With the release of its “Vision for High-Speed Rail in America,” the Obama Administration unveiled its plan for a national rail network. With the granting of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail, the administration put its money where its vision was.
As the United States begins the road to rails, experts across the country have been jetting across the globe to learn from successful high-speed rail systems in Asia and Europe. These systems, some of which have been running for decades, have a lot to teach the burgeoning U.S. network.
In this issue, Mass Transit takes a look at three of those systems, their histories and lessons learned.
The oldest of the three systems here, the internationally renowned Tokaido Shinaknsen high-speed rail line is the main transportation link between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka — the world’s busiest high-speed rail corridor. The first high-speed rail system in history, the Tokaido Shinkensen began operations in 1964 under the Japanese National Railways (JNR) and is currently operated by the Central Japan Railway Company (JRC).
In 2007, JRC commissioned the N700 “bullet” high-speed rail system on the Tokaido Shinkansen. JRC operates more than 323 trains per day on the Tokaido Shinkansen, with an average annual delay of a little more than 30 seconds per train. Today, the Tokaido Shinkansen has more than 80 percent market share between Tokyo and Osaka.
Unlike most high-speed rail operators, JRC enjoys substantial profits and requires no subsidization. JRC’s operating revenues for the fiscal year ending in March 2009 were ~$13 billion.
Looking to the future, JRC is constructing a Tokaido Shinkansen “bypass” using superconducting magnetic levitation technology (SCMAGLEV), which holds the world’s speed record of 361 mph. The SCMAGLEV will connect Tokyo to Nagoya (a distance of 213 miles), and ultimately will be extended to Osaka (about 100 additional miles).
JRC is currently marketing the N700-I (the international variant of the N700) and the SCMAGLEV in select U.S. corridors.
Critical High-Speed Issues
“The most critical issue for a high-speed rail line is undoubtedly whether or not it is constructed as a closed system,” says Richard Lawless, CEO of U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail (USJHSR).
“In Japan, the early decision to maintain the integrity of the Tokaido Shinkansen as a closed system has enabled JRC to develop technologies with unrivalled performance characteristics. It also has allowed JRC to set operating schedules that transport a staggering number of passengers in comfort and safety with virtually no delay.
“Other experience around the world has demonstrated that mixing high-speed rail with freight and conventional passenger operations is, at best, highly inefficient and, at worst, a compromise of safety. If the U.S. is committed to deploying true high-speed rail, this mistaken approach must be avoided from the outset.”
In 1986 the Spanish government chose to modernize transportation in Spain and begun planning the 298-mile Madrid-to-Seville line, which would open in 1992. The astounding success of this line became the foundation for a much larger vision in passenger transportation.
With the goal to link Spain’s two largest cities next, planning was started for a Madrid-to-Barcelona line, covering almost 400 miles. Due to the length and difficulty of the terrain, this line was completed in several stages, opening service to Zaragoza and Lérida in 2003, Tarragona in 2006 and Barcelona in 2008. While this line was being completed, a new line from Madrid northwest to Valladolid was built and opened in 2007.
With the opening of the Madrid-Valencia line in 2010, the system will reach 1,386 service miles. Many other segments are under construction or in planning stages throughout Spain. The national transportation and infrastructure plan will build a total of 6,400 miles of high-performance railways by 2020, bringing 90 percent of Spain’s population within 30 miles of a high-speed rail station.