Thursday, April 1, 2010

U.S. moves forward on high speed rail - barely

I have some rail industry news spread over the past week or so, which I'll use here to contrast the supposed progress of the United States with other countries that are far ahead.

First, we have the U.S. finally getting around to establishing a formal office with responsibility for high speed passenger rail transportation. In a letter to employees last week, Amtrak President Joe Boardman announced the creation of a High-Speed Rail Department. Read more. Note, of course, that this does not mean any high speed rail capability has actually been built in the U.S. yet. Just that we finally have an office that might get around to actually doing something.

Things are still be studied: the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority just released its study of HSR in Colorado, which found that two routes - between Fort Collins and Pueblo and between Denver International Airport and Eagle County - have the best "operating and cost-benefit results" of the various routes studied. Read more. What's interesting is that it pegs the cost for this small system at $21.1 billion, which highlights how inadequate is the estimate of getting HSR in California for just $10 billion.

By contrast, we next look to France, where high speed rail has been operating for a couple of decades (the LGV Sud-Est from Paris to Lyon opened in 1981). Railway Age reported:

A group led by Vinci SA has won a $9.7 billion contract to build and operate 186 miles of high speed rail between the French cities of Tours and Bordeaux. The deal, expected to be signed during the second half of the year, also includes consortium partners Axa SA and Caisse des Depots et Consignations.

The five-year project is expected to commence construction in 2011, according to French National Railways (SNCF).
Finally, we take note of how the economic crisis is severely affecting funding for urban transit. Ontario faces a deficit of C$21.3 billion, and has announced that it is cutting C$4 billion from construction of greater Toronto area transit infrastructure. Read more.

The situation in the U.S. is even more grim. We reported last month on the budget cuts to New York City's transit authority. Railway Age just reported that in California, the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Regional Transit District have decided to cut bus and light rail service by 22% in the face of a $11 million budget deficit. Read more.

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