Friday, June 26th, 2009

“Amtrak on Steroids” is Not “High Speed Rail”

There was a lot of excitement in high speed rail circles when $8 billion in stimulus funds were allocated to high speed rail. The fact that some versions of the new transportation bill would allocate a further $50 billion really got people talking.

However, there’s a growing realization out there of what I’ve long been saying, namely that virtually none of the projects angling for this money are high speed rail at all.

There has been a veritable parade of officials taking trips to Europe to check out high speed rail and tout its benefits to the public. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association put together a trip to Spain for its members. Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin took a trip to Spain as well. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was recently in France and did a photo-op featuring him in the cab of a TGV train.

But the rail systems proposed in the United States are NOTHING AT ALL like the ones in Spain or France. Those system travel at nearly 200MPH on dedicated, fully electrified trackage, with light trainsets, operating with an array of passenger amenities and 99%+ on time reliability. There is a grand total of one proposal in the whole US that is like this, namely California’s.

The proposed Midwest system is typical of what we see around the country. It would operate at a top speed of only 110MPH, half that of Europe, with average speeds much lower. Its travel time would be similar to driving, meaning door to door journey times would be worse. Worst of all, it would be operated by Amtrak.

If you want a 4-5 hour trip between Chicago and St. Louis, you can get it today cheaply, conveniently, and with wi-fi (are you listening Amtrak??????) on Megabus. Indeed, Megabus has proven popular from everyone from 60 year old Moms coming to visit their kids in Chicago to hipsters making road trips. Best of all, Megabus is here today, with no government spending.

If all you want is “Amtrak on steroids”, you’ve got it now with Megabus.

I’m not going to suggest it is totally a bad idea to go with this 110MPH system. There can be virtue in incrementalism and starting small. I personally happen to think it occupies a “sour spot” on the spectrum and is a worst of both worlds solution that both costs a fortune and won’t deliver much in the way of benefits. But I can respect the other point of view.

What I have a serious problem with is labeling this “high speed rail”. Having officials use European systems to sell HSR to the public, then giving them Amtrak on steroids is false advertising. It could ultimately ruin the brand of high speed rail in the United States. By setting expectations so high that they cannot possibly be delivered on by the solution proposed, high speed rail in the Midwest is already set up for failure.

Also, I think this system mistakes high speed rail as a transportation solution with high speed rail as a technical system. Most advocates system to want some type of high speed rail system. So however they have to define it in order to get something funded they can call high speed rail, that’s fine with them. But the scope shouldn’t be a “declare victory” system. The scope should be the benefits.

Given the extremely high cost of high speed rail, I’m not sure there’s a business case for it. However, I can make a prima facie argument for the benefits. But those benefits depend on game changing reductions in travel time, not something that merely replicates what we have today using another mode. We need to focus on the benefits, and from what we’ve seen in Europe and Asia, the benefits from from game changing journey time reductions.

Unfortunately, with Amtrak in the lead, we appear to be headed for another fiasco, no matter how well intentioned the program. President Obama could have high speed rail as a true legacy the way Eisenhower did with the interstate system. But to get that we need a change of direction from the current Amtrak on steroids approach.

I have written extensively on high speed rail, and developed my thinking on the benefits case and the solution in a series of two postings focused around how to connect Midwest cities better with Chicago:

The business case for high speed rail: Metropolitan Linkages
Now real high speed rail has transformed Spain: Confessions of a high speed junky (The Guardian)
The high speed rail solution: High Speed Rail

More reading:

GAO Questions DOT High Speed Rail Strategy (Transport Politic)
The High Speed Rail Game: Is $13 billion and 110MPH Enough? (Streetsblog) – NO

81 Comments
Topics: Transportation

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81 Responses to ““Amtrak on Steroids” is Not “High Speed Rail””

  1. Alon Levy says:

    Aaron: what do you think of the Midwest HSR proposal for 2-hour service from Chicago to St. Louis?

  2. OINKER says:

    Alon: (am sure you did not want me to comment on the STL-ORD HSR)

    - $11.5B for a Pork Train that does not include the cost of the Pork Train itself; the maintenance facility for the Pork Train and other costs (whatever that might be). It also does not include the cost of a bridge over the Mississippi River which would mean the passengers of the Pork Train would be dropped off and picked up in East St. Louis (a lovely city).

    - all of this so those able to pay the HSR fare between the cities (or points in between) could get to/from East St. Louis in 1 hour and 52 minutes.

    - WN offers 10 Nonstops/Day; each taking 1 hour at a cost of $264 R-Trip. (lower fares available with advance purchase)
    - AA/UA offer similar service to ORD

    For similar spend you could fly 43M passengers between the 2 cities.

    At 1 hour and 52 minutes from the Loop to the banks of the Mississippi in Illinois…then add the time to walk, swim, cab, ferry across the river…lets just add 30 mins….so 2 hours 22 mins plus the time to drive to get to the station vs 1 hour flight time plus 1 hour for security (that is excessive) plus the time to get to the airport/park.

    This Pork Train deserves a few more Oinks.

    OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK OINK!

  3. Anonymous says:

    " I am not opposed to adding fees/tolls for construction/maintenance; however, would like to see the various federal/state/local highway bureacracies be audited to show the taxpayer just where all the current fees/taxes are spent. Most people would be amazed at the amount of money under their stewardship that is spent on administrative/bureaucracy."

    The old waste/fraud/abuse canard. Is there waste in administration. Yes. Does it account for any significant percentage of funds. No.

  4. OINKER says:

    Anon 1:37
    - According to research by the National Center For Policy Analysis (NCPA), gas taxes are as follows:

    - The federal government imposes a gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon.
    - States levy additional gas taxes at rates ranging from a low of 8 cents per gallon in Alaska to a high of 44.4 cents per gallon in California.
    - Combined federal and state gas taxes now average about 45 cents per gallon.

    The 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act established the Highway Trust Fund and stipulated that 100 percent of the [federal] gas tax be deposited into this fund. The trust fund finances highway building and maintenance across the nation.

    The NCPA breaks the spending down:

    - 60% of federal gas taxes goes to the construction and maintenance of highways and bridges.
    - 30% to subsidize construction and maintenance of public transit facilities, such as bus terminals, light rail and subway systems.
    - 10% is diverted to other projects — currently 6,000 projects — including bike paths, museums, nature trails, historic building repairs and so forth.

    SO….40% of the fees/taxes collected for highway use are used for a bunch of other things.

    I can not find a breakdown of what is spent on administration but am sure it exceeds $1B/year

  5. Anonymous says:

    "SO….40% of the fees/taxes collected for highway use are used for a bunch of other things."

    Wrong. 40% of federal highway funds are used for "a bunch of other things". The total taxes, as you pointed out, also includes state taxes, the large percentage of which also go for highway funds. Last time I checked, buses also use the highways and subways and transit help relieve congestion and demands on the highways, reducing the need for maintenance and expansion of roadways.

    As for the total administrative fee, I don't have the exact numbers but 1 billion out of a 30+ billion program means that it's less then 3%.

  6. OINKER says:

    Anon 3:32

    I should rephrase: The Highway Trust Fund was set up so that 100% of the funds collected went to highways. Over the years, politicians have been able to capture 40% of the funds collected to support a laundry list of other transport and transport related causes.

    The administrative costs for an agency that once solely provided funds for highways and bridges has been greatly increased by the fact that 40% of the money now collected goes to 6,000 other projects that are not highways or bridges. What the actual cost for that administrative layer, I do not know, but it is a much higher percentage than the amount spent when the HTF stuck to its knitting.

  7. Anechoic says:

    % of the intra-city market is ALL travel between those markets…not just air. The source is the same site that Alon has problems

    And of course they don't source their numbers either. As best as I can tell, they using the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey published by FHWA which is problematic for any number of reasons, including the fact that "intercity travel" has a pretty broad definition. People don't take Amtrak to commute from Philly to Camden, but if you're using the NPTS data, you're making that comparison.

    When you look at the long-haul travel corridors (BOS-NYC-PHY-BAL-DC) rail ridership compares favorably.

    if [the NEC] went away it would hardly have an impact

    Bull. One of the problems is that much of NEC ridership is early morning/late afternoon business travel. NEC goes away, those riders get dumped into the overburdened highway and air systems. It only takes a very small change in number of vehicles (less than 1%) to change the Level of Service one or two levels.

    $11.5B for a Pork Train that does not include the cost of the Pork Train itself; the maintenance facility for the Pork Train and other costs

    Acela-type trainsets cost in the neighborhood of $30 million each. The maintenance facility will be in the neighborhood of a couple $hundred million (assuming they build a whole new facility rather than just sharing/expanding an existing facility. These are relatively small compared to the infrastructure costs, which is why is makes sense to focus on the infrastructure first.

    - WN offers 10 Nonstops/Day; each taking 1 hour at a cost of $264 R-Trip. (lower fares available with advance purchase)
    - AA/UA offer similar service to ORD

    Have you ever flown to/through ORD? If you have a connection there after 12pm, it's pretty much guaranteed that it will be delayed, even on a nice day. If we want to expand ORD to handle today's traffic (nevermind 2015 traffic), it's gonna cost a lot more than $11.5 billion.

    That's the big problem – everyone wants to focus on the costs of doing something but they don't realize that doing nothing also has a cost.

    I should rephrase: The Highway Trust Fund was set up so that 100% of the funds collected went to highways. Over the years, politicians have been able to capture 40% of the funds collected to support a laundry list of other transport and transport related causes.

    It's closer to 20% of the user fees (its 40% of the total receipts). Even if that money went exclusively to highways, the system still wouldn't pay for itself, not to mention that the highways would be more congested without transit.

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    OINKER, while I don't agree with your take entirely, I do appreciate that you're trying to make arguments from facts or sources.

  9. The Urbanophile says:

    Alon, thank for the reference to the St. Louis study. They told me they were doing it, but I didn't know it was done yet.

    I scanned it. Quick reactions:

    - They adopted the Urbanophile solution of using the IC (the CN in their study) corridor instead of the existing routings. I don't understand why Union Station/WLTC needs to be the terminal. I'd personally suggest building a new high speed terminal at Van Buren St. Station. In any case, the city has hinted that it would like to remove the St. Charles Air Line, so this is all the more reason to save it.

    - The St. Louis routing makes the most political sense since it maximizes coverage in Illinois, and thus has the most support in-state

    - The IC routing via Champaign also better connects UofI to Chicago. Right now UofI suffers from being too far from a major city.

    - Two hour service would count as a "game changing" reduction in travel times.

    - The budget would appear to be a non-starter, however.

    - St. Louis isn't a bad starter market. It's got a decent population base and historic core, but the metro is stagnant. How much connectivity in terms of people and economic flows link the cities today?

    - The Mississippi River bridge is a major issue. I don't see how the FRA will ever permit shared trackage with freight. An East St. Louis terminal would be far from ideal. Is there dedicated trackage for the light rail system on one of those bridges? Maybe that's the best routing.

    The interesting thing to me is that the proposed 110MPH system is only about 20% faster than the average service levels in 1937 – and not that much better than the current Amtrak times. I can't see that doing much.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Caltrain is in the process of showing to the FRA that non-compliant trains perform as well in crashes as compliant trains. Reportedly the FRA is very open to its persuasion, and maintains the current system out of inertia more than anything.

  11. The Urbanophile says:

    Alon, I prefer the European approach in any case: focus on preventing accidents rather than survivability. The European HSR safety record is impressive. The only accident I can recall is the ICE disaster, which IIRC had something to do with metal fatigue in a wheel. Plus, that was a collision with a bridge, and was only at 125MPH to boot and on a conventional rail track, not a dedicated HSR track. Nevertheless, 102 people did die. But I'm guessing Amtrak has suffered as many or more fatalities than that even with FRA rules and far fewer passenger miles.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    Also, the budget is padded by a factor of 1.5, for contingencies such as engineering difficulties and garden variety budget overruns. So the baseline budget is $8 billion, which is normal for a high-speed line of this length in a developed country. A new Mississippi crossing would add less than a billion to the budget, using the cost estimates for the Ronald Reagan bridge.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    HSR has accidents, just not fatal ones. A TGV train derailed once at full speed, after it ran over a spot where the dirt was softened by rain. It didn't topple, and nobody died.

  14. The Urbanophile says:

    TGV's are designed as trainsets. The coaches share trucks to provide greater integrity, so that if a car derails, the whole train doesn't accordion up.

  15. Anechoic says:

    The only accident I can recall is the ICE disaster, which IIRC had something to do with metal fatigue in a wheel.

    A ring damper on one of the wheels (used for noise and vibration control) came off the wheel and wrapped itself around the transaxle.

    Nevertheless, 102 people did die.

    I spoke with a number of American and European rail engineers after the accident and they all felt that if the ICE was built to FRA specs, the death toll would have been much lower.

    That said, it's all about tradeoffs. I'll be interesting in seeing the result of Caltrain's tests. Alon Levy, do you have a link or reference for those tests.

  16. JG says:

    I will restate this: Conservatives and libertarians are foolish to believe that changes/expansion of passanger rail transit is not inevitable. Misdirecting energy and rhetoric into fighting AGAINST is futile. Use the opportunity to ensure money is appropriately spent on high density regions of the United States that experience frequent air delays and heavy freeway congestion. Also appropriate speeds that studies show will decrease door-to-door times need to be inacted (URBANO made the case nicely.)

    URBANO I admire your openness for this BLOG, but you are far to generous to OINKER. Stating facts and figures is only important if one has the integrity to drive towards truth and not a preconcieved opinion. (We are all guilty of this from time-to-time. I guess PORKER has made a life style out of it.)

  17. OINKER says:

    Anechoic – I have flown thru ORD many times and acknowledge there can be delays; have also flown thru MDW about as often and the delays are minimal to zero…much of that having to do with the way WN operates.

    I am not suggesting the NEC go away. I am suggesting the rest of the HSR Pork Train babble go away.

    So for the STL-ORD Pork Train we need to add 6-7 trainsets @$30M a maintenance yard for $100M and of course a new bridge for $750M….rounding up…it is a $12.5B Pork Train.

    OINK OINK OINK OINK!

    They could name it the Obama Pork Express and likely create a few hundred jobs…then will forever be subsidized by the taxpayers as WN doubles service and cuts fares…the Obama Pork Express will run at less than 45% capacity.

  18. Alon Levy says:

    It was discussed a few months ago on the Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog and the California HSR Blog. I don't remember which post, though.

  19. Alon Levy says:

    Oinker, are you suggesting planes can transport the same number of passengers as trains? Because if you are, please point to me a city pair, or even a city trio, with 410,000 daily air passengers between it; that is the total Shinkansen ridership between Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.

  20. OINKER says:

    JG – "Stating facts and figures is only important if one has the integrity to drive towards truth and not a preconcieved opinion."

    You must be a liberal. They live in a world where there are no facts or figures just rainbows and flowers and of course the Pork Train. (and all of it courtesy of Joe/Jane taxpayer)

    "Use the opportunity to ensure money is appropriately spent on high density regions of the United States that experience frequent air delays and heavy freeway congestion. Also appropriate speeds that studies show will decrease door-to-door times need to be inacted"

    - frequent air delays…hmmm that would be the NEC (particularly PHL/EWR/LGA/JFK/BOS/DCA/BWI/IAD)…but wait…BWI is not so bad…neither is IAD…but I digress….I have never said to abandon the NEC; you can gab all you want to about air delays at LAX/SFO…but the West Coasters are not about to abandon the airways or their cars to hop aboard their version of the Pork Train. As said in earlier post…spend the money to get regular speed rail working before taking the leap into porkfat which is HSR. part of the problem at LGA and other NEC airports is the fact that the airlines have determined that every hamlet in the USA should have nonstop service to LGA…so you have a swarm of RJ's that descend on LGA that backs up the system for hours on end. Same thing happens at ORD; PHL; EWR and JFK (but it is hub related). Those delays could be greatly reduced at least in the NEC if the airlines would work together with Amtrak (bout as likely as the Dems working with the Republicans)

    Highway delays—ubiquitous (see post on the HTF which could solve some of that problem).

    Leading to my last point…the STL-ORD Pork Train WILL NOT decrease door-to-door times unless you happen to live near the station…which is not necessarily a desirable place to live as it is usually inhabited by people who prefer to travel by MegaBus.

    OINK OINK OINK OINK!

  21. OINKER says:

    Alon – there are cultural and geographical reasons for the ridership in Japan that is not matched in the US. Have no idea what the airline, bus and auto traffic is like between those 3.

    In the USA the only geo remotely close to that is the NEC and I would wager that more than 410,000 pax per day transport via all means of travel. Air could not handle that alone and does not as it is supplanted by the US version of HSR, airlines, buses, and I-95.

    Again, I have tried to offer an exception to the NEC….my point has always been that the rest of the country is NOT ready for HSR and for those areas HSR is a big fat pork train.

    OINK OINK OINK

  22. Anechoic says:

    have also flown thru MDW about as often and the delays are minimal to zero

    Oh really?

    I am not suggesting the NEC go away.

    Then way the "if it went away it would hardly have an impact"? It clearly would have an impact.

    it is a $12.5B

    This statement is meaningless without comparing it to the cost of doing nothing?

    I mean, the U.S. could have saved all kinds of money by not building the National Highway System and airport system in the first place and everything would have turned out fine, right?

    WN doubles service and cuts fares.

    Assuming there are no major fluctuations in petroleum prices or environmental litigation preventing Southwest from expanding its operations. But I guess history has shown that's a pretty safe assumption, right? Oops.

    West Coasters are not about to abandon the airways or their cars

    Because no one rides BART, MUNI, Sacramento RT, LA Metro or CalTrain, right? I have any number of colleagues who would happily to Sacramento to Orange County via HSR rather than NW (I did that once… and only once).

  23. JG says:

    PORKER: I vote for both democrat and republican, about 50/50. Wrong again. I think you have a lot of good information to offer, but you waste it as a doofus and embarrass yourself with each comment. I know you didn't do the same when KBR wasted money in IRAQ. Take a lesson from the way others discuss/comment on URBANO's blog. It's nice to disagree and have people still like you. (Sometimes you change their minds.)

    ALL: I wish more money was allocated in the US to improving the infrastructure for freight transport (instead of HSR) for the purpose of removing 18-wheelers from the roads and improving congestion. Additionally it would cut down on energy consumption and CO2 emissions for those who are concerned. Likely cheaper than HSR and it accomplishes SOME (not all) of the same goals.

    ALON, ANECHOIC, ALL: I am curious about CALIFORNIA'S HSR proposals from and through LA metro to San Diego metro. Fare and time statistics are impressive – though I suspected both are somewhat underestimated. What are the chances for success here? I imagine this, after NEC upgrades, would be the most appropriate place to locate HSR in the U.S. (Sorry to St. Louis – Chi and Indy – Chi; I am still skeptical.)

  24. The Urbanophile says:

    Anechoic, Ryan Air has fares as cheap or cheaper than Southwest, but European rail does just fine.

    One ancedotal story. Ask any artist, designer, etc. about the incredibly cultural and economic exchanges in recent years. They invariably cite both Ryan Air and HSR as big factors in this.

  25. OINKER says:

    Anechoic
    "have also flown thru MDW about as often and the delays are minimal to zero"

    Oh really? – cute website but not really helpful. It all gets to the definition of 'what is a delay'. Is it when the door closes? The jetbridge pulls away etc. The just how long is the delay? Depending on the flight the ground delay can often be made-up in flight. I have flown millions of miles and been to most US med-large airports and MDW is not a problem; on the other end, neither is STL espescially since TW no longer exists.

    I am not suggesting the NEC go away.

    Then way the "if it went away it would hardly have an impact"? It clearly would have an impact. – it is a what if statement only.

    it is a $12.5B

    This statement is meaningless without comparing it to the cost of doing nothing? – well the cost of doing nothing is zero. No overwhelming demand to fill all 20 nonstops or any unusual traffic on the highway

    I mean, the U.S. could have saved all kinds of money by not building the National Highway System and airport system in the first place and everything would have turned out fine, right? – have never suggested such

    WN doubles service and cuts fares.

    Assuming there are no major fluctuations in petroleum prices or environmental litigation preventing Southwest from expanding its operations. But I guess history has shown that's a pretty safe assumption, right? Oops. – no crystal ball on that but alternaive jet fuels are being developed; no plans to expand MDW or STL runways anywhere on the horizon. What about HSR related environmental concerns? It will use lots of electricity and am sure there are other environmentalist whacko's that will suggest high speeds endanger various furry lil creatures.

    West Coasters are not about to abandon the airways or their cars

    Because no one rides BART, MUNI, Sacramento RT, LA Metro or CalTrain, right? I have any number of colleagues who would happily to Sacramento to Orange County via HSR rather than NW (I did that once… and only once). – am sure that is so BUT at what COST?

    ….and there-in lies the Big Question. Put another way, Pork Train fares will be approximate to airfare (perhaps higher if WN is around)….so each Pork Train seats 500 people and they are to run hourly so lets say 12 trains/day/each way. Total seats are 6000 in each direction. The airlines operate 2000 seats in each direction. The airlines operate at 70-75% capacity…where oh where are the customers coming from to fill some portion of all those Pork Trains? Do folks in St. Louis just wake up and say, hey, now that the Pork Train is here…lets spend $200 to go to Chicago? Does the Pork Train do anything to spur business travel on this route? Does money fall from the heavens to the populace of St. Louis so they can now afford to ride the Pork Train?

    I don't get it. $12.5B…ya gotta be kidding me

  26. thundermutt says:

    Oinker…don't you know? If you build it, they will come. By the thousands. :)

  27. OINKER says:

    In both Japan and France the initial impetus for the introduction of high speed rail was the need for additional capacity to meet increasing demand for passenger rail travel. By the mid-1950s, the Tōkaidō Main Line in Japan was operating at full capacity, and construction of the first segment of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka started in 1959. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen opened on October 1, 1964, in time for the Tokyo Olympics. The situation for the first line in Japan was different than the subsequent lines. The route was already so densely populated and rail oriented that highway development would be extremely costly, and that one single line between Tokyo and Osaka could bring service to over half the nation's population. In 1959 that was nearly 45 million people; today it is well over 65 million. The Tokaido Shinkansen line is the most heavily traveled high speed line in the world, and still transports more passengers than all other high speed rail lines in the world combined, including in Japan. The subsequent lines in Japan had a rationale more similar to situations in Europe.

    In France the main line between Paris and Lyon was projected to run out of capacity by 1970, so it was decided to build a new line. In both cases the choice to build a completely separate passenger-only line allowed for the much straighter higher speed lines. The dramatically reduced travel times on both lines, bringing cities within three hours of one another, caused explosions in ridership.[5] It was the commercial success of both lines that inspired those countries and their economies to expand or start high speed rail networks.

    - so, all of you Pork Train enthusiasts….is there a route in the US that is @300 Miles long that will serve 1/2 the nation's population? err…that would be NO.

    - is there an existing route in the US where demand for train service is so great that capacity on the route will soon be met/exceeded? Will let you dig for that answer. I am certain that Chicago-St. Louis does NOT fall into that category.

    I hear the train a-coming its' rounding round the track
    its' sizz-i-ling like bacon its the Pork Train Express…its hauling next to nothing but it sure go-es fast. That Pork Train keeps on coming and its eating all-ll of my cash!

    OINK OINK OINK OINK

  28. Alon Levy says:

    there are cultural and geographical reasons for the ridership in Japan that is not matched in the US.

    The cultural differences are just not there. In 1937, you'd have said that for cultural reasons the US has a better railway system than Japan. The postwar reversal came from government policy: in the US the government chose to regulate the railways out of existence while spending hundreds of billions on highways, whereas in Japan the government chose to build local, regional, and national rail.

    Do folks in St. Louis just wake up and say, hey, now that the Pork Train is here…lets spend $200 to go to Chicago?

    Pretty much. Induced demand is a well-known concept in transportation: if you build a highway, or an airport, or a rail line, it will cause people to use it who didn't use it before. If you destroy one, it'll cause people to stop taking trips they took before. Indeed, the California High-Speed Rail ridership projections show that the majority of riders will be either induced demand or diverted from cars, and only a minority of about 25% will be diverted from air. Chicago-St. Louis is a different route, but this shows that the size of the rail market can greatly exceed the size of the air market.

  29. Alon Levy says:

    - so, all of you Pork Train enthusiasts….is there a route in the US that is @300 Miles long that will serve 1/2 the nation's population? err…that would be NO.

    No, but there's no such route in Spain or France, either, and yet in both countries HSR is successful. The important metric is how many people live in the cities connected by HSR, not how many people live in other cities. And there, Chicago-St. Louis is very similar to Paris-Lyon.

    - is there an existing route in the US where demand for train service is so great that capacity on the route will soon be met/exceeded?

    No, and there was no such route in Spain, Germany, or Korea. In Japan and France HSR technology was completely foreign, so they needed the impetus of an at-capacity conventional rail line to start building. In subsequent countries, they looked at the success of HSR in France and Japan and copied the idea.

  30. Alon Levy says:

    I am curious about CALIFORNIA'S HSR proposals from and through LA metro to San Diego metro. Fare and time statistics are impressive – though I suspected both are somewhat underestimated. What are the chances for success here?

    It will happen if and only if California manages to build HSR from LA to San Francisco. LA to San Diego is in Phase 2; in other countries, typically the first HSR phase is very controversial, but then the line's success leads to enthusiastic support for the subsequent phases. This happens even when HSR fails to meet ridership projections, as in Spain, Korea, and Taiwan.

    I've always been skeptical that HSR will draw a lot of traffic from LA to SD. The LA-SD line will more likely have to turn to intermediate traffic to succeed: Inland Empire-Bay Area, some SD-Bay Area, some SD-Central Valley, and some SD-LA. None of those markets is likely large enough to justify HSR in itself, unlike LA-SF, but together they can succeed.

  31. The Urbanophile says:

    High speed rail is certainly no slam dunk. The cost are exorbitant. However, high speed rail is not a total fantasy and has worked in many countries around the world and is very popular with the public. This includes places like Spain with weak traditions of rail transportation.

    The United State is different, no doubt. But "it will never work here" is the age old refrain of the Midwesterner. Thus new ideas never get tried. And the region keeps falling further behind.

    In an ages where all too much of the Midwest has clearly failed to rise to the challenge, sometimes you have to be willing to place a few big bets.

    I think everyone has had their say on this so I'll give myself the last word. Thread closed.

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