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What High Speed Rail forgot about America

Meeting Details:

Next meeting: April 18th: 6:30pm, IN PERSON:



  • Headlines

  • Group Elections

  • Engineering Career Expo Plan

  • ESG, Scope 3, and Carbon Credits to pay for High Speed Rail

  • Madison Station RFP


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

The Mercury News

Wisconsin Public Radio

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

Railway Age

In the Tube:

Up in the Air:

Caribean Journal



High Speed Rail Alliance

On March 25th, Michael Schlicting gave a presentation to the High Speed Rail Alliance on "The Tail of Two Seats - how airlines need high speed rail".

For more details:


What High Speed Rail forgot about America

Part of the When Republican's Loved High Speed Rail series

by Mike Schlicting

So why do Republicans hate High-Speed Rail? In our hyper political environment, the answer is “It's because the Democrats are for it”. However, that is not the truth. The truth is that the planners for high-speed rail have forgotten rural America and forgot how those small cities and towns were originally established by rail. Those small cities…love passenger rail…and would love high-speed rail...if the messaging was correct. Let me explain why.

Take someone from Bryan, Texas; Greeley, Colorado or Oconomowoc, WI. These residents see a big announcement that the government is investing billions of dollars on a project, but those small city residents can't see or experience high-speed rail in America today. These residents then hear that some foreign super technology is going to be used, which can sound downright scary (after all 200 mph?”). Then that same project is going to show up at their neighbor's house and demand that they sell them their land.

What would be your response?

High-speed rail planners have forgotten rural America and that is the problem. Instead, planners tend to think of high-speed trains zipping in and out of major cities, but be it Texas Central Railways or the Madison to Milwaukee high-speed rail project; rural America is proving to be the determinant for the success of these projects.

Rural areas may have become bitter about high-speed rail, but if you look closely at these rural cities you will see that they LOVE trains. A lot of these small cities were founded around the train station. For example, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin lies 34 miles west of Milwaukee in the largest Republican-leaning county in Wisconsin that has always voted solidly Republican since 1964. This county was the stronghold that helped get Governor Walker get elected on his anti-high speed train platform (as heard on WPR's Derailed podcast).

At the center of downtown Oconomowoc lies Maxim’s restaurant, which serves everyday comfort food. What makes Maxim’s interesting though, is it is in the old Oconomowoc Milwaukee Road Station. When you walk into Maxim’s there are huge train murals in front of you, an HO scale model railroad of downtown Oconomowoc to your right, and pictures and banners galore of Oconomowoc’s glory days as a stop of the venerable Milwaukee Road Hiawatha’s which once sped across the nation (not just Milwaukee to Chicago). From what is today Maxim’s restaurant one could catch a train to Chicago, Minneapolis, or Seattle. The nation was literally at Oconomowoc’s doorstep.

But then the passenger trains no longer stopped at Oconomowoc. Today, the line right next to Maxim’s is still very busy (we witnessed 3 trains in 45 minutes), but these are freight trains with only memories of passenger trains.

But this isn’t a sad memory….it is an opportunity!

The message of high-speed rail just needs to be changed from one of benefiting big cities to a message of benefiting the rural areas that have become separated. Give these small cities a reason to support high-speed rail…by changing the message to why high-speed rail would benefit those in small cities and rural counties.

How would this message work?

Well, first high-speed rail needs to be positioned as an evolution of the passenger trains, not some crazy new technology. A technology that residents are familiar with that has just evolved, much like how the Ford F series truck developed from the 1940s version to the 2022 model or the Chevy Corvette has evolved. The message needs to be built on something they know and recognize….and can embrace.

Second, high-speed rail needs to be communicated as something that would connect their community to the world. After all, these communities used to be well connected with the fastest trains in the world. These communities lost that connection in the past, and would embrace getting those connections back.

Finally, high-speed rail needs to be seen as fast! Not something that is “socialists” and “communal”, but something that will move them faster and with less effort than driving. Essentially be able to take out the worry of delays, complex directions, need for parking; all the while going at three times the speed of driving on the interstate. After all,...everything is a long drive away when you live in rural America.

Bringing back to Oconomowoc, if you love trains you would love Maxims. If you love Maxims, you would love high-speed rail. We just need everyone to agree to the same message.


ESG Part 3: Where are the airlines on ESG

Over the past few weeks, we have discussed the ESG performance of all the airlines. This week, we will focus on one airline specifically -> United.

Why United, well it is the only airline that puts out detailed information about its emission performance. So while one might have a story regarding United’s customer service.... we want to give a shout out to the incredible job the airline is doing in letting investors know how it performs at an environmental level (unlike some other airlines…who just talk about recycling amenity kits and more fuel-efficient aircraft as your solution).

Before we begin, let’s define “scope”. With ESG, a corporation is held to different measurements.

Scope 1 CO2 emissions are those emissions by assets the company owns and controls.

Scope 2 CO2 emissions are the services that the company buys. This would include heat, electricity, and cooling. Essentially where their utilities come from.

Scope 3 CO2 emissions are the interesting component. This is CO2 emissions from the company's vendors. In United’s case, this would be the airlines that operate under the United Express franchise agreements, ownership in other companies, as well as employee commuting and traveling.

So it would be the Scope 3 that high-speed rail has the greatest potential

So when we look at United’s emissions numbers, United's operations created a total of 34,263,909 (minus 6,850 for Sustainable Aviation Fuel) metric tons of CO2 in 2019 (2020 figures were significantly less due to Covid). This is why you see the airlines going after SAF so much because that would affect its bottom line.

However, when you look at Scope 3, United Express aircraft (and buses) used 7,025,889. This represents 17% of total emissions. Now that might not seem like much, but when you compare this 7.4 million metric ton to firms that operate powerplants, United's Express operation would make the top 100 list of most polluting powerplants in the US (according to the Political Economy Research Institute).

A more interesting twist on Scope 3 emissions is that it just doesn’t involve United Airlines, but Scope 3 emissions show up on other companies' CO2 emissions. For example, Apple is a large customer of United out of San Francisco (specifically to iPhone production facilities in China). So United’s CO2 emissions will show up on Apple's Scope 3 results.

So the airlines have a big problem with ESG reporting because the story is not just about the airline itself, but everyone who uses air transportation. After

all the airline industries biggest customers are big tech companies who are thought of as having great ESG performance. Well, that is until scope 3 CO2 credits appear on their reports and gets more scrutinized by the investor community.

Of course, high speed rail powered by renewable energy would solve that. But that is another article.

More Next Week:


The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wiscosin-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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