This paper by High Speed Rail Alliance offers some important insights on what it will be like to expand HSR across the US. I will present some highlights of the report which is about 50 pages long.
The integrated network concept is another important innovation from HSRA. Amtrak and in our case the Arkansas Railroad Commission, and the Regional Planning Commission use a flawed model to plan for passenger rail: the point to point system. It is assumed that if you have a route that runs from one city to another then you only count on the people living in those cities using the train.
In the integrated network model we are encouraged to look at travel more holistically. A route that runs from Northwest Arkansas to Little Rock and then on to Memphis involves a number of smaller towns. Each of these towns have their own transportation networks. So we don’t just count a passenger traveling from NWA to Memphis. We count the young man from Russellville riding to Rogers to see his sister’s family. We count the older person traveling from Winslow to a Doctor’s appointment in Little Rock.
And if we put rail terminals in airports, this is happening all over the world and in the US, we have travelers from out of state using our passenger service to travel between airports. Ozark Regional Transit Authority oversees our local network. Part of ORTA’s job is to integrate Amtrak, and possibly a state run passenger rail system, which we call ArkRail for now, into our transit infrastructure. ArDOT has looked at running a rail line out to NWA Regional Airport. It is part of ORTA’s responsibility to integrate XNA into our transit network.
I want to point out something else about the High Speed Rail Alliance paper on Integrated Networks. I’ll post the link to the paper again in case you want to refer to material.
One of the problems passenger rail has had since 1971 when Amtrak was created is how to share the rails with freight trains. Amtrak was started in 1970 so the private for profit rail companies could get out of the shrinking passenger business. And one of the deals the freight companies made was to move their trains over for the new Amtrak passenger trains.
That never happened. If you have ridden on Amtrak you will note that your train has to move over constantly for a pokey freight train. I have had 4 hour trips from Austin Texas to Dallas Texas take up to 8 hours. Yuck.
In this paper, HSRA and the Federal DOT agree on a solution. Make sharing railways profitable for freight companies from Union Pacific and BNSF, to smaller outfits like Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. There are two ways to do this that come out of this paper.
One way is to pay the railroad company for the track time. They make money when the track is empty. They are happy. Make it part of the contract that dispatchers can’t have passenger trains wait on slower freight trains.
The second way surprised me. It turns out that railroad companies pay property taxes. In contrast airports and highways don’t. Think about it through, building a highway or an airport is actually bad for your county since it takes property off the tax rolls. Rail companies have the added expense of paying property taxes to all the counties they run a railroad through.
The suggestion to come out of the report is offer to reduce property taxes if the freight rail company will pay part of the modifications necessary for passenger rail operations. Depending on much the rail company pays they could reduce their tax bill to zero.
As part of our research, I am finding out how we can lower our tax bills, save money on infrastructure, boost small business, raise wages, and make Arkansas more attractive for business investment. In addition while we want ORTA to focus on the BB-TT’s- bikes, and buses, trails, and trains, we want them to connect our transportation network into a broader network to make travel freer, easier, and less expensive for everyone.
The report from HSRA is below.