French Rail Company Thinks Midwest HSR Will Pay For Itself, Wants to Invest

According to The Transport Politic, SNCF, the French national railroad operator, thinks that a Midwest High-Speed Rail system is economically viable and is interested in building it.

…SNCF’s response was conditioned on viability: it suggests that high-speed rail investment should only occur where operating and maintenance costs would be covered by rider revenue and that socio-economic benefits offset initial public investments in the system. Based on its conclusions, the corridors it has picked for study would meet those guidelines.

Here is what they have to say about a Midwest system:

SNCF expects that the system would more than cover operations costs, allowing the network’s revenues to be used to repay some of the initial construction costs. The public would subsidize 54% of the $68.5 billion total cost of right-of-way, construction, and trainsets. Benefits from reduced car and air travel, however, are expected to make up for 150% of the government investment in construction costs over a period of just 15 years of operation.

Travel time between Minneapolis and Chicago?  2 hours and 42 minutes.

Midwest HSR/Stimulus run-down

I’ve been collecting articles since mid-February, so this post is way overdue.

Remember when Congress approved $680 million a year for high speed rail projects?  Well that’s peanuts now, with the stimulus bringing in $8 billion.  Back then, Oberstar said Chicago to the Twin Cities could happen in 5 years.

As usual, NYT has the best rundown of the details.  Autopia also has a little more analysis.  The Boston Globe talks to some people who say that HSR will be tough to get started in the US because of our old friends low gas prices (love of foreign oil?) and low population density (also wide open spaces and a lack of historic government support).  Governor Jim Doyle went to Spain, rode their ultra-fast trains and declared a Chicago-Minnesota route possible “within 5 to 10 years“.  Finally, feeling left out, the Hennepin County Board last week approved a resolution asking that proposals be developed to include Minneapolis in high-speed plans (current plans have the line ending at Saint Paul’s soon-to-be-renovated Union Depot).

If $680 million = Chicago-TC HSR route in 5 years, shouldn’t $8 billion = Chicago-TC route in 5 months?

America 2050: President Obama, Please Don’t Mess Up the New New Deal



By now everyone knows about Obama’s pledge to spend a boatload on roads, bridges, schools and energy efficiency to stimulate the economy (despite my failure to blog about it).  Well, America 2050 has already developed a plan for that plan.  They have an interesting 5 1/2 point plan for spending what could turn out to be $1 trillion with concise titles like “FIX” and “GREEN”, but what I found more interesting on their site was the organizations focus on “megaregions”:

A major focus of America 2050 is the emergence of megaregions – large networks of metropolitan areas, where most of the population growth by mid-century will take place. Examples of megaregions are the Northeast Megaregion, from Boston to Washington, or Southern California, from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico. They comprise multiple, adjacent metropolitan areas connected by overlapping commuting patterns, business travel, environmental landscapes and watersheds, linked economies, and social networks. At least ten megaregions have been identified in the United States.

In Europe and Southeast Asia, governments are investing tens of billions of dollars in high-speed rail and goods movement systems to connect networks of cities in what are termed “global integration zones.” These counterparts to America’s megaregions are increasingly being viewed as the new competitive units in the global economy, where knowledge workers can move freely among urban hubs. Economic regeneration strategies are also being deployed at this scale, to transition former industrial regions to the new information economy.

The Saint Cloud-Minneapolis-Rochester area kind of stands on its own when looking at the map above, but it is included in the “Great Lakes” megaregion.  It makes me wonder what the Twin Cities would look like if we had a true high-speed rail connection to the Milwaukee-Chicago megalopolis.  Supposedly we only need to wait five more years, until then we’ll have to settle for cheap airfares on Southwest.

Congress approves Midwest high-speed rail – could it really happen?

Midwest Network from MHSR

It only took an energy crisis, a climate crisis and a horrible train accident, but Congress has finally taken a first step towards providing a real transportation alternative.  The House and Senate have both approved a rail safety bill that includes $680 million a year for five years for high speed rail projects.  This same bill includes safety improvements, and doubles Amtrak’s funding to $13 billion over five years.

Of greatest interest to this Chicago-lover is the possibility of high-speed rail in the Midwest.  Always one to provide the bacon for Minnesota (not to be confused with pork), Congressman Oberstar says that this bill could mean a high-speed connection between Chicago and the Twin Cities in the next five years.  That seems like an awfully ambitious timeline, especially given the last sentence in the story, “…matching funds need to come from state and local sources”.  But, if we get some new, pro-rail leadership in the White House in January (McCain’s position, Obama’s position), perhaps things really could start to happen in less than a decade.

One question for the readers, why is a line from Duluth to the Twin Cities a higher priority than the Chicago-Twin Cities line?  Have they already “stud[ied] the impact” of the Chicago route (I assume this means a EIS process)?  Why is Duluth a viable destination for a train line anyway?