Amtrak eyes high-speed rail options

High speed rail development here in the United States, particularly California, continues to limp along.

Even as China recently opened its longest high-speed rail line as part of a growing industry there which is both helping that nation’s economy as well as looking overseas for possible projects, we continue to move in the slow lane.

Outside of China other places such as Spain are also leaving us behind in this green technology focus.

The latest move in our “slow road to maybe someday a high speed rail industry” domestically is word that two of the United States’ heaviest pushers of speedy trains, Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), have partnered in the search for “proven high-speed rail (HSR) train sets currently being manufactured and in commercial service that are capable of operating safely at speeds up to 220 mph on both Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) and on California’s developing HSR corridor.”

This partnership, while advancing each of the respective HSR programs, is looking towards developing a U.S. standard for this type of train equipment that “can be manufactured and supplied domestically and produced by the rest of the world.” It is hoped by these two entities that an actual order for HSR trains could be placed sometime next year.

Amtrak, already having more experience with high speed rail domestically than California, has what one could say are ambitious plans. It hopes to acquire up to 12 new HSR sets to supplement its popular Acela line in the NEC, followed by replacing the 20 current Acela sets in the early 2020s.

It is therefore “seeking a HSR train set able to operate at the current NEC maximum speed of 150 mph” that “can subsequently operate at up to 220 mph as the tracks and other infrastructure is improved to support the higher speeds.” Passenger capacity for each set is targeted at 400 to 600 passengers.

CHSRA, meanwhile, is looking to place its first order of 27 train sets able to operate up to 220 mph. These would each have a seating capacity of 450 to 500 passengers per 656 feet train set.

“We applaud both Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority for answering our call to explore joint procurement of the next generation of high-speed rail equipment,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo in a statement [PDF].

“Combining orders will make it easier and more attractive for high-speed rail manufacturers to build factories here in the USA, bringing new high quality jobs and creating ripple effects throughout our domestic supply chain. The end result means the riding public will have lighter, faster, more energy efficient passenger rail equipment.”

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling