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— by Angela Cotey, associate editor
When it comes to advancing true high-speed rail projects in the United States — trains that operate at top speeds of at least 150 mph, according to the Federal Railroad Administration — Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and the California High Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) proposed statewide system are the signature projects. Now, officials from both organizations are teaming up to explore procurement opportunities for high-speed trains.
At a Jan. 17 press teleconference, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman, CHSRA CEO Jeff Morales and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo laid out a plan to seek a standardized design for a train that could operate at speeds up to 220 mph in both the Northeast and California. To begin the process, the agencies formally issued a request for information (RFI).
"Our shared goal is to make sure as we move the program forward, we develop a high- speed rail industry in the United States," Morales said.
By developing a standardized train design and combining Amtrak's and CHSRA's eventual train orders, high-speed train manufacturers would be more likely to build factories in the United States, creating a ripple effect throughout the domestic supply chain, Szabo added.
Amtrak and CHSRA are seeking a train that has the same specifications, but can be tailored to accommodate the infrastructure that's unique to each region. For example, on the Northeast Corridor, where the right of way existed long before high-speed train service was planned, Amtrak would need a train that can negotiate curves. In California, high-speed trains would operate along a straighter alignment.
"We'll have different trucks underneath — the stiffer the trucks, the faster they can go on a straighter line," Boardman said.
During the RFI process, CHSRA and Amtrak officials are hoping train manufacturers will incorporate best practices and designs based on trains already operating successfully throughout the world.
"We're not looking to invent things as we go along," said Morales. "This process is not to create new technologies, but to take advantage of the best technologies that are out there."
The parties also are hoping to get a feel for how far they can push the standardization envelope.
"This is just the beginning of the process to reach out to industry and see what's out there. The goal is to drive out as much commonality as possible," Morales said. "If we issue our own orders, we're much more subject to what the industry can provide. By combining our efforts, we can drive that market in a way we can't if we purchase separately."
Amtrak and CHSRA officials hope to issue a request for proposals by September. Amtrak, which is seeking to increase the number of high-speed trainsets that operate on the Northeast Corridor to accommodate ridership demand, likely will place an order before CHSRA, which is still "at least a year away from starting that process in earnest," said Morales. Combined, the two parties plan to order about 60 trainsets.