2001 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Telephone: (202) 334-2934
March 27, 1996
Ms. Jolene M. Molitoris
Federal Railroad Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Ms. Molitoris:
At the request of the House and Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Research Council (NRC) has convened the Committee for an Assessment of Federal High-Speed Ground Transportation Research and Development. This committee held its first meeting in Washington, D.C. on February 20-21, 1996. The enclosed committee roster indicates the members who attended this meeting.
As is standard policy for NRC committees, the members of this committee met in Executive Session to discuss the composition and balance of the committee and to discuss any potential or perceived conflicts of interest that might exist. The committee has agreed to abide by TRB policies to deal with conflicts of interest that may arise in the bidding for or winning of FRA contracts by firms with which members are associated. In the interest of full disclosure, we note that FRA funds a research program from its high-speed ground transportation (HSGT) R&D program that TRB manages on FRA's behalf. The total funding TRB manages is $500,000 in 1996, which represents 1.5 percent of the HSGT R&D expenditures. The funds are used to encourage researchers to develop potential innovations in train control and risk reduction at grade crossings. TRB has established policies and procedures to ensure that this committee can evaluate the HSGT R&D program independent of any impact its evaluation might have on TRB or the NRC.*
The charge to the committee as described in the Congressional subcommittee reports consists of three major tasks: (1) assessing the high-speed ground transportation (HSGT) R&D program (both this initial assessment and periodic reviews), (2) evaluating alternative research management structures, and (3) assessing (a) whether specific R&D projects will yield useful research results and (b) the prospects for state and/or private deployment.
The agenda for this meeting was structured to provide the committee with sufficient details, associated with task (1), on the ongoing HSGT R&D program to "... assess the content, inter- relationship of individual projects, management structure, and direction of FRA's activities. The intent of this assessment is to determine whether these activities make up a coherent, well- managed whole, and whether the proposed fiscal year 1997 projects are logical extensions of these efforts." (As requested in the Transportation Appropriations Conference Report.) On behalf of the committee, I want to thank James McQueen, Steven Ditmeyer, Robert McCown, and the other R&D staff for their cooperative spirit and significant contributions to this effort in providing extensive materials in advance of the meeting and presentations and information during the course of the meeting on the HSGT R&D and the Next Generation HSR programs (NGHSR). Also we thank Arrigo Mongini and others for their presentations on the development of the Commercial Feasibility Study (CFS) and the National HSGT Policy, and for discussing how these may relate to future R&D directions. The provision of information on the relevant research programs and activities enabled the committee to complete its first task with the submission of this letter report. Following the FRA briefings, the committee met in executive session, during which the contents of this report were deliberated.
ASSESSMENT OF ONGOING R&D PROGRAMS
In response to the Congressional request, the committee finds that, in general, the content of the R&D program is important and relevant to the needs of its potential customers as detailed below. The committee also finds that the organization and management are satisfactory with respect to the present stage of the effort. It is important to bear in mind that the Next Generation High Speed Rail program, which represents the bulk of FRA's R&D program, is a new effort. The FY 1996 projects represent only the second year of this program. The committee expects that--should Congressional support for the effort continue--the entire R&D program will continue to evolve in terms of both depth and complexity. The committee's more detailed comments on each element of task (1) follow.
The committee views FRA's "incremental approach" to the implementation of high-speed rail (HSR) technology as appropriate, given the limited resources available for deployment of full-scale, advanced technology systems. This direction is consistent with the findings of In Pursuit of Speed: New Options for Intercity Passenger Transport (TRB Special Report 233, published in 1991) and the preliminary results of the CFS. FRA's approach recognizes that successful introduction of high-speed rail in many U.S. corridors will depend upon building up of markets over time with the incremental deployment of advanced technologies to minimize cost. One of the most substantial cost savings can be realized through the shared use of existing rail lines, so the term "incremental" has come to connote mixed freight and passenger operations.
The program content includes three key elements of an incremental, lower-cost approach. These three elements are (a) non-electric locomotives, (b) advanced train control technologies, and (c) grade crossing hazard elimination. Successful development of technologies for each of these elements would make possible cost reductions that would increase the feasibility of introducing high-speed passenger rail. Non-electric locomotives would avoid the high cost of electrifying lines. Advanced train control technologies, some of which rely upon radio communication between vehicles and a control center, could be less expensive than existing systems and potentially more effective. The stated program goal of grade crossing hazard elimination could reduce the need for costly grade separations but may be technically difficult to attain and may not result in cost savings. In fact, individual research projects are now defined in terms of hazard reduction or acceptable levels of risk.
Although an incremental strategy makes a good deal of sense, there are substantial technological challenges to be overcome in each of these areas. Detailed studies of recent railroad accidents may identify the need for additional safety measures that would be applicable to the introduction of high speed railroad operations.
Interrelationship of Program Components
Incremental high-speed rail depends on the development of the key program elements (non-electric locomotives, advanced train control technologies, and grade crossing hazard reduction); all three are interdependent and must support each other. At this stage in the program, individual elements appear to be sufficiently integrated. Following the meeting, to better understand the interrelationships among ongoing projects, the committee asked FRA for an additional categorization of ongoing projects to fit a suggested framework relating research to existing barriers to the implementation of HSGT. (The details of the framework are included under "Future Committee Work Plan".) That material has been provided (copy enclosed) and will be useful to the committee in its future assessments of the programs.
FRA's R&D management is housed within a single office (under the Associate Administrator for Railroad Development), which, in turn, is composed of three divisions. The divisions are Track Research, Equipment and Operating Practices Research, and Technology Development and Deployment Programs. NGHSR and HSR research is spread over the three divisions, two of which also have responsibility for the conventional track and equipment R&D activities. The FRA staff are working to establish a functional management structure across funding and programmatic categories. As the program unfolds, tight integration and coordination of the key elements of the R&D program will be critical. The committee believes that the R&D management structure needs to evolve with the program, and expects that it will do so. We will review any related changes in management structure as an element of our periodic assessments of the research program.
There is also the related issue of how the R&D activities are integrated with FRA's safety functions (under the Associate Administrator for Safety). R&D and Safety have always had close ties, which are even more important to assure that high-speed railroad operations will achieve the highest degree of safety. The committee amplifies this point under "Future Committee Work Plan".
Assessment of FY'97 R&D Plans
At the time of the meeting, the Administration's budget had not been announced, and FRA staff were not at liberty to discuss the proposed FY'97 program in detail. The committee's understanding is that most of the program is a continuation of existing projects. This appears to be appropriate. At a future meeting, the committee looks forward to receiving more detail about the FY 1997 program, along with a management plan that lays out decision paths indicating critical junctures where decisions must be made about whether individual projects should be continued, redirected, or dropped.
In order to prepare this first letter report, the committee has received considerable written detail about the HSGT R&D program and was provided with extensive briefings by FRA staff, but it has had relatively little time to absorb this detail. These assessments represent the committee's initial views about the overall scope and management of the program and may change as this project progresses. The committee's understanding about the individual elements of the program will become deeper and broader over the course of this project as we undertake periodic program assessments and respond to the other two major questions that we have been asked to address.
FUTURE COMMITTEE WORK PLAN
In its initial deliberations, the committee identified a number of issues regarding the potential introduction of high-speed passenger rail in the United States. The consideration of these issues by the committee and FRA establishes an overall framework for our future work. In brief, these issues can be categorized as articulating a vision of how HSGT should fit into intermodal passenger transportation 20 to 30 years into the future, designing a strategy to achieve that vision, and developing a research plan that will help the strategy unfold successfully. Although the committee recognizes the difficulty in laying out a coherent, long-term strategy and research plan in an uncertain, year-to-year funding environment, we anticipate FRA's specifying a vision and strategy as important elements in developing an effective research program, viewing HSR as a system.
Vision of Future Role of HSGT
The committee believes that high-speed rail has a role in the nation's future intermodal transportation system. If one looks two or three decades into the future, high-speed passenger rail could be important, certainly in selected corridors. Highway and air passenger travel are likely to double over this period, if past trends continue. (Of course, we recognize the possibility of countervailing trends, such as people moving out of cities to more rural areas, which could reduce the attractiveness of high-speed passenger rail.) This could result in substantial congestion, particularly in corridors already approaching saturation in peak periods. HSGT could help relieve this congestion. Although it is not clear whether HSGT can recover its operating costs from farebox revenues, public investments would be socially beneficial to the extent that they reduce the external costs of other modes (TRB Special Report 233).
Taking that view of social benefits, the state of Florida has recently selected a group of transportation and construction firms to develop electrified, HSR service in a new, dedicated right-of-way connecting Miami, Orlando and Tampa. The state has committed $70 million a year for 30 years for this project, as an alternative to investment in congested highways and airports. This example highlights the limitations of the current incremental approach, which for a variety of reasons may not be an appropriate option in every corridor. In addition to the strategy for future R&D for incremental HSR as discussed below, R&D efforts may be needed to support and help to facilitate development of advanced (non-incremental) HSR systems, such as Florida is planning.
Achieving a vision of the future role of HSGT requires overcoming various barriers. The committee has identified five classes of barriers, each of which has a substantial technological component that should be addressed in an R&D program. The committee has begun to compare the current FRA R&D program to these categories; identification of gaps will help identify priorities for the future. The barriers identified by the committee are
Integration of Passenger and Freight Traffic
FRA's incremental strategy relies upon the mixed use of existing freight corridors, raising issues about safety and capacity. Freight railroads--owners of the tracks--are concerned about both liability concerns related to safety risks and the reduction in their increasingly strained capacity
as shippers demand faster and more reliable service. In fact, many freight railroads believe that in most instances intermixing of freight and HSR on the same tracks is impractical. The committee has identified gaps in the current R&D program related to mixed freight/HSR passenger operations, which will be addressed in future committee deliberations:
Safety Regulatory Considerations
Current obstacles to HSR implementation include a lack of safety standards for HSR, lack of accredited safety assessment methodologies for some of the new technologies supporting HSR (control systems, in particular), and, in some instances, a lack of technology able to meet regulatory requirements that are established. The lack of safety standards, specifically, makes investment--either public or private--in "non-standard" equipment highly risky, because subsequent standards might require expensive retrofits.
The committee wants to better understand the relationship between the Office of R&D and the Office of Safety in terms of the proper sequencing of R&D work and the safety regulation process and the possible contributions of R&D to safety regulation methodology. Without the necessary R&D groundwork in place, delay in the regulatory process in turn causes delays in implementation of new technology. This is an issue that goes beyond R&D for trains and infrastructure. HSR may well need a performance-based regulatory approach to assure new product acceptance. If movement toward HSR begins to gather momentum, a broader R&D strategy will be required.
Community and Environmental Impacts
Recent attempts to improve existing rail passenger facilities and proposed HSR developments have aroused opposition on the grounds of both community and environmental impacts. R&D is needed to find methods for ameliorating impacts such as noise and visual intrusion. Current R&D projects that involve improved aerodynamic design of locomotives, noise assessments, and electromagnetic field assessments may all be helpful in this regard. Community opposition also frequently focuses on traffic disruptions and hazards created by rail-highway grade crossings.
FRA considers the states and Amtrak to be the major "customers" of the R&D program output. With limited funding available to the states and to Amtrak, a major impediment to incremental HSR is implementation cost. The major cost components are capital costs associated with the adaptation of technology and acquisition of non-electric locomotives, signal systems, and grade crossing protection vs. grade separation, and operating and maintenance costs, including the implications of higher maintenance costs for mixed-use freight lines, or not using freight lines at all. Many ongoing R&D projects address implementation cost issues.
Performance of Non-electric Propulsion
Finally, to date, the performance of non-electric locomotives has not been adequate for incremental higher-speed passenger services. There is a gap in current R&D efforts between non-electric locomotives that can sustain speeds up to 110 mph and the stated goal of implementing services up to 150 mph in some corridors. At present, FRA's efforts on incremental improvements of non-electric locomotives are limited to upgrading New York's turboliner train and some longer-range efforts to develop a locomotive flywheel for improved acceleration using energy storage, but not for increased maximum speed. Development of a higher-speed diesel locomotive was pursued during the 1970s in England, and systems were produced capable of speeds of up to 125 mph. These trains are still in use on many non-electrified mainlines. Turbine systems and high-speed diesel technology, however, may have application in the United States, and it may be cost-effective to pursue these designs.
It is important to recognize that development of higher-speed fossil fuel (gas turbine and high-speed diesel) locomotive technology is a high-cost enterprise, probably requiring tens of millions of dollars of investment. FRA's resources for this area are quite limited by comparison. Incentives necessary to attract private investment in such development cost include assurance of feasible economic returns within an acceptable period of time and a sufficient market to recover the development costs. Among other things, this suggests the possibility of developing a consensus about a common design that could serve a number of markets and generate sufficient demand.
In addition to the elements of the research program outlined above, the committee will also be considering several fundamental questions as we continue to evaluate the program. Briefly, these questions are as follows:
To what extent can the program's resources be leveraged by other sources, private or public?
Is the research customer perspective remaining foremost in the direction of the program, i.e., can the states and Amtrak be assured that the research results will aid their deployment of the technology?
And the related question, will the findings of the Commercial Feasibility Study continue to be considered at the related decision points in the research program development?
As the R&D program evolves, effective outreach will be needed to understand and engage the other important parties in HSR incremental developments: state transportation agencies (the most likely developers); freight railroads (the owners of many joint facilities); commuter railroads (users of similar equipment and joint facilities in some cases); and railroad equipment manufacturers and suppliers. As the committee begins deliberations about alternative management structures for R&D, it will invite input from all these parties. The committee anticipates inviting representatives from each of these groups to participate in discussions at its next meeting. One idea that the committee will be discussing further (related to comments under Performance of Non-electric Propulsion above) is that reduced implementation costs might result from cooperative efforts to develop generic equipment, e.g. non-electric locomotives that could be used in various corridors. By engaging the potential market (states and possibly commuter rail agencies) with manufacturers, a new approach to R&D might be to provide some federal funding for development through a cooperative effort.
The committee hopes that this initial assessment of the ongoing HSGT R&D activities is useful. We look forward to continued discussions of this important research program.
Joseph M. Sussman
Chair, Committee for An Assessment of Federal HSGT R&D
* The Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) Program for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) includes a component that supports projects on ITS applications for the development and deployment of advanced rail system technologies, including high-speed rail systems. Funding is provided by FRA at the level of about $500,000 annually. The program is administered by the Special Programs Division of TRB. IDEA investigations explore the feasibility of innovative and unproven new concepts or evaluate novel applications of advanced technologies from defense or industry to ITS practice. An IDEA award is a pass-through of funds to provide one-step, short-term support.
*Dr. Joseph M. Sussman
JR East Professor and Professor
of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 1-163
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
**Mr. Roy A. Allen
Research and Test Department
Association of American Railroads
50 F Street, N.W., Suite 4900
Washington, D.C. 20001
FAX: (202) 639-2285
*Mr. John G. Bell
High Speed Trainsets
National Railroad Passenger Corp.
100 N. 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
FAX: (215) 496-9451/9232
*Dr. Alan J. Bing
Arthur D. Little, Inc
25 Acorn Drive, Acorn Park
Cambridge, MA 02140-2390
*Mr. Alan G. Dustin
4 Hickory Lane
Kensington, NH 03827
FAX: (603) 772-7944
*Dr. Tony R. Eastham
University Research Policy Branch
235 Queen Street, 8th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1A OH5
FAXZ: (613) 941-2184
*Dr. Raymond H. Ellis
Transportation Consulting Practice
KPMG Peat Marwick
8200 Greensboro Drive #400
McLean, VA 22102-3803
FAX: (703) 556-0195
*Mr. Nazih K. Haddad
Administrator, Systems Development
High Speed Rail Program
605 Suwannee Street
Tallahassee, FL 32312
FAX: (904) 922-4942
*Dr. William J. Harris, Jr.
E.B. Snead Professor of Transportation
1200 N. Nash Street, No. 1140
Arlington, VA 22205
(409) 845-3635/(202) 334-1577
*Mr. Warren D. Weber
Rail Program Manager, MS-74
California Department of
1130 K Street, 4th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
FAX: (916) 327-6009
*Mr. William Weinstein
Principal Member of the
The Charles Stark Draper
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 258-2227/(703) 243-2600
FAX: (703) 522-5916
*Mr. Steven R. Ditmeyer
Office of Research & Development,
Federal Railroad Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
FAX: (202) 632-3854
Attendance at first committee meeting:
*attended Feb. 20 & 21, 1996
** attended Feb. 21, 1996, only