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With HSR, endpoint inhabitants in major cities will have a new alternative to travel fast and convenient from city to city. But the people in between are likely to end up with fewer train connections (high-speed trains make few stops), or no train station at all. Because of the need to make HSR-lines very straight, it is also likely that the in-between stations will be built away from city centres, surrounded by malls and shopping centres in connection to the new station. The effect of that is - as we all know - increased car dependence.

Here they touch on some real problems with some HSR projects, but assume that it can't be done another way.

  • It is of course true that the number of intercity trains on old mainlines paralleling a high-speed line typically decreases. However, this doesn't always mean a quality decrease in train connections: the discontinued services on the old line are often through trains with few stops, and the number of trains on the old line with more stops can actually increase. (For example, the two stations on the old line that are bypassed by the high-speed line section opened in South Korea this past 1 November were passed by most KTX trains but now up to 12 a day and direction stop there.)

    The bad examples here are when a railway sets high ticket prices for a high-speed line but then fears that passengers will use the slower but cheaper alternative, and makes that service worse on purpose. You don't have to stop all HSR construction to avoid this problem...

  • The author forgets about effects on other lines. In countries where normal rail and HSR have the same gauge, it is common to run high-speed trains beyond the end of high-speed lines, to cities along conventional lines, which would not justify a high-speed line in themselves (or construction is still planned). That way, service and ridership is improved on those conventional lines, too.

  • The author also forgets about capacity problems, which are enhanced by the different speed of local, intercity passenger and freight trains. There are cases when high-speed rail lines have enabled enhanced local passenger train frequency (above all Japan; but also, for example, Mannheim-Stuttgart, or indeed Brussels-Leuven...)

  • It is true that many secondary high-speed rail stations are built in the green. However, some of these (including the French ones) weren't meant to be built by the railway and are a bone given to local politicians; and others represent silly cost-saving, saving the cost of a not even too long tunnel under a city. Still others, typically in the Far East, are meant to foster the growth of a new city centre. In the USA, HSR stations could even serve as centres for concentrated development in place of existing sprawl.

  • The author probably also missed that some of these away-from-town stations have fostered the development of local rail: after protests about bad traffic connection, a local rail line was built, which then also served other parts of the city. (Examples from the themes of my last two diaries are the subway extension also serving Cheonan-Asan station in South Korea, and the new lines in construction to Hsinchu, Taichung and Tainan stations in Taiwan.)

  • The author also forgets about high-speed lines without existing parallel conventional line service. For example, Sweden's new Botniabanan, or the Jönköping-Göteborg section of its planned triangle system.

  • Carbusting is one thing, but what about airplanes? I'm afraid the main alternative to HSR is not existing conventional rail, but short-range planes.

Building HSR is extremely expensive and, as a consequence, so is their ticket price. Since the HSR service started running from Paris to Brussels, there is no regular train service left on the route. Ticket prices on the HSR-line are very expensive, and so the budget traveler ends up with two options: bus or car.

There are no direct trains, but there are lots of trains on partial sections. And it was the original system in France that showed how things can be done differently: on the first high-speed line, ticket price was the same as for trains on the parallel conventional line. Then higher peak hour and lower off-peak prices were introduced as a means to limit rush-hour crowding, and advance purchase is favoured... Paris-Brussels tickets range between €44 and €82.

The author also forgets to mention the increase in the number of Thalys passengers relative to the old number of train (and plane) passengers.

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

by DoDo on Mon Nov 8th, 2010 at 03:02:46 PM EST

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