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How To Build an American National High Speed Rail system

by BruceMcF Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 08:09:33 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

... A Four Step Program

Step 1. Give states a framework to develop plans, either individually or in groups, and present them to the Federal government for vetting, approval, and funding support.

Step 2. States do that.

Step 3. Fund a substantial number of seed corridors, so that a large number of metro areas (House) and States (Senate) have a stake in maintaining ongoing Federal HSR funding.

Step 4. Keep funding the construction of more.

That is my plan. But, OTOH, I'm just an obscure Development Economist with a field specialization in Regional Economics, so the fact that its my plan is neither here nor there.

More newsworthy, it seems to be the plan of the Obama administration. So, unlike the Bank Bail-out, I find myself on the "cheerleader" side of Administration activity.

Give Me an H! Give Me an S! Give Me an R! What's It Spell? One Piece of the Energy Independent Transport Puzzle! YEAH!!!!



Wait a minute, what about the network map?

What about it? You want a network map, here's a network map:

That from a crude spreadsheet of pairs of 1m+ metro areas within a line-of-sight radius for Express HSR, based on geometric mean population per mile. Its main flaws, of course, are lack of detailed knowledge of local conditions ... for example, the Pacheco Alignment selected for the California HSR system, with HSR train running up the Caltrain Corridor from San Jose to San Francisco, has the impact on an HSR service of making San Jose and San Francisco into a single destination zone from Southern California, and adjusting for that adjustment would make for a much stronger corridor between LA and the BAY.

But, that's the point of the strategy, above. Those dots and lines are not a corridor map, they are a service map. One strong network economy of HSR is the ability to provide multiple trip-pair services on a single train with far less difficulty than an airplane.

Here is the (newly buffed and polished) Department of Transportation map of the HSR corridors that have already won official designation:

These corridors are shown laid out over a ghost of the existing Amtrak intercity network, which is reasonable since connection to existing passenger rail service is one of the criteria for designation.

They are not a design for a future HSR network. What they are is the result of the pieces of the four part strategy that were already in place. To make a long story short, we had everything in the above strategy except the money.

IOW, Shorter Obama: "High Speed Rail makes sense. Let's take our HSR plans and start funding them".


zOMG, some of those are not Bullet Trains! MASSIVE FAIL

There is some hyperventilating about the fact that many of the systems being talked about receiving funding are not going to be among the fastest trains on the face of the earth.

This hyperventilation is based on a fundamental misconception about how HSR works.

High Speed Rail does not work by being the fastest mode of transport on the planet. The fastest mode of transport on the planet is the Rocket. After that the Supersonic Plane. After that regular Jet Aircraft ... which, should be noted, is the mode that has commercial passenger operations ... then short-haul commuter jets, then prop planes, then ... I'm not sure what is next. Sooner or later we get to bullet trains.

High Speed Rail works be being fast enough so that it can offer competitive trip speeds, and then leveraging the other competitive advantages of rail over air and car transport to carve out a successful market niche.

How fast is fast enough depends on the distance between two cities.

Outside of congested areas, conventional rail cannot compete for speed against cars on the Interstate Highway system, so for most of the country, conventional rail relies entirely on its other competitive advantages in order to attract patronage ... not everyone has a car, some people dislike driving and view it as a tedious chore, on a train you can watch a movie on a portable DVD player or get work done on a laptop, there are some (mostly urban) destinations where having a car is a pain rather than a benefit, etc.

For conventional rail with conventional signaling and running over conventional level crossings, Federal Railroad Administration regulations typically mandate a top speed of 79mph. Add in slow zones for curves, station stops, etc., and conventional rail is only faster than the Interstate in congested areas.

Raise the top speed to 110mph and the effective trip speed to the 80mph-90mph range, and for most non-insane drivers a train trip begins to be faster than driving. This is the "Emerging HSR" class of HSR. When you take an existing rail corridor and upgrade it to take faster than conventional trains, this is the first step up from there. 110mph here is a limit for a specific class of upgraded level crossings.

Raise the top speed to 125mph and the effective trip speed to the 90mph to 110mph range, and for all non-insane drivers, a train trip of 2 to 3 hours begins to be significantly faster than driving. This is the "Regional HSR" class of HSR. 125mph here is the limit for trains relying on conventional signaling with lights and information next to the track ... beyond 125mph, signals have to be brought into the cab.

Most of the planned corridors on the DoT map above are Emerging HSR corridors ... and by the same token, since they were the ones that states took seriously enough to push through the process, they are mostly strategic enough corridors that they are likely to end up as Regional HSR corridors.

For many metro areas trip pairs, an effective trip speed of 100mph, which is a radius of 300mph, is fast enough to bring trips down to 3 hours or less. For others, its not. For Cleveland/Cincinnati, Regional HSR is certainly "High Speed Enough". For the LA Basin to the Bay Area, Regional HSR is not "High Speed Enough".

And that brings the final class of HSR, "Express HSR", also known as bullet trains. This is the class which would be referred to as HSR basically anywhere in the world. It requires all grade separated corridors ... 200mph is too fast to take across a level crossing, no matter how "hardened" the crossing may be. It requires that the track be banked for operation far above the speeds of normal container freight cars. It requires an ability to broadcast signals into the driver cabs of the trains. It requires broader, more sweeping turns than conventional rail. In order to keep the mass down and the driving energy up, it essentially requires an all-electrified corridor.

It is, in other words, not an incremental upgrade to an existing rail corridor. It might use an appropriate existing rail Right of Way, but it would use that right of way as a location to lay new bullet train tracks. And its not uncommon for bullet train systems to use the margins of rural and suburban Expressways for their Right of Way.


Fighting HSR Segregation

Now, assuming good design, you get what you pay for. Or as a programmer I am acquainted with writes, "Good, Fast, Cheap ... pick any Two out of Three".

The danger in providing only Express HSR funding is that an Express HSR corridor is expensive. Not every part of the country will find it possible to justify the required state contribution.

That means that if we segregate Express HSR out as the "only true and holy" HSR, we leave it politically exposed to counterattack in the areas that are left out.

And where, precisely, is left in? Well, California has passed $9b in state bond funding for a California HSR system that is Express HSR. The Northeast Corridor is the only place in the country that has established a "Regional HSR" system (though because it is operating in such a congested rail corridor with substantial legacy constraints, it operates in effect as an Emerging HSR system).

Florida and Texas have at various times flirted with bullet train systems ... indeed, a Governor Bush helped kill the flirtation in both instances.

That's it.

Now, instead of fighting over the "true and holy meaning of HSR", suppose that all of the systems that met the original Department of Transportation HSR corridor designation are given a definition as a "class of" HSR.

Now you have Southeastern Corridor, the Gulf Corridor, the Empire and Keystone corridors, the Ohio Hub, the Midwest Hub, possibilities for Emerging HSR corridor development in Texas, the Cascade Corridor in the Pacific Northwest, the New England Corridor connecting into the NEC. Add to that the Front Range corridor presently in early exploratory stages, and there is a massive footprint ... in total number of beneficiary states, for the Senate, in metro populations served, for the House, and even in terms of Swing States, for Presidential Politics.

And unlike bullet train corridors, those are systems that can have their foundation corridors built and put into operation in five years or less, which means corridors that can see ground broken before 2012 and passengers being served before the 2014 midterm elections.


Express and Regional HSR Should Be Friends

When built out, one way that Express HSR and Regional HSR work together is by sharing transfer passengers.

However, by electrifying the Regional HSR line, the Express HSR train can also simply continue on the Regional HSR to a destination that is off the HSR corridor.

So consider the following Express HSR alignment: New York City directly through northern Pennsylvania to North Central Ohio to Fort Wayne Indiana and on to Chicago.

"But it doesn't go to..." is the first reaction. If I set out that map, then assuming anyone was reading, the reaction would be to point out all the places it does not go. But that is ignoring the Midwest and Ohio Hubs. Which is a silly thing to do. Consider the following (note that this is from the Ohio Hub site ... it does not include the entire Midwest Hub, but only the eastern corridors ... the Midwest Hub does actually extend from the Great Lakes into the Midwest proper):

Only the far western stretch of that bullet train alignment appears in this map ...

... However, from where it crosses the "Pittsburgh to Cleveland" alignment (the preferred alignment is the rail line I cycle commute over), a bullet train can run from New York City to Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit. From where it crosses the Triple-C from New York City to Columbus to Cincinnati (and likely on to Louisville and Memphis).

... From Chicago, an "Express HSR" service can run Chicago to the Triple C corridor to Buffalo and Albany, Chicago to the Cleveland / Pittsburgh corridor to Pittsburgh / Harrisburg / Philadelphia, and after upgrading the Pittsburgh / DC alignment, Chicago / Pittsburgh / DC.

That is, after all, how it is done overseas ... quite a large number of the French TGV routes, for instance, keep going for quite a way beyond the end of the bullet train corridor. In the map to the right, grey lines are TGV's running on conventional French rail corridors ... which, because of the differences between European and American rail systems, could be considered to be running on "Regional HSR" lines.

Indeed, much of the French TGV system was built in stages, with individual segments of a corridor brought into service on completion, with each segment reducing the travel time on that corridor until all bullet train corridors are completed.


Anyway, that's how to build a HSR system

It doesn't actually matter whether someone is an "Amtrak incrementalist", a "Rapid Rail advocate", or a "HSR advocate" ... its the same plan.

Which is why its not big deal if "Emerging HSR" and "Regional HSR" is not what Europeans are accustomed to calling "HSR". Now that we have the blueprint, we have the language to say "Express HSR" when we mean bullet trains, "Regional HSR" when we mean full fledged Rapid Rail, and "Emerging HSR" when we mean turbocharged conventional rail corridors with plans to build toward full fledged Rapid Rail.

Its a natural coalition of interests, which is a durable foundation for a political coalition among the supporters of the full range of systems.

And we may not be building the "Regional HSR" lines in the outback, as such ... but we do need to be building systems between the Appalachians and the Rockies if we want the robust political coalition that will allow the building of ten and twenty year infrastructure projects in the new century ahead.

Display:
... Part 3 here, when Part 3 was sitting down underneath part 1.

Anyway, I will be posting the above to the Great Orange Satan tomorrow (Sunday) around noon EST, so around 6pm your time.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 08:53:10 PM EST
[ET Moderation Technology™]

This is a general note to everone. When deleting own diaries, even when only because it was double-posted in error, you should consider that you also delete comments by others placed in that diary.

(In this case, there was a comment by JakeS, though fortunately it wasn't long, if JakeS wants to re-post his argument.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 03:07:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I wanted to get it deleted before it attracted any more comments.

All I can plead for the confusion is there is a baby kitten in the house, and I had to get up at 5am for bottle feeding.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 08:32:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Maryscott OConnor (myleftwing@gmail.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:10:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... stuff on the TBT train box and the Peninsula rail corridor, but I'm planning on posting this one.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... support available to ramp up the comment count in the recent diary list and get it in front of more eyeballs.

How To Build a National High Speed Rail system (Agent Orange)

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:16:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny you should include a picture of the Amtrak Cascades in your post (which ironically enough had a Pacific Surfliner locomotive on that particular day). Washington and Oregon have already drafted plans to upgrade the Cascades corridor to accommodate speeds of 110 mph - all they need is the money.

The Amtrak Cascades has been growing in popularity and ridership for some time, but it's a perfect example of what you describe here. Usually it is faster to drive between Seattle and Portland than take the Cascades - the train is scheduled to take 3:30, whereas a driver can theoretically make the 160-mile trip in just over two hours (assuming the Washington State Patrol doesn't have something to say about it, and assuming you're not doing this on a weekend or holiday). In my experience the drive can be made in about 2:30.

However, at 110 mph the Cascades could connect Seattle to Portland in under two hours, which would be unbeatable by road. Horizon Air does run shuttle flights between Sea-Tac and PDX, and come July both airports will be connected to their city centers by light rail, but when you factor in the time cost of getting to the airport, passing security, the flight, and taking the light rail to the city center, it would be about the same as a trip on an upgraded Cascades train. It helps that in both Seattle and Portland the train station is located smack in the center of the city.

Unfortunately state budget cuts have hit the Cascades system hard - planned sidings and other track upgrades to enable faster speeds have been put off by several years, and Washington is likely to lay off the entire rail division at the state Department of Transportation. This in a state whose government is dominated by Democrats. Madness.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 09:09:07 PM EST
... FRA mandated concrete blocks in the "baggage compartment" of the reverse (non-motor) driver car ... I expect those are what would be used if the Triple-C corridor here in Ohio gets the level crossing upgrades to permit operations at 110mph.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 09:51:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder if that particular run is even worthwhile until it's tied into a San Francisco line.  I took a bus from Seattle to Portland a couple of weeks ago for $twenty something, which took 3 1/2 hours with a stop in Tacoma.  It wasn't bad, except for two guys behind me doing one-up bragging for the whole trip.


paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 10:40:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... or 10:50 passing tracks depends on the frequency of the passenger service and the amount of freight traffic.

However, the case for the Cascade Corridor ... which is quite strong ... is entirely independent of whether its tied to the San Francisco line. It is growing in patronage even under its current 79mph speed limits, which leaves driving as faster than the train for most travelers ... when it becomes faster than driving, it will experience a shift in mode share.

Similarly, the success of a HSR corridor in Florida is entirely independent of whether its tied to the Northeast Corridor.

Indeed, unless the connection is a bullet train, the success of the Triple-C (Cleveland / Columbus / Cincinnati) corridor in Ohio is entirely independent of whether its connected to the Northeast Corridor. The 79mph system currently passed will require operating subsidy, but the 110mph version of the plan would not ... it would generate an operating surplus that could be used to support revenue bonds for the state match for further Federal funding.

So its the opportunity to attract a sufficient share of the transport market between the three largest metro areas in the state that will finance the connections to the east coast ... not visa versa.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 11:04:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this one:

Step 3. Fund a substantial number of seed corridors, so that a large number of metro areas (House) and States (Senate) have a stake in maintaining ongoing Federal HSR funding.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 03:09:25 AM EST
There is some hyperventilating about the fact that many of the systems being talked about receiving funding are not going to be among the fastest trains on the face of the earth.

I have to disagree here. Not on the general thrust that upgraded conventional rail can be fine, too -- I fully agree on that. It's not even that I'd think any of those projects would be unnecessary, or that they would not be a step forward relative to the status quo. But, I think for rail to truly take off, your Step 3 which I highlighted above should apply even for the high-speed part alone. And Obama's current earmarked funding is nowhere near to be enough for that.

The reason I think it should apply even to the high-speed part alone is that otherwise, such leaner-slimmer conventional line upgrades will be pursued by decisionmakers even where true high-speed would make sense. Politicians the country over should get to see that it can be better to spend more.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 03:29:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... above for "Express HSR" alone requires a political coalition already in place that extends beyond the Northeastern Seaboard and California.

$8b jump start and $1b a year cannot build enough "Express HSR" corridors to get the political support we need. And at the same time, "Express HSR" corridors require so long to build, especially in the absence of suitable Express Interurban track, that there is a serious political risk of projects getting killed unfinished.

However, given funding in the $100m's a year, an "Emerging HSR" corridor can be done from planning to passenger operations in four years. And there is no doubt they will be political winners, given experience of the past decade on the political popularity of upgrading subsidized conventional rail.

Get the seed corridors started for "Regional HSR", and the desire to assure the Federal matching funds to allow the systems to be expanded rapidly using revenue bonds will provide the political cover that will permit the funding of the strongest "Express HSR" corridors ... going to the version of the crude city pair map which weighted by mean population per route mile:

... we ought to be building "Express HSR" for Cincinnati/Chicago/Minneapolis, Miami/Central Florida/Atlanta, NYC/Chicago/St. Louis, Boston/NYC, Dallas/Houston/NOLA, Portland,OR/Vancouver.

Now, we are talking about $10b-$20b a year, sustained for over a decade.

That is clearly out of reach at the moment, but with four or five of the strongest "Regional HSR" networks launched, it could well be within reach in the next five years under current economic conditions, and with the experience of having those systems during the coming series of oil price shocks, will sooner or later be a slam dunk.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 08:09:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is, after all, how it is often done overseas ... quite a large number of the French TGV routes, for instance, keep going for quite a way beyond the end of the bullet train corridor.

You may want to add the map below from quid.fr as evidence (even if it is a bit dated -- e.g. LGV Est first stage opened, LGV Rhin-Rhône and Perpignan-Figueras in construction).



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 05:41:31 AM EST
An up to date version...

A couple interesting things to note : you have TGVs rolling on normal lines alongside the LGVs so as to have stops on the downtown trainstations of medium cities (Montélimar for example). The availability of "going onto normal tracks" means that a representative wanting to get the TGV for his citizens can do so cheaply (For example the TGV going to the Sables d'Olonnes, which is actually pulled by a diesel Locomotive as the last section of tracks isn't electrified).

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 06:38:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
nt signifie "non texte"

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 08:25:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the TGV going to the Sables d'Olonnes, which is actually pulled by a diesel Locomotive as the last section of tracks isn't electrified

That oddity ended last December: the line was electrified.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:07:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you mentioned somewhere the need for a decision about whether the passenger corridors should be separate from the freight corridors? With mixed traffic you have all sort of technical and scheduling problems, but with separate corridors you have to beef up the eminent domain laws...
by asdf on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 10:32:33 AM EST
Why is it necessary to beef up the eminent domain laws?

For "Regional HSR" (*), there's no need for separate corridors to have separate track, and if you offer a private railway enough, they'll permit separate track to be built. Its boatloads cheaper than a new alignment. UPRR might be a bit stubborn on the point, but the other mainline railroads seem happy enough about the idea of shaving off the unused part of single track ROW with sidings on four track ROW ... it cuts their property tax liabilities without having to go through the long bureaucratic process of dropping the status as a rail corridor of a portion of the ROW.

For Express HSR ROW, if we could build Interstate Highways, we can build Express HSR corridors.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 10:47:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The eminent domain laws need to be beefed up because they are about an emotional issue, exactly the sort of thing that gets lawmakers way over into the stupid zone. In Colorado there is/was a proposal to build a new toll road with rail corridor out east of Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo. It's a dumb idea. But the problem is that the "ranchers" (this is in the driest part of the Great American Desert, completely unsuitable for any sort of agriculture) got together and pushed through a law that would prevent land takings by private companies.
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/government/article/0,2777,DRMN_23906_4423092,00.html

This is not a unique case.
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/26/60minutes/main575343.shtml

Recall that the Interstate highway system was platted over 50 years ago. It's not nearly as easy now to build a new segment, and many of the new segments follow contorted paths as a result.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeway_and_expressway_revolts

by asdf on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:24:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There aren't any landowners to negotiate with for the Ohio Hub other than railroads.

And there is no indication that the railroads will be stroppy about getting 10:50 passing lanes or in busier freight lines, dedicated lines taking passenger rail out of the way of their freight.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:52:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Many many thanks for the excellent presentation.

It leaves me with one major question and a few others:

For that vast expanse of America, what lines needs to be, or what lines should be electrified (switched from diesel) and is there a trade off for time and investment in the decision, short term and long?

Secondly, why so long? I understand that some of these plans are already or nearly ready to go? Is there a way to speed up the process to getting started?

Thirdly, we keep talking about the relative insignificance of the 8 + 5 billion dollars. But wouldn't that be combined with state and private funding and specifically targeted private/state and federal funding once a plan goes into some phase beyond a dream? And would a rejuvenated freight system built into the plans help in the financing?

Fourthly, has the cognition flashed to anyone in the Obama consortium about linking the train system and the electrical infrastructure à la the diary that Jerome did shortly after the US election?

Fifthly, will it all be American jobs, that is, will some of the technology, and perhaps jobs, logically come from other countries? For example: Can the trains be built by GM or can Fiat (merging with Chrysler) bring in an Italian train? or some variation?

Finally, is there any polling of USians that asks if they are willing to forgo more freeway construction (one presumes that there is money there) or (perish the thought) from military budgets (an original excuse for the interstate highway system), to get a train system going?

You can twitter me the answers or add questions as required.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 10:41:46 AM EST
Main question:

What lines "need to be" electrified in terms of the mainline US rail network is a freight rail question. Electrifying the 32,000 miles of STRACNET would, under recent modeling, allow half of US long haul diesel road freight to be shifted to electric rail freight, for a savings of 10% of current US crude oil imports. That would be $80b a year for six years.

Regarding the passenger rail corridors, as long as the DoT insists that newly built infrastructure (road overpasses and underpasses, freight/passenger cross-overs, etcetera) have the clearance for later installation of overhead electric supply, there's no urgency in electrifying the corridor up front. And if its operating at the speed that allows it to generate an operating surplus, then an electrification project is one of the things that the surplus could help fund.

Secondly, why so long ... I don't understand the question. The first Emerging HSR projects that will be funded will be in operation by 2012. Those that that do not have EIR/EIS approvals will need an additional year planning / environmental approvals at the beginning of that. Those that do not have a settled alignment will likely need two years of planning funded before putting in for funding to start construction.

For Express HSR, they are new alignments, and time is needed for tunneling, building viaducts, building the origin/destination stations, building the grade separations, etcetera and etcetera. Its not a project that can be successfully pursued under the "microwave popcorn" mentality of, eg, cable news ... it needs a more durable political foundation.

On the third, the $8b in the Stimulus is no-match funding, and I would hope that the $5b will follow the precedent of new Interstate Highway construction and the latest Amtrak bill of 80:20 Federal:local funding for new capital investment in interstate transport infrastructure.

Public/private does not, of course, increase the amount of funds available, though in many cases where there are mindless government accounting rules that discourage productive government investment in infrastructure, public/private partnerships can allow funds like operating surpluses to be shifted forward at some cost to the total amount available for capital investment.

Fourthly, no idea ... this is something to push for as part of the Electrification of STRACNET strategy, but its a much, much bigger project and a much, much bigger Energy Independent Transport win than the first decade of the HSR build out.

Fifthly, the construction work will be American jobs, the people driving and staffing the trains and staffing the stations will be American jobs. There is likely to be a domestic content requirement on trains, which would be difficult to fight in the WTO because everybody else does it too ... but since the bulk of the employment has nothing to do with who builds the trains, that is only political theater. The trains could be all-imported, and it'd still be a minor portion of the total jobs created.

Finally, it seems that some airline or airline industry group did a survey to ask whether people would support HSR even if it meant additional fees on short-haul air travel. If that was an anti-HSR exercise, they are not likely to publicize the results widely, because HSR received a surprising amount of support for such a biased framing of HSR.

Since the most expensive "HSR" ... the "Express HSR" which in most European eyes would mean "what the yanks are calling actual HSR" ... is all electric transport with substantial ability to reduce the number of short shuttle flights between major cities, each corridor funded is a net reduction in petroleum imports. Given the US economy's massive exposure to oil price shocks, its a productive government investment in infrastructure simply as insurance against crude oil price shocks ... so unlike profligate consumption like the II&O (Iraq Invasion and Occupation), it is economically sustainable over the long term even if pursued as pure debt-funded spending.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the work, and the splendid answers; great and exciting stuff.

BruceMcF:

What lines "need to be" electrified in terms of the mainline US rail network is a freight rail question. Electrifying the 32,000 miles of STRACNET would, under recent modeling, allow half of US long haul diesel road freight to be shifted to electric rail freight, for a savings of 10% of current US crude oil imports. That would be $80b a year for six years.

That $80b a year is;
a) the savings of 10% of current US crude oil imports or
b) the electrifying the 32,000 miles of STRACNET?
BruceMcF:
Given the US economy's massive exposure to oil price shocks, its a productive government investment in infrastructure simply as insurance against crude oil price shocks ... so unlike profligate consumption like the II&O (Iraq Invasion and Occupation), it is economically sustainable over the long term even if pursued as pure debt-funded spending.

Has anyone perchance figured the cost of crude when it included the support of some part of the military budget required to keep it coming? In other words, in the conservative world of true and vibrant responsibility for all things, is there a real cost of crude oil that could be compared to in discussing topics like this, to help put the cost of these long-term and more socially beneficial projects in perspective?

I read things like this, conservatives giving credit to Roosevelt in order to slap Obama [bold mine]...:
The Trend May Not Be Your Friend - Thoughts From The Frontline

By the way, I thought one of the great headlines in the papers from those days was, "The deluge of panic selling overwhelms the market. 19 million shares changed hands." 19 million shares changing hands caused the crash in 1929! That's about a minute today. Okay, before the Great Depression, Coolidge was telling us, at the end of his presidency, that everything was cool, and then we got Hoovered. They tried to balance the budget, and they didn't really provide any stimulus. We got Smoot-Hawley. Given the massive implosion of capital and the closing of banks, there clearly was not enough growth in the money supply. Government and the Fed just did a lot of wrong things.

So at the height of the Depression, in 1933, as Roosevelt was coming into his first term, we had 25% total unemployment; 37% (!) of non-farm workers were unemployed; 4004 banks had failed; $3.6 billion in deposits was lost. That's like trillions in dog years, okay? At least in 2009 dog years. You end up with bread lines, and the stock market just keeps going down, down, down (with a few marvelous bear-market rallies - maybe like what we are seeing today?).

Roosevelt comes along and we get the New Deal. He applied massive stimulus. By the way, his stimulus hired people. He put them to work building parks and the Tennessee Valley Authority. They were building a lot of infrastructure. He didn't put it into Democratic wish lists and permanent wealth transfers and welfare and special-interest agendas to increase the overall budget beyond what we could ever hope to actually pay for (without even more radical tax increases), which the Obama Administration is clearly doing. We'll get to the effectiveness of current policies in a moment.

 
...and wonder if the conservatives would be the ones fighting a train system...or is it just going to be the airlines and car companies. Not being into the American press, I don't get the flow...except that, no matter what rapid transit program has been tried in the last 10 years, they have been so remarkably successful that they exceed ridership predictions by far that even conservatives have to be in awe.  

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 05:39:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The $80b/year for six years is the cost of financing the electrification of STRACNET and infrastructure in support of high speed electric rail freight paths.

There's no projecting what saving 10% of crude oil imports will be worth ... and the higher the cost of crude oil, the greater the savings, both because each barrel costs more, and because as the price of diesel goes up, the mode share of the electric freight rail rises.

Indeed, it makes sense to pursue the electrification of STRACNET as a national insurance policy, since the way things are now, the US will get hammered into recession with each oil price spike, and in the same scenario the other high income nations of the world are going to be reducing their oil dependency and with it their exposure to oil price shocks.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 06:22:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IIRC, Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens have assembly plants in the US so that they can meet "Buy American" requirements. Fiat sold its rail division to Alstom some years ago.
by Gag Halfrunt on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 07:51:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing that needs rethinking is what people can 'do' on trains. A journey that is slower than a rocket is not a problem if it is possible to do something that feels personally 'productive'.

I happen to like trains because I can get some work done that is specific to the trip - there and back. On the Finnish intercity business sections that work is pleasant: the seats are comfortable, the tables practical, the noise level low, laptops can be charged and wifi available, long with decent coffee and snacks.

But what about families - how to entertain the kids? What about teenagers?
 

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:36:17 AM EST
... portable media players, portable game consoles, netbooks with WiFi ... as long as the seats have a standard LVDC plug with enough amps to handle a notebook computer, keeping kids occupied is a lot easier than in a car. Especially since its not necessary to stop for the kid to go to the loo.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:18:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes - these would be a start.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 01:24:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
French TGVs have no plugs, no wifi, and a rough guesstimate of how many passengers are looking at a LCD screen of some kind during your average train travel is a quarter to a half. Now that the median personal computer is a laptop, it's easy to have one to bring on board.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 03:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the American HSR systems will be introduced in the 21st century, and will have WiFi and DC powerpoints.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:44:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Leapfrogging...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:58:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, only if we can get the FRA regulations upgraded. Hard to play leapfrog when carrying concrete blocks to reach a target weight.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 05:32:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
120v plugs are already standard on Amtrak California cars, and have been slowly added to refurbished Amtrak Superliner coaches (I was lucky enough to ride in one on my last Coast Starlight trip back to Salinas from LA); such plugs have long been standard in Amtrak sleeper rooms.

WiFi is the next big frontier. This is somewhat difficult because of track-sharing with freight. Amtrak California's Capitol Corridor route (connecting Sacramento, Oakland and San José) had thought they'd settled on a good WiFi implementation, but Union Pacific complained that it interfered with their communications (sounds specious to me, but whatever). The Capitol Corridor is close to implementing another WiFi solution that apparently has UP's blessing. Caltrain (commuter rail between SF and San José) is next in line to adopt the system and if it proves successful on the Capitols then I expect the Pacific Surfliners (San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara-LA-OC-San Diego) to adopt it next, and perhaps the whole Amtrak system.

This would be a godsend - I take the Capitol Corridor up to Sacramento fairly often, and WiFi would make it unimaginably more productive. There's only so much work you can get done with an iPhone. Hell, I might just take the Coast Starlight to LA for all my trips, reserve a sleeper room, use it as an "efficiency suite" and charge it to my employer...

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 08:55:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cellphone internet on a computer is becoming mainstream in France and might make Wifi in trains obsolete fast...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 03:06:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On my various Amtrak journeys, I've noticed that the teenagers are fine. They have portable electronics, for one thing, but flirting with other traveling teens seems to be the main activity. The comparative lack of structure seems to make the kids happy, also. Considering how over-protected most youngsters seem to be, the freedom to go all the way to the lounge car to buy a snack seems very exciting.

The only time I have seen a real problem is when a completely dysfunctional mother let her five year old out on one of the "smoke stops" and he got over to the other side of the train from the platform. The conductor was not happy at all...

by asdf on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:29:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We carry in our hearts the true country....
by rifek on Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 04:38:03 PM EST


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