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Friday, January 2, 2009

Will 2009 be the year of the railroad?

One of my predictions for 2009 is that this will be the year that passenger rail transport is finally brought back from the dead. I've you live or have lived in cities like Chicago or Philadelphia, you may be thinking that the railroads have never went away. But here in Pittsburgh, in Atlanta, and in a number of other cities across the country, the transformation of freight railroads to passenger/commuter rail lines have already been proven feasible, and may only be months away from the first phase of their implementation, as the President-elect has made a point that he intends to stress the utilization of railroads to ease congestion and reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-centric transportation of the highways and airways.

Here is a May 2008 quote from Obama on his transportation priorities:

The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking bout for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities -- Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis. They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off.

This is something that we should be talking about a lot more. We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don't have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn't have high speed rail. We just don't have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell.
So, I think anyone reading this blog will agree that having a President who wants to move our national transportation infrastructure into the 21st century is a good thing, is it not?

Also on the list of transportation initiatives that should interest anyone who is a fan of being able to get from point A to B without the hassles of the airlines - 2009 should be the year we finally learn which region will be the recipient of our nation's first MAGLEV train line. Funding for the nation's first 310 MPH MAGLEV train, which was initiated in the 1990's, was shelved following the 9/11 attacks, but the initiative has been revived in recent years, and despite having a federally funded tunnel to nowhere project already underway our US Senators are still working on bring the first federally funded MAGLEV track to the Pittsburgh region. In addition to the Pittsburgh MAGLEV project, MAGLEV train lines have been proposed for the Los Angeles - Las Vegas corridor, and the Chattanooga-Atlanta corridor (The Chattlanta line). Last but not least, the California High Speed Rail initiative got the approval of voters this past election. The high speed rail will link all of California's major cities and should become the model of how we can implement high speed rail throughout the country.

As you can see by the passenger rail map I have provided below, I think the Pittsburgh region has a number of good commuter rail options on the table. The combination of just a few of them would improve region's mobility by leaps and bounds without a multibillion dollar 54 mile long high speed train that goes from Greensburg to downtown to the airport. But, while I think a high speed rail line around one city, especially one as small as Pittsburgh, would be underutilized, I still think that a MAGLEV train connecting bigger cities or regions (ay the east coast to the Midwest, or New York or Philadelphia to Chicago) to one another, bypassing the highways in a manner similar to the California initiative, would be a good step towards reaching the goal of building President Obama's national high speed rail network. Pittsburgh, with its relative proximity to such a very large chunk of the US population, would be a logical place to start building the Northeast to Midwest line. Starting with a line between Cleveland and Pittsburgh or Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would provide a lot of benefits for the region and those professionals who would now have the mobility that would permit them to live and work in different cities.

I create the Google map below with an assist from The East Busway Blogger, and also the Southwestern PA Commission's report on regional transportation alternatives. The SPC's report has some great statistics on projected ridership and the cost of implementing and operating some of the Pittsburgh region's commuter rail options. Some of these options have already made it into the Pittsburgh Regional Integrated Transportation Plan, or the Pittsburgh Transportation Wiki Project for short. If you have additional ideas please feel free to add them to the wiki plan, and if you would like to include additional ideas for passenger rail lines please create them in Google Maps and email me or leave the URL or your idea in the comments section.

After years of hearing about the wonderful high speed rail lines throughout Europe and Asia, and feeling as though we'll never move beyond highways and air travel, it seems as though we are on the verge of turning a corner, and it feels good.

View Larger Map


illyrias said...

I don't know if it's feasible, but there's a major link missing there - carson st. It's a very popular and heavily congested street that could use some relief.

Schultz said...

I have yet to come across any studies for the rail lines down on the Southside but I know from visiting friends who live over there that those trains run often, so the probability of being able to share those freight lines with passenger rail is probably low. I think they could extend the 52 T line that runs from downtown to Allentown but as far as running something on the Southside flats I think the closest we could get rail to the Southside would be the second avenue corridor.

Jermaine said...

I agree with illyrias that Carson Street (in particular the business district from about 10th street down to the SSW) needs to be connected to downtown by a train....even if it means digging and having a subway similar to downtown in that portion. Doesn't make sense to leave out such a vibrant neighborhood where so many people go (would like to go).

Anonymous said...

I think that the train is necessary, city has too many cars already.
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