Recent Work

The Political Economy of High Speed Rail in Florida, 1981-present

by James Cohen, Ph.D., presented at Rails et Histoire Conference, London, England

Between 1981 and 2011 public authorities and private corporations made four different attempts to implement very high speed rail lines between Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, Florida, on which trains would run at top speeds over 200 miles per hour. Yet, at present, the only new passenger line that is likely to begin operations between these cities is not very high speed, and will not run on dedicated track. All Aboard Florida (AAF), a subsidiary of the Fortress Investment Group, plans to operate trains running at between 79 and 125 miles per hour, on upgraded freight rights of way between Miami and Orlando, with a possible future extension to Tampa. Why did all the earlier attempts at very high speed lines fail, while a moderate speed line appears likely to succeed? To answer this question, this paper analyzes the political and financial history of Florida’s attempts at very high speed rail since 1981.

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The Historical Relativism of High Speed on Passenger Railways: 1830-Present

Presented at the Traffic, Transportation, and Mobilities (T2M), Conference at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa., September 19, 2014

About 3 years ago, I started thinking about high speed trains, which led me to the following question: at what point in history can we say that trains became “high speed”? Is it only in the current era, after Japan introduced its Bullet Train, and France its Train à Grand Vitesse (TGV)? What about the American trains called streamliners, which were the ultimate in modernity and speed in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s? Or could one even say that the very first passenger trains, in the 1830’s and 40’s, which were 100-200 percent faster than horse-drawn stagecoaches, were high speed?

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Financing high speed rail in the United States and France: The evolution of public-private partnerships

by James K. Cohen and Camille Kamga

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Abstract: Using cross-national comparative analysis, this paper discusses the reasons why France has succeeded in partially privatizing its most recently constructed high speed line, while the U.S. has not reached this stage. The authors argue that France, with an interventionist government, diverged from the U.S. during the Great De- pression by nationalizing its private railways and regulating competition with highway-based transport, thereby establishing favorable conditions for the future development of high speed trains. The U.S., because of its strong free market orientation, delayed nationalization until 1971, by which time passenger railways were severely weakened, so the U.S. lagged far behind France. After accruing a large public debt on its high speed rail program in the 1980s and 1990s, the French government recently took steps to privatize construc- tion and operations on its Tours–Bordeaux line. Similarly, in the U.S., the State of California is trying to attract private participation on its planned high speed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Based on French high speed rail history, this paper argues that, to succeed, California must commit both a high level of public borrowing as well as public guarantees on private borrowing. Public credit is the sine qua non of financing high speed trains.

High Speed Trains and Their Finances in Historical and Cross National Perspective

by James Cohen, Ph.D.

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