Tuesday at the US High Speed Rail Association’s HSR conference, the morning began with a session of speakers from across the country giving updates on U.S. projects.
Las Vegas – California
Originally, DesertXpress, the XpressWest is planned 185 miles connecting Southern California and Las Vegas. Chief Operating Officer Andrew Mack explained the name change was response to a number of actions, primarily in Southern California. The new name better reflects that it will reach all the way to the West coast, including the beach.
The corridor runs primarily within or adjacent to the I-15 corridor and that is to mitigate some of the challenges in working through the environmental impact and maximizing the use of existing infrastructure. Mack said it is the first time the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have executed records of decision for a line to be co-located with a highway. It is estimated that it will divert about 25 percent of the autos off I-15, which will increase the capacity of that corridor for goods’ movement.
The line will be exclusive to XpressWest and will be double-tracked because of the robust ridership demand. On peak, Mack said trains will be leaving every 20 minutes. And for this line, peak service is Friday morning, sunrise, to Monday morning, sunrise.
The 80-minute rail time is about a third of the normal driving conditions. However on weekends, that drive is almost never only three hours. As for cost of the trip, they’re looking at about $89 round trip.
As for the latest, Mack said the FRA has been reviewing the loan but he doesn’t know when they are getting a decision. The average processing time for the RRIF program is about 19 months and, “seeing as this is the first high-speed rial project and it’s a significant amount, it’s taken longer than average.”
The project is expected to create almost 50,000 direct jobs during construction and 30,000 secondary jobs.
In the Midwest, Midwest HSR Association Executive Director Rick Harnish provided an update. “We would like it to happen at a faster pace; we’re where California was in the 90s.” The Chicago to St. Louis line had its demonstration run last month.
In 2008, the St. Louis business community recognized that to stay competitive with the global economy, they can be no further than 2.5 hours from Chicago. Rebuilding the current line, Harnish said, would make it 4 hours. “Getting to 2.5 takes improvements.”
For the various lines connecting the states, building the Chicago portion first might be easiest because there are a lot of right of ways where there used to be five or six tracks and no there’s only two. So for the Chicago to Michigan line, he said they’re really focused on that first 50 miles. And if Milwaukee were in the same state, he said 100 percent of their energy would be focused on Milwaukee. “That would be the best place to start in the Midwest.
A population of 220,000, the 94th largest city in the United States and halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, the city of Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne said that area has had significant investment in transportation and that the city has tried to create a regional approach to transportation.
Van Duyne said Texas is an ideal location for HSR due to geography, topography and population. Almost every one of the freeways is congested and two of the largest road projects in the world are in North Texas. The 635 is the largest, several billion dollars, being done by a private company out of Spain. Second is the I-25 in Austin.
The state of Texas has 70 percent of its population in 20 percent of its area. With lots of affordable land, it is ready to be built on right now, she said.
“As an elected official, I kindo f get what the balancing act is we’re trying to do,” Van Duyne said. She also said they haven’t signed the Norquist Pledge, but they might as well have. “No one wants to talk about new taxes. But it doesn’t mean we don’t understand.
“If you can show us a little ROI or show us this is what the people want. Show us that the numbers make sense.”