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Friday, April 17, 2009

Finally America Might See a High Speed Rail System, or Might It Not

It's not about time that America gets a high speed rail. It is way past due. Japan had one for decades, and Europe has been there, did that ages ago.

These days there are discussions about two impressive high rail initiatives worth mentioning. In the West Obama is pushing for $13 billion ($30 billion total cost) high speed rail system (links 1) in California and the heart of America's Mid-West, Chicago, my favorite city. In the East King Abdullah is launching a high speed rail route between Makkah and Madinah.

Wikipedia has compiled a list of high speed rail projects across the globe. The Saudi project is impressive as it has the least cost / mile worldwide. The American is impressive because it is the first in the Western Hemisphere and second fastest worldwide reaching a little over 150 miles / hr.

Now here is the big project. China's high speed rail, the longest worldwide reaching over 800 miles and exceeding the American train speed. A really neat chart showing the world's top high speed projects can be found at infrastructurist.com by Yonah Freemark.

So the questions that pop up are: Why did it take America too long to initiate such a project? Will it be a success or another Acela (links 1, 2) Successful system development is contingent on many factors some of the critical ones are policies, supporting infrastructure, overall cost, stakeholder value proposition.

So why do I consider Acela a failure (1) Well, for one it was a very expensive system, secondly, it did not take away much volume from other modes of transportation. If it takes me an hr to drive from my home to get to an Acela station in Washington DC so that I can get to New York City in a couple of hrs, I might be better off driving up to New York in 2.5 hrs and pay less in gas and have the convienence of my own transportation in all the other pockets of cities and suburbs that lack public transportation. Just one of many aspects of the overall system that needs to be considered.

The boundary of a high speed rail system does NOT stop at the tracks, it goes beyond the tracks and stations to the supporting infrastructure that will allow people to get to the high speed stations, use the facilities and services within the service levels and value proposition a stakeholder will expect.

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