Ideas: High Speed Rail to Richmond

Not a classic design exercise, but certainly an idea worth note. Today I heard the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce's sponsored speaker, Joe Boardman, Amtrak CEO, present the idea of high speed rail to our city. Leading with a short bit on his ongoing mission to ride all of Amtrak's routes ( 9000 miles and counting) I was inspired from the outset by the clarity with which he presented this challenging vision. A few salient points from my perspective-

We are not a culture that uses trains. Among other factors, the success of rail service in Asia and Europe is due to a cultural disposition. This will have to shift as part of a successful vision.

Joe followed John Lewis' presentation of the emerging strategy of GRTC, and picked up on an excellent cue. Coordinated Effort. CSX and Union Pacific have significant interest in the shared railroad system and what works for passengers must work for freight. It must work with automotive, air and bus transportation. To silo the interests of each is a deal killer.

The vision is expensive, in the billions, many billions. But as intensity of travel increases in the Northeast corridor, investment is inevitable and the cost of rail service generating competitive trip time results is on par with auto and air.

Rail service is environmentally sound. Resources- existing track systems are generations old and still sound and modifiable. Locomotives and rail cars are rebuildable and last a long time. Railway footprint compared to interstates, significantly smaller. Fuel- much more efficient than cars or air.

Managing expectations. We have fast trains but do we have places for them to go fast? Not always, not easily. The best way to go fast is to not go slow. i.e. increasing speeds in areas that are currently running 10-20 mph to 50mph yields better results that bumping from 90mph to 100mph  and is more effective and safer. Also, speed is great, but so are frequency and reliability.

Europe built infrastructure on war ravaged ruins, with our help. Their pallette was clearer than ours. China out-funds our rail development by a factor of 10. If your house , town or any obstruction is in the way, well too bad. We are carefully knitting into a tight fabric, with meager funds. This means time, patience and diligence.

We can do this. Joe spoke of working in and among the people and leveraging the assets available. His people know how to run and grow a rail system. We have the technology, professionals and need. Success of this great idea will come through leadership. Joe is the man.