Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Comments on the proposed MagLev project between Washington, DC and Baltimore

Image courtesy of Northeast Maglev.

Northeast Maglev is currently accepting comments on the proposed MagLev line connecting Washington, DC to Baltimore. The Japanese high-speed rail technology would enable people to travel between the two cities in just 15 minutes - far shorter than the current 40-minute travel time. Ultimately, this new HSR line would extend all the way up to New York City through Philadelphia, similar to (but much faster than) the Southern half of Amtrak's current rail line along the Northeast Corridor.

Here are the comments I've submitted in support of this project:
As a transportation policy writer, as an advocate for safe and sustainable transportation options, and as a frequent rider of regional rail in the Northeast Corridor, I am writing in support of the proposed SCMagLev project connecting Washington, DC to Baltimore. This new high-speed rail project will help commuters travel faster and more safely between the two cities, and as we have seen around the world, high-speed rail will have a net positive economic impact for the Northeast US.

Japan, which is developing the MagLev technology and is helping to fund the SCMaglev Project, is no stranger to high-speed rail. The first high-speed rail line in the world, Japan’s shinkansen system connects Japan’s major cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka. In the 50 years that the shinkansen has been operating, it has carried 10 billion people and yet has seen zero accident-related passenger deaths or injuries. That is an amazing safety record. What’s more, the average delay on the shinkansen is a mere 36 seconds, even in bad weather – which makes for an impressive on-time performance record, as well. Of course, the shinkansen does not operate on MagLev, but it is this legacy of safety and punctuality that gives me confidence in the newer technology.

High-speed rail also generates economic benefits, and we can see examples of these benefits in the countries that have adopted high-speed rail ahead of the United States. In the UK, 8,000 people were employed in the construction of a high-speed link between London and the Channel Tunnel. In Germany, towns that got a station on the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line experienced a 2.7 percent increase in overall economic activity compared with the rest of the region. In Japan, property values near shinkansen stations are 67 percent higher than property values further away.

The United States – and the DC-Baltimore area more specifically – could become a similar success story, but only if we make the investments necessary now to put us on that path. There is no question that MagLev, one of the very newest technologies in the high-speed rail landscape, will be of great upfront cost. But these costs will be shared between state funds, federal assistance, private investment, and Japanese business interests.

And the benefits are many. Shortening the trip between DC and Baltimore to a mere 15 minutes will connect two major cities like never before, making it easier for commuters to live in one city and work in the other. And with an intermediate station at BWI International Airport, people in our region could easily take the high-speed train to the airport – far faster than the current Amtrak line – and fly anywhere in the country or the world. This intermodality increases the benefit of MagLev to travelers manifold, allowing people to spend more time at their destination and less time in transit.

In one of the most heavily congested corridors in our country, MagLev will help take cars off the road as riding the train to work becomes a more feasible and comfortable option. This will help mitigate congestion on our roads, thereby reducing commute times even for those who choose to continue driving. This will also reduce air emissions from our transportation sector, which is the highest source of carbon emissions in our country – benefiting our region and beyond.

The DC-Baltimore link would only be the beginning: I understand that the ultimate vision is to have a MagLev line connecting DC all the way to New York City, through Philadelphia. This would be revolutionary. In the time it currently takes someone to take the train into New York City from Northern New Jersey or Southwest Connecticut – a trip millions of commuters make every day – someone could ride MagLev all the way from Philadelphia to NYC in the same amount of time. Minimizing travel times and maximizing commuter safety in this way by building such a MagLev line will revolutionize work and travel patterns along the Northeast Corridor.

And in our part of the country, the stakes could not be higher. The age of our infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor is showing: whether it’s derailments near Philadelphia, speed restrictions outside of Baltimore, or electricity outages in Connecticut, our current rail system is not adequately serving the needs of our population. We need to make our railways safe again, and we need to make them faster – and MagLev is the technology that will help us do that.

As Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said after experiencing MagLev for himself in Japan, “There’s no question that this is the future of transportation.” MagLev can be our future in the United States as well, reducing travel times and emissions and improving safety. There will be upfront costs, and there will doubtlessly be opposition as there is for any large-scale infrastructure project, but our investment in this new, fast technology will be well worth it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

What Could Secretary Chao do for Maritime Infrastructure?

Photos courtesy of AP and AFP.

Since President-Elect Donald Trump announced his pick for Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, last month, transportation experts and advocates are examining her history to determine what her priorities might be as Secretary and what programs she might help bolster - and which ones she might leave behind.

Of course, since Trump has talked a lot about the need to invest in our national infrastructure, much of the analysis thus far has concentrated on how she might help get a trillion-dollar infrastructure package passed through Congress. However, I want to write about how she might help maritime infrastructure in particular, given that she has served as deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration and as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. While I was in graduate school, my capstone project involved recommending port performance metrics for the Maritime Administration (to help evaluate the efficacy of federal funding given to ports), so this is something that continues to interest me.

Housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Maritime Administration "promotes the use of waterborne transportation and its seamless integration with other segments of the transportation system," including ports, rail links, and last-mile connectors (think of the highways and roads that lead into maritime ports). It runs a variety of programs that seek those ends, such as the StrongPorts program which provides expertise on port financing and infrastructure.

The Federal Maritime Commission, on the other hand, is more of a regulatory body, and as such works to "foster a fair, efficient and reliable international ocean transportation system and to protect the public from unfair and deceptive practices." The Commission monitors agreements among ocean common carriers and marine terminal operators to ensure the agreements don't result in substantial increases in transportation costs or reductions in services, and monitors carriers' rates, charges, and rules to ensure they are reasonable.

Port of New York and New Jersey.
Trump hasn't said much about maritime transportation in particular: he usually talks about highways and bridges, occasionally expanding his definition of infrastructure to include airports and rail, as well as non-transportation infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. So it isn't clear to me right now that a Trump infrastructure package would include funding for maritime infrastructure, but nor is it a foregone conclusion that it won't.

That's where Secretary Chao could come in. If she believes strongly in investing more in our nation's ports, she could work with Senate leaders to ensure that an infrastructure package includes funding specifically for maritime transportation.

The money would go to good use: ports support millions of jobs throughout the supply chain and can catalyze major economic development in their regions. Stronger ports help increase import and export opportunities for our nation's businesses - so when our ports improve their operations, our businesses can plan to expand theirs. And with the rise of mega-ships and ocean carrier alliances, our ports are more strained than ever, moving more cargo in shorter timeframes and smaller spaces.

Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo christens a new crane barge
funded in part by a federal TIGER grant.
Photo courtesy of the Providence Journal.
In spite of these needs, we don't currently have a long-term, dedicated funding stream for our nation's ports. Most frequently, federal financial assistance for port improvement comes through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. TIGER grants can go to all different kinds of transportation - and to date, only 11.6% of TIGER funding has gone to ports.

However, the U.S. DOT and Maritime Administration have started creating other opportunities for U.S. ports to get assistance. The Maritime Administration recently awarded nearly $5 million to six different Marine Highway projects spanning 17 states. Marine Highway projects are those that expand the use of navigable waterways to relieve landside congestion and provide other public benefits (such as reduced air emissions). Many of these projects are for container on barge services - those that move containerized freight via waterway thus taking them off our roads and highways to reduce congestion - but there's also money in there for a commuter ferry service between DC and Northern Virginia.

Secretary Chao could continue this trend of giving more federal funding to port and maritime infrastructure improvements. But does she want to? In her questionnaire to the Senate Commerce Committee, Chao wrote that "With or without a new infusion of funds, it is necessary to look at the existing processes for infrastructure development and find more efficient ways to address bottlenecks in planning and permitting." It isn't apparent yet whether this statement (particularly "with or without a new infusion of funds") is a general philosophy, or is meant to throw cold water on Trump's grand-scale infrastructure plans.

She also says that "given the nation's need to improve critical infrastructure, it is important to find ways to expedite the process of making repairs and building new constructions and decreasing the regulatory burdens when appropriate." This could, if she wants it to, apply to large port projects like dredging and river widening to help our ports accommodate those mega-ships.

There's still a lot to learn about Secretary-designate Elaine Chao and what her priorities would be as Secretary of Transportation. We'll likely learn more when the Senate Commerce Committee holds its hearing on her nomination - and until then, we can only speculate. But based on her history as someone who held several high-ranking jobs within the maritime transportation space, I think it's likely she's aware of the unique challenges our nation's ports are facing and recognizes that federal investment for these major drivers of economic development could help meet those challenges.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Five Coolest Things in the FRA's Plan for the Northeast Corridor

Click here to read the report.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has released its vision for the Northeast Corridor (NEC) through the Environmental Impact Statement. This statement, which is required to determine the potential environmental impacts of large infrastructure projects, presents the agency's Preferred Alternative for improvements to make on the rail system in the Northeastern U.S. The FRA unveiled its recommendations on a new website, Anchoring the site is a brief electronic report, "Our Future on Track: Highlights of the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement."

Particularly for someone like me, who rides the Northeast rails fairly regularly, there's a lot of interesting stuff in this report. The FRA writes that its recommendations would "grow the role of rail in the Northeast, providing the capacity to dramatically increase the number of trains and improve the railroad's performance." Here are the five coolest aspects of the FRA's recommendations for the NEC:

1. More trains

The FRA estimates that all of the improvements outlined in the Preferred Alternative would provide the capacity for up to five times as many intercity trains as today, including multiple trains per hour. Right now, it looks like Amtrak runs about one Acela Express and one Northeast Regional train each hour; I'm guessing these improvements would enable Amtrak to double that amount if it wanted to.

A map of FRA's Preferred Alternative (click to expand).
It would also double the capacity for regional rail trains during peak hours. They give the example that for the Hudson River Crossing, the current 21 trains per hour could double to 42 thanks to two new tunnel tracks being constructed. That's good news for New Jersey commuters: more trains means fewer passengers crowded into each train.

They would also build two new tracks in the tunnels that cross the East River, which would help relieve train congestion for commuters coming in from Long Island.

As someone who grew up in Connecticut riding Metro North into the city, I'm curious as to how Connecticut commuters will benefit from the Preferred Alternative. It looks like there are chokepoint relief projects in downstate New York and just West of New Haven, as well as a new track segment being constructed around the Stamford area.

2. More stations

Philadelphia International Airport
More stations means more connectivity. That's important for a transportation system. It's why the DC metro has a stop at Union Station, and it's why the Acela stops at BWI and New York-Penn Station. Ideally, you want people to be able to get from the plane to the train, from the subway to the bus, or whatever their inter-modal connections are as quickly and easily as possible. These inter-modal connectors are what enable people to leave their cars behind: they can take the bus to the train station, the train to the airport, and then the airport to their destination.

With that in mind, FRA is recommending a new train station (presumably for Amtrak, which is the intercity rail for the Northeast) at Philadelphia International Airport. It also plans to integrate direct service on the proposed Hartford/Springfield Line into the NEC, so that passengers can travel seamlessly from Springfield to Washington, DC without having to transfer at New Haven.

3. Faster travel

This is the most important thing for many of us: we want our train trips to be faster. The Preferred Alternative would reduce travel times noticeably, allowing us to get from DC to NYC in as little as 2 hours and 10 minutes (35 minutes faster) and from NYC to Boston in as little as 2 hours and 45 minutes (45 minutes faster).

Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel
The FRA recommends a number of projects to allow for faster travel times. One of these projects is a replacement of the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel. The current tunnel, built in the 1870's, has a sharp curve that requires trains to drop speeds to 30 mph. Replacing it will keep trains moving faster, letting you get to your destination earlier.

The Preferred Alternative also calls for a new track segment to replace the sharp curve just outside of Philadelphia that was responsible for the fatal derailment in May 2015. This is a matter of safety, but it will also let trains maintain higher speeds without putting anyone in danger, again shortening travel times.

4. Greater convenience

In addition to all the construction, the Preferred Alternative would implement a number of logistical changes that would make it easier for people to ride the rails. I mentioned the importance of interconnectivity in our transportation system: it's also important that people be able to navigate those connections with ease.

Stamford Transportation Center
The FRA calls for coordinated schedules and ticketing to allow for more seamless travel. Coordinated train arrivals will help people get to their final destination more quickly, since it prevents people from having to wait a long time at a transportation hub waiting for their next train. If you've ever traveled through the Stamford Transportation Center, you might have seen some trains standing at the station: those are trains from the New Canaan branch, and they're waiting for a train from Grand Central to arrive at Stamford so commuters can get off one train and onto another.

Coordinated ticketing will also be helpful, allowing travelers to buy a single ticket that takes them through their entire trip, rather than having to buy individual tickets for each line. MTA recently launched an eTix app that allows people to buy tickets through the app instead of at stations or on the train; this could serve as a model for the entire NEC.

5. Greater resiliency

This isn't on people's minds as often, but resiliency will continue to be important as severe weather events become more frequent. The Northeast was devastated by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and these storms served to highlight the importance of investing in the resiliency of our infrastructure.

The FRA says it will use the opportunity to build new infrastructure to locate and design that infrastructure in ways that will minimize the potential impacts from floods or extreme heat. new infrastructure provides opportunity to locate and design infrastructure to minimize risks to impacts from floods and extreme heat. This includes adding redundant tracks to provide alternative routing during flooding or other track-closing situations, and upgrading existing tracks to make them more resilient. They also propose electrifying the new Hartford/Springfield line, thus reducing the system's dependence on fuel from foreign sources.

What's next

Now that the EIS has been released, we're in a mandated 30-day waiting period, after which FRA will identify a Selected Alternative in the Record of Decision: this essentially means the agency will settle on a final proposal, which might be exactly the same as the Preferred Alternative proposed in the EIS. It next turns it attention to preparing a Service Development Plan, which will spell out the process for implementing that Selected Alternative. This includes identifying a first phase of projects to address the NEC's most critical needs.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Week in Transportation: December 17, 2016

Photo courtesy of Reuters
This week in transportation, outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx talked about the prospects for an infrastructure bill, the federal government proposed new rules for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and the Federal Railroad Administration released a proposal for faster Northeast Corridor service. Here are the week's most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Trump White House may face tough road with infrastructure plan: Foxx
Bloomberg BNA reports, "Outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he hasn’t spoken with his potential replacement, Elaine Chao, about policy issues. But he acknowledged she may face obstacles trying to usher President-elect Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan through Congress. 'I consider myself very lucky to have come in here in a time when there wasn’t as much bipartisanship as we’ve seen in previous eras to successfully push for a transportation bill. That was not an easy feat,' he told reporters at a pen and pad. 'We’ll see what they’re able to do. The next Congress, the next White House will have an entirely different dynamic than the one that I walked into. And I wish them luck.'"

Infrastructure strategy touted by Trump has produced uneven results
Scott Rodd analyzes the Trump infrastructure proposal's reliance on public-private partnerships (P3), writing "Turning to private investors to finance public works isn’t free money. Investors expect to be paid back and earn a profit on their investment. Tolls often enable investors to generate revenue and keep projects as close to revenue-neutral as possible. But critics point out the perils of P3s relying too heavily on tolls and other user fees to generate revenue. Many private investors, for example, push for noncompete clauses that limit or ban the development and maintenance of surrounding projects."

Government to require cars be able to talk to each other
The New York Times reports, "All new cars and light trucks would be able to talk wirelessly with each other, with traffic lights and with other roadway infrastructure under a rule the Transportation Department proposed Tuesday... The proposal calls for 50 percent of new vehicles to have the technology within two years after a final rule is issued, and 100 percent of vehicles with four years. It would still take years or even decades after that for the full potential of V2V to be realized. That's because V2V can prevent collisions only among vehicles equipped with the technology."

Faster rail service is coming to America-slowly
CityLab gives a roundup of high-speed rail projects making progress despite a lack of financial support from the federal government. Laura Bliss writes, "Despite having long been left for dead, those sorts of rail improvements and connections are coming to life in the U.S.—corridor by corridor, at varying velocities. In the absence of much dedicated federal funding, private investments are paying the freight in some cases; others are getting state funding. If Trump wants to create jobs with splashy infrastructure upgrades, giving these existing high-speed rail projects a cash injection might be a good bet."

Feds propose and Amtrak stop at the Philly Airport and greatly speeding up regional service
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "A new plan for railroad service on the East Coast includes an Amtrak stop at Philadelphia International Airport and improvements that could help the region’s railroads run faster and more reliably. The NEC Future project, announced Friday by the Federal Railroad Administration, would also straighten the Frankford Curve, north of 30th Street Station, where an Amtrak train derailed in May 2015, killing eight people. A trip from Philadelphia to Washington would take an hour and 20 minutes, 20 minutes less than today. Getting to New York City would take 55 minutes, 15 fewer than now."

Courtesy of the FRA.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

This Week in Transportation: November 26, 2016

Photo courtesy of Reuters.
This week in transportation, the FRA released draft regulations for high-speed rail and buzz grew for President-Elect Donald Trump's transportation infrastructure plan. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

The Feds finally make safety rules for high-speed rail
WIRED reports, "Today, it’s back to good news: The Federal Railroad Administration is releasing new draft regulations that could make it a lot easier to build the speedier transport option right here in the US of A. They lay out clear safety standards for the trains, the product of 10 years of back-and-forth with industry."

Stephen Bannon has a grand plan to secure Trumpism’s future. Will Democrats cooperate?Greg Sargent writes for the Washington Post, "One of the most consequential decisions at the outset of the Trump presidency will be this: How far will Democrats go in cooperating with Donald Trump’s vow of a big boost in infrastructure spending? At first Democrats sounded very accommodating on this front, signaling that they were eager to work with Trump to pass a big package. But in an interview with me, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi laid down a harder line. She suggested Democrats should reject any infrastructure scheme that amounts to a privatization plan fueled by tax breaks, which it increasingly looks like Trump’s plan will be."

Five things to know about Trump's infrastructure plan
The Hill writes, "Buzz is growing around President-elect Donald Trump's plans for a massive infrastructure package. Republican and Democratic lawmakers frustrated by the lack of significant federal transportation spending are hopeful they can work with Trump on a bill, making it one of the few bipartisan issues that could see action next year... While the final details of Trump’s plan are still in flux, the real estate mogul has offered clues on the campaign trail about how he would work to repair the nation’s ailing transportation system. Here are five things to know about Trump’s infrastructure ideas."

Railroads push for inclusion in Trump infrastructure plan
The Hill reports, "A trade group representing major freight railroads and Amtrak is urging President-elect Donald Trump to include the rail industry in any infrastructure proposals. In a letter to the transition team on Monday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) called for a number of specific policy reforms that affect the freight rail industry."

Be Wary of a Trump-Led Infrastructure Bank
Laura Bliss writes for The Atlantic's CityLab, "Still, if it was seeded adequately and guided by strategic policy objectives, a national infrastructure bank could serve a new and meaningful purpose, as an addition to the federal government’s existing suite of financing tools. Now, whether that means Congress should rally to support a Trump-backed infrastructure bank—or any part of a Trumpian infrastructure plan—is a separate question. Prominent Democrats have announced their willingness to partner with Trump on his public works proposals. Yet Trump’s plan to privatize infrastructure projects, insofar as his advisors have explained it, is profoundly unviable. And it’s entirely unclear what the national objectives of Trump’s infrastructure build-out would be, beyond jobs, jobs, jobs."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week in Transportation: November 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post

This week in transportation, transportation came into focus for the next Congress, California's high speed rail briefly considered buying foreign train parts, and DC Metro's maintenance program may get an extension. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

House, Senate appear split on infrastructure as top priority
The Hill reports, "Republican leaders in the House and Senate appear to disagree on whether an infrastructure package will be an immediate priority for the next Congress... House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday that he supports fixing the nation’s infrastructure and believes it could be a top priority for the lower chamber, though he emphasized that any plans would need to be fully paid for... But across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has adopted a different tone. The Kentucky Republican seemed to throw cold water on Trump's infrastructure proposal last week, saying it would not be a top priority."

Opinion: Trump's big infrastructure plan? It's a trap.
Ronald A. Klain, who oversaw implementation of the Recovery Act under President Obama, writes for the Washington Post, "I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan: Don’t do it. It’s a trap. Backing Trump’s plan is a mistake in policy and political judgment they will regret, as did their Democratic predecessors who voted for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981 and George W. Bush’s cuts in 2001."

Foreign train parts? Never mind, says California High-Speed Rail Authority
The Silicon Valley Business Journal reports, "The authority that’s building the system, due to begin service from San Jose in 2025, withdrew a waiver to the Buy America Act today that it filed just last week with the Federal Railroad Administration. Had the waiver been granted, it would have allowed the authority to equip its trains with components built outside the United States... Though it wasn’t stated explicitly, it’s clear that the authority came under political pressure following last week’s announcement."

Metro's SafeTrack could cost twice as much as expected and likely won't conclude until June
The Washington Post reports, "Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance program will cost significantly more than anticipated and take at least three months longer to complete, according to a progress report released Wednesday. The report by the Federal Transit Administration estimates that the total cost of the project will be $118.8 million — nearly twice the $60 million price tag Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld floated in June... Additionally, the FTA report confirms what had already become apparent after recent changes to the SafeTrack schedule. Although the project was originally expected to conclude by March 2017, managers are now predicting a June 2017 completion date."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: November 12, 2016

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This week in transportation, President-Elect Donald Trump made his opening bid on a transportation infrastructure package, and Obama Administration unveiled a new plan for electric vehicle corridors, and Americans cast their votes on a variety of transportation ballot measures. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Trump's answer to fixing country's transportation infrastructure: use other people's money
Forbes reports, "President-elect Donald Trump said in his victory speech following the election on Tuesday that a major focus of his administration will be upgrading America’s ailing transportation infrastructure and creating jobs in the process... Trump plans to encourage $1 trillion in private sector infrastructure spending via $140 billion in tax credits for the companies that invest in infrastructure construction. That’s far short of the $3.6 trillion the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take to significantly raise the grade (currently a D+) of the U.S. transportation infrastructure."

Obama Administration announces new actions to accelerate the deployment of electrical vehicles and charging infrastructure
The White House has announced a series of new steps to make it easier for electrical vehicle (EV) drivers to drive cross-country. The new measures include:
  • Establishing 48 national electric vehicle charging corridors on our highways, covering nearly 25,000 miles in 35 states;
  • 28 states, utilities, vehicle manufactures, and change organizations committing to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure on those corridors; 
  • 24 state and local governments committing to partner with the Administration and increase the procurement of electric vehicles in their fleets;
  • Conducting two studies to evaluate the optimal national electric vehicle charging deployment scenarios, including along DOT’s designated fueling corridors; and 
  • 38 new businesses, non-profits, universities, and utilities signing on to DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge and committing to provide EV charging access for their workforce.
After Eno Transportation Weekly outlined 10 transportation ballot measures to watch on Election Day, I found that voters passed nine of the 10. The approval of these measures will help improve public transit in Los Angeles, modernize Rhode Island's ports, connect North Carolina's Research Triangle, and much more. As I wrote, "After a very eventful election, we'll all be watching to see how transportation policy will be reshaped at the federal level. But we see from these ballot measures that cities continue to lead the way, with voter approval, in providing public transportation and infrastructure upkeep for their constituents at the local level."

The Washington Post asks, "How about a high-speed ferry to transport commuters from Woodbridge to the D.C. waterfront in under an hour? Or a gondola to carry people through the skies over Rosslyn to Georgetown in less than five minutes? A superfast train that could take you from Union Station in Northeast Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes and another that would get you to Richmond in 90 — more than an hour faster than today’s Amtrak service? Sound too unrealistic for a region that struggles with upgrading its crumbling bridges, paying for new roads and finding the money to rebuild its struggling Metro system? Possibly. But transit planners, advocates and government officials say the proposals aren’t just wishful thinking."

The Concord Monitor reports, "Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate saw lots of conflicting numbers thrown out for the cost of a proposed rail line. The project in question is a 33-mile extension of an existing MBTA commuter rail line from Lowell, Mass., to the cities of Manchester and Nashua. Rail has been one of the most hotly contested issues in the race for governor between Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu – and their cost estimates vary widely. Van Ostern estimates the project will cost the state between $3 million and $4 million per year in operating fees, while Sununu generally lists the total price tag at $350 million." The article explores who's right, and what it would take to finance expanded rail service in New Hampshire.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Transportation funding a voter favorite at ballot box

ATLANTA: A northbound MARTA train passes by bumper to bumper
traffic on GA 400. Photo courtesy of Curtis Compton.

Shortly before Election Day, Emily Han and Ann Henebery of the Eno Center for Transportation outlined 10 ballot measures to watch on Election Day of the hundreds of transportation measures and initiatives that were on the ballot. Of the 10 measures, selected for having broader implications beyond their individual cities or regions, voters passed nine of them. The approval of these measures will help improve public transit in Los Angeles, modernize Rhode Island's ports, connect North Carolina's Research Triangle, and much more.

Let's look at these 10 important transportation ballot measures to see what happened:

Metropolitan Detroit: DEFEATED
Voters narrowly rejected a $4.6 billion regional transit plan to build out a rail and bus network that would have connected Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The 20-year, $1.2 million tax proposal received roughly 49.5% of the vote, losing by an extremely thin margin.

Los Angeles County: PASSED
Los Angeles voters approved Measure M, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county's public transit system. The measure is expected to bring in $120 billion over the next three decades to fund a range of transportation projects, including a rail line to LAX airport, a Purple Line extension to Westwood, and sidewalk/bike infrastructure repairs and expansions. ENO writes that the measure will "allow Los Angeles to create and sustain a robust transportation network."

Rhode Island: PASSED
Rhode Island voters approved a state-wide ballot measure to issue $70 million in bonds to finance expansion of two seaports to accommodate larger freight ships. With the rise of ocean carrier alliances and the gigantic "neo-Panamax" ships coming into America's ports, it will continue to be important to deepen waterways and modernize our maritime infrastructure.

Louisiana: PASSED
Voters approved Amendment 5, which will create a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund funded by oil and gas revenue, as well as corporate taxes when collections are higher than usual. Once the fund reaches $5 billion, some of it will be spent on construction projects and road work. ENO writes that Amendment 5 "presents yet another scenario where a state is using new, creative means to generate funding for transportation infrastructure."

Sound Transit District, Metropolitan Seattle: PASSED
Voters approved Sound Transit 3 with 54% support. Proposition 1 raises property, sales, and car-tab taxes to finance a slew of new transportation projects including 62 more miles of light rail, extended commuter rail, more park-and-ride spaces, and bus rapid transit.

Honolulu: PASSED
Voters approved a charter amendment placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for public transportation, including setting rail fares, solely in the Department of Transportation, rather than the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. ENO wrote the vote "would provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency's governance;" the measure is a response to increasing costs of constructing the city's rail system.

Atlanta: PASSED
Voters overwhelmingly approved a half-penny increase for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to expand transit services, as well as a three-quarters-penny increase to pay for traffic signal synchronization, road repairs, new bike lanes, and buying right-of-way to complete the Atlanta Beltline.

Wake County, NC: PASSED
Voters approved a half-cent increase to the local sales tax rate to fund an expansion of public transportation. The tax will generate $1 billion towards a regional transit plan extending bus and rail service into new neighborhoods and improving connectivity in the Research Triangle of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh.

New Jersey: PASSED
New Jersey voters approved a "lockbox" amendment requiring the state's 37.5-cent per gallon gas tax to go exclusively to transportation. The issue was supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders of the state legislature, who compromised on a deal to raise the gas tax by 23 cents and cut other taxes after the state ran out of money to pay for transportation projects.

Arlington, VA: PASSED
Arlington voters broadly approved a bond referendum for transportation projects. Included in the $58.8 million package is $30 million for WMATA's capital improvement program, $23.89 million for road pavement, and $5 million for other projects such as bridge renogations, BikeArlington, and traffic signals. ENO had written that "it will be interesting to see if voters in this transit-intensive county still have trust in the system" given WMATA's fiscal woes - with 78% support, it seems they do.

We can see based on these results that there remains an appetite for new and/or improved public transportation options in America's cities even if it means raising taxes. What's more, voters are also willing to pay for projects that will help fuel economic development in the region (see Rhode Island) or change an agency's governance when they aren't satisfied with the results they're getting (see Hawaii).

After a very eventful election, we'll all be watching to see how transportation policy will be reshaped at the federal level. But we see from these ballot measures that cities continue to lead the way, with voter approval, in providing public transportation and infrastructure upkeep for their constituents at the local level.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: November 5, 2016

Photo courtesy of Texas Central Partners
This week in transportation, Americans across the country considered transportation funding ballot measures, a regional RPO filed suit against the Houston-Dallas high-speed train, and Georgia moved closer to a high-speed link between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories this week:

"On November 8, in addition to the presidential drama, another election story, with dramatic lessons about state and local influence, will play out as Americans in nearly half the 50 states vote on important questions related to transportation investments in their regions. Eno has compiled a list of the states that have measures up for vote on Election Day and will continue updating this database."

government technology: New York City area tragedies bring infrastructure issues to the forefront
"Long before the crash in Hoboken, New Jersey Transit was in a state of turmoil. The organization operated without an executive director for nearly a year, and its board of directors went several months between meetings. The system faced a nearly $45 million budget shortfall this year, which transit officials offset using cash reserves and “internal efficiencies.” When a system operates in a disorganized and underfunded manner, problems are inevitable. These problems are hardly unique to New Jersey Transit. Transportation systems throughout the country grapple with similar issues."

Click 2 Houston: High-speed rail lawsuit filed
"The Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission filed suit in Travis District Court Wednesday against the Texas Department of Transportation for violation of state law that requires it to coordinate planning on the high-speed rail that has been proposed between Dallas and Houston... According to the release, Texas' Local Government Code, a state statute, clearly states 'In carrying out their planning and program development responsibilities, state agencies shall, to the greatest extent feasible, coordinate planning with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.'"

"A study released Wednesday by Texas Central suggests a large number of the state's residents would use a high-speed train the company wants to build between Dallas and Houston. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of 2,000 residents surveyed said they would consider using the bullet train, which would have a stop in northern Grimes County, and more than two-thirds who have traveled between Houston and Dallas in the past year would "definitely" or "probably" use a high-speed train it were available."

"After years of study, three possible routes have been identified for a high-speed rail line between Chattanooga and Atlanta. One route follows closely the I-75 corridor, while a second would veer to the east and include Chatsworth, Ga. A third would have a connection to Rome, Ga. The Georgia Department of Transportation study says following closely to I-75 is the shortest route at 128 miles between the Atlanta and Chattanooga airports. It also would be the quickest at 88 minutes."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

New report outlines 50 policies for carbon-free transportation

Frontier Group is out with a new report, "50 Steps toward Carbon-Free Transportation," which provides a series of policy recommendations for federal and state leaders to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

The organization brands America's transportation system as "Climate Enemy #1," as vehicle emissions are now the nation's largest source of carbon pollution, producing more pollution per capita than the transportation system of any other major industrialized nation.

The U.S. transportation system now emits more carbon than any other sector.
Graphic courtesy of the Frontier Group.

Urging the government to take swift action to reduce climate change-causing emissions, the Group outlines a "bold new vision for transportation policy" comprised of 50 policy reforms designed to curb carbon emissions from our transportation system.

The idea behind the report is that the "most effective strategies to fuel the transition to carbon-free transportation are likely to emerge at the local and regional levels," yet America's cities are constrained by state and federal policies that favor highway expansion and single-occupancy vehicles at the expense of shared mobility and dense, walkable neighborhoods. Most of the policies, therefore, are aimed at creating the right regulatory environment at the federal and state level for our cities to innovate in this area. Others are designed to make it easier for cities and their transit systems to access funding streams, while others still would reform the tax code to incentivize the right behaviors (e.g. ending sales tax exemptions for motor fuels, while reducing taxes on car sharing).

You can read all 50 policy recommendations in the report, but they all fall into the following categories:

  • Make addressing global warming a strategic goal;
  • Stop doing harm;
  • Reform the transportation bureaucracy and policy infrastructure;
  • Get the most out of what we have;
  • Reward low-carbon travel decisions;
  • Level the playing field for shared mobility;
  • Harness the power of markets;
  • Speed the introduction of low-carbon vehicles;
  • Speed the introduction of low-carbon fuels;
  • Align transportation and land-use objectives to support climate-friendly communities;
  • Support and guide innovation;
  • Serve everyone;
  • Collect and share data; and
  • Reform outdated institutional structures.
The nexus between transportation and environmental policy will likely continue to be an important one in the months and years ahead, particularly as Congress comes closer to working on a major infrastructure bill. The Frontier Group's new report provides important recommendations for how federal and state governments can curb carbon emissions by spelling out specific policies that will prioritize low-carbon transportation, incentivize the use of low-carbon technologies, and help America's cities innovate.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Infrastructure, Clinton and Trump Find Common Ground

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

In an election year during which it certainly seems there is more that divides us than unites us, it's important to note that there is at least one issue on which the two major party candidates agree: the need to invest more in our infrastructure.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have spoken of the importance of repairing and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275-billion federal infrastructure program to put Americans to work improving our highways, airports, and maritime ports. $250 billion of that will go to direct public investment, while the remaining $25 billion will prop up a national infrastructure bank to leverage those funds for additional, private funding in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and other credit enhancement.

Clinton, her campaign writes, would "fully [pay] for these investments through business tax reform." While this isn't very specific, that might be intentional: Republican leadership in Congress has signaled a willingness to use tax reform to finance more infrastructure spending, and getting too specific on the details now could give them something to say 'no' to before she's even in office. If they agree on principle that our tax code should be reformed, and that corporate tax reform could be used to generate new revenue for our transportation infrastructure programs, then that's a good enough place to start.

Trump, for his part, has said he would "double" Clinton's $275-billion figure and would spend up to $1 trillion on infrastructure. He hasn't in any of his speeches gotten more specific than that - in terms of what exactly the money would be spent on or where he would get it from, given his desire to cut taxes - and in fact I've had trouble finding any specifics on his website, as well. He's written about taxes, trade, and regulation, but not about this.

Which is a bit of a surprise: as a businessman who runs a very large company, he obviously understands the importance of well-maintained infrastructure to keeping our economy running smoothly (which, as a side note, was why I was surprised when former HP CEO Carly Fiorina disagreed on that point during one of the Republican primary debates).

So there's agreement here, but varying levels of specificity. I'm sure it surprises no one that Clinton's plan has more thought behind it, but the very fact that both candidates agree on something is somewhat noteworthy in this political climate.

Business groups aren't leaving anything to chance, though: several groups - including the American Trucking Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - penned a letter to Clinton and Trump urging them to prioritize the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. They wrote in part, "We believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

There is, of course, good reason for Democrats and Republicans alike to come together around the idea of more federal spending on infrastructure: according to the Council of Economic Advisors, each investment of $1 billion in infrastructure leads to the creation of 13,000 jobs, and each dollar invested leads to a return of $1.60 in GDP growth the following year. It's good policy.

And it's popular, too: a recent poll from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers finds that nearly half of Americans think our transportation infrastructure has deteriorated in the past five years, and 70 percent believe investing in its repair will help stimulate the economy.

Regardless of these facts, it is safe to say that our infrastructure problems will continue to plague us in the near-term regardless of the outcome of this election: according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spending on infrastructure by states and localities relative to GDP is at a thirty-year low. And despite the obvious urgent need to repair, Congress has repeatedly stiff-armed President Barack Obama in his attempts to pass infrastructure financing legislation.

Perhaps this partisanship will prevail; or, perhaps this election, with two nominees who agree at least on what the problem is, can act as a reset button to get Congress and the White House working together again on this issue.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: October 22, 2016

Image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority
This week in transportation, the DOT released new airline guidelines, the California governor scrambled to save his infrastructure legacy, and a proposed commuter rail line in Texas got voted down. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Journal of Commerce: Trump and Clinton agree on freight infrastructure and trade - if rhetoric is true
Journal of Commerce associate editor Reynolds Hutchins writes that "the 2016 presidential election has been fraught with divisive discourse and reality television-style drama, but the top two leading candidates appear to actually agree when it comes to matters of transportation infrastructure and trade... Both acknowledge that the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is in desperate need of a billion-dollar booster shot. The two have also been critical of trade deals that stand to significantly impact the cost of moving goods and break down or build regulatory barriers for shippers and logistics providers."

Skift: 6 highlights from the DOT's new passenger-friendly airline guidelines
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced new rules to make flying more consumer-friendly. Once the guidelines are implemented, airlines will share more operational data (such as percent of on-time flights) and information on mishandled bags and wheelchairs, booking websites will be more upfront about their display biases, and flyers will have baggage fees refunded if its mishandled (not just lost).

The Hill: Dem senator praises US steel after car crash
The Hill reports via (which posted the original article to Facebook during the major DDoS attack yesterday) that "Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and a staffer were treated for minor injuries Thursday afternoon after a car crash in a Cleveland suburb... Brown, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee and one of the Senate's most ardent progressives, praised American manufacturing and government regulations for keeping him safe."

Mercury News: Jerry Brown, allies spend millions to kill measure that could doom high speed rail, Delta tunnels projects
The Mercury News writes, "With less than three weeks until Election Day, Gov. Jerry Brown and his political allies are suddenly pumping money into the campaign to defeat Proposition 53, a previously low-profile measure that could be the death knell of Brown’s high-speed rail and Delta tunnels projects... If passed, Proposition 53 would require a statewide vote to approve any state project costing more than $2 billion that is financed with revenue bonds, which are the likely method of paying many of the costs for high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels."

Austin American-Statesman: Lone Star Rail officially dead after final CAMPO vote
The Austin American-Statesman reports, " The board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, after a discussion lasting perhaps five minutes Monday evening, took a voice vote removing from its long-range transportation plan the proposed commuter rail line from San Antonio to Georgetown... Conceding that passenger rail in the rapidly growing corridor might someday make sense, the board later discussed using some or all of $9 million in leftover money from the project for a study to explore other possible transportation options along that corridor," such as a managed toll lane, increased Amtrak service along the Union-Pacific freight corridor, or some version of high-speed rail.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: October 15, 2016

Photo courtesy of  the NTSB.
This week in transportation, transportation groups urged the presidential candidates to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, New Jersey lawmakers agreed to raise the gas tax, and DC Metro revealed proposals for filling its budget gap. Here are the week's most important and interesting transportation stories:

Transportation Topics: Transportation groups urge Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump to ensure long-term highway funding
Several groups - including the American Trucking Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - penned a letter to the two major presidential nominees urging them to prioritize the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. They wrote, "We believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

CBS News: Is your state next to raise its gas tax?
As cars become more fuel-efficient and the gas tax becomes less adequate for financing road maintenance, several states have considered raising the gas tax rate to make up the difference. CBS News reports, "New Jersey is poised to become the 19th state since 2013 to raise or reform its gasoline tax if, as expected, Republican Governor Chris Christie approves the just-approved 23-cent hike. More than a dozen states have considered similar moves over the past few months as they scramble to fix their crumbling transportation infrastructure."

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report following a NJ Transit train accelerating into a station and injuring over 100 commuters. The Post reports, "The release of the report this week comes as troubling new details have begun to emerge about the transit agency’s safety record. According to a report by the Associated Press, NJ Transit has had more accidents and paid more fines for safety violations than any other commuter rail system in the U.S. AP’s analysis also found that between January 2011 and July 2016, human behavior was a factor in 57 percent of NJ Transit’s accidents."

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has pushed back a decision on consultants to design a train station in downtown Fresno, even as the city continues developing a master plan for the downtown area surrounding the station. The Bee writes, "The agency’s board, at its meeting Tuesday in Sacramento, had been slated to consider issuing a request for qualifications from architectural and engineering firms to compete for a six-year contract for up to $11 million to the winning team later this year. But the issue was removed from the agenda because 'some board members have questions and (our) staff will work with them to further elucidate on them,' board chairman Dan Richard said."

DC Metro is facing fare hikes, service cuts, and staffing reductions in response to a large budget gap due to increasing maintenance costs and decreasing ridership resulting in lower revenues. WAMU reports, "Under the category of 'extreme options,' fares would increase by 35 percent across all modes (rail, bus, paratransit), and service would be reduced by 20 to 25 percent... The 'extreme options' are meant to illustrate the severity of Metro’s yawning operating budget deficit, exacerbated by plummeting ridership and rising labor costs."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: September 24, 2016

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

This week in transportation, the Obama Administration released draft regulations for autonomous vehicles, Connecticut continued debating a proposed high-speed rail route through the state, and Louisiana considered raising its gas tax to fund infrastructure projects. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

New York Times: Coming Soon, Economists Hope: Big Spending on Roads, Bridges and Ports
"Infrastructure spending, unlike many other forms of government outlays, holds the power to give the economy a sustained lift for decades down the line. First comes the addition of jobs — particularly the kinds of higher-wage blue-collar jobs that have been lost in recent years — and spending on products like concrete and steel to build new roads and repair worn-out bridges. After that initial jolt, the economy would continue to reap the important but harder-to-measure benefits of fewer delays, faster internet connections and more reliable power."

The Hill: Feds set to unveil self-driving car guidelines 
"The policy plan outlined by the administration on Monday evening does not include stringent requirements, but instead offers a more flexible approach for automakers and tech companies pursuing the emerging technology, according to a fact sheet released in advance by the White House. Officials said they were striving to strike the right balance between innovation and safety in crafting the framework for driverless cars, which they praised for their ability to save lives, improve mobility and reduce traffic and fuel use."

Chicago Tribune: Acela fight splits hedge-fund Connecticut, old-money enclaves 
"'There's no way you could ever achieve high-speed, world-class service with the right-of-way we have today,' [Commuter Action Group founder Jim] Cameron, a frequent Acela passenger, said by telephone. 'This train is like a Ferrari driving on a dirt path.'"

Greater Baton Rouge Business Report: State infrastructure task force considers doubling Louisiana’s fuel tax 
"A member of the Governor’s Task Force for Transportation Infrastructure Investment says an increase in the state fuel tax could be a viable way to finance Louisiana’s future infrastructure needs as well as certain designated 'megaprojects.' Ken Naquin, secretary/CEO of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, says doubling the current state tax rate of 20 cents to 40 cents per gallon could generate up to $600 million per year. The task force, of which Naquin is a member, expects to deliver its funding plan at the beginning of the year. The fuel tax increase is one proposal being considered by the task force, but is not 'set in stone,' he says."

WBUR: The Gas Tax Is So 20th Century. Here Are Two New Ones That Should Replace It
"But the idea of replacing the gas tax with a VMT tax has its share of critics, especially in environmental circles. Although the statutory purpose of the gas tax is to fund the transportation system, it also functions as a pollution tax. Instituting a VMT tax and eliminating the gas tax would lower the incentive to buy a fuel-efficient hybrid or electric vehicle. At a time when the state is working hard to reduce carbon emissions, it doesn’t make sense to treat a Nissan Leaf the same as a Chevy Suburban."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The State(s) of High-Speed Rail in America: September 2016 Update

Rendering courtesy of All Aboard Florida

I last checked-in on the progress of high-speed rail (HSR) projects across the country back in June 2015, so it's well past time for an update. Here are the states where high-speed (or higher-speed, as the case may be) rail is making progress:


A shining beacon for high-speed rail in America or a $68 billion boondoggle depending on who you ask, California's HSR line appears to be in financial trouble. The state's cap-and-trade program, a quarter of whose revenues is earmarked for HSR, is raising far less money than expected, and the project still hasn't seen any private investment (which will be necessary lest the project come to rely on tax increases). Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told state legislators last month at a tense hearing that private firms have expressed interest but want to see the first leg up and running before they commit. That leg - between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley - is slated to open in 2025.

Graphic courtesy of CAHSRA

Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has approved $713 million for its share of funding for a $2 billion project to electrify 50 miles of Caltrain commuter line track between San Jose and San Francisco. The project is expected to double ridership, as well as foster goodwill between the Authority and California commuters.


The privately-funded project to connect Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes is moving forward: the Dallas City Council signed an agreement with Texas Central Railway (the private company financing the project) to have TCR pay its share for an Army Corps of Engineers permit, which is needed for a train crossing planned over the Trinity River.

Graphic courtesy of Texas Central Partners

Obstacles remain, however: after being rejected for interstate-railway status by the National Surface Transportation Board (which would allow it to get around Texas land-rights laws), state lawmakers are asking whether the company, which has never built a rail line before, can qualify as a rail company to purchase land through eminent domain. The line is still expected to open in 2021.

Meanwhile, TxDOT is also exploring a possible line connecting Oklahoma City to the Rio Grande Valley. It will present the results of its study to the FRA later this year.


I probably shouldn't include Florida because it isn't really high-speed rail, but the story is still interesting. Another privately-funded venture, All Aboard Florida has raised nearly $5 billion in private capital for passenger rail and property development between Miami and Orlando. The first phase, connecting Miami to West Palm Beach, is expected to begin service next year and will travel 80 mph (like I said...). Once the line is completed, it will be able to accelerate on its way to Orlando up to 120 mph. Amtrak's Acela Express, by comparison, reaches speeds of 150mph, though only in some places.

Graphic courtesy of All-Aboard Florida

AAF is pretty excited about the trains themselves, which will feature free wi-fi and chargers/USB ports, aisles wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, train doors at-level with station platforms, and an app that lets you purchase parking and connecting services at the same time that you book your ticket.

If nothing else, it's an interesting case study on private funding for new rail projects in our country, as well as the importance of interconnectivity of those projects with existing transportation modes.

Northeast Corridor

There's been movement on high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington, DC), but it's still several years and many hurdles away from being realized. Japan, a country that already has high-speed rail and is looking to export its Maglev technology around the world, has pledged $2 million for a feasibility study on high-speed rail connecting DC to Baltimore. The study will take two years to complete and would lead to a final decision on whether to pursue HSR in the 3-5 year range. The line would likely be mostly underground, making it an expensive project: Japan has pledged a loan of $5 billion for what could be a $10 billion project.

The Federal Railroad Administration, meanwhile, is considering three proposals to improve rail service on the New York to Boston stretch, which has been a matter of fierce debate in Connecticut. Governor Malloy has asked the FRA to prioritize making improvements to existing rail lines first, but Amtrak supports the most ambitious plan, which would establish high-speed rail from New York to Boston through Danbury, with trains traveling at 220 mph.

Graphic courtesy of FRA

As I wrote last month, Amtrak debuted new high-speed trains for its Acela Express line connecting DC to Boston. The trains will be able to travel 160 mph (though they could go as fast as 220mph if the infrastructure could handle it - sound familiar?), a 10-mph improvement over the current trains. They'll start revenue service in 2021.


Illinois DOT still plans to open higher-speed service (110mph) between St. Louis and Chicago by 2017. Just over $1 billion, mostly in federal grant money, has gone towards track improvements to allow for faster trains, safety improvements at crossings, and building new or improving existing stations along the corridor. The line will also have side-tracks to allow trains to pull over and let other trains pass, making it easier for commuter trains to share the track with freight trains.

Graphic courtesy of IDOT.

Read more here:


The North American High Speed Rail Group, a private rail developer, is meeting soon with a Chinese delegation and Minnesota business leaders to discuss moving forward on HSR connecting the Twin Cities to Rochester along US Highway 52. The group is conducting a preliminary study with work permits granted by the Minnesota DOT, and will release the results of the study to the public if they decide to pursue the line.

Graphic courtesy of NAHSR


High-speed rail is coming to the US, if slowly. Right now, it looks like the Houston-Dallas line will come online first, with the first phase of California's line opening a few years later. Taken together, it's an interesting cross-section of public and private ventures, but many of them share the same obstacles of funding and property rights. The next president, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, will support high-speed rail as President Obama has, so it feels like we're moving in a direction where we'll see more projects like these. Who knows: when I give another update in another year, maybe this list will be longer.