After a year of turbulence for rail projects worldwide, 2012 has kicked off with a welcome flurry of activity and progress around the global development of high speed rail. Looking at some of the biggest and most influential projects in the pipeline at the moment, if January is anything to go by, 2012 could be shaping up to be a pivotal year for high speed rail.
On January 7th a government-commissioned report gave the clearest indication yet that the proposed £32 billion high speed line that will connect Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham to London will go ahead. The report by the British Chamber of Commerce stated that “our railways are running out of capacity, we don’t have enough capacity for passengers or growth” and dismissed alternatives such as improving the existing line, running longer trains and having fewer first-class carriages, as insufficient to meeting growing demand. The official decision to start work on the £17 billion first stage of the project was announced three days later. Concessions to the anti-high speed lobby, such as building a 500 metre tunnel to minimise the damage to the Chilterns countryside, are already being discussed. Considering the heated debate that has dominated the high speed discussion the UK throughout 2011, this constitutes a brave and significant step forward in bringing the UK’s high speed capability, which currently stands at just 70 miles of track, more in line with Europe and the rest of the world.
Whilst France and Germany have traditionally led the way in investment in high speed rail, the beginning of 2012 sees Italian operator NTV spending a total of 1.5 billion euros on 25 new “Italo” trains. Unveiled in December 2011 by Ferrari head Luca di Montezemolo, the Italos feature an on-board cinema, WiFi throughout, panoramic windows, leather seats and carriages that are wider than the classic French TGV trains. The trains, which are due to start operating in March, will eventually make 51 connections a day, travelling more than 12.3 million kilometres per year. The service will connect seven of the major Italian cities: Bologna, Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome, Salerno and Turin. These trains constitute an exciting development for high speed, as their increased speed, comfort and modernity prove that the high speed rail experience as envisaged in our website (link) is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
January 4th saw US Transportation Secretary, Ray La Hood, award $186 million to the Illinois Department of Transportation to continue construction of a high speed line connecting St Louis to Chicago. Specifically, the money will be used for work on the extension to Joliet which will begin this spring. Trains traveling at 110 mph on the 284-mile Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor could debut between Dwight and Pontiac as early as this year, state officials have said. With the proposed high speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles plagued by controversy over the potential cost to the taxpayer, it is promising to see the US government supporting this project with such a substantial investment.
2011 was something of a dark year for high speed rail in Brazil, after the planned high speed rail project to connect the country’s two largest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo was postponed due to a lack of bids from interested construction contractors. However, demonstrating their dedication to seeing the project materialize ahead of the 2016 Olympics, in late December 2011 the government announced the completion of the new invitation to bids. This was filed on 10th January 2012 and the publication of the final document is expected in March. Although there is still no date set for the new bidding session, the government insists that construction will begin in 2013. One of the proposals for the trains put to the government by Italplan Engineering Environment & Transport Srl envisages operations starting as early as 2015. To deliver this ambitious project in time for the Olympic Games would be an invaluable boost to the reputation of high speed worldwide.