October 12, 2009
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Launching High-Speed Rail Nationwide
BY KATHY GOLDEN,Editor
An afternoon session Oct. 6 in Orlando titled “Launching High-Speed Rail in the U.S.” attracted a packed audience, prompting APTA President William Millar to comment that the standing-room-only crowd proved that interest in high-speed rail “runs high and runs deep within APTA.”
Millar continued: “It’s not just this notion of fast trains, as romantic as that might be—it’s the connectivity of the system; it’s making sure there are good transit systems to get people to the high-speed service.” He added, “This is an exciting time as dreams become reality.”
Jolene M. Molitoris, vice chair of the APTA High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee and director of Ohio DOT’s Office of Transit, moderated the session. Noting that the program would build on another session held that morning (see other story on this page), she said the focus would be on the vision of high-speed rail with solid examples of “what we can do in the United States.” She added: “We’re talking about real projects that last Friday were submitted with the wonders of electronics to the [Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)].”
“We built our way to today,” Molitoris said. “As I look at this audience at those who have given, who have visioned, who have worked, I think someday we need to gather your stories.”
She acknowledged the vision of President Barack Obama and the members of the House and Senate who voted for the inclusion of $8 billion for high-speed rail in ARRA. “If not for them,” she said, “we would not be here. This is high-speed rail’s time.”
Molitoris added that much work remains and it will take “all of us working together to make sure we have a system that is the best in the world.”
Nazih K. Haddad, executive director of the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority and intercity passenger rail manager, Office of Public Transportation, Florida DOT, gave an overview of factors that he said make Florida “ideal for the development of high-speed rail.” It is the country’s fourth largest state; as a tourist destination, it hosts millions of visitors annually, many from overseas who are accustomed to train travel and will most likely take it when it is available. Haddad said the state’s flat terrain makes it conducive to building rail, adding that there is limited room for additional highways. He also noted that the state has an aging population that prefers taking the train to driving or sitting in traffic.
“High-speed rail will help with economic development and environmental concerns,” he said, adding: “There is excitement also about the potential for transit-oriented development in Tampa.”
Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association in Chicago, stressed the need for increased investment in high-speed rail and spoke about upgrading existing routes to achieve maximum speed in the Midwest. He said his job is to talk to groups across the country to tell them: “Yes, it is possible to get better train service—and here are the steps your organization needs to take.”
Harnish spoke excitedly about the Chicago-to-St. Louis project, which would establish a high-speed rail corridor linking the two cities. It is currently in Phase One, scheduled for completion by 2015, with plans to establish 220-mph service throughout the nation by 2030.
Development of high-speed rail in this region makes sense, he said, because “one-third of the population of the U.S. lives within 500 miles of Chicago.”
William A. Jones III, vice chair of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation and mayor of Temple, TX, mentioned the many economic development opportunities that come from transportation. Calling high-speed rail “the dawn of a new era in passenger rail in the United States,” he noted that in Texas, “we share in that excitement.”
Jones said he is looking to develop a “sustainable and attainable” system in Texas that would be applicable to all and would “address environmental concerns, economics, create jobs, and improve safety.” He pointed to the Texas T-Bone High Speed Rail Corridor, which would connect the state’s four largest population centers—Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio—with only 440 miles of rail. It would position the 16 million Texans currently living in the corridor’s service area within 90 minutes of the state’s economic and population centers.
Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and chair of the APTA High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee, noted that California’s large population and broad geographic area make new transportation options critical to the state.
“We simply must have this kind of transportation mobility—clean and quick,” he said. “Otherwise, California will founder, and we just can’t allow that to happen to the sixth largest economy in the world.”
California has currently invested $200 million in state funds for high-speed rail this year, including an environmental review, certification, corridor and station location selection, and selection of motive power, business plan, and implementation plan. The new grade-separated, fully electric system will run at 220 mph. Projections from outside consulting firms estimate ridership to be 94 million riders per year when the system is complete.
The session was sponsored by HDR ENGINEERING, INC.
APTA Releases Brochure
APTA unveiled an extensive four-color brochure on high-speed and intercity rail at both Annual Meeting sessions convened on this subject. The purpose of the publication is to make clear and direct the association between APTA and this issue.
The brochure, created by members of the APTA High-Speed Rail Committee, notes APTA’s vigorous advocacy, urges specific principles, and provides a manifest for an evolving national program for high-speed and incrementally higher-speed rail.