Quarantine Post #39: High Speed Rail Anyone?

When you have been stuck at home for over a year, you find the most random things to read about online. Did I ever think that I would be that passionate or intrigued about mass/public transit? Absolutely not. I ended up visiting Denver for work about 2 years ago and I loved it. Mostly because it was easy to get around which I did not expect in Denver. (But that is just me not having been out west before… not anything further than Texas and that was about 4 or 5 years before.) I was able to board a train in the airport and ride into Downtown Denver… it was just so easy to do. From there, I caught a free city bus… Yes Free… which dropped me off on the corner from my hotel. There were trolleys, I have nothing against rideshares… but they cropped up because in areas like where I live… it is hard to get around without a car.

The light rail ride into Downtown cost about $10. ravel from downtown to DEN (or the reverse) by train within 37 minutes.

I was really impressed with Denver’s set up because where I live is sorely lacking. I know we can get basic systems like this in place around the country.

For those that don’t know… I was born in NYC, and lived a bit in a city outside of Boston. For reference, my mother didn’t get a driver’s license until she was almost in her thirties because we moved to a more rural area in the south. She didn’t have a need for one when we were north, we did everything by the bus or train so it was an adjustment for her. We have been here for a good chunk of my life… but in my travels I have noticed that other major cities have strong public transportation and other countries have high speed rail network that extends across the country. For some reason, I had the idea that we, here in the U.S., had high speed rail. Keep in mind that I had never taken a train ride until last year, but I remember when relocating from the north to the south my dad took an Amtrak (over 20 years ago). I took that idea and ran with it apparently. Imagine my dismay to learn high speed rail is not to be just yet. With all the talk during the election about topics to tackle, a friend of mind mentioned high speed rail and I have been reading up on it ever since.

The first thing I did was compare rail maps from other regions to what we have here. I remembered that a friend of mine studied abroad in France, and that she was able to catch a train (or two) into London. So of course that was one of the first places I looked. What I found was interesting. I think that I was blown away by the transit systems in other countries and how far behind we are.

This rail map is pretty intense, and not all of it is even high speed. But it is still awesome that you can get pretty much anywhere in the country.
So apparently, China is home to the largest high speed network. It is also home to the fastest commercially operating train. Running at the top speed of 431 kph. Here is another map that I figure is pretty intricate and awesome.
Japan has a plan for construction for the next 20 years.

So I couldn’t wait to see what we had to work with in our rail system. Amtrak is the forerunner for passenger rail. Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces. Nearly 87,000 passengers ride more Amtrak trains daily. It is a fairly common in northern states for people to take the train to work. Many people travel into NYC for work. Nearly two-thirds of passengers come from the 10 largest metropolitan areas; 83% of passengers travel on routes shorter than 400 miles. Some track sections allow trains to run as fast as 150 mph. I was impressed with the rail system we had but anything can be improved. If you have read my blog post about my trip last year for hockey, then you know that my friend and I spent almost ten hours just trying to get from Pittsburgh into NYC. That wasn’t a big deal as when we started out but as we moved closer and closer to New York the train got more crowded and that became less fun. LOL. I enjoyed my time with Amtrak but I am sure that we can benefit from a few high speed trains that get us into major cities all around the country. My dad’s biggest complaint was the fact that the train was so slow and he didn’t exaggerate.

So this is more expansive than I thought… which is good but I know that there should be an overhaul here.
From the Amtrak website…

So why high speed rail? They’re a fast, easy, and affordable way to get around. Not to mention they are a way to combat the carbon emissions. According to the International Association of Railways (UIC), highspeed rail is eight times more energy efficient than airplanes and four times more efficient than automobile use. It will also decrease greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. I am not necessarily a fan having to drive everywhere and that is sad because living where I live would not be possible without a car which means traffic can be a beast depending on where you are going. I am also not a fan of not having much choice in traveling. It usually either planes or driving. Driving long distances is pretty draining. With trains, they free up time that you would spend driving for the things that you actually love about travel. You can socialize, have a meal, read, and enjoy the passing scenery.

I can imagine sitting here with my family on the way to Disney, playing cards and watching the scenery go by.
It will be so much easier to bring my bike to trails around the country.

One of the first things I thought was this will be a great way to decongest highways and expressways across the country. I have friends that moved from California that talk about how bad the traffic is there. It is the same in the metropolitan area where I live now. I have lived through several attempts at widening highways, and streets… but it never seems to help… and with the population growing as it is… this solution seems to always be behind the times. According to my research, there is billions spent on wasted time and fuel costs. High-speed rail can reverse this situation – delivering 200mph transportation for every train, every day – into city centers without delays or congestion.

Another thing that crossed my mind was the alternative to flying. I have nothing against flying or airlines, but I don’t see any issues with choices. Airfare can be quite expensive depending on where you’re going. A single high speed train carries as many people as 9 airplanes. I am not a fan of having to go through airport security. I totally get it. I am totally understand the need for it but I still hate it. It takes so long. We did not have that problem when we boarded the train. It was quick and painless. We were on our way in about 10 minutes.

I mentioned lower carbon emissions earlier. I learned through research that America uses 20 million barrels of oil everyday, 70% of which is for transportation. This seems like a ridiculous amount and especially when we don’t have any alternatives. Acquiring oil requires digging up the oceans and the national forests, drilling the arctic tundra. I am not sure how much longer that can be sustainable. The type of transportation it is fueling includes all our transportation networks (cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, ships, and diesel trains.) It is my understanding that high speed rail is electric (here’s to making America greener. I am all about renewable energy.)

What was interesting that I found through my reading was that high speed rail can help with housing affordability. We have all seen the articles floating around about how millennials are not buying houses anymore. As is the case with me and everyone I know, because housing prices in the city have skyrocketed most people have had to move further outside the city to find something they can afford. This usually mean heavy reliance on cars. I live about 45 minutes from my job but with traffic I can spend up to 4 hours on the road altogether before and after work. I even have some friends that have driven farther. The theory is that high speed rail (I would argue rail in general) allows us to live in second tier cities and commute by train. By opening up so many new housing options in a region, the pressure is taken off the high price “hot spots” by leveling out pricing at the regional scale. High speed rail also spurs the development of additional rail systems such as local light rail and streetcars, which open up additional possibilities for affordable living near those stations to a wider segment of the population.

Proposed ideas of what the high speed train between Houston and Dallas would look like.

Job creation is always a good thing. And with implementing high speed rail, there will be millions of jobs in several areas across the country. It is what we need right now. A national high-speed rail system in the U.S. will create millions of well paid jobs building the infrastructure and system components, managing the rail systems and operating the stations and related real estate development. There are several fields we could see job creation in.

  • Consulting – (Design, Construct and Operate)
  • Manufacturing – (Supply Chains, making components)
  • Operations
  • Technology
  • Real Estate – (Creating walkable communities around stations.)
  • Maintenance – (Maintaining tracks and rail systems
  • Planning – (Land Planning and development)
  • System Design – (Component Design, Engineering and technology.)
  • State Design
  • Urban Design

There are a few projects that I am excited about but not so excited about the timeline on. Firstly… the expansion of the Brightline in Florida. It currently runs from West Palm Beach through Fort Lauderdale to Miami and back. They want to expand to into Orlando (Disney Parks) and into Tampa (eventually). Check out their website. (https://www.gobrightline.com/florida-expansion) It would make it easy to gather with my family in Tampa and get everyone to Disney without having to drive and paying to park.

This is supposedly under construction…. and should be complete in 2022 (the Orlando station)… Which I think is fantastic.

I read a blog about the Southeastern Rail Plan. The plan is a multi-state effort that progresses a long-term regional passenger rail vision for the Southeast. It connects the entire Southeast region and the core of the network for the SE Corridor is centered around the economic hub of Atlanta. From Atlanta, 3 high-speed lines would link the region: Atlanta to Tampa Bay via Jacksonville and Orlando, Atlanta to Nashville and Atlanta to Washington D.C. via Charlotte and Raleigh. This core service would carry about 70 percent of the region’s passenger rail travelers with service at top speeds over 125 mph. It would improve connectivity throughout the region and would strengthen the case for regional and emerging service. The entire network would then connect 70% of the region’s population directly to passenger rail, while improved transit and bus service could be built out to reach even more.

Why is it going to take 40 years?! Ugh… this is fantastic.

Apparently Brightline is also building a high speed rail system out west. It looks like Brightline West, a Brightline affiliated company, will connect the 260 miles between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. They’re looking to have the trains travel 200 mph and the expected travel time is about 3 hours. Train ticket prices will be on par with the cost of gas and parking. (I just think this is fantastic.) As is the case with South Florida, Brightline West will offer: free onboard Wi-Fi, fully ADA accessibility from station to train, a wide selection of food and beverage, checked luggage and hotel check-in services. (https://www.gobrightline.com/west-coast-expansion)

Brightline Map

High-speed trains can cut the travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco by half, compared to driving. A combination of local and express trains will serve more than 15 cities on the main trunk line, forming the backbone for a much larger transportation system. By connecting the high speed backbone to California’s extensive network of trains and buses, it will link hundreds of cities across the state. The California High Speed Authority estimates that the state would have to build 4,300 miles of new highway lanes and 115 new airport gates to equal the passenger capacity of the new high speed rail line.

Midwest High Speed Rail seems the most interesting. I think that I am enjoying the idea that Chicago being the hub. I am all for a cheap way to get away to Chicago for a 3 day weekend. There are a lot of projects going on in the Midwest… and I am just going to summarize the few that I am super excited about. Unlike the above though… these are some ideas being thrown out for the Midwest but I am not showing any real movement in this. But I will list them here because I like these and they should be done.

CrossRail Chicago – CrossRail Chicago is a vision to bring fast, frequent and reliable trains through Chicago and Cook County by upgrading existing tracks. CrossRail would create a north-south link that serves frequent commuter trains, airport express trains, and fast intercity trains from around the Midwest. This passenger rail corridor would provide effortless travel, serving both high-speed intercity trains and frequent, all-day commuter trains. It would allow direct access to O’Hare, not only from downtown, but from the entire Midwest. CrossRail Chicago would link together the Metra Electric Line and Metra’s Milwaukee District West and North Central Line. The program would consist of four major initiatives that eliminate bottlenecks and upgrade the entire route to modern standards with overhead electrification. It would separate passenger rail traffic from freight traffic, providing fast, seamless travel on clean, quiet electric trains. CrossRail Chicago will be a modern, electric railroad that can serve many types of trains and every type of traveler, from everyday commuter to business and leisure travelers. CrossRail Chicago will be a modern, electric railroad that can serve many types of trains and every type of traveler, from everyday commuter to business and leisure travelers.

For businesspeople and conventioneers, CrossRail creates a fast, one-seat ride between O’Hare, Union Station, and McCormick Place. It makes it easy to get to the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, and Chicago State University. And, it gives visitors and locals alike easy access to Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, Soldier Field, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Obama Presidential Center, and the Pullman National Monument.

O’Hare Direct – O’Hare is the Midwest’s gateway to the world. It has more international destinations than all other airports in the Midwest combined. But it is hard to get to. I have a lot of family in Chicago who complain about getting there. A Midwest high-speed rail network would put 45 million people within a 3-hour train ride of O’Hare. Most trips will take much less than that, of course. There are 3 ideas that they want to focus on for this:

  • A train station at the airport – A new ground transportation hub is part of the ongoing O’Hare expansion. It could be where rental cars, hotel shuttles, and regional buses are housed. It will be connected to the terminals by the airport transit system. Adding a train station here would make it easy to hop off the train and catch the airport shuttle to your terminal. Trains from all over the Chicago region and around the Midwest could stop here.
  • Select track upgrades – The tracks are already in place for trains from Chicago Union Station, but O’Hare needs trains from more than just downtown. By adding track to existing Metra lines, trains from around the Chicago region—and the entire Midwest—can stop at O’Hare. We can replace puddle jumping flights. With the later addition of new high-speed track, these trains from around the Midwest can even be faster than flying. (Sounds like all pluses to me.)
  • New trains – Once the station and tracks are in place, the trick is to run the right kind of trains. The aging cars that Metra and Amtrak use today require you to climb stairs, which is difficult when you’re carrying luggage. Modern train equipment has bigger doors with fewer or no steps to climb. They have luggage racks near the doors and wide aisles that make it easy to get on and off. They also have spaces for bikes and are easier to use for people in wheelchairs. And With modern locomotives, trains are quieter, cleaner and more fuel efficient. 

O’Hare Express – (This is more of an idea in the works. Not sure yet where they will land on this. But this sounds great.) The City of Chicago should partner with Metra to create an express train that links Ogilvie Station and O’Hare Terminal 2 with a trip of 25 minutes or less. The service will slash travel times by roughly half and make O’Hare much more accessible. The express line should have departures every 15 minutes during normal operation and every 7 minutes during peak hours, with two-tiered pricing—$10 for tourist class and $25 for business class. The full ride—O’Hare to downtown—should take 25 minutes (or less). The line could have intermediate stops at River Grove and Fulton Market. The service should also have full integration with the CTA’s Ventra card, offering convenient tap-on/tap-off boarding and exiting. They should do this make this happen people. Union Station is one option for the downtown terminus, but Ogilvie Station is easier to navigate. The most likely route would run from one of these stations through the A2 interchange and along tracks owned by Metra and CN Rail, stopping at River Grove and Fulton Market.

The Chicago – St. Louis 110 MPH Project – The Chicago – St. Louis Lincoln Corridor is a great project—but it’s taking longer than we had expected. This shared-use line linking Chicago and St. Louis.  There are 5 daily trains a day.  The 300-mile trip takes roughly 5 hours and 30 minutes. The Joliet to East St. Louis portion was completely rebuilt. All the grade crossings have been rebuilt and improved, with gates that are harder to drive around and systems to detect trapped vehicles. It looks like all the signals have been replaced with state-of-the-art technology.

Some other proposed ideas that seem like great ideas.

Wisconsin – Cities across Wisconsin—including Green Bay, Madison, Eau Claire, and LaCrosse—are pushing for new or upgraded Amtrak lines to their communities. Residents are already using the Empire Builder to move around within the state, even though it offers just one round trip per day. Wisconsin already has a great foundation for creating a game-changing passenger rail network. Faster trains and more frequent service will build support for an expanding network that ties the state together and helps support our tourism industry.

Michigan – Michigan needs a gold-standard rail network that shows the power of trains to drive economic development and promote environmental sustainability. Trips to every part of the state—as well as Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto—should be fast, affordable, and convenient. About 80 percent of Michigan lives within 25 miles of an Amtrak station; 85 percent live within 50 miles of one. That population density near train stations means Michigan’s railroads are a remarkable, but under-utilized asset.

Texas – Houston to Dallas – I went to Dallas about 7 years ago in 2014. I enjoyed it. I am not sure I knew how far Houston was from Dallas. (About 4 hours). This proposal would see this commute shortened to about 90 minutes. The electrified trains will run at maximum speeds of 205 m.p.h., and the trip will take 90 minutes. That’s 2 hours less than driving and about an hour less than flying (including airport terminal time). The trains will run 18 hours per day, with departures every half hour during peak periods. I-45, which connects Dallas and Houston, is the second deadliest road in the U.S. By offering riders a safe and stress-free 90-minute trip, the Texas Central line will reduce traffic on I-45 by about 15,000 vehicles each day. Sounds like a no brainer to me. Texas Central is now waiting on two things: the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement and the approval of a new set of safety standards—called a Rule of Particular Applicability—by the Federal Railroad Administration.

So that is enough word vomit from me. In the end, this is a great idea, the issue is going to be trying to get it up and running. Looks like Florida is the front runner. Keep in mind trains are greener and will help lower carbon emission. It will be a better travel experience than being stuck in traffic… you can actually engage with your travel party. And I can imagine all of the jobs that this would help create. Seems fantastic to me. Anyways, as always be sure to drop your thoughts below.

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