Over the river or through the woods?

Still waiting for a train at Rochester

Mulad, that wizard of railroad wisdom, reminded me that January 12th is the last day to send in comments on the Alternatives Selection Report for the Chicago-Twin Cities “High Speed Rail” Corridor.  Here are my hastily assembled comments:

To: “MWRRIPhase7@state.mn.us” <MWRRIPhase7@state.mn.us>
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 10:25 PM
Subject: Draft Alt Selections Report comments

Hi,
I have two criticisms of the Draft Alternative Selections Report:
  1. It seems improper to have eliminated from the universe of alternatives those routes with physical constraints due to former right-of-way having been developed for other uses.  Examples are on pages 4-7 through 4-12 of Appendix A.  While the report properly considers the demolition of the existing uses to be an extreme impact, it does not consider the possibility of constructing a greenfield route around these physical constraints.  Several routes included in the universe of alternative require construction of new main tracks with the potential for extreme impact, the most glaring example of which is the BNSF river route, described on pages 3-14 and 3-15 of the Draft Selections Report.  The BNSF river route is stated on pages 3-14 and 3-15 to require the construction of a third track “in the Mississippi River” but it still garners the highest rating for Route Characteristics.  If it is worth considering routes that require major construction in the form of an additional track in a protected waterway, it should be worth considering routes that may require a few miles of greenfield bypasses of existing physical constraints.
  2. It seems likely that using population bands as a proxy for trip generation underestimated the potential of the Rochester and Madison metro areas.  These metros contain major trip generators in the form of a world-famous medical facility, one of the largest universities in the nation, and a state capital.  The bluntness of measuring route population by means of a band along the entire route rather than in a cluster around stations is another weakness of the Market Size metric, and one that may have tipped the scale towards the selected alternative (which has a fairly high but diffuse population density but one that would likely be just as well served by alternatives that serve Rochester).  However, the bigger problem with the Market Size metric was ignoring the trip generation capabilities of the unique land uses in Rochester and Madison.
Aside from these two criticisms, the alternative selections process seemed to me to be as fair as possible for a mostly qualitative process and impressively thorough, to boot.  While the recommended alternative is incapable of meeting international standards for high-speed rail, the capital upgrades described in the report will be a significant improvement to a vital rail transportation facility, and are both welcome and overdue.
Thanks,
Alex
On top of that, I think their last minute switcheroo to prioritizing the route that needs the least capital improvement is a bit fishy, and unfortunate because it resulted in selecting the route that is capable of the least improvement.  I don’t see why they didn’t sneak some more Rochester routes in there, and potentially basketed Zip Rail along with “HSR.”  But I only made it about halfway through the Draft Alternatives Selections Report, so I didn’t feel comfortable piping up about it.  Frankly, any news is good news on the rail upgrade front.  Even if in some distant high-speed future, a different route to Chicago is used, it’s likely that the selected route will still be used for more local rail travel so the improvements won’t go to waste.

One comment on “Over the river or through the woods?

  1. Matt says:

    I can’t believe they aren’t considering a mostly-greenfield route to Rochester, then onto LSE and Madison.

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