Quick Note: Midwest HSR Study

I’m usually skeptical of industry-funded studies about the value of megaprojects, but despite the involvement of Siemens I recommend reading the 2011 Economic Study for Midwest high-speed rail.

Building up on previous ideas for the 110 mph Midwest high-speed rail and on SNCF’s proposal, the study goes through all the nitty-gritty details that are often missing from publications geared toward investors and urban boosters. The technical report addresses questions about alignment, transfer convenience, integration with commuter rail, and FRA regulations. It discusses such issues as how to build a tunnel for Metra providing useful regional rail service, why the FRA is likely to let lightweight high-speed trains operate in the US, or whether to route trains through Eau Claire along I-94 or through La Crosse and Rochester on a greenfield alignment.

The proposed cost of the project is $83.6 billion, in 2010 dollars (compare $69 billion in SNCF’s proposal, or $117 billion in year of construction in Amtrak’s one third as long Northeast Corridor proposal). It works out to $35 million per kilometer, which isn’t outrageous but still a little higher than normal for flat terrain; the total contingency in the proposal’s budget is 35% of the base, which is higher than the norm, which is 25%. Construction costs on the French LGV Est‘s second phase are $24 million per km, and those on Belgium’s HSL 3 were $29 million per km.


  1. Stephen Smith

    What page is the part about the FRA (probably) allowing lightweight HSR trains? And what percentage of the whole “FRA hit” that American HSR would normally take would you say this relieves?

    And finally – has CAHSR gotten this far along in the planning process, and if so, how much is that gonna cost per kilometer?

    • Alon Levy

      Section 12.6 of the technical report talks about various FRA classifications for trains. In addition, on page 23 they talk briefly about the Caltrain waiver and about the possibility of track sharing between lightweight and heavyweight trains with PTC.

      The budget for CAHSR is $43 billion in year of construction ($33 billion in 2006 dollars) for phase 1, which is about $45 million per km. But it stands to reason HSR will be more expensive in California than elsewhere, because it has mountain pass crossings with long tunnels in seismic territory. The budget for the simpler Central Valley segment is $20 million per km, but the budget for the segments from Bakersfield to LA is well into the triple digits. This is all in principle; in practice, the project is encountering hurdles with requiring more aerials than previously thought, and although it’s still possible for the budget to hold, they need to do some contentious modifications and value engineering, though not yet actual downscoping. For example, the previous people in charge of the board tacked an “iconic bridge” in San Jose, which is likely to get zapped by the current leaders, who are more competent and cost-conscious.

  2. Pingback: Disappointment 2050 | Pedestrian Observations

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