WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule establishing modern, performance-based safety standards for railroad passenger equipment. The rule reinforces FRA’s commitment to safety while representing one of the most significant enhancements to the nation’s passenger rail design standards in a century. The rule paves the way for U.S. high-speed passenger trains to safely travel as fast as 220 miles per hour (mph).
“These new regulations were made possible by a wealth of FRA research, reinforcing our unwavering commitment to safety,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “FRA’s safety experts solicited input from industry stakeholders at numerous levels and took those ideas to develop standards supporting a new era in public transportation.”
The final rule defines a new category of high-speed rail operations and makes it possible for high-speed rail to utilize existing infrastructure, saving the expense of building new rail lines. These new ‘Tier III’ passenger trains can operate over this shared track at conventional speeds, and as fast as 220 mph in areas with exclusive rights-of-way and without grade crossings.
The final rule also establishes minimum safety standards for these trains, focusing on core, structural and critical system design criteria. FRA estimates that the rule will improve safety because of expected improvements made by the railroads to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment in shared rights-of-way.
The final rule will be a deregulatory action under Executive Order (EO) 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The rule is expected to save more than $475 million in net regulatory costs.
Passenger train manufacturers across the globe have utilized innovative design and testing techniques for years, incorporating features such as crash energy management. Under FRA’s previous passenger equipment regulations, U.S. rail companies have had limited procurement options or have needed to petition FRA for waivers to use these newer technologies.
The final rule continues to define Tier I as trains operating in shared rights-of-way at speeds up to 125 mph, and it also allows state-of-the-art, alternative designs for equipment operating at these conventional speeds. Tier II trains are defined as those traveling between 125-160 mph, an increase from the previous 150 mph limit. This supports a competitive operating environment for U.S. companies seeking to offer travelers more passenger rail options. By enabling the use of advanced equipment-safety technologies, this final rule helps eliminate the need for waivers.
The final rule was developed with the assistance of the Engineering Task Force (ETF), under the auspices of FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). The ETF membership included FRA technical staff and representatives from railroads, rail labor organizations, manufacturers and others. The ETF evaluated production trends against the U.S. operating environment. The ETF recommended that FRA expand its traditional speed-and-safety rating system to three categories of passenger trains.
Provides new path for passenger safety to be evaluated and achieved; Agency invites comments on proposal
WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed updates for the passenger train safety standards used in the United States as the country looks to add high-speed trains that can travel up to 220 miles per hour and replace its aging passenger fleet. The proposed updates represent nearly a decade of work by FRA’s passenger rail division.
“As several regions of the United States build faster passenger rail service, the trains on those tracks must keep passengers safe,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “To do that, we want to allow manufacturers to innovate and achieve all-new levels of safety. These proposed changes put us on track to do just that.”
The proposed updates would establish a new category of passenger equipment, Tier III, for trains traveling up to 220 mph. The updates would offer an alternative method for evaluating how well passengers and crews are protected in an accident, often called crashworthiness. The public, railroad industry, railroad labor, manufacturers and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback and comment on the proposed rule during the next 60 days.
In addition to measuring a train’s crashworthiness based on whether it meets current prescriptive strength standards, the proposed changes would allow a train’s crashworthiness to be evaluated based on it meeting an equivalent level of safety achieved through crash energy management technology or other innovative engineering methods.
“We look forward to hearing from everyone on how this proposal can help our country build a stronger passenger rail network – one that is not only faster but allows for new technologies to make passenger trains even safer,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.
Although Tier III trains will be required to have exclusive track to operate at speeds above 125 mph, the new standards will allow Tier III trains to safely share track with current Tier I and Tier II commuter, intercity and Acela trains. Compatibility between equipment types is a key strategy to allow trains to share existing corridors to reach downtown stations.
New trainsets to enter service in 2021; Station upgrades and improvements for track capacity and ride quality among infrastructure upgrades
WASHINGTON – Amtrak is contracting with Alstom to produce 28 next-generation high-speed trainsets that will replace the equipment used to provide Amtrak’s premium Acela Express service. The contract is part of $2.45 billion that will be invested on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor (NEC) as part of a multifaceted modernization program to renew and expand the Acela Express service.
“Amtrak is taking the necessary actions to keep our customers, the Northeast region and the American economy moving forward,” said Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman. “These trainsets and the modernization and improvement of infrastructure will provide our customers with the mobility and experience of the future.”
The new trainsets will have one-third more passenger seats, while preserving the spacious, high-end comfort of current Acela Express service. Each trainset will have modern amenities that can be upgraded as customer preferences evolve such as improved Wi-Fi access, personal outlets, USB ports and adjustable reading lights at every seat, enhanced food service and a smoother, more reliable ride.
This procurement comes as demand for Acela Express service is as popular as ever, with many trains selling out during peak travel periods. The new trainsets will allow for increased service including half-hourly Acela Express service between Washington D.C. and New York City during peak hours, and hourly service between New York City and Boston.
“As more people rely on Amtrak, we need modernized equipment and infrastructure to keep the region moving,” said Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors Anthony Coscia. “These trainsets will build on the popularity and demand of the current Acela Express and move this company into the future as a leader in providing world-class transportation.”
The new trainsets will operate along the Washington – New York – Boston Northeast Corridor initially at speeds up to 160 mph and will be capable of speeds up to 186 mph and thus will be able to take advantage of future NEC infrastructure improvements.
Additionally, the trainsets use the base design of one of the safest high-speed trainsets. Concentrated power cars, located at each end of the trainset, provide an extra buffer of protection. The trainsets will also meet the latest Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) guidelines including a Crash Energy Management system.
“The next generation of Acela service will mean safer, faster and modern trains for customers throughout the Northeast,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This investment will pay immediate dividends for businesses and travelers from Washington D.C. to Boston, and the fact that these new trains will be built in Upstate New York makes this project a win-win. These New York-made Acela trains will soon be zipping along the Northeast Corridor and – as a regular customer – I can’t wait for my first ride.”
“The Northeast Corridor is a national economic engine that carries a workforce contributing $50 billion annually to the national GDP,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “Amtrak’s continued investment in modernizing its fleet will only serve to enhance this vital rail link between Boston and Washington D.C. while allowing for safer and faster travel at a time when passenger demand is expected to rise. Strengthening our nation’s infrastructure is essential to the economic growth of our region and the nation and this investment by Amtrak will help ensure the reliable service travelers expect.”
Amtrak is funding the trainsets and infrastructure improvements through the FRA’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program that will be repaid through growth in NEC revenues.
“Amtrak is grateful for all of the support we have received from Congress, especially from Sen. Schumer and Rep. Reed who represents Hornell, New York – home of the Alstom facility,” said Boardman. “We would also like to thank Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson and House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio for their leadership on the FAST Act. Additionally, we appreciate the efforts of Senators Booker and Wicker for their support on the inclusion of the rail title, the first time Amtrak reauthorization has been included in surface transportation legislation.”
In addition to the trainsets, Amtrak is also investing in infrastructure needed to improve the on-board and station customer experience that will accommodate the increased high-speed rail service levels. Amtrak will invest in significant station improvements at Washington Union Station, Moynihan Station New York, as well as track capacity and ride quality improvements to the NEC that will benefit both Acela Express riders and other Amtrak and commuter passengers. Amtrak will also modify fleet maintenance facilities to accommodate the new trains.
The trainsets will be manufactured at Alstom’s Hornell and Rochester, N.Y., facilities, creating 400 local jobs. Additionally, parts for the new trainsets will come from more than 350 suppliers in more than 30 states, generating an additional 1,000 jobs across the country.
The first prototype of the new trainsets will be ready in 2019, with the first trainset entering revenue service in 2021. All of the trainsets are expected to be in service, and the current fleet retired, by the end of 2022.
High-resolution photos, a video, fact sheet and other materials are available here.
Note: This is the second piece in a series that explores the connection between a robust transportation system and a stronger middle class. Read the first piece which sets the tone for a much needed national conversation.
Around the globe, the race is on to bring the world’s fastest trains — which top speeds nearing 400 miles per hour — to commuters, travelers and business professionals alike. China is devoting billions with hopes for leading the world in rail innovation. Japan is continually making improvements to its 50-year-old system. Countries throughout Europe are expanding upon thousands of miles of high-speed rail track, which run from the south of Spain to Berlin, Oslo and Edinburgh. Meanwhile, the U.S., once known for its transportation innovations, is struggling to catch up.
Instead of embracing the future of modern transportation, some elected officials in the U.S. fail to see the value of passenger rail as part of an integrated network. Many of those same officials are also more than willing to starve the rest of our badly aging transportation system. Our national passenger rail system is continually threatened with bankruptcy budgets by politicians who ignore their constituents and oppose federal support for Amtrak.
Washington – If you build high-speed rail in America, they will come. According to a 2015 survey released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), if high-speed rail were available today, two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans are likely to use high-speed trains and this jumps to nearly seventy (67) percent when respondents were informed of the costs and time saving benefits of high-speed rail service.
“People want high-speed rail in America and we are seeing support among various ages and in different regions of the country regardless of political party,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “In addition, the millennial generation and younger adults will lead the way with their preferences to have a multi-modal transportation system that supports their lifestyle. It is critical that we include implementation of high-speed rail as we look to plan for the nation’s future transportation needs.”
In the survey “High-Speed Rail in America 2015,” conducted by TechnoMetrica for APTA, the likelihood of respondents using high-speed rail for their work and leisure travel increases as they were informed that it will be less expensive than flying and that it will take less time than driving to their destination. When told of these cost and time saving benefits, Millennials and young people (18-44) strong likelihood of use at 71 percent jumps to 76 percent. Those respondents who identify as Republican represent the largest growth of intended use, their likelihood of using high-speed rail increases from 58 to 65 percent, followed by Independents, 61 to 67 percent, and Democrats’ already strong likelihood of use goes from 73 to 75 percent when informed of the savings of time and costs.
“A high-speed rail network will have a tremendous benefit to our entire transportation system,” said Melaniphy. “It will enable America’s air, rail, bus, ferry and highway systems to each function effectively and efficiently as we face a dramatic population growth that adds more travelers than our current capacity can accommodate.”
The survey also revealed that Americans overwhelmingly support efforts to streamline government regulations that will promote real-estate development near high-speed rail. This development could include amenities such as popular retail shops, walkable neighborhoods, and unique dining experiences. Overall, nearly three quarters of respondents (71 percent) support reducing regulations so that amenities can be built near high-speed rail stations.
“High-speed rail not only provides a great transportation option, but the public’s interest in amenities near high-speed rail stations is another way to create economic growth and jobs in local communities across the country,” said Melaniphy. “If we have strong investment in high-speed rail, it will be an opportunity to generate real-estate and land use income for the private sector as well as local tax revenue for communities for decades to come.”
High-Speed Rail in America 2015? survey was conducted by Techno Metrica for APTA. The survey includes 1,005 interviews using random digit dial sample of both landline and cell phone numbers. At the 95 percent confidence level, the margin of error for the respondents’ overall sample is +/-3.2 percentage points.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector organizations, engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne services, and intercity and high-speed passenger rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. APTA is the only association in North America that represents all modes of public transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical transit services and products. More than 90 percent of the people using public transportation in the United States and Canada ride APTA member systems.
Secretary urges continued cooperation to build project. Project would reduce trip time to just over 2 hours from current 3.5.
Washington – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the State of North Carolina and the Commonwealth of Virginia announced today that they have signed off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed Richmond to Raleigh (R2R) passenger rail line along the Southeast Corridor. The completion of the FEIS is one of the final steps necessary before construction of the project can move forward once funding is secured.
“Without a strong passenger rail system, the Southeast’s growth will be choked by congestion for a very long time,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “North Carolina, Virginia and the Department of Transportation have worked together to bring us closer to high-speed rail connecting Richmond and Raleigh, and I urge everyone involved to continue pushing this effort forward. High-speed rail in this region is not a luxury but a necessity.”
The 162-mile route between the two cities would utilize existing and former rail lines for approximately 60 percent of the route and is planned to be free from at-grade crossings of track and roads. This route is part of a larger multi-state planning effort to provide high-speed passenger service between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. In July, Secretary Foxx announced that the Department of Transportation would invest approximately $1 million to develop a regional long-term vision for the corridor and engage states and stakeholders to help the region form a governance organization that can sustain planning efforts and implement the vision.
“Today brings us closer to breaking ground on this critical project for one of the fastest growing areas of the country. The project will improve safety and reliability, reduce the travel time between Richmond and Raleigh, and increase opportunity for jobs and growth in the Southeast,” FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said.
A recent U.S. Department of Transportation report, Beyond Traffic, in turn found that our country will add 70 million more people by 2045, and that the Southeast will indeed absorb a significant portion of that growth. The FEIS includes responses to comments from citizens, elected officials, residents, businesses and other stakeholders that have been involved in the process.
It felt as if it was never going to happen. But California’s long-awaited bullet train project finally broke ground this month. The initial leg is to carry passengers from the Central Valley to Los Angeles County, with an ultimate goal of connecting the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Conservatives are still complaining that the project is too expensive. At $68 billion — and, government being government, you know there will be overruns — it certainly isn’t going to be cheap.
Eighteen years have passed since the establishment of the California High Speed Rail (CHSR) Authority. Over the course of those eighteen years, high speed rail in the state has been discussed and planned and delayed and delayed more.
There have been proposals, referendums, debates, studies and budgets, but no tracks laid, no passengers queued, no trains roaring between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the promised three hour travel time at speeds exceeding 200 mph.
I began looking into the state of American high speed rail in pursuit of a few simple answers. Why don’t we have the sort of rail infrastructure seen across Europe, in Japan and now in China? What do proponents and opponents say about the various projects underway today? Put simply, what are the pros and cons of funding and maintaining high speed rail lines in this country, and what do our legislators make of them?
“I just returned from a trip to Europe, and really enjoyed riding the high-speed Eurostar and TGV. Why can’t we have something like that here in the U.S.?” So asked a reader, and the fundamental answer is simple: The United States, as a nation, does not and will not enjoy a robust passenger rail system because, as a nation, it doesn’t have the will to develop and operate one.
Other places do have the will. Between 2003 and 2013, China built more than 6,000 miles of new true high-speed rail lines. Japan and Spain now have almost 1,600 high-speed miles, with more being built or planned. In two years, Switzerland will open a 35-mile tunnel through the heart of the Alps, and the British are digging a new line across all of London. Other countries in Africa and Asia are building or adding to their systems.
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans this week are trying to drive another spike, or two, into the heart of California’s high-speed rail program.
Daring a presidential veto, GOP lawmakers are deploying a Fiscal 2015 transportation funding bill to effectively block the federal Surface Transportation Board from issuing new permits for the California project.
Hammering home the point, House Republicans on Tuesday approved an amendment by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., that blocks any money from the $52 billion bill from going to California high-speed rail.