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Going forward, the transit industry is facing a host of challenges. When asked which of those challenges are the most critical to overcome, respondents to a recent ProgressiveRailroading.com online survey hit the nail on the head: How to develop, fund and operate successful transit-rail systems nationwide.
“The public and politicians are realizing there actually is a demand and need for passenger-rail service,” one survey taker wrote. “Unfortunately, with all of the mergers and abandonments, and the increase in freight traffic, there is not the capacity to provide more service.”
One possible solution: Operate the two separately, as one respondent suggested: “Coordinate passenger and freight-rail operations so passengers ride on passenger rails (straight, reliable, high speed, etc.) and freight rides on freight rails, so neither gets in the way of the other.”
High-speed rail was a hot topic, too, although survey takers had different ideas on what types of technology should be used. One noted that magnetic levitation (maglev) trains operating at speeds of at least 280 mph would be best for the country and cost less to maintain, while another respondent said not to “get caught up in the maglev mind frame,” but rather use proven, off-the-shelf technology so trains can still run over existing tracks.
Regardless of the technology selected, high-speed rail will be critical to attract more passengers to transit rail.
“With skyrocketing gas prices and more comfortable carriers, rail passenger travel will make a strong comeback, but only if the speeds and accessibility are dramatically increased,” one wrote. “Japan, France and Germany already are well into the ball game; we don’t even know the rules yet.”
And as always, figuring out how to develop and fund passenger-rail service — high speed, intercity or other — is a top-of-mind concern.
“Public transportation ... is a utility everyone wants and needs, and no one wants to pay for,” one respondent said. “This country must realize that building a first-class passenger-rail system will require the same public commitment that was required to build a first-class highway system.”
— Angela Cotey