We were intrigued by an article by Scott Beyer that was published on the Catalyst website providing insight into the possibilities of high-speed freight rail. In this posting, we will attempt to provide a summary of the key information in that article. Here in North America, the article points to the upper limit of current American rolling stock is only 70 mph. I bet many industries find that hard to believe cars even go that fast when they wait for their railcars to reach their destination and the empty cars returned. Even in the world of passenger shipments, which almost always run on separate track systems, there is a limited amount of truly high-speed rail buildout. To actually put high-speed rail in place for freight shipments would take a tremendous investment in tracks, electrification, controls, rolling stock, and training.
But, other nations are already adopting high-speed freight rail. The article speaks of a report that China has a new line reaching over 200 mph for freight movement. For China, the driver appears to be the rapid rise of online shopping and the need to transport goods across distances in a short period of time.
But three years ago the Italian freight carrier Mercitalia introduced a fast freight service between southern and northern Italy, reaching speeds somewhat higher than China’s new line. And that line is in service.
So, while it has been shown that high-speed freight rail can make business sense and is technically achievable; we are a long way from seeing it in North America given the investment necessary to bring it into reality. But it is a nice goal to consider; and if it were to be implemented even on a limited long-haul basis, one could see the attraction of using this approach for some commodities. Such a system would be very appealing and may replace many truckloads on our highways.
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