Monday, March 9, 2009

Don't Let High Speed Rail Get BRTized

You know that definition problem that BRT has. No one knows what it is so they just call everything BRT that doesn't stop every block like a city bus. Well something like this for HSR has got Yonah visibly angry. So what is the high speed threshold? Is it over 150? How do we make sure that HSR doesn't get BRTized?


ABC said...

Does it really matter?

$8b is not enough to do anything towards real HSR unless it was all sunk in one project. I'd guess it's a safe bet that won't happen.

In the meanwhile, as long as this money results in investments that improve passenger rail experience, isn't that a positive thing?

If we become stuck on semantics or in some notion of HSR purity, what we'd likely see is more of the same: money spent on studies, plans, and concepts but not on engineering or construction.

Far better to see this cash spread to the NEC, CA, the Cascades, and possibly Michigan for incremental but meaningful improvements (even if not "pure" HSR) than to see it get sucked down by multiple pipe dreams in the name of HSR purity.

arcady said...

I would draw the line at 125 mph. That's the speed of perfectly ordinary Amfleets with perfectly ordinary 30 year old AEM-7s on perfectly ordinary rails, and it's also a dividing point in FRA regulations in several ways. I'd like to propose a new term for this kind of operation: Normal Speed Rail. And I think that this country needs Normal Speed Rail before it makes the leap to High Speed Rail, especially since NSR is something we can largely build here and now, rather than something that needs dozens studies and billions of dollars of funding commitments before anything gets done.

Cap'n Transit said...

There's no question that this is a bait-and-switch. It's dishonest. And yet...

There's a difference between the BRT bait-and-switch and the high-speed rail bait-and-switch. The difference is that BRT is always marketed as "like rail, but cheaper." There's already a standard there: if it does what you'd expect a train to do, it's "like rail."

High-speed rail isn't like high-speed rail, it is high-speed rail. It has particular standards, which are fairly well enforced. And it can't be cheaper than itself.

I think that Christopher Parker's comment is very valuable: "But it might be possible to slash trip times without raising top speed at all. In fact, it might be a more efficient use of dollars to raise the lowest speeds rather than raise the top speed."

Also remember that the TGV is effective even though just about every train runs on conventional tracks for some part of the way.

Sam S. said...

Unless there's political will I believe high speed rail in this country will be 110 mph which is essentially Amtrak trains that are on time and spend less time waiting on freight trains.

Assuming California gets its act together, I don't see 200+ mph trains on any other corridor with the current funding stream.

Some corridors are farther along than others. Cascades in the Northwest, Chicago-St. Louis, and maybe Florida.

spag said...

although i am aware of the 200 kph (125 mph) limit most publications use (and some even talk about the Swedish X2000 being "technically" high speed because they are allowed to go at 205 kph when behind schedule)...

...I prefer to define modern railways as services faster and more comfortable than driving and flying, not the opposite.

I know it is harder to use my definition but it is important when you market a rail service, I think.

Anonymous said...

... maybe a little too angry. I think I pissed off half my readers.

The Urbanophile said...

I think the BRT and HSR situations are totally different.

However, I am very concerned that promoting service such as the proposed Midwest 110MPH network as "high speed" will destroy the high speed rail brand in the United States.

Alon Levy said...

The South is probably the worst region to be incremental in. The Piedmont terrain in North Carolina and Georgia lends itself well to HSR, which can climb steeper slopes than NSR, without being too mountainous as to require tunnels. I don't think it's possible to build straight track there without requiring high speeds.

Conversely, the Midwest is flat enough that some of its lines are perfectly straight, and could in principle host HSR if they were electrified and multi-tracked. The Water Level Route is straighter than the Shinkansen, and west of Buffalo is shorter than I-90. (To put things in perspective, Philly-Pittsburgh is 305 miles on roads and 353 on rail.) The lines from Chicago to St. Louis and Indianapolis are also quite straight.

Matt Fisher said...

As much as I can't stand that they call our Transitway BRT system here in Ottawa "rapid transit" (the OC Transpo "rapid transit network" is actually 8 bus routes and just one non-electrified rail line) that is supposedly "rail on rubber tires" (according to BRT boosters), and I didn't expect BRT to fully emulate rail, I'll set the boundaries:

Medium speed > 160-200 km/h (100-125 mph)
Semi high speed > 200-250 km/h (125-155 mph)
High speed > 250+ km/h (155+ mph)

Yes, some HSR does use more conventional operations. "Semi high speed" refers to upgraded lines, but can also include those newly built. I've heard about examples of this. Usually, what I call medium speed is conventional, and would be ideal with electrification.

And to close, BRT is not truly "just like rail, but cheaper". This is more of a hoax. Like that guy James Inhofe from Oklahoma calls global warming "a hoax".

Don't call me a jealous "railfan". They should have gone here with LRT over BRT. The two are not alike, even when we often expect BRT to do a few things rail can do.

spag said...

@Matt Fisher rail on rubber tires? huh. why not say "just like rail but slower, less convenient and smaller capacity".

but in fact, there is such thing as rail on rubber tires, though, French-speaking metro lines often have rubber tires :)