APTA | Passenger Transport
October 11, 2010

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Fast Trains Translate Into Economic Growth and Jobs; Tuesday Forum Discusses Funding, Other High-Speed Rail Challenges
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

What will the $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for high-speed rail mean to America’s travelers? The Oct. 5 General Forum at the APTA Annual Meeting, “High-Speed Rail in the U.S.—A Status Update,” provided attendees with an opportunity to hear directly how grant recipients in the Midwest, Florida, and Texas are working to change the transportation face of the American landscape while simultaneously turning ARRA dollars into real jobs.

David J. Carol, market leader, high-speed rail, with Parsons Brinckerhoff, sponsor of the session, introduced moderator Karen J. Rae—deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—as “a friend of APTA, a great friend of high-speed rail, and a great leader.”

Rae called the work being done on high-speed rail “the first step in one longer network. We are keeping an eye on creating a network that will get us the optimal use out of this exciting new initiative.”

Before a packed meeting room, the forum kicked off with comments from Jolene M. Molitoris, director of Ohio DOT and a past vice chair of the APTA High-Speed & Intercity Rail Committee.

After asking, rhetorically, “How do we reframe our message as an industry? How do we build a system to be responsive to the new generation?” Molitoris said: “The word I like to use for all of these projects, particularly ours, is transformative. This will change and transform Ohio in a very-near term way. It’s not just a network of passenger rail, it is a network that is leveraging the very best return on investment for all partners.” 

Noting that “it’s all about jobs, economic development, and revitalization of cities,” Molitoris said it is imperative to convey that “we are building a transportation system. Because that’s the key that we’re developing—and this intercity and high-speed rail is a key component.”

Kevin J. Thibault, P.E., chief executive officer of Florida Rail Enterprise, next discussed the state’s project, saying that in time high-speed rail will run from Tampa to Orlando to Miami. He pointed out that while the grant submission included the entire route, the group is initially seeking funding just for Phase 1, Tampa to Orlando—84 miles long with five stops.

Thibault talked about the importance of community involvement, noting that 1,000 people participated in a series of workshops in Orlando his organization held for small and minority-owned businesses. He also made the point that this project began decades ago, under then-Gov. Bob Graham. “We built upon the work done by our predecessors; we didn’t create the wheel,” he said.

Florida Rail Enterprise also has “significantly” revamped its web site, he said. It now includes a “keep me informed” link: once an individual enters an e-mail address, that person receives notice every time the site is updated.

William Glavin, director of the Texas DOT Rail Division, reported on the process his agency used to arrive at its high-speed rail goals. As Rae noted, there was one state with eight visions, and that was Texas—and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told the state to come up with just one vision.

“We took the challenge,” said Glavin. “The first thing we needed to do is understand the freight network that exists.” Then, he noted, they began to put information out and take information in.

The agency held meetings across the state; conducted public hearings; listened to the comments received; and contacted state elected officials. “We wanted the Texas legislature to know what the citizens of Texas want and need in terms of both passenger and freight rail,” Glavin said.

The last speaker was Albrecht Engel, vice president, high-speed rail department, for Amtrak. “Is it possible,” Engel asked, “to put a next-generation high-speed rail line in the existing Northeast Corridor, which was launched in 1935?” He noted that such a rail line would result in a “quantum leap” in both ridership and revenue.

More specifically, Engel said 55 percent of ridership on this service would be new, and developing this line would result in 40,000 construction jobs annually over 25 years, equaling 125,000 permanent jobs. And it would live up to its name, making the Washington, DC, to New York City take just a little more than an hour and a half—one hour and 36 minutes, to be precise.

This rail line, he continued, will not only effectively “compress geography” by dramatically shortening how long it will take to move from one major city to another, it will also result in a “safer, greener, healthier environment, with plenty of capacity for the future.”

The U.S., Engel said, has a “history of grand transportation endeavors—including the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal, and the Interstate Highway System. High-speed rail would be a worthy successor.”

FRA’s Rae Gives Progress Report on National Rail Plan
Prior to the General Forum, Rae gave a progress report on the National Rail Plan on Oct. 3. The report, released Sept. 28 by LaHood, builds upon the Preliminary National Rail Plan mandated by the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 and submitted to Congress in October 2009.

“The challenge,” she said, “is to find ways to integrate truck and rail.” She also emphasized that “it’s about building a network, not a line.”

Rae described FRA’s efforts over the last 15 months, which included public outreach events in 12 cities with more than 1,500 participants, as well as focus groups, webinars, and biweekly conference calls with senior government leaders—all to better understand the issues. She noted that DOT’s five strategic goals—Safety, State of Good Repair, Economic Competitiveness, Livable Communities, and Environmental Sustainability—have been an integral part of the process.

FRA, which is hoping to learn from such models that operate in Spain, Japan, England, and China, will be looking at ranges of costs and is “very focused on the public return on investment.”

“Rail has another good story to tell,” she said, “how safe it is, whether it’s passenger or freight rail versus a car.” She added that safety must be built in at the start instead of the operator going back yearly. “All pieces have to come together to make a difference in the future. All pieces work together at the end of the day” she said.

Kathy Golden and Susan Berlin contributed to this article.


Panelists in the General Forum on U.S. high-speed rail include, from left, Kevin Thibault, William Glavin, Jolene Molitoris, Albrecht Engel, and moderator Karen Rae.




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