Identifying Infrastructure Impediments to Higher-Speed Rail in the Cascadia Megaregion Using GIS Analysis



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Increased interest in rail transportation, and specifically high-speed rail, has led to research on how can people and goods be transported more efficiently by the United States rail system. Rail is an important form of transport because, not only does it release far fewer pollutants per ton-mile than road or air transport (WSDOT, 2009, Exhibit 2-2), but it is also over 20 times safer than driving (SSO, 2009, p. 15). Currently, the United States rail system lags far behind high-speed rail systems in Europe and Asia, and is only in the earliest of stages of planning and building (USDOT FRA, 2009, p. 7). A handful of megaregion corridors around the country have been noted as potential sites for future high-speed rail, but they still have significant infrastructure challenges to overcome before speeds of over 120 mph can be reached. Current methods of identifying choke points areas consist of rail traffic algorithms and shareholder interviews, leaving the opportunity for additional forms of analysis. My thesis research uses GIS as a novel way to spatially examine railroad infrastructure-related choke points, with my project focusing on the track between Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC. I studied how passenger speed limits compared with the location of bridges, tunnels, crossings, curves, incline, rail, ties, and stations. My data consisted of a collection of a geodatabase, track charts, a timetable, and shapefiles, the data from which I combined and reorganized into a geodatabase. As railroads use a linear referencing system similar to highways, I was able to use vector reselectment and dynamic segmentation to analyze the various infrastructure components. My analysis consisted of comparing the speed limit layer with each of the different infrastructure component layers. From my analysis I found twenty-nine slow sections with speeds below 60 mph and determined that the most problematic infrastructure components were curves, populated areas, bridges, and tunnels. GIS was able to identify infrastructure-related choke points, which show similar patterns to choke points identified by traditional methods. Using GIS allows for more thorough choke point analysis than can be achieved by previous methods. Identification of infrastructure-related choke points is the first step towards improving infrastructure in the development of higher-speed rail.



GIS, railroad, infrastructure