Higher-speed rail (HrSR), also known as high-performance rail or higher-performance rail, is a term used by government agencies, government officials, transportation planners, academia, the rail industry, and the media to describe inter-city passenger rail services that have top speeds of more than conventional rail but are not high enough to be called high-speed rail services. The term is also used by planners to identify the incremental rail improvements to increase train speeds and reduce travel time as part of larger efforts to expand the high-speed rail networks.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Speed limits
- 3 Similar categories
- 4 Rail improvement strategies
- 5 In operation
- 6 Earlier attempts
- 7 Current efforts
- 8 See also
- 9 References
As with the definitions of high-speed rail, there is no universal definition of higher-speed rail either. These are some countries that have some definitions on higher-speed rail:
- In Canada, according to the Surface Transportation Policy, Department of Transport, the speed range for higher-speed rail is between 160 km/h (100 mph) and 240 km/h (150 mph).
- In India, according to the Minister of Railways, the speed range for India's higher-speed rail will be between 160 km/h (100 mph) and 200 km/h (125 mph).
- In the United States, the term "higher-speed rail", as opposed to "high-speed rail", is used by regional planners in many U.S. states to describe inter-city passenger rail services with top speeds of between 90 mph (145 km/h) and 110 mph (175 km/h). This is the equivalent of the definition of Emerging High-Speed Rail as defined by the Federal Railroad Administration. However, the Congressional Research Service defines Higher Speed Rail as rail services with speeds up to 150 mph (240 km/h) and defines rail services on dedicated tracks with speeds over 150 mph (240 km/h) as Very High Speed Rail.
In Canada, the assumption about grade crossing is that operating higher-speed rail services between 160 km/h (99 mph) and 200 km/h (124 mph) would require "improved levels of protection in acceptable areas".
In the United States, railroad tracks are largely used for freight with at-grade crossings. Passenger trains in many corridors run on shared tracks with freight trains. Most trains are limited to top speeds of 79 mph (125 km/h) unless they are equipped with an automatic cab signal, automatic train stop, automatic train control or positive train control system approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In developing higher-speed rail services, one of those safety systems must be used.
Additionally, the FRA establishes classification of track quality which regulates the speed limits of the trains with Class 5, Class 6, Class 7 and Class 8 for top speeds of 90 mph (145 km/h), 110 mph (177 km/h), 125 mph (201 km/h) and 160 mph (257 km/h), respectively. The FRA also regulates passenger train design and safety standards to ensure trains that operate at speeds of 80 mph (129 km/h) up to 125 mph (201 km/h) comply with its Tier I standard and trains that operate at speeds up to 150 mph (241 km/h) comply with its Tier II standard.
- For 110 mph (175 km/h) or less: Grade crossings are permitted. States and railroads cooperate to determine the needed warning devices, including passive crossbucks, flashing lights, two quadrant gates (close only 'entering' lanes of road), long gate arms, median barriers, and various combinations. Lights and/or gates are activated by circuits wired to the track (track circuits).
- For 110 mph (175 km/h) to 125 mph (200 km/h): The FRA permits crossings only if an "impenetrable barrier" blocks highway traffic when a train approaches.
- Above 125 mph (200 km/h): No crossings will be permitted.
With the above limitations, many regional transportation planners focus on rail improvements to have the top speeds up to 110 mph when proposing a new higher-speed rail service.
In countries where there had been rail improvement projects in the later part of the 20th century and into the 2000s, there are inter-city rail services with comparable speed ranges of higher-speed rail, but they are not specifically called higher-speed rail. Below are some examples of such services that are still in operation.
- Germany: The Intercity services with top speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph)
- Spain: Many inter-city rail services operated by Renfe Operadora, the state-owned company, are not classified as high-speed rail. Those services are Alaris, Altaria, Arco and Talgo (from Talgo III to Talgo VII) with top speeds of 160 km/h (99 mph) and 200 km/h (124 mph)
- Sweden: SJ (Swedish Railways) operates inter-city rail services using X 2000 trains in major routes across the country with top speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph). The operator brands it as high-speed rail services; however, the International Union of Railways only recognizes the 300 km/h (186 mph) line between Malmö and Goteborg as the only high-speed rail line in Sweden which is still in the planning stage.
Rail improvement strategies
||The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2013)|
There are many types of train that can support higher-speed rail operation, but the rail infrastructure needs to be upgraded prior to such operation. Since this is an upgrade to existing track currently in use, with busy traffic in some segments, there are challenges associated with the construction work that could potentially disrupt the train services. The followings are some strategies used by regional transportation planners and rail track owners for their rail improvement projects in order to start the higher-speed rail services.
The first step to increase top speeds from 79 mph (125 km/h) is to install a new signal system that incorporates FRA-approved Positive Train Control (PTC) system that is compatible with higher-speed rail operation. There are both transponder-based and GPS-based PTC systems currently in use in the United States. By a mandate, a significant portion of the railroads in the United State will be covered by PTC by the end of 2015.
To support trains that run regularly at higher speeds, the rails need to be reliable. Most freight tracks have wooden ties which cause rails to become slightly misaligned over time due to wood rot, splitting and spike-pull (where the spike is gradually loosened from the tie). The concrete ties used to replace them are intended to make the track more stable, particularly with changes in temperature. Rail joints are also an issue, since most conventional rail lines use bolts and fishplates to join two sections of the rail together. This causes the joint to become slightly misaligned over time due to loosening bolts. To make for a smoother ride at higher speeds, the lengths of rail may be welded together to form continuous welded rail (CWR).
There may be restriction in maximum operating speeds due to track geometry of existing line, especially on curves. Straightening the route, where possible, will reduce the travel time by increasing the allowable speeds and by reducing the length of track. When straight routes are not possible, reducing the number of curves and lowering the degree of curvature would result in higher allowable speeds on those curves. An example is the elimination of three consecutive reverse curves in favor of one larger curve. Raising superelevation may be considered for sharp curves which significantly limit speed. The higher speeds on those modified curves, together with the higher superelevation, will require track modification to have transition spirals to and from those curves to be longer.
Old turnouts may need replacement to allow trains to run through the turnouts at higher speeds. Some old turnouts have speed limit of 20 mph (30 km/h). Even with newer turnouts (rated #20), the diverging speed limit is still at 45 mph (70 km/h) which would significantly slow down the higher-speed train passing through those sections. High-speed turnouts (rated #32.7) are capable of handling maximum diverging speeds of 80 mph (130 km/h).
In order to minimize the downtime to upgrade tracks, a track renewal train (TRT) can automate much of the process, replacing rails, ties, and ballast at the rate of 2 miles per day. A TRT is used by Union Pacific Railroad on the track shared with future higher-speed rail service in Illinois area.
For electrified track, the old catenary may need to be replaced. The fixed-tension catenary which is acceptable for low speeds may not be suitable for regular higher-speed rail services, where a constant tension is automatically maintained when temperature changes cause the length of the wire to expand or contract.
With trains running at higher speeds throughout the route, safety at all at-grade crossings needs to be considered. Without an "impenetrable barrier" at each crossing, the FRA limits train speeds to 110 mph (175 km/h). Even with that top speed, the grade crossings must have adequate means to prevent collisions. Another option is grade separation, but it could be cost-prohibitive and the planners may opt for at-grade crossing improvements instead.
The safety improvements at crossings can be done using combination of techniques. This includes passive devices such as upgraded signage and pavement markings. Another low-cost passive device is median separators which are installed along the center line of roadways, extending approximately 70 to 100 feet from the crossing, to discourage drivers from running around the crossing gates. More active devices include the four-quadrant gate, which blocks both sides of each traffic lane. Longer gate arms can cover 3/4 of the roadway. Video cameras can also be installed to catch the violators. A signal monitoring system can also be installed to alert the crews when the crossing equipment has malfunctioned.
Rerouting and passing siding
In areas that there is frequent interference between freight and passenger trains due to congestion which causes the passenger trains to slow down, more extensive improvements may be needed. Certain segments of the line in congested area may need to be rerouted. New track may need to be laid to avoid many curves which slow down the trains. In stretches of heavy freight train traffic, adding passing sidings along the segment should be considered. Sometimes certain stations may need to be bypassed.
Another consideration is electrification. Electric trains have significant performance advantages, but this improvement comes with very high construction costs and increased maintenance expense. Because of this, there is a generally certain traffic threshold where this improvement becomes economical for a specific route. In high-traffic, generally urban, routes the faster service (i.e. more passengers/more revenue) and lower operating costs of electric trains, usually [Electric Multiple Unit] train sets, compensates for the higher construction and maintenance cost of an electrified rail system, but in lower traffic, generally intercity, routes there is little opportunity for cost saving and revenue increase from performance improvement is more difficult, so these lines generally use diesel locomotives. On many speed improvement projects there is an existing electrified zone used for commuter rail with enough spare capacity to allow for a diesel-electric locomotive to gain some performance advantage over these sections at low cost, and there are a few Amtrak routes that have completed such improvement.
One intercity project that does involve electrification is the Keystone Improvement Project project to provide higher-speed rail service along the Harrisburg-Pittsburgh segment of the Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania. The plan includes additional track, a new signal system and electrification. If completed as planned, this would allow Amtrak to utilize electric power continuously on service from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The first segment ("Main Line") has already been using electric locomotives with a top speed of 110 mph (175 km/h).
In 1999, the concept of Regional Fast Rail project was initiated by the State Government of Victoria with a goal to provide express higher-speed rail services between 4 main regional centers of Victoria (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley) and Melbourne. The initiative included a key component to upgrade rail infrastructure to have top speeds up to 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph). The development phase of initiative was between 2000 and 2002. Finally, the services on four lines began between 2005 and 2006 with top speeds of 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph) using VLocity 160 trains.
|Corridor / Segment||Service name||Length (miles)||Equipment||Power||Top speed (mph)||Avg speed (mph)||Note|
|Washington, DC–Boston, MA||Northeast Regional||664||AEM-7||Electric||125|||
|New York City–Albany/Schenectady, NY||Empire||158||P32AC-DM||Diesel-electric||110||56|||
|Philadelphia–Harrisburg, PA||Keystone||104||AEM-7||Electric||110||66|| Improvements of grade crossings in progress to increase speeds up to 125 miles per hour (201 km/h)|
|Chicago, IL–Detroit/Pontiac, MI||Wolverine||304||P42DC||Diesel-electric||110||57|||
|Chicago, IL–Port Huron, MI||Blue Water||319||P42DC||Diesel-electric||110|||
|Chicago, IL – St. Louis, MO||Lincoln||284||P42DC||Diesel-electric||110||Only 15-mile segment of Dwight – Pontiac, IL in 110 mph. To be expanded to cover 75% of route in 2015.|
|Chicago, IL–Los Angeles, CA||Southwest Chief||2,256||P42DC||Diesel-electric||90||55|||
|Los Angeles–San Diego, CA||Pacific Surfliner||130||EMD F59PHI||Diesel-electric||90||55|||
Quebec City-Windsor Corridor
There have been several different attempts at higher speed rail in the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor, and several high speed rail attempts as well.
In 2010, there was a report commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport as a mid-term review of Transport 21, an Irish infrastructure plan announced in 2005. The report recommended, among other things, a development of national rail to provide higher-speed rail services. However, there have been no progress toward the recommendation.
There have been long-range visions to establish high/higher-speed rail networks in different regions of the United States but without adequate funding. During the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, there was a surge of interest to apply for grants from the federal government to start those projects. However, many proposals have been put on hold or cancelled after failing to secure funding or support from the public or key local politicians.
New York State
In 1998, New York State initiated a $185 million program in partnership with Amtrak to increase the speeds of the Empire service to 125 mph (201 km/h) by reconstructing all seven gas-turbine Turboliner trainsets which was from 1976–1977 to the new RTL-III specification. The reconstructed trains and track improvements would cut the travel time by 20 minutes for the trip between New York City and Albany. However, the project ran in to many problems including issues with the trains and the unsuccessful implementation of required track improvements. In 2004, Amtrak withdrew from the partnership and took 3 trains to their out-of-state storage. New York State has kept the remaining four trains and spare parts in a Rotterdam industrial park. In 2012, the governor announced the intention to sell all those trains and spare parts to completely end the Turboliner initiative. The trains and spare parts were sold for scrap in 2012 for $420,000 after $70M was already spent on their refurbishment and storage. New York has since shifted the focus to have a higher/high-speed rail service on the Empire Corridor using other technologies.
The Ohio Hub is a rail improvement project proposed by the Ohio Department of Transportation aimed at revitalizing passenger rail service in the Ohio region. The proposal was to increase the top speeds to 110 mph (180 km/h) in the network connecting Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati - commonly referred as the 3-C corridor. The project is currently in an unknown state after the U.S. government rescinded the federal funding from Ohio and redirected it to other states.
In October 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation adopted the Connections 2030 plan which is the long-range plan for state transportation needs. The plan includes Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030, the twenty-year plan to improve the state railroad system by 2030. In the rail plan, there is a multi-phase project to upgrade the rail service from Chicago, Illinois to Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin with top speeds of 110 mph (180 km/h). The latter phases of the project will expand the same service to Minneapolis–Saint Paul in Minnesota and another route to Green Bay, Wisconsin. There was a reaction against the project in 2010, and the $810 million grant the state originally received for the project from the federal government was rescinded. As of 2012, the rail plan is postponed indefinitely.
As an alternative to the plan to link Madison with Minneapolis–Saint Paul, the Minnesota transportation planners established another plan to create a higher-speed rail service called the River Route with top speeds of 110 mph (180 km/h) between Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois via Milwaukee, Wisconsin which follows the Empire Builder route. There is no current progress with the River Route project due to the cancellation of the funding in Wisconsin.
Another alternative that has been discussed is to have a new route that heads south to Iowa to join the rail link from Iowa to Chicago. There was a report in 2011 that Iowa would halt its involvement in high/higher-speed rail projects. However, the Iowa Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation continue to pursue the study of rail link between Chicago and Omaha, Nebraska through Iowa with top speeds of 110 mph (180 km/h). Therefore, the status of the proposal to link Minneapolis–Saint Paul with Chicago via Iowa is unknown.
The higher-speed rail project within Minnesota called Northern Lights Express is expected to proceed without any impact by the uncertainty in other states.
Amtrak Cascades is a 467-mile (747 km) intercity rail service stretching from Eugene, Oregon through the State of Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. As of 2010, the long-term goal of this corridor was to have the top speeds of the segment of Eugene, Oregon to Blaine, Washington with top speeds in the 90 mph (140 km/h) to 120 mph (190 km/h) range, and eventually 150 mph (240 km/h) on a dedicated track. However, as of 2012, the Washington State Department of Transportation plans for its 300-mile (480 km) stretch to have top speeds of only 79 mph (127 km/h), and the plan in Oregon is to limit the speeds to 79 mph as well, with safety and other freight service concerns voiced by the track owner, Union Pacific Railroad. This essentially halts the plan to provide a higher-speed rail service on this corridor in the near future.
The three Baltic states have been working with the European Union as part of the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) initiative on a study to build a higher-speed rail line in the Rail Baltica corridor to connect Warsaw, Poland and Tallinn, Estonia.
In October 2013, the Minister of Railways announced at the two-day international technical conference on High Speed Rail Travel; Low Cost Solution that the focus of India's rail improvement is to implement a lower cost solution to meet the immediate needs by providing higher-speed rail services as an incremental step before the dedicated track high-speed rail can be achieved. India's higher-speed rail will be in the range of 160 km/h (100 mph) and 200 km/h (125 mph).
|Corridor / Segment||Length (miles)||Top speed (mph)||Avg speed (mph)||Current status||Note|
|Springfield, MA – New Haven, CT||90||Tier 1 EIS||Long-range plan.|
|New York City – Niagara Falls, NY||463||125||85||Tier 1 EIS||Fully electrified track, and straightened Hudson River route. See (*)|
|Washington, DC – Richmond, VA||90||EIS|||
|Petersburg, VA – Raleigh, NC||110||86||Final environmental studies|||
|Atlanta, GA – Macon, GA – Jacksonville, FL||408 / 368||90-100 / 130||77 / 94||Tier 1 EIS||See (**)|
|Atlanta, GA – Chattanooga / Nashville, TN – Louisville, KY||489 / 428||90-100 / 130||72 / 85||Tier 1 EIS||See (**)|
|Atlanta, GA – Birmingham, AL||176 / 150||90-100 / 130||64 / 90||Tier 1 EIS||See (**)|
|Miami – Orlando, FL||230||110||Environmental reviews||All Aboard Florida (private investment)|
|Columbus, OH – Fort Wayne, Indiana – Chicago, IL||300||110||Feasibility Study||Initial operating speeds up to 110 mph. Study funded by local governments and organizations, not by state governments.|
|Detroit, MI – Windsor, ON||Less than 124||Proposed||See (***)|
|Chicago, IL – Omaha, NE (via Iowa)||474-516||110||Tier 1 EIS|||
|Minneapolis – Duluth, MN||155||110||Environmental reviews||Northern Lights Express|
|St. Louis, MO – Kansas City, MO||283||90||Construction||New sidings between Jefferson City and Lee's Summit for 90 mph service|
|Dallas – Longview, TX||110||Proposed||Proposed by East Texas Corridor Council|
|Oklahoma City, OK – San Antonio, TX||850||110||Feasibility Study||See (****)|
|Dallas/Fort Worth – Houston, TX||239||110||Feasibility Study||See (****)|
|Phoenix - Tucson, AZ||105||125||Proposed||Proposed by Arizona Department of Transportation|
- * The study includes higher-speed rail alternatives with top speeds of 90 (options A and B), 110 and 125 mph. It also has high-speed rail options with top speeds of 160 and 220 mph. As of March 2012, the Tier 1 EIS has eliminated the high-speed rail options. The only 4 build alternatives are in higher-speed rail range. The numbers on the table represent the 125 mph alternative. The other alternatives are for non-electrified track with average speeds of 57 mph (for 90A option), 61 (for 90B option), and 63 (for 110 option).
- ** The study includes two main alternatives for higher-speed rail. The first alternative is called Shared Use with top speeds of 90-110 mph. The second alternative is called Hybrid High Performance with top speeds of 130 mph. There are also high-speed rail alternatives in the same study with top speeds of 180-220+ mph. The numbers on the table represent the first two higher-speed rail alternatives.
- *** The proposal for higher-speed rail had been pushed after a study on the Windsor, ON to Quebec City, QC corridor had been focused only on high-speed rail with top speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph) or more. Politicians in Windsor area proposed that having higher-speed rail connection between Detroit and Windsor must be part of the consideration.
- **** The study includes higher-speed rail up to 110 mph and high-speed rail of 150+ mph options.
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