Essay Competition For Youth Thoughts on High Speed Rail

The American Public Transit Association (APTA)  in association with the International Association of Railways is conducting an essay competition on youth perspectives on High Speed Rail.  The winning selection of essays will be awarded prizes and an opportunity to attend the 7th World Congress on High Speed Rail to be held in Beijing in December of this year.

This competition could be an amazing opportunity for UrbanCSA members.

You can check out there website at:

You can read the entry form here (.pdf)

UIC High Speed Rail Competition

If you decide to compete, we will be glad to post your essay here on!



  1. Ted Crocker · June 1, 2010

    I feel sorry for these kids as they have no clue that their essays will be used as part of a propaganda machine promoting HSR without regard for real life concerns. Their naivete feeds perfectly into such a PR scheme. I’d like to write an essay about how HSR has been ruining my family’s life for the past year. I’d like to write an essay about what it feels like to have the equivalent of a 8-10 lane freeway rammed up the middle of a small town, causing firefighters, teachers, librarians, and police to be laid off in order to budget for protecting the town against a few powerful people who stand to become very rich. I wish that it could be different as HSR in concept sounds like a neat idea, but unfortunately those that have been mandated to build it have shown little more than lip service towards those that they will bulldoze through in order to connect stations. In the end, it comes down to money, or more accurately, a lack of money – just enough to build failures. Do you think children understand such concepts? No. And so their essays will likely reflect a child’s world.

  2. Adam Zendel · June 1, 2010

    @Ted Crocker, first this is for university students…

    High speed rail, like every other piece of the built of the built environment has winners and losers. When the Eisenhower Freeway system was built, 8-10 lanes of freeway were rammed through the middle of every town in America. When airports were built entire quadrants of cities suffered from noise and air pollution. When the first rail lines were built across the continent, native groups who called the land home for thousands of years, saw their rights be taken on mass.

    All these infrastructures have their winners and losers. Currently the dominant system of regional travel is either flying or driving. Flying we know to be both environmentally destructive, unreliable, and in light or recent security increases, time consuming. Driving is exclusionary as you need to own a car, its time consuming, expensive, environmentally destructive, and needless to say one of the leading causes of premature death in the world.

    High speed rail is not the be all end all of infrastructure, you can’t cross oceans, it is only usable to places on the network, and its still time consuming. However, HSR does answer a number of problems raised by other forms of infrastructure. It is faster then short haul flights, its much more environmentally friendly than both airplanes and cars, its faster then cars, safer than both, and the list goes on.

    The move to high speed must be justified on a cost benefit basis. The fact is North America as whole needs a better transportation system to sufficiently compete in a global market place. The alternatives to HSR rail bear the same costs. You gave the example of an 8-10 lane freeway, well that is the alternative! Given the choice between an 8-10 lane freeway or high speed rail, the answer is pretty obvious, HSR.

    In summation, I do agree with you, HSR has costs, however the costs of the alternatives are far greater.

  3. Ted Crocker · June 3, 2010

    My apologies for thinking this was aimed at a younger group. I should have read the About Us. This link came up on my Google Alert.

    I will not argue that HSR has merits given the right application. What I will argue is how it is executed, and in the case of many of the proposed HSR systems, the execution stinks on many levels, and the level of financial commitment also stinks. I caution people to enter into HSR with eyes wide open, otherwise be prepared to accept what you are handed.

    Saying we did all these terrible things before is not justification for continuing to do so. Since the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system were built, we have new laws (i.e. NEPA, CEQA) designed to protect us from such mistakes. The only thing is those trying to build such systems are often hired to circumvent the law. HSR should not be built at any cost, and by that I include not only financial, but also environmental impacts.

    BTW, trains need to be almost full in order to compete on a green house gas level if you consider their full life cycle – iron ore to construction to recycling – compared with that of autos and planes. So pay attention to projected ridership numbers, as these will determine how efficiently a system is designed. Inflated ridership numbers make for a lot of empty trains, which means we lose on the green initiative. HSR does allow for greater flexibility of power source than planes, not necessarily cars as electric and fuel cell cars come along. But, like rechargeable cars, until truly green sources of power are developed, HSR will rely primarily on coal nationwide (natural gas in California) to power the power stations that power the trains.

    Hopefully, we learned from the mistakes of the highway system about better ways to execute the design process, and since then the Fed Highway Administration has adopted Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS). How many elevated highways have been leveled and built with much better solutions since the sixties when they were heavily protested? Lots! Think of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, before and after. Cheaper doesn’t mean better in the long run.

    As you say, HSR must be justified on a cost basis. HSR is the most heavily subsidized public transit of any available. Only two sections of two HSR systems worldwide (in Japan and France) make money. In almost all cases, capital costs and interest are ignored when calculating whether or not HSR operates without subsidy.

    I know here in California the costs for freeways are touted as being roughly double that of HSR. Easy to say since we have not built or maintained a truly HSR system in the US. Our laws, regulations, unions, etc. make the cost of HSR much higher in the US. When one really starts to dig into the numbers, it becomes apparent they are more likely to be on par with each other.

    Some might ask, if given a choice, if it really is such a good solution, why not replace lanes of highways with lanes of HSR rather than forging new thoroughfares through small towns? While we’re at it, let’s make sure there is existing interconnectivity and standardized systems. Food for thought.

  4. Tom · June 4, 2010

    I would suggest a bit of a change of perspective on HSR – instead of “how much money is the system making”, why not think about HSR in terms of how many cars are removed off of the road? Or, alternatively, what sort of savings are passed on to citizens where they don’t need to pay the costs of owning and operating an automobile to get around? These things are worth subsidizing, I think.

  5. Ted Crocker · June 5, 2010

    What if the money were spent instead to install solar panels and encourage telecommuting? No risk (immedaite green return) and immediate weaning from oil dependency.

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