Box 1-1 - High-Speed Rail Corridor Status

Box 1-1 - High-Speed Rail Corridor Status

In recent years, high-speed rail (HSR) service for intercity passengers has experienced renewed interest. Several parts of the country have produced HSR plans and some corridors are undertaking development activities (see map below). Section 1010 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 authorized funding for elimination of grade-crossing hazards in designated HSR corridors. The provision was continued in Section 104(c) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) of 1998.

Northeast and Empire Corridors

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) handles approximately half of Amtrak’s intercity passengers. Amtrak plans high-speed passenger service along the entire NEC between Washington, DC, and Boston. Its goal is to reduce travel times to 3 hours between New York City and Boston and 2 1/2 hours between Washington, DC, and New York City. When an overhead electric power supply system, known as a catenary, between New Haven, Connecticut, and Boston is completed in 2000, all 456 miles of the NEC will be electrified. Other infrastructure investments needed to meet the trip-time goals include additional tracks to separate high-speed intercity trains from slower commuter operations, straightening curves within the boundaries of existing rights-of-way, and modernization of train control systems. Amtrak plans to place 20 high-speed (up to 150 miles per hour—mph) all-electric trainsets in service along the NEC by the end of 2000.

TEA-21 designated the “Empire Corridor” from New York to Albany and on to Buffalo as a high-speed corridor under Section 1103(c). In late 1998, Amtrak officials and New York’s Governor announced a 5-year, $185 million plan to upgrade the New York City/Albany/Buffalo line and rebuild trains used on the route. Travel times for the 141-mile New York City-Albany trip could be reduced to under 2 hours. A second track will be built between Albany and Schenectady, and the track between Albany and Buffalo will be upgraded, cutting as much as 1 hour off the 7 1/2-hour trip between New York City and Buffalo.

California Corridor

California has spent or committed nearly $800 million to upgrade the San Francisco-Oakland-Sacramento-Los Angeles-San Diego Corridor, near which 90 percent of the state’s population lives. This HSR corridor contains approximately 600 at-grade crossings. The state has received $5.7 million in federal funds to close redundant crossings and upgrade the corridor’s other public and private crossings. Amtrak plans to acquire eight trainsets to be used in Amtrak’s San Diegan service from San Diego to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.

California’s High Speed Rail Authority is preparing a state plan for HSR for the Governor and the legislature. Its predecessor, the California Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission, had recommended two options for a 676-mile statewide HSR network. One would cost $23.3 billion, the other (a magnetic levitation system) $31.6 billion—public works projects on a scale with California’s freeway system. In February 1999, the Authority decided on a less ambitious HSR plan. It proposed a very high-speed (186 mph) grade-separated service only from Los Angeles to San Francisco. San Diego, Sacramento, and other system routes would be served by a high-speed feeder network operating at 100 mph.

Pacific Northwest Corridor (Cascadia)

The Pacific Northwest Corridor extends from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, British Columbia. Washington State’s Department of Transportation and Amtrak have purchased four high-speed trainsets, which are now operating in the corridor.

Chicago Hub Network

• Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. In August 1998, nine midwestern states released an HSR corridor study. The study found that, by upgrading routes now in place and using diesel multiple unit power, speeds of up to 110 mph could be achieved at a cost of about $3.5 billion to upgrade the tracks and signals and to purchase equipment. The plan would take about six years to implement. The plan has a positive benefit to cost and operating ratio. The states are seeking funding to continue work on HSR.

• Detroit-Chicago Segment. Michigan is demonstrating an advanced communications-based train control system on an 80-mile section of the Detroit-Chicago corridor. The system ensures safe distances between trains operating at speeds of up to 100 mph. (See box 1-3 later in the chapter for details.)

• St. Louis-Chicago Segment. Six miles of Union Pacific track are being rehabilitated to provide a less congested alternative route across the Mississippi River into St. Louis. Amtrak trains would be rerouted to achieve more direct access to the St. Louis terminal and to reduce mixing of freight and passenger traffic. The current travel time would be reduced by more than 20 minutes and on-time performance would be improved.

Southeast Corridor

In late 1998, the Southeast Corridor partnership between North Carolina and Virginia was expanded to include South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The intention of the new partnership is to develop an HSR corridor connecting Charlotte, Raleigh, and Richmond with the high-speed Northeast Corridor (beginning in Washington, DC), as well as major travel markets of the Southeast. It could cost $1.1 billion to upgrade the entire corridor from Charlotte to Washington.

Another candidate for HSR service is the Richmond to Tidewater area of Virginia. The Virginia Major Investment Study recommends that the rail corridor be double-tracked with track and signal improvements to allow train speeds up to 110 mph, with 8 roundtrips per day, and 3 new train stations. These improvements could cost $256 million and would be part of a larger package of transportation corridor improvements (including a third highway lane and interchange and other highway improvements) that would cost an estimated $1.34 billion).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration.