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Sunday Train: Why We Fight

by BruceMcF Sun May 29th, 2011 at 07:31:44 PM EST

NB: It is Memorial Day weekend in the US

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

"Why We Fight" is a common feature of propaganda in support of a war. Here, tonight, it is a double entendre. On tonight's Sunday Train, in honor of Memorial Day tomorrow, with two wars launched in the past decade and still ongoing (though in one, "combat operations" by US forces have finished, so any fighting and dying is of the support and training type of fighting and dying), and another recently started up, what it means when we notice that "why we fight" has a simple answer: oil.

And also, politically, why we fight for Living Energy Independence, here on the Sunday Train.


Is There Any Doubt We Fight For Oil?

There really isn't any doubt we fight for oil, is there? In Afghanistan, we invaded because they were harboring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who had just masterminded a massive terrorist attack. Osama bin Laden was pissed off at the US for having an army composed mostly of infidels in Saudi Arabia, "Guardian of the Holy Places", two of the three holiest sites in Islam.

And our army was there in Saudi Arabia because of oil.

As for Iraq, clearly we weren't there for weapons of mass destruction. So we were either there to try to get an inside track on their oil reserves, or else to get back at Saddam for spoiling Daddy Bush's Gulf War I victory.

But Gulf War I was fought because Saddam had his army invade Kuwait, and we counter-invaded because Kuwait had a lot of oil and the invasion made a lot of other Gulf Oil Nations very nervous about what would happen to them if the precedent stood.

And, indeed, even if we counter-invaded because that's what we always do when an authoritarian monarchical state is invaded by an authoritarian fascist state somewhere around the world (stay with me here, I said even if) ... Saddam invaded because Kuwait had oil.

So one way or another, that was because of oil. Arguing which oil-based reason it was is just quibbling.

And clearly, what sets Libya apart from the other "Arab Spring" countries is that they are an important European oil supplier, and Ol' Mo is not trusted as a reliable manager of those oil supplies, so we could get quite a number of NATO allies to say, "oh, yeah, definitely" when we rang around to see if anything should be done about Ol' Mo threatening to massacre thousands to hundreds of thousands of his people.

Seriously, if all it took was thousands to hundreds of thousands threatened with being massacred, we'd have multiple divisions spread across central and east Africa right now.


Who's "WE" here?


Mind you, this is "why we do it" in terms of "why in the hell do the powers that be decide why we do it". That doesn't mean that the fighting men and women are fighting for oil. They are fighting because they signed up to serve ~ and, as pointed out by writers about war from Will Shakespeare in Henry the Fifth to the scriptwriters of Blackhawk Down, for the men and women that they fight alongside.

My first degree was a B.Phil in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Latin American Studies. And so from the 1980's, I've had some appreciation for what happens when the armed forces start making policy ~ which is to say, things go downhill from there pretty quickly.

So I am not going to go down the track of wondering whether members of the armed forces ought to respond to the call to fight for oil. I'm sticking with the burden on that question being with those who make the call.

And as long as we stay addicted to oil, The Powers That Be (TPTB) will keep on making that call. If we care about the men and women who wear this nation's uniform, and do not want them to have to answer the call to go to war for oil ~ its up to us to find ways to kick the addiction.


But ~ why High Speed Rail?

Why Living Energy Independence?

  • So TPTB won't be able to push through ever more Wars for Oil
  • So that we can mitigate the impact of climate chaos
  • So that we can mitigate the impact of the Great Extinction
  • So that we can pursue a Brawny Recovery without forcing an Oil Price Shock Recession
  • So that our economy can remain a high income core economy instead of slipping down into peripheral low-income status

So, yeah, we got plenty of reasons and to spare for pursuing Living Energy Independence.

But why High Speed Rail? After all, the American Enterprise Institute transport propagandist Geddes said somewhere that HSR uses massive amounts of electricity.

Its true ~ he really did say it. Don't expect me to link to a lie that absurd, any more than I would link to Breitbat's Photoshop pretending to be a screencap of Rep. Anthony Weiner tweeting something non-Republican elected officials would not normally tweet.

Because when I look to the calculations of James Strickland (link to a downloadable page, not a direct link to the page itself), someone who knows more in more detail about the issue of transport energy efficiency than I ever will, I find the following estimates for intercity transport in typical use. "pmpge" is my abbreviation for the mouthful "passenger-miles per gallon or energy equivalent".

  • 380 pmpge: High Speed Electric Train (300 km/h)
  • 200 pmpge: Regional Electric Train
  • 200 pmpge: Diesel-electric commuter rail
  • 190 pmpge: Transrapid maglev (400 km/h)
  • 170 pmpge: Highway coach
  • 96 pmpge: Toyota Prius
  • 50 pmpge: Aircraft
  • 44 pmpge: Ford Explorer
  • 40 pmpge: Hovercraft
  • 14 pmpge: Helicopter

Now, a number of cautions are required here. The total energy spend on intercity trips is less than the total energy spent on local transport, so this is no silver bullet for oil addiction. Also, while Express HSR service is massively more energy efficient than car or air transport in typical use, Express HSR infrastructure is not "free". Express HSR where it is replacing new highway and airport infrastructure is more materially efficient, but that is when you can expect to fill up the trains and when you need to build something in any event.

However, there are places around the country were we'll be wanting to build more intercity transport capacity in the decade ahead, and that lie in the 100 mile to 500 mile sweet spot for HSR, and for those places, Express HSR can be a massive energy win.


Oh, and by the way, We've Got To Get Started


At the same time, there is the question of lead time. Lead time for an Express HSR project is over a decade, so we are not fighting today for Express HSR for 2011 conditions, we are fighting today for Express HSR for 2020 conditions. And the Express HSR we build based on what we learn from that will be built for 2030 and 2040 conditions.

There is, by contrast, lots of things we can do with much shorter lead times that only require finance and a couple of years ramp up to get going.

A crash program to establish a complete network of street with 25mph speed limits, physical auto speed limiters, that can readily share the road with neighborhood electric vehicles, bikes and ebikes could get massive nationwide coverage in six years, with sufficient political will and adequate finance.

A crash program to establish a broad network of regional HSR corridors in idle right of way in existing rail corridors, first with 110mph diesel tilt trains and then with 125mph electric tilt trains, could get massive national coverage in six years.

A crash program to establish a national Steel Interstate network, providing electric long haul freight and, complementing the above, electric long haul intercity passenger trains, could get a complete national system up and running in six years.

A crash program to establish trolley bus networks for express bus corridors, with battery-supported trolley buses running on battery for local extensions, could get substantial national coverage in six years and massive national coverage in another six.

A crash program to replace the balance of school buses and city buses with pluggable hybrid diesel-electric buses and automatic quick recharge stations at key layover stops could get substantial national coverage in six years and massive national coverage in another six.

We can, in other words, revolutionize our oil dependency in lots of things and in lots of ways within a single Presidential administration, given the political will and the change coalition behind it to force through the change.

But for Express HSR, the most efficient intercity transport alternative available ~ where appropriate to the intercity transport market in question ~ the lead time is longer than that.

And the flip side is that while much of the local transport requires fixing our broken subsidy system, which hides most of our transport subsidies in cross subsidies and hidden subsidies dedicated to automobiles, and so the subsidies are not available to be tapped for other means of transport that do not lead to American fighting men and women going overseas and fighting and dying for oil ... {deep breath, the sentence is not finished yet} ...

... Express HSR does not. We have been accustomed to providing Federal capital subsidies for intercity transport infrastructure, at high Federal funding rates ~ 80% or more of the total budget ~ with operating subsidies handed out grudgingly if at all. And Express HSR, built for an appropriate transport corridor, does not need transport operating subsidies.

After all, we pay people by the hour, not by the mile, so the faster the Express HSR makes its transit, the more productive everyone working on the train is, automatically, whether the guy driving the train, or someone selling a cup of coffee and a toasted onion bagel with cream cheese.

So, HSR is not the be-all and end-all. Its not even the biggest part of the problem. But for the part of the problem it addresses, it does it well. And if we are going to be able to have the HSR we will desperately be wanting to have in 2020, we need to fighting for the successful ground breaking of HSR projects today.


Midnight Oil ~ Forgotten Years

Display:


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 May 29th, 2011 at 07:33:07 PM EST
Since this is the most recent train diary, I just want to mention that Sweden and Norway is having a tiff over wheter the left leg of swedish high speed should be 330 km/h (as Norway wants) or 250 km/h (as Sweden plans).

Norway's interest is simply a really fast connection between Oslo and the continent.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 09:27:25 AM EST
This is probably a mid-level manager conflict of some kind, because it seems quite clear to me that the Swedish government has no interest in either a 250 km/h or a 330 km/h rail between Oslo and Copenhagen. The Swedish governemt cares essentially about two things: winning elections and eliminating the national debt.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 05:24:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It may be that the 250km/hr version involves taking on less total debt, and either are perceived as being equally useful as a claim of "we do good things, vote for us", so it could be a mid-level managers projection of government's concerns.

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 May 30th, 2011 at 09:59:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More likely it's the realisation that a 300 km/h line would place Göteborg solidly within Copenhagen's sphere of influence, and Stockholm policy is to use infrastructure to tie southern Sweden to Stockholm, not to Copenhagen and Oslo.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 11:49:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So you are suggesting that the Swedish government has concerns other than reducing debt and winning the next election?

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 May 30th, 2011 at 11:58:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I'm suggesting that the Swedish civil service has.

I said "Stockholm," not "the Swedish government."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 01:33:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oho, even.

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 Tue May 31st, 2011 at 01:56:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sweden has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last four hundred years: To keep Denmark out of the Occupied Territories and Russia out of Finland.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue May 31st, 2011 at 02:20:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see very similar problems in the UK over ...well any infrastructure improvement. Any except roads of course.

We can't build windfarms. We can't build overhead powerlines. We can't build high speed railways, even a stupid one.

We can't; sums up anglo-american neo-conservatism really.

I suspect that the resistance comes from the idea that all of that money going from central government into the productive economy and wages reduces the amount that parasitic finance can easily extract. Of course, they dress it up in nimbyism, or getting the government the hell out of the way. But it's so much easier to plunder a billion if it's all sitting in one place

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 10:16:55 AM EST
btw, a minor quibble but re GW1. It very nearly wasn't fought at all. Saddam sought and gained permission from the US to invade

GW1 wiki

On the 25th, Saddam Hussein met with April Glaspie, an American ambassador, in Baghdad. According to an Iraqi transcript of that meeting, Glaspie told the Iraqi delegation,

    "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts."

The US sent troops to defend Saudi, but it wasn't until the Kuwait govt in exile contracted the lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton to create a view in DC to intervene. Their campaign included the farcical Senate committee hearings where the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador masqueraded as a nurse talking of babies thrown from incubators and other imagined atrocities (I am not suggesting none took place, but the testifier could not have known of them). The final Senate vote to re-invade Kuwait was 52-47, with several Senators admitting they had been exclusively swayed by the testimony of "atrocities".

I really don't think the mood in DC or the wider US was all that interested till then. The US was bounced into the war.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 10:27:07 AM EST
I don't see the part of the diary that the "minor quibble" disputes. We went to war, and it was about oil. You seem to be reinforcing the diary argument, rather than quibbling about it.

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 May 30th, 2011 at 12:26:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Gulf War I was fought because Saddam had his army invade Kuwait, and we counter-invaded because Kuwait had a lot of oil and the invasion made a lot of other Gulf Oil Nations very nervous about what would happen to them if the precedent stood.

And, indeed, even if we counter-invaded because that's what we always do when an authoritarian monarchical state is invaded by an authoritarian fascist state somewhere around the world (stay with me here, I said even if) ... Saddam invaded because Kuwait had oil.

Whilst I agree with the second paragraph 100% in that the re-invasion would never have happened without the oil, I still feel that it was more about how the USA (and world opinion) was bounced into doing the right thing against their will. After all, Iraq was a US asset. Saddam was their guy to the extent that he'd already asked permission to invade and received it beforehand.

The US officially didn't care cos they knew that they would be sold the oil whoever controlled it. So why should they go to war ? It doesn't make sense. Sure Cheney was in cahoots with the House of Saud who were nervous about the precedent of Saddam taking over a neighbour with impunity but that in itself wasn't enough. They'd already expressed indifference.

so, the presence of oil was irrelevant to the decision cos the US would have got the oil anyway and inaction would have been cheaper. No, the Senate was bounced by a clever pr campaign and an ambassador's daughter who lied.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 02:23:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
so, the presence of oil was irrelevant to the decision cos the US would have got the oil anyway and inaction would have been cheaper. No, the Senate was bounced by a clever pr campaign and an ambassador's daughter who lied.
In what way does any of that work out that way if Kuwait's chief export is dried fish?

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 May 30th, 2011 at 02:53:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That depends on how many of their fishing boats are owned by United Fish.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 03:22:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Whilst I agree with the second paragraph 100% in that the re-invasion would never have happened without the oil, I still feel that it was more about how the USA (and world opinion) was bounced into doing the right thing against their will. After all, Iraq was a US asset. Saddam was their guy to the extent that he'd already asked permission to invade and received it beforehand.

just like that

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 30th, 2011 at 03:26:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So it was about the oil.

Since the diary takes no position at all on how the details worked out, I still do not see how it contradicts any claim in the diary.

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 May 30th, 2011 at 03:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... or elsewhere is only a secondary issue in determining whether there is an intervention.

If Saddam was the State Department's "man" in that part of the world, George HW Bush was Saudi Arabia's "man in DC", and whether the go ahead was given by State, not understanding the "special relationship" of the Bushes and the House of Saud, the go ahead was given by the White House, not understanding the House of Saud's position on the question, or the effort was to give a go ahead for a protection racket extortion threat, not understanding that for Saddam, that meant going and taking it if the Kuwaiti's did not make the extortion payment ...

... the House of Saud did not like the precedent of Saddam invading and looting an oil rich nation, and with their man in DC as President of the United States, a more recalcitrant Congress would likely have represented a delay rather than a prevention of the counter-invasion.


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 Tue May 31st, 2011 at 08:52:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
High speed rail is great, but it's at best half the equation. What's really needed is the getting rid of local control of development and instead replacing it with national or statewide land use policies. Without this, HSR will only lead to more sprawl. Philadelphia is already a bedroom community for some who work in New York. Pushing down travel times to Maryland or Albany will likely result in the suburban development of any virgin land in the immediate area.
by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 08:51:57 AM EST
HSR lines would be crazy to service sprawl. Sprawl density doesn't justify the time you lose breaking from even 200 kph to zero and waiting for the self-loading freight to shuffle on and off. At 300 kph cruise speed you can completely fuggetaboutit.

Hell, even commuter heavy rail only really makes sense if you can convince people to live in two- or three-story houses. Any density below that is light rail, bus and personal electric vehicle territory.

I can see an HSR connection increasing sprawl around outlying cities, because it would reinvigorate those cities, permitting people to live in the suburbs and work in the city. But sprawl by people who want to commute first to the HSR station and then to another city? If you really have any amount of that, then, well, against stupidity even the gods fight in vain.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 10:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
HSR here will (and already does if you count Amtrak's Northeast Corridor as high speed) serve sprawl. It seems every HSR plan has both downtown stations and suburban stops. But the suburban stops are relatively close to the cities. The sprawl that will be created will be in places that are now well outside of the urban/suburban zone of a given city, places that are generally rural (i.e. cheap).

To me commuters have a time and not a distance limit. The limit seems to be two hours each way. On the New York to Albany line that means the current limit for commuters is about 160 km out (Rhinebeck). Increasing speeds to 300 kph could easily double that distance meaning places that are now rural like southern Vermont are suddenly within commuting range. Sprawl will undoubtly start there since there is nothing containing it unless we fundamentally change our land use policies. If not, HSR is just a tool for real estate development, something rail has done very well here for a very long time.

by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 04:53:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're stopping in every podunk suburb, you won't get 300 kph top speed, nevermind cruise speed. You'd be lucky to have a station spacing justifying 200 kph cruise speed.

Rule of thumb for 300 kph cruise speed says to have at least 100 km between each stop. Less than that and you're throwing good resources into overengineering something that would be perfectly well served by 200 kph cruise speed. Anything below 10-15 km between the (major) stops does not justify going above 160 kph top speed, for a cruise speed somewhere between 100 and 150 kph. Go below that, and you should not be doing heavy rail at all, unless you're co-opting existing freight rail infrastructure (< 160 kph top speed is light or rapid rail turf).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:19:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and if you're not stopping in every podunk suburb, those two hours one-way commute need to cover the time to get to the station as well as the time on the train.

Under a fully integrated rail solution, with park-and-ride space for electric vehicles (and as a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate), you'll have 100 km between each HSR stop, 10-15 km between each 100 kph cruise speed commuter rail stop, 1-3 km between each light rail/rapid rail stop and the rest covered by bikes, foot traffic, buses and/or electric cars.

That gives you a maximum distance for a two-hour commute of ~400 km, but that's if you live right on top of the HSR station. You want people to stack together on top of the HSR station - that's precisely the opposite of sprawl.

If you sprawl people out to a moderate distance of, say, 30 km from the HSR station (which really isn't that sprawling - that's roughly European density), you'll be looking at more like 250-300 km. And that's assuming you've got ship-shape infrastructure. In the real world, you'll be lucky to pull 200. Genuine sprawl? Fuggetaboutit, the economics are gonna kill a sprawl-catering HSR line stone cold dead before it even leaves the drawing board.

So HSR won't give you sprawl in the middle of the boonies because it connects NYC with the boonies - because it won't connect NYC with the boonies. It'll connect NYC with other major population centres. Now, this may cause those population centres to grow, and be able to sustain sprawl of their own... but that's a very different story, and one that would not be an unmitigated disaster.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 05:35:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I completely agree, ideally what you described is how a multiple service rail corridor should be designed. And maybe they'll actually get built that way. But even if they do, what's going to stop the area around major stations from sprawling beyond what you call a moderate distance? Rail absolutely needs density (and feeder services) but I can't see how what is now rural, open land won't be turned into low density housing without some sort of major change in how we manage the land. The two have to go hand in hand for the economics to be truly realized.
by Jace on Wed Jun 1st, 2011 at 08:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have major economic development around the HSR stations, then - under the current US residential housing system - you will get sprawl.

But that has to do with the fact that you will get economic growth in places that are not New York, not with HSR per se. If, instead, you placed a shipyard in those communities, you'd also get sprawl.

It's hard to see how driving for more than 30 km to an HSR station (that's going to take somewhere on the order of 3/4 of an hour, more the further you go out) and then switching to the HSR line can cause sprawl to develop further than about 250 km outside the major city you're connecting (and that's if your roads are in good condition - if they're not, you can shave a couple of dozen km off that estimate).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:11:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And you have to look at net impact. Being 10km from a town center to catch an HSR to nearby major employment center is not versus not living anywhere. under the premise, its versus living in the immediate outer-suburban belt around that major employment center, since the assumption is that local development rules encourage sprawl.

Assuming that the HSR authority is trying, picking station locations that net promote clustering as opposed to sprawl is reasonably straightforward. And if they aren't trying, then over-riding local planning authority and handing it to them instead does no good anyway.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:00:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, why would providing an Express HSR station ~ at a specific place, with land in its vicinity gaining additional value due to ease of getting to an Express HSR station ~ tend to increase sprawl relative to providing that same intercity transport capacity via roadworks? I do not follow the argument.

If the state or federal funding sources for an Express HSR corridor have the will and capacity to fight sprawl, all they need do is to not pick station locations that offer no infill development opportunities and do not integrate well with local transport networks.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:50:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, adding any similar increase in door to door travel time, no matter the mode, will tend to increase sprawl in a similar manner. As HSR is currently that much faster than other surface modes, it offers at least the possibility for significantly greater development/sprawl along a longer route (going back to the two hour travel time 'limit').

If the state or federal funding sources for an Express HSR corridor have the will and capacity to fight sprawl, all they need do is to not pick station locations that offer no infill development opportunities and do not integrate well with local transport networks.

You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot then, no? Trains need volume. You either have high density very close to the stations or you have an extensive feeder network, be it car, bus, tram, regional rail, etc. We don't have density and as it stands now, we don't have much ability to create density through land use restrictions. Instead we have to rely on feeder networks to bring in traffic. Outside of a few major urban areas, the only feeders we have are cars. That's the rub.

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 02:33:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it offers at least the possibility for significantly greater development/sprawl along a longer route

No, not "along" a route. Unlike the alternative investment in Expressways, its only at distinct points along the route, with each point widely spaced.

Which by contrast to the status quo means of providing the same intercity transport capacity, is more clustered development, and therefore less sprawl development.


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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:17:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at 19th century Sweden, building railroad clusters the population already living in an area closer to the train station. Villages that got a train station grew at the expense of their neighbours.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:51:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, adding any similar increase in door to door travel time, no matter the mode, will tend to increase sprawl in a similar manner.
... no, of course not, not unless it actually increases sprawl.

It would be absurd to define sprawl simply in terms of commute travel time: that ignores where people go to get their groceries and other shopping, where kids go to school, where people go for their leisure. If the environs of the HSR work more like a town and less like sprawl suburbia, then development for people living in those environs will be less sprawling than development to cater to people living in sprawling outer suburbs.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 03:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the environs of the HSR work more like a town and less like sprawl suburbia, then development for people living in those environs will be less sprawling than development to cater to people living in sprawling outer suburbs.

How will happen without changes in how we regulate land development?

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:47:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you have sprawl-level densities around the HSR station, there is a sporting chance that someone will get pissed off that the existing residents are hogging all the valuable space right on top of the station with their low-density development.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:49:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... it is a system of direct, cross and hidden subsidies for sprawl development. You are concluding that the HSR will have sprawl impact by first assuming away the fact that spending on intercity road transport is one of those cross subsidies, and second assuming that the land use planning landscape under local control is a single, uniform mass with no local variation.

Spending on Express HSR intercity transport capacity instead of road intercity capacity is a dramatic change in the landscape. With the investment in roadworks, roads in the outer suburban area form dendritic networks draining toward the exit in the direction of the dominant commute. With investment in HSR, transport is focused on a single point with a 50km to 100km radius, and unlike land in sprawl suburbia, where land value is primarily created by zoning fiat, land value rises as you get closer to the station, on the natural square power relationship that there is only a quarter as much land that is half the distance to the station.

Now, you may believe that US local political systems are immune to the interests of property developers, but I do not. I believe that with a strong commercial interest by property developers in being permitted to exploit the value of proximity by being permitted to engage in mixed use and infill residential development, they will by hood or by crook get the station sited where they can get permission to engage in infill development.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 10:58:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, you may believe that US local political systems are immune to the interests of property developers,

This couldn't be further from the truth! I've seen the process at work too many times. Property developers exploit local level politicians because remember they're the only ones involved in development. There is no national level involvement, states at best set some policy as in pro-growth or anti-growth. All of the real decisions on development are made locally. Rural states and localities are almost universally pro-growth because of the potential growth in tax revenues and political influence. Property owners know this, the local politicians know this. The temptations are huge, despite known longer term impacts of sprawl. That states have to look at buying land to take it out of commission to limit development is an illustration of just how screwed up the process is.

by Jace on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 07:54:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... rules will stay the same after changing the rewards so that infill development around the station is more lucrative?

I'd expect that the rules will bend to allow developers to take advantage of those opportunities.

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 Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 02:05:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
< 160 kph top speed is light or rapid rail turf

Well there is still a lot between < 100 km/h non-heavy-rail and 160 km/h (and why do you write kilopond-hours?). 120 km/h is pretty widespread for secondary mainlines (as well as regional trains running on them) in Europe; with an EMU of good acceleration, you can reach that top speed with stops 3 km away. Then again, one should consider running trains with different stopping patterns over the same track.

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

by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:10:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well there is still a lot between < 100 km/h non-heavy-rail and 160 km/h (and why do you write kilopond-hours?). 120 km/h is pretty widespread for secondary mainlines

For track design or rolling stock? I was under the impression that 160 km/h was standard for new heavy rail rolling stock these days.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:43:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Track. I add that while 160 km/h top speed is pretty much standard for new vehicles, if put into all-stopper service, these same trains rarely go above 120 km/h, and can use top speed on suitable lines in limited-stop service (or thinly populated areas) only.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:22:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Commuting doesn't make sprawl, and urbanization doesn't equal sprawl. Commuting started with railways and tramways, not cars, but sprawl definitely started with cars and zoning laws. The difference is stations: the concentration of traffic flows to/from stations provides for a concentration of settlements (and rising property prices near stations). HSR stations placed into existing sprawl suburbia could in time concentrate them into proper villages/cities. Though the effect would be stronger if there is local mass transit linking up with the HSR station.

To me commuters have a time and not a distance limit.

There are travel costs, too. In an earlier discussion, someone quoted numbers that there are commuters on the Paris-Lyon line (that would be in your two hours radius), but not many.

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

by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:59:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite: these kind of HSR commuters may be important relative to the local economy of the town near the HSR station, but they are a drop in the bucket as far as the total Paris commute goes.

And since they promote clustering, by preferentially using local facilities convenient to the HSR, that is intrinsically anti-sprawl.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:04:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
2-hour commutes are a drop in the bucket even relative to total HSR traffic.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 01:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... I said anything about a two hour commute as typical, though 1.5 hr commutes are far too common in many larger sprawl dominated metro areas. More likely to attract a commute portion of trips are one hr and less, and since they will be priced primarily to fill up seats left empty by debarking before the major job center, they are naturally limited.

More important in terms of spatial organization are when satellite facilities can be placed outside the core of a headquarters agglomeration ~ eg, location of back office and production facilities in support of Silicon Valley firms in California in the Central Valley of California, accessed via HSR, rather than in the Pacific Northwest, accessed by air.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 02:25:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two hours were in Jace's original comment as the limit for commuting, and I replied with the Paris-Lyon example to argue that no, the two-hour travel times by HSR aren't commuter territory.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, commuting doesn't create sprawl. Speaking strictly from a US perspective, cheap, undeveloped land, unrestricted development, cars as feeder vehicles and a transportation trunk of some sort are all factors. I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb when I say that role of this trunk corridor is key in initiating sprawl. In the US, that corridor generally has been the Interstate Highway system:

Among the projects that spurred the most development in Fairfax County was the Capital
Beltway (I-495 and I-95), the 64-mile-long Interstate freeway that circles Washington, D.C.
Planned during the 1950's as part of the Interstate Highway System, the first section of the
Capital Beltway opened in 1961 and the entire highway was completed in 1964. (from Happy to Grow: Development and Planning in Fairfax County, Virginia)

Turning to the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey, the older cities that first developed with the railroad (and therefore before the car) are anything but affluent. Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway and on down to New Brunswick don't have rising property values, quite the opposite in fact. Then there are the more distant stops (80-100 km to NY) like Princeton Junction, Hamilton and Trenton that now have significant commuter ridership into New York.

Hamilton is a case in point. The station was built in 1999 on the site of an old factory. There is no town there, just a parking lot with 2,800 spaces. It is however right next to an interchange with Interstate 295. There were 1.5 million passengers trips to/from Hamilton in 2007 (tied for third most on the line). Just looking at weekday traffic, you can generate 1.4 million trips with 2,800 cars each day - in other words, pretty much all the feeder traffic comes in and goes out by car. This station has been a success because the railroad provided reduced travel time relative to commuting on the highway alone which in turn led to the car-based development of what very recently was farmland. That to me is the creation of sprawl. I can see this exact same process repeating with HSR unless there are restictions in land development.

Will this area one day fill in and become more urbanized? Perhaps. But look at what's happened to cities like those I already mentioned when it does fill in as well as age: growth stagnates, property values decline. The growth and money instead flow to the outer suburbs. This is once again an example of what has happened in the US and not Europe. The absolute key point here is that we've always had more open land available as well as reasonable travel times to continue to drive this process along.

Cost as you note is also an issue. I think one of the reasons there hasn't been more long distance commuting on the NEC on Amtrak are the absurdly high fares. A monthly ticket between NY and Philadelphia is $1242 and $972 from Trenton on Amtrak. It's $440 between NY and Trenton on New Jersey Transit. If nothing else, Amtrak's pricing is good for battling sprawl if not improving ridership.

by Jace on Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 04:42:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Will this area one day fill in and become more urbanized? Perhaps. But look at what's happened to cities like those I already mentioned when it does fill in as well as age: growth stagnates, property values decline. The growth and money instead flow to the outer suburbs.
So the argument is that we should subsidize this process because of the malign effects of this process?

There is nothing absurd about the cost of Philadelphia / NYC Amtrak monthly tickets: these ticket holders are taking up seats that could be sold to people taking individual trips, and an intercity rail service with no operating subsidies are just not going to offer cheap commuter tickets. Why would they? What is the appeal of serving fewer people at lower operating ratios or even operating losses?

You seem to be treating an Express HSR as eqivalent to a local commuter rail system in order to argue that instead of spending less money on providing intercity Express HSR capacity, we should spend more money on providing intercity road capacity. I don't follow the argument.

which part of the historical cases that you are referring to are pre-1920's and which are post-1920's? Just saying 'some kind of trunk transport corridor' when in fact the cross subsidies being drained from these places are for roadworks from the 1930's to the present is begging the question ~ you are assuming there would be no difference what kind of transport that might be, even though all of your evidence is drawn from only the one type, to argue that there is no difference.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 11:28:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not arguing for roadworks. If you go back to my original comment, I said that unless we change the way we regulate land use, then HSR will contribute to sprawl. Hamilton, NJ is a prime example of how this works. The state's desire for growth in that region was likely the sole reason for building this station in the first place. The growth they got was sprawl because there is nothing but local level laws governing development. It's still far too easy for a developer to scoop up farmland, go to the local zoning board and get them to approve a huge subdivision. The appeal is too great to ignore, the local politicians see real benefits (at least short term) with new jobs and increases in tax revenues. Until this formula changes, then this process will continue.

I'm assuming that in terms of development when you have autos as feeders, the mode or type of trunk makes no difference because, as evidenced by Hamilton, it doesn't make a difference. If somehow the state improved the highways to allow a similar door to door travel time improvement, then yes, you'd get the same result. That's typically why these projects are done in the first place.

Obviously the best thing for a railroad is to have every seat filled end to end each and every time. On certain corridors like NY-Washington you have enough demand to get that, but what about NY-Buffalo or pretty much any of the Chicago corridors? If the railroad has the ability to tap significant traffic along the way, it should and it will. In the US, one of the justifications given for HSR is that it expands the catchment area of a city. That is commuter traffic, not bridge or overhead traffic.

As for Amtrak, yes they're trying to maximize yield, but if they were to do this, every seat would be filled every time. From my own experiences on this line, this is definitely not the case. Their prices are causing commuters to drive from the Philadelphia area to Trenton or Hamilton to catch NJT while their own trains are running at less than capacity. That to me is less then optimal.

by Jace on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 07:34:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hamilton NJ is an example of adding a commuter rail system to respond to the subsidized roadworks.

If you go back to my original comment, I said that unless we change the way we regulate land use, then HSR will contribute to sprawl.
Yes, you said it. The discussion is not whether you said it, but on whether its a warranted conclusion.

by contribute to sprawl, in this context, where we are talking about a choice between either express hsr and spending on roadworks and air transport, you are saying that there is more sprawl as a result of hsr than as a result of the alternative road and air infrastructure to provide the same transport capacity.

and your evidence is based on a park and ride station on a commuter rail line, which is to say, like looking at the impact of putting in an urban street to judge the impact of a new Interstate expressway.


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 Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 02:15:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If stations are park & ride facilities and the feeder is not normal roads but a highway, and you can get over a million rides a year for such a station (the stupid in-the-empty-landscape HSR stations in Europe tend to get much less), then yes, I can see your sprawl scenario. However, HSR is typically too long-distance and expensive for commuting.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jun 3rd, 2011 at 04:07:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If sprawl is defined as a system of development with distinct types of uses segregated into low-density single-use zones, then, no, HSR does not encourage that.

It may encourage some longer commutes by some higher income commuters 30min to 60min away from a main job center by HSR, but so long as the HSR stations are sited to promote infill development and anchor local transport systems, the net impact is anti-sprawl.

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 Thu Jun 2nd, 2011 at 12:41:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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