February 1, 2010
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|IN DEPTH: HIGH-SPEED RAIL
At TRB Meeting, Experts Share International High-Speed Rail Experience
BY JOHN R. BELL, APTA Program Manager-Communications
Experts who presented studies of high-speed rail (HSR) systems in China, Japan, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom described contrasts in how their countries plan, fund, and operate their systems—as well as similarities in the resulting benefits to their respective nations—at the recent session during the Transportation Research Board’s 89th Annual Meeting in Washington. They offered their papers at a session titled “Worldwide Advances in Intercity Passenger Rail.”
Building a New System: Private vs. Public
Tsung-Chung Kao, professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University, compared Taiwan’s HSR—the first in the world funded primarily through private sources—with the publicly funded system developed in South Korea around the same time.
The comparison showed that privately funded HSR has a better chance of meeting project management goals of time, cost, and quality—largely due to less public and political interference or interruption, he said. However, a government-sponsored system has more potential to promote the HSR industry and may increase ridership faster.
Kao and his colleagues compared the two projects by evaluating each system on its time to completion, cost, quality, and whether the owners’ goals and the users’ needs were met.
For example, the publicly funded and operated Korean system demonstrated quicker increases in ridership: the system began with approximately 70,000 trips per day and gradually increased to about 100,000 daily trips after 30 months. Taiwan started with about 40,000 trips/day and doubled to 80,000 trips/day at 30 months. This is because the public is more ready to use public works in Korea, compared to the private system in Taiwan, according to Kao.
Chinese, U.S. Experiences Offer Lessons for Each Other
Xueming (Jimmy) Chen of Virginia Commonwealth University reported on a study he conducted with Ming Zhang of the University of Texas at Austin. It compared the projected impact of the U.S.’ planning and governmental processes on the development of the California High-Speed Rail (CHSR) system to link San Francisco and Los Angeles, with the Beijing-Shanghai Express Railway Project (BSERP).
The report noted that CHSR faces a funding gap of up to $24.75 billion, whereas BSERP has no such shortfall. In addition, the BSERP took 18 years from completion of the initial planning paper to the beginning of construction. CHSR began its initial studies in 1997, and construction has yet to begin.
These differences likely stem from inherent contrasts between the U.S. and Chinese systems of government, Chen said. BSERP benefited from receiving full funding from the national government, and may be more efficient because it avoids service duplication frequently found in the U.S. system’s checks and balances and consensus approach. On the other hand, he added, the Chinese system of centralized and complete authority means that greater efficiency comes at a price of less stability and regional equality than the U.S. system.
Valuable Lessons from Japan Rail’s Shinkansen Expansion
Yuki Tanaka of the Japan International Transport Institute presented a post-analysis of an extension of Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail system on the island of Kyushu, in western Japan, completed five years ago. The project resulted in economic expansion, a reduction in carbon emissions, and an increase in rail travel in the region—results that she noted bode well for U.S. high-speed rail.
The new 79-mile Shinkansen segment, completed in 2004, reduced travel times between the northernmost and southernmost major cities by 90 minutes and takes 10 minutes less than the same trip by airplane. The public reacted with enthusiasm: in 2007, ridership reached 9,400 per day on this one section of premium-priced rail service.
Local businesses saw benefits as well. In a survey conducted by Japan Rail, 72 percent of businesses in one prefecture on the extension line reported that they saw positive effects from the rail service. “A large economic benefit has come from a large reduction in travel times,” Tanaka said.
The new Shinkansen service also brought an 80 percent reduction in total carbon dioxide emissions in the prefectures on the new line, she added.
High-speed rail in the United States could maximize its ridership, Tanaka noted, by adopting practices undertaken by Japan Rail to minimize the inconvenience of transferring from limited-express trains to Shinkansen—particularly by using the same platform for passengers transferring to or from conventional rail. Her co-author on the paper was Maskazu Monji of the Japan Railway Construction Transport and Technology Agency.
Increasing Capacity Is British ‘Ticket to Ride’
Prof. Stephen Ison of Loughboro University in Leicestershire, England (United Kingdom), discussed how the U.K. rail system is coping with an increase in demand that has strained the capacity of the current system while undertaking plans and construction for high-speed rail.
He cited a confluence of factors contributing to the boost in ridership, such as economic growth, road congestion, an increase in number of train miles, a decrease in fare price in relation to inflation, and performance improvements. The current rail network is only 30 percent of the size it was in the 1960s, and yet it carries more passengers, he noted.
According to Ison, the U.K. rail system has worked at enlarging capacity through a combination of methods: increasing service frequency, redesigning timetables to reduce the time trains spend in stations, and reconfiguring some railcars to provide additional capacity—for example, changing seating or removing seats and lavatories, and lengthening some trains with additional cars.
The most cost- and labor-intensive method of reform has been eliminating pinch points via new lines and enhancements, Ison said. This includes removing line junctions that cause lengthy delays and widening some sections of track.
The U.K. plans to greatly expand its high-speed rail network beginning in 2017.