Train in Vain(ity)

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Aaron David

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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57 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    There are three choices California could make:

    1. Abandon the project entirely; write off the money expended and debt already incurred on the project as a sunk cost.

    2. Complete the project.

    3. Do… this. Complete enough of the project to avoid repaying the federal grant money, then abandon the rest of it. Which appears to be Governor Newsom’s choice.

    As I’ve opined elsewhere, option 3 is the worst of the available options. As the OP points out, there is not a tremendous need for commuting options between the various central valley cities, particularly not when compared to the need for commuting options between the larger coastal cities, which will in all probability always be larger than their inland counterparts.

    Public transportation and infrastructure projects like these aren’t supposed to make money, at least not directly. They are supposed to catalyze economic activity and improve quality of life. The riders would come, if they can get to the train at all. But the bulk of the riders are in the big coastal cities.

    Link the big coastal cities, or don’t do it at all, California.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I think a big, if not the biggest, problem is lack of adaptability. When I was an account manager, my boss would fly up regularly to Sacramento from San Diego. And she would fly back at the end of the day. A long day, but doable. Adding four hours to each day for the train is a serious hamper to business in any field. Couple that with extended travel to get to the terminus for HSR only adds to that time.

      There are three major airports in the LA region and the same in the Bay Area giving greater flexibility. Add to this the smaller regional airports around the state and you have already solved the problems that the rail line sets out to take care of. If one wanted to take a slower route, the Coast Starlight runs every day (my son would take it when in college, until he learned of the much cheaper and just as fast SuperBus.)Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Aaron David says:

        All this sounds reasonable, but then I wonder, “Why did this work in France, with the TGV?”

        Another thing I wonder about is, “Why are we so terrible at large construction projects in this country. They do this much better (and cheaper!) in other countries. What’s going on with that?”

        There are lots of glib answers, but none that seem like they have identified the problem(s).Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          High speed rail is creating problems in Europe:

          As a regular long-distance train traveller in Europe, I have to say that . . . [h]igh speed rail is destroying the most valuable alternative to the airplane; the “low speed” rail network that has been in service for decades.

          The introduction of a high speed train connection invariably accompanies the elimination of a slightly slower, but much more affordable, alternative route, forcing passengers to use the new and more expensive product, or abandon the train altogether. As a result, business people switch from full-service planes to high speed trains, while the majority of Europeans are pushed into cars, coaches and low-cost airplanes.

          High Speed Trains are Killing the European Railway NetworkReport

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to PD Shaw says:

            That’s not high-speed rail creating the problems, that’s reduction of low-speed rail creating the problems.Report

          • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to PD Shaw says:

            And a story like that always seems a bit one-sided to me. I wonder what would have happened to those slow-speed rails if the high-speed hadn’t come along?

            Any policy change has both winners and losers, of course. And the reason we have democracies is to try to make sure there are more winners than losers, though it doesn’t always work out.

            But complaints from the losers that they lost something are both fair game, and only one side of the story.

            I like trains a lot. I rode on the Shinkansen once, and it was nice. Was it enough nicer than air travel that I thought “This is a big win for a lot of people”? No, it wasn’t. It was pretty much an equivalent mode at the distance involved.

            High speed trains lose hard at 1000 miles or more. That’s a 10 hour trip for HST, and a 2 hour trip for a commercial airliner, so even adding the hassle of boarding, you’re still twice as fast. There are lots of travel distances like that in the US. So, I don’t think they work here.

            The Merced-to-LA travel is a hard problem. A lot of the Western US has these problems, or even harder problems.

            I do wonder how autonomous vehicles are going to affect these matters. I have no prediction.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

              I believe he thinks that rail service in the 1990s was fine and given its relative cheapness was superior to the marginal time-savings. The money could have been better spent elsewhere.

              The democracy angle here is interesting though. If high-speed rail is developed and marketed as a premium good (in order to compete with air for one reason), then it will tend to lack broad support for subsidies. If it is marketed as paying for itself through future development, it may similarly lack broad support (while the financial benefits may be narrowly distributed or may not happen).Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          A better question could be ‘Why is it working in China?’.

          China doesn’t take political considerations into, uh, consideration. It just, flatly, does whatever it thinks is best for itself, and it generally seems to be making logical calls.

          So…why is China building all that high-speed rail? It clearly thinks the investment is a good idea.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to DavidTC says:

            Yeah and landowners, the environment and local opinion regarding the train right of ways is barely even a consideration to the Chinese government.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DavidTC says:

            China can do this because China is an authoritarian country. Landowners/NIMBYs have no recourse if the government was TA a piece of land for some project. A decent number of Chinese people seek asylum in the USA because the Chinese government used full state force to get their land for next to nothing, including jailing them or beating them to get them off their land.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to DavidTC says:

            China’s authoritarianism has another “advantage” in building high-speed rail: they can locate populations and industries at either end. So there are several aspect of China’s approach that don’t translate to free societies. But all of this ignores the question, why should we assume that China’s government is right about high-speed rail in the first place?Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

            I am not saying that because China wants to do it, we should. I am saying that China, a very smart country that doesn’t really do things for internal political reasons, has decided this is a good idea.

            I.e., it’s possible to dismiss the high-speed rail in European countries and Japan and whatnot as democracies choosing to do dumb things. Just because countries voted to do things doesn’t make them good ideas…Britain is still stupidly trapped in Brexit, after all. And democratic countries get tied to things and refuse to give them up. Witness our inability to give up employer-provided health care.

            So if it was just Europe doing it, it’s hypothetically possible that high-speed rail is some dumb political boondoggle. Granted, it’s a weird boondoggle that shows up in multiple countries, but it was faddish at one point.

            Likewise, China does all sorts of things that we don’t approve of, and does things we generally approve of in ways we don’t approve of. So if just China was doing it, well, perhaps high-speed rail only works when you can ignore environmental concerns and have a planned economy where you can relocate industry and workers however you want. So we can’t really do it.

            But when the democracies and the authoritarians _both_ decide a specific sort of infrastructure makes sense, we should perhaps listen to them. We should say ‘Well, it clearly is useful for the economy or China literally wouldn’t do it, and yet Europe seems to have managed it with their very existing spawl and budgets and environmental concerns.”Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DavidTC says:

              I’m not sure if Europeans and the Japanese voted on high-speed rail anymore than Americans voted for a car and plane-centric transportation model. Both were top down bureaucratic political decisions that just happened to be very popular with the populace of their countries. There wasn’t a real vote or even an indirect vote via competing party platforms on the matter of high speed rail vs. cars in any country.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

              China doesn’t do things for internal political reasons, and is very smart?

              Really?Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Yeah, I thought this an odd claim as well. The big risk in the Chinese economy is that there is a lot of debt, known and unknown, in the banking system that comes from state-directed lending to projects of dubious ROI.

                Also, the Chinese government literally just announced a whole bunch of new infrastructure spending, including HSR projects, for the primary purpose of fiscal stimulus. https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Trade-War/China-ratchets-up-stimulus-with-record-rail-spendingReport

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Let’s just say that China doesn’t do things, or not do things, for _partisan_ reasons. It does things for ‘political’ reasons in the sense it wants to keep most of its population mostly happy, but it doesn’t have the parts of democracies that require elected leaders to pander to some specific group or have topics that are third rails that no one can do anything about. Or have propaganda campaigns _against_ what it wants to do.

                A lot of things (Both good things and very bad things.) are much easier in authoritarian countries because entities operating in democracies have _political_ considerations they do not. (On top of, duh, civil rights and stuff.)

                And, yeah, China, right now, has been pretty smart about what it should do as a whole. I don’t see how anyone can argue the opposite…it’s become an economic powerhouse incredibly quickly and honestly has positioned itself where it’s very hard to dislodge.

                Authoritarian countries are only as smart as their leadership. (All countries are but other countries will change their leadership if they’re dumb…although it apparently takes a few years in the US.) But, for the past few decades China has managed to pick fairly smart leadership.

                Hell, when you think about it, they’ve obviously had smart leadership for quite some time. They’re basically the only authoritarian communist countries that said, ‘Hmmm…this communism thing doesn’t seem to be working out particularly well, is there any way we can keep power while gradually transitioning parts of our economy to capitalism?’. All the other communist countries just fell flat on their faces.Report

        • Avatar J_A in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          Another thing I wonder about is, “Why are we so terrible at large construction projects in this country. They do this much better (and cheaper!) in other countries. What’s going on with that?”

          Most (non-anglo) countries centralize the approval process for these kind of projects. There’s one single environmental permit, and there’s only one entity issuing eminent domain takings, all with, normally, only one, and no more than two, judicial appeal recourse(s). This limits the time and cost of permitting and securing rights of way and minimizes the opportunities of NIMBYism or holdouts derailing projects.Report

      • I once lived in an area serviced by one of those regional airports. Local population was about 500,000. Add in two other regions less than an hour’s drive away and it’s a total population pool of about 1.25 million.

        It was ridiculously difficult for the local PTB and Los Angeles World Airports (the authority that administers the commercial airports in the LA region) to get service established there. Basically what it took was a big subsidy to get one airline to run a twice-daily flight to San Francisco. When the flight was subsidized it’d cost about $100 each way to do the feeder flight into SFO, which basically filled about 20 seats on one of those little Embraers once the local market got used to having the service.

        The day the subsidy ended, the airline stopped servicing the area.

        This same region was promised a stop on the CalRail. For where I used to live, the promised four-hour train ride to San Francisco would have been nearly equivalent to driving to Burbank or LAX, parking and clearing security, the one-hour flight time, and then ground transport from SFO into the city to go do business.

        That’s the sort of thing CalRail was aimed at assisting. Operative word there being “was.”Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Burt Likko says:

          The day the subsidy ended, the airline stopped servicing the area

          And I think that is a huge part of the problem, but certainly not the only one. As you said up thread, “Public transportation and infrastructure projects like these aren’t supposed to make money, at least not directly.” And that is subject to political winds to a much greater extent than profitable actions. Add a soupcon of environmental regulations and land costs, and that subsidy is through the roof. I grew up in a smaller area, 35K, and we did have that regional airport, several flights from LA a day. They weren’t cheap but they were there, with stops in the slightly larger city below. And they still do that and the cost is about the same for SFO.

          So, less cost per mile, less time but still a subsidy? Seems like a win.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Aaron David says:

        Air might be faster in terms of travel time but you have to take time getting to and from the airport, security, and boarding into consideration. Train boarding is faster and security theater less obtrusive.Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to LeeEsq says:

          And if the TSA has/had its way, do you think that would stay the same?

          Also, one still has to get to the train station. I remember taking the train in Ireland (Republic, not North) and there was no connection between the north/south Dublin station and the east/west Dublin station. One still had to arrange transit. Or taking the train north out of Edenborough. There was a bus at that time, but no direct connection and heaven help you if the bus was late.

          All this to point out that those transit times can exist in any situation and at any time. The west doesn’t have the population density that the east coast, Japan or Europe has, so this will be an issue for the foreseeable future.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Aaron David says:

            California has forty million people in the area the size of Sweden. Most of the population is concentrated along the coast in three metropolitan areas. 10 million of the 40 million live in one county. If California was an independent country, it would be the same size as a large European country and have the population density for a comprehensive rail network.Report

  2. Avatar Philip H says:

    Sadly, we as a nation made a decision in the 1950’s to heavily subsidize traveling by car with the federal construction of the interstate highway system. Then we made another decision to subsidize air travel by dramatically expanding airports in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Even today the amount of federal dollars expended by the Department of Transportation on those two modes of moving people and goods makes transit dollars (including highspeed rail) look like rounding error.

    So I get the resistance, and I get the need to move on, but lets be frank – we abandoned effective mass transit and effective rail passenger service as matters of national policy decades ago. And we have the Congressional appropriations to prove it. Until that fundamentally changes we won’t make much progress on these fronts.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Philip H says:

      Switching to highways was a military decision. We’d seen how easy it was to completely dismantle a rail transportation network from the air (strafe the choo choo was wildly popular), whereas road traffic was extremely robust because trucks can detour around bomb craters. It’s also harder to score hits on a truck than a train, yet it’s vastly easier to replace a knocked out truck. The Germans found out that it’s almost impossible to defend railroad tracks in hostile territory filled with partisans, and they found out that a railroad network is virtually useless if the marshaling yards get bombed. Their transportation network collapsed so severely and extensively that our P-47 pilots found themselves strafing horse carts (and getting great camera film of it).

      In the nuclear age, railroad marshaling yards are a problem because they’re located at ground zero and they hook the whole network together. After any significant exchange, rail traffic will hover near zero for a very long time, as tracks have to be built that route around the burned out radioactive cities. Basically, all the network’s nodes are gone.

      And of course in that war, European rail traffic would also stop for similar reasons, so NATO didn’t count on using rail. The US also couldn’t count on rail to move our troops from bases around to country to the ships bound for Europe so they could drive the Soviets back, and thus we have an interstate highway system and a thriving commercial aviation sector.

      And then we have Europe, a place ideal for rail traffic, yet one where cars account for ten times as many passenger miles as rail, despite massive gas taxes and all sorts of protectionist measures to support rail. For example, Germany didn’t allow buses to travel routes longer than 50 km. They dropped that industry protection in 2013 and now their rail passengers are switching to buses.

      2,292 viewsOct 20, 2015, 12:21pm
      European Bus Upstarts Snatch 20% of Passengers from Rail

      After the widespread deregulation of the markets for intercity buses in continental Europe, a new class of low-cost competitors is putting pressure on the traditional rail business.

      Low-cost intercity bus operators are offering tickets on highly utilized routes for a fraction of train prices and eating into rail’s market share.

      By offering the same or a higher level of comfort than trains, they are pulling the rug out from under the incumbent, long-distance railroads. Oliver Wyman analysis shows that, with aggressive marketing tactics, a smart route network, and large seating capacities, newcomers in northern Europe have been luring up to 20 percent of customers away from railroads in a short period of time. Germany deregulated its long-distance bus industry in 2013. Finland followed in 2014, and France is deregulating this year [ed. 2015]

      And they provide the example of paying 78 Euros for the train ticket or just 7 Euros for the bus ticket.Report

      • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to George Turner says:

        In the nuclear age, railroad marshaling yards are a problem because they’re located at ground zero and they hook the whole network together. After any significant exchange, rail traffic will hover near zero for a very long time, as tracks have to be built that route around the burned out radioactive cities. Basically, all the network’s nodes are gone.

        “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed…”Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

          Losing the big cities was baked in. They’re a write-off. But losing our transportation network as a result of an attack would be a catastrophe because it would make it difficult to keep the food flowing from farm to table, and that would have a profound impact on regular people, especially in rural communities. The difference in the effects of losing the cities versus losing the transportation grid is stark.

          The cities were always full of weirdos and many already look post-apocalyptic (see Detroit). Then they get nuked, so no urban housing, and they are plagued with with mutant survivors. That’s not much different than the way San Francisco is now. Nobody outside the cities is really going to notice much of a change, other than a bunch of strange new reality shows on cable, like “Urban Survivor:LA” along with spin-offs for all the other cities that had a CSI franchise.

          But if we lose the transportation grid, potatoes won’t make it out of Idaho and wheat will be stuck in Kansas. Starvation will rapidly ensue. What’s worse, people in places like New Hampshire won’t be able to get Romaine lettuce in the winter and artisanal cheese will remain trapped in Wisconsin, leading to violence and social breakdown.

          Trucks are the solution, because war experience showed that roads and vehicles are maintainable under the direst of circumstances – except for continual and sustained air attacks, such as the tactical air attacks we used in Europe ahead of advancing allied armies. But the Soviets lacked the airbases and logistics to field their short range tactical attack aircraft over the continental US, so our road transport was considered immune.

          The Ho Chi Min trail in Vietnam confirmed this logic. It’s really hard to keep a road from delivering supplies even in the face of overwhelming air superiority. In contrast, General Sherman showed how a rail network can be permanently destroyed by even small units using nothing but horses, bonfires, and hammers.

          Europe also had another historic reason to favor rail, and that was moving their massive armies rapidly to their national borders. See WW-I for an example. The trains were the key component of military mobilization. In contrast, the US had two oceans as a buffer and two negligible neighbors. We were never going to need to ship our entire army rapidly to Iowa or Maine.

          And we don’t need passenger rail now. All the rail transport we so lavishly fund with tax dollars, both local, state, and federal, accounts for 1.1% of the country’s passenger miles. Air accounts for 16.4%, and highways account for 82.4%. Amtrak, at 0.1%, only provides a fourth as many passenger miles as motorcycles.

          Governor Newsom’s abandonment of the most prominent high-speed rail project in the US shows that hundred billion dollar trains aren’t going to be a feasible solution to transportation, no matter how many dreamers pine for it. Not only are they expensive, they are still far too slow for long distance travel.

          Paris to Nice, at 400 miles, takes 7 hours, which is about how long it takes us to get from LA to New York by plane, which is 2500 miles. LA to New York on Amtrak is about 70 hours, traveling 3585 miles, with about 60 stops because unlike aircraft, trains don’t get really massive fuel savings by skipping intermediate places.

          The route’s speed is limited by the tracks, and pushing much past 100 mph would require an entirely different set of HSR tracks, and 3585 miles of them. California gave up at $100+ billion to connect cities 381 miles apart, so the New York to LA run should come in at over a trillion dollars. Currently that Amtrak run makes maybe $100 million a year, so you’re looking at what, a 10,000 year payback on the trillion dollar loan? Although a 200 mph train with 60 stops should be able to make the run in 27 hours, so ridership might slightly increase.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    When I lived on the East Coast, my favorite way to get between New York and Boston was Amtrak. I did not think it was that expensive. It was a lot more comfortable than the Chinatown buses, and you did not need to deal with getting to and from the airports.

    I have to go to Los Angeles a fair bit for work. There is an interesting question about whether it would be better to take a high-speed train from SF to Los Angeles over taking planes especially if you can not deal with airport security and/or waiting for a Lyft at LAX.Report

    • Avatar Philip H in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      When I was in Seattle I rode the train to Portland for work all the time.I could get to King Street Station in Seattle easily by bus, and then walk from the station in Portland to our offices ( and then ride the light rail to my hotel if I was staying the night. In DC I routinely take Amtrak if I’m headed to New York or New Jersey for work. Even the regional are more timely then driving, and frankly I like being able to choose the volume of liquids aerosols and gels I carry on; not no mention the luxury of enjoying my coffee after I board.Report

  4. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    For contrast to a high speed rail system – fledermaus and the kids are right now on the train from Saskatoon back to Edmonton. The scheduled times would make it an 8 hour train journey compared to about a 5 1/2 or 6 hour drive. The train left Saskatoon 16 hours behind schedule, and as of last estimate it will arrive 27 hours behind as long as there are no further delays.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    On the plus side for rail, no one can hijack the train and drive it somewhere else. Most you can do is crash it into something along the rail line.

    Not that that will stop the TSA from turning HSR into air travel hell, part two.Report

    • Avatar Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      If HSR were added to Amtrak, TSA wouldn’t get a say since Amtrak maintains its own federal police force. Those sort of jurisdictional fights never end well for the instigator.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Trains are generally less destructive but put a bomb on one going into Grand Central Station and TSA will be there the next day, Amtrak cops be damned.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to Aaron David says:

        Amtrak cops are credentialed federal law enforcement officers. With guns. TSA has neither.Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Philip H says:

          Did you know that airports fall under a sheriffs jurisdiction? And yet there the TSA is…

          The FAA allows this, and I can see something similar happening due to Homeland Security. (Sadly, I can see TSA getting guns in the process.) The TSA was created by the Aviation and Transportation Act in the wake of 9/11, as I am sure you know.Report

          • Avatar Philip H in reply to Aaron David says:

            I know it well, being a twice a week flyer these days. I also know that once you get past the x-rays the only gun carriers are law enforcement. Its amusing in DC because each airport authority has their cops, the local jurisdictions have their cops, and when congress flies they have their cops. The TSA guys have radios. and bomb dogs.They were never intended to be armed law enforcement. That would take another act. And considering Congress can’t fulfill its constitutional duty to appropriate funds so I get paid without sitting on my hands for 35 days – I am fairly certain they won’t get around to arming TSA anytime soon.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      But Dennis Hopper can plant bombs on both buses and underground trains and take them hostage. Elevators, too!Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Ultimately, this will be the problem with the Green New Deal.

    You can have a government that is overwhelmingly Democrats, a populace that is overwhelmingly environmentalist, and something like high-speed rail won’t be able to be accomplished because too many of the wrong oxen get gored along the way.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      I read somewhere that the GND kills all the Oxen.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

      But in that brave new world, there will be no livestock to gore, because there will be no livestock, just corn and beans hauled to factories to make factory food.

      I don’t think the Chicago high speed project is being delayed that much by environmentalists and eminent domain issues, mostly because it is using existing freight lines that just need smoothed out. The last stage is expected to be razing the state environmental protection agency which the future goes though.

      I just thing there is that much demand for travel btw/ metro areas within the same region. Going btw/ Midwest cities at 25% less time is really only going to reduce the cost or previous business trips.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to PD Shaw says:

        At this point, I wonder if high-speed rail is *ENTIRELY* the wrong solution for a 21st Century.

        Would we be able to do fiber for as cheap as high-speed rail?

        Imagine how many millions/billions of dollars could be saved by home-sourcing jobs? Maybe?Report

        • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Jaybird says:

          Broadcast, or something like that. Fiber to the premise (FTP) is expensive due to the last mile, but fiber to the node (FTN), which is what ATT has spent a bucketload on, is not bad. If a system could be set up with FTN and then broadcast to the premise, well, that would be gold. And it eliminates one central problem in cities, namely that the wiring in most buildings over 40 years have trouble supporting high speeds.

          But that is pretty off topic.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aaron David says:

            If the goal is to reduce car usage, I think that homesourcing would do wonders (how many people could reasonably be homesourced? 20%?).

            What if 20% of the population only had to leave the house to get groceries or see an off-broadway play?Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

              As someone who’s worked from home for the past 15 years, I was at the airport yesterday looking at people who had to work there so that I didn’t have to work in an office. It made me sad. Part of me is afraid of what it looks like when the only jobs that require you to “be” somewhere are the jobs nobody wants.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Yeah, when I was going through my thoughts wondering how many people could reasonably be homesourced, my thoughts turned to such jobs as customer service jobs or personal service jobs. The guy at the 7-11, the massage therapist, the surly teenager checking their phone at the kiosk at the mall, the lady who cuts the hair of everyone who doesn’t cut their own.

                They’d still need to do a job that requires physical presence.

                IT Jobs like mine will be automatable and/or not require physical presence.

                We saw the outsourcing boom/bust. We’re in the bottom part of the automation boom. God only knows how crazy *THAT* is going to get.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

          If Hyperloop ever becomes a thing it seems to solve the whole land issue by going on stilts… so you can use existing easements… or get easement rights with fewer landowner objections. In that sense, we become Japan in the 60s where we leapfrog technologies.

          Of course, the whole “becomes a thing” is a decent sized question mark.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

          I think it was 10 yrs ago that I asked friends from LA whether they saw themselves using a train to SF and maybe they could once a year for leisure if it was inexpensive, but we’re still probably 20 years from that, so who know? They visit me every year and it hasn’t come up for a long time, but I think they would say their transportation concerns are foremost local (within the city or metro) or long-distance (east coast). Visiting SF would be like desert.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

        But in that brave new world, there will be no livestock to gore, because there will be no livestock, just corn and beans hauled to factories to make factory food.

        US corn: 40% goes to ethanol factories, 35% to livestock feed, a majority of the remainder exported largely for livestock feed. Very little corn is directly people food.

        US soybeans: A huge majority of soybean meal is used as livestock feed. Oil is used in human food processing and in a variety of industrial applications. If you’re going to make synthetic meat, it would be good to make it from the protein-rich soy meal.

        US wheat: 50% exported, 10% for livestock feed. Finally, people food.

        Roughly two-thirds of America’s vegetables come from California’s Imperial and Central Valleys. Fruits in general from similarly small areas.

        We could give most of the US grain belts back to the bison, and eat healthier. Well, and unless we’re willing to let the wolves and pumas back onto the plains in large numbers, the bison herds will need to be culled.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Michael Cain says:

          I was referencing the EAT diet, recently published in Lancet, which recommends substituting corn and soy, as well as more wheat and rice, for meat, dairy and eggs, as a sustainable diet for Mother Earth. I am not a fan.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    it seems to me like the best long term solution might just be self-driving cars made to cover regional distances.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I like this idea, maybe we could have them hold multiple passengers?

      Maybe call them busses?

      (All kidding aside, I think this will be the end solution. We are getting closer and closer technologically and, just as importantly, culturally. And as much as I love railroads and trains, it is a dead end at this point. At least passenger wise.)Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to Aaron David says:

        I don’t think trains are a dead end unless we continue to insist – wrongly – that passenger service has to be a profit center instead of a public good. European trains – which I have ridden many of over the years – succeed because 1) they serve every town; 2) they often have dedicated passenger only corridors so they don’t interfere with freight; 3) are considered a public good that should be funded by both ticket sales and government funds. There’s never a debate in France or Spain or Japan about spending money on capitol improvements the way there is here with Amtrak. Heck, Amtrak wasn’t allowed to advertise until the early 2000’s because of fears of competition with bus lines (!). So until we actually try doing things the way Europe ad Japan do, lets not write the idea off.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    BART to downtown San Jose would have cost a third of the most optimistic projections of Cal-HSR (and it would have got federal funding, even!) and it would have serviced more people at a higher capacity than even the wildest dreams of Cal-HSR, but, like, ew, BART is old, we want shiny new trains.Report

  9. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Still on vacation, so I can’t really do the research this minute, but when comparing transport options, think of things in terms of weight, passenger capacity, and speed. Rail cars, even light rail and subway cars, are VERY heavy (50 – 80 tons, IIRC). Excessively heavy, even, given the number of passengers each car holds. Thus each car requires a massive amount of energy to get moving, even while operating on low friction steel rails (and very few trains have regenerative braking, although it is being adopted on newer systems). It’s a passenger to weight ratio. Compare that to cars and buses, and even aircraft.

    Factor in other things like transit going north to go south (my flight to Lisbon required me to fly from PHX to London to Lisbon). Then you get the last mile problem as well.

    My gut tells me that if we are looking for the most flexible and efficient mass transit system, it would involve autonomous electric vehicles that are dispatched on demand. Of course, as long as people can have POVs on the same roads, that system will have problems.

    Anyway, feel free to look things up and run the numbers.

    Cheers from Lisbon!Report

  10. Avatar Jesse says:

    The actual reason America probably can’t have decent high speed rail at a reasonable cost, like regulatory and union free France is basically, local and state governments have too much power.

    As Yglesias put in a tweet, referring to a conversation he had with a French transportation official, “The idea, I think, is that to build trains successfully you need to be able to tell various local officials and stakeholders to fuck off so you can make relatively direct connections between the main population centers.”Report

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