The two higher-speed through tracks of any given Steel Interstate route should be able to easily handle a minimum of 200 trains per day, allowing passenger and domestic intermodal freight trains to operate in complete transparency from conventional and local trains. Without capacity and speed constraints, urban planners should be able to mainstream rail into the planning process to serve most travel markets.
Reach of intercity passenger rail on the North American Steel Interstate System:
> About 90% of the US population will be accessed, including;
> 85% or more of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA = 50,000> population);
> Double the currently served Smallvilles, many with little or no bus and air services.
Passenger train operating characteristics on the North American Steel Interstate System
> 70 mph minimum average speed for all schedules
> Major travel markets will be city pairs within a 3-4 hour travel radius (210-300 miles);
> Passenger trains will comprise 40% of Steel Interstate capacity, on average.
Station characteristics for the North American Steel Interstate System
> Stations will be located on auxiliary tracks to expedite through traffic;
> Stations will be designed for fast boarding/detraining to minimize dwell times—
typically 90 seconds;
> Stations will rely primarily on efficient regional transit for access;
> In populous regions, intercity passenger trains will access multimodal hub “travel ports”;
> Every MSA intercity passenger rail station will handle a minimum of 20 round trip
passenger trains per day.
> Every community that had robust passenger train service in the early 20th century
will have population-proportional passenger rail services in the 21st century.
> Existing stations will require restoration and modernization, or;
> New, larger, more task-appropriate stations may need to be built.
Passenger rail services menu on the Steel Interstate System
> Express trains in high population density markets
> High Speed Rail service extensions on higher-speed routes
> Conventional intercity passenger trains
> Special events, charter and peak-travel trains
> Regional and commuter trains
> Emergency response trains
Steel Interstate Rail Passenger Development Background
The conceptual map of the North American Steel Interstate System is a work in progress. The Department of Defense initially deemed a 36,000 route-mile network as nationally significant for traditional rail freight movement. The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has identified a 45,000-mile Grid and Gateway network of upgraded rail lines to enable intercity passenger trains to serve over 90 % of the US population.
In 2007 the Passenger Rail Working Group (PRWG) of the congressionally mandated National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission issued its report, Vision for the future - U.S. intercity passenger rail network through 2050.
Like NARP’s Grid & Gateway passenger rail development plan, the PRWG report proposes upgrading a network of existing mainline railroads to be compatibly shared by intercity passenger and freight trains. The network has fewer route miles than the full Steel Interstate network because of a passenger-only focus.
Service is the operative word for intercity passenger rail. The existing passenger rail network reaches about 80% of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA=50,000 pop. or more). To say that passenger rail serves these 174 million people is a stretch. Much of the passenger rail network in North America shares the privately owned tracks of the for-profit railroad companies, which are maintained for long, heavy, slow(er) freight trains traveling long distances. It is the freight railroads’ business strategy to operate the most freight trains on the smallest network. The end result for passenger rail services has been a skeletal system where most communities on long distance routes see only one round-trip train per day and some of the largest cities, including Phoenix (pop. 1,567,924) and three others with over 1 million people, have no passenger rail service at all. Existing services are made more irrelevant by these trains visiting many stations in the middle of the night or at less than daily frequencies, or both. Truth be told, all of Amtrak’s locomotives and most passenger cars are certified to travel at 110 MPH or better, if only upgraded infrastructure would permit. Such squandered technological capability is the result of highway-centric transportation policies of the past half-century.
Expanding intercity passenger service will spearhead the rail development movement in North America.
Most of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) rail grants are being directed at existing “freight railroad” corridors to bring their eventual top speed up to 110 MPH, which is defined as “Emerging High Speed Rail.” These corridors saw more and faster trains (both passenger and freight) in the past and they represent segments of the higher speed rail (HrSR) Steel Interstate System to be upgraded to uniform design standards for 21st century responsibilities.
The final route miles of the North American Steel Interstate System will likely be closer to the 45,000-mile network needed for passenger rail operations. Freight shippers will eagerly take advantage of the extra capacity and speeds of the larger upgraded NASIS network.
Transportation planning, like electricity, seeks the path of least resistance, resulting in most capacity improvements going into the modes over which the public has more control and funding mechanisms. The North American Steel Interstate System creates a new framework and culture for developing rail in the 21st century, as did the Eisenhower Interstate and Defense Highway System in the 20th century.
Distinguishing High Speed Rail (HSR) from Higher Speed Rail (HrSR)
Compared to the geographic reach of the higher-speed rail Steel Interstate System, there are much fewer places that true high-speed rail needs to go.
Higher Speed Rail (Steel Interstate) High Speed Rail
> Track speed 79 mph – 110 mph > Track speed above 115 MPH, ideally above 150 mph
> Upgraded, shared-use, existing > Dedicated, scratch-built, passenger-only RoW
mainline railroad right-of-way (RoW) > Very high design and maintenance standards
> Lower level of design and less > Electrification essential
precise maintenance standards > Market reach: the densest mega-regions where
> Electrification desirable but not travel volume justifies
> Market reach: most of North America
The urban planners at America 2050 have identified a slightly different network for passenger rail
development, based more closely on demographics.
More importantly, America 2050 shows how public policies can connect the whole nation with a
seamless, multimodal surface transportation system.
Both higher and high-speed passenger rail will shoulder additional responsibilities as the costs of