Passenger Transport - July 12, 2013
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NEWS HEADLINES

House Hearing Considers Innovative Financing for Rail

Finding fresh sources of revenue for intercity passenger rail, leveraging right-of-way, and reforming federal programs that fund the development of railroad infrastructure were among the topics discussed at a July 9 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

DOT Deputy Secretary John ­Porcari testified about the need for continued federal investment in rail. “Demand for passenger rail is surging across the United States. We must continue to invest federal resources and leverage those with other ­public sector and private partners to fully realize the potential of rail,” he said.

To that end, “Right-of-way offers a potential way to generate revenue for public-private partnerships looking to support intercity passenger rail,” according to a summary created by subcommittee staff distributed at the hearing. “Right-of-way can be used to place telecommunication and other non-transportation infrastructure. Under such an arrangement, the railroad would be compensated annually for the utilization of its right-of-way, which would provide an annual source of revenue that could be leveraged for loans or bonding.”

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the full T&I Committee, said, “I also strongly believe that the only way we will be able to tackle the large capital needs for passenger rail is to partner with the ­private sector. Programs like the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program allow the federal government to leverage scarce resources and share risk with the private sector.”

Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Dunham (R-CA) also made the case for public-private partnerships during the hearing, saying: “Innovative finance has been increasingly used in the United States for highway and mass transit projects, and one of my goals for the upcoming reauthorization is extend that trend to passenger rail.”

Also testifying at the hearing were Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, president and chief executive officer, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation; Frank Chechile, chief executive officer, Parallel Infrastructure; and John Robert Smith, former mayor of Meridian, MS, and president and chief executive officer, Reconnecting America.

TTC, GO Transit Flooded by Record Rainfall

GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) were cleaning up and restoring service following severe rains July 8 that caused flash flooding and power outages throughout the Toronto region. The storm dropped almost four inches of rain in the city—more than the monthly average for July.

The flash flooding stopped a GO Transit commuter train carrying approximately 1,400 passengers.

Mark Ostler, media relations and issues specialist for Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit, said Toronto Police Services—specifically, its marine unit—rescued the passengers, none of whom sustained injuries. The agency’s transit safety officers assisted with the successful evacuation of everyone aboard, a process that took several hours.

During the storm and its aftermath, GO Transit mobilized buses to transport ­passengers, particularly in areas where rail service was impaired.

In a statement, Bruce McCuaig, Metrolinx president and chief executive officer, said: “The record-breaking amount of rainfall caused serious power outages and flooding throughout the region. Passengers were stranded on a train due to quickly rising water levels. I appreciate how patient and understanding customers were in spite of their ordeal and am very pleased to report that there were no reports of injuries.”

According to McCuaig, GO Transit resumed service on all seven of its rail lines and bus routes throughout the system as crews repaired flood damage.

TTC has stopped subway service to the last four stations of one line because of continued flooding at the terminal station, Kipling.

“Right now we have to turn trains back four stations from the end of the line. We are running 75 shuttle buses to bridge the gap left by the lack of subway service,” said Brad Ross, executive director of corporate communications.

Photo courtesy of Brad Ross, TTC
Water covers TTC track after a massive storm struck Toronto.

APTA, Others Request Clarity in New Buy America Policy for Utility Relocations

Applying Buy America requirements to utility relocation agreements has the potential to “create substantial delays and increased costs for transportation projects across the country with attendant adverse effects on jobs and the economy,” according to a recent letter from APTA and nine other affected organizations to Sec. Anthony Foxx.

The requirements reflect the FTA’s re-interpretation of existing Buy America requirements in the past year, despite a long-standing DOT practice that treats such relocation agreements as real estate transactions. The letter calls on DOT to “resolve the uncertainty” resulting from the policy shift.

“Since utilities and the companies that make the materials used in utility relocation have not been subject to Buy America historically, we believe that a transition period is needed,” the letter says. “During this transition period, the process of compliance for utility relocation can be clarified, waivers can be issued where appropriate, and education and training of affected industries can occur. Most importantly, transportation projects can move forward. We believe utility relocations should not be subject to Buy America requirements during this transition period.”

Utility relocation agreements occur when utility companies must move their infrastructure to accommodate the construction of transportation projects supported by federal funds. However, DOT has asserted that the new policy applies even when the relocation is funded with non-federal dollars. The letter states that transportation agencies “are being asked immediately to comply with new requirements without the benefit of clear guidance and a rulemaking to explain how utilities will demonstrate Buy America compliance.”

Rather, the signing organizations suggest that DOT develop a “reasonable framework” to allow utility companies to comply without disrupting existing transportation projects.

Others who signed the letter include the ­American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Edison Electric Institute.

To see the letter, click here.

TSA Commends 16 Agencies for Highest Security Levels

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently honored 16 U.S. public transportation agencies for achieving the highest rating—“Gold Standard”—on their most recent Baseline Assessments for Security Enhancement (BASE) for their dedication to building a strong security program. (Fifteen of the 16 agencies are APTA members.)

The 15 members recognized for achieving the Gold Standard in 2012 are MTA Bus Company and MTA Staten Island Railway, New York; ­Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Boston; San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Oakland, CA; Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, Jersey City, NJ; Metro Transit, ­Minneapolis-St. Paul; Metra commuter rail, Chicago; San Diego Metropolitan Transit System; Port Authority of ­Allegheny County, ­Pittsburgh; Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, San Jose, CA; Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City; Pace Suburban Bus, Arlington Heights, IL; Connecticut Transit-­Hartford Division; Greater ­Dayton Regional Transit Authority, Dayton, OH; and Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

TSA developed the BASE program to establish a security standard for individual system security programs and assess progress. This voluntary comprehensive review of public transit agency security programs focuses on multiple categories identified by the public transit community as fundamentals for a sound security program.

They include a review of topics such as an agency’s security plans, security training, drills/exercise programs, public outreach efforts, and background check programs. The BASE program analyzes the security program for each transit system and identifies opportunities to further enhance security.

These agencies were reviewed in 2012 and attained high scores across all categories.

TSA continues to work with public transit agencies across the country to develop and implement robust security practices system-wide.

Cherriots Opens Transit Center in Keizer, OR

Salem-Keizer Transit (Cherriots), Salem, OR, officially opened the new Keizer Transit Center in ribbon-cutting ceremonies July 1. More than 100 business, community, and transportation leaders and citizens attended the event.

The new station—described as a “jewel of a project”—is an example of sustainable design that reflects the agency’s strategic approach to service, according to Salem-Keizer Transit General Manager Allan Pollock.

“The new center helps define the ‘3Cs’ transit model, which includes transit centers, circulators in neighborhoods, and high-frequency corridor routes,” said Pollock. “It is one of four planned transit centers in our service area.”

Sustainable design features in the facility include a green roof, solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and rain gardens. The center includes a waiting area, public restrooms, a meeting room, and driver break rooms. Also on site is a park-and-ride that offers charging stations for up to five electric vehicles.

The $8.1 million cost for the public transit center came from a combination of federal and state funds, with no local funding required.

 

The design of the new Keizer Transit Center incorporates sustainable design features such as rain gardens and native plants.

 

Renovated MBTA Station Reopens

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston recently cut the ribbon to open the Littleton Commuter Rail Station, which underwent extensive improvements as part of the Fitchburg Double Track Project funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The project added a ­second mainline track to the existing track through the station. A new high-level platform, the length of a train, replaces the existing platform to allow for direct platform-to-coach boarding. Also, a new enclosed overhead walkway, with ramps, above the new track connects the parking lot with the platform.

“It is wonderful that, in reopening Littleton Station, the MBTA can once again improve service for our customers,” said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott. “Improvements like the platform upgrades and expanded parking create a better travel experience for our customers using ­Littleton Station.” “The Littleton Commuter Rail Station project is a model of what can be done when key stakeholders unite behind a vision for our community and work together to make it a reality,” said Rep. Niki ­Tsongas (D-MA).

Before the station reopening, MBTA owned a limited number of parking spaces. The agency used $2 million in grant funds from the commonwealth’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to purchase an adjacent 200-space private station parking lot. Since then, the MBTA has upgraded the lot to provide an off-street drop-off area connecting to the walkway to the platform.

 

Participants in dedication ceremonies for MBTA’s new Littleton Station, from left: Littleton Town Administrator Keith Bergman, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, state Rep. Jim Arciero, Reps. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA), and state Sen. Jamie Eldridge.

Metrolink Breaks Ground at Bob Hope Airport

Representatives of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail, and Los Angeles Metro recently broke ground for a new Metrolink station near the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

When it opens in 2015, the Bob Hope Airport-Hollywood Way Station on the Antelope Valley Line will complement the existing Burbank-Bob Hope Airport Metrolink Station on the Ventura County Line, which also serves Amtrak passengers, and the Regional Intermodal Transportation Center (RITC) being constructed by the airport to accommodate a bus transfer facility and rental car facilities.

“With this new Bob Hope Airport Metrolink station, residents of the Santa Clarita, Antelope, and North San Fernando valleys will have safe, convenient, and economical Metrolink rail service to the national air travel and local employment opportunities available at and around this regional airport,” said Metro Chair Michael D. Antonovich. “Connecting our airports to our rail system is a top priority for the region and will increase mobility and provide faster, more seamless transit options for residents throughout Southern California.”

Metro has worked with the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority during the development of both the RITC and the new Metrolink station, allocating $3.7 million of Los Angeles County Measure R funds toward development of the station.

Arndt to Head VIA

The VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Trustees, San ­Antonio, TX, has selected Jeffrey Arndt as the agency’s new president and chief executive officer. He has served in this capacity on an interim basis since Keith Parker left in November 2012 to head the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid ­Transit Authority.

Arndt joined VIA in 2012 as deputy chief executive ­officer and head of business support services. Earlier he worked 25 years with Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, eventually rising to the rank of senior vice president of operations/chief operating officer. He also spent five years as a research scientist/research specialist at the Texas Transportation Institute and worked for Parsons ­Brinckerhoff and First Transit.

For APTA, he is a member of the Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee, Bus Safety Committee, Legislative Committee, and Mid-Size Operations Committee.

Kupferman Dies; Senior Advisor to N.Y. MTA Chairman

Susan Kupferman, 54, senior advisor to the chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), died June 26 following a long illness.

At various times, ­Kupferman served the MTA as deputy executive director for policy, planning, and capital programs; chief operating officer; a member of the MTA board; president of MTA Bridges and Tunnels; and senior advisor to the chairman.

She also worked in New York State government as director of the Department of Strategic Planning and External Affairs at the New York State Thruway Authority and assistant secretary to the governor for transportation, and for the New York State Legislature and New York State DOT.

AROUND THE INDUSTRY

Los Angeles Metro to Acquire First Electric Buses

Los Angeles Metro has approved a contract with BYD Motors for the manufacture and delivery of up to 25 new all-electric buses as part of a $30 million clean air bus technology pilot project. These will be the agency’s first electric zero-emission public transit buses.

Metro’s Advanced Transit Vehicle Consortium, a partnership with Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, will initially purchase five of the 40-foot low floor vehicles. After the first period of testing and ­evaluation, the agency may choose to purchase up to 20 additional buses. Metro will also initiate a new solicitation to convert six existing Metro gasoline-electric hybrid buses to super low emission bus standards.

The contract contains a local jobs component that stipulates that the firm implement a local jobs program. BYD will comply by performing final assembly of bus components at its new manufacturing facilities in Lancaster, CA, which opened in May.

Through its Super Low/Zero Emission Bus Program, Metro is testing new electric vehicle technologies as a way to meet future vehicle emission reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board. The agency will evaluate whether the new all-electric buses can reduce operating and maintenance costs and lower life cycle costs compared with its current fleet.

Metro anticipates receiving the new buses early next year. Following an initial evaluation and testing period, Metro plans to initiate new procurements for additional “next generation” zero-emission and super low emission buses based on technology developments anticipated within the next one to three years.

Los Angeles Metro held a press event to announce its purchase of all-electric buses.

APTA NEWS

Calling All Leaders: Nominations Open

Are you a natural-born leader—or do you know someone who is?

Put your talents to work by running for a seat on APTA’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors or the Business Members Board of Governors. Details for each nominations process follow:

Executive Committee, Board
The APTA Nominating Committee is accepting nominations for the APTA Executive Committee and Board of Directors. The deadline is Aug. 2.

After considering nominations, the committee will recommend a slate of nominees to stand for election at APTA’s virtual annual business meeting and election Tuesday, Sept. 24, a few days before APTA’s Annual Meeting, Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Chicago.
In keeping with APTA’s commitment to sustainability, APTA sent a nominations packet to all members by e-mail on June 17.

The packet includes the Nominating Committee roster, list of open officer and director positions, and directions for accessing nomination and authorization forms.

The chair of the committee is APTA Past Chair Gary C. Thomas, president and executive director, Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Committee members include Lorraine Anderson, Regional Transportation District, Denver; Raul Bravo, Raul Bravo and Associates; Vida Covington, Sound Transit, Seattle; Grace Crunican, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District; Donna DeMartino, San Joaquin Regional Transit District, Stockton, CA; Carl Desrosiers, Société de Transport de Montréal; Aida ­Douglas, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Austin, TX; Huelon A. Harrison, Legacy Resource Group; Mark Huffer, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority; Ysela Llort, Miami-Dade ­Transit; Donna McNamee, Laketran, Grand River, OH; Hugh A. Mose, Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, PA; Tom Nolan, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency; Raquel Olivier, Olivier Incorporated; Maryanne Roberts, Bombardier Transportation; Matthew O. Tucker, North County Transit District, Oceanside, CA; Thomas Waldron, AECOM; and James Weinstein, New Jersey Transit Corporation.

More information is available here or from Jim LaRusch.

Business Member Board of Governors
The APTA Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG) Nominations Committee is accepting nominations through Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. (Eastern time) from individuals interested in representing APTA’s private sector members in leadership positions. Late submissions will not be accepted.

The Nominations Committee will select 11 APTA business members to serve on the BMBG and also for positions on the board that might become vacant during the next year. Each member of the BMBG serves one two-year term and may be re-elected.
APTA business members will vote on the slate of nominees in an election Sunday, Sept. 29, during the APTA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The term for those elected begins at the conclusion of the meeting and expires in 2015.

The BMBG sets the course and direction for APTA business member activities and normally meets four times per year, usually in conjunction with major APTA meetings.

In selecting nominees to represent business members on the BMBG, the committee will consider the nominees’ prior record of participation on APTA committees and attendance at BMBG meetings. Diversity on the board is encouraged.

Chuck Wochele, managing partner and owner, TransitConsult LLC, and BMBG immediate past chair, chairs the Nominations Committee.

Committee members include John Bartosiewicz, McDonald Transit Associates Inc.; Huelon Harrison, Legacy Resource Group; Janet Rogers, Stacy and ­Witbeck Inc.; and Paul Skoutelas, ­Parsons Brinckerhoff.

For more information and to access the nominations form, click here. For questions or other details, contact Fran Hooper.

COMTO and APTA Collaborate to Strengthen DBEs

Clear, effective communication is key to improving partnerships between Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and prime contractors. As such, it is one of the best practices at the center of a multi-year partnership between APTA and the Council of Minority Transportation ­Officials (COMTO).

The partnership, which officially kicked off in summer 2012 with a series of conference calls and subsequent presentations at APTA meetings, focused on three critical issues: DBE sustainability, DBE certification, and prime/­subcontractor relationships.

The issue of prompt payment, which originally surfaced at the COMTO-APTA DBE Assembly at the APTA 2012 Annual Meeting in Seattle, was the focus of a panel discussion at the 2013 APTA Rail Conference in Philadelphia. This session specifically addressed several questions related to prompt payment: what agencies can do to ensure they are ­paying their business ­partners on time, what primes do to make sure that they pay their DBEs—and all subcontractors—on time, and what additional measures agencies can take to make sure that DBEs are getting paid.

The next step in the ongoing COMTO-APTA DBE conversation is an event at the COMTO Annual Meeting, July 13-17 in Jacksonville, FL, that will focus on mentor-protégé programs—how they work and why, and how they can benefit both companies and the public transit agencies that sponsor and encourage the programs.

A third presentation during the 2013 APTA Annual Meeting, Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Chicago, will address the role of ­public transit agencies in successful DBE programs.

APTA and COMTO also have partnered on filing comments to DOT on DBE rulemaking issues.

Multimodal Workshop for Planners and Schedulers in San Francisco

APTA will hold its 2013 Multimodal Operations Planning Workshop July 28-31 in San Francisco, hosted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans).

This workshop promotes and advances the work of America’s professional public transportation planners and schedulers. It is an information sharing opportunity for both established professionals and individuals who are new to the field.

Sessions will provide participants with the latest information on scheduling, facilities planning, technological advances, designing routes, and Bus Rapid Transit. The schedule currently includes these topics:

* Host sessions featuring public transit in the San Francisco area;
* Balancing capacity and demand;
* Service planning for special events;
* Innovations in vehicles, service planning, and scheduling;
* Planning and scheduling water transit;
* Planning for economic recovery; and
* Transit facility design.

A new addition this year will be a display of public transit system maps submitted for review by conference attendees—who will also vote to select the best example which will be recognized in the closing session. The workshop will conclude with technical tours of operational facilities and projects at SFMTA and SamTrans.

Additional information on the workshop is available here.

COMMENTARY

American Exceptionalism and High-Speed Rail

BY AL ENGEL, Principal, Al Engel Consulting

French historian and author Alexis de Tocqueville was the first writer to describe the United States as “exceptional” more than 170 years ago, because it was founded on a set of ideals, including liberty and equality, rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity, or religion.

President Abraham Lincoln enshrined these core ideals in his Gettysburg Address when he described the nation as “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

But our cultural heritage also is that of a nation of revolutionaries who believe in rugged individualism, populism, and laissez-faire government policies. It is this aspect of American exceptionalism that causes the nation to be the only major developed economy in the world that has not deployed true high-speed rail as a transportation tool to link major city pairs, as have Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Korea, Taiwan, China, and others.

Amid great fanfare, France launched its high-speed rail service, dubbed the TGV, in 1981 and promoted it as a new mode of transport. The casual observer might have come to the conclusion that it was a French innovation, given the way it was being marketed. The fact that Japan had introduced high-speed rail in the Tokyo-Osaka corridor almost two decades earlier didn’t seem to undermine the notion that it was a French innovation. To be sure, the French improved the technology substantially and introduced the articulated trainset where coaches shared a truck at the coupler. Beyond the dramatic time reduction for a trip between Paris and Lyon (300 miles in two hours), the environment was upscale and the service chic.

The TGV’s tremendous success, coupled with the long-term excellent performance of the Japanese Shinkansen services, inspired a few Americans in 1983 to form the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association. But here we are 30 years later, and we haven’t built one mile of high-speed rail in the United States.

It’s true that Amtrak launched the Acela, with the unwavering support of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, former DOT Secretary Federico Peña, and former FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris, under the leadership of David Carol, then Amtrak’s vice president for high-speed rail, and others at Amtrak in the early 1990s. The program was undercapitalized and delayed in delivering revenue service, but finally in late 2000 the service was inaugurated.

While there are those who might challenge the Acela’s technical success, no one can argue its commercial success. Peak periods are routinely sold out and even during the shoulder the load factor is quite respectable. It is also a business success for Amtrak as it generates a sizable cash surplus over operating expenses above the rail. In Amtrak lingo, it is described as a profitable business line. Certainly the recovery ratio far exceeds any other public rail transportation service in the country.

You would think that the Acela experience would have Americans clamoring for more of this service in other major intercity corridors or “mega-regions.” I am well aware of the progress being made on higher-performance passenger rail in California and the other intercity corridors in the Midwest, Southeast, Northwest, and Texas. But many of these projects still face stiff opposition.

For example, in California one of the project’s founders is supporting a lawsuit to stop it because it does not meet the intent of the state law authorizing the $9 billion general obligation bond (GO bond) sale for the project. Now it’s true that there have been numerous threats to this project, which have been overcome, but this trial is especially troubling considering key witnesses. The judge, who heard the complaint on May 31, has until the end of August to render a decision.

You will not find a more committed transportation and business professional than this author, advocating for use of the high-speed rail mode to build a balanced transportation network for this country. I am just concerned that we have not yet ignited the public imagination about the need for this mode in our society. Or is it that we have not set their voices free? Perhaps there is a lack of appreciation by most of the public of the opportunity high-speed rail represents in addressing our mobility, economic, and environmental challenges.

We have well over 300 million people in the U.S. Thirty million riders a year experience Amtrak and about 3.2 million ride Acela annually. And many of these are repeat riders. While there are many folks who travel to Europe and, recently, more extensively to Asia, many of these travelers do their travel on package tours, which make extensive use of motor coaches and even riverboats. Hence, the exposure level of Americans to intercity passenger rail, let alone high-speed rail, may still be limited.

So how do we fix that? It’s leadership, plain and simple. Leadership requires vision and strategic thinking. Leadership also requires communication skills and the ability to execute. Einstein said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

As early as January 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had the vision in his State of the Union Address to proclaim, “I will ask for funds to study high-speed rail transportation between urban ­centers. We will begin with test projects between Washington and Boston. On high-speed trains, passengers could travel this distance in less than four hours.” That goal is still a dream and could still be more than 25 years off.

The general public did not storm the nation’s capital in the middle of the 20th century demanding the construction of an Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. In fact, when our state and federal leaders proposed the project, there were many doubters and strong opponents.

But today, the Oracle of Omaha ­(Warren Buffett), in a recent interview with Becky Quick of CNBC, hails this public investment as “brilliant” when asked his opinion on increasing public investment in transportation infrastructure. (He was not asked directly about high-speed rail.) But in a recent Wall Street Journal interview by Andy Pasztor with the CEO of Bombardier, the large aircraft, recreational vehicle, and rail equipment manufacturer, Pierre Beaudoin replied, “These things you have to look at in the long-term. Americans are traveling all over the world, and they are getting on high-speed trains in China and throughout Europe . . . and they are seeing the benefits. So I think the trend is there.”

Let’s say there is a favorable trend; the challenge to us on APTA’s High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Committee and those of like mind is to find a way to accelerate the execution of the steps necessary to have a sustainable program. When the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan was presented with the idea of high-speed rail in the early 1990s, he reacted favorably but wanted to outdo our global competitors by advancing the technology and making it an American innovation. This attempt at speaking to American exceptionalism led to an unproductive maglev R&D program that set back true progress by a decade. Fortunately, during this timeframe, Amtrak was successful in electrifying the north end of the Northeast Corridor and procuring the Acela trainsets.
It’s not that Americans never adopt foreign technology. Even in the railroad industry, when there was an opportunity to take advantage of a beneficial new technology, Ameri-cans have been quick to adopt it.

Some have been successful—like spring clip rail fasteners—and others have not been so successful—like diesel hydraulic locomotives. But our view of an increasingly technologically integrated world is changing rapidly. In an era when there is no longer a 100 percent U.S.-made automobile and many young people think Honda is an ­American brand, perhaps the time is right to “Americanize” high-speed rail.

The fact that every industrialized nation on the globe, including the United Kingdom, has a national high-speed rail policy seems to work against the success of this mode taking hold in the U.S. Our national nature is that of the pioneer and is highly individualistic.
Incorporating some of those traits in the U.S. fast train program could be key to gaining broader-based support at the senior leadership level and eventually the public. Building upon the lessons of international experience, we must adapt this technology to make it our own. The French did it with a novel equipment design, spectacular stations, and a re-organization of customer service, to name a few things. China focused on further equipment innovations and a highly automated infrastructure construction approach. Germany, Spain, and others in the high-speed rail club provide additional clues. What can and will the U.S. do to make high-speed rail our own and not just an imported technology?

Kenneth Sislak, assistant vice ­president, AECOM, and Thomas Frawley, principal, Thomas E. Frawley Consulting, LLC, contributed to this article, which has been excerpted from the June 2013 issue of Speedlines, a publication of APTA’s High-Speed and Intercity Pas­senger Rail Committee. The author and contributors are members of the committee.