APTA | Passenger Transport
February 19, 2010

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APTA/UIC High-Speed Rail Practicums Mark Historic Partnership
By JOHN R. BELL, APTA Program Manager-Communications

The first-ever International Practicums on Implementing High-Speed Rail in the United States were held in three U.S. cities the second week of February, bringing together a host of international speakers, representatives from the administration, and state and local officials.

Approximately 500 decision-makers attended the three seminars, developed through a partnership between the International Union of Railways (UIC) and APTA. The events were held in Washington, DC, on Feb. 8-9; in Chicago Feb. 9-11; and in Los Angeles Feb. 11-13. Each event covered all aspects of high-speed and high-performance rail, including equipment, operations, infrastructure, customers and marketing, economics, management, and finances. It was deemed a graduate-level course in high-speed rail.

Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Joseph Szabo participated in the Chicago and Los Angeles practicums.

Speaking before the luncheon audience in Washington, FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae said: “It is an amazing time as I stand before you.” Heralding the swiftness with which high-speed rail investment has been implemented, she said: “This is about public dollars and the public benefits they return,” pointing out the billions of dollars in traffic congestion costs that high-speed rail will help to alleviate. In the 26 most congested airline hubs, Rae noted, 50 percent of flights are for distances of less than 500 miles.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and Mayor Richard Daley were among the speakers at the Chicago event. In Los Angeles, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, Wisconsin DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, and David Crane, a special advisor to the governor of California, presented their perspectives. Members of APTA’s High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee, chaired by Rod Diridon, took part in all three practicums, and presenters attended from seven countries including Japan, France, and Germany.

“I am very happy to be alongside APTA at a time I consider historic for the development of passenger rail in North America,” said UIC Director General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux. “Attendance at the three practica demonstrates that the time is right for drastic rail improvement both in the incremental improvements and in combination with very high-speed links.”

UIC Chairman Yoshio Ishida said in his opening remarks for the Washington seminar that the success of the U.S. high-speed rail system will hinge on its level of interconnectivity with conventional public transportation.

Ishida noted that he traveled to the Washington region via the Amtrak Acela train following his flight from Paris. “As a railway man, I was truly delighted,” he said. “I was very happy to know that the train in the U.S. was running on time, in spite of this weather,” referring to the catastrophic snowstorms that struck the east coast in early February.

APTA President William Millar drew parallels between the advent of high-speed rail and other moments in American history. “I’m reminded of 1961, when President Kennedy called on the nation to devote itself to putting a man on the moon by the end of that decade,” Millar said.

The practicums featured a presentation by Ignacio Barron de Angoiti, director of the passenger department at UIC, who discussed the capabilities and limitations of high-speed rail networks.

Travel time is important to bringing in riders, Barron said, noting that systems in Japan, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, and Italy have demonstrated that when travel time is four hours or less, high-speed rail captures 50 percent of combined air and rail traffic.

Several speakers discussed the ways high-speed rail benefits the environment and the energy profile of the nations it serves. Atsushi Yokoyama, director of Japan Railways Group’s Paris office, presented data showing that the Japanese Shinkansen is nearly six times as energy-efficient as automobile travel and is responsible for only 13 percent of the carbon emissions.

All three practicums provided participants with a comprehensive overview of what it will take to build and operate high- and higher-speed rail systems in the U.S., as well as information about the planning and operational models that currently exist worldwide



Photo by Steve Barrett
Participants in the Practicum on High-Speed Rail held Feb. 7 in Washington, DC, include, from right: Ignacio Barron de Angoiti, director of the passenger department at UIC; FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae; APTA President William Millar; UIC Chairman Yoshio Ishida; and his interpreter. UIC Director General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux also took part in the event.

Photo by Gonzalo Reyes Rodriguez
Crowds listened to a roster of speakers at the Chicago high-speed rail practicum.


Photo by Christopher Lovdahl, Downtown Exposure
Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo addressed the high-speed rail practicum in Los Angeles.



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