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japanese high speed rail

Monday 28 June, 2010

I attended this event sponsored by the Japan International Transport Institute High Speed Rail Seminar in Chicago for 400 attendees (& they turned away 100+) @ the Union League Club.  They will make the presentations made available on the website soon, so I won’t rehash what’s contained in them.  Here’s what they had to say otherwise:

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki explained that Japanese excels in the 6 e’s of high speed rail:  experienced, exact, economically efficient, environmentally friendly, enjoyment creator, & earthquake prohibitive.  Sathoshi Seino of the Council for Global Promotion of Railway informed us that Japan completed its admittedly shorter transcontinental 3 years after the U.S. completed theirs.  Jiro Hanyu of Institution for Transport Policy Studies let us know that the US has 1 of the most extensive rail systems in the world, twice as big as Russia’s.  China will have only 63K miles when they’re finished.  Japan has only 18K miles & is the only country with privately owned rail systems.  The US is ranked only #17 in high speed rail.

Representative Dan Lipinski led off before he flew back to DC to vote & informed us of all the money he’s won to support high speed rail for the Midwest & Chicago.  He’s earned 100’s of $M’s for his CREATE program to upgrade crossings, etc.  so that existing freight lines can be used for high speed rail.   Some of this money was matched by the railroads, & some was allocated to high speed rail.  Sec. Gary Hannig of the IL DOT let us know of the $1.23B grant that the state of IL won for Union Pacific to build the 110 mph high speed rail line from Chicago to Springfield & on to St. Louis.  This was also novel in getting 4 states to act as 1 region to apply for 4 grants, instigated by IL Gov Pat Quinn’s Midwest Rail Steering Group.  Bobby Ware, Commissioner of CDOT, let on that Chicago’s Union Station hopes to be the centerpiece of the proposed midwestern hub of this burgeoning high speed rail network.    State Rep. (& Michigan law school grad) Elaine Nekritz of IL 57th district related that when the state doubled the rail subsidy, ridership skyrocketed.  She also intimated the challenges:  federal & state funding, political will, candidates who don’t support high speed rail, & the need for more cohesiveness among its proponents.  Richard Harnish, Exec Dir of the Midwest High Speed Rail Assn. set 2 goals for high speed rail in the midwest:   get planning & design for the network underway this year, & get if financed by the end of next year.

my $.02:  The purpose of this seminar was to highlight the capabilities of Japanese high speed rail manufacturers & I’m sure they’re all very well-qualified.  Let me be the 1st to say I am a staunch advocate for public transportation generally & rail specifically, high speed or otherwise.  The implication of this conference is if you build it, they will come, but it’s far from that simple.  Americans are culturally ingrained to avoid taking trains.  America’s automotive manufacturers have brainwashed Americans on the virtues of the freedom inherited by car ownership.  The supporters of high speed rail will need to create a massive educational public relations campaign to convince the American public of the virtues of rail transportation.  High speed rail is simply a bigger & better Amtrak, so unfortunately any new rail system will suffer with Amtrak’s current lowly reputation.  Finally, typically public transportation is supported by government, either at the local or federal level elsewhere in the world.  For this to be affordable in the U.S., some subsidies will be necessary, but congress is reticent to hand these out & will demand that this program pay its own way.  I doubt whether this is possible.  The best thing to happen for this project to succeed is for the price of gasoline to rise to $4+/gallon. Then it might stand a fighting chance.

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