Now that winners of the $8 billion “high-speed” rail stimulus have been announced, it is apparent that the goal was to spread money around as many Congressional districts as possible. Perhaps that is good politics, and will help build support for bi-partisan buy-in down the road.
But is this good policy? It means a swing state can get awarded grant funding for a rather dubious project.
Consider Ohio’s 3C project, which is anything but high-speed.
The plan is to spend $400 million upgrading freight tracks for a standard Amtrak service between Cleveland and Cincinnati. When built, it will take trains 6.5 hours to travel the 255 mile corridor. Average speed will be a whopping 39 mph!
The low average speed is only part of the problem. The proposed schedule has (effectively) 3 round trips per day. Instead of regular clock-face scheduling, travelers have to plan their day around infrequent train service. Thus, the service will be neither convenient nor time-competitive against competing automobile mode.
Conventional vs. HSR
There has been an on-going debate as to whether nations should upgrade existing conventional corridors, or build (from scratch) dedicated high-speed rail lines. In most cases, re-using existing infrastructure (i.e. conventional upgrade) is much more cost-effective. The US is major exception to that rule, due to archaic Amtrak operating practices.
It should noted that the Ohio Rail Development Commission does envision a more modern and futuristic service. The website features railfan photos of TGVs and boasts:
The trains of the Ohio Hub won’t be the trains your parent’s remember. They will be modern, fast, convenient and comfortable with the on-board amenities that help you relax or do business. And it isn’t futuristic technology. This type of service is available elsewhere in the world on existing trains.
That sounds great, but these photos of gleaming TGVs are completely at odds with the actual plan. This line will run under FRA ruleset, which is incompatible with cost-effective high-speed rail.
Even worse, Ohio does not intend to run modern off-the-shelf trainsets:
Following the release of Amtrak’s Draft Report for the Ohio 3-C Study on September 15, 2009, ORDC advised Amtrak that the State of Ohio has expressed serious interest in DMU (diesel multiple unit) equipment, potentially manufactured in Ohio by US Railcar (formerly Colorado Railcar), for use in the proposed 3-C service.