validation from a highly respected government watchdog." "This is a very good, very strong, report card." Dan Richard, board chairman of the Authority said. "It's not straight A's, but we will aspire to improve in the areas where the GAO tells us we can do much better."

The Authority's business plan forecast that annual ridership will grow to between 16 million and 27 million by 2030, depending on various future conditions, such as the price of fuel. The plan's high ridership scenario assumes a fuel price of $6.11 and the low scenario assumes a price of $2.60 in 2030. Fares for high-speed rail are assumed to be 83% of San Francisco-Los Angeles airfare in 2009. The plan also projected that the high-speed rail system would generate annual revenues of between $1 billion and $1.8 billion in 2030 and proved that no public operating subsidies will be required under any scenario.

Read the GAO report.

The Federal Railroad Administration is currently managing a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future levels of investment in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) through 2040. This effort, launched in February 2012, called NEC FUTURE, will produce a Service Development Plan that articulates the overall scope, alternatives and approach for proposed improvements, and a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates and identifies ways to address broad, corridor-wide environmental impacts due to these improvements. This process is a federally-required step before major construction to overhaul the corridor's aging, unreliable, and congested infrastructure can begin.

But, before the FRA could analyze the impacts of the multitude of visions for improved NEC rail service, first it needed to narrow down the alternative visions to a reasonable number by weeding out the alternatives that are clearly inferior to others. So far, they've winnowed the list down to 15 alternative visions. Earlier this week, the FRA published its new "Preliminary Alternatives" report, which contains descriptions of these 15 different visions of the NEC, ranging from mundane to ambitious. The FRA hopes to carry around 8 or 9 alternatives forward to the Tier 1 EIS process to be weighed against the "no action" alternative (essentially doing the bare minimum to keep the corridor operating safely). The FRA's goal is to have established a final preferred alternative by mid-2015.

Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Record of Decision for one of the initial construction segments of the California High-Speed Rail Project, between Merced and Fresno in the Central Valley. This approval was the last major hurdle before construction can begin, which is now on target to break ground in 2013. Completion of the project's initial operating segment is slated for 2021.

Construction phasing for this project is complicated. The initial operating segment, 130 miles between Merced and Bakersfield, is comprised of four construction phases, two of which are between Merced and Fresno. These two construction phases are what are now cleared for construction. This work will entail constructing the spine, of what will ultimately be the statewide high-speed rail system, linking San Francisco and Los Angeles through the Central Valley in under two hours.

Amtrak Breaks Ridership Record

Amtrak recently announced that the railroad broke their all-time annual ridership record for the ninth time in 10 years in fiscal year 2012, carrying 31.2 million passengers, surpassing the previous record, set last year, by one million trips. More people rode Amtrak trains in July 2012 than during any other month in the company's history. Since 2000, Amtrak ridership has grown by nearly 50%, as people seek out alternatives to highway traffic congestion, and hassles and delays at airports. However, these are not the only milestones that Amtrak has achieved of late.

In the most recent edition of the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association's publication, The Urbanist, two articles strengthen the already solid case for high-speed rail in California. The articles were written initially for an America 2050 research seminar sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Regional Plan Association this spring. Not only can the state afford to fund the project, argues SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan in "Getting High-Speed Rail On Track," but two of the state's most influential industries - the Hollywood media and entertainment industry and Silicon Valley technology sector - would be knit more tightly than ever before by a high-speed rail system that would realize "the economic potential of enhanced access and exchange across the state," a benefit discussed detailed in Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf's "Hollywood Vs. Silicon Valley."

linc-pfr rail skyscrapers Japan is-16069974.jpg

A much cited essay by the UCLA Anderson Forecast, which concludes that the high-speed rail corridor connecting Tokyo and Osaka did not generate discernible economic benefits to the region it serves, from its opening in 1964 to 1990, is flawed. Based on the findings, the study's authors argue that California's high-speed rail system will not generate the significant economic benefits that the California High Speed Rail Authority's business plan predicts. However, the methodology adopted in the Anderson study is questionable and the comparability of Japan in the 1960s to California in the future is doubtful.

Read Regional Plan Association's critique of Anderson Forecast.

A recent survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that a majority of people surveyed would be willing to choose high-speed rail over air or car travel if it were available. These results come at a time when the opportunity to expand mobility in the nation through investing in high-speed rail systems has never been greater, and confirms that many Americans understand the potential benefits and convenience of fast intercity train travel.