2018 brings on a new era of train systems thanks to rail projects worldwide.
Railway projects haven’t seen a boost since the turn of the 19th century. When you picture trains and railways in the United States, you might think of the old “Wild West,” the Transcontinental Railroad, or even the decline in use of Amtrak and other passenger rail lines.
However, a new dawn in railroad construction has arrived. What was once seen as an opportunity to bring technological advancements and economic growth to small rural mining towns has now turned into an opportunity to mitigate issues caused by overpopulation.
Cities are now looking to trains, metros, and other rail systems to try to eliminate traffic congestion, decrease their carbon footprint, and streamline travel between many large cities and their surrounding suburban sprawls.
In fact, the increased need to improve roads and expand lanes is a major concern among civil engineers in America.
“Conventional approaches to solving the nation’s congestion problem have been to build new infrastructure such as additional lanes, additional alternate routes, and modifications to existing interchanges,” revealed a release from Ohio University. “However, these are becoming less feasible mainly due to the overall cost of expanding highways and the difficulty in acquiring right-of-way.”
This is where the railways of the future come in: providing an alternate form of travel to alleviate congestion and create a fluid commuting system. One study with the American Society of Civil Engineers found that more than two of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014.
Imagine how much money, time, and fuel could be saved if America—and other countries—made the switch from cars to commuter trains.
But the growth in interest around railways isn’t just happening on American soil. All around the world, 2017 has been a pivotal year for railroad construction: from Australia to the U.K., Kuala Lumpur to Saudi Arabia, and even Kenya.
Although the reasons vary from country to country, a common theme is focused on the ever-growing population of major cities and the subsequent chance to expand and improve trade and the economy.
Let’s dive into all the major projects that have highlighted this past year, and see what the future has in store for railways around the world.
U.S.: New East Coast and West Coast Lines
The construction of new railway projects might be rare in the United States, but it is happening. Primarily, the American railroad industry staple, Amtrak, is leading the way in terms of new construction and revamping old lines.
One of the most prominent new projects is the New York to New Jersey line, or the Gateway Program, a $24 billion undertaking that will build new lines and repair or replace existing ones along the Northeast Corridor Line.
The project was initially started in 2017 with Gov. Chris Christie presiding over the reconstruction of the 110-year-old Portal North swing bridge. Next, Amtrak hopes to repair damage done to the Hudson River dual-tunnel, which suffered tremendously during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The construction of this new Gateway Program will take place over a couple of phases, dependent on how funding is provided. Currently, half of the overall funding was approved by the Obama administration to be covered by the federal government, prior to the previous president leaving office.
However the current president, Mr. Trump, could fall through on that promise, leaving Amtrak with limited options. If federal funding does fall through, Amtrak will look to private financing options.
The West Coast is also investing in Amtrak rail systems, as well as creating a handful of new railway projects. However, it is also plagued with issues.
Northwest, in the Seattle and Portland area, the latest Amtrak system was scheduled to launch in December of 2017, but was derailed near Dupont, WA, on its inaugural trip from the Tacoma station. The project was meant to reroute trains away from heavily congested routes, providing a more direct line for commuters between the Seattle and Portland areas.
California also has a plan in the works for a new system that will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the project has been plagued with financial issues, causing the construction to fall eight years behind schedule.
The system, which will be a high-speed rail bullet train, is also facing challenges from the local government and must comply with environmental regulations set by the state before they can begin construction.
The past few years have been rough for train construction in the United States, but hopefully all that will change when new systems can be put in place and states begin investing in alternatives to traditional automobile travel to offset congestion and pollution.
Saudi Arabia: The North-South Railway
One of the world’s most ambitious railway projects is where you might least expect it.
In Saudi Arabia, the government is investing heavily in railway infrastructure that works for its people, and their latest endeavor to near completion is the North-South Railway.
The line is a 2,400-kilometer (about 1,490-mile) passenger and freight rail originating in the capital city Riyadh and connecting to Al Haditha, near the border of Jordan. Although the project initially planned to open in 2010, the system faced a few financial setbacks. However, the Saudi Railway Company has gradually opened new stations along the route and is hoping to complete the remaining stations for passenger use by the end of 2018.
The train itself is impressive and can withstand speeds of up to 200 kph (about 125 mph). It also utilizes a European Train Control System (ETCS), and is expected to carry over two million passengers a year.
Kenya: The Standard Gauge Railway
Another impressive railway project is happening in Kenya, between the capital of Nairobi and Mombasa, one of East Africa’s biggest port cities. With the help of some Chinese investors (the China Communication Construction Company, or CCCC), Kenya was able to finalize and open this first stage of their Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in December of 2017.
The second stage will extend west of the capitol and will include the second-longest train tunnel in Africa: the three-part, 7.14-kilometer (4.4-mile) Em-Bulbul SGR tunnel. This second phase is expected to be completed by June 2019.
However, the SGR’s main purpose isn’t focused on transporting passengers so much as cargo. Mombasa suffers from a cargo congestion problem, and the new rail line hopes to speed along the process, eliminating delays and reducing transportation costs for incoming goods to the port city. Additionally, President Uhuru is hoping the new line will attract investors and create new employment opportunities for the local population.
UK: High Speed 2 Line
For the UK, trains are a staple for traveling between neighboring countries and through the beautiful English countryside, but new railway projects are few and far between.
The short High Speed 1 line connects London to the Channel Tunnel. However, you might be surprised to find that the British Parliament was not too keen on allowing a new, second high speed line to be constructed through the British countryside.
The High Speed 2 (HS2) line was finally approved by the House of Parliament in July 2017; construction on the first section began shortly thereafter. It had been years in the making, but the government was struggling to agree on the proposal, and residents in local areas that would be affected were rallying to get the project shut down.
Luckily, all the pieces fell into place, and phase one—building a line between London and Birmingham—has begun. The completion date for the first phase is scheduled for 2026, although Parliament has called this date “overly ambitious” for the amount of work needed.
The second phase—split into two subphases, one going to Manchester, and the other heading northeast to Leeds—is scheduled to be completed by 2033, with a small section available by 2027. The hope is that this new high-speed rail line will help alleviate congestion as the population grows and the economy continues to prosper.
Already, the UK is spending $23 billion on the massive London Crossrail Project (a new tube system for the capital city), and this new HS2 is expected to cost upwards of £56 billion ($66.18 billion USD) by the time it is finished.
Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: High-Speed Train Travel
High-speed lines are also coming to one of the richest cities in the world: Kuala Lumpur. The governments of Malaysia and Singapore have signed an agreement to build a massive high-speed rail (HSR) system between the two countries. The hope is that, once completed, traveling from Kuala Lumpur to the Singapore capital will only take 90 minutes (a trip that takes about 9 to 10 hours today).
The company behind the project, SG HSR Pte. Ltd., is hoping to complete the massive rail line by 2026. The line was first proposed in the late 1990s, but was shelved due to the high cost. The idea which was reintroduced in 2010, was agreed upon by the Prime Ministers of both countries, and the initial plan was finalized in 2014.
The final estimated cost has come to about $43 billion Malaysian ringgit (about $10.5 billion USD) and will consist of 350 km of brand new track, with eight stations dedicated to the high-speed train. The train itself is expected to reach up to 300 kph, or about 186 mph.
Already, SG HSR has acquired the land necessary for building their tracks, including a country club which has been ordered to vacate the area by July 2018. This line will require extensive work, including a brand new 25-metre-high bridge and multiple tunnels, but will ultimately be a massive boost to both countries’ economies.
Australia: The Melbourne Metro Tunnel
Melbourne, Australia, might already have a current commuter system in place, but a new railway project is in the works that could take about eight years to complete: the Melbourne Metro Tunnel. According to the official government site, the Melbourne Metro Tunnel will add five new stops and two city stations to the current metro system, and is estimated to be completed by 2026.
The work that will be performed on these tunnels is going to be extensive. Tunnel boring machines (TBM) will arrive in Melbourne in 2019 and are expected to excavate “34 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of soil and rock from beneath the city.”
The project will burrow through roughly 9 kilometers (about 5.6 miles) of various clay, rock, and dirt, creating twin tunnels that will underpass the nearby Yarra River, as well as a large section of the downtown area and other tunnel lines. Certain areas will be over 11 stories deep, and the estimated price tag is just over $11 billion Australian dollars ($8.43 billion in USD).
The project is hoping to be started by the middle of 2018, as a few final details and contracts are still waiting for approval. The new metro is being created in anticipation of the population increase expected for Melbourne in the coming years (some estimate it will double by 2050). Particular lines are already operating at a high capacity, and the new tunnel is expected to alleviate anywhere from 15-71 percent of the pedestrian traffic during peak hours on various lines around the city.
The Future of Railway Projects
Trains were once seen as an invention of the past, but with the proposed railway projects last year, they could see a resurgence around the world. Trains can bring many countries into the future, helping them adjust to growing populations and providing them with a massive economic boost.
However, it also highlights the ever constant need for workers within skilled trades such as construction, welding, and machinery. As the populations across the world grows, skilled trade workers, engineers, and city planners will be needed to help create an infrastructure that can last for years to come.