Game Changer for Regional Rail!

What the FRA does, Transport Canada will soon follow.

This news is of great importance to Metro and Victoria’s metro regions, bringing in a transit option that Rail for the Valley has been championing for many years.

Proven European technology combined with proven European transit philosophy (which will come with the technology), just may make huge improvements for better and affordable transit options in North American cities.

 

Feds Clear the Way for Euro-style Trains in the US

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Stadler 2/6 DMU in AustinStadler 2/6 DMU in Austin. Flikr user Paul Kimo McGregor.

New regulations from the Federal Railroad Administration could open up exciting new options for passenger rail in the Northwest.   These updates have been in the pipeline for some time now and are finally ready for public review.

The first of the new rules creates a new “Tier III” for high-speed passenger rail. Tier I covers speeds up to 125mph (i.e. Amtrak Cascades, Sounder), Tier II goes up to 160mph, and the new Tier III (220mph) relates to true high-speed trains such as we might some day see in California.

The second and more interesting rule change provides an alternative crash safety standard for Tier I (and only Tier I) trains, for tracks that are shared between passenger and freight rail.  Streetsblog has a good summary:

The FRA expects the new rules will enable railroads to use trains that are safer, more energy efficient, and cheaper to operate. The rules will allow American passenger train operators to purchase rolling stock designed to European safety standards (but not Japanese standards), without going through an expensive waiver process.

“It was an obstacle for all foreign railway manufacturers to bring any state-of-the-art trains into the country,” said Alois Starlinger, a board member for the Swiss train maker Stadler Rail.

Building trains to unusual U.S. safety standards for the small American passenger rail market made rolling stock purchases needlessly expensive. Opening the door to standardized European train specifications will significantly lower prices.

Running cheaper, lighter Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains on existing freight rail tracks could open up some more options for passenger rail.  As our own Bruce Nourish explained when the regs were first announced:

To get a sense of the economic and environmental cost of America’s overbuilt trains, let’s look at a simple number, the weight of the trains, taking Sounder North as an example. To a first order approximation, the environmental and economic cost of building and operating a vehicle (of a certain type of fuel) is proportional to the amount of metal that goes into it. A three-car Sounder North train weighs about 240 metric tons (50 t carriages, 120 t locomotive), while the Stadler 2/8 weighs 79 metric tons. So, roughly speaking, we could comfortably move Sounder North’s passenger load with a third of the fuel and materials we use today. This would do much to bring down Sounder North’s painfully high cost per boarding; to boot, a DMU train would almost certainly accelerate faster, ride more smoothly, and be quieter to the neighbors. DMUs on this line could be a huge win.

Comments

One Response to “Game Changer for Regional Rail!”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Technically Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate is already there, since they are allowing Toronto’s Smart Track Surface Subway Line to share its ROW with multiple busy GO Train Lines. This means subway or metro weighted vehicles, which are relatively speaking very light weight vehicles compared to full scale mainline railway vehicles, will be sharing track space with standard heavy weight commuter passenger rail equipment with a planned combined peak hour service frequency of 5-7 minutes. However, it is nice that the PTB’s want and desire a real change.

    My American spies were telling me though, when it comes to lowering the Tier 1 FRA weight/crash safety regulations down to European standards, it is really about jobs and orderable products. There are very few American made light DMU or EMU designs on the market and the ones that exist are all at the heavier end of the weight scale and are relatively speaking, very inefficient when it comes to the amount of energy used. Not to mention the companies in question have had several quality control problems and really can’t produce these products on a very large scale, yet. This means transit agencies have to order foreign made designs in most cases and like the article says, must go through an expensive waiver process. Ottawa’s Trillium Line (the original O-Train Line) which ran the Bombardier built but European weight standard BR643 Talent DMU’s and is currently running Alstom Cordia Lint 41 DMU’s also went through a very long process similar to this, especially with the Lint 41′s. The change in this ruling will let foreign owned companies like Bombardier, Alstom and Siemens, which have many great light EMU/DMU designs and already operate factories in the USA, which actually employ Americans with great paying jobs, build and sell those products in the USA. Thus actually encouraging sales on a much greater scale than they have been currently allowed too because of the old crash regulations.

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