01 June 2010

Should Rail Freight Compromise Safety To Accommodate HSR ?  

US Situation Illustrates Potential Problems

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US – The situation which has arisen around the planned High Speed Rail (HSR) links between Buffalo and New York City highlight a problem which is likely to be seen more and more often around the world as rail freight traffic is encouraged to grow as an environmentally acceptable alternative to road haulage, whilst the desire to take more cars off the road can only be answered with a more efficient HSR passenger network.

Over $150 million of President Obama’s $8.5 billion high speed rail grant was promised to help fund new tracks which parallel the existing freight lines owned by the CSX Corporation. CSX however have insisted that the new tracks remain over thirty feet away from their slower freight line which has a 90 mph top speed. Safety is the prime consideration of CSX and there are fears that state pressure will be brought to bear to reduce the gap between the lines as the distance proposed by CSX will mean a wider footprint for the track corridor, bringing land acquisition issues.

Much has been made of agreements to set up an environmental impact study and agree a practical framework signed between the company and New York State officials last week after reported arbitration from Karen Rae, Department of Transportation’s representative, despite the fact they only a statements of intent with no commitment from either party to uphold or implement them.

The simple fact is that running freight trains, with a 90 mph maximum speed parallel to passenger carriages, with an initial proposed speed of 110 mph and potentially much more, particularly on a track which bends to varying degrees, is not a matter to be taken lightly, no matter what the cost.

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