Background: There has been renewed interest in high-speed rail in the United States in recent years due in part to the increased use of steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technologies in Europe and Japan and in part to interest in having the United States regain the lead in developing magnetically levitated (maglev) technologies. The difficult challenges to introducing high-speed rail in the United States include (1) finding specific corridors where passenger demand is sufficiently high to minimize the need for public subsidy, and (2) integrating both incrementally higher speeds for existing passenger service and new high-speed technologies in corridors where slower moving freight trains already make heavy use of the system and where many grade crossings pose safety risks.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has an ongoing research program to advance HSGT, with emphasis on making technological improvements to allow incremental speed increases for existing service. During the FY1996 budget process, both the House and
Senate Appropriations committees expressed some concern over whether FRA's current HSGT R&D program is headed in an appropriate direction. Both subcommittees requested an NAS study with an underlying concern that the research is likely to lead to deployment by the states and/or the private sector. The two requests were merged in the conference report accompanying the transportation appropriations act.
The objectives of the study are to review FRA's HSGT research and development in four areas: (1) ongoing HSGT safety and technology R&D, (2) the Next Generation Technology Program, (3) the integration of the research and development efforts with planned demonstrations of advanced positive train control, and (4) other federal policies and programs to promote high-speed rail corridor planning and implementation.
TRB has convened a committee to assess federal HSGT R&D, consisting of eleven individuals with expertise in HSGT propulsion technologies, vehicle design, infrastructure design, train control, system concepts and safety, operations and maintenance, R&D administration, planning and travel demand, and public policy/state programs.
Status: The committee held its fourth meeting on March 13-14, 1997, in Washington, D.C. At this meeting the committee discussed FRA's safety regulatory process and philosophy with representatives of the FRA Office of Safety and reviewed the proposed FY98 HSGT R&D budget to determine its relevance to the constituents' needs, as identified in the last letter report. A third letter report was submitted by May 15, 1997.
The committee will hold its fifth meeting on October 27, 1997, in Washington, D.C. At this meeting, through discussions with FRA staff and several representatives of the R&D programs' constituents, the committee will review the status of ongoing projects in order to answer three questions. Specifically, the committee will seek to determine whether the projects are likely to yield good research results, whether the results will be used, and what the prospects are for deployment of the technology by states and/or private industry. A fourth letter report will be submitted to FRA and the relevant congressional committees by December 31, 1997.