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DOT, railroads come closer to high speed rail agreements

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on June 22, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expects to quickly nail down some accords with Class I freight railroads, to spur intercity passenger rail development and begin using some of the billions in stimulus grant dollars the Department of Transportation has set aside for it.

“We’ve got a couple of agreements,” in the works, LaHood told The Journal of Commerce. “They’re very close.”

That follows a June 9 meeting he held with the heads of the nation’s largest railroads, after rail executives bristled at Federal Railroad Administration rules saying they could face penalties if they do not meet on-time performance standards for passenger trains operating on their rail lines.

At the time, LaHood said the DOT and railroads would spend a few weeks negotiating ways to deal with issues the CEOs had raised.

While last year’s economic stimulus package included $8 billion for high-speed rail systems between cities to get more people off highways and airplanes for their intercity travel, about $4.5 billion of it will go into the freight rail systems for lower-speed Amtrak and similar passenger service.

True high-speed trains, which may run at 150 to over 200 mph, require heavy investments in their own segmented corridors that are walled off from any freight tracks or roadway intersections.

But beefing up the regular routes can raise average speeds of often slow-moving Amtrak trains, to perhaps 79-110 mph or more in some cases. It can also put passenger trains on more lanes faster, and spread the available money to many more intercity corridors through right-of-way use agreements with freight railroads.

But backers say a key to eventual success in wooing people to rely on train service is making sure they run fast enough and on time.

LaHood did not give details of how the two sides are addressing the freight rail concerns, but he said “the meeting that we had with the Class I executives, the CEOs, proved very beneficial. We’re very close to a couple of agreements and we’ll be announcing those very soon.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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