Posts Tagged ‘high speed rail service’

Public Comment Sought on Revised California High-Speed Business Plan

February 18, 2021

The California High Speed Rail Authority is seeking public comment on a revised draft of its 2020 business plan to complete construction of high-speed rail service in the Central Valley.

The draft report outlines a plan to complete the project while highlighting progress to get high-speed trains running in California as soon as possible.

The report supports the Authority’s earlier decision to develop an electrified Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield high-speed rail interim-service line in the Central Valley, while continuing to advance environmental reviews and current investments in local and regional infrastructure projects in Northern and Southern California.

Authority and state officials also expressed optimism that the Biden administration will be supportive of the high-speed plan.

That would be a change from the position of the Trump administration, which canceled federal funding for the project and sought to claw back some federal funding already spent on it.

Acting FRA Administrator Amit Bose said a recent statement that the U.S. Department of Transportation “looks forward to partnering with California” on high-speed rail.”

The original plan for the California high-speed rail project was to build between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But cost increases and project delays have led to changes. The Authority now is looking to complete the 119-mile Central Valley construction segment and lay track pursuant to the state’s federal-funding grant agreements with the FRA.

It also is eyeing expanding the Central Valley segment to 171 miles of electrified high-speed rail, connecting Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield and to begin testing electrified high-speed trains by 2026-2027.

Those trains would be placed into service by the end of that decade.

As for serving San Francisco and Los Angeles, the authority wants to environmentally clear all segments of the Phase 1 system between two cities and advance construction on “bookend” projects that the authority has committed funding to in the LA and Bay areas.

It said it will pursue additional funding to close the gaps and expand the service to the Bay Area and LA as soon as possible.

The Authority Board recently agreed to seek $4.1 billion in state bonds authorized by voters 12 years ago.

Construction that is now underway is projected to cost $330 million more than was anticipated.

Track construction is now projected to last through 2023, a year later than what was projected last year.

In an effort to cut costs, service may begin on a single-track railroad with passing sidings and leased equipment.

Officials say double tracking would need to be completed before the San Francisco Bay Area is linked to the line with 220-mph trains.

Connections would be made at Merced to extended Amtrak’s San Joaquin service and Altamont Corridor Express commuter into the Central Valley from the Bay Area and Sacramento.

Comments Sought on Calif. Project

September 2, 2020

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has issued a revised notice of preparation under the California Environmental Quality Act and a revised notice of intent under the National Environmental Policy Act for the 30-mile Los Angeles to Anaheim Project Section.

The action begins a month-long effort to solicit public views on additional facilities in Colton and Barstow, California, which are needed for project construction and operation.

The Los Angeles to Anaheim section of the network would run parallel to a BNSF-owned rail corridor between Los Angeles and Fullerton, which serves BNSF’s Hobart and Commerce Intermodal Facilities.

The corridor runs through an urban environment also used by Amtrak and Metrolink.

A portion of the BNSF tracks would need to be relocated away from the Los Angeles to the Fullerton corridor.

CHSRA has proposed getting environmental clearance for construction of new freight facilities in San Bernardino County, building a new intermodal facility in Colton and staging tracks in Lenwood, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County near Barstow.

Written comments should be sent to CHSRA by Sept. 24.

California Agency Completes Environmental Review

November 12, 2019

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has completed its environmental review process for a high-speed rail route between Fresno and Bakersfield.

It is the first major environmental action taken for the high-speed rail project required by the National Environmental Protection Act.

In a news release the Authority said it will reveal the six remaining draft environmental documents for public comment during 2020.

The authority said it has received a supplemental record of decision and federal approval of its supplemental environmental impact study that evaluates the environmental effects of a 23-mile route between Shafter and Bakersfield in the Central Valley.


Microsoft Hosting High-Speed Rail Summit

October 26, 2019

Software maker Microsoft will host along the U.S. High Speed Rail Association a summit meeting on Nov. 6-9 that will discuss building a high-speed rail line between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, via Seattle.

It is not the company’s first involvement in high speed rail. It granted $573,667 toward the cost of feasibility studies of high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest, where Microsoft is headquartered.

The summit will seek to build on early studies of the market viability of high-speed rail.

Summit organizer hope to create momentum for the project and to begin planning, financing and governance work.

The speaker list includes officials from Washington State, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city of Vancouver, Microsoft, WSP, Talgo, Siemens and Alstom.

The summit will be held at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

California Seeking Requests for Qualifications

July 22, 2019

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has issued a request for qualifications from domestic and international engineering firms as part of the process of awarding a $1.65 billion design/build contract for the Central Valley segment of its high-speed rail network.

Construction has already begun on some parts of the Central Valley segment involving the right of way, including bridges and viaducts.

The winning firm will oversee designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure for the 119 route miles, including track, electrical and signal systems, positive train control, platforms, and electrification systems.

The contractor will eventually supervise construction of the entire Bakersfield–San Francisco corridor.

A contract is expected to be awarded by summer 2020 in order to meet a deadline for expending federal grants that the Trump administration is trying to claw back. That battle is currently in court.

Study Backs High-speed Rail in Cascadia Corridor

July 18, 2019

High-speed rail service between British Columbia and Oregon could cover its operating costs as soon as 2040 a recently released study concluded.

The study, released by the Washington State Department of Transportation, said that a route between Vancouver and Portland via Seattle would deliver economic and social benefits but before it can be implemented decisions must be made as to what equipment would be used and where it would operate.

Among the options are conventional rail, maglev or hyperloop. Other unresolved issues include funding and the cost of construction.

The benefits of the rail system would include a faster travel time, reducing current traffic congestions, cutting greenhouse emissions and creating jobs.

The travel time between Seattle and Portland could be as little as an hour.

Ridership was projected at more than 3 million trips annually with farebox revenues of $156 million to $250 million a year by 2040.

The recent study is an extension of one conducted earlier. Funding for the study was provided by Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and software maker Micosoft.

“The need for continued additional transportation infrastructure investment in the Cascadia megaregion is clear — crowded roads, congested airports, and limited intercity rail service constrain the mobility of residents, businesses, and tourists,” the report said. “Vancouver; Seattle; and Portland have the fourth, sixth, and tenth-most congested roads in North America, respectively. Airport delays are making air travel increasingly unreliable, and the travel time and frequency of intercity rail service are not competitive for most trips.”
The study focused on what it termed ultra-high-speed ground transportation, which would travel as fast as 250 miles per hour.

No construction timeline was provided other than it could being in six to eight years with costs ranging from $24 billion to $42 billion. Who would pay those costs is not directly address by the study.

“It’s really like building another I-5, only one that is faster, more reliable, safer and more environmentally friendly,” said Janet Matkin, a spokesperson for WSDOT.

Trains would operate on a dedicated right of way and service frequency would be 21 to 30 roundtrips a day.

The $42 billion cost of the system caught the eye of a state legislator who said he doesn’t see the state taking on the project on its own and doesn’t see construction starting in eight years as outlined in the study.

“I don’t see that happening,” state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said of the ambitious schedule.

Saying the cost can’t be covered by the state, Hobbs said it needs to be in partnership with the private sector.

“There needs to be more analysis, especially on the financial part,” he said.

Calif. Fighting FRA Revocation of High-Speed Grant

May 18, 2019

California is fighting back against a move by the Federal Railroad Administration to formally cancel grant money awarded to the state to develop a high-speed rail line.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory announced earlier this week that the grant had been revoked, saying the project had changed since the funding was approved.

Batory was referencing a decision made earlier this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom to scale back to the project to a line in the state’s Central Valley.

The original plan had been to link San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Newsom said the state will contest the FRA’s ending a grant of $929 million for construction.

He called the FRA action an “illegal and a direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project.”

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has also joined the fight against the FRA, saying the grant funds were appropriated by Congress and obligated by the president and thus can’t be legally withdrawn without good cause.

The grant was made in 2010 by the Obama administration to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which the FRA said has failed on several occasions to file adequate reports to fulfill the terms of the grant.

“There is nothing in the FRA’s long working relationship with CHSRA to suggest that CHSRA would likely be able to initiate and complete the necessary corrective actions,” Batory said in a letter revoking the grant funding.

Losing the federal funding would deal the project a devastating blow said CHSRA Chief Financial Officer Russell Fong.

He said, though, that it might be possible to make up some of the loss of federal funds with high-speed rail’s share of revenue from California’s cap-and-trade market if it continues to run above projections.

The cap-and-trade market netted $767 million for high-speed rail in 2018. That was above the $500 million that had been expected.

Current plans are to build the high-speed line for 171 miles between Merced and Bakersfield.

After Newsom announced that the project would be curtailed, the Trump administration said it would seek to “claw back” $2.5 billion in federal funding that has already been spent on the project.

The FRA has said the inadequate reporting from CHSRA dates to the third quarter of 2016.

“Indeed, since 2014, CHSRA has not submitted a single satisfactory and acceptable (project management plan),” Batory said.

High-Speed Rail Fight May Spill Over to 2020 Election

February 23, 2019

The fight between the Trump Administration and California over the state’s troubled high-speed rail project could become an issue in the 2020 elections.

There is a move being led by a conservative radio talk show host in San Diego to place a referendum on the 2020 ballot that would halt the high-speed rail project and transfer its funds to road repairs.

The Associated Press quoted public policy professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California as saying that supporters of President Donald Trump see the issue as a way to generate turnout of Republican voters.

Observers note that the battle over the high-speed rail project is yet another front in an ongoing battle between Trump and California that has led the state to sue the Trump administration 46 times over policy change disagreements.

In the most recent battle, the Federal Railroad Administration demanded that the state return $9 million that it awarded during the Obama administration to help develop the Los Angeles-San Francisco high-speed route.

That came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom scaled the project back to development in the Central Valley, leading some to describe it as a train to nowhere.

In a statement, Newsom described the FRA’s demand for the grant money back as “clear political retribution by President Trump” that Newsom vowed to fight.

The administration and state are also at odds over other transportation-related issues, including Trump’s efforts to remove California’s right to set its own auto emissions standards.

The Trump administration has also sought to deny funding for a plan to electrify the tracks used by Caltrain commuter trains linking San Francisco and San Jose, which some in the state see is an effort to kill the high-speed rail project because its trains would have used that route.

However, the tensions over the high-speed rail plan predate the Trump administration.

Two GOP California congressmen sought during the Obama administration to deny federal funding for the high-speed rail project. Obama fought back against those efforts.

Pacific Northwest Eyes Ultra High Speed Rail

January 28, 2019

State and provincial governments in the Pacific Northwest continue to discuss a high-speed intercity rail passenger route between Vancouver and Portland via Seattle.

The states of Washington and Oregon along with the Canadian province of British Columbia are cooperating to study routes, stations, equipment, and costs of a service that could have a top speed of 250 miles per hour.

The study is looking at conventional rail, maglev and hyperloops.

High-speed rail is among the seven long-term transportation goals of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Legislation recently introduced in the Washington legislature would provide funding of $3.25 million to establish a “new ultra high-speed ground transportation corridor authority with participation from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.”

That is defined as a 250 mph speed for passenger trains.

The authority named in the legislation would conduct outreach and preliminary environmental review, including “a robust community engagement process to refine the alignment for communities and businesses relevant to the ultra high-speed corridor” between Portland and Vancouver.

The Washington Department of Transportation would be mandated to provide a report to the governor and state legislators that includes “an assessment of current laws in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia related to an ultra high-speed ground transportation corridor, [and to] identify any laws, regulations or agreements that need to be modified or passed in order to proceed with developing an ultra high-speed corridor, and summarize the results from the community engagement process.”

It’s The Turboliner Era All Over Again

January 16, 2019

I posted earlier this month about how the promised “high speeds” on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor have yet to materialize despite $1.95 million having been spent to rebuild the route to allow for 110-mile per hour operation.

Instead, the top speed for Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle is 79 mph, which means that Chicago-St. Louis trains go no faster than, say, Chicago-Carbondale trains.

Trains in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor did travel 110 mph for a time in what Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari later described as a demonstration project.

So when are higher speeds finally going to become routine for Lincoln Service trains?

The latest word from the Illinois Department of Transportation is that we might see 90 mph speeds this year.

But 110 mph? IDOT won’t go there anymore in predicting when that will happen.

The explanation being given for the delay is the positive train control system that will make higher speeds possible is still being tested.

There is probably a lot of truth to that given that PTC is a relatively new form of technology.

But even when the PTC is ready to go, it will hardly make the Chicago-St. Louis corridor a high-speed operation.

IDOT has said 90 mph speeds will shave 15 minutes off the travel time from the Windy City to the Gateway City.

That doesn’t like seem like much given how much money has been spent on this project.

But then again this was never intended to result in a high-speed rail project even if it might have been framed that way.

The term high-speed rail gets thrown out a lot in this country and when it does many people think of super trains such as the Japanese Shinkansen, the German ICE or maybe even Amtrak’s Acela Express.

Some of those overseas trains have taken on mythical stature in American minds and when I give presentations on transportation history I’m often asked when the United States will have such trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

My standard answer is not in your lifetime because there is too much political opposition and not enough money to make it happen.

Even in Europe where transportation policy makers look more favorable on intercity rail transportation it can take at least a decade to develop a new rail line.

It is hardly news that even in a best-case scenario the efforts to develop the Chicago-St. Louis were never going to result in a high-speed rail line the length of the corridor.

At best it could result in a corridor with high-speed rail in some places but many other places where even 79 mph would be a dramatic improvement.

There is slower going in the Chicago and St. Louis terminals, but also in en route cities such as Springfield where city officials have been talking about putting all of the rail lines into a single corridor for as long as I can remember.

Every so often I run across a news story reporting some progress in those efforts, but it has been incremental.

No one has come up with a viable plan to boost speeds in metropolitan Chicago and St. Louis, only through the corn and soybean fields of the hinterlands.

All of this reminds me of when Amtrak introduced French-built Turboliners to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor in October 1973.

They were capable of traveling 125 mph but couldn’t go any faster than – you guessed it – 79 mph on track then owned by the Illinois Central Gulf.

Super fast running, though, was not the point of introducing the Turboliners an Amtrak official confided to the late David P. Morgan, the editor of Trains magazine.

The purpose of the Turboliners was to show Amtrak was doing something to improve intercity rail passenger service other than making cosmetic changes to equipment that had been built before, during or shortly after World War II.

Come to think of it, the same could be said about the money spent to rebuild the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

It is a way of showing that something is being done to improve intercity rail service between two cities that if they were located in Europe or Asia would already have had frequent high-speed rail service.

Presumably, Amtrak and host railroad Union Pacific will get the kinks worked out and someday trains will cruise at 90 mph and, maybe, 110 mph.

The Turboliners would have been right at home there. But they were removed from service more than two decades ago and are now just a footnote in the history of a corridor still looking to become something better than what it has been since Amtrak started 47 years ago.