Friday, January 29, 2010

What exactly is “high speed passenger rail”?

by Guest Blogger Vickie Sheehan

There seems to be some confusion on what exactly is High Speed Passenger Rail. Many people keep asking - Will this be like bullet trains? Will we be able to zip between Vancouver, B.C. and Eugene, OR at 150 miles per hour? Well, not today or in the near future, but a possibility we are working towards in the long term.

Amtrak Cascades trains travel at a maximum speed of 79 mph today. Although our trains are designed to go as fast as 125 mph, we are restricted to 79 miles per hour due to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, track conditions, rail traffic congestion, and our geography (mountains, water, lots of curves, etc.).

What this does mean is that Amtrak Cascades will continue to travel at 79 mph, but we will be able to work towards incrementally increasing the speeds to 90 mph and eventually 110 mph. Now, bear in mind, this is not 110 mph non-stop between Vancouver, B.C. and Eugene, OR, as we do have to stop at 15 intermediate cities along the way. This means that there will be bursts of speed in designated “straightaways” where we can sustain these speeds.

There has been a lot of conversation about high speed rail recently because of some exciting news we got on Wednesday. This exciting news was in the form of a $590 million ARRA award through the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program.
WSDOT applied for over $1.3 billion in October 2009 for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) .

What does this mean for Washington? As a result of this funding, two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round trips may be added between Seattle and Portland, for a total of six. Even better, the projects that this funding will help complete will help Amtrak Cascades trains be more on-time and reliable. This alone will be a significant benefit to those of you who have ever experienced train delays.

An amazing fact about this recent sum is that Washington State has invested over $331 million alone in support of high speed passenger rail over the last 15 years. To receive federal support of $590 million is a huge boost that will help improve the Amtrak Cascades service tremendously. And we will have more opportunities to apply for additional federal funding from the $2.5 billion set aside for high speed rail in the federal transportation appropriations bill approved in December 2009.


Anonymous said...

Is there a list of the specific projects that got approved? For example, how many new trainsets are funded, new locomotives, did all of the Pt. Defiance bypass get funded, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anything on the horizon for restoring the Pioneer Route between SLC and Denver? I know that was being pursued but seemed to have stalled in Congress when it was discovered that it would cost money to buy equipment, hire staff, and re-open mothballed stations (gasp). Hopefully the powers-that-be are taking a second look at this. Any support from WSDOT on this?

Vickie Sheehan-WSDOT said...

We do not yet know what specific projects were funded from our total application. We will be meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the next few weeks to work out the details and requirements moving forward. As soon as we know, we will get the word out.

Anonymous said...

So... perhaps we should stop calling this 'high-speed' 79mph is slower than I (and many others) occasionally find myself (ourselves) going on I-5 while driving to Portland. Perhaps just, passenger rail is a more descriptive term.

Japan set the standard for high speed rail about 50 years ago in 1964, and it was faster than 79mph.

neroden@gmail said...

It will be great to know what projects got funded. I know some of the specific projects will cut minutes off the scheduled time, and some will increase the schedule reliability to the point where the scheduled recovery time could be decreased.

So these projects quite simply mean "faster trains" from the point of view of endpoint-to-endpoint travel. And I think that average end-to-end speed matters more for "high speed" than the top speed on the speedometer. So I hope these projects got funded. :-)

Anonymous said...

Great story as for me. I'd like to read something more concerning this theme. Thank you for giving this info.

Anonymous said...

Is WSDOT planning on purchasing high-speed locomotives? How fast would they go? When are we expected to see speeds reach 110mph and 150mph?

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