html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: The intermodal station would be less than two miles from my house.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The intermodal station would be less than two miles from my house.

Schwarzenegger is proposing to shelve high speed rail between SF-Sac-LA . I am inconsolable. (Not really. I could be consoled by a bullet train.) Seriously, high speed rail between northern and southern California would noticeably improve my quality of life. There is the obvious, of course, that high speed rail in California would mean another cool train in the world, and we love trains. But the more serious reason, the reason that it matters intensely to me, is that trains are the only humane way to travel with babies.

You don’t realize, because you accommodate and do unreasonable things all the time, that our current options are deeply flawed, verging on intolerable. My sister and I drove through the night to get to LA for Thanksgiving, so the babies could sleep for the trip. It is not OK. It isn’t OK to have your babies strapped in place for eight hours, where you can’t see them or comfort them. It isn’t OK that a four-day trip requires two long nights of driving. It isn’t OK to fly with them either, in a vehicle that hurts their ears, that confines them and traps them in a small seat with you, that makes other people resent them for being babies. If you accept the fundamental premises that American families live apart, and they will travel to visit, and that young children and parents are important, then we should provide a way to travel that meets their innate needs.

Trains meet the needs of traveling with children. You can see and hold your baby on a train. You can release your children to move (especially on a car designated for children). They love the motion and view, which they can’t get on a plane or in a childseat. They can eat, do things and see you, which they need. A train ride with children can be, simply, gracious.

I want high speed rail for the usual granola reasons, and because travel time to LA would be less for me. It doesn’t strike me as outrageous to spend $10B on convenient intra-California travel when two new runways at LAX are predicted to be $9B, and an additional runway at SFO $3B. I have no love for spending $30B on improving roads in California when roads offer only one type of convenience*, especially one already in wide abundance.

High speed rail can’t come fast enough for me to take my babies to LA for a weekend with their grandparents. But it could be here soon enough for my sister and brother to visit me on the train, and bring their children. It could get here soon enough for me to send my mostly grown kids to visit their grandparents. High speed rail in California would make my life better. I want us to get serious about it now.

*Roads are, for example, only accessible by cars. You can only travel within a narrow range of speeds. It is hard to bring your bike. It is hard to transfer to another mode of travel. You must store your car at your destination. You can’t do other things while you are driving. You must fuel your car in a specific way (one which is likely to become more expensive). You can’t tend your children. Cars have other great flexibilities, but it is more likely that you have adjusted your thoughts and habits to the constraints of a car than it is likely that cars are the only good way to serve your needs.


Blogger capella said...

New Blogger! Comment feed! Finally!

I think we should have more trains in general. Taking the train from, say, DC to Philly or New York is easy and fast and not too expensive, and it's very good for spontaneous travel. But going from DC to Chicago, say, is very slow, and it doesn't have to be. Although there's less demand for such a train than for trains between coastal cities (since it will always be slower than flying), but I bet a lot of people would be willing to pay $150-$200 roundtrip - the cost of a plane ticket - for a direct, overnight train between DC and Chicago (or New York and Chicago) that would allow booking on short notice.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

With the security check-in times and travel to the airport and then to my parents' houses, flying to LA takes me a little over three hours. High speed rail would be slightly faster to LA.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous bryn said...

Wouldn't the rails be in a flood plain?

4:22 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The map shows them on the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley, which is higher. Don't know about the east-west spur to SF. I would hope that they've thought of that...

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft, train is about the most inconvenient form of transportation imaginable. Go to Amtrak's site, the tickets are at least as expensive as flying, and the trips take significantly longer.

And, I have my doubts about the fuel efficiency of trains. I doubt it's more fuel efficient to drive an empty train from Sac to LA than to fly a full airplane.

And as far as hauling capacity, you're better off in your car than on a train. It's very easy to get a bike on a car, just get a bike rack, one that attaches to your trailer hitch is easy to use. Then you can fill your car up with as much crap as you can fit. If you run out of space, put a roof top carrier on, and throw in some more crap.

I also find it hard to believe that anyone would have a problem with a baby on as short a flight as from sac to LA, that can't be much longer than an hour in the air.

And, most importantly, there's a reason Amtrak is always bankrupt, no one wants to ride a train. From what I can see the fastest trains operating in the world are only 300kph, that's only like 1/3rd the speed of a plane, and that's only across open country, everytime you get near a populated area they'd have to slow a train down.

I think your claim that the train would be faster than flying is dubious as well. You only have to get to the airport an hour early, even if you go 2 hours early, and it's a 1.5 hour flight, that's only 3.5 hours.

You still have to get to a train station ahead of time, and you have to travel to and from the train stations just like you do the airport, so those times are the same, or similar.

The travel time on teh train would be at least 2 hours, probably more like 3 or 4 hours.

I think it sounds like a huge waste of $10B.


4:39 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justin, hon. You're talking outside your expertise and you're going to make the transportion engineers crazy.

If I tell you something, like that I have driven both cars and taken trains, and it is VASTLY easier to take a bike on the train, why would you just contradict me? I've tried both; unless you have, don't guess just because you are used to one way. I put thought into these posts; if I say I have evaluated travel time of flying and high speed rail and that high speed rail is less, you should assume I didn't overlook the obvious and I believe what I wrote.

I wrote that it is miserable to fly with children, even short hops. You have to take them out of their carriers and take off their shoes at security. The take off and landings hurt them, because their ear canals are shallower. When I say that flying is hard with kids, and you haven't done it, don't dismiss what I say because your guess is different.

You are totally right that current passenger rail in CA takes too long and is too expensive. I've looked into taking the Surfliner lots of times, and always decided it wasn't worth it.

Remember that the $30B bond measure is a subsidy for cars. When you say that no one wants to take trains, imagine that they were as subsidized as cars are, and then make your comparisons.

4:55 PM  
Blogger jens said...

Take it from somebody with experience, my oldest is now 17: flying and taking cars with kids can be good or bad. Usually it is fine, occasionally it is miserable.

My wife had one glorious moment when the kid (there was just one then) actually came in useful on a flight. She had not bought a separate seat for the baby (she was flying to visit me for the weekend in Vegas (where I had to work for 5 weeks on end), from Rochester, New York...trying to do that by train would have been INCONCEIVABLE), but the middle seat was vacant, except that the guy in the window seat had already claimed it to place his books, and when she asked him very nicely if he would mind moving them, he ignored her.

She had to fly the whole trip with the baby in her lap (which she had been prepared to do), but she felt a certain evil degree of satisfaction when the baby vomited on those books.

Trains work pretty well in Europe, I've travelled that way often. Trains suck in the United States. In the United States you use CARS, except in a very few places dense enough for public transit to be workable.

In a lifetime of making choices between taking trains and planes or buses in the US, there have been only THREE times where I picked the train (for long trips, this does not count using BART or the Metro in DC).

The whole problem with these ENGINEERS that have thoroughly studied these problems and know so well what is best for us is that they are very happy making decisions FOR us, and we prefer to make our OWN decisions.

Once we get the technology to get human drivers away from those steering wheels, cars will become much safer and trains will probably wither away into mostly car-ferries.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The subsidy is 3x. How many cars on the highways/day? How many people COULD that train carry in a YEAR? I'll bet they're not even close. Now, how many people WILL that train carry in a year?

And, you'd have to show me numbers to get me to buy the travel time is shorter. The simple math just says otherwise. The flight time is 1.5 hours from Sac to LA. It's nearly 600KM, or around 400 miles to LA, the train would have to average an awfully high speed to make its destination in 3.5 hours.

Unless of you're counting your particular circumstances, where you happen to live right near the train station, and have no easy access to the airport. And your destination is easily accessible from the train station, but not from the airport. But that would hardly be the average, since the airports tend to be set right on major highways, but train stations tend to be set in the middle of cities.

As far as flying being hard on kids, that by itself doesn't justify $10B. And, I said I don't think the other passengers would be bothered on such a short flight. If it's hard on the kids themselves, they're kind of a small minority for this type of cross country travel, it hardly makes sense to design a whole service around them.

I have taken my bike (and skis) on trains, planes, and obviously cars. It's pathetically easy to get your bike (skis) on a car, fit rack in hitch, set bike (skis) on rack, done. For a short while I tried the train/bike commuting here, where they have a whole special car just for people and their bikes.

And, train service everywhere sucks. It sucked in Minnesota, it sucked in Illinois, it sucks here. And it sucks on any trip between those places.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of riding a train. I look into it all the time too, for whatever random place I happen to be going. It just never makes sense. Even the caltrain to the city rarely makes sense, it stops running too early to be of much use.


5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

High-speed rail in the form of Acela works relatively well in the Northeast Corridor. I'm not so sure it would work in California, where distances are longer and there are more in-between stretches of low population density. It also doesn't help that rail systems tend to be run mainly for the benefit of politicians and unions.


7:12 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

Justin: World Train Speed Records, A 200kmph average speed is very achievable. In fact it is regularly achieved by TGV services and the Eurostar.

3:55 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

High-speed passenger rail between Boise and Tulsa, say, probably does not make sense. High-speed passenger rail between California's big cities probably does make sense. I say this based on my experiences with Acela, which I have taken from DC to NY and Boston and back on a couple occasions.

1. The DC to NY route is quite a bit faster than flying when you take into account the line at security, and the fact that the airports are located far outside the city centers. Acela is certainly faster than driving on I-95. Keep in mind, Acela is not even really that high-speed compared with European or Japanese trains, as it tops out at about 125 mph. California might opt to build a truly high-speed system.

2. Acela trains are slightly cheaper than flying, and actually not all that more expensive than driving, considering you have to pay for fuel, about $30 in tolls betweeen DC and NY, and parking. Don't know how relevant this one is to California.

3. Acela trains are almost always completely full. Again, Omaha to Little Rock might be a waste of time, but I bet there would be quite a bit of business for a high-speed train from the Bay Area to LA.

4. Acela, and any other train, is far, far more comfortable than an airplane, with or without children. Show up at the train station a few minutes before your train leaves. Enjoy leg room and wide seats, generous luggage allowances, getting up and walking around, the dining car, the quiet car (find that on an airplane!), air at the pressure you're used to breathing it.

5. Amtrak's performance does not indicate that passenger rail is an inherently poor mode of travel. It was built to guarantee train access to people in out-of-the-way places when train companies in the 1960s were cutting back. This guarantees it loses money, and the service is about as indifferent as that provided by any government agency. However, take Amtrak's profitable or potentially profitable routes and sell them off to the highest bidder, and you will see competitive, convenient, attractive high-speed train service spring up between many cities throughout the country.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Sac to my Dad's house in LA:

0.4 hrs to airport, no parking
1.25 hrs at airport, fucking security
1.15 hrs flight
0.25 hrs at airport/pick-up, cause I don't check bags, but my ride doesn't always arrive instantly
0.75 hrs to Dad's house, and that is the close airport.
3.8 hours total, for a quick trip (not checking bags, not parking at the airport, no delays)

High Speed Rail:
0.1 hrs to terminal, by bike
0.5 hours security (unknown. Now I just walk onto the train, but I assume the hsr will have security)
2.5 hrs, express to LA
0.25 hrs pick-up
0.75 hrs if the station is in Burbank. Could be faster, if the train is co-ordinated with Metro.
4.1 hours hsr.

But my guess is that air travel has significantly more delays. And if you check bags or drive yourself to the airport, hsr would be faster. I bet most of the time, hsr would comes out ahead for intra-California travel, 'cause airports are bottlenecks.

As for ridership, the Capitol Corridor, San Jose - Sac, is the third most used line in the country.

I will say, though, that the Amtrak website is one of the worst sites I have to use. I hate it. Small yucky fonts, not helpful pull-down menus, too many screens to click though, doesn't return the answers to my questions. Amtrak site is a disaster. On the other hand, Chris is in loooOOOooove with Julie, the automated person who answers 1800USARAIL. He says she understands him.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noel, you're confusing speed records with actual operating speeds.

If we're going with theoretical maxes, rather than realistic speeds
Here's the jet speed record.

And, Megan, your case would hardly be the norm then. You live right next to the station downtown Sac. For the majority of people living east of Sac the drive time to the airport vs. to downtown sac would be about the same. The people who live off of 80 would be better off going to the airport, and the people west of Sac would be better off going to the airport.

I see 2.5Hrs is what they estimate the travel time being. It sounds optimistic to me. The trains only run a top speed of 200MPH from what I can find. Meaning, they're running full speed, or close to it, most of the distance, which seems unlikely. But, even if it's true, it's all to save you .3hrs. And your experience wouldn't be the norm. That .3Hrs you save would be lost to most just in travel time to the train station.

So, again, $10B for a program that specifically benefits Megan seems like a huge waste as well.


9:17 AM  
Blogger ScottM said...

I'm a fan of trains, but (so far) rarely find them that useful. High speed rail would be excellent for me, since I'm right in the middle (Fresno), which would cut my transit time either way dramatically.

Heck, any level of rail service to LA would have worked for me in my pre-car days (say, when commuting between parent's house and school). I don't consider "train to Bakersfield and bus over the grapevine" to be train service at all.

Taking the train to SF works fine-- local transit is good, obviating a car, parking, etc. LA is less convenient w/o a car.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On high-speed trains in France, the tunnels are interesting. You are zipping along, and without warning you blast into a tunnel, accompanied by a somewhat painful change in air pressure. There were no babies in our car, but the effect was strong enough to wake one of my companions every time, and she was on the tail end of 36 hours of travel.

There are many tunnels, possibly because of the need for high-speed train to go mostly strait-ish.

We found it interesting that we couldn't figure out whether the pressure was increasing or decreasing from the sensation we felt. If you cleared your ears in the tunnel, you get the same sensation at the end of the tunnel.

We weren't smart enough to puzzle it out, either. Does the train speeding through the tunnel displace so much air that the pressure goes way up? Does the train scream through the tunnel so fast that a pressure wave is built in the front, decreasing the air pressure toward the rear of the train?


11:42 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

So, again, $10B for a program that specifically benefits Megan seems like a huge waste as well.

Sounds about right to me.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I think it would almost certainly be the 2nd case. The train creates a pressure wave in front of it, creating a vacuum behind it as you enter a tunnel. As you leave the tunnel, the pressure would suddenly increase again, assuming the tunnel was short enough for the pressure around the train to not equalize.

In a long tunnel you might get a sudden drop in pressure, followed by a steady increase in pressure to above normal, then a sudden decrease in pressure as you exit the tunnel.

Those would be my theories anyway.

Oh, and Megan, I'm not against trains, or even public transportation. I LOVED the public transportation in Montreal. Despite the Caltrain sucking, I still take it whenever it's convenient.

But, I could think of so many better ways to spend $10B. You could fix a lot of traffic with new highways, or wider highways. 80 is always a freakin mess between Sac and SF. 880 is an absolute nightmare. There's traffic on 880 anytime of the day. 101 is bad at rush hour. The 85/101 interchange is a mess still. The bridges are major bottle necks. And that's just the bay area, and a high speed train does nothing for any of that. How many people would it really serve?

And, if we look at the track record of public transportation systems in the area. Caltrain sucks. It doesn't come even close to most places you might want to be, and it's not incredibly fast. It's much faster for me to drive anywhere than deal with the caltrain. Bart is probably the best of the bunch in the bay area. But, still, it's service is limited, it's destinations are very limited, and it's not incredibly fast. The VTA light rail has so many stops that it's pathetically slow. You can actually outrun the light rail at a moderate pace on a bike.

Finally google has consolidated logins.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Spungen said...

Woo-hoo! Someone else cares about the high-speed rail proposal! I've been watching this one for 10 years. Then again, the most popular alignment would have it stop in my community, so I'm biased.

I always thought it just seemed too cool and progressive to actually happen, though.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The problem with spending that money on roads is that building more roads doesn't decrease traffic. (Texas Transportation Institute, 2003 Annual Urban Mobility Report, pgs 31 on - that's just one of several studies, but I figured you would think the rest are biased if they were from Berkeley or up on transit system websites.)

As long as there is free-flowing traffic, people will choose to drive on that road until it is congested. If you add lanes, making traffic free-flowing again, people will be attracted to the route and will live further away. The only way you can build your way out of congestion is to constantly be building roads. Building roads doesn't ease traffic. Improving roads does, as does smoothing transitions. But giving people other options is a more effective way to reduce traffic.

I have no idea where the trade-offs are for these specific two projects, but building high speed rail might be better for traffic on the 5 than adding a lane on the 5.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I turned yesterday's post into a PAPER LETTER and sent it to Schwarzenegger and to Dave Jones and to Darrell Steinburg. I want high speed rail!

1:15 PM  
Anonymous bryn said...

One of the biggest problems with Amtrak in california is that southern pacific has control over the rails and the right away. Very often you'll end up sitting on amtrak at a red light because a freight train went through and they forgot to signal when they cleared that segment of track. In San Luis Obispo, you could hear amtrak go through at all hours of the night, even though by schedule the north and southbound trains were both supposed to go through around 3pm. So I wouldn't say that air traffic has more delays than train travel. It has taken me more than 6-7 hours to go from SLO to San Jose (and catch caltrain from there). It is a much nice experience than flying however. The new high speed rails would need to be dedicated to the high speed train so you likely wouldn't have the problems above (I'm just explaining part of the high cost/low customer experience of the existing system) and $10 billion seems like a lot but when spread per car in CA or per high that's not a lot. Look at how much a new interchange like 101 and 85 costs ($125 million)

The model in europe is more analagous in some ways (fast trains) than amtrak. What's weird is the super low fare airlines in europe being cheaper than the trains. The chunnel was a costly project which could explain london paris fares, but other air fares within europe are still cheaper than trains. european trains are fabulous for being on time. I remember being in switzerland watchging the train conductor lean out of the train to watch the station clock second hand tick over, and then the train began moving.

Perhaps for more geographically dispersed areas we could have a people mover bus/lightrail like system (cf disneyland) that dynamically routes based on the destinations of the occupants something like this
to reduce the need for cars at either end of the train systems

1:31 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

"making traffic free-flowing again, people will be attracted to the route and will live further away."

But, the high speed rail isn't a local service. It's not useful for getting between work and home.

I have seen the research that you're talking about. That would be an argument for more local public transportation, not the cross country type.

So, in that case, the $10B would be better spent on local public transportation projects. It would have more potential for getting cars off the road, and have more potential for helping more people if you could put down a decent system in the bay area, or LA.

But, ultimately, you can't beat the flexibility of a car. I always have more options when I've got my car. I'm not limited on what I do for lunch, or what I do after work, or which grocery stores I go to. I can come and go as I please. It would be hard to convince a lot of people to give that up.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous bryn said...

I too have heard the research on expanding highway lanes only serving to expand the area of urban growth (very obvious with addition of 85 in bay area) and probably will be again with morgan hill/gilroy with the removal of the 2 lane pinch point on 101. So, really the only way to rebalance the level of pain is by artificially shifting the pain higher with taxes/costs and using that money for market incentives to shift people to less desirable modes of transportation or less desirable housing (non suburban densities)

One thing to consider though, is there is an intangible benefit to doing something big/great (not saying this would be great, just saying it's like building a monument) the money's benefit has a multiplier effect on media worth projects (rather than adding a lane here and there and increasing bus service etc.) which is neither good nor bad just is. So you may have less utility per capita for high speed rail, but it may also serve its purpose for politicians and tourism boards.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I'm not entirely sure how you think a train solves this problem of people choosing to live further and further from where they work anyway.

Let's say everyone was happy with riding the trains, wouldn't you get the same problem as with expanding highways? You'd need more and more rail lines as people chose to move further and further away? Those people living a long way away using up seats for a much longer ride than the people taking short rides. So, you'd have to increase the numbers of trains on the tracks to handle the extra man miles travelled, you'd have to up the speeds, and add more lines? Don't you get the same problem? The only thing preventing it up front is the inherent inefficiency of public transportation, where even short trips take a long time?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Public transportation is only less efficient than private only because we are currently set up for cars. We don't have to be. They are only one way to move people, and they have a set of advantages and disadvantages. There are other ways, with a different set of advantages and disadvantages, which seem unnatural to us because we are used to cars. There are trade-offs between those ways, but you can't compare them as though cars have no costs and are the natural default. They have tremendous costs, which you don't notice paying anymore. Instead, we have to choose which qualities of transportation we want and costs we're willing to pay, and choose a mixture of transportation methods that get us there.

I don't know how you add capacity to train lines, but I bet it has more elasticity (more train cars, more often) than roads do. You can certainly tinker with it more readily than you can add a lane to a freeway, which is a very quantized chunk.

And it depends which efficiency you are talking about -efficient use of person's time or efficient use of natural resources.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Maybe I didn't make my question clear. My point wasn't that public transportation is less efficient.

What makes you think that simply shifting the burden to a transit system like trains will fix the congestion problem? You're argument against roads is that as you add roads, people change their behavior in such a way as to keep the roads at a nearly constant level of congestion.

Why do you think it would be different if everyone embraced public transportation? Wouldn't you still end up with the same situation where as you increase efficiency people move further and further away, increasing the burden on the transit system requiring it to be upgraded? You think it's easier to increase the capacity on a train line, but that's only because none of the train lines are near capacity. Each set of tracks can only handle so many trains with so many people in a set amount of time. Once you reach that limit, you have to add new lines. It's the same with highways.

And, honestly, my time is worth more to me than the natural resources you're hoping to save. Commuting by caltrain, the train takes longer to reach my destination just in the train ride alone. That's ignoring the time it takes me to get to and from the train, which is longer than the train ride itself, even by bike.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

Justin, the link includes the fastest average scheduled speed: 165 mph or 263.3 km/h by a TGV. That isn't particularly hard to achieve. The Bullet Train regularly runs an average around that, and the Eurostar cruises at 168mph IIRC, with a maximum over 200mph.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous bryn said...

Any mode of transportation that is efficient could allow people to live farther away, I think the argument is that trains are easier to scale.

However, the reason I think that trains will not efficient for commute scenarios (we are off track from the original high speed link discussion) is that american suburbs just don't have the density to make public transit efficient. But if you have trains with excess capacity it's an enticement for higher density which allows for more efficient public transit (walk to the metro which has lots of stops) which saves resources (whether or not higher density saves resources or just land is another argument)

11:37 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Right, Noel, 165MPH over about 400 miles would have to be the average. The reason I find it hard to buy is I don't know what federal rail regulations are, but I'm pretty sure trains are required to slow down significantly in urban areas. And for good reason.

Plus, the train would likely have to cross mountains somewhere on the trip from Sac to LA.

It doesn't take many miles at 60MPH to throw that average way off, even if you can go 220MPH across the flat open valleys. And, I think 60MPH is an overestimate as it is. I'm not familiar with any commuter train going much faster than 40MPH in an urban area. But, like I said, I don't know what the actual regulation is.

If you can zip all the way into LA at full speed, then great. But, it seems unlikely. The suburbs stretch out for 10s of miles around both Sac and LA. And, even on the way down I'm not sure if it's possible to avoid all urban areas along the way.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

If you read the California high speed rail authority's website, you wouldn't have to be guessing.

They post express schedules with travel times of two and a half hours to LA.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I did read that. But, the rail doesn't exist, so those times are their own guesses.

And, again, based on simple math, I'd say they're being optimistic. There's not a lot of slack in the schedule for them to run the train under max speed for very many miles. But, I don't see how that's avoidable. So, without seeing how they came up with the number, I'm more inclined to trust my math, and sense of reality, than their estimates.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that it does nothing to relieve rush hour traffic to and from work for most of the state, that's not its purpose, it's a long distance rail. And, so far, the best argument you've had for it is it's good for people with young kids who don't want to drive. Which doesn't come across as a very compelling reason to blow $10B.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

Eurostar recommends you check in 45--60 minutes prior to departure. If you spend $10B on a rail system that people actually use I have no doubt Homeland Security will create lines just as long as those at your airport, nullifying whatever time savings the train was supposed to provide.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The obvious words are Europe and Japan. High speed trains work well in both. Toronto to Montreal isn't bad either, although it's hardly a high speed train, and VIA is crippled, like Amtrak, by political restrictions. But still getting to Pearson Airport, checking in, flying to Dorval, getting back to downtown takes at least as long as just grabbing the VIA from Union Station.

And yes VIA, like Amtrak, is badly managed in terms of its customer interface. But that can be fixed with a little hard work.

The second obvious point is global warming. It's irrational to have medium distance inter-city transport by plane (less than 500 miles) if there is a high speed ground route available. The CO2 cost is very high of doing that.

At the other end, we have Zipcar or its equivalent. In effect, you lease a local transport vehicle when you arrive, the same principle airports work on.

The third point, as Megan as already mentioned, is traffic generation.

Build a new road, and it will fill with traffic. That is a well understood principle of modern urban development. Congestion is not reduced.

(the converse is also true. Close a road, about 1/3rd of the traffic doesn't divert, it *disappears*. The journeys are never taken)

It doesn't mean that new roads are a waste of time. There is personal utility generated in new roads and new journeys being made.

But it does mean you can't solve congestion problems with concrete (exept at bottlenecks ie where the input capacity is much greater than the thruput capacity). You have to look at the London solution (congestion pricing), reserved lanes for public transport, etc. if you want to increase traffic speed.

The fourth point is about speed restrictions. The speed restrictions stem from the existence of level crossings. You don't have level crossings in a TGV scenario. TGV sits on its own right of way. It doesn't even share trackage with freight trains. That is how they get their 168mpg speed.

Is there something better California could do with $10bn? I don't know, but I do know that $10bn of highways won't solve any long distance transport problems. And more aircraft probably doesn't solve anyone's problems-- CO2, noise pollution or congestion.

I would imagine that California will privatise its highways in any case, operating them as electronic road tolls. The tax base just isn't large enough otherwise, and infrastructure has become one of the world's boom industries. We'll take it for granted, all over the developed world, in 30 years time that we pay to drive a distance. Congestion is the great uncharged for economic externality-- the time cost you impose on someone else by being on the road.

There is already precedent all over the world, eg the 407 electronic toll highway north of Toronto.

At which point the direct tradeoff between taking the train and driving will become much more clear.

In the interim, there is a financial mechanism called Real Options Theory. What ROT says is that there is value in preserving or creating options for future actions. It's used a lot by drug companies and also for big infrastructure projects.

In the case of the California train they need to spend $1bn now preserving the easements and rights of way. Actually building the thing can wait until 2010 or 2020, when the need will be clear.

1:14 AM  

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