Friday, May 22, 2009

BNSF: HSR Funds Should Be Targeted

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

So says BNSF CEO Matthew K. Rose:

An estimated $13 billion in new federal money for high-speed passenger rail service should go to a single project that demonstrates its effectiveness, the top executive of freight railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNI) said Thursday.

"I'm concerned (the money) will be spread like peanut butter" nationwide and have little impact, said Chief Executive Matthew K. Rose, speaking to the Austin Economic Club, a local business group. "I'm afraid it'll be a missed opportunity."

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion in seed money for development of high-speed passenger rail service, and U.S. President Barack Obama also has called for an additional $5 billion over the next five years.

Rose said Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern and other freight railroads likely won't see much benefit from the new federal money, aside from possible funding for small projects such as crossing upgrades, because high-speed rail lines require separate, dedicated corridors.

Hmm. "A single project that demonstrates its effectiveness" on "separate, dedicated corridors." Remind you of any state HSR project in particular?!

Rose isn't saying that HSR is a bad idea, far from it:

Still, he described himself as a supporter of efforts to improve the nation's transportation network overall. Rose recently served on a federal commission that examined U.S. transportation needs and potential funding sources.

He estimated Thursday that it could cost $1 trillion over the next 20 years to fully develop 10 to 15 high-speed rail corridors in the U.S.

Despite the daunting sum, "I really do think it's an investment our society ought to make," he said.

But he stressed that the $13 billion to get the effort off the ground won't make much of a dent unless it's targeted.

Separately, Rose noted in an interview after Thursday's event that he has seen little momentum for development of high-speed passenger rail in Texas, despite the new federal stimulus money.

I don't think any of us could imagine that the Obama Administration, which heavily targeted the Midwest for votes in 2008 and will surely do so again in 2012, would stiff them and give the whole pot of money to California, as Rose seems to imply here. But Rose is making a good point that $13 billion is a paltry sum when you get right down to it, and won't do a great deal to build HSR networks or improve freight rail (by moving passenger services onto different tracks).

I also wonder if Rose's comments are designed as a shot at the Texas HSR plan, which doesn't seem to have been making much forward momentum lately. Perhaps someone more familiar with Texas railroading can tell us whether that plays any role.

Still, it's nice to see that there is a major national freight railroad that does not actively hate passenger rail...

(thanks to Matt Melzer for pointing me to this article)


Al2000 said...

Well for the stimulus portion of the money ($8 billion), it is suppose to be for projects that have completed their EIS.

Which basically means that it IS going to be targeted since really only California, and perhaps Florida (depending on some legal issues - a several year old EIS) are in the game at this point.

I imagine a few million will be spread around other regions for studies (preparing for Transportation Bill funding perhaps?), but I can't see how areas outside of California and Florida could be seen a ready to go.

At any rate, Florida wants 2 billion, California wants 4 or 5 billion. That leaves 2 billion of the stimulus money for elsewhere.

Alon Levy said...

$1 trillion seems a bit high. Even maps along the line of that proposed on The Transport Politic, which is far more expansive than anything the feds are planning for, is only about 10,000 miles, which would cost $200-300 billion to build.

EricM said...

The thing that gets me about Florida is they want $2 billion, which would pay for there whole system, but have not put a large chunk of change of there own on the table (the millions that were put up for studies is peanuts). To me, I think most, if not all of the federal stimulas money should go to CA.

(have always posted under Eric, but since someone else around here is now posting as Eric using his google account, something I didn't do, I will change to EricM)

theo said...

It's worth considering whether part of Rose's motivation in advocating more spending in CA and FL is that, in the long run, his railroad strongly prefers dedicated high speed corridors which will not disrupt their freight operations to rapid rail on shared track.

I'm not saying that he's lying or that he doesn't believe in HSR. He seems sincere, BNSF is pretty tolerant of passenger rail, and they would see some benefits from HSR spending in the Chicago and maybe TX corridors, so they're partly operating against their interests there.

I'm just offering a reminder that he and BNSF have their own interests.

Adam said...

You know it's interesting that Norfolk Southern and CSX are willing to work with agencies to facilitate passenger service (Norfolk Southern will actually be operating a passenger train in Virginia sometime soon under contract with the state of Virginia). Meanwhile, west-coast carriers such as Union Pacific seem to live in a backwards world where they think they should dictate how the rails are used.

Al2000 said...

2 billion to have something finished (!), even if it is in Florida, is fine by me.

You can say "California should get most of it", but the sad fact is that California, even with the headlong rush to push forward to qualify (Transbay anyone?), isn't ready for more than the 4 billion or so.

One more note, the 2 billion in Florida is to complete the Orlando to Tampa line. The next step is planning for a Miami to Orlando route (according to an April 2009 presentation that is on their website).

Anonymous said...

Well it sounds like BNSF has smart people in management who are making comments based in reality thats' all. No doubt they will amek sure things work in their best interest as well, as that's their job but basically this sound like experienced railroad people saying things that make sense without any political shading. What makes sense? To get a successful line built and running to set an example. That would make sense to any random person on the street. In comparison you have to admit that the majority of the politicians in amerca today are buffoons. I mean take a good look at CNN for 30 minutes. Our leaders range from southern inbred hillbillies, to mobsters, sex fiends and thieves. I really think these projects should be managed by railroads and not politicians.

Anonymous said...

did everyone see the transbay terminal article today:

luis d. said...

I think BNSF is thinking about this:

Off topic but I also found another picture of a national High speed Network Map that I haven't seen here before, from


(Entire Page)

Just thought I'd share. The map is probably more updated than the one from the DOT.

Anonymous said...

There is really good documentary on kqed HD right now cled "blueprint america- the future -

its pretty col - lots of info on how how mid century federal policy shaped growth, comparison between Denver, which embraced the federal policy and Porland rejected it and the result. Also featured new york then and now. and ended with obama and HSR

Anonymous said...

There are five parts you can watch them here:

Anonymous said...

The California HSR is not a good proof of concept because it has been dumbed down for political reasons. A meandering route and too many stops. What's new or high speed about 19th century railroad routes?

Or does the Florida HSR have its own version of Palmdale?

crzwdjk said...

In my experience, CSX hasn't been too good to passenger rail, although that might be changing. They also had major internal problems with bad track, lots of accidents, a hazmat train that derailed and caught fire under downtown Baltimore, that sort of thing. The BNSF meanwhile is probably the best railroad in terms of passenger trains and accommodating Amtrak's service. They generally keep passenger trains on time, and they're even keeping the ATS system in service just for the benefit of the Southwest Chief. UP tends to be actively hostile to any new passenger service, and had many problems with OTP (with the notorious 12-hour-late Coast Starlights among others) but they've gotten a bit better at dispatching and do a pretty good job on the Capitol Corridor.

Overall, by the way, freight rail traffic has gone down considerably during the recession, so the freights aren't in such a dire capacity crunch as before. In fact, as the improvements they started building during the boom get finished, they might even end up with a bit of surplus capacity.

Anonymous said...

I think UP holds out to force track improvements - paid via amtraks budget. I don't know. in any case the west coast track improvements in the northwest and cali have put the coast starlight mostly early all year so far. its too weird. the zephyr has also been showing up early all year. its very twilight zone.

BruceMcF said...

@ Alex, hasn't Chicago / St. Louis has finished their EIS? And while last I heard the Triple-C EIS was in progress, it certainly can be finished in time for an application this year.

@ Adam: "You know it's interesting that Norfolk Southern and CSX are willing to work with agencies to facilitate passenger service" ... CSX's interest seems to be in new track alongside existing freight track.

AFAIU, one difference between UP and BNSF is that the BNSF business model has more freight running to schedule, so the balance of any trade-off in sharing operations with scheduled passenger service (access fees / shared capital improvements versus interference) would normally look more favorable to BNSF than to UP.

I would not be surprised if some of the same dynamic was in play with Norfolk Southern and CSX.

And of course, its quite possible that differences on the question of sharing ROW between CSX and UP could be differences in terms of the mix of property tax liabilities that they face ... CSX may be in a position to save more on property tax liabilities if it can narrow its ROW and ensures that some of the liable infrastructure is owned by someone else.

In its proposal for an upgraded freight/passenger Southeast mainline, CSX definitely specified segregated passenger/freight track, so its not like they were especially welcoming of track sharing ... but they definitely were in favor of swapping part of the width of their ROW to public rail in return for capital improvements in their part of the ROW.

Adam said...

Well CSX IS open to allowing passenger railroads to build lines in their right of way, something UP apparently won't even consider.

Al2000 said...

@ Bruce

You are right! Chicago - St Louis has done an EIS for track upgrades to 110mph.

The one I came across online is from 2003, has there been updates done?

YesonHSR said...

The BNSF seems willing to sell ROW in the Central Valley to CAHSRA and they would make a good amount of money and I would think if the 2sets of tracks are close they may even get grade seperations for their tracks.Another point for them is the possibilty that the curent Amtrak trains will be replaced by the new HSR and feeder bus system for the small towns on the curent route

Anonymous said...

yeshsr-Amtrak trains will be replaced by the new HSR and feeder bus system for the small towns on the curent route"actualy amtrak';s san joqauin trains will be increased and upgraded as the local overlay for HSR. Additional trains are being planned as well as the extension of the san joaquin route north of sac to rdd

Anonymous said...

from the ca state rail plan through 2018
Chapter VII–San Joaquin Route
Improve On-Time Performance to 90 percent by 2017-18.
Streamline Operations and Improve Passenger Amenities:
• Study Premium Class Service.
• Implement passenger on-board wireless internet service.
• Implement automated ticket validation and internet ticket purchase.
• Implement Electronic Train Management System.
• In the long term implement comprehensive wireless network for improved
on-board and equipment operations, safety and equipment repair.
Improve Multimodal Connectivity:
• Improve coordination with Altamont Commuter Express (ACE),
Capitol Corridor, and local transit systems.
• Improve Amtrak Thruway bus service.
Reduce Travel Times:
• Oakland to Bakersfield in under six hours.
• Sacramento to Bakersfield in under five hours.
Increase Annual Ridership 78 percent from 805,000 to 1,432,000.
Increase Annual Revenues 124 percent from $ 26.5 million to $ 59.4 million.
Increase Revenue/Cost (Farebox) Ratio from 46.3 percent to 52.3 percent.
Increase Service Frequency:
• Two new roundtrips from Stockton to Oakland.
• Seventh Bakersfield – Stockton round-trip, with a third daily round-trip from
Stockton to Sacramento.
• Eighth Bakersfield – Stockton round-trip, with a fifth daily round-trip from
Stockton to Oakland.
Other Service Expansions:
• Pursue options to originate some trains in Fresno.
• Study options to extend rail service from Bakersfield to Los Angeles

BruceMcF said...

Alex said... "@ Bruce
You are right! Chicago - St Louis has done an EIS for track upgrades to 110mph.

The one I came across online is from 2003, has there been updates done?

As far as I understand, that corridor is one of the major areas of focus for the incremental work they have been doing so far ... I'm not sure that a new EIS is required when you get funding to finish an ongoing project.

Spokker said...

I was watching one of those shows about extreme engineering and that kind of crap earlier. It was about the Hong Kong airport and what struck me about the episode was that it was designed with rail in mind from the beginning. There was also a massive highway component of the project, but high speed rail was given equal consideration.

Then I saw another one about a 35 mile tunnel through the Alps for a high speed rail line. Insane.

It was just another example of how the rest of the world thinks differently about rail.

Spokker said...

Here's the Wikipedia page about the airport rail line to Hong Kong Intl. It's not true high speed, though.

They say it's still the fastest mode of transportation to the airport.

Al2000 said...

I lived in Hong Kong for a year.

Great city. Great Airport.

Though the airport express really only goes 140 KPH, and is really only useful if you live in Central or certain parts of Kowloon (downtown basically). Living out in the New Territories like I was, you take the Airport bus.

Spokker said...

I'm guessing it's useful if you're a tourist going to Hong Kong, which is also important.

Alon Levy said...

Spokker: the Alps tunnel isn't high speed. It's rapid rail, intended for shared operation between passenger trains and heavy freight trains. A similar tunnel in California from Sylmar to Grapevine could serve the same function, allowing freight and passenger trains to get from Bakersfield to LA in reasonable time.

Spokker said...

I see. Discovery Channel erroneously called both the Hong Kong airport connection and the Alps tunnel high speed.

They do inject a lot of drama into their stupid shows.

Alon Levy said...

Relative to Amtrak, everything looks high speed.

neroden@gmail said...

A fair amount of the money could go to Portland-Seattle (many EIS-complete projects), if the State of Washington wasn't in the process of ripping up its Passenger Rail division. :-P

A fair amount could go to the Chicago Hub, where a bunch of the EISs have been sitting on the shelf for years, and many are trivial. I'd hesitate to guess which directions would get money though. Chicago-St. Louis has the problem that it involves Union Pacific; Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison is a natural, as is Chicago-Fort Wayne (with connections to Michigan service).