Friday, August 20, 2010

FRA rethinking guidance for HrSR corridors

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In a press conference this morning to provide an update on the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program, FRA Administrator Joe Szabo (pictured) said the agency has “pulled back” the stakeholder guidance it has issued for shared-use freight rail/HrSR (higher speed rail) corridors for reconsideration.

amtrak_ceo_appears_transpor.jpgThe freight railroads, represented by the Association of American Railroads, have found some of the terms and conditions in the original stakeholder guidance unacceptable, specifically those related to service reliability of passenger trains. Szabo said the FRA “did not have an appropriate level of dialogue and vetting” with the freight rail industry prior to releasing the guidance. This led to “some extreme interpretations” of the language. FRA, he said, is now redrafting the guidance, and is engaging in “constructive dialogue” with the AAR. Szabo pledged an appropriate “review and vetting process.”

Szabo took pains to explain the FRA’s “core principles” for HrSR. Among these are preserving and improving America’s “world class” freight rail system; achieving a balance that protects both public and private interests, addressing the needs of both; and ensuring that “quantifiable performance objectives” are achieved and maintained.

Noting that 53% of the nation’s rail capacity has been removed since 1960, Szabo recommended that freight and passenger interests work closely together  and utilize such tools as computer modeling to develop “appropriate capacity” and “ensure mutual cooperation.”