Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rail Funding - Is it all it's meant to be?

Bacon's Rebellion: The 21st Century Railroad Revolution has a great article about the new rail funding bills.

Last night at the Fredericksburg city council meeting there was a representative from Virginians for High Speed Rail. He is visiting all of the counties and cities along the major rail corridor along I-95 pushing support for the rail funding bills.

I used to work for Norfolk Southern, and left on good terms. I have to say that I have only glanced over the legislation and funding. What concerns me is the technical challenges of moving both heavy rail traffic, and light rail or high speed rail. Heavy rail tends to move at slower rates, and has much more tolerance for less than optimal rail. High speed rail requires attention to smooth, optimally adjusted tracks. Riding the VRE from Fredericksburg to DC every day is a testament to how bad the tracks are in this area.

Two rail projects have been implemented along this corridore in recent years. A new 3rd track was added at L'enfant station, and they build a new bridge north of Quantico to give 2 full tracks through that area. BOTH of these new tracks are used by heavy freight, and not the commuter trains. The most pristine tracks have been built for the trains that need them the least, whereas commuter traffic is left using the beat up old tracks that reside next to all of the train stations. The benefit to commuter rail has been fewer delays waiting for the commercial traffic.

I worry that this new legislation and funding is not the windfall for high speed or simple commuter trains as is being discussed. It may benefit auto traffic by decreasing long haul intermodal traffic, but I wish we could get serious about public transpotation rail around the busiest metro areas.

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