State Seeks Stimulus Funds to Study High-Speed Rail

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 24, 2009 12:00 am  

To qualify for funding under ARRA, the South Central High-Speed Passenger Rail Corridor must accommodate, among other things, a train speed of between 110 mph and 150 mph.

When planning for a train with that speed, experts say, many factors must be considered.

David Levinson is the chair in transportation engineering in the civil engineering department at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. The curves of the existing track are a major consideration, Levinson said in an e-mail response to questions from Arkansas Business.

Levinson cited the Madrid-Seville route in Spain, which has a minimum radius of curvature of 4,000 meters, or about 2.4 miles. The curves of a traditional rail line are much different from the curves that can safely accommodate a high-speed train, he said.

Because the train envisioned for the Little Rock-Texarkana route wouldn't be running as fast as the train in Spain, it's possible that it could safely run on rails with sharper curves.

"If the curve is sharp, the speed cannot be too great," Levinson said.

Holly Arthur, assistant vice president of media and public relations at the Association of American Railroads, said converting a traditional rail line into a high-speed line involves complex considerations.

"There's terrain, the number of grade crossings, the number of towns and cities that it goes through, track configuration, whether or not the track would be shared or dedicated [to one type of train] and then, of course, the volume of freight traffic that exists on the track," Arthur said.

"Just like you wouldn't put semi-trucks on the Autobahn. The Autobahn is shaped to handle high-speed auto traffic. It's long and straight and has long curves. To have a smooth passenger high-speed rail line, you have to think in a similar way. It would need to be engineered in a way that would support that kind of movement.

"The type of track that you have to move a carload of coal doesn't need quite the smooth ride that you would need for your passenger," Arthur said.

The number of grade crossings, or road-rail intersections, and the options to eliminate those junctions are a major part of the study, Flowers said.

"With high-peed trains, you certainly want to avoid as many conflicts as possible," Flowers said.



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