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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

High-Speed Failure

More in the high-speed rail follies (h/t Charlie Sykes), from the LA. Times:
California's much-vaunted high-speed rail project is, to put it bluntly, a train wreck. Intended to demonstrate the state's commitment to sustainable, cutting-edge transportation systems, and to show that the U.S. can build rail networks as sophisticated as those in Europe and Asia, it is instead a monument to the ways poor planning, mismanagement and political interference can screw up major public works. For anti-government conservatives, it is also a powerful argument for scrapping President Obama's national rail plans, rescinding federal funding and canceling the project before any more money is wasted on it.
But the L.A. Times assures us that it all can be salvaged if they just start over.  And it is worth the expense and effort, because Obama has a dream and we can't let the conservatives win the future:
Obama's inspiring vision of a nation crisscrossed by bullet trains, providing cleaner, safer and cheaper competition to airlines and reducing reliance on gas-guzzling automobiles, is in serious jeopardy as a new Republican majority in the House looks to slash his funding plans. In this environment, California is a test case for whether high-speed trains can succeed in the U.S. — and so far, the state is failing the test.
Well, if Obama's dream of high-speed rail can't be salvaged, there's always his dream of windmills.

Related Posts:
Before We Spend $53 Billion On High-Speed Rail, Can We Get Low-Speed Rail To Run On Time?

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  1. CA "High speed" didn't just get derailed, it blew up in the station.

  2. The railway system in California is already a mess. You can board Amtrak in San Diego and travel to Central California but you must de- board in Los Angeles, ride the Amtrak BUS to Bakersfield, again de-board the BUS, then re-board Amtrak, thus finishing your trip Northbound by TRAIN. It is beyond stupid. Why? Union Pacific owns the rails over the grapevine and will not share it with Amtrak. Until the powers to be can solve that little dilemma, I can not take California serious with any railway project.

  3. @jbuzzboy Union Pacific has every right to not let Amtrak use their rails. Amtrak tends to disrupt freight service and has a bad habit of NEVER being on time.

  4. Apparently, they mistook "high speed" for crystal meth?

  5. So what in California is working now? There was a good post in the Economist in December where two small towns are to be linked at a cost of $4.15 billion.http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2010/12/big_ideas_high-speed_rail

  6. VillageIdiotPro,

    I agree with you but it is still a problem with train travel in California. Easements and railway ownership will have to be addressed in order for high speed trains to be viable. I do not see the politicians solving the problem. In fact, I do not see the high speed train to be a viable mode of transportation but instead another moneypit at the taxpayer's expense.

  7. Cost estimate has quadrupled from $10 billion to $43 billion. And they're talking about fixing it by starting over in the planning? Sounds like they might need to re-do the bond issues as well.

  8. The problem with high speed trains is simply: This country is too big for them to be cost and time effective.

    All the nations where they are a viable alternative to airlines are much smaller than the U.S.

    Plus the infrastructure of rails in this country has many more grade crossings (road traffic crossing at rail level. Big danger.) than other nations and though there's been some upgrade of rails (longer rail sections) and the ties and roadbed (concrete ties) there would have to be a lot more done for high speed rail. (high speed means tighter rail to wheel clearances with fewer switches and rail crossing rail intersections. Larger radius curves and removal of grade crossings. Rejuvenation or new construction of stations The number of stations would most likely mean you'd have to take some other form of mass transit to GET to the station and at quite a distance. The list goes on and on.) It was tried on the D.C. to New York to Boston line, already a mostly commuter line, and it didn't work there (the Acela) for many of the above reasons being too costly or poorly implemented. It's just not practical for the length of trips Americans take and High Speed rail is still less than 300mph in most places that have it. That's barely the distance to cross just some of the States.

    Liberals fall in love with ideas and don't let the practicalities and facts (or the economics) get in the way.

    Have you ever noticed how Liberals always want to turn the US into Europe? Why is that?

  9. "Obama's inspiring vision of a nation crisscrossed by bullet trains, providing cleaner, safer and cheaper competition to airlines and reducing reliance on gas-guzzling automobiles"

    Go figure, they basically lied there. I'm on my neighborhood's planning group board in San Diego and we've had officials on the train project give us presentations. They admitted that, if the train ever does reach us it'll be 20 years or so and at best might match the cost of a flight. Unless of course, they manage to cause the cost of flying go up a ton... Or perhaps make it suck so much (TSA searches anyone?) that people will avoid it at all costs. Granted they're talking TSA searches for all modes of travel anymore.

  10. Let me give a concrete example. I took the Frecciarossa (the fastest) version of the train in Italy from Milan to Rome last week. About 350 miles, 3 hours, 90 euros (check trenitalia.it if you want to see - there are slightly slower versions -- 2:59 is the fastest). That's half of Italy - from Milan to Rome. That's about $128, today.

    For 377 miles, you get Rochester, NY to NYC via Albany, which is the route Amtrak uses. It takes about 7 hours. $81.

    Yes I wish we had something like this - but the scale issue just killed it. Nonstop from Milan to Rome makes sense. Nonstop from Rochester to NYC? Not so much.

  11. The Springfield Monorail lives!

  12. There is a point in some areas to investing in higher-speed rail.

    I am familiar with the Detroit-Chicago route. This currently takes ab out five and half hours (when it's on time). Investment in track, signalling, and some equipment could, I am told, get the downtown-downtown time down to three and a half hours. This at least makes some sense and there has been an appropriation at least to begin doing this, although so far the projected time saving is less.

    It should be noted, although the planning doesn't seem to take it into account, that many of the trips on the route are not Detroit to Chicago; a passenger is as likely to go from Ann Arbor to Battle Creek or Kalamazoo to Chicago. So the overall time saved is not the full amount claimed in many cases.

    But this can be done using existing track. Bullet trains require separate rights of way and are more expensive to build than regular track anyway. They also require new signalling and new equipment, so the capital investment is many times greater than simply improving what exists. They are also much more expensive to operate.

    My understanding--and I could well be wrong--is that even in crowded Japan the bullet trains lose money. They are certain to do so given American distances and, as pointed out above, passengers in most cases will have to get to the bullet train station to begin with.

    So a comparatively modest investment might well bring some improvement; instead the president was a hugely expensive and wasteful system that will drain money forever. If there was ever a working definition of liberal ideas, this is it.

  13. "Have you ever noticed how Liberals always want to turn the US into Europe? Why is that? "

    Because so many of them live on the left and the right coasts - in major cities, they have no real idea of how big the US really is. Many of the programs the left has fallen in love with, operate in countries that are often smaller than one of our states.

  14. Jakee308 asked: "Have you ever noticed how Liberals always want to turn the US into Europe? Why is that?"

    You're 100% right, Jake, and I'll bite on an answer.

    Too much travel abroad with too little grounding in reality. They know a lot about far places, but little or nothing about their own backyard. Travel does broaden, but there needs to be prerequisites for it to do actual good.

  15. Exactly, travel distances in the US are far greater than for intercity travel in Europe. The French TGV system is wonderful, although it only makes money on the Paris to Lyon route. Travel times are generally less than 3-4 hours and you have good public transportation in the city hub stations at your destination. European cities are much more concentrated around a viable city center. The population densities of these countries are greater, road traffic is more congested and there has always been an existing infrastructure for passenger rail travel in Europe. The US has the best freight rail system in the world and has evolved to serve that purpose not passenger travel. Conversely, European rail is less well suited to freight due to the short transport distances. It seems like economics and geographic reality should determine the best transport system for a given country. Politicians cannot change that. They continue to pound square pegs into round holes.

  16. You know, I'm a big fan and supporter of public transportation and even I can't get onboard with most of the high speed rail plans. Why not focus on improving the transportation we have in the cities, and let people who travel back and forth between cities use the already-in-place excellent highways we already have? If anything, we should be improving the freight lines for more efficient shipping in these days of rising oil costs. And encouraging businesses like Megabus.

  17. A lot of misconceptions here.

    1. Amtrak is not managing the CA HSR. It will be a completely internal affair.

    2. I think the Bullet Train does make a profit. In fact, they're going to build another one ... this time using maglev technology. Even the Japanese realize that steel wheels aren't the way to go in the future.

    3. You can get much more bang for the buck by upgrading lines to HPR (high performance rail) so that they lines can handle 90-120 mph. Calling anything below 120 mph HSR is disingenuous.

    4. As far as Amtrak is concerned, railroads are REQUIRED to allow Amtrak to use their lines and to give Amtrak priority ... it was part of the original deal to allow the RRs to give up passenger service. However, it is the responsibility of Amtrak to depart ontime. It loses priority status if it fails to do so.

  18. "Obama's inspiring vision of a nation crisscrossed by bullet trains...sustainable, cutting-edge transportation systems" of the 19th century. He doesn't know we have huge iron birds that carry people around the world.

    Is that why he wants to strangle Boeing? Boeing should build bullet train (wrecks) in WA, and planes in SC.

  19. "I am familiar with the Detroit-Chicago route."

    As am I, since I live about a mile from it.

    Per the Feds, the time saved by spending the millions in new funds isn't 2 hours, or 90 minutes. It will be 30 minutes. Check it out, it's on the DOT website!

    This will put the average time between Detroit and Chicago at 47 mph. The rider's ticket will still need a 100% subsidy from Amtrack's budget.

    As you know, most of the time loss in that line is from slowing down and stopping in every small town en route. Nothing is gonna change that so long as every little town has a Congressman fighting for that train station.

  20. Let's stop calling it high speed rail. Obama's proposal maxs out at 115 mph. Its much more closer the lower speed than the bullet trains.

  21. So in other words...

    High speed trains work, except everywhere they are tried?

    Gee, where I have I heard that argument? (COUGH*communism*COUGH)

  22. Let's instead, invest these billion$ in a Star Trek type transporter system. The NIMBY costs for rail alone are going to be astronomical. Plus, people would actually use a transporter.

  23. High-speed bullshit. That's what this President is good at. 100 years ago, folks like him called themselves Dr. Mysterio and went to work for the circus, hawking patent medicine that would cure your baldness and impotence, and blowing town before the side effects became apparent. Ever since the FDA they've had to go into politics instead, the last remaining refuge for con-men and bullshit artists.

  24. The guys at The Onion came up with a much better proposal, high-speed buses on the existing highway system:


  25. jakee308 wrote, "Have you ever noticed how Liberals always want to turn the US into Europe? Why is that?"

    Because liberals slavishly worship and ape the arrogant European intellectuals and upper class, and have absorbed their contempt for the USA for being bourgeois and bitterly clinging to guns and religion, and their envy of us for being far more successful.

  26. This has been a standard California boondoggle since the 1980s. They put out a bond, get paid to do a bunch of 'initial studies', discover that the problem is insoluble due to land ownership issues and they'll never be able to eminent domain it because of all the wealthy connected people, and then the money runs out and you apply for more bonds to 'study the matter.'

  27. Wing In Ground-effect (WIG) aircraft;
    High Speed rail without the rails. :)

  28. If we really want to do "high speed" rail, go for gravity trains. In theory underground vacuum tunnels could allow magneticly suspended trains to up trillions of dollars travel at orbital velocity with minimum energy input.

    Of course you need to pony up a few trillion dollars first. Or maybe put all the unemployed people to work digging,,,,,,