Skip to Content
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

Planner Calls For ‘Fight’ Against High-Speed Rail Sharing Track With Freight

As federal and local officials plot out the future of U.S. high-speed
rail, a prominent speaker at this week's American Planning Association
conference is urging fellow urban planners to "fight" the prospect of
high-speed rail sharing roadbed with freight lines -- a significant
dilemma for Amtrak, which must split an
70 percent of its track with freight.

Acela can feasibly top 100 miles per hour, but is often relegated to
lower speeds by the need to share roadbed. (Photo: Flickr/pgengler)

Pollock, a principal at the Chicago-based firm Camiros, outlined
his high-speed rail presentation from the conference for reporters yesterday,
focusing on two issues that he depicted as major obstacles to a
successful domestic high-speed rail network.

Pollock noted that two of the three bullet train plans receiving
the bulk of early
federal funding
-- California's and Florida's -- would build
dedicated new track for high-speed service, while the midwest initiative
would attempt to share track with freight companies.

"As soon as you begin to" rely on track where freight and passenger
rail coexist, Pollock said, "you begin to slow down
travel and start to create inefficiencies. Indeed, one of the problems
underlying Amtrak for
many years has been it that it has to operate at the pleasure of freight
lines on its
road bed." 

The limiting effect of shared track on new high-speed service was
felt most acutely in the northeast corridor between Washington and
Boston, where Amtrak has acknowledged that trains are forced to share an
"overcrowded, and often overwhelmed, track."

The northeastern area got just 1.4
of the first round of Obama administration high-speed
grants, a move that prompted blowback from some
but ultimately was acknowledged to be a consequence of
local planning deficiencies and aging track.

The shared-tracking approach, according to Pollock, is a
"challenge" that "you have to fight" -- and he outlined another problem
facing high-speed rail planners: "Frankly, you have to fight political
demand for stops, because everybody wants a station."

The location of stops along Florida's planned line has drawn
particular criticism in recent days. A recent New York Times report identified
weak links in the state rail system's connections with local Tampa and
Orlando transit, as well as its failure to include the Tampa airport as a

Despite his warning of the risk inherent in splitting track between
passenger and freight rail, Pollock did highlight the value of an
improved rail network in the northeast, one of the few areas in the
nation where train travel times are competitive or more attractive than
those for air trips.

The planner closed by emphasizing the importance of a long view in
gauging the success of U.S. high-speed rail. "These things take time" to
be integrated into the culture of travel, Pollock said, warning that
five or ten years would be too short of a period to truly expect bullet
trains to remake American infrastructure.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter