The Administration is too busy throwing money at the road and air lobbies to care about a real HSR system here in the US.
December 30, 2005
Overseas, the Trains and the Market for Them Accelerate
By JOHN TAGLIABUE
KREFELD, Germany - Even more high-speed trains? Europe must be kidding.
In one vast hall, workers in blue overalls are putting the finishing touches on what would, on an old-fashioned train, be a locomotive, except that it houses a spacious conference room with a large table and seven comfortable armchairs.
In an adjacent hall, others are attaching what look like ordinary wheel trucks to a rail car, except that these contain electric motors that will essentially do the locomotive's job of pulling the train.
"We're now turning out a car every one or two days," said Michael Gessner, project manager at the Siemens rail car plant in Uerdingen, a suburb of this industrial city. "When we begin the Chinese order, it will be two a day."
Work at the Siemens factory illustrates a coming together of two developments in high-speed passenger train travel: technical breakthroughs in the way the bullet-shaped trains run, and the opening of vast new markets in Eastern Europe and Asia that are combining to give a steady boost to the business.
Unless they have traveled abroad, most Americans have had little first-hand experience with high-speed trains, and the problems with the Acela service on Amtrak have left its customers with a slightly bad taste. Hence, as countries including Italy and Spain - and emerging markets like China and Russia - open their pocketbooks for huge high-speed railway development, the United States remains on the sidelines, vulnerable to losing out on new technologies for propulsion and vehicle control.
For those who thought railroads were basically 19th-century technology, think again. Thanks to miniaturization, newer trains have motors built into the axles of every second rail car, rather than concentrating the pulling power in the locomotive, as was done in traditional pull-push trains.
The technology makes the trains lighter and enables them to go faster and to brake and accelerate more easily, while causing less wear on rails and wheels.
And the newer generation of very high-speed trains has other breakthrough features, including so-called eddy current brakes, which employ electromagnetic fields rather than brake disks for slowing and stopping.
"The carriages are stable and light and of very high speed," said Francois Lacôte , senior vice president in Alstom's transport division, which will install the new technology in the fourth generation of its TGV.
(The French manufacturer Alstom, like most of the industry, considers high-speed trains to be those with a top cruising speed of 150 miles per hour; trains with a top cruising speed 210 miles per hour are considered very high speed. The Acela's top cruising speed is about 125 miles per hour.)
In November, Siemens landed a $804 million contract to supply 60 sleek-nosed high-speed trains to the Chinese railways. The order is just one in a 15-year program to upgrade China's rail network, including the introduction of 180-mile-per-hour bullet trains. "Up to 2020 they want 12,000 kilometers of high-speed rail," or 7,200 miles, said Dietrich G. Möller, president of Siemens' trains division.
At about the same time, Siemens signed a preliminary contract for high-speed trains to connect Moscow and St. Petersburg. Like China, Russia, too, has gigantic railway ambitions. The line may one day continue beyond St. Petersburg to Helsinki, Finland, and past Moscow to Russian cities like Nizhny Novgorod.
In South Korea, Alstom, the inventor of the train à grande vitesse, or TGV, is supplying 185-mile-per-hour trains for a five-year $17 billion project that has connected Pusan and Seoul.
The growth in Asia is giving the small club of high-speed passenger train manufacturers a lift just as Western European governments are watching their budgets more closely. Europe's dense population and geographical features like the Alps make the construction of high-speed lines costly.
Moreover, environmental groups often resist the construction of new train lines, saying they bring noise and unwanted development and divert money from more urgent needs.
Nonetheless, Spain hopes to have a Madrid-Barcelona link open by 2008; France and Germany are upgrading the line from Paris through Strasbourg and on to the German cities of Stuttgart and Frankfurt for 210-mile trains.
"What has happened is that cuts in travel time have stimulated demand" for trains, said Ernest Godward, an economist with Scott Wilson Railways, a British consultancy.
American industry is largely sitting this one out. While some American companies, like the electro-motive division of General Motors and the MotivePower Industries division of the Wabtec Corporation, are doing brisk business with Chinese rail operators, their business is mainly freight, while the market for high-speed passenger trains is limited to a small group that has shrunk in recent years through a wave of mergers and acquisitions.
In 2001, Bombardier, the Canadian transport company, acquired Adtranz, a German-based rail equipment maker; at about the same time, Alstom bought Fiat Ferroviaria, Fiat's rail equipment division and the original developer of technology that enables high-speed trains to tilt into curves, much the way a motorcycle can.
(Alstom and Bombardier installed the technology on the Acela in the United States, but faulty measurements of the train's right-of-way rendered it virtually useless.)
Within Europe, the three leaders are vying to grab market share with snazzier and ever faster models.
Siemens introduced distributed power, meaning that electric motors pulling the train are distributed through the train's cars; that technology was used in trains for a high-speed line from Frankfurt to Cologne and will be used in trains on the Barcelona-Madrid connection.
Alstom will introduce similar technology on the new Paris-to-Strasbourg TGV line.
Bombardier, fearful of being left out of the running, introduced in October a concept train called the Zefiro, which will include most of the technology employed by the market leaders. Neil Harvey, Bombardier's communications director for Europe, said the Zefiro would have all the latest traction and braking technology and would be loaded with features like electronic seat reservations, power outlets at every seat and free Wi-Fi.
In Europe, to be sure, the growth of the market is not without its obstacles. Some argue that the cost of high-speed rail is excessive, compared with the operation of no-frills airlines, and that it only indulges a European penchant to go first class whenever possible; others say the environmental damage is too great.
In northwest Italy, near the site of the next winter Olympics in February, environmental groups are opposing a new high-speed line and tunnel to connect Lyon in France and Turin in Italy, arguing they would drag even more industrial traffic into the Alps. The train will cross a valley that already has a conventional train line and a superhighway. "It's incredibly costly, they're talking 13 billion euros," almost $16 billion, said Marco Ponti, a transportation expert at Milan's Polytechnic Institute who backs the protesters.
Mr. Ponti likened the project to the English Channel rail tunnel, whose construction cost was almost double the original estimates. "The Channel tunnel went bankrupt not once, but twice," he said.
Mr. Ponti, a former World Bank consultant, acknowledged, however, that "there is a place for high-speed trains for medium distances and in very densely populated areas."
Still, the governments in Rome and Paris are throwing their full weight behind high-speed rail. West of Turin, engineers are blasting a tunnel through the craggy Alps, and this fall Italy took tenders on 30 very high-speed trains and says it wants to acquire 100 in all. Its master plan foresees building high-speed lines in the shape of a T, from Milan in the north to Naples in the south, and from Turin in the west to Venice in the east.
In Asia, too, the European train builders face challenges. For one, there is competition from the fabled Shinkansen of Japan, the first high-speed train to go into service. That design was chosen by Taiwan for a 210-mile-per-hour train inaugurated last year from Taipei to the southern port of Kaoshiung. And while Asian contracts are lucrative, most countries insist on technology transfers including the assembly of most of the trains in local factories. Such requirements put pressure on the Europeans to continuously upgrade their technology or risk being overtaken by their own customers.
"The key is new technology," said Mr. Lacôte of Alstom. "The Chinese market is very interesting," he said. "They have the culture; they want to acquire the technology."
Of course, not all of the Chinese acquisitions will be very high speed. Bombardier, which has a strong presence in China thanks to its Adtranz acquisition, does a brisk business in light rail and subway car construction. This year, Bombardier signed a long-range agreement to supply trains to China with cruising speeds of 120 miles per hour.
The Siemens contract for China calls for it to supply 60 trains with a cruising speed of 180 miles an hour to link Beijing to the coastal city of Tianjin.
And the United States? Despite the debacle of the Acela, European rail executives say that heavy population concentrations on the East and West Coasts and in the Midwest around Chicago make high-speed trains a natural. Mr. Moller of Siemens said, "When the skies and the roads are full, they will turn to trains."
Mr. Lacôte of Alstom said three conditions had to be fulfilled for a country to turn to high-speed rail: the political will, large population concentrations, and a level of economic prosperity adequate to pay for a rail system.
"In the United States you have the second two," he said. "I am not sure that you have the first."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
The Administration is too busy throwing money at the road and air lobbies to care about a real HSR system here in the US.
Rail Speed Record
Dec. 15 (Bloomberg)
Alstom SA's TGV train will attempt to set a new rail-speed record of 550 kilometers an hour (342 mph) in coming months using upgraded technology and a faster, straighter line in eastern France.
Alstom and state rail operator Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer, or SNCF, will seek to extend the TGV's existing record of 515.3 kph on a newly built stretch of track, Philippe Mellier, head of Alstom's transport unit, said in an interview.
``All the elements are in place and we're ready for the challenge,'' Mellier said. ``The line is ready and we have the technology.'' The bid, to be made in February or March, will be announced Monday by French Transport Minister Dominique Perben.
Alstom, the world's second-biggest train maker, has been building the TGV, or Train a Grande Vitesse, for 25 years and set the existing record in 1990. Merrier said that the upgraded train may even reach 570 kph with the help of technology developed for the company's new AGV regional train fleet.
Alstom, which also builds power stations, recorded its first annual profit since 2001 in the 12 months through March after railway operators and utilities placed orders to refurbish older equipment and install new gear.
Next year's record attempt will feature a five-carriage TGV set assembled at Alstom's plant in La Rochelle. The train will draw on 24,000 horsepower from two motorized cars and run on track built by rail-network owner Reseau Ferre de France.
The company has about 450 TGV trains in service in France and overseas markets including Spain and South Korea. The train also runs on the Thalys network operating between France and Belgium, Holland and Germany and is used in modified form for the Eurostar between London, Paris and Brussels.
Shares of Alstom rose 1.8 percent to 98.65 euros today. The stock has surged 103 percent this year, giving a market value of 13.6 billion euros ($18 billion).
Last edited by ablarc; December 20th, 2006 at 08:54 PM. Reason: link
A great post and I hope it provokes interest as virtually nobody is aware that on a complete shoestring budget, a team at Lawrence Livermore and General Atomics in California are working on a maglev train that has the potential to leapfrog the two existing maglev systems as well as wheeled trains.
The system is called "Inductrack", is more efficient than previous maglev trains and suitable for urban transit as well as transcontinental.
The team are at the point of building a working demonstration system located at California University of Pennsylvania (CUP) inCalifornia, Pennsylvania. The demonstration system will provide the needed operational and reliability data prior to revenue system deployment.
Sadly, given the antipathy within the US towards railways I can't see a pathway this tech could take towards wider market acceptance. Even the proposed maglev system schemes within the US such as the Baltimore-Washington Maglev (http://www.bwmaglev.com/default.htm) are based on the Siemens system. It's really frustrating when great tech isn't adopted and efforts are wasted. I think the real reason there will never be a high speed rail in the US is simple. Railways can't make a profit.
I have been to to the Siemens maglev test track in Germany and when you see 200,000 Kg of train lifted 2 cm's above the guide rail in total silence it truly does seem like science fiction. When you see the train pass by at 400+ kph and you know it isn't touching the track, has no wheels, will never wear out....etc etc.
Having said that, I also know that there are plans for steam trains to make a big comeback in China, at least for freight trains. New types of super efficient steam engines have been developed and low emission coal burners and the 500 years supply of coal that China has suggest that for the non-prestige projects, steam locomotion is the way ahead!
Big Up the Inducktrack though! Not enough people know about it
Last edited by Marksix; December 21st, 2006 at 06:26 AM.
The thing is, in order for something like this to make money, you would have to have it in areas where people would travel the most.
I am SURE you woud have peopel willing to take a non-stop NY to SF if the average speed was 300MPH and you could get there in 5 hours for less than air fare.
The problem starts when you get close to the city centers that woudl need this. Without, what was that Moses term....I will just say 'right of way' you realy can't draw a strait line between NY and Boston without displacing MANY people.
The places that would benefit from it the most would be all the major centers up and down the east coast. At 200 MPH, Boston would take you about 1:20. Considering there is no taxi-ing time or take-off/Landing, it kicks the crap out of flight times, and might be cheaper to boot!
The construction is the $$$ and time poblem....
The Shinkansen has already invaded Europe, it will be running along the CTRL (of which the 400m long 300kph Eurostar's will run along).
Ninjahedge - Europe is generally far more densely populated than the US, but the networks are still built. Take the CTRL, 25% of its route is in tunnels. Practically its entire route through London is via 2 19km tunnels. The terminus (London St Pancras) is above ground because it has existed for over a century as a terminus, but Stratford International (the only station being built along the line that is inside London) is in a 1km trench simply because there isn't enough space to come to the surface as it pops out one tunnel at one end and into another at the other end.
These sort of projects are far more costly in Britain than in any other part of Europe simply because of the ridiculously long planning enquiries, the highest land prices in Europe, and a bottom up approach to projects. In some instances, compulsory purchase were required to move a village 100m out of the way of a HSR straight....they physically lifted the village and moved it.
The US could easily bring in private financing to get the thing of the ground.
I was learning about the European Union in geography class, and one of their main projects has been to increase rail speeds and build new high speed lines, in an extensive network all over the EU. It's good stuff.
When I went to Italy the trains were infinitely better than what I have experienced on amtrak here in the US. Sparkling new, clean, and very fast, and priced fair. The subway cars in Rome, however, were terribly dirty and covered in graffiti.
California High-Speed Rail Network, USA
America has looked enviously upon the development of high-speed rail routes elsewhere in the world, particularly Japan. The country has one the highest rates of private car ownership and some of the busiest roads in the world and it came to realise, perhaps late, that alternative forms of transport would be needed to cope with the continued demand for fast, efficient long- and short-distance journeys.
The state government of one of the country's fastest-growing areas, California, decided in 1993 to establish an Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission to develop a framework for the implementation of a high- speed rail network in the state. The group focused on potential for inter-city travel, i.e. journeys of between l00 and 500 miles, at speeds of over 200mph (320km/h).
After more than a decade's work the project is now hanging in the balance, as the US$9.95bn bond initially allocated to the high-speed rail project may be removed from the public spending plan in November 2006.
Under the authority which created it, the commission's first objective was to develop a system connecting the San Francisco Bay area with Los Angeles, and then consider extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.
It carried out five evaluations which comprised a preliminary engineering study of the line between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, the corridor and environmental constraints, a ridership demand and market analysis study, modal cost comparisons and possible economic impact, and financing options. Three public inquiries have been held, and the findings handed over to the High Speed Rail Authority, which has the powers to implement the works needed for the project.
The ability of the state's highway and airline network to continue to cope with future growth was questioned, and the Commission concluded that, while the extreme ends of the proposed route were well served, intermediate markets, such as the cities of Bakersfield and Fresno, enjoyed less frequent and less competitively priced public transport.
The main project under planning is the San Francisco–Los Angeles high speed line, which could connect the two cities in just 2 hours 30 minutes. The forecast expects between 42 and 68 million passengers per year by 2020, with a relatively low passenger cost per mile.
Residents of the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas are also all too conscious of other possible major factors which affect existing modes of transport, but from which rail travel is less likely to suffer. The region is prone to dense fog, making travel on the already congested roads even more hazardous. And of course, the area is a well known earthquake zone, and the promoters of the scheme are keen to point out that it would offer an alternative means of transport in the event of such a natural disaster.
Supporters of the campaign to build the high speed line have said that without it, California could need up to 3,000 miles of new highway, 60 new airline gates and five more runways as the population grows from 35 million to 48 million over the next quarter century.
The new high speed rail line would have trains capable of speeds up to 200mph. These would carry up to 115,000 passengers per day and serve up to 30 stations along a 700 mile route serving the population centres of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego.
Consideration is already being given to how the new high speed line would fit in with other transport systems. Most of the line is expected to be built alongside existing roads and railways and the two-track line will have 20 times the capacity of the neighbouring road, with 20 trains per hour in each direction.
A ruling gradient of 3% is envisaged, which will allow for a comfortable high speed journey. At certain locations the high speed line is expected to use viaducts and tunnels, in a similar manner to other high speed rail projects around the globe.
Even though the final funding is not in place for the project, consideration has been given to the types of train that could be developed for the new high speed line.
Technology is expected to be based on already proven high speed trains from the likes of Japan, Germany and France. Each train will be up to 1,300ft long and capable of carrying 1,600 passengers. A variety of different cars will be included in the formation, such as quiet cars, play areas for younger families, café and bar cars and possibly even a conference facility.
SIGNALLING AND COMMUNICATIONS
A sophisticated signalling and communication system is in the early planning stages. One proposal is to install intrusion alarms on the fencing, which would be linked to a central control system capable of detecting foreign objects on the tracks. In-cab signalling will be capable of automatically stopping trains if necessary.
The High Speed Rail Authority has the job of directing the development and implementation of the system, including funding. It had been planned to gain the base funding by 2000, however, the project is in danger of stalling, as the $9.95bn bond may be removed from the public spending plan at the November 2006 ballot. If it remains in place, it will secure the start of works on the new line in 2007.
Construction could take place in two phases over eight years. The first phase (five years) would build the San Francisco–Los Angeles section, while the San Diego–Sacramento line could then be completed partly using income from the first phase once it is operational.
go here to see the UK national maglev project
and here for a short article about the American "Inductrack" maglev project
r. the cost of building high speed rail, the general figure given is up to €50,000,000/$50,000,000 per mile depending on who is making the case (for or against) but rail experts and economists agree that the US is different from Europe and the US in that it has lower population densities. A case can only be made for regional lines on the seaboards.
I guess the question for Americans who want high speed rail is how much they want their fellow countrymen, most of whom will never use them, to subsidise them. However, you could use the interstate highways as a precedent.
Last edited by Marksix; December 22nd, 2006 at 05:33 AM.
I realize that the US is less dense than Europe, but look at all these eminent domain lawsuits we have been having on everything around here including urban renewal (which, if done RIGHT, benefits the community).
90% of the line would be able to be cleared through the major congestion zones, but it is that 10% of land-clingers that will try to force the line to make all sorts of switchbacks. I have heard of other direct rail lines being proposed and shot down just on that....
I really do hope we get more high speed rail across this country. For most rides it could be faster and cheaper than flying!
As for the whole "will never use it" argument, the national highways are a good example. People do not use them if they are not there, but once they get introduced, a lot of people that never saw themselves traveling on them will end up using them.
It takes time.
This high speed line opened 1 year ago between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain covering the distance between the two cities in just 2 hours 38 minutes (that's 386 miles).
Here is a very cool promotional video by Spain's Amtrak (i.e., RENFE):