Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Progress Here and Elsewhere

Rail is beginning to move in Michigan and elsewhere!

M-1 Rail

The Woodward Avenue rail project is making good progress. Matt Cullen, the CEO of M-1, was interviewed the other day by Kelli Kavenaugh for Model D Detroit. He said the funding is almost all in place, and the M-1 team is working with MDOT on a complete redesign of Woodward Avenue from Hart Plaza to Grand Boulevard (the extent of the M-1).

For the redesign and rails to happen, a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has to be submitted, and the state expects that to get done in 9-12 months. From there, construction would take a year or two, so we could expect the trains to roll in 2013. The second phase, to Eight Mile Road, could then get started and would take a couple of years more, bringing the trains out to the suburbs as early as 2014. Read the interview...


I attended a Town Hall Meeting in Chicago on March 6 put on by Amtrak and sponsored by Trains Magazine. Here are some take-away points:

  • Want to photograph Amtrak facilities? To avoid trouble from police and citizens concerned about terrorists, just let the nearest Amtrak or local authority know what you're doing. It's our constitutional right as Americans to photograph trains and stations, but it's also true that terrorists photograph their targets extensively to better plan their attacks.
  • Amtrak is planning to replace its equipment gradually in a continual upgrade process that will allow domestic rail equipment manufacturers to build facilities with some assurance that they won't be subject to deadly boom-and-bust cycles. Amtrak has always been a low-budget operation. Their passenger cars average 30 years old and several million miles of service. The oldest car in the fleet is a diner build in 1948.
  • Beginning in 2012, states will have to pick up the tab for operation of corridor trains, including our Wolverine Service (Pontiac-Chicago). This according to an Act of Congress, in the politically popular game of Pass the Hot Potato. Let's start letting our legislators know if we find that service useful, since we'll have to actually pay for it ourselves soon. (By the way: Amtrak operations recover 80% of their own cost, far better than most US transportation agencies.)


According to Zachary Shahan in a CleanTechnica, article based on Hong Kong's South China Morning Post and the Edmonton Journal, China is well on the way to constructing high-speed rail lines to connect it with Mongolia, Russia, Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, and Europe. The high points:

  • China completed the world's highest rail line to Lhasa, Tibet, in 2006. (It's not high-speed, but uses US-build General Electric diesel locomotives and tops out at 16,640 feet.)
  • China completed the world's fastest high-speed rail line, from Wuhan to Guangzhou, in 2009. The express runs average 217 MPH, using equipment built in China, based on German (Siemens) and Japanese (Kawasaki) designs. It easily outpaces its nearest rival, France, whose top in-service average is 172 MPH.
  • Though already spending $300 billion on its own high speed network, China plans to build rail links to 17 other countries through barter agreements, at no monetary cost to them. China is more interested in rights to raw materials for its manufacturing than in money.
  • Negotiations are already said to be taking place between China and 17 other countries. China says the other countries approached it first, wanting to make use of Chinese experience and technology to build railways that would enable them to export their raw materials to China more effectively.
  • Building and managing such a rail network throughout Asia would cement China's position as the undisputed leader of commerce in Asia. Who could doubt that it would enhance their political clout there, as well?
  • The best-case scenario calls for completion of the network in 10 years. Whether or not it gets done in that time-frame, there's no doubt that China will get started on it soon. They have the money. They need the resources. They really want the political clout.


Rail transportation is clearly making progress: in Detroit, in America, and in Asia. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about how much progress is being made, where.

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