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Rail News Home High-Speed Rail

2/10/2010



Rail News: High-Speed Rail

APTA/UIC's High Speed Practicum - Chicago: Day One


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Day One of the American Public Transportation Association/Union Internationale des Chemins de fer’s (UIC) International Practicum on Implementing High Speed Rail in the United States, which was held Feb. 9 at the Chicago Hilton, should have focused on one topic and one topic only: high-speed rail.

Instead, the event was, at times, overshadowed by weather issues — both in the Midwest (Chicago was forecast to receive about 10 inches of snow) and on the East Coast, where some of the event’s speakers and attendees were traveling from and dealing with backed-up airports from last weekend’s 30-inch snowfall while facing another big storm mid-week.

Ironically, the weather woes highlighted the importance of rail travel all the more. Attendees who made it to the Chicago practicum by rail arrived on time; those traveling in by car or air didn’t.

One person who made it out of Washington, D.C., was Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, who gave the keynote speak during the luncheon that kicked off the day’s events. His presentation focused half on the recent high-speed stimulus grant announcement and half on the FRA’s efforts to create a national rail plan.

Regarding the grant awards, Szabo said the FRA “chose the projects with the best prospects for success,” considering factors such as a project’s recovery and reinvestment ability, competitive travel times, readiness to advance, return on investment/public benefit and whether it created a foundation for future networks.

The goal: create a pipeline of projects so as one project is being finished, others are ready to advance, Szabo said.

“Each has a place in the plan,” he said.

FRA customer service teams currently are working with states — both “recipients” and “future recipients” as Szabo referred to them as — to help states that did receive funds determine next steps and help states that didn’t receive funds improve their proposals so they can obtain funds in future rounds.  

In terms of the national rail plan, Szabo said high-speed and intercity passenger rail is only one component — an effort to advance both must not harm the existing freight network.

The FRA currently is working to identify and define key public policy issues relating to the plan, including governance, finance and strategic goals. In the coming months, the administration will address those issues through public outreach, holding meetings, conference calls and Webinars.

“We want to have a live, interactive process to reach out to all modes to see how it all fits together,” said Szabo, adding that the FRA will seek input from state DOTs, marine agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration before reviewing a final plan this summer.

The FRA will be seeking input on safety, network design/development, governance, funding/finance, capacity building, public/private opportunities and challenges.

The remainder of the day consisted of two sessions: a general introduction to high-speed rail around the world and high-speed rail infrastructure. The two-hour-plus sessions gave attendees — primarily representatives from state DOTs and engineering firms — just a small taste of what was to come during the next couple of days.

Barry Barker, APTA’s vice chair-government affairs, said attendees were to “engage, make contacts and ask questions” before, during and in-between the 17 hours worth of educational sessions.

Some of the interesting points raised during Day One’s sessions:

Ignacio Barrón, director of UIC’s passenger department:
• “High speed” means at least 155 mph.
• The No. 1 most important principal of high-speed rail: understanding that it’s a system, comprising infrastructure, rolling stock, signaling systems, maintenance systems, management, station emplacement, operating rules, marketing and financing — and all those things must be considered at the same time.
• “Performance” comprises commercial speed, frequency, accessibility, comfort, total travel time, price, safety and reliability (Spain reimburses its high-speed passengers for the full price of their ticket if a train is more than five minutes late).

Luis López Ruiz, director of Spain’s ADIF:
• The important target is not necessarily how much you can increase speed, but to be competitive with air travel.

On Day Two's agenda: sessions on rolling stock, operations, and “the market and customers.”

Angela Cotey


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/10/2010