High-speed train offering unveiled

(The Miami Herald posted the following story by Robert Plotkin on its website on October 8.)

MIAMI -- Fluor Bombardier unveiled its JetTrain on Tuesday, which is in competition for the $2 billion high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando. The system is eventually supposed to extend to Miami. The press kit included a comparison chart between the JetTrain and the Grand Prix race car driven by Mika Salo, who christened the train, showering reporters with champagne bubbles.

The JetTrain's chief competitor for the rail system is an electric-powered train similar to France's TGV offered by Global Rail Consortium. The Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) will announce the winner Oct. 27.

High-speed rail systems are common in Europe and Japan. France's 186 mile-per-hour TGV has been operating since 1981. The only high-speed train operating in the United States is the 150-mile-an-hour Acela train, which was introduced in 2000 and operates on the Washington-New York-Boston rail corridor.

The Bombardier JetTrain, at 150 miles per hour, is unable to achieve the same speeds as European trains because it must be heavier in order to meet American safety regulations, said Daniel Hubert, the JetTrain's chief engineer.

''Our train has to be able to take 2.1 million pounds of force, which is like a train hitting an 80-ton trailer at 68 miles per hour,'' Hubert said.

No trailers, or anything else, will cross Florida's high-speed tracks, which will be dedicated to high-speed use.

The JetTrain is powered by a 5,000-horsepower, diesel-powered turbine that weighs 1,200 pounds. Regular diesel engines weigh 40,000 pounds. The turbine can pull a train to 100 miles an hour in 2.5 minutes vs. five minutes for a conventional train, Hubert said.

Global Rail Consortium is offering the KTXR train, a fourth-generation TGV electric train manufactured in Korea with a top speed of 285 miles an hour.

''From Tampa to Orlando, it would go 165 miles per hour instead of JetTrain,'' said Katherine Beck, a partner in the Global Rail Consortium. The JetTrain will only go 120-125 miles per hour on that route. The Tampa-Orlando route is curvy, which limits the top speed of the trains.

''But from Orlando to Miami, the train would be able to run flat out at 286 miles per hour, taking only one hour fifteen minutes versus three hours for the JetTrain,'' said Beck.

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed $7 million that the legislature earmarked for the FHSRA in June, forcing it to use a dwindling supply of federal money to complete its evaluation of the two systems.

''Fortunately, it didn't cause us to fire anybody, since I am the only staffer,'' said Nazih Haddad, executive director of FHSRA.

Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 that required the state to create a rail system in which trains traveling at least 120 miles per hour will link the five largest urban areas in the state. Construction, according to the amendment, is supposed to start before Nov. 1, which appears unlikely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003


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