3.12.07

CONTEMPLATING SPEED. I purchased a recent print edition of Popular Mechanics to read, once again, about supertrains. There's the usual heavy breathing about magnetic levitation and high speed electric trains.




There's also contemplation of accelerated diesel train service, where the hypothetical is a 400 mile trip, which the magazine treats as the equivalent of Baltimore to Boston, with a running time of 7 hours 5 minutes, which works out to 425 minutes.

Time, once again, for a look at the June 1954 Official Guide. We begin tonight's lesson on page 987 with the Afternoon Hiawatha leaving St. Paul at 1 pm, reaching LaCrosse (129 miles) at 2.58 pm, after a four minute stop reaching New Lisbon (189 miles) at 3.52 pm to board passengers from Up North, Milwaukee (325 miles) at 5.50 pm and Chicago (410 miles) at 7.15 pm. That's 375 minutes inclusive of stops, and that's not the fastest timing for the service.

(It pains me to contrast the Olympian Hiawatha listed on the same page with today's Empire Builder. Olympian off St. Paul 7.10 am, Winona 8.40, LaCrosse 9.15, Tomah 9.51, Portage 10.42, Milwaukee 12.20 pm, Chicago 1.45. Builder off Midway Station 7.50 am, Winona 10.11, LaCrosse 10.47, Tomah 11.28, Portage 12.27 pm, Milwaukee 2.07, Chicago 3.55 including a 30 minute recovery margin Glenview-Chicago.)

Or perhaps the Afternoon Zephyr listed at page 1030 is better suited to a business trip. Leave St. Paul at 4 pm, reaching LaCrosse (130 miles) at 5.48, Savanna (282 miles) at 8.02, and Chicago (427 miles) at 10.15 pm. (There's a weekday Acela Express off Baltimore at 4.30 into New York (185 miles) at 6.45, departing at 7 and into Boston (416 miles) at 10.35. The Acela achieves speeds of 150 mph on some stretches of track in rural Rhode Island and Massachusetts but has to take it easy on the curvy tracks in Connecticut. Elsewhere in the country, are souped up electric trains really necessary to achieve such running times? Not in my experience.)

Our Madison readers might be interested in the Twin Cities - Dakota 400 listing on page 814. Leave St. Paul at 12.30 pm, change at Wyeville (162 miles) at 3.07 pm and arrive Madison (255 miles) at 5.10 pm. The Wyeville to Madison portion is a twisty railroad through the driftless area (great bike trail potential ...) and some very scenic country but the scheduled time is still 280 minutes for the 255 miles, and there's some very fast running between Eau Claire and Wyeville.

Popular Mechanics notes,
Building high-speed train routes in the U.S. would not be easy or cheap. Almost every proposed route faces some sort of political fight, and, depending on who you ask and what technology you’re considering, the cost per mile of high-speed rail is anywhere from $5 million to $100 million. However, more and more transportation engineers and city planners are starting to see high-speed rail as the only rational way to ease the strain that booming populations are placing on their already overwhelmed infrastructure.
I submit that faster trains, in much of the country, are possible at much lower outlays than those feared.

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