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A lot about Madison, Brightline, & the TRB Conference

Photo Credits: Richard Hurd, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Meeting: Tonight - Tuesday Feb 6thth, 7:30pm (central), Online

Passcode: 700


Meeting Topics:

  • Madison Amtrak Station

  • Rail Caucus at the Capitol Recap

  • Brightline and the WiHST Group


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

Commentary | Cal Matters

Interesting Engineering | Youtube

B1M | Youtube

Associated Press

Down the Tube Air:

Financial Times

Up in the Air:


Aviation International News


Madison Amtrak Station Public Meeting

On Tuesday, February 6th the Madison City Council will be holding an online meeting from 6 pm until 7:30. You can register/attend the meeting here.

The WiHST group will then meet following the meeting.

This Zoom meeting follows a similar in person meeting on Tuesday, January 30th, where roughly 75 people attended. At that meeting, they announced that the potential site for the Amtrak station has been narrowed down to three locations, which will be discussed at the Zoom meeting tonight.


Recap of the 2024 Transportation Research Board Meeting:

Last month was the Transportation Research Board Conference (TRB) at the Washington DC Convention Center.  It is estimated that there were over 14,000 attendees this year, making it the largest TRB conference ever.   Stephen Kocmoud has attended TRB four times, and this was the eighth time for Michael Schlicting.  Both Stephen & Michael pay to attend the conference on their own.

There was only one main high-speed rail session, 1:30 pm on Tuesday.  At this session US Congressman Seth Moulton was supposed to speak but had to cancel at the last minute.  Brightline’s presentation was a recap of what has been in the news, with nothing new mentioned.  BNSF had a presentation on funding for passenger rail projects, which was rather boring.  Perhaps the most interesting session was by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on the Southeast Corridor high-speed rail project (see separate article). 

In another lecture session, there was a presentation on the socio-economic growth that takes place around high-speed rail stations in both Shanghai and Japan.  However, these presentations were given by PhD students and were very formula-driven research.  As a result, it was very hard to follow their presentations, although both presentations found that high-speed rail does lead to economic development.

Another hot topic at TRB was Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).  The Federal Aviation Administration is predicting certification of the first vehicles in 2025 (Joby and Archer Aviation are most likely to be the first). While there will be a place for AAMs in the future, especially regarding ambulance services, a lot of the presentations felt like past Hyperloop presentations where the presentations are theoretical with very little actual data.  However, there was an intriguing cost analysis by one of the presenters who identified a 30% operating loss margin if AAMs were to charge similar prices to Uber, and an even greater loss when compared to public transit options.  So, the question is… are AAMs going to be able to justify a huge premium over other transit options?  If so, how big is that market?

Then there is the issue of pilots.  An AAM pilot will be paid similarly to regional airline pilots.  However, a regional airline pilot’s costs are spread among 50-90 passengers, while most AAMs will handle only 1-7 passengers making pilot costs a greater component of the operating costs.  Further, the AAM is going to require a type certificate from the FAA.  This means not only additional pilot training but that there will be a limited pool of pilots who are certified to fly a particular model AAM. Of course, all these issues go away if the AAMs were autonomous, but the FAA is given no timeline on when autonomous AAMs will be available as significant technological and regulatory hurdles remain.


The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high-speed rail and high-speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

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