Russia's new high-speed trains cause a commotion
Moscow and St. Petersburg are about to join the ranks of major European and Asian cities linked by high-speed rail service. Russian Railways has purchased Siemens' cutting-edge trains—dubbed Sapsan, Russian for a peregrine falcon—at a cost of $52 million each. Instead of a traditional locomotive, the Sapsan has electric motors attached to wheels all along the train cars. It's also been modified to contend with notoriously frigid Russian winters.
In a high-profile test run in St. Petersburg last week, the Sapsan got as high as 150 mph; its average speed along the approximately 400 mile route will be 107 mph. The service, which debuts in December, cuts the trip to Moscow to 3 hours and 45 minutes, about 45 minutes faster than now.
Tentative plans call for service between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod from March 2010 and between St. Petersburg and Helsinki, Finland, from September 2010. There are even rumors that the Sapsan will reach the Black Sea resort town of Sochi—host of the 2014 Olympics and one of Putin's pet projects.
But the Sapsan loses steam when you consider that the high-speed AVE train is more than an hour speedier as it zips between Madrid and Barcelona, a distance comparable with St. Petersburg to Moscow. Outdated tracks hold back the Sapsan (which may not come as a surprise in a country known for epic, erratic train journeys in sleeper cars). Business Week described Russia's investment in Siemens' trains as making "about as much sense as driving a Ferrari on a dirt road."
The U.S. suffers a similar problem: a lack of investment in train tracks that restricts even the Acela, our only available high-speed train option, which also maxes out at 150 mph. Siemens has its eye on the billions in stimulus money designated for high-speed train travel and hopes to sell the U.S. these same trains, according to New York Times.
Find out more about how high-speed trains measure up around the globe—and how their prices compare to air travel—in our report, The Fastest Trains on the Track.
This Weekend: The world's longest pedestrian bridge opens in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If you thought New York City's High Line was an impressive reinvention of a former elevated rail line as a public strolling ground, wait until you see the Walkway Over the Hudson, opening Saturday. The 120-year-old Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge has been transformed into a 1.25-mile-long pedestrian park—the world's longest bridge of its kind—linking the city of Poughkeepsie and the town of Lloyd in New York. Whereas the High Line offers respite a leisurely 30 feet from the ground, the Walkway Over the Hudson looms 212 feet above the water, offering stunning views of the Hudson River valley to walkers, runners, and bicyclists alike. Officially a state historic park, the walkway has also been named a National Recreation Trail and will eventually connect to 27 miles of rail trails and riverfront parks, much of which will be completed next year. Opening weekend events begin with Friday night's Grand Illumination, in which 1,000 volunteers will carry paper sky lanterns in a promenade across the bridge, illuminating it for the first time, and then release the self-extinguishing lights into the sky, followed by a fireworks display. The walkway will not yet be open to the public, but anyone can view the illumination from Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie and across the river at Oakes Road in Highland (a hamlet in Lloyd). (Check out the events Webpage.) Saturday starts with a re-creation on the river of the famed Poughkeepsie Regatta, hosted by nearby Marist College's crew team. Other activities include music and folk art festivals and river cruises in Waryas Park and the Highland HudsonFest. Also in Waryas Park and in Highland, large screens will broadcast the day's early events from the walkway—including official grand opening ceremony remarks by New York Gov. David Paterson, a parade across the bridge of puppets signifying the flora and fauna and history and culture of the Hudson Valley, and an Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome biplane flyover—until 3 p.m. when the bridge officially opens to the public. That evening, visitors to the bridge are encouraged to don glow-in-the-dark clothing and accessories (break out the glow sticks!) as part of a night circus and light show. The events spill over into Sunday, when the walkway will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bridge is within walking distance of Poughkeepsie's train station, accessible from NYC and from any city with an Amtrak connection. For this weekend's events, check walkway.org for parking and shuttle bus information. The opening is part of New York's Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial celebration commemorating the 400th anniversaries of the voyages of Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain, and the 200th anniversary of Robert Fulton's spearheading the first long-distance steamboat trip, which traveled up the Hudson River. The bridge was the longest in the world when it opened, and at one point 3,500 train cars crossed it daily, but a 1974 fire shut the tracks down for good. Repurposing the bridge for public use has been a project 17 years in the making.
Joke: New helmets for London's Royal Guard
The most memorable skyscraper to be recently added to the London skyline is the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. The blog Londonist got curious about what it might be like if mini-Gherkins replaced bearskin helmets on the heads of the Royal Guard. So they did it themselves. It's Photoshop phun! MORE HUMOR FROM LONDONIST The Ultimate Uncluttered Tube Map for Tourists MORE ON LONDON FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Where to eat and sleep in London (50+ comments) 5 tips on daytrips outside of London (via EuroCheapo's London correspondent)
Should there be a law against 3-hour tarmac delays?
Last month's 9-hour stranding of 47 passengers on a Minnesota airport tarmac caught a lot of attention. Passengers were kept on the ExpressJet plane from about 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. says a government report. A new law that may be passed by the Senate by the end of September would set a maximum time that passengers can be held on the tarmac: Three hours. At which point, the pilot would be obliged—if it was safe and reasonable—to drive the plane back to the gate, where passengers can get off if they chose. How many travelers have actually been stuck on the tarmac in extreme delays? In the past couple of years, more than 200,000 passengers have been on planes that have been been stuck on the tarmac for at least three hours, reports USA Today. That number contrasts with the roughly 1.6 billion people flown during the same timespan. This summer, three lobbying groups have come out in support of a 3-hour limit: The Business Travel Coalition, the National Business Travel Association, and the American Society of Travel Agents. But a "3-hour rule" goes against the recommendations of the Tarmac Delay Task Force, a group of aviation experts assembled by the Department of Transportation, who last November declined to set a national time limit. The blue-ribbon panel suggested the airlines voluntarily regulate themselves. The airlines also oppose a mandatory 3-hour law, saying that it would not improve customer service. For this official view, we spoke with David Castelveter, Vice President Communications, Air Transport Association of America. Some highlights: A mandatory 3-hour rule will have unintended consequences, namely, more cancellations, more delays, more inconvenience for travelers, and more cost for customers and carriers. No passenger likes a delayed flight, but what they like even less is not being able to get to their destinations at all. The proposed 3-hour hard limit on ground delays will force airlines to inconvenience planeloads of people to satisfy the demand of a minority of passengers to deplane. It's very easy for advocates of a passenger bill of rights to say the airlines have been given every opportunity and now we need legislation. But you don't fix a problem by adding another problem. If you have a couple of kids who are bad on your block, you don't punish all of the kids in the neighborhood. DOT does have oversight and time and again has exercised its authority, which included fines. It should take action as it deems necessary. What do you think? Do you support proposed Senate legislation that would allow passengers to disembark after three hours on the tarmac, should a captain decide it is safe and reasonable to do so? EARLIER A passenger's 7-minute video, summarizing one of Delta's 7-hour tarmac delays A pilot talks about long waits on the tarmac ELSEWHERE The Cranky Flier opposes the "3-hour law" Flyers rights' organization's guide to helping pass the legislation
This weekend: Vermont's first ever cheesemakers festival
More than 20 Vermont artisan foodmakers—among them seven cheesemakers—will open their doors to the public this Saturday. The open studio day is part of a weekend-long celebration of cheese. Vermont has the largest number of artisan cheesemakers per capita (it's a small state, but still…). In order to showcase this handiwork, the first ever Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is scheduled for Sunday at Shelburne Farms, about six miles south of Burlington. The festival can already be called a success; tickets were available to the first 1,000 takers (at $20 a pop), and they're now all sold out. No matter—if you're hungry to taste artisan food, the state delivers. In addition to the cheesemakers participating in the Open Studios on Saturday, there are also wineries (like Boyden Valley), breweries (like Magic Hat), and other foodmakers (like Ben & Jerry's) that will be open for small tastes and tours. Intrigued, but busy this weekend? The good folks at the Vermont Cheese Council have published a Vermont Cheese Trail map with almost 40 farms and creameries stretching across the state. Visitors can meet the cheesemakers, see the farm animals, and learn how the cheese is made—year-round.