Higher-Speed Rail: Searching for Shared-Used Consensus

From Railway Age
October 1, 2014 | McWilliams, Ryan | Copyright  (Used by permission of Ryan McWilliams)
Can we build a shared-use system? Yes. Can we justify a typical business case around that system? No.

The topic of shared use–operating high speed passenger trains on existing freight infrastructure-has been a longstanding subject of discussion in numerous political forums and engineering meetings around the world. The same holds true for running freight trains on passenger infrastructure, with minor variations in topic focus. While there are many factors to consider when discussing the viable (and not so viable) options available to the industry, we don’t appear to be close to consensus. Primary deliberations focus on the political quagmires, the technical requirements, and the associated costs that these two very different systems require.

High speed passenger operations in North America are often classified as trains (or integrated trainsets) that travel above 110 mph with common target speeds of 125 mph and ISO mph. The primary objective for high speed rail is providing an alternative to air travel through competion with short- to medium-distance regional flights. Hence, the faster we can move passenger trains, the larger the customer base and the more attractive an option train travel becomes when compared to air travel. This customer base is a primary financial factor when determining the viability of building or upgrading a high speed passenger network, since operating companies need customers to fill seats to offset costs.

In Europe and Asia, dedicated passenger systems are now operating at speeds in excess of 230 mph on a regular basis but only on dedicated high speed infrastructure. Most European freight trains have a speed limit of 70 mph when operating on their passenger-focused infrastructure and do not operate at all on the high speed lines dedicated to passenger service in excess of ISO mph. By comparison, most North American freight trains operate on Class S track with a speed limit of 80 mph, while passenger trains observe a speed limit of 90 mph on that same track. It is also relevant to note that European freight cars are much lighter than heavy-haul North American freight cars and therefore cause lower overall stress on the infrastructure (20,000-pound wheel load vs. …

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