The United States High Speed Rail Association held its high-speed conference: Brining High Speed Rail to America in San Francisco last week.
Experienced high-speed rail experts met with business and political leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities of bringing high-speed rail to the United States. The conference was held at Autodesk, a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.
During “High-Speed Around the World,” presenters shared best practices and lessons learned in high-speed rail from across the globe.
Armin Kick, directory, HSR Development, Siemens Industry Inc., Mobility Division talked about HSR development in Germany. The government’s plan took off in 1973; they developed a federal transportration corridor plan. The plan was made for HSR with the policies and financing would come with that. “They didn’t know exactly how it would be built or when it would be complete,” Kick said. And, it’s still growing with other lines in development.
The first line went into service in the 90s. Germany’s very fiscally conservative, so when there’s no money, they reduce their efforts until there’s more money. They’ve halted build out three times but they have been inching along. With infrastructure projects of this nature, Kick stressed, “These things take time.”
While a lot of discussion has focused lately on HSR in China, when looking at HSR in the United States Kick said to reflect on how long it takes in other examples of democratic societies with environmental laws and processes. “It takes some time to do it and to do it right.” He added, “Twenty years is not unreasonable.”
Kick also talked about the European Train Control System (ETCS). In Europe there are many legacy systems in place and basically they each had their own ATP system. The European Union decided they needed a standardized system that would allow for one harmonized technical solution.
The public-founded Trans-European Networks (TEN) enforces the deployment of this system. And this system is establishing itself as an international standard. Europe is bound to this standard by law, but others have come on board, including Australia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. The ETCS is something that could be used in the United States, too.
In France the first HSR line was commissioned in 1981 and then gradually the network expanded with the last line being commissioned less than six months ago. SNCF America CEO Julien Dehornoy explained that HSR doesn’t operate on just dedicated HSR lines, it also runs on conventional lines to get to more places. There are 1,300 miles of HSR lines and 5,000 miles of conventional lines used by HSR.
Some additional stats about French HSR are that they operate 700 domestic TGVs every day and 200 international TGVs. There are 250 stations, 230 of those in France. On the most-utilized routes, there are 130 trains per direction, per day. And even with that kind of volume, 81.2 percent of TGV trains are less than 5 minutes late and only 35 percent of such delays are due to SNCF operations.
The average occupancy rate is more than 74 percent occupied. Dehornoy said the trains are priced differentiation. “Like the airlines do here, there are different options.”
The first lines were less costly to build with the highest ridership, “thus the lowest level of subsidies and the lowest cost per passenger,” said Dehornoy. “Investment costs averaged $30 to $40 million per mile in the last sections (2010 numbers).
All lines are making operating profit, ranging to very low, which are the shorter distances, to very high, which is the 200 to 400-mile lines.
Dehornoy said the value created from HSR was $190 billion over 40 years, in terms of such things as time saved and increased productivity of transport system.