Monday, May 23, 2011

Increasing the revenue potential of HSR

While the focus of high speed rail is on passenger movement (with only the TGV La Poste providing freight movement amongst all the world's high speed rail lines), the potential for freight traffic should not be overlooked as well. Not only does the diversion of freight from road to rail relieve congestion, pollution, and road damage, but rail freight is also a valuable source of revenue, potentially exceeding that from passenger travel, which increases the viability of the rail system and enhances its ability to self-fund improvements and expansions. As a result, this particular information regarding San Diego freight traffic is particularly interesting:

How significant is the need for a larger airport in San Diego County? And what is wrong with Lindbergh, the current airport?

There is significant need for new airport capacity today, not 15 years from now. Two-thirds of San Diego’s air cargo is currently trucked up to LAX and Ontario airports. Thirty percent of our passengers go outside the county, primarily to LAX, for long-haul and international flights. Lindbergh is a lovely short-haul airport—if you want to go to the Bay Area, Las Vegas, or Sacramento.

But, at only 600-plus acres, Lindbergh is far too constrained for full long-haul, international, and air cargo service. And there are no other currently available sites in the county for a new airport. Of all possible sites, the best one remains Miramar, which is in military hands and isn’t likely to be turned into a civilian airport any time soon.

With 127,261 tons of cargo in 2010, we can see that comes out to approximately 250,000 tons of freight, in loads easily manageable by high speed rail vehicles. As the current plan envisions a stop at Ontario Airport and San Diego is proposing an intermodal hub at Lindbergh field itself, intermodal freight shipments between San Diego and Ontario Airport could prove to be a valuable service in addition to the passenger traffic along the LA-San Diego line.

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