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Washingtonpost: A lost cause: The high-speed rail race


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For you high speed passenger rail enthusiasts.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/16/AR2011021605977.html

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S fiscal 2012 budget includes $8 billion for high-speed rail next year and $53billion over six years. In the president's view, the United States needs to spend big on high-speed rail so that we can catch up with Europe, Japan - and you-know-who. "China is building faster trains and newer airports," the president warned in his State of the Union address. But of all the reasons to build high-speed rail in the United States, keeping up with the international Joneses may be one of the worst. In fact, experience abroad has repeatedly raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of high-speed rail.

China would seem to be an especially dubious role model, given the problems its high-speed rail system has been going through of late. Beijing just fired its railway minister amid corruption allegations; this is the sort of thing that can happen when a government suddenly starts throwing $100 billion at a gargantuan public works project, as China did with rail in 2008. Sleek as they may be, China's new fast trains are too expensive for ordinary workers to ride, so they are not achieving their ostensible goal of moving passengers from the roads to the rails. Last year, the Chinese Academy of Sciences asked the government to reconsider its high-speed rail plans because of the system's huge debts.

Of course, if the Chinese do finish their system, it is likely to require operating subsidies for many years - possibly forever. A recent World Bank report on high-speed rail systems around the world noted that ridership forecasts rarely materialize and warned that "governments contemplating the benefits of a new high-speed railway, whether procured by public or private or combined public-private project structures, should also contemplate the near-certainty of copious and continuing budget support for the debt."

That's certainly what happened in Japan, where only a single bullet-train line, between Japan and Osaka, breaks even; it's what happened in France, where only the Paris-Lyon line is in the black. ..........."

Click link above for the entire article.

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This initiative may not get the backing it needs. I saw this morning that Florida's governor Rick Scott decided to axe the Orlando/Tampa high speed rail project, returning 2.4 million Federal dollars rather than pony up $3 billion in State funds.

Maybe the focus should be on rebuilding existing infrastructure instead of creating new...

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Some of it's down to the definition of high speed that's adopted.

Deciding that a train has to travel at, say, 300mph has enormous costs that grow exponentially compared with a system that travels at a maximum of say half that. Much like long haul air travel can be viable without supersonic flight. If you could take trains up and down the east coast that averaged speeds over 100mph it would be a very serious alternative to air and road travel, given the additional comforts that are easy to provide on a train. But when your train crawls for parts of the trip due to bad track, signalling, congestion or for whatever reason, the option quickly becomes unattractive.

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Ok, so we're now saying that because the Chinese had a corrupt person in charge of their high speed rail program that our will too? And the Chinese high speed rail system is too expensive for whom? Too expensive for Americans or too expensive for the billions of Chinese who live in abject poverty?

I'm also noticing the thread starter is not one to usually be founding finding anything positive to say regarding anything that the Obama administration pursues....jus sayin'.

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Personally, I think that if there were a great desire for high speed rail of this style in this country, that it would already be built. It's also a case of very bad timing for the President to even proposed this when we are so far under water in spending and debt. If the economy were booming I think he would have a better chance to get this project going. Right now, I suspect a lot of Americans just dont see the need.

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Right now, I suspect a lot of Americans just dont see the need.
I would say there is no need. Any rail, but particularly high speed due to the cost is dependent on ridership. Basically you need a lot of people who live in one area to want to consistently go to another area. The only area in the US right now where this feasible is in the NE corridor, which already has high speed rail. And even then, it costs 2x as much and saves only a half hour in a 3 hour trip. Ultimately even low speed rail is nearly the cost of a plane ticket, so where does that put high speed rail from a cost perspective.
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Ok, so we're now saying that because the Chinese had a corrupt person in charge of their high speed rail program that our will too? And the Chinese high speed rail system is too expensive for whom? Too expensive for Americans or too expensive for the billions of Chinese who live in abject poverty?

I'm also noticing the thread starter is not one to usually be founding finding anything positive to say regarding anything that the Obama administration pursues....jus sayin'.

Rail line has been shown to be cost prohibitive, almost unbelieveably so, and in price comparisons to flying it's just not viable. Here is California the first link is from LA to SF (the proposed one). You can make that flight for less than $100. Read Robert Samuelson if you want a wealth of information about how financially unviable this is. Or better yet, show me that Amtrak can turn a profit first. As others have mentioned, small links where there is a huge amount of population could work, larger links just don't make sense, at least not yet and owing to populations and need.

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I don't see fast rail having enough ridership anywhere in the US except the Northeast and maybe, maybe SF to LA. Maybe.

And the theoretical Northeast line probably would be the most difficult to build. But IMO it's the only part of the country with a critical density of major-city destinations and a sufficiently huge number of people moving between them.

I have taken Acela many many times, and it's spectacular. It leaves from a convenient location in one city, and drops me right in the heart of the financial/business centers of other cities. At peak travel times the thing is absolutely filled with businesspeople getting work done in comfort, not being forced to put that stuff away and lose billable time. For business travelers like me, that time by itself EASILY pays for the cost of the ticket and then some.

Not having been inconvenienced very frequently by Acela delays -- compare THAT to the airlines -- my only complaint is the travel time. Shaving an hour off of the Philly-to-Baltimore time would require a 25% increase in average speed inclusive of station stops, so perhaps a 50% increase in top realized speed on open track. Were that possible (and I think that's probably the absolute bleeding-edge upper limit of what could EVER be done in the Northeast), then it would be basically the same door-to-door travel time from my house to my Boston office as flying during peak travel hours.

But it would be cheaper overall, far more comfortable, more convenient, far less aggravating, and there would be a bathroom I can actually stand up in. And a lot more Americans would realize the benefit of going by rail, I imagine, if the total travel time was comparable. For families with small kids, taking a train that allows for moving around a bit is about 7,000% better than waiting 20 minutes to achieve cruising altitude so you can change your kid's crappy diaper in an airplane seat or a bathroom the size of a dwarf coffin.

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hmmm. you guys have made me wonder if maybe a focus on innovating air travel for shorter trips might be a better course for America. Certainly interesting to consider options.
The problem with air travel is that the big airlines do everything in their power to squash the little guy. If you got a successful route going, they would swoop in with 5x as many flights for half the price and drive you out of business. Then they would start charging 10x more, and eventually when it was tapped out they would abandon the route.
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The problem with air travel is that the big airlines do everything in their power to squash the little guy. If you got a successful route going, they would swoop in with 5x as many flights for half the price and drive you out of business. Then they would start charging 10x more, and eventually when it was tapped out they would abandon the route.

yeah, I was aiming more towards an alternative to regular air travel. Innovating the actual vehicle (plane), ala wright bros style of approach. I know significant work on flying cars has already been done,

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I don't like the push for high speed rail. Americans drive cars and adding a high speed rail system seems to be a fools errand.

It'd work in metropolitan areas that are close. But a cross country line would be a waste of money. DC to Boston is the obvious best choice. Acela is not high speed.

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It'd work in metropolitan areas that are close. But a cross country line would be a waste of money. DC to Boston is the obvious best choice. Acela is not high speed.

Make it Raleigh or Charlotte to Boston so I can get to DC for games faster.

I think the demand for high speed rail isn't there yet because high speed rail doesn't exist in this country. I have loved taking the train from DC up to Boston, but it's not high speed. If you build it, they will come.

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Ok, so we're now saying that because the Chinese had a corrupt person in charge of their high speed rail program that our will too? And the Chinese high speed rail system is too expensive for whom? Too expensive for Americans or too expensive for the billions of Chinese who live in abject poverty?

I'm also noticing the thread starter is not one to usually be founding finding anything positive to say regarding anything that the Obama administration pursues....jus sayin'.

So how would you explain away the Japanses and French situations? As for rarely saying anything positive about the Obama administration, has there been much positive to say?

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So how would you explain away the Japanses and French situations?

That whole Chunnel thing seems to be working out pretty well.

As for rarely saying anything positive about the Obama administration, has there been much positive to say?

Sure, but I wouldn't expect you to acknowledge any of it, which is why I said what I said. BTW, congrats on getting your NNT removed.

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It'd work in metropolitan areas that are close. But a cross country line would be a waste of money. DC to Boston is the obvious best choice. Acela is not high speed.

Boston -> NY-> Phili -> Baltimore-> DC -> Richmond -> Atlanta is the most densly traveled air corridor in the world. High speed rail makes a lot of sense for the complet route.

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I would say there is no need. Any rail, but particularly high speed due to the cost is dependent on ridership. Basically you need a lot of people who live in one area to want to consistently go to another area. The only area in the US right now where this feasible is in the NE corridor, which already has high speed rail. And even then, it costs 2x as much and saves only a half hour in a 3 hour trip. Ultimately even low speed rail is nearly the cost of a plane ticket, so where does that put high speed rail from a cost perspective.

That's because Acela doesn't run to its potential due to the track doesn't allow it in some areas. If it ran to its potential, they could knock nearly 2 hours off the time.

As for cost vs flight, considering all the baggage fees and the issues going through TSA, travelling by train has looked more attractive to me. I've made the trip to Atlanta a couple of times via train because it was a cheaper option than flying.

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I will just reiterate that Trains are about 1000% ( 3 orders of magnatude more efficient than Trucks. ) It takes a train 1 gallon of fuel to move 1 ton of material 436 miles.

http://www.sciencebuzz.org/blog/freight-train-miles-gallon

A modern infrastructure is a necessity for the nation to remain compeditive into the 21st century. Without it we continue to hemerage capital into the oil producing nations to the detriment of prosperity and investment domestically. High speed rail is not only an essential part of any national engergy plan, it's also a no brainer infrastructure improvement which will more than pay for itself over the coming decades of useful operational life.

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I would say there is no need. Any rail, but particularly high speed due to the cost is dependent on ridership. Basically you need a lot of people who live in one area to want to consistently go to another area. The only area in the US right now where this feasible is in the NE corridor, which already has high speed rail. And even then, it costs 2x as much and saves only a half hour in a 3 hour trip. Ultimately even low speed rail is nearly the cost of a plane ticket, so where does that put high speed rail from a cost perspective.

The high speed rail in the NE corridor isn't faster than car. It took me 12 hrs to get from Providence, RI to Richmond, VA by train & I've did it a car in 8 hrs. One of the problems is sharing the rails with freight trains & another is there are just too many stop in the North East. As far as the cost goes, it cost me $98 for the trip & I know gas & wear on my car is much more than $98 for that trip. I believe that was like 5 yrs ago & I'm not sure what tickets cost now, but with gas prices the way they are I'm sure trains still are cheaper than driving. What they need is a big savings over flying & they don't have that.

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