Monday, September 11, 2023

"Faster trains to begin carrying passengers as Amtrak’s monopoly falls"

From the Washington Post, August 30:

The only private operator of intercity passenger trains is about to launch new service in Florida. Next? Trains at 186 mph between Las Vegas and Southern California.

ORLANDO — Amtrak’s decades-old monopoly on intercity passenger rail travel will fall in the coming weeks when Florida becomes home to the fastest American trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Brightline, the only private passenger railroad in the country, is slated to open its newest station here later this year, providing a train connection between Orlando International Airport and South Florida in three hours. Meanwhile, work is progressing on high-speed projects in Western states and Texas, while Amtrak is eyeing its biggest expansion in 52 years.

Two years after the infrastructure law began pumping $66 billion into the nation’s aging rail network, domestic passenger railroads are showing their greatest signs of strength in generations. Amtrak’s singular grip on transporting U.S. rail passengers is slipping as private companies, states and the federal government look to fast trains as environmentally friendly alternatives to traffic-clogged highways, while developers promise speeds rivaling those in Europe and Asia.

Amtrak says it views other rail providers as complementary to its offerings, coming as the nation’s longtime passenger rail — newly flush with billions of federal dollars — embarks on its own plan to add 39 routes while linking dozens more cities. President Biden, whose fondness for the system earned him the nickname “Amtrak Joe,” is perhaps the bipartisan project’s biggest booster.

Launching with no federal help, the modern debut of private passenger rail connecting two major metropolitan areas will come to fruition when Brightline riders arrive in Orlando from downtown Miami. The Federal Railroad Administration expects to sign off within days, triggering a three-week testing period before Brightline carries passengers. The company will then set its sights on a $12 billion high-speed railway from Las Vegas to Southern California, a massive undertaking that could put trains traveling at 186 mph on America’s tracks by 2028.

“We’re much closer than we’ve ever been. It’s going to happen,” said former transportation secretary Ray LaHood, putting the Western U.S. project at “the top of the list” of major corridors that could place the nation on the high-speed rail map.

The test case for the U.S.’s passenger rail ambitions is taking place in car-dominant South Florida, where a gleaming station has transformed a long-overlooked Miami neighborhood three miles from the southern terminus of Interstate 95.

Version 1.0 in South Florida
After operating much like a commuter service through South Florida, the Orlando station will be the nation’s first non-Amtrak passenger train connection between two metro areas in four decades — a project with nearly $6 billion in private investment. Although not a true high-speed operation, the Brightline Florida service will surpass speeds of 125 mph in some areas — the nation’s fastest train outside the D.C.-Boston region.

Five years after Brightline opened its 67-mile service between Miami and West Palm Beach, passengers fill the five-car trains for sporting events and festivals while commuters use it to get to jobs. Students receive discounted passes for educational excursions.

Brightline uses business tycoon Henry Flagler’s original Miami train station and his Florida East Coast Railway, built in the late 1880s. The station had fallen into disrepair and was surrounded by parking lots. The raised platform is now the hub of 1.5 million square feet of development, with office, commercial and residential spaces built by Brightline’s owner.

Its rail cars, built by German industrial conglomerate Siemens and operated with diesel-electric locomotives on each end, come with features missing in many of Amtrak’s trains — some of which are 50 years old — including wide leather seats, an abundance of power outlets and strong WiFi.

Attendants bring coffee, alcoholic beverages and snacks for purchase to economy-fare travelers — items that are complementary to premium ticket holders. Passengers can schedule Uber connections to airports and other locations through the Brightline app, and the carrier offers free shuttle service at some stations.

Other differences compared to Amtrak include assigned seating — which Amtrak offers only on its Acela route and business-class fares on select trains — a security checkpoint before boarding and passenger use of conference rooms at stations.

Fares, which are comparable to Amtrak’s and competitive with airfare, vary depending on the time of travel and how early tickets are purchased. A ticket from Miami to West Palm Beach can cost between $15 and $52. Economy fares from Orlando to Miami start at $79 one way. Brightline will offer 16 daily round trips with hourly departures between Miami and Orlando....


The U.S. Has High-Speed Rail

....California’s High-Speed Rail Went From a $33 Billion Project to the Single Largest Public Infrastructure Disaster in U.S. History

....The company‌ ‌pulled out in 2011. “There were so many things that went wrong,” Mr. McNamara said. “SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa, which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.”

    Morocco’s bullet train started service in 2018.....

There you have it, North Africa is less politically corrupt than California. Just amazing.... 
And a couple dozen more. I apparently have a fascination for train disasters, just not of the Gare Montparnasse variety: