Passenger Rail and Freight Rail Are Friends, Not Enemies

Feb 17th, 2013 | Posted by

When I first saw this NPR story titled High-Speed Rail Buzz Overpowers Daily Chug Of Freight Trains I thought it would be a reasonable look at the challenges that come in certain high speed rail projects that intend to share tracks. But that’s not what this is about:

But these new projects could conflict with the freight systems that go largely undetected for many Americans.

As it stands now, Amtrak pays private companies in the center of the country to run its low-speed passenger trains on freight-rail tracks. But high-speed trains would need their own tracks, depriving the freight-rail system of some of that revenue.

How to build a high-speed system without hurting the freight industry is a problem that has not yet been solved, says professor Christopher Barkan, director of the RailTEC center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Huh? Freight rail will be gutted because passenger trains will run on their own tracks and deprive freight rail companies of precious revenue? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

During FY 2010, the most recent year I could find stats for, Amtrak paid $135 million in track access fees to freight railroads, representing about 6.6% of Amtrak’s total operating costs that year.

In FY 2010 the operating revenues for Union Pacific were $4.981 billion. For BNSF the operating revenue in FY 2010 was $4.5 billion, for CSX the FY 2010 operating revenue was $2.8 billion for Norfolk Southern the FY 2010 railway operating revenue was $2.67 billion, for Canadian Pacific the FY 2010 revenue was C$5.0 billion and FY 2010 revenue for CN was C$8.297 billion. Treating the Canadian numbers at rough parity with USD, that gets a grand total of $28.248 billion in FY 2010 operating revenue for the major freight railroads Amtrak pays. It took me a total of 10 minutes to research those numbers.

So Amtrak’s $135 million payments that year reflect 0.48% of annual revenue for those freight rail companies.

And we’re supposed to believe that if that money went away, it’s some mortal threat to the future of freight rail in America? How absurd! Especially since, at least for the time being, most high speed rail plans in America do not envision dedicated passenger rail tracks, meaning that 0.48% of revenue will not be going anywhere anytime soon – except perhaps upward.

The rest of the NPR story is quotes from people waxing rhapsodic about the economic and cultural value of freight rail. And I am in full and complete agreement about that. America needs to shift toward using electrified freight rail for as many of its freight hauling needs as possible, just as we did until the 1980s (well, it wasn’t electrified then). It’s better for the environment and by using electric locomotion it can be better for the businesses who depend on freight rail since the price will not be dependent on an ever-rising cost of oil.

Further, separate high speed rail tracks mean that there’s more room for freight rail to grow. As I said above, there is a genuine issue in terms of capacity when passenger and freight share tracks. It can work as an interim measure, but the best solution for everyone is for passenger rail and freight rail to have their own tracks, allowing both to expand capacity over the coming decades as demand for electric rail rises.

I strongly support further federal investment in all forms of passenger rail – and I also strongly support further federal investment in all forms of freight rail. NPR here implies that there’s only so much money to go around, which just isn’t true. There’s plenty of money to invest in both kinds of rail.

Unfortunately, the folks NPR interviewed are colored by some basic factual errors when it comes to high speed rail:

In addition, political opponents of the president’s vision say America is just too spread out, too large and diffusely populated for high-speed economics to work.

“The population densities in countries where it has worked are different than in the U.S.,” says RailTEC’s Barkan. “Well, that’s definitely true out in the West, where you have vast swathes of land with very little population.”

Actually, California’s population densities and the distances between metro areas are very similar to both France and Spain. The notion that California is somehow less dense is just not true. Barkan acknowledges that the Midwest’s densities and distances resemble France as well, so he appears to have some possibility of being brought around to reason, which is nice.

But that doesn’t redeem this article, which makes some crazy assumptions not supported by the evidence. Passenger rail and freight rail are both important to the transportation future of this country, and both should be supported, rather than artificially and unjustifiably pitted against each other.

  1. Alon Levy
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 21:14

    Well, those legacy-track 110 mph corridors might be bad for freight rail if the extra track access charges don’t cover the full cost to the freight railroads of restructuring their operations around the needs of modern passenger rail (e.g. punctuality).

    This is especially important when asking what kinds of freight rail does and should run. Right now, American freight rail focuses on low-cost haulage of low-value goods. There are some higher-value intermodal trains, but the rail share of freight ton-km in the US is 37% while the share of total value of goods is 4%. From the perspective of the environment, this is perfect: a ton-km causes the same environmental damage regardless of whether it’s a ton of jewelry or a ton of iron ore, so it makes sense to have the lowest-footprint modes of transportation carry the bulkiest goods regardless of value.

    However, from the perspective of the freight carriers’ bottom line, higher-value traffic is more profitable, given enough investment to make rail competitive with trucking. If 110 mph legacy-rail investments make it too hard to run low-value freight at low cost, the freight carriers may find it more profitable to become more European and carry higher-value goods at higher cost. If the low-value goods end up going by truck, this is a net environmental negative.

    On the third hand, those low-value goods sometimes can’t be carried profitably by trucks at all due to their high fuel consumption. If coal specifically becomes too expensive to carry, then this is a net good again because the higher cost of coal would cause consumers to burn less of it, which is a far more important environmental cause than freight transportation.

    Andy M Reply:

    European railroads are not really carrying high value goods to any significant extent. The situation there is rather the opposite to that in the USA, with passenger operations being prioritized on most lines, and freight trains often being held back to allow passenger trains to overtake, or being relegated to operate at night. Average customer to customer speeds are thus pretty low. That makes competitive operations at the high-value end of the market difficult. There have been experiments with freight trains running at passenger speeds (or even high-speed freight such as SNCF’s postal TGV service) but these are more exceptions than rules, often benefitting from very special market situations (such as single customers with singular requirements) and cannot be multiplied at will.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The country to look at when trying to figure out how to integrate frequent passenger service and intensive freight service is Russia, which does so successfully.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Sure, but that wasn’t what the NPR story focused on – it looked at dedicated HSR tracks. It’s ridiculous.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Thats exactly what we should be doing.. building dedicated HSR lines for a true HSR 180mph..not 1950s speeds with railroads that wanted even back then to remove passenger service..alot of big roads had extra tracks back then..which passenger trains ran there least get back to that level in the smaller HSR markets and new 180mph plus right of ways in the big ones…The US media treats HSR as if we are building a warp drive spaceship to Alpha Centauri

    BMF from San Diego Reply:


    Freight and frequent/fast passenger rail are incompatible.

    thatbruce Reply:

    The way the US handles non-timetabled or ad-hoc freight makes it incompatible with frequent passenger services. Other countries seem to make it work.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Particularly Russia.

    Jim Reply:

    At some point, once people panic sufficiently about climate change, the burning of coal is going to get banned. If and when that happens, the US freights are going to be in a world of hurt. It’s not going to happen this year, of course, nor, probably, in the next decade. But if one’s planning horizon extends to 2030 or 2040, the possibility needs to be borne in mind.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It’s true that coal is something like a quarter of the carloads for the Class Is, and nearly a quarter of the revenues for some of them, but it’s been continuously declining while intermodal traffic has been continuously increasing. The execs *do* mostly recognize this. (There’s stuff they don’t recognize, but *this* they are planning for.)

    John Burrows Reply:

    From what I’ve read coal makes up around 43% of the rail freight in the US by weight. And while we are using less coal, China may take up much of the slack. Within 10 years around 170 million tons per year could be shipped by rail from open pit mines mostly in Wyoming to West Coast ports (Possibly 60 coal trains per day into ports on the Puget Sound).

    Of course in the next 20 or 30 years the one billion plus Chinese city dwellers may decide that good breathing is an important part of life and even China may start cutting back on coal.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Last year we took the California Zephyr from Oakland to Chicago. We were delayed from crossing the Mississippi River at Burlington because of heavy freight traffic which appeared to be almost all coal cars. Before that trip, I had never been on a train east of Reno and had never even seen a coal car.

    As far as banning the burning of coal goes—I wonder what the possibilities are of ever developing something approaching “clean coal” My guess is that “clean coal” may be in the same category as fusion power.

    Getting back to our train trip—If there had been no coal cars, we would have been in Chicago quite a bit sooner.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Before that trip, I had never been on a train east of Reno and had never even seen a coal car.”

    That sounds strange to me; I’ve been around coal trains ever since forever! But then, I’m from West Virginia, so that’s pretty natural here.

    What was your impression of such a train? I would think it would stand out for its uniformity and its great length.

    I’m a steam fan, but too young to have seen the real show.

    Passenger trains weren’t always incompatible with coal drags:

    Have fun.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Clean coal isn’t. It’s just lipstick on a pig, only this pig is drowning large fractions of the world’s population. It’s a matter of simple chemistry that the burning of coal produces CO2 emissions; clean coal does is about reducing the amount of air pollution coming out of coal smokestacks, which is also a major problem but is not going to lead to the end of civilization.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    IF dirty coal had managed to kill off the forests of Ontario and Quebec, which was a scenario presented in the 70s, maybe it would have ended civilization. Destabilized North Atlantic enough to make Greenland melt kinda thing. Though I don’t think that or climate change will end civilization. Just make for a very very very rough time for a few decades while we adjust to the new equilibrium.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The forests of Ontario and Quebec aren’t that important for global climate. In high latitudes, the albedo effect fully counteracts the carbon sequester effect. (In particular, if someone tells you that tree planting can reduce global warming, ask them what tropical country they intend to pursue it in; that’s the only environment in which the effect is significant.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There was a large-ish forest fire in Quebec. We could smell it in New Jersey. If the wind had been right it would have dropped ash on Greenland. Burn down the forests of Ontario and Quebec, Ontario and Quebec are whiter in the winter, because the trees are gone and darker in the summer odd things could happen.

    joe Reply:


    jimsf Reply:

    who is drowning? how slow do they walk?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Doesn’t matter how fast you can walk when a large fraction of the arable land in your agrarian country is under water.

    jimsf Reply:

    ok so the ag land is slowly being ruined. that I get. So don’t say people are drowning cuz that isn’t true and sounds like left wing kookiness.

    If these countries need help with infrastructure solutions, that help will come because there will be money to be made. Just like our own country as well as others, will have to use infrastructure solutions to varying extents to combat sea level rise.
    If you expect americans to adjust their lifestyles, you also have to expect these other countries to accept that they need to alter their agrarian lifestyles and even re organize and re locate.

    With or without human influence, the earth goes through changes and evolution and adaptation is necessary.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No. In the Central Valley, farmers choose to sell land to developers, and this means ag land is lost to sprawl. In Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc., farmers are soon going to see their land disappear – they’ll get no compensation, and have to move long distances. The relationship between the two trends is the same as the relationship between voluntary immigration and ethnic cleansing.

    And the GDP differential between the US and Bangladesh is about the same as the income differential between you and someone making a million dollars a year. Try to think how you’d react if someone making that amount of money said he’d be okay with paying a few percent extra money in taxes if you gave up your health and retirement benefits and took a pay cut. Especially if it’s in response to a crisis that was wholly the millionaire’s actions rather than yours.

    jimsf Reply:

    uh thats already on the verge of happening. And there is nothing I can do about it.

    jimsf Reply:

    of course I will be less likely to lose benefits if the US has a good economy and a robust jobs market, and energy means jobs. That why I support the pipeline. More good paying jobs to help keep wages up. The more jobs, the harder for companies to get employees, the more wages and benefits they must offer to get people.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    For you, North American energy means jobs. For people who make 1/30th what you make, it means destruction of their habitat.

    jimsf Reply:


    jimsf Reply:

    I support the pipeline. I also am in favor of nuclear power ( I live 8 miles from diablo canyon) and I also support what should be a massive effort to bring solar and wind to its full potential in california. The only thing I don’t support along energy lines is drilling off the coast of california. that is off limits.
    I also support whatever it takes to get hsr off the ground because it will have short and long term benefits to the ca economy.
    I don’t want any redwoods cut down either. But i do su.pport covering the entire mojave desert with solar panels.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Alon: “Higher value traffic is more profitable”. Nonsense. Higher value traffic is highly competitive with truck and air, and would require huge investment by the railroads. The US railroads pay for their own track and would not see any return on such an investment. Furthermore high value goods move in much smaller quantities. US railroads are profitable from moving large volumes of low value commodities in near monopoly conditions for which they can command high rates.
    The only way Mr. Barken may be correct in his observation is that IF HSR results in non Amtrak operation of more passenger service anda reduction in Amtrak employment the common carrier railroads will have to bear more of the burden of Railroad Retirement. A big IF.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Well put. The freight railroads thrive on commodities and chemicals such as low-sulfur coal, bulk grains, anhydrous ammonia, etc.

    But if you force up the cost of rail shipment you risk such alternatives as coal slurry pipelines.

    Andy M Reply:

    some of the boxes on intermodals may contain high-value goods, or at least intermediate value goods. And it appears the railroads are able to handle those profitably.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Fastest growing railroad traffic by volume, and fastest growing profit margins of any traffic type. (Trucks are getting less and less competitive due to gasoline & diesel prices; for intermodal traffic, rail simply needs to charge a little bit less than trucks.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Go to You Tube and search for

    “UPS train”
    or “Juice train” I like this one

    or “railex”

    The Penn Central went bankrupt in 1971, things have changed since then.

  2. swing hanger
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 21:20

    Are so-called “experts” in American universities even to be trusted to say anything authoritative on high speed rail or modern (i.e. outside N. America) passenger rail operation in general??

    Jo Reply:

    Apparently not. Modern high speed rail which is so common place in other countries is so misunderstood in this country that even so called experts also misunderstand it. Is it because it is a foreign technology that we do not possess – thereby we knock it? I think this country even misunderstands regular electrified rail. Even respected news organizations like NPR fall into the trap.

    Jo Reply:

    If the RailTec Center at the University of Illinois – Urbana is claiming that HSR running on its own tracks will hurt the freight railroads, then his department should research ways and systems which would allow freight railroad companies and HSR systems to exist together, and in ways that both freight and HSR could benefit and thrive. Is this not what universities are for? I would hope that this is what they are doing.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    Swing hanger, you’re totally right. We should just rely on commenters on this blog for all expert opinion on rail in North America. The multitudes, unburdened by either a PhD or experience running rail in countries with high speed operations are surely better than someone with only a PhD.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What renders “expert opinion” unreliable is direct political intervention. From time to time your highly placed and highly compensated “experts” are forced to recant – in a fashion reminiscent of Galileo – so as to make them a rubber stamp for the scheme-scam du jour.

    I am thinking, for instance, of MTC being compelled by the City to withdraw its extremely critical cost-benefit ratio evaluation of the TBT Tunnel.

    Or I am referring to PB’s hopelessly politicized drivel and general chicanery over the mountain crossing issue.

    So no need to call upon either the “experts” or the “multitudes”. All you need and effectively all you have is the decision of the ward bosses.

    joe Reply:

    No. Authoritative commentary doesn’t cut it.
    Experts are “experts” because they can drawn on and give the cardinal facts and relationships.

    FWIW I looked to see some of hsi work and find this apparent contradiction:
    Yung-Cheng (Rex) Lai1, Christopher P. L. Barkan
    1Department of Civil Engineering, National Taiwan University, Room 313, Civil Engineering Building, Number 1, Roosevelt Road, Section 4, Taipei, Taiwan, 10617
    2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1203 Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory, 205 North Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801

    Many railroad lines are approaching the limits of practical capacity, and estimated future demand is projected to increase 84% by 2035. Therefore, identifying a good multiyear capacity expansion plan has become a particularly timely and important objective for railroads. An enhanced parametric capacity evaluation tool has been developed to assist railroad companies in capacity expansion projects. This evaluation tool is built on the Canadian National Railway Company parametric model by incorporating enumeration, cost estimation, and impact analysis modules. Based on the subdivision characteristics, estimated future demand, and available budget, the proposed tool will automatically generate possible expansion alternatives, compute line capacity and investment costs, and evaluate their impact. For a particular subdivision, there are two outputs from this decision support tool: a plot that depicts the delay-volume relationship for each alternative and an impact and benefit table that shows the impact of the future demand on the subdivision with different upgrading alternatives. The decision support tool is highly beneficial for budget management of North American railroads.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Experts are “experts” because they can drawn on and give the cardinal facts and relationships.

    PBQD knows a lot more about building and operating high speed rail than SNCF, after all.

    Or is “cardinal facts and relationships” a cute code term they use down in Gilroy that means “trade restraint, kickbacks, and cartel profiteering”?

    joe Reply:

    Experts also analyze case studies, generalize and popular write books.

    Eric Reply:

    I think a lot of railroad capacity will free up when the panama canal expansion is completed.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    It won’t really, rail is still faster and many of the ports can’t take advantage of the traffic.

    Peter Reply:

    But the vast majority of stuff being shipped, by rail or sea, is low-priority. It doesn’t matter for the most part if it arrives a few days earlier or later. And I’m pretty sure that shipping it by sea is cheaper.

    J Baloun Reply:

    I mostly agree. However I suspect we would be surprised at the type of material and product that is now being tracked, as you say, within a week or three days by train and ship. The Just-in-time method is now quite common. Down to drawer handles and pipe fittings at Home Depot. All to avoid having someone’s equity sitting around and not earning a profit. So i would suggest a significant fraction of the vast majority of stuff being shipped has an expected arrival time, not because of any expiration of the product.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Anthony Perl, who’s in Canada, was cogent about HSR in New Departures, published in 2002, before the subject became cool.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Hard to say. It’s a huge problem. You would think that people who work at transportation institutes at universities would be supportive of rail and not have this ideological bias against it. Then again, I wonder who is funding those institutes. Some, like the Mineta Institute at San Jose State, are very good in their approach to all kinds of transportation, but then you get places like the Berkeley Institute for Transportation Studies…ugh.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Perhaps liberals are beginning to conceive of “infrastructure” as a trojan horse for unlimited development and environmental exploitation.

    Curious how enormous aerial structures and, yes, high-speed surface transport modes – be they rail, monorail, maglev or generic Buck Rogers – regularly appear in nightmarish Hollywood visions of futureworld.

    Gigantic aerials depicted in such dystopian flicks as “Looper” or a regulation hsr in “Hunger Games”. In the latter a character proclaims it goes 200mph; it is quite noisy as it whips thru the countryside and the passengers are a bunch of creepy drunks and debauches. PB crosses space and time!

    Neville Snark Reply:

    “Perhaps liberals are beginning to conceive of “infrastructure” as a trojan horse for unlimited development and environmental exploitation”.

    Exactly right. And the more left-wing, with a big ceterus paribus, the more confusion over this word (of course I’m left-wing).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think it’s true. The infrastructure politicals tend to be center-left. Robert’s farther left than most but even he is a fairly mainline social liberal by US standards. It’s the technicals who are all over, and in addition there are environmentalist supporters of CEQA who are against HSR for the same reason they were against freeways in the 1960s.

    synonymouse Reply:

    very astute and spot on

  3. Back in the Saddle
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 22:02

    I’ll give Robert the benefit that the quote reflected the tenor of the article. I am very disappointed in NPR if that’s the case. NPR has interviewed Robert at least once(since I listened to the interview and started following this blog)and so they should have an idea of what high-speed rail really is. This is something that would come out of faux news or the LA Times or the Orange County Register.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Well, you can click the link and see the whole article – it really is as I described.

  4. jimsf
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 22:03

    What baffles me is why the response is “oh no, improved passenger service will hurt freight service” instead of ” how do improve passenger and freight service as part of a comprehensive infrastructure plan that makes america competitive in the 21st century global economy”

    flowmotion Reply:

    One thing I’ve realized is that NPR news reflects “beltway logic”. In this case, the argument is if Congress intends to seriously fund HSR, the freight railroads will want their piece of the pork-pie too.

    “Comprehensive Infrastructure Plan” sounds too wonkish and big-government, although it would be a good idea.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Mind you, freight does have a problem with not being as charismatic an investment as HSR. But the mainline pundits on the issue have a problem with not understanding the issues; they hear “America does freight well, so passenger trains are evil,” and don’t think about how the most pressing freight and passenger rail needs are orthogonal rather than opposed. For example, freight needs Chicago declogged more than it needs Chicago-St. Louis to not have passenger trains.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One of the proposals for Chicago-St Louis HSR was good for freight too. Pick a ROW almost any ROW in the Midwest, and it’s straight enough for HSR. Since they were going to be grade separating the ROW for HSR the proposal grade separated freight too. Fully grade separated ROW and the “hot” inter-modal could clip along at 90….

    Jo Reply:

    This is an example of how both HSR and freight rail can both benefit together. Note that the initial segment to be constructed through Fresno that every overpass/underpass to be built will span and grade separate UP freight tracks also. Thus UP may be able to increase speeds through Fresno, not to mention the increased safety.

    Jonathan Reply:

    If a line is running US rail freight, it’s not HSR. HSR track is, what, Class 7 in US parlance? You can’t run HSR on lines carrying 33-tonne ale load drag freight, not without inspecting the line after every single freight train. Which you can’t, not with any sane schedule. That’s just definitional.

    Now, if you want to claim that passenger speeds which US railroads occasionally hit in the steam era, are going to poison freight — even after copious public funding of track improvements — that’s a different story. ;)

    I’d be pushing for terminating Christopher Barkan’s directorship for cause: sheer innumeracy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes, the HSR proposal I’m thinking of, there’s more than a few floating around for the Midwest, had two HSR tracks and two freight tracks. It’s doesn’t cost a whole lot more to grade separate the freight tracks along with the HSR tracks.

    Wdobner Reply:

    If you’re elevating the tracks over the existing road network on embankments or the dreaded stilt-a-rail then including freight tracks lengthen every approach to every overpass by reducing the ruling grade to somewhere down around 2% and roughly doubling the length of the approach. If you’re elevating the road crossings then you’re doubling the length of the bridge.

    In either case it’s true you’re not doubling the project cost, but you are introducing a major operational hazard in having freights in close proximity to your high speed rail line. Even without resorting to the specter of a freight train derailing and striking a passenger train on an adjacent track, how will hazmat spills be addressed? Will the entire HSR line be shut down because a tank car goes on the ground? IMHO so long as we’re building a new-build network the goal should be to avoid such inconveniences to passengers, especially when it’ll only result in a minimal improvement in repayment of bond money.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In the counterfactual situation in which there’s a new-build freight line in an HSR corridor, it’ll be a fast freight variety (otherwise, why not use the legacy line?), probably with an electric engine and higher maintenance standards, which means derailments can be reduced to the same near-zero levels of HSR.

    Wdobner Reply:

    Yes, I’ll allow that it’s a far fetched scenario, but it’s something I hadn’t expected to be such a problem until I started doing this stuff for real. Having passenger operations (In my case, rapid transit ops) in close proximity to freight trains adds a few chapters to the procedure book that otherwise wouldn’t be there. And they all cover what to do in case something goes wrong with the freight train.

    But I wouldn’t be so sure that it’s all going to be lily-white intermodal trains being hauled by electrics, especially given the limited utility of electric locomotives on short corridors. If the freight railroads are given access, I’d be willing to bet they’ll at least want to run manifest freight trains and those will inevitably include carloads of hazmat cargoes.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    introducing a major operational hazard in having freights in close proximity to your high speed rail line.


    So today you’re NOT on-board with the relentless PBQD cheerleading and the “existing transportation corridors” bullshit and the 220mph through the middle of cities right along freight corridors chock full of tank cars, then?

    Nice to know that dawn can break!

    Wdobner Reply:

    It should be avoided where practical. There clearly are going to be cases where operation next to freight trains cannot be avoided without spending much more money. But if you’re building a greenfield alignment then why buy trouble by inviting freight traffic into the ROW?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In the rural parts of flat as a pancake Fumbuck Indiana the road will be elevated over the railroad. It’ lots cheaper to elevate a few hundred feet of two lane road every two miles than it is to start elevating the railroad.

    jimsf Reply:

    I always hear in the media about how talk of infrastructure makes people eyes glaze over as if its some boring topic. When did this happen> The whole history of this country has been about infrastructure. It was the foundation of our industrial might. It made us a superpower, and our country is littered with monuments to this from the golden gate to the eerie canal.
    The tech behind modern infrastructure is amazing and interesting.

    What the hell is wrong with everybody.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “I always hear in the media about how talk of infrastructure makes people eyes glaze over as if its some boring topic. . .What the hell is wrong with everybody?”

    In my opinion, it’s a combination of several things. One is the obvious overabundance of “celebrity” news, which takes space and time away from more serious stuff, and is rather distracting. Another is the choice of work as “infrastructure.” Damn it, say what you mean–as in, “roads,” “sewers,”. “canals,” “airports,” or “railroads.” Granted, not too many people are as interested as they should be in smelly sewers, but mention “railroads,” or even “roads,” and you get people’s interest up, even if the news report itself leaves something to be desired, as in the case of these two from CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

    Lots of comments on these, and thankfully, the commentors appear more informed than the journalists.

    We even see this here in West Virginia, although the commentors in this case seem to be dominated by grumpy retired guys; one in particular makes up a “major” part of the comments.–Snyder-introduces-Commuter-Rail-Access-Act.html

    jimsf Reply:

    today’s “journalists” are useless. and american’s obsession with sports and celebrity over serious topics that matters is embarrassing.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Indeed. Anytime they (or their editors, who are just as worthless) include the word “chug” an article about railroads, is a sign not to take anything they write seriously.

    swing hanger Reply:

    “in” an article…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Serious answer: in the 19th century, infrastructure was considered part of empire-building (and the US considered itself a budding empire from the time of the Founding Fathers). It could be useful infrastructure like the Erie Canal, or useless infrastructure like the dreams of some British colonialists of a railroad from Cairo to Capetown or Washington’s dream that the capital bearing his name would be a great city like Paris and London. Progress meant building things.

    Today, people no longer think that. On top of that, general levels of trust in government are low in the US; this was true of many people in the 1800s too, but at the time the investment decisions were made by the connected elite whereas today they’re somewhat more democratic. So people today ask “How does this benefit me?” where they didn’t then. The result is that charismatic infrastructure projects, which can answer the question easily, get funded often beyond their usefulness, and these include passenger transportation. At the same time, invisible but important projects regarding water, sewage, environmental management, and freight transportation find it much harder to get funding.

    Ironically, projects in the latter category end up being more cost-effective, precisely because of their lack of charisma. If water works run over budget, grandstanding politicians may cancel them, since the constituents understand cost overruns more than they understand the importance of modern plumbing to post-1870 living standards. Transit projects were never under this threat until The Bully came along, and roads are still not under this threat. The result is that Water Tunnel #3 is progressing within the budget and schedule set in the 1970s, whereas passenger transportation projects often don’t.

    Nathanael Reply:

    If you look at the recent history of sewerage projects in the US (and I *have*), I’m not sure your thesis holds up. You’re correct right up until you talk about the distinction between “charismatic” and “invisible” projects, but then you run off in the wrong direction.

    Please look at the “giant underground cavern” sewage projects in the midwest, which were badly designed to start with. Contrast the “blue zones” of Staten Island, which were well-designed. I don’t see a coherent pattern here, except that certain municipalities are far more deeply in thrall to “big concrete” and than others, who are more able to think in terms of “harmony with nature”.

    And I think *that* pattern also explains the pattern in funding of transportation. There seems to be a “concrete monument” lobby which exerts large amounts of power in some parts of the country, and tilts choices towards the most *monumental* option — witness the Deep Bore Tunnel in Seattle, which has no positive features whatsoever, but is certainly very monumental. Or the Columbia River Crossing, which is demonstrably inferior to several alternative proposals — but is more *monumental*. That one has attracted opposition from *everyone* in the grassroots on *all* sides of the political spectrum, but is being pushed due to its *monumentalness*, as far as I can tell.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m more familiar with the sewage disasters in several Southern towns than in the Midwest, to be honest. There, persistent underfunding of infrastructure and lack of a lobby for sewers have led to critical neglect of the sewage systems, leading to either expensive privatization schemes or to meltdowns.

  5. jimsf
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 22:24

    Here’s a positive article on xwest, that points towards possibilities and potential – which is immediately followed by the grunting of cavemen in the comments section. To call the responses Pavlovian, would be an insult to canine intelligence.

    Tony D Reply:

    Great find Jim, but when did Palmdale become the endpoint vs Victorville? I think that’s awesome, but I totally missed that one.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I missed where XpressWest is counting on using a Caltrans-blessed ROW in the middle of a new freeway between Victorville and Palmdale (High Desert Corridor):

    What was your reaction when you first heard about XpressWest’s plan to link Victorville with Palmdale?

    I thought it was a natural. And, again, it’s that West L.A. market they’re coming after.

    We were already working on our High Desert Corridor, the first east-west freeway in the Antelope Valley which would have a right-of-way capability for this train. So the timing is good and the coordination with our other regional transportation is going to make this a really natural fit for us.

    thatbruce Reply:

    (quoted from the article)

    Nathanael Reply:

    Good step. Good to hear. Now to get from Palmdale to LA Union…

  6. flowmotion
    Feb 17th, 2013 at 22:25

    In addition, political opponents of the president’s vision say America is just too spread out, too large and diffusely populated for high-speed economics to work.

    I thought this was an inane comment too, but then I recalled that fan-made HSR map that “went viral”.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And there was a reply to that, by Christopher Barkan:

    “The population densities in countries where it has worked are different than in the U.S. Well, that’s certainly true out in the West where you have vast slaws [swaths?] of land with very little population. But those of us who live in Illinois or Indiana or Minnesota or Wisconsin or Ohio, you know, that have large metropolitan centers, and if you actually look at the demographics, the distribution of the people, the geography, it’s not that dissimilar from, say, France, which has had a – which is another country that’s had – has developed a very successful high-speed passenger rail system and continues to expand their system.”

    Jo Reply:

    Parts of the U.S. are similar to parts of Europe. Spain and California for example. Every HSR proposal in the U.S. have been in areas with sufficient densities within those similar areas.

    joe Reply:

    Christopher Barkan mentions demographics and distribution and the state of Wisconsin.

    Milwaukee Co. population 952,532, home of the largest city in WI.
    Fresno Co. population 942,904,

    City of Milwaukee is 597,867 which puts it just ahead of the City of Fresno at 494,665 for the 5th larest in the State. It is also just larger than #6 Sacramento and #7 Long Beach 462,257.

    I bet if he sat down with a calculator or speadsheet and did the math, Christopher Barkan would be hard pressed to quantitatively argue the Midwest density and demographics are more favorable than in CA.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    California is way more favorable than the Midwest, ignoring the mountains (and that’s a big thing to ignore): the population distribution is close to linear and the cities are much larger.

    Jonathan Reply:

    If you bothered to actually *read* the article, or the full transcript, you would see that Barkan is not arging that the Midwest density is more favorable than California., Barkan is asserting that the urban-center density in places like Wisconsin and Hohio are similar to successful French HSR lines. (I dont;’ see where he thinks he has an equivalent of Pars, though!)

    Prof. Parkan may be very good at researching concrete sleeper design and weight distribution, and other aspects of rail engineering. But how on Earth does one-half of one percent of rail revenue constitute a risk to the freight rail system? I just don’t get it.

    Is this how UP gets the attitude it has towards tenant passenger rail?

    aw Reply:

    In the midwest, Chicago is sort of an analogue of Paris. At least in the sense that all rail lines lead there.

    When talking about the Western US, he said: “The population densities in countries where it has worked are different than in the U.S. Well, that’s definitely true out in the West, where you have vast swathes of land with very little population.” Vast swathes of the west are not like California between Sacramento and San Diego, and since he was mainly talking about the midwest, the fact that he left our CAHSR (and the NEC for that matter) is inconsequential.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Uhh……. Wyoming?

    to be fair to Barkan, he’s at UIUC, in Illinois. When he talks about “the West,” he clearly means west of “the Mid-West” (which is actually the North-Central states of the US).

    If you bothered to read the cited article, you would see that the very next paragraph after the text you cite, in fact contrasts the aforesaid “the West” to urban areas in the *mid-West*, which Barkan compares explicitly to France.

    Regarding Paris: it’s _the_ hub, compared to which everywhere else in France is a spoke. The 19th-century rail lines in the US mid-west may lead to Chicago, but I doubt Chicago is the epicenter of the mid-West in the same way that Paris is the epicenter of France. Certainly not politically or administratively, at any rate.

    And as for Barkan “leaving out the NEC” [sic]:

    BARKAN: In highly congested, highly populated urban regions, the opportunity to get on a train without much difficulty, ride in comfort with your Wi-Fi, it’s just a very comfortable, convenient mode of travel, and that’s very definitely the experience in many other developed nations in the world. And, frankly, right there in the Northeast Corridor where you are, that’s actually an excellent example of a successful what we would call higher-speed rail system that’s operating and has been operating for almost a century, and it’s continuing to improve.

    aw, are we in violent agreement about disagreeing with Joe’s false dichotomy??

    joe Reply:

    Oookay the full context.

    BARKAN: The population densities in countries where it has worked are different than in the U.S. Well, that’s certainly true out in the West where you have vast slaws of land with very little population. But those of us who live in Illinois or Indiana or Minnesota or Wisconsin or Ohio, you know, that have large metropolitan centers, and if you actually look at the demographics, the distribution of the people, the geography, it’s not that dissimilar from, say, France, which has had a – which is another country that’s had – has developed a very successful high-speed passenger rail system and continues to expand their system.

    So here’s the explanation offered.

    to be fair to Barkan, he’s at UIUC, in Illinois. When he talks about “the West,” he clearly means west of “the Mid-West” (which is actually the North-Central states of the US).

    1) Barkan is too imprecise to be taken seriously.

    I grew up in Chicago and attended college in N IL and so my experiences say otherwise: The West is WEST not west of Chicago – we have nouns like Central or Plains for those regions. But hey it’s just speculation. Balkan’s imprecise yet he is an academic who should be using more precise terms that are verifiable.

    Aw’s Paris analogy is quite accurate.

    It’s represented in the current rail improvements in the midwest between Chicago and Detroit, St Louis and the Milwaukee project Walker aborted. Chicago became the epicenter of the Midwest for rail which is why the city grew so quickly. It’s also a port connecting rail to the Atlantic and New Orleans.

    No it’s not exactly Paris but as rail goes it’s a hub and quite different than what we see in CA. See Alon’s comments that CA is more lineral.

    3) Balkan’s urban density comments are, again, imprecise and arbitrary.
    Urban areas are dynamic and the density changes with renewal and demographics. I think rust belt cities can rebuild a core on top of dead industrial space but Western cities are not allowed to infill.

    He’s also a bit ass-backwards. The west was settled by railroad, the midwest by waterways. That’s why Western States are flat sided and older states bounded by waterways. So the idea the west isn’t suitable for rail is a historically ignorant comment and again refuted by the fact CA cities are along legacy railroads.

    Balkans welcome to quantify and compare his opinions like any academic. He and I both have Ph.D’s which means we should be able to use data and defined arguments to make a point.

    CA approved HSR, so why is the state not structured for the service? He should be able to compare say Wisconsin to CA and show why a state with %+ M is better suited than CA’s 35+M citizens.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Joe, you are an ass. There _are_ states “out in the West” with big areas having very little population.
    *You* jump to the conclusion that Barkan means California. With absolutely no evidence, other than your personal assertion of what “the West” means.

    You have a Ph.D? I’m astonished.

    joe Reply:

    Sorry you are having such a bad day.

    West is ambigous. Since HSR is in CA and Professor is not specific, assuming He is speaking about HSR in MT or ID is not very useful.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Faced with places “out West” which clearly meet Barkan’s description, you whine and moan about how CAHSR doesn’t fit that description.

    Sorry you are having such a hard time, reading for comprehension.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If you believe everything you read on Wikipedia the population density of France is 289 per square mile. The population density of Ohio is 282. Metro Paris is, in very round numbers 12,000,000. Metro Chicago, in very round numbers, is 10,000,000. The population of metro Lyon, in very round numbers is 1,500,000. The population of metro St. Louis in nice round numbers is 3,000,000.

    The distance from Paris to Lyon, the oldest and most successful LGV line is 289 miles. ( road miles according to Google ) The distance from Chicago to St. Louis is 297. Hmmm.
    Cleveland is 345 miles from Chicago. Metro Cleveland is 2,000,000.
    Metro Cincinnaatit is 298 miles. Metro area of 2,000,000. You’ll probably pass through Indianapolis to get there. Metro Indianapolis is 1,800,000.
    How about Chicago-Columbus? 345 miles and 2.000.000 people. You pass through Dayton and Indianapolis


    If France makes sense the Midwest, east of the Mississippi anyway, makes sense.
    …. oh, to get Cleveland you pass real close to Toledo if not through it with a metro area of 600,000 and it’s only 60 miles to Detroit. with a metro area of 5,000,000. Hmmm. But then Detroit might get it’s own line to Chicago with the line to Cleveland only sharing track in Indiana. hmmmmm

  7. D. P. Lubic
    Feb 18th, 2013 at 07:52
  8. Peter
    Feb 18th, 2013 at 17:01

    Completely and utterly off topic.

    Fresno has expressed a desire in the past to combine BNSF and UPRR onto one corridor through town. Given that HSR will be connect the BNSF alignment with UPRR north of Fresno with a brand-new alignment, would it be feasible to also build a freight alignment parallel with HSR between the two existing alignments? That way Fresno could achieve complete grade separation without having to also grade separate the BNSF alignment through town (it would be idled). Thoughts?

    Travis D Reply:

    I doubt it. It could be done but it would cost a bunch. As it is they have to reroute quite a few roads to put HSR where it will go. Adding a parallel BNSF line would mean more property acquisition and more costly construction.

    Realistically both the BNSF and UPRR lines should be bypassed around Fresno. It would be a lot cheaper. If it had been done years ago the abandoned ROW’s through the city could have been repurposed.

    Jo Reply:

    Actually the bypass around Fresno was studied. Any new alignment would have to be 4 tracks also. A new alignment for freight only is unlikely because it was deemed too expensive and complex.

    Joey Reply:

    It could be done in conjunction with routing HSR express trains around Fresno. Keep the existing alignment for stopping trains only (and some nocturnal freight spurs) – you still get service to downtown, but you don’t have to deal with the impacts of blasting 350km/h trains through.

    Jo Reply:

    Perhaps a future enhancement project. I know Fresno would like to see nothing better than the rerouting of freight trains through the city.

    jimsf Reply:

    instead of rerouting everything around town in a new row, it might be better to do what reno did and trench through downtown, lowering freight and hsr, sections could be covered as needed, as reno has done, to enhance the existing downtown grid.

    Joey Reply:

    Possible, but also a lot more expensive, especially given that it would have to be done for 12 miles to make it through Fresno.

    jimsf Reply:

    M<st of the UP row from the river to downtown is already grade separated with a couplefrom maripose st to the 41 interchange. This would benefit UP and UP could sell or lease the air rights over the trench (or cut and cover) for real estate profit. This gives fresno a way to reshape their downtown around the ballpark and station.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One can make a profit selling the air rights over railroad in Manhattan and Tokyo. But just barely.
    Land is too cheap in Fresno to make it worthwhile to build over the railroad tracks.

    Joey Reply:

    What adirondacker said. There’s way too much open land in Fresno (even downtown Fresno) for air rights to be valuable, especially considering that building anything substantial above a trench is quite difficult, even if you don’t have earthquakes.

    jimsf Reply:

    I messed up that post. My point was that its not 12 miles of trench as the majority of the up row from the river all the way downtown to mariposa street is already grade separated ( I think there is one minor and one major street left that has not been) and they could just trench the 4000 feet – half the length of renos trench- from mairposa to the 41 allowing for improvements ( if not building on top of) in the downtown area. A reno type project that is half the length.

    they did it in reno they can do it in fresno. neither city is wealthy. and fresno , like reno, fresno has a wide enough row for the shoefly tracks during constuction.

  9. jimsf
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 07:29

    Dreading the round trip drive from shell beach to sf today but there are no options for us on the central coast north. ( not even the surfliner buses will work for a day of business/errends) We really need a morning train north and evening train south.

    J Baloun Reply:

    You have little choice but to drive from Bodega Bay to Valley Ford to Two Rock to Petaluma. Or to avoid downtown Petaluma traffic, take Roblar Rd. or Pepper Rd. to Stony Point to 101. You can go fast between Bodega, Valley Ford, Bloomfield and Two Rock. In Sonoma County rural roads remember to keep the rubber on the pavement so you don’t end up in the muddy ditch.

    Ironically many of those towns used to have rail service. You can catch a glimpse of the old road bed here and there. Again, we had better rail service per person by more than a factor of 10 a hundred years ago.

    Yes, it has always been difficult to get to the north Sonoma county coast. Town of Bodega has changed little since I first sat it in 1968. You can also see it in the movie The Birds.

  10. Keith Saggers
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 11:54

    “these new projects could conflict with the freight systems that go largely undetected for many Americans”.
    These freight systems distribute billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods throughout the US made in Asia and delivered to Ports of Seattle, Oakland And LA.
    Europe is starting to join up its HSR between countries, France-Germany and France-Spain.
    Point is Europe could teach US about HSR in exchange for US teaching Europe about freight systems.

    synonymouse Reply:

    This makes about as much sense as CEO Richard announcing a while back that the Tehachapi Detour will relieve the Loop bottleneck.

    Europe(Van Ark and SNCF)did try to “teach US about HSR”. They got shown the door in short order.

    Peter Reply:

    Do you have a cite to that quote?

    synonymouse Reply:

    repeating a phrase from the previous post

    Wdobner Reply:

    It never ceases to amaze that you purport to be stalwartly anti-graft and corruption, yet hold up SNCF’s extraordinarily blatant rent seeking and cost plus operating contracts as evidence of the CHSRA’s fiscal malfeasance.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The SNCF could be no more larcenous than PB but the kicker is that the CHSRA will not suffer any deviation from the Fix, no matter how many flaws are highlighted or discovered, even by those more experienced in these matters than they.

    The overweening fiscal malfeasance of the CHSRA revolves around the kernel concept of hsr as workfare. An excuse to spend money – any functioning or functionality is purely coincidental.

    Watch them squeal if and when they are compelled to take on board a true private investment partner, a genuine one with real monetary skin in the game, no taxpayer-guaranteed repayment – and the excrement hits the ventilator.

    Nathanael Reply:

    You’re misusing the term “workfare”. “Workfare” refers to a very nasty scheme which forces unemployed or disabled or otherwise in-trouble people to work at below-minimum-wage or zero-pay jobs — slavery, basically — in order to access public assistance.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Please note that “workfare” has been implemented in most of the US.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’ve seen people use “workfare” as a synonym for “public works oriented mainly around fiscal stimulus or poverty relief” before.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Like the WPA?

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    perhaps “teach” was the wrong word how about exchange ideas

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB is a jealous god. No teaching the omniscient.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    thatbruce Reply:

    @Keith Saggers:

    Parsons Brinckerhoff, the large engineering firm that some allege (for very good reasons) to have captured the CHSRA’s design and build process. Mr Mouse here has some other entertaining theories about them which are worthy of breaking out the popcorn for.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yep. A few days ago I saw “Hunger Games” for the first time and damn if that noisy 200mph highspeedsomething on copious stilts did have PB written all over it. Apparently when everything else is down the madmax shitter hsr still works. In Hollyworld futureworld.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Do you mean Parsons Brinckerhoff owned by Balfour Beatty or Parsons Corp. Pasadena?
    The former has not submitted a bid for the first section, the latter has as part of a consortium

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB is much favoured at the Court.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s the Nancy Pelosi mind rays her coven uses.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The concomitant of crony capitalism is crony contracting. Cardinal rule of machine politics is always take care of your special friends.

    California really does deserve Tutor-Saliba.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Keith Saggers: European freight systems do fine given the competition and the traffic on offer. The market is so totally different because of the geography. There is no long haul grain or coal to inflate the bottom line. No where are you more than about 400km from the nearest port, every piece of business is truck, barge or coastal vessel competitive.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The extensive waterways are a huge part of it. Bulk freight goes by water in Europe.

    A more interesting comparison is Russia, which ships bulk freight by rail AND has an efficient, comprehensive passenger rail system AND effective fast freight.

  11. thatbruce
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 15:32

    OT: Swiss Railways’ abolishing of on-board ticket sales and how not to handle the ensuring public relations disaster. You can buy tickets on your smart phone if the platform ticket machine is broken, but you’ll still be fined if the transaction hasn’t been completed before the train departs.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    OT: a bunch of whining from foreign press.

    Nearly all Swiss journeys were already on trains (those being local and regional trains) with no on-board ticket sales; the only thing that has changed is that some people were used to gaming the system a little on the inter-city trains (where there are no longer on-board sales) and are acting all indignant when that no longer works, as if they somehow didn’t know about ticket vending machines and advance sales and on-line sales which are used for all other trips.

    In the meantime, passenger-km continues to outpace train-km in the most heavily used rail network in the world.

    thatbruce Reply:


    the only thing that has changed is that some people were used to gaming the system a little on the inter-city trains (where there are no longer on-board sales) and are acting all indignant when that no longer works, as if they somehow didn’t know about ticket vending machines and advance sales and on-line sales which are used for all other trips.

    mmm-hmmm. Perhaps you had better read the transcript before you rail against people used to ‘gaming the system’. The report lists a number of inconsistencies in the system, such as:

    * People being fined for hand-writing the date of travel on their purchased-in-advance ticket because the required date-stamping machine on the platform was not working.
    * People being fined for holding two e-tickets on their smart phone for the same journey, because although the SBB purchasing system allows for this, the in-practice regulations insist on each traveler has purchased their own ticket on their own smart phone (the example given is the grandfather buying tickets on his smart phone for himself and his grandson).
    * People being fined for failing to purchase a ticket from a broken ticket vending machine before the train’s departure.
    * People being fined for starting a e-ticket purchase before the train arrives and completing it after the train departs.

    Yes, a bunch of indignant whining against a system with seemingly no leeway for the system’s own failures (ie, not accepting failure of their own equipment as a valid excuse, their own systems allowing purchases which are denied by on-board staff etc).

    Max Wyss Reply:

    This article has been discussed in various places, and the general conclusion is that it is “journalism”, despite the fact that it is from the BBC. Some of the sotries the journalist tells do not stand a reality check. Some stories may be actually true.

    Also, in case of obvious errors, a refund will be handled at the next open ticket counter, or the customer service center.

    In case of broken down ticket vending machines, and the train has a conductor on board, you have to immediately contact him (and not wait until the ticket check). You still may have to pay a surcharge, but it will be refunded if the malfunction can be confirmed. However, there are no major stations (where non-regional trains stop) with only one ticket vending machine. If a station has just one machine, it means that it is served by regional trains only, and then, as Richard stated, the rules have been active for years already.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I’ve read it, and did so a couple weeks ago when it was first on the web.

    So have lots of embarrassingly multi-lingual Swiss residents, and they largely have the same opinion as I do.

    Thanks for sharing! Your humanitarian concern for the highly abused train riding Swiss public does you credit.


    thatbruce Reply:

    That’s nice.

  12. synonymouse
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 19:23

    Hopefully this would apply to ac as well as to dc feeds:

    And would be much easier to implement if one’s railroad paralleled an existing grid. Guess what route packs its own juice?:

  13. D. P. Lubic
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 19:27

    Off topic, but of interest–material on rail safety, including some graphic footage of rail crashes in Great Britain. Of interest is that despite some horrific accidents, rail travel is amazingly safe.

    First, a historical perspective, looks like it’s from the 1970s:

    Graphic footage of a collision between a freight train and a passenger train that had been running at 125 mph seconds earlier. Accident apparently caused by failure of the AWS (Automatic Warning System):

    Part of a documentary on this wreck; horrible as it was, it is still amazing that, considering what was happening, that the casualties were as small as they were. What are the odds of almost 200 passengers on an airliner surviving a crash?

    Also of note–as bad as this was, it’s notable that the damage was largely confined to the right-of-way. I’m not sure people would have to worry about a lot of flying rail cars in a wreck involving a high-speed train.

    Of course, there can be exceptions–in this case, from overrunning the buffer blocks at speed:

  14. wu ming
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 20:49

    am i the only one who got reminded of this song by the title?

  15. joe
    Feb 19th, 2013 at 21:01

    Subsidies – I bet the revenue losses are not the direct payments to use the ROW but the loss of Public funds to maintain the private track for passenger rail. It amounts to free maintenance and low risk for the private railroads.
    Robert’s calculation is $135M for direct payments.

    So Amtrak’s $135 million payments that year reflect 0.48% of annual revenue for those freight rail companies.

    Small change. One 140 M project in MI exceeds that amount. And there’s 170 more for rail between Chicago & Detroit.
    IL HSR to St Louis is 1.2 B and in 2002 88 M for the Oakland to San Jose section. And I think the public assumed risk mitigated other project obstacles.
    Oakland, CA – An $88 million program for track and station improvements to support additional Capitol Corridor trains between Oakland and San Jose will begin Friday, September 27 with an official groundbreaking ceremony at Amtrak’s Jack London Square Station in Oakland.
    As a result of the 2004 Record of Decision (ROD), Illinois’ signature passenger rail route, Chicago to St. Louis, was selected by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for $1.1 billion for corridor improvements between Dwight and St. Louis.  These improvements include upgraded track built and maintained to 110 miles per hour standards, siding and crossovers, grade crossing surfaces, signals and warning system, stations, and new high-speed passenger trains.
    The Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) portion of the corridor between Joliet and Godfrey (215 miles) is equipped with one track. …

    The current Chicago to St. Louis corridor operates on only one set of track however, future visions for this corridor include the full build out of an additional second track.  The full build out of an additional second track was determined in the Tier 1 Study by combining technical analysis and stakeholder input.  The construction of this potential second track is not currently funded.
    The state legislature last week approved matching funds required for Michigan to finish unlocking competitive federal grants. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the state $196 million, and the Michigan Department of Transportation announced a $140 million agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway  to purchase a critical 135-mile segment of track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn.

    [The $140 million purchase will enable MDOT to upgrade the track for both passenger and rail freight services; Norfolk Southern will retain an exclusive freight easement to preserve and expand its freight business.]

    MDOT also plans to build a double track for a busy freight section of the line east of Ypsilanti. The end goal is 110 mpg passenger service that will cut the trip from Detroit to Chicago to less than 4.5 hours.

    Track and grade crossing improvements, signals and warning systems. 140 sales of the asset and exclusive rights for freight access. That’s a lot of free market pork.

    The Obtuse NPR commentary in Robert’s link makes more sense to me:

    HAMBERGER: Not everybody knows that the freight-rail system in America is privately owned. This year alone, America’s private freight companies will spend $24.5 billion – that’s 40 cents of every revenue dollar – back into the infrastructure in terms of new locomotives, new railroad ties, new miles of track, new signal systems, new rail cars – $24.5 billion, and it is all private money.

    LYDEN: Actually, the success, Hamberger says, of high-speed passenger trains could threaten the health of freight rail if not carefully coordinated.
    HAMBERGER: In the United States, outside of the Northeast Corridor, between here and Washington and Boston, Amtrak operates over these privately owned freight-rail rights of way. And so it is a partnership between the freight railroads and Amtrak all around the country.
    LYDEN: That means as it stands now, Amtrak pays private companies in the center of the country to run its low-speed passenger trains on freight-rail tracks. That’s indirect federal revenue. But high-speed trains would need their own tracks depriving the freight-rail system of some of that federal money. How to build a high-speed system without hurting the freight industry is a problem that hasn’t yet been solved, says Chris Barkan of the University of Illinois’ RailTEC Center.
    BARKAN: The freight railroad network is a great asset to our economy and our environment, and we need to be careful that expansion of passenger service does no harm to the viability of that efficient freight-rail transportation system that we’ve developed.

    The solution is for taxpayers to continue with free cash so private railraods can continue to have an efficient, private business.

    We already pay to maintain rail infrastructure so it’s a re-occurring, embedded cost for passenger rail.

    Dedicated HSR tracks HSR are a problem because Corporate subsidies are sacrosanct.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    You do realize that the only reason that they are maintained to those levels is because of the passenger rail service and there is absolutely no reason for them to be maintained at such a level solely for freight?

    Nathanael Reply:

    What, the difference between FRA class 3 and class 4 track? That’s a miniscule marginal cost which is barely worth paying attention to from a public policy perspective.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The majority of public money for freight railroad improvements benefits freight directly.

    joe Reply:

    I do realize passenger rail has higher standards and that’s why it’s a free ride for the private railroads when passenger rail uses and has to upgrade their ROW.

    That’s why taking passenger rail OFF the ROW is going to hurt private rail. No more free maintenance.

    Freight has a free ride as passenger rail (public) pays for the infrastructure improvements to their private tracks. Mixed use is free maintenance.

    That explains the NPR comments – the 138M is petty cash. IL’s HSR to St Louis is 1.2 B which improves the private ROW and crossings – FREE.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Joe: the Michigan rail project (140 M) involves the state buying the track from the private company. The exclusive freight easement which is left behind is quite limited. Though it is a subsidy to the freight company, it’s a fairly small one — in order to expand freight service beyond a certain level, NS will have to pay the state.

    This is substantially better than the St. Louis – Chicago project, which has involved giving lots of money to UP and getting pretty much nothing in exchange for it.

    joe Reply:

    140 M is not small. It exceeds Roberts US wide estimate of 138M and that’s for a crummy little section in MI. Free exclusive use – no cost and no competition.

    Maybe you have a BETTER explanation for the NPR commentary. I see free maintenance and sweet deals every-time passenger rail shares the ROW. Take passenger rail off and the free lunch goes away. With renewed interest in rail the losses to private rail are in the billions.

    Capital Corridor improvements CA – it adds up.

  16. Reality Check
    Feb 20th, 2013 at 07:28
  17. A Lynch
    Feb 20th, 2013 at 09:02

    In my extremely naive mind I would expect that the freight companies would want to encourage dedicated passenger rail tracks in order to more efficiently run their own trains. Obviously the money they are getting from Amtrak is a drop in the bucket and the scheduling concerns are the real cost. If the freight companies were serious about switching to electricity for their engines perhaps freight and passenger rail could find some mutual benefit. Freight rail would allow passenger lines to be built within/near their right of way if the cost of electrification on that stretch was shared.

  18. Joe
    Feb 20th, 2013 at 10:21

    HSR in IL means 1.2 B in investments for Diesel train sets running 110 mph. The investment include grade separations and track improvements. Eventually they want to add a second track. Sharing the ROW means better crossings, track maintenance and possible increased capacity.

    Pubic expense and dual use.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Public expense and private profit.

    Joey Reply:

    The one thing republicans and democrats can agree on!

    Jonathan Reply:

    HSR in IL means 1.2 B in investments for Diesel train sets running 110 mph.

    110mi/hr is not HSR. That’s just definitional. Call it 175 km/hr, or _half_ the projected top speed of California’s HSR.

  19. jimsf
    Feb 20th, 2013 at 16:56

    so again, on the compatibility of caltrain with hsr on the blended two track interim plan…..

    since there will only be one set of platforms and if caltrain plans to use these don’t you think hsr would use these as they are the same size and height? Just wondering. seems like they are compatible. and both allow for level boarding.

    jimsf Reply:


    J. Wong Reply:

    Blended two track doesn’t imply that they need to share platforms, in fact, probably not. Also, unless someone forces the agencies to cooperate, I can’t see HSR choosing the lower height just because Caltrain did.

    Are they any bi-level HSR trainsets?

    Peter Reply:

    Ahhh, TGV Duplex, anyone? Only the main workhorse of the TGV fleet…

    jimsf Reply:

    yes those are the bilevel hsr sets in the pic. tgv duplex. and considering caltrans fondness for bilvel equip it wouldn’t surprise me if we get the whatever the latest version of these is when the time comes.

  20. jimsf
    Feb 20th, 2013 at 18:03

    hopefully one day the cali system will look like this with multiple carriers serving extended intermountain-west markets.

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