Posting in Design
Building a high-speed rail network requires more than money -- there needs to be an industry ready to manufacture the necessary infrastructure, and political will on the part of participating states. A new GAO report says many of these elements are still missing.
Building a national high-speed rail network requires more than throwing money at a program. There needs to be a sustainable industry ready to produce and maintain the necessary infrastructure, and political will -- plus additional funding -- on the part of participating states.
The Government Accounting Office, the watchdog of federal spending, issued a review of recent high-speed rail initiatives, and questions whether a still-emerging industry will have the capacity to supply necessary rail equipment, and if a political base exists to sustain such efforts. (Full report available in PDF.)
The GAO's report was intended to assess the impact of last year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), which is providing more than $10 billion to develop high-speed rail within the United States. (By contrast, the government only provided $120 million in 2008 and 2009 combined.)
The report notes that "while there is a palpable excitement created by the Recovery Act’s funding for new high-speed rail service, establishing new service is a difficult, multiyear effort." What is needed is plenty of additional federal capital and state operating funds to keep things moving beyond the timeline of the stimulus act funds, which may be difficult if state budgets remain in the red.
Plus, high-speed rails would need the cooperation from private railroads which own most of the rail infrastructure in the United States; and an entire industry needs to be created to help obtain equipment, such as rail cars, "which can take years to design, test, and build."
The GAO report outlined three areas of challenge for high-speed rail:
State support for high-speed rail: "State successes to initiate or improve intercity passenger rail services in the recent past (the last 15 years), hinged largely on their abilities to build public and political support, secure funding, obtain equipment, and manage their services."
Rail industry support: GAO reports that "rail industry stakeholders are optimistic that they can meet increased public investment in intercity passenger rail." However, the report cautions, "even with strong federal leadership and funding, it could take several years to provide the necessary infrastructure, such as for building new passenger rail cars, potentially making it difficult to spend some Recovery Act high speed rail funds by 2017, as required by law."
Federal Rail Administration strategic vision: Due to the speed in which funds needed to be dispersed to help stimulate economic activity, FRA did not have an opportunity to develop a strategic vision, the GAO report says. "FRA had to quickly draft a preliminary national rail plan and a high speed rail strategic vision, as well as develop a program to distribute Recovery Act funds.... The strategic vision did not define the goals, stakeholder roles, or objectives for federal involvement in high-speed intercity passenger rail and the preliminary national rail plan did not have any recommendations for future action. While states will be the recipients of Recovery Act funds, many states do not have state rail plans that would establish strategies and priorities, capital investments, and public benefits of rail investments in the state."
FRA is planning to release another version of its national rail plan in September 2010 which it expects to discuss issues such as the roles of federal, state, and local governments in rail transportation and public and private funding sources.
Jun 21, 2010
Long term, we need HSR: short term, trying to rush it will be a money pit with no short-term payback. This needs a long term plan. We have the knowledge to build the trains and cars. We had the right of ways, We sold them to slap housing developments on. We have the trained experinced workers and designers, we laid them off and shipped their jobs overseas because it was cheaper in short run. If we can reverse some of this (it will be slow and costly at first.) We can get this back on it's feet. We need to start soon the save the facilities we have. I worked rebuilding locomotives. The companies that do this in the US have been shuting down and selling of their equipment to overseas companies just to stay in business. It's a slow death and another blow to our middle class, the backbone of the US.
Because building from scratch here will require massive subsidies that will build more government-industry feedback loops of dependent industries, workers, and voters. It's not really about providing efficient, affordable transportation, and that is why it will fail.
The HSR Industry is already alive and well in France and Japan: Why reinvent the wheel when we can start the system out with foreign components, then build up the local industry as the parts & maintenance of the rolling stock then becomes necessary? "and an entire industry needs to be created to help obtain equipment, such as rail cars, ?which can take years to design, test, and build.?" Whaddya mean Years?? These are in existance already and tested Well and Beyond our own safety scopes! Just like #1 said, Passenger and existing Freight rail need to be completely seperate from each other: Especially since the continuing consensus by the existing Rail Companies is to try to use Existing Right of Ways to build the HSR system upon, which just wont Work in many cases!!
I don't understand the statement: "an entire industry needs to be created to help obtain equipment, such as rail cars, ?which can take years to design, test, and build.? I can think of two countries with HSR right now, Japan and France. For an initial startup I'd think we could buy off-the-shelf technology for a proof of concept while we develop superior technology to succeed it. To support the use of stimulus funds, there could be a requirement to build the cars, etc. or their components in the U.S., which would provide a base for future industry and skills here to support it.
...this report pretty much makes HSR a non-starter. Most of the excitement for HSR comes because supporters honestly believe that the billions required will be coming from someone/somewhere else. Since many of the states with the best potential routes for HSR are also flirting with bankruptcy, expecting them to put up a relevant share of the money simply isn't realistic. Which brings me to my real point: However cool HSR might be, it's going to remain a pork barrel fantasy for Americans.
Sorry, but I don't see why we need additional infrastructure for HSR. We have plenty of toilets on hand to flush all those dollars down.
FRA should own rights of way (esp those capable of very high speed) and incrementally allow commercial entities to compete with Amtrakat the high end. When they are ready open the r.o.w. to Ultra-HSR. But start NOW!
Get commercial rail operators out of the picture. Passenger rail today needs to be separated from freight physically, operationally and politically. As far as the current Class 1 operators are concerned, the money is in freight, and passenger rail, even the historic excursions by steam and early diesel, disrupt the freight schedules. A prime example of this is when the Norfolk & Western purchased the Southern and shut down all mainline excursion trips due to delays and costs they added to freight operations. Passengers don't offer the same kinds of profits (if any) to the Class 1 railroads.