Next meeting: Nov 9th: 8pm Central
Question of the Week:
1) Is this Infrastructure Bill just a repeat of 2009 all over again?
2) How do you evaluate the best place for a station?
Rail Icon Focus: Spain
Where to Put the Station
The New York Times
Wisconsin State Journal
NBS6 South Florida
Los Angeles Times
For the latest on the infrastructure, check out a dedicated webpage:
From the Captain:
Infrastructure Bill - Party Like It's 2009!
It is has been hard to miss in the news, but on Friday November 5th Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (AKA "Infrastructure Bill"). A potential $1.2 trillion spending bill to update the nations infrastructure. The Democrats have been promoting the package as an unprecedented investment in sustainability, broadband, and jobs. However, when it comes to transportation, it isn’t all that it seems.
First, it is important to point out that this IS NOT the bill that has the $10 billion for high speed rail. That is the Build Back Better Bill that was being held up by Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema. That bill has all the social programs and hotly contested items; which unfortunately the high speed rail funding is having to ride along with.
Now the bill that was passed last week…. has a lot of funding for Amtrak, and roads. In fact, this will be the most amount of funding Amtrak has ever received with over $6 billion going to the Northeast Corridor, over $12 billion for national network, and $7.5 billion for Federal-State partnerships for intercity rail. I found these numbers directly in the bill, but I have seen other numbers from $44 billion to $ 66 billion floated out there so it is a bit confusing. However, one thing is clear….Amtrak is in control of most of the grants.
So after President Biden signs the bill the next step will be for the Department of Transportation to decide how to allocate the funds. This is where things are opaque. Will all the intercity passenger rail funding go to Amtrak; with Texas Central, California, and Virgin Hyperloop being left out? More importantly, is the money only to go towards upgrading existing Amtrak service? For example, increasing Chicago to Milwaukee to 125mph, or (gasp) a train that continues onto Madison where it can once again be used as political fodder for the 2022 Governor’s race. This is what worries me.
After all, Republicans have already been calling the Infrastructure Bill "Communist", "Socialist" and calling for those Republicans who voted for it to be removed in the next election. So it is not far fetched to imagine money from the new grants going to Wisconsin, but only for high speed rail to once again become a political play to get a Republican elected. In fact, former Governor Walker has already started his incorrect talking points that the the whole bill is a waste and scaring people that the bill is going to make it more expensive for them to fill up their gas guzzling trucks and SUVs.
The scary part is, if this story sounds familiar to Wisconsinites…it is. This is exactly what happened back in 2009 with the last intercity passenger rail funding and how Scott Walker used the funding to get elected Governor (and I guess became a correspondent on Newsmax).
So let’s see what happens. Granted it is good that Amtrak is finally going to be able to upgrade the Northeast Corridor and other services. That is incredible. However, when it comes to state funded trains….maybe some money needs to go to some private endeavors so they can actually get the job done. Maybe even the Build Back Better Plan is still gonna be voted on.
Rail Icon: Spain's Alta Velocidad Espanola (AVE)
The AVE is the high speed rail line of Renfe. the Spanish national railway company
Speeds up to 193 mph (310kmph)
Largest route network in Europe at over 2,114 miles (larger than Japan's 1,718 miles)
2nd largest route network in the world, only behind China
But only carries 61,000 passengers/day (compared to JRC's 466,000/day)
Service began in 1992, Madrid-Ciudad Real and Puertollano
Extended to Seville in 1993
Using Alstrom equipment (same as the French TGV)
Later Talgo became the standard
Ciudad Real then became a suburb of Madrid (2 1/4 hr drive before, 55 min ride after)...
Side Note: Ciudad Real also built an Intl airport, but it was never used because of the High Speed Rail Line to Madrid
Since then has expanded out from a Madrid Hub
Started in 2003 with Madrid to Barcelona
Now encompasses the whole nation
Includes international service to France
Known for the best engineering in the world:
1992 cost to build per mile was only $7.7 million USD per mile (1992, 1 EURO = $0.80 USD)
Today that would still just be $17.7 million per mile ( 1 Euro =$1.16 USD, $1 in '92 = 1.96 in '21)
Even in 2015 the Madrid to Valladolid cost $30 million per mile (19m Euros per km)
Compare that to California that is coming in at over $100+ million per mile!
Has the largest collection of different high speed rail trains
Alstrom - same as France's TGV technology (S-100)
Talgo - Spain only (S-102)
Sieman's- same as German ICE technology (S-103)
Bombardier - related to the Amtrak's Acela (S-112)
Also Spain is known for its automatic change in gauge. Spain has broad gauge rail throughout most of the country, but uses standard gauge for the high speed service. So they have invented a way where the axles on the train can be converted from broad gauge to standard gauge by just running through a machine all the while passengers are onboard.
Then there is Texas Central Railways
Spain's Renfe will be the operator
While the equipment will be JRC's N700I Shinkansenn
Feature: Where's the station?:
The location of the Madison high speed rail station has been a topic of discussion for transit enthusiasts in the Madison area for a long time. After all, the old stations from Madison's past have been repurposed (such as Motorless Motion Bikes, Madison Gas & Electric, Wisconsin Central HDQ) or torn down. Besides Madison is a very different city than it was back in the 1960's when the last Varsity Train from Chicago arrived. So with new infrastructure money this leads to the question of where to put the new station. Therefore, we have asked our resident expert in Master Planning, Christopher Walsh, to give his opinion:
I first remember hearing discussion in 2009-10 before then Governor Scott Walker shot the project down. At the time, the station was slated for downtown underneath Monona Terrace utilizing existing rail lines.
Before my interest in cities, transportation and development grew; I thought this was a great spot. Centrally located a few blocks from the capitol, a station located here would bring residents and tourists to the heart of the city, but despite being downtown there are issues with choosing this location. There is very limited space to place a high-speed rail station, trains would have to slow down dramatically coming into the downtown area from either direction, and it's not a convenient location to get to for those outside of the downtown area. Some other issues would include poor access to other methods of mass transit such as a bus transfer point, regional bus terminal or access to Dane County Regional airport. Finally, the train would have to back itself into the station taking extra time commuters might not want to endure on a "high speed train".
The airport has plenty of advantages as there is room to build a large station that would easily connect to the terminal with space to build a regional bus terminal/transfer point. The airport is also not far from major roads such as US HWY 51 and I-90. The main issue with choosing the airport in Madison is height restrictions limiting future development and the opportunity for dense development (which usually occur around a high speed rail station).
Another possible location for the high speed rail station is the intersection of First St and East Washington Ave in Burr Jones Park, also known as Yahara Station. This location would make sense from a real estate and development perspective. The potential station is close to downtown and right along the fast-growing Capitol East district and would certainly result in more growth in the area. This location would be outside of the capitol height restriction zone BUT inside the airport height restriction zone. So, while some density would be allowed it's height would still be restricted. While the possible development benefits would be big, the logistics of getting a high-speed train into a station at this location would be difficult. Making Yahara not the best location for the station.
The city is currently looking at placing the train station in the old Oscar Mayer plant as part of a large redevelopment plan that would include a multi-modal transit hub connecting the planned Bus Rapid Transit north route with proposed future high-speed rail and potential commuter rail. The redevelopment plan would also include apartments, retail, office, education, entertainment and public space. Unfortunately, though, the Oscar Mayer plant also falls into the airport’s height restriction zone limiting its growth potential.
Choosing this location would allow the city and region to redevelop it into a secondary urban core that would be connected to downtown by bus, bike, car or a future light rail commuter line. Placing the station here would allow easy shuttle, bus or train access to the airport and surrounding areas, and have good car access to the region by HWY 30 (Aberg Ave) to the interstate. But it still would not have the best access to the majority of those outside the main city. Therefore, although it’s the best option the city has come up with to this point, I don’t think it’s the best location for the station in Madison.
A new alternative: Alliant Energy Center
My choice for the best location for the high-speed rail station in Madison would be at the Alliant Energy Center campus. This location has a large amount of underutilized real estate and an existing rail right of way that runs through the western and eastern edges of the area. The reason I think this could be the best possible location is that there is plenty of opportunity for redevelopment in the area just like the Oscar Mayer plant. Unlike the Oscar Mayer plant, the Alliant campus doesn’t fall under either the downtown or the airport height restriction zones. So in theory, there is the possibility to create a dense live, work, play district where buildings could be 20-30 stories.
Other advantages would be that the area already has hotels, office buildings, and large capacity roads. Then the center itself hosts many events such as World Dairy Expo, Brat Fest, Cross Fit Games and the Dane County Fair. The area is also close to downtown and the UW campus where it is already connected to by bus, bike, car, and potential future light rail that could connect to the other possible train stations discussed. Freeway access and proximity to major employers on the west side are what puts this location as a top choice. Nearby access to the Beltline Hwy/US12/18 would allow employees of companies such as Epic, Spectrum Brands, or Exact Sciences closer access to regional transportation than driving through town to the airport.