High Speed Rail Play: ABB Ltd (ABB)

By Sam Hopkins of GreenChipStocks.com
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As of June 9, 2009, the largest public works project in the U.S. is a railroad tunnel.  $8 billion in federal stimulus funds are pouring into select high-speed rail projects like the Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York City. . .

And the bucks disbursed by Washington make up just one part of a multi-billion dollar effort to update the nation’s iron highways. The train is just now leaving the station. Are you on board?

Not Just New York

The New Jersey Transit’s rail and bus lines take passengers on over 223 million trips a year. Nationally, ridership has been increasing not only on high-frequency commuter lines like NJ-NYC, but also between cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.  North Carolina’s main Amtrak route runs you from point A to point B in about the same time it takes to drive. And when gasoline prices skyrocketed in 2008, the 170-mile Raleigh-Charlotte route saw a 28% jump over 2007 ticket sales.  To commuters, rail made more and more sense with every cent unleaded ticked upward.

But what if the same route took half the time by train as it did by car— and cost less? That’s the scenario in the making across the country’s “mega-regions.”  Mega-region is a term coined by Richard Florida, a transportation researcher who created an economic geography of the U.S. based partially on how lit up different areas are on nighttime satellite images.  The most heavily populated and economically vibrant mega-region is the Boston-Washington DC corridor known to many as the Megalopolis.  Nationwide, mega-regions like the ones stretching from Chicago to Kansas City and from San Diego up to Sacramento account for 3/4 of American economic activity. Check out this Department of Transportation map to see what I mean:


High-speed rail would lessen commute times between close-together cities like Washington and Baltimore, and it would let business travelers get from Boston’s city center to the nation’s capital in under 3 hours.  Baseball fans in Baltimore know the bittersweet boost the local economy gets each year from Amtrak, as Red Sox and Yankees fans flood down for games against the Orioles. It turns out that it’s cheaper for Boston and New York natives to catch the train down and catch a game than it is to buy a ballpark seat in their hometowns!

Going Back to Cali

Some of the security hassles of air travel may be replicated as rail lines get more packed, but times to and from far-flung airports would be eliminated. What’s more, you can book a train ticket for a reasonable price at any train station and often without an attendant. There’s no comparison when it comes to the run-around. There’s also a huge savings to be had at the state level, as California makes clear.

California’s state government says a statewide high-speed rail network would eliminate the need for 5 runways and 90 boarding gates to be built by 2020, and construction crews alone would employ 160,000 workers.  By 2035, all jobs associated with expanding railway infrastructure in the Golden State could come to 450,000!  That’s in addition to saving on traffic congestion, pollution, and health care costs for citizens (3000 lane-miles of freeway would also be cut out by rail), and creating a billion dollars in revenue surplus for Sacramento, where state legislators are perennially locked in budget strife.  You know what, though? It’s right to doubt the government’s ability to get rail done right.

The ‘Big Dig’ Bogeyman

As some politicians in Washington push for an “all of the above” approach to energy that includes more oil drilling in the U.S., do they also stand behind giving Americans the best options in efficient intercity travel?  Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project became a laughing stock for time and cost overruns in a government-led project. The boondoggle even cost a life when temporary patchwork crushed a vehicle.

NJ Transit doesn’t want the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel to become “Big Dig, Part 2.” And in the southern part of the state, we’re seeing an example of how rail projects can grow from more than one root. The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) failed to get approval recently for its own diesel-fuel light-rail line towards Philadelphia’s New Jersey suburbs. DRPA couldn’t get stimulus funding because the project didn’t meet federal criteria on “ridership, cost-effectiveness, and commuter time savings.” “It’s extremely difficult to meet the marks they put down,” DRPA CEO John Matheussen told the port authority board.

How many proposals like DRPA’s from around the country get federal funding, according to the CEO? Only 2 out of every 100 projects. That leaves room for states to act more quickly, he says, which can bring a time and cost advantage as the race for regional high-speed rail heats up.  We’re tracking companies like ABB (NYSE:ABB), which has played a major role in creating light-rail systems around the world.  Next week, a look at what other countries are already doing with high-speed.  What’s your experience with rail travel, and how do you think the U.S. should move forward on the issue?

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3 thoughts on “High Speed Rail Play: ABB Ltd (ABB)”

  1. Private enterprise has always been built upon public investment/infrastructure. It takes a community investment of bond or tax dollars to evolve the most lucrative investment sectors of the future. If one accepts the logic of peak-oil theory, then one must see the immense potential of public transportation as the backbone of economic development.

  2. It is a money loser. As long as the government control the rails it will continue to lose money.

  3. Honestly, New York City could use a better rail system. As a huge tourism location, our subways shouldn’t look embarrassing next to other countries. However, that’s the subway, not the actual train being referred to here.

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