Bullet Trains to Zip Between Dallas and Houston
President Barack Obama and his administration have planned to allocate $8 billion toward high-speed rail projects, giving the passenger rail industry a boost. "These efforts will save money by untangling gridlock, saving lives by improving our roads, and save or create 150,000 jobs, mostly in the private sector," Obama said in a speech in April, 2009. Job creation will be among the first benefits realized by such an endeavor. With the national unemployment rate at around 10 percent, the United States could certainly use more jobs. Tony Daniels, the program director for the California High Speed Rail Authority says that construction on a new line there will begin as early as 2011. And according to a study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, high-speed rail has the potential to generate thousands of jobs at varying levels of the employment, which include planning, engineering, construction, maintenance, service and operations. "The benefits to all of us that live in America will be enormous, and it will create a tremendous amount of jobs," said Daniels. Here are five kinds of jobs that Daniels and other experts in the railway industry think will come online in the next few years, as high-speed rail breaks ground around the country.
1. Urban Planners
Before construction can begin, urban planners must work to gain clearances and contracts to place the tracks over both public and private land. This involves coordinating with public officials, business owners and residents, while possessing a clear understanding of applicable federal and state laws. For nationwide projects, urban planners will play a key role in figuring out where a network of high-speed trains will fit. The minimum education requirement for entry-level positions is a bachelor's degree, but an advanced degree is recommended.
2. Rail Engineers
In the early stages of construction, engineers will be needed to address nearly all aspects of the mechanical and electrical structure and function of a high-speed rail system. The duties of these specialists will include finding the best designs and processes for implementing entire lines of track. From the firms that provide the data on where the tracks will go to those that design the trains and the scheduling systems, these positions will be essential for carrying out the blue print of the railway. The minimum education requirement for these jobs is a bachelor's degree in engineering, but "most importantly they need to be professionally registered in the discipline," Daniels said. This is to say that engineers must work in their given discipline for several years before being officially certified for that discipline -- a process Daniels says can take up to five years.
Apart from the engineers and urban planners, architects play a vital role in designing the buildings and the stations. The architectural model shown here is the new Liege-Guillemins TGV Railway Station in Belgium, designed by Santiago Calatrava. New train station construction efforts will need to employ specialists from coast to coast. There are ten major corridors being considered for federal funding, all of which crisscross the country. The number of stations that will be built nationwide is unclear; however, Daniels says in reference to the California project that most, if not all, of the stations will be new. Architects that decide to go into this new industry will face the challenge of designing the look of the buildings and structures that will allow the trains to be boarded. "Architects in this country have designed train stations for transient light rail with hundreds of beautiful stations and will continue to do so," Daniels said.
4. Construction Crews and Engineers
The entire California corridor has an estimated cost of $40 billion, as stated in reports by the California Department of Transportation. People like Andy Kunz, CEO of the newly formed U.S. High Speed Rail Association, is convinced that to complete such a vast stretch of track will be a great under-taking. "I've heard it said that this will be the largest public works project in 50 years, and I agree with that," he said. Becky Sabin, a representative from Siemens Transportation Systems, one of the world's largest manufacturers of high-speed trains, says that many different types of specialists are needed in the process of making trains. These positions vary in degree of education and skill required, from skilled tradesmen such as welders, electricians and carpenters to project managers.
5. Operators and Maintenance Workers
After all of the construction crews, architects, planners and engineers are finished with their work, many people will be needed to maintain and operate the trains. The purposed national high-speed rail system will need a fairly large workforce, potentially thousands of jobs. The majority of these jobs are ticket agents, train engine crews, conductors, engineers, attendants and maintenance crews. Depending on the position, education requirements can vary drastically, from a high school diploma to trade school to advanced degrees in engineering. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says that it is unclear if high-speed rails will employ more or less of a workforce than that of the current numbers of passenger rail. "It's really will depend on the service design and what kind of service is offered whether it's at the level of service and amenities aboard the train will have a lot to say with what the emploment is going to be," Magliari said.
At the moment, the only high-speed train in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela, which zooms between Boston, N.Y. and Washington at eye-watering speeds of nearly 68 miles per hour. This is not wind-in-your-face eye watering, mind you; this is crying-that-it-doesn’t-go-faster eye watering.
But wipe your eyes, because high-speed rail is coming to the United States, slowly and sparsely. It is coming, though, so you might as well blow your nose, too.
The private company Texas Central Railway has announced that it wants to build a high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston, making the 240-mile journey in 90 minutes. Wall Street Journal reporter Tom Zoellner calls this distance a “sweet spot for revenue” because it’s in the 200- to 600- mile journey — just long enough to make getting on a train worth it, but not too long to drain one’s patience.
Travis Kelly, vice president of government relations for the rail company, told the Houston Business Journal that he envisions that by 2021, a fleet of trains carrying 400 to 500 passengers will make 34 round trips between Dallas and Houston each day.
They chose the Dallas-to-Houston route because not only would the line serve two large cities, but the land over which the tracks would be built is relatively flat.
“The Dallas-to-Houston market was really unique nationally in terms of the easy terrain to build it. Just 600 feet of elevation change so it keeps your construction costs low. No tunnels in our plans right now,” Kelly said. “We think it’s a really ripe market for high-speed rail.”
An environmental impact study of the proposed route is already under way, paid in full by TCR. The study will take approximately 30 months and if all goes well, construction could start in 2017.
The only other high-speed rail project in the works in the United States is in California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a 520-mile stretch of track that’s scheduled to be finished by 2029.
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