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Alpine Railway


Communications link - High Speed in the North America     

Welcome to the North American Super Fast  Efforts Page. We hope to take the word "effort" away from the previous sentence as soon as possible and report the progress in U.S. building the super fast lines and technology instead just plans! So far we have seen mostly impressive plans for the state of California super fast lines plus the national high speed visions plans. This vision if divided to several regional plans, some of which will be highly successfull once they get proper funding while others will fade away due to lack of money and iniative. 
 The Starting Point  
The regional high speed initiatives comes after decades of uncertainty on the development of the passenger railroads and railroading in general. While much of the rest of the world has been developing passenger rail service gradually to better and better, the U.S. has been mostly neglecting this area. Where super fast trains of 200 Mph and over today run in the territories of much of the Europe and China, and almost as fast in countries like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the once mighty U.S. has been left in the company of the developing countries in this issue. But since the Russia and China have picked up the super fast issue seriously on it's railroads, the U.S. has also been more active.  

Picture: Amtrak California provides the regional service for cities like Sacramento, where this F59PH number 2002 led trains was leaving. Picture by John McKey. 
The state of California has plans for an extensive super fast network on "conventional" (as opposed to the maglev technology) rail connecting it's 2 highly populated areas in the Bay Area and the Southern California together. The plan calls for 200 Mph speed range, which would be quite an achievement practically starting from almost nothing existing available.  

The California corridor calls for connecting the larger cities and areas Los Angeles and San Diego connecting with Bay area (San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, etc.) in the north. The corridor also includes connections to Sacramento and Las Vegas.
 How to start the building   
What strikes out in the plans of California, is that the idea is to build everything in place at once, something that will be incredibly costly. With conventional rail the European countries have developed their services one part at the time, adding next part once the first part is finished. The rest of the way has all the time been quite the usual rail network, although electrified and well maintained. 

Because the super fast trains always use electric power, this can not be easily achieved in California. Or can you remember seeing catenary wires in the Tehachapis or the California Valley? Another issue is that the super fast corridors always need an alternative to be used in case of an technical error or an accident. This might be achieved by adding the electricification to the existing lines of BNSF, UP and a few others. Actually Matt Rose, the CEO of the BNSF has discussed earlier the electrification of the system, but no decisions one way or another have been published. We are relatively sure the plans exist. How could the trend in the rest of the world go unnoticed from the second largest railroad company in the U.S? BNSF has always been wise in it's movements, while the fuel prices will continue climbing in 2011 again, there is a strong need for the alternative power sources. The hybrid locomotives and trains are not here today because the battery technology is not quite up to the needs for mountain railroading, and the hydrogen (fuel cell) powered locomotives are only at the prototype phase, so the electricity would be the most promising technology. For some reason no railroads seem to use natural gas a in larger scale (unlike buses in some places use natural gas instead of diesel. The engine is one and the same).

High Speed Corridors for the U.S.       

To be added soon.  

  California corridor: 
Pacific Northwest Corridor: 
  Gulf Coast Corridor: 
South Central Corridor: 
  Chicago Hub Network: 
  Florida Corridor: 
  Southeast Corridor: 
Northern New England Corridor: 
  Keystone Corridor: 
  Empire Corridor: 

Electricity is the Key to Successfull Operations 

TGV unit 001 at Strasbourg, France

To be continued soon.


11 important lessons learned from Europe on the super high speed and  electrification on the railroads could be:
1) Try before you buy. Start with little, it easy to expand later if you are satisfied with the performance. "Fly on the ground" (on super high speed trains) in France, Spain, Germany, U.K., Russia, China, South Korea, ... and gather the experiences! With hardly any high speed trains available it is doubtful the U.S. citizens understand how much more comforatable flying on the ground can be compared to the nuisance of the real flying. 
2) No one builds super fast network overnight! Building one phase at the time and using that while building the new has worked and still works extremely well! The result: only moderate investment level is needed. The U.S. can't afford the super high speed programs available for the richer China, so sticking with the "European" technique of gradual improvement might be the best approach. 
Electrifying and super fast always go together: the super high speed has been tested for decades without electricity, with always the same end results, higher speeds are incredibly costly to operate without electricity! The famous TGV's first version  had turbines, a fact noone hardly any remember, since the electric super high speed corridors work so well. 
4) Since the electricity is commonly accepted the traditional lines are often electrified too. This will provide valuable secondary lines in case there is a technical error on the main super high speed line.     
All modern electric locomotives feed back electricity to the networks while on regenerative mode. Normally this will reduce the need for energy on the flat land with as much as about 50%! And imagine how much energy is blown to the air currently coming down the mountain slope on the dynamics with diesels; most of this could be fed back to the networks.
6) The power provided by modern typically 25 kV lines is quite sufficient for major operations. And where necessary, the current trains in Europe change without problem to for example 3000V/1500V around old electrified routes around larger cities. While the lower voltage does not provide enough power for super high speed or super tonnage movements at high speed, who would need such high speed around bigger cities anyway?   
7) Modern electric power means higher traction power at higher speeds + less units needed in one train. After 50 years of use of the Swiss invented AC technology the reliability is almost 100%!
8) The super fast corridor will effectively kill all air traffic with less than 3 hours of ground travel time. Currently with the next generation super fast fleets the distance is calculated to be around 700 miles.  
9) It's important to have competition to keep the ticket prices reasonable.  In Europe the infrastructure is owned by public sector and in general anyone may operate this, given needed skills and ECTS compatible rolling stock. Starting 2010 this will drive the ticket prices lower (and the already congested super fast corridors of raillines will be even more congested). 
10) As super fast service in Europe is for everyone (not just the wealthiest), the networks are quite congested. Only 25 units of 1000 passenger TGVs or similar trains fit one corridor both ways in one hour. In the U.S.A. this kind of frequency and volume can be achieved as well, given decades of practicing. The TGV's started with couple of dozen units and one short super fast track. Currently, the networks is huge and TGV's alone number literally hundreds of units, out of which most are today double decked to accommodate more passengers.
11) TGV is safe concept. With thousands fo grade crossings in the U.S. (on the possible alternative routes) it pays to have a heavy locomotive at both ends to provide protections for the passengers. TGV has had a few accidents with billions of passenger miles/kilometers travelled, but no one has died (a board the train,) and there are not many injured. Latest grade crossing accident was in the Christmas of 2007 in Switzerland with a huge conrete mixer truck stuck on the crossing. With a mass of a leading TGV locomotive hitting first the truck, nobody on the train was killes, and only a few injured. Furthermore the structure of the articulated train seems to stop the normal fatal zigzagging of the train in case of the accident (like the one mentioned before). A severe accident happened with the German ICE1 train 10 years ago with 90 people killed and hundreds injured when the train zigzagged after hitting a bridge. With ICE and similar design it's just a matter of time when the disaster will happen again.     


 Getting started with Superhigh Speed Networks in the U.S.A.      

The Obama adminsitration has started its revival of the U.S. economy and infrastructure after years of neglect. The doubling of the Amtrak budget is one sign, there will also be and investment of 8 billion USD to (super) high speed networks, proposed is not the California corridort between the LA and SF but LA and Las Vegas Nevada (270 miles)! Milwaykee - Madison (just 70 miles). We hope to see the rational extension of the super high speed corridor between the LA and the Bay Area in California added to the investement.   


Summa summarum: Maybe the easiest way to start with the super high speed for California would be to build the network in phases, starting with the existing networks electricity added, and the improving the infrastructure each year. This would enable a fast start and continuos improvement cycle adapting to new technologies. With this the trains could roll the slopes of Tehachapi in 3 years compared with 10 or more. There is also some 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation super fast technology (TGV type: TGV-PSE, Eurostar, Thalys, TGV-Atlantique) trains available from Europe, which could be leased to California to get things started fast. Some of these trains are currently used to other than their original owner.  

Created for by John McKey. Pictures by Pekka Siiskonen, Ilkka Siissalo, Sanna Siissalo and John McKey.

 Also on super high speed

Super High Speed News provides you the newest happenings and trends in the super fast railroading. 

A TGV and AGV Theme Page provides information on these most succesfull super high speed trains.
See the ICE1,2,3 and Velaro Page for these German prides

Brand new TGV-POS's pose in Paris Gare du Nord for the camera. Almost brand new...the locomotives are new, while the coaches are from the TGV-Resťau sets. Single story trains of 320 km/h serve well the limited numbers of passengers between France and Germany. once the volumes pick up, it's guaranteed that the double decked coaches will be swapped to these units. Picture by Sanna Siissalo 2008.      

A Thalys PBKA number 4243 boarding in Paris-GNO. As 40% more passengers are expected to travel the Thalyses within next 3 years, seventh daily return trip between Paris and Amsterdam will be added beginning March 2008. Picture by Sanna Siissalo 2008. 

Sources: The Net, La vie du Rail, Trains Magazine, Alstom, ...  

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  Super High Speed Lines and Corridors...     Updated  

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© Railroad Reference 2004 - 2010  -  Updated 20.8.2010   John McKey