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beeninAL

California Zephyr and High Speed Rail

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Lots of good questions there, I don't have the answers though. I would like to say I believe one of the biggest things holding back high-speed rail in the US is our antiquated regulations on train designs. For instance the high-speed trains running in Europe are not legal here in the US.

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I didn't know that Mike. Do you know what exactly it is that makes it illegal in the US??

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I will attempt to answer your questions based on my experience with riding the various Shinkasen lines in Japan along with other research that I have done.

  1. Forgetting exotic tech like Maglev, the practical limit seems to be around 300 kph or 185-190 mph. This would be for electrified EMU style trains of the most advanced type running on dedicated ROW.

  2. HSR of the type able to handle what I posted in bullet #1 need to be on dedicated track. Track conversion of existing freight lines usually results in lower speeds due to the curves in the track. The original Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto had to operate at reduced speeds between Tokyo and Yokohama due to this factor. Noise pollution was another. Most of the newer systems, such as subsequent Shankansen and european lines operate on newly built dedicated tracks. It requires a considerable national investment.

  3. HSR EMUs should not share the same tracks with freight trains.

  4. I am not sure if the USPS uses trains for mail delivery. Seems to me they either use trucks or planes.

  5. As far as viewing scenery, even at 187 mph it's not an issue. Most scenery is far enough away to enjoy at these speeds.

  6. I suggest looking for a Japanese youtube of the Tokaido line as it passes Mt. Fuji. The current state of the art Shinkansen is the N700 Series.

Video of N700. Note the older 700 series that pulls in beside it before it takes off. You can notice the immense size and power of these trains as it pulls out of the station.

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It's hard to pinpoint an exact regulation that makes them illegal, but it has mostly to do with the weight and structural integrity of the trains themselves. American railroad regulations are biased towards heavy freight trains - passenger trains must be able to withstand collisions with heavy freight trains with little structural deformation. This means that it is next to impossible to make lightweight, efficient high speed trains for the US. Acela, which is really based on European designs, had to be significantly strengthened, this added so much weight that it was impossible to make it go as fast as trains in Europe do.

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[*]I am not sure if the USPS uses trains for mail delivery. Seems to me they either use trucks or planes.

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I am not sure about USPS, but UPS does use what is referred to as TOFC (Trailer on Flat Car). Basically, some of the trailers that you see on the interstate can be dislodged from it's subframe and placed on a flat railcar two high. Many cross country packages are transported this way.

In the "postal facts" section on the USPS site, they state that they use the following methods for mail transportation:

"planes, trains, trucks, cars, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, float planes, hovercrafts, T-3s, street cars, mules, bicycles and human feet"

You can find this here: http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/postalfacts.htm

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