By Chris Nelder
Posting in Cities
Energy columnist Chris Nelder finds that California's high-speed rail will save more energy than the state produces with wind, and that its $68 billion price tag is downright cheap.
California has affirmed its commitment to building the nation's first high-speed rail system, but among the justifications for it, the most important one was scarcely mentioned: energy.
Yes, it will be wonderful to be able to travel from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in a little over two and a half hours. That's faster than driving or even flying, once you take into account the travel time to SFO or LAX, arriving there at least an hour before your flight time in order to get through security, sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate or a runway slot, and all the rest of the actual time commitments not included in the nominal hour-and-a-half flight time.
Under the system's targeted fare structure, the SF-LA trip would also be about half the price of airfare, or about the same price as buying $4 gasoline for a car that gets 20 mpg and driving those 500 miles. But it would be a whole lot safer, more comfortable, and more productive.
The alternatives of building more airport capacity or more freeway lanes would be even more expensive than the system's $68 billion price tag on a full lifecycle basis, including operational, maintenance, and fuel costs. New readers may want to revisit my calculations from last October, in which I found that merely remaining committed to our existing road-and-car transportation infrastructure costs the U.S. around $1.6 trillion annually, and that US High Speed Rail Association's $600 billion price estimate for a high-speed rail system connecting all our major metropolitan cities is decidedly cheap
And yes, my beleaguered state, with its $15.7 billion budget deficit and declining tax revenues, could certainly use the 450,000 permanent jobs that the HSR system will bring.
A better way to "fly"
By the time an estimated 7 million new California residents will be needing affordable regional transportation 20 years from now, the air travel industry will be in shambles. It was built in the expectation that oil would rarely cost more than $40 a barrel, and it has struggled mightily to survive over the past four years as we entered the new era of triple-digit oil prices. It is already shrinking on the periphery, with small regional carriers going belly-up. Were it not for hedging their fuel costs on the futures market, nickel-and-diming passengers for baggage and other fees, or as Delta did in April buying a refinery in hopes of eliminating refining margins from their cost structure, most carriers would be sounding their death rattles already. It is very difficult to imagine how they'll survive the next 20 years at anything like their current level of service.
But anything new engenders opposition from those who fear change, and sadly, most Americans have never traveled abroad or experienced first-hand the joy of traveling by high-speed rail, where it is enthusiastically embraced in 11 other countries. I have experienced it on the TGV in France, and I can tell you that it was hands-down the most enjoyable long-distance travel I have ever known: A big reclining leather seat with ample leg room that even the most odiously huge American can fit into. Boarding 10 minutes before departure with no security hassles. Keeping all your luggage with you. Being able to get up and stretch your legs, or walk down to the bar car and grab a beer and a sandwich, or even have a smoke in the smoking car. Watching the countryside zip by. The new California trains will also sport wifi and power outlets. It beats the pants off the humiliating experience of modern air travel.
Those who oppose HSR have called it a "boondoggle." A "loss-making whim," and "a monument to bad territorial planning."
Actually, those were quotes were not from recent coverage about the California HSR system (although they could have been), but from the Spanish minister of transport and public works in 2009, reflecting on the two decades of opposition that conservatives had mounted against his country's progress in building a high speed rail system. "Shielded behind overly simple, short sighted cost-benefit analysis, critics complained with those arguments against high speed projects over years," he wrote, "until the success of each one of the new corridors proved them wrong and showed that in troubled economic times, the best investments for a society are the ones which improve equality."
Today, Spain's HSR system is on track to be one of the world's most comprehensive, putting 90 percent of the country's population within 31 miles of a station by 2020. Economic development and rider enthusiasm have followed wherever it has been built. The high speed line from Madrid to Barcelona cut air travel in half in the first year of its operation.
Simply put, rail is cheaper, safer, and better than flying or driving in every way for trips in the 500-mile range.
But all of these perfectly good and sufficient reasons to build the HSR system pale in comparison to meeting our energy challenge.
The growing California energy deficit
Despite being miles ahead of the rest of the country in its energy efficiency, and charging ahead with its target to produce 33 percent of its retail electricity from renewables by 2020, the Golden State's energy situation is not good. Have a look at its oil balance:
Since its halcyon days of producing almost as much oil as it consumed in 1960, a widening gap has opened between production and consumption. As of 2010 (the latest state data the EIA has), California had a nearly 451 million barrel annual oil deficit. At today's $86 a barrel (for WTI), that's a $39 billion annual cash outflow, just to buy oil.
Now, it's true that the oil producers are private companies participating in a global market, so the state's oil production has a much more complex interaction with the state budget than this simple math suggests. But it's also true that nearly three straight decades of declining oil production have exerted a heavy drag on the state's economy in the form of declining tax revenues and lost jobs, and has contributed greatly to the state's chronic budget problems. Now, the ever-growing amount of energy the state must import has dramatic implications for its fiscal future.
In fact, California's energy production as a whole, from all sources, is now at a 50-year low. In 2007, according to EIA data, the state's total energy production dropped below its 1960 level of 2,630 trillion BTU, and has continued to decline. Most of the drop owes to oil production, which fell from a peak of 2,285 trillion BTU in 1985 to 1,168 trillion BTU in 2010, and to natural gas, which fell from a peak of 815 trillion BTU in 1968 to 318 trillion BTU in 2010. Non-biofuel renewable energy has only grown from 270 trillion BTU in 1960 to 692 trillion BTU in 2010, less than the post-peak loss of natural gas BTUs alone.
Now California has a new supply gap to fill since the San Onofre nuclear plant was shut down five months ago after a radioactive steam leak. Hard data on the plant's recent production is hard to come by, but I estimate that the shutdown has removed about 32 billion kWh per year, or about 11 percent of the state's total electricity demand. Compensating for the loss of San Onofre with renewables would require a little less than all of the state's hydroelectric supply, or a little more than the state's existing wind, solar, and geothermal production combined. (All 2010 data.)
Rails to the future
With its energy production declining, California will need to do all it can to use energy more efficiently, and that's where high-speed rail really shines. It requires just one-third the energy per passenger as air travel, and one-fifth the energy per passenger as automobiles.
A 2008 study by Navigant Consulting found that the California HSR could cut state oil demand by 12.7 million barrels per year through displaced air and car travel. That's roughly two percent of the state's 2010 oil consumption of 653 million barrels, or about 74 trillion BTU, more than the 59 trillion BTU the state produced from wind that year.
In other words, the energy savings from building the HSR system is equivalent to more than the state's entire wind generation.
That's no small beer. California is the nation's third-largest generator of wind power, after Texas and Iowa, and the growth of renewable power is one of the few bright spots in her energy future.
But the HSR system is more than an energy gain for California. It's about more than the jobs, or the 3 million tons of CO2 emissions it would cut annually, or the 146 million hours a year that residents would stop wasting unproductively in traffic. It could mean the very difference between life and death in a fuel-constrained future.
If my estimate is correct, world oil production will begin its decline around 2015 and fall by roughly seven percent by 2020, the year that the HSR link from SF to LA is due to begin service. In that event, the fiscal benefits of the system would be dwarfed by the utter necessity of keeping the economy running, even as air travel soars out of the average person's reach and automobile fuel becomes either too expensive or too scarce. And the electrification of existing rail corridors and other improvements that are part of the HSR package will become essential elements in transitioning transportation away from liquid fuels and onto renewable power.
California's high speed rail system may prove to be the critical lifeline that keeps the nation's most populous state afloat against the undertow of oil depletion, and to be the cornerstone of the entire nation's transportation future. By 2028, when the full 800-mile network from Sacramento to San Diego is up and running, its $68 billion price tag will start to look like a bargain.
Photo: Artist rendering from the California High-Speed Rail Authority
Jul 10, 2012
The biggest drawback with any rail transport is that they are spinal, in that they go in one direction in a serpentine or in a sinuate run and connect only a few places. They lack sprawl. Railways can never form a network. When railways ran on steam there were frequent stops for water & coal and these stops became nucleus for the growth of small towns where people built houses very close to the stops. Some of these towns became cities and now most people live far away from these stops which became stations with the advent of diesel & electric trains. For people living far away from stations individually owned cars are a blessing since they enjoy doorstep delivery and also enjoy the freedom of personal travel schedule. High Speed Trains are a great privilege for a selected few who live close to the stations but for those who have to surrender their land for building this luxury have only the pleasure of seeing the High Speed Trains whiz past their houses with no hopes of ever enjoying a ride on this White Elephant. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul. HST is the work of modern day Robin Hoods. HST will make contractors, politicians, trade unions & government officials rich. Agricultural land will be wasted and thousands of trees will have to chopped down. Any new transport system which focuses on Green Design needs to have the quality of encouraging cars owners to give up their addiction to personal cars and this is possible only when the transport system replicates the Network or Sprawl of the roads and also when the system has the design capability to provide individual transport without dependence on time table or schedules or routes. Any new transport system must guarantee the same autonomy which the personal car gives - personal mobility. A paradigm shift in thinking and a quantum leap in technology is needed to make a safe, green and cost effective personal mobility system available. In this connection a new technology is being developed which addresses all the problems of modern day transport especially safety and prevention of accidents. With this new technology the entire 880 mile project can be completed in 5 years instead of 20 years, $10billion instead of $68Billion, with offline stops at every quarter mile instead of 200 miles (giving everyone the opportunity to avail the facility and increasing ridership and also economic viability), with 1% energy consumption of the HST, suitable for short distance travel as well as long distance travel (increasing capacity utilisation with revenue addition). With no waste of agricultural land. No need to destroy forest cover. No land acquisition issues.Ofcourse the speed will be less (100/mph). But does speed matter when you have the choice of personal mobility and do not have to depend on the HST time table. The new technology is accident free (China already has had two major accidents in just two years). It enables zero pollution. This technology will be soon be available for commercialisation.
This will be a millstone around the necks of California taxpayers. I've been on Spain's HSR lines, and yes, they are nice, but also highly subsidized by sky-high fuel taxes. They also overcame the NIMBY crowds that California didn't, and their HSR lines go into central Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, etc. California HSR is starting in the middle of nowhere almost 75 miles from 'Frisco, and it is going to end in the desert near Barstow, about 75 miles from LA. Start = end = nowhere, and the connectors to SF and LA will never get built means California HSR = boondoggle.
- but no one has mentioned that the overwhelming majority of California's traffic demands (and therefore the root cause of nearly all congestion) relate to East/West and not North/South-bound traffic, as this iteration of HSR would supposedly address. One can only wonder who stands to benefit from this project (and why proponents had to lie about the true costs at the time of the ballot proposition). As usual, the losers will be current and future generations of those tax payers still willing to reside in this politically dysfunctional state.
The savings seem like pie-in-the-sky, and experience tells us that construction costs go way out of bounds, especially since we have no experience actually building these projects. And we always talk about personal savings, but once you have to pay for more than one ticket, your savings disappear. I don't know what the price of the rail ticket will be, but I suspect that taking a family of 4 on a trip will still be less expensive in the family car. Regarding the airlines being optimized for $40/bbl oil, those planes get roughly twice the mileage they used to, as I understand, so $86/bbl isn't that bad. $100/bbl is, though! That said, I agree that we ought to have high speed rail in a lot of places. Houston to Dallas would be great. As of now, it's quicker to drive that route than to fly when getting to the airport and waiting are factored in. I'm not even sure that things like savings based on current energy use makes sense. What we're talking about is being able to keep up with increased population 20 years from now, and there simply may be no other choice. Someone mentioned using larger airplanes as number of passengers increases, but extra cars can be added to the trains as well. Somebody needs to come up with a comprehensive and truly realistic set of numbers.
I'm not obese (far from it, I'm sure I could dust Nelder on a mountain climb) but I have a few friends who are both large, and lovely to be around. Can we dispense with the phrases like " odiously huge " when referring to them? Actually, we can. I guess the question is, can Nelder? It makes his writing not only shallow, but callow as well.
The good old USA is sucking hind tit. Ware not much of a world leader now. We are behind on any thing exept Space. we need to move on. We need high speed rail yesterday .
...and new ones are created. Sorry Chris, you've totally lost it. [i]"Thats faster than driving or even flying, once you take into account the travel time to SFO or LAX, arriving there at least an hour before your flight time in order to get through security, sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate or a runway slot, and all the rest of the actual time commitments not included in the nominal hour-and-a-half flight time."[/i] Of course, that's built upon the fantasy that the TSA ([i]Transportation[/i] Safety Administration, not [i]Airline[/i] Transportation) will not eventually intervene, as it has already announced its intention to do so. Don't worry; I have complete faith that if and when HSR is implemented here that the TSA will make getting on a train just as miserable as getting on a plane. And with all of the pointless (but politically required) stops that this train will be making as it plods through the central valley every 20 miles or so, those speeds are also a fantasy. Airport capacity is also a non-issue. Most of the aircraft running the LA-SF routes are of the 150-200 seat variety. As demand increases, those planes would be swapped out for larger aircraft. No additional runways would be required, and cost-per-seat-mile (the real metric of travel efficiency) would actually go down. Can't say the same for HSR. [i]"Under the systems targeted fare structure, the SF-LA trip would also be about half the price of airfare, or about the same price as buying $4 gasoline for a car that gets 20 mpg and driving those 500 miles. But it would be a whole lot safer, more comfortable, and more productive."[/i] The last study I read to justify this project predicted a ridership of over 32-million people per year. That's roughly the entire population of the state! (I haven't gone to the absurdity of doing the complete math on this, but is it even possible to run enough trains on this to transport roughly 90,000 passengers per day?) This is only arrived at if you use the same kind of absurd math that NASA used to convince Congress that the Space Shuttle would be profitable as a launch system at 50 launches per year. Most other studies put unsubsidized ticket prices at around $400 one-way, or more than a first-class LA-SF air ticket. [b]450,000 permanent jobs?[/b] What? It's going to almost take half-a-million people just to run this thing? The carbon spewed by half-a-million people commuting to work each day (Most using carbon-spewing automobiles to do os) will more than negate any carbon efficiencies of HSR. (Which there are none, BTW) Clearly, this must mean ancillary jobs. But since the point of HSR is to replace the airlines, most of those jobs if they happen will just be replacing those. Net wash, at best. In fact, if HSR is as efficient as you like to think, it would actually be a net loss of jobs, at least in the short term. [b]And you are using Spain as an example?[/b] Um, unless you've been missing out on international news lately, Spain is bankrupt, largely driven there by their false "green" economy. The trains in Spain [i]are[/i] great, and highly subsidized. I always appreciate when taxpayers with a much lower standard of living than I have pay to subsidize my luxurious travel that they usually can't afford themselves. Doesn't mean I want to do the same thing here. [i]"HSR could cut state oil demand by 12.7 million barrels per year through displaced air and car travel...Its about more than the jobs, or the 3 million tons of CO2 emissions it would cut annually, or the 146 million hours a year that residents would stop wasting unproductively in traffic. It could mean the very difference between life and death in a fuel-constrained future."[/i] Another myth. HSR trains are no where near as energy efficient as traditional rail. It takes a phenomenal amount of energy to accelerate a trail over 100, and then to keep it there. On a carbon level, inter-city diesel buses are actually more efficient than HSR. A fundamentally bankrupt California is proceeding with this project only because they hope that the rest of American taxpayers will be paying for it. They'd never proceed if they had to pay for this themselves. In fact, they've blatantly violated the conditions of the original bond issue. Lesson for citizens: The politicians are going to go ahead and do what they want to, even if they put it in writing otherwise.
and still digging. Just wait until they come calling on the Federal Government (pronounced, yours and my money) to come bailout these Socialists.
Why are there so many negative HSR comments to CA HSR articles? These people just don't understand the benifits! Cheap oil powerd transportation (air and highway) will not last forever.
One recent design change makes this a world class joke. There will not be a downtown LA terminal for the HSR. The designers concluded that there are no viable rights of way available into the downtown area for a rail line. Most of the old rail lines were ripped up during the General Motors street car conspiracy. It was determined that all of the proposed access plans and options were too expensive to implement because of land purchases required. They are now eyeing Victorville as the LA station. 190 miles from LA. http://trains4america.wordpress.com/2009/04/29/considering-the-desertxpress-la-las-vegas-hsr-option/ The list of proposed HSR stations sounds like a subway system. They are too close for a 200 mph train to ever hope of reaching top speed for a beneficial amount of time. To qualify for a station, a city would have to encourage dense, mixed-use development around the station. That is a subway station requirement. HSR is a regional / national transportation system. The location of the stations should be entirely driven by its proximity to local transportation grids. IE Buses and light rail. http://cahsr.blogspot.com/2008/12/trouble-with-la-union-station.html http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/a_better_inland_empire/proj_promote_cahsr.html http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=18018
This article is so weak it's getting dope slapped by the commentariat in general. Nice to see some well reasoned responses to the Nelder-reality-distortion field.
I think we have enough examples in the rest of the developed world supporting efficiency and popular support once available. The US shouldn't keep adding technology deficits as a matter of habit. Ask Texas if they will give up their wind power now. Convenience seems to be one of the strongest determining factors for decisions. Keep adding more time in the TSA's hands?
200mph rail does indeed take less time than air travel for distances such as LA to San Francisco - as for most travellers the train stations will indeed be closer than airports. More people live near these stations than near the airports and no security is normally needed to join any of the trains already travelling the 12,000 miles of 200mph rail lines already open across the world. Remember that only a tiny bomb would bring a plane down and kill everybody. They already tried to blow up a French train. Nobody died and it did not even derail. Trains are rather safer. TWO BILLION people have now travelled safely on 200mph rail across France alone now. Even if the cost does go up, the cost of alternatives would be equally inflated. 200mph rail does normally pay back its construction costs over 30 year periods. Otherwise so much of it would not have been built in the past 30 years in France, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Britain, Holland, Belgium, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China. It works and over the sort of LA to San Francisco distance it typically takes over 80% of the air market (as it now has on routes like Madrid-Seville or London-Paris). On routes like Paris-Brussels, Paris-Lyon, Cologne-Frankfurt rail has taken ALL of the old air market. Airlines gave up flying those routes entirely - as the train was faster than the plane. Here in England a low cost airline called Ryan Air tried to claim in an advert that their airline was faster, cheaper and more reliable for their London-Brussels route. A judge stopped their campaign as he found that the opposite was true. When YOU TOOK INTO ACCOUNT THE JOURNEY TO THE AIRPORT (from London and Brussels) it was the TRAIN that was faster, cheaper and more reliable. Since then Road congestion gets worse, fuel costs rise, air congestion gets worse and air security checks take ever longer. Train travel here in Europe has grown through the recession whilst air travel has dropped. High Speed Rail really can be faster, cheaper and more reliable for California than either air or road travel. Just do not take too long about building it!
California desperately needs HSR as does the rest of the US... Those opposed are clueless morons who have never experienced HSR first hand... In Europe HSR is the best thing since sliced bread.... Europe has urban sprawl just like the US, so flush that argument down the toilet. We have to think about the congested future of the country and HSR is the best answer to resolve that issue. Yes, HSR can be targeted by terrorists, but unlike a plane, it can't be flown out of the US nor into a building. If the train is electric, it can be stopped at any time. And hopefully it can be integrated into the rest of the country and take the place of most plane... I would love to be able to take HSR from SF to NY... It may take a little longer than plane, but it should be well worth it and unlike a plane, I wouldn't be forced to sit that entire time and I could just relax and enjoy the trip.
...provide more benefits in: more coverage, less costs in maintenance (due to easier infrastructure to maintain) and cheaper parts replacement (due to less complicated, off-the-shelf parts availability) --savings that can be invested into even more coverage. Seen we're headed to an even more energy-constrained future that will affect every other industry dependent on high energy throughput (ie high tech manufacturing as required by HSR), isn't obvious HSR is the same pipe dream as more airports? Spain's HSR is not as rosy as it seems and as that part of Europe descends further into economic decline it will be obvious the caveat of HSR when funding doesn't buy the needed upkeep, replacement as cheaply as funding regular rail does. First Monbiot, then Tom Whipple and now you Mr Nelder? What am I missing? What's causing this sudden Pollyannish bloom completely disregarding systems thinking and the reality of the long term energy constraints in the system?
HSR is meant to compete with inter-city air travel, not urban freeway congestion. Building this fraud will not solve LA's traffic. If anything, it will make it worse by diverting resources from solving those problems. That this confusion keeps coming up is just a demonstration of the fact that most people pushing for HSR do not have a clue as to what they are talking about.
Googles self-driving cars are on the road right now. Designate some "self-driving car only" lanes, charge an extra toll for access, and then self-driving "platoon driving" (with no rubber necking) will solve quite a bit of the congestion we have now. With the extra toll and the reduction in accidents, it will be a net win financially. CA should lead the way with self-driving cars, instead of taxpayer boondoogles.
But we do have experience...look at the non-functionality of the east cost line and the $$ wasted, look at the waste of the RTD Denver's FasTraks...how many examples do we need? The LA-Las Vegas line makes sense, maybe Las Vegas/Albquerque/Dallas, etc..all through very lightly populated areas.
The USA is number 1 in fracking, by a long long way. We're number 1 in producing natural gas. We're number 3 in oil production (number 1 in democratic countries, since numbers 1 and 2 are Saudi Arabia and Russia). And obviously the US is number 1 in software and high tech. FB, MSFT, AMZN, IBM, AAPL, etc. (This was the field Nelder was run out of before he became a self-styled energy analyst).
Every time proponents of HSR talk about it, you can see the drool. PANT, PANT, PANT, GOTTA HAVE IT, GOTTA HAVE IT, GOTTA HAVE IT, PANT, PANT, PANT. NOW, NOW, NOW, PANT, PANT, PANT. I keep expecting to see a box of Kleenex near by. That kind of behavior just gets us boondoggles. They always tremendously understate the cost to lull the sheeple into saying yes. (Yes, it is deliberate). And most fall for it every time. I don't recall a major government program that ever cost what they said it would. It always costs 10-20 times more and ends up being a money pit forever.
I have lost track of how many California cities have declared bankruptcy this week. Another gem on the 2012 California HSR plan is how much spending was dropped from the state level plan and made the responsibility of the cities that would host stations. All of the local infrastructure including access roads, traffic improvements, parking garages and in some cases the train stations themselves have become the financial responsibility of the local cities. They did not trim the cost of the plan. They just shifted the responsibility. Adding in those local costs will add billions to the overall cost of the project.
...and continue to confuse the efficiences of traditional rail with HSR. Other than using rails, building, operating and maintaining them is very different.
I would love to see a transcontinental HSR grid as part of a national rail system linking regional rail with HSR. What many people do not realize is the US had first generation HSR up until the 1950s. We had steam engines running on dedicated express rails between Boston and NY that did the run in an hour less than the allegedly HSR Acela does today. The 1930s era steam engine on the NYC to Chicago run was over 5 hours faster than the current Amtrak train. It used a state of the art water scoop to refill its water tank without stopping. Long distance HSR rail, with over 200 miles between stations running on dedicated track, would be a boon to the US for passenger and cargo service. I just waited 4 days for a package from Texas that shipped by truck the whole way. The USPS could have loaded that package on HSR and had it here in 2 days with a far smaller carbon footprint. Until the 1960s the USPS was one of the largest rail customers with its long distance shipping. The second largest customer was Sears shipping out of their warehouses in Chicago to regional distribution centers that then used trucks for the last few miles. The USPS was convinced by the truck manufacturers and DOT to switch to trucks starting in the early 1960s as the highway system expanded. Sears stopped using trains when they moved from their warehouse campus to the new Sears tower in the 1970s. Those 2 market shifts killed rail. Rail for passengers only is unsustainable. That is why the lastest generation TVGs have more cargo cars. The California HSR plan is highly flawed in its basic design. That is the root of my opposition and many others here.
@Hates Idiots: Those are all old and non-authoritative sources. There have been other options proposed and debated, but saying that there has been a design change or that "there will not be a downtown LA terminal for the HSR" is false, as far as I can see. The official route maps from the California High-Speed Rail Authority clearly show that the current plan is to connect to the LA Union Station. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/Palmdale_-_Los_Angeles.aspx http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/los_angeles_anaheim.aspx
I've used HSR a ton abroad, it works very well when it's well designed. CA HSR looks like a slow motion train wreck, for a variety of reasons, to include your well thought out response.
The politics of doing what is needed to create inner city HSR for the California plan has already killed the LA to Las Vegas route because the land takings to run a track east were deemed too expensive and politically untouchable. They are the same NIMBY problems that killed track improvement for the Acela routes in the northeast corridor decades ago. Amtrak gave up decades ago on improving the track in Connecticut and Massachusetts. They are once again talking about improving the NYC to DC tracks, but that has been brought up and discarded at least 4 times over the life of Acela with no progress being made. The fun fight will be seen after the first train runs. People who fought and lost the land takings will have a fit when the first train screams past their house at 200 mph. This is another political reality Acela ran in to, especially in Connecticut. Neighbor imposed speed restrictions have kept it to 80 mph on all but the most remote tracks. Yet another reason why HSR is perfect for the wide open nothing in the American southwest.
"desperately needed." What is available now is working. People (especially politicians and those who stand to get rich from this) get all starry-eyed over "high-speed rail" and don't seem to be too concerned about the cost. Make no mistake, this will cost far more than they are saying and promise far less. Most things government gets involved with end up like that. Anytime something is "desperately needed," shortcuts are taken and we end up with something less than we wanted. Maybe it can work, but there has to be a better way to do it. Maybe if proponents of such things would stop trying to demonize private transportation (cars) and try to sell it on its merits? And why does government always have to be involved? Taxpayers just get milked that way and we are out of money. You can bet if this gets built that TSA will eventually be involved. Now you can get molested before getting on the train as well.
...and take it every chance I get. But it's always with the knowledge that 50% of the price of my ticket is paid for by hapless European taxpayers who have half the standard of living I do. I appreciate their sacrifice for my comfort and convenience. And BTW, most of those countries are bankrupt.
I can fly from Boston to DC for less than our somewhat high speed rail and get there much faster. I have read similar estimates for California's proposed system. As for cost, look at our Big Dig, it started out at $2 Billion, went to $15 Billion a couple of years ago, and now they are saying it will really be $24 Billion. These projects never come in under budget or on time. Good luck California.
Regular rail will ultimately have to replace a great deal of road traffic, and having the HSR backbone for longer-distance regional travel will make it far more useful, and enable its construction. Light rail should be built, and I think it will be. But it is a much longer-term (and far more expensive) proposition. For example, consider the planned expansion links of the Metrolink system in Southern California: http://bit.ly/NLze6I To lay just 9 miles of light rail track from downtown San Bernadino to the University of Redlands (the "Redlands Corridor"), the estimated cost is around $700 million http://sanbag.ca.gov/projects/redlands-transit.html And it would take around 10 years to build http://sanbag.ca.gov/projects/redlands-sb-rail/Scoping_Presentation_04-24-2012.pdf According to the latter link, that effort began in 1989 with a voter-approved measure, after which they started buying right-of-way. Now, 23 years later, they still haven't laid a single mile of track. All that, for 9 lousy miles in San Bernadino, which isn't as built-up as central LA. Now imagine building all the proposed expansion links in that wiki article. Then imagine building far more than that, to really get the cars off the road. How much would it all cost? In the trillions, to be sure. You think it's hard to raise $68 billion? Try that. And it would many decades, if not a century, to build it. To be clear, I DO think we need to do all of the above, and more! But as a practical matter, I don't see how a comprehensive light rail system could get built in Southern California any time soon. With such long timelines and huge costs, there has to be a large degree of federal support, and federal support is more oriented (sensibly, I think) toward projects that connect major cities than building within individual cities. So, I think when you put it in context, the SF-LA HSR and its price tag looks pretty good. It can actually get done, with a substantial amount of federal support. By the time it's operational in 2028, I expect that flying from SF to LA will be very expensive with very limited service. It won't be anything like today. If we don't have a rail substitute by then, the economic damage to the state could be devastating. As for your claim that light rail makes more sense than HSR in energetic terms, I am unconvinced. Let's see your data.
I agree, HSR will do nothing to address the congestion problem. The advocates of HSR are behind some "car free" utopia of their own choosing. When really, the pain reducer most people want is self-driving cars, so that traffic jams become some combination of "less common, less painful". Seriously, self driving cars are legal in NV? But not CA? That's stupid. Even if I can't (legally) text or drive while my car manages the stop-and-go for a half hour, I'd prefer to just daydream a bit. (In reality, I'll whip out my Kindle and read while my self-driving car slugs through the traffic jam. I'll put the Kindle away for normal driving, done by me or the car). What's stopping this from happening right now? The tech? No, the tech is there. The cost? No. Google estimates this is a 5K feature, at most. The government? Yes. The government is stopping me from purchasing and using a technology that would make my life more pleasant and safer for all parties. Lovely counterpoint to the HSR boondoogle, where the government is taking my money and spending it on an elaborate scheme that almost no-one wants.
...even the sheeple are now against it, now that it's obvious to even grade-school dropouts that the math simply doesn't work. (Recent polls have support below 40%) It's the political establishment that is going ahead with the scam in defiance of the people, and the requirements of the bond referendum that started it.
There own design map in their 2012 plan looks like a subway system with how close the stations are. Some of them are less than 30 miles apart. How fast does a 200 mph train go when it has only 30 miles to run? Not very fast. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/assets/0/152/431/72e92f77-014b-45a0-ad04-6cfd6d79c778.pdf Express trains running at 80 to 120 mph are better suited for such short regional runs. HSR needs closer to 200 miles between stops to effectively use its greatest asset. Speed. This type of station plan is part of why the Northeast Regional, a conventional train, runs the Boston to NYC run in just 18 minutes slower than the billion dollar Acela. The other issue is reusing local track. There is another mistake California is making in their 2012 plan. They are giving up on the idea of hundreds of miles of dedicated track to lower the project costs. They intend to run on the same rails as the slower Caltrain and other regional rail lines. As has been seen in the northeast corridor, schedule conflicts and limited track availability will greatly impact the Caltrain and its customers and the new HSR. In the end both will be hurt by that short sighted decision. In a properly designed system, regional trains like Caltrain would be feeding riders into and drawing riders from the longer distance HSR system. The list of mistakes goes on. But California HSR proponents do not want a good HSR system design. They just want the mythical HSR at all costs. The fact it will end up being a failure like Acela does not matter to them. Notice the Las Vegas route was dropped from the 2012 plan. Another cost cutter because they cannot get to Union station from the east without expensive land takings. That is how they were able to keep the Union station stop.
What about the problem of every little burb wanting it's own stop? This seems like the classic sort of "reverse NIMBY-ism" the the USA doesn't handle well (and CA particularly so)
Europe is bankrupt, yes. And if you look at our deficit and state of affairs, so are we. Question is which one of us got there first?
A good hunk of the LA to LV route is wide open nothing. You can extend out light rail/monorail lines to the edge, and then run HSR from there. Or just declare the HSR end points to be "metro bus centers" to insure that there is good bus service from most everywhere to the HSR startpoint. People will ride buses to specific destinations, provided they don't need to transfer.
You are quite right about the costs of doing any kind of road or rail expansion in Southern California. Unfortunately, this includes the HSR section that will go between UC Riverside and LA, with a spur down to Anaheim (see http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/uploadedImages/Routes/Project_Sections/Preferred_state_map_FINAL.jpg ). I lived in Southern California from the '50s until the early '90s, so I remember the "golden age" of freeway construction there. Most of it was done by the '70s, and each project became more and more difficult as land became more expensive and people objected to the disruption. The biggest example of this was the Foothill Freeway. The western half was completed in 1976, and the land was purchased for the eastern leg to be built next. But people along that route objected, lawsuits were filed, and the freeway was not built. Caltrans struggled for years to keep the right-of-way on the eastern half. Finally, the need for the freeway outweighed all the objections and the eastern half was built starting in 1990. It wasn't completed until 2007, the eastern half being about 40 miles long in total. My point here is that it's going to be EXTREMELY difficult to get the right-of-way in the LA basin for the HSR. The route largely parallels the Foothill Freeway, so we already know it's going to face fierce opposition. Sure, some people will be swayed by the idea of HSR, but for many communities it will be just another wall dividing their city in two. Given that there will be only about 8 stations in the LA basin, most communities will see the HSR cut through their boundaries without any way to get on it except by driving miles to the nearest station. It's clear that the strategy to build the sections in the middle of nowhere first is to cynically justify the building of the HSR line later in the LA and San Francisco regions (who says bureaucrats are mindless sheep?) Note that including Palm Springs there are six regional airports in the LA area to fly to anywhere in California, and they are more widely dispersed.
In most states they are required to pay the highest union rate going in the state. So if the underwater welders union that fixes ships gets $90 an hour the welders working on repairs for the Tobin bridge get $90 an hour. For contrast the expansion of state Route 3 from the NH line to Route 128/I95 was put out to a private bid. The general contractor put each piece of the project out to bid to multiple unions. So the Teamsters halls in western Massachusetts competed against Teamsters halls in eastern Massachusetts for all the trucking jobs. Same for the electricians and any other trade you could think of. They got good wages, but fair wages. Not insane wages. The project came in on budget. I have heard stories of other states paying whatever the highest union wage in the country is. So if pipefitters working in Alaska get $150 an hour that same price is paid on public works projects in states like California and Hawaii. I would not doubt it if some of that is going on here when you look at the numbers being thrown around. The Big Dig had some chump broom pushing jobs making $80 an hour.
Agreed, and construction only gets more expensive in the future. Build and operate what we can (HSR, commuter rail and LRT and other intermodal connections) and enjoy the benifits in the future.
...just before "rolling blackout" became part of the lexicon. And they shouldn't have needed Brown's tenure at Oakland; his governorship 2 decades earlier that left the state billions in debt (suppressed and revealed the day after his failed re-election bid) should have been enough.
so I haven't kept up much with the goings-on there. Good to know that some of them are waking up (hopefully) from their idiotic celebrity worship (a problem which infects the rest of the country as well) and paying attention. Nothing new about the political establishment going against the will of the people. They've pretty much been doing that the entire 27 years (over three different periods) that I lived there. It's been steadily getting worse (they actually returned Jerry Brown to the governorship, I guess they didn't learn the first time or from his experience as Oakland's mayor). That's partly why I left.
I agree, the delusion that HSR will "get us out of our cars" is a big part of the problem. The LA to Vegas run is also hated on by these people because both LA and Vegas are perceived as being "car-topias" that are wastelands for other types of urban transit. Actually, Vegas works pretty well for many people with walking, riding the monorail, and taking the occasional bus or cab. LA has some reasonable metro-transit (despite the bad press it gets) and it surprisingly bike friendly. And finally - so what if some folks drive their car to the LA train station, bullet-train to Sin City, rent a car for the weekend, then bullet-home? The HSR would still get used, bring in revenue, and subsidize the movement of produce from the inland empire to both metros. America is going to be car based for decades to come. Let's move towards more efficient cars, and choices that complement that car infrastructure and fleet we have, as opposed to pretending that the age of the American auto is coming to a close.
LA to LV did not occur to me and it is so obvious. That would be a good place to start. Let's use reason and logic in developing this system, not slavering emotion just to get an HSR system up and running to satisfy some political agenda. California is broke and going over a cliff economically and they want to waste billions on this? Do it right for once. Let the private sector handle it. Cargo is a good place to start. It can carry both cargo and passengers. And make money as well so it won't need taxpayer subsidies. That's my major gripe with these projects. Why must taxpayers foot the bill? If it can't survive on its own, it's probably not worth doing. As a taxpayer, I am out of money. I don't have any more to give so they can continue to waste it on useless projects. The politicians in Sacramento (where I used to live) just don't seem to realize this. Having said all that, rail, when it's done right is good. Take Japan for instance. They have an extensive rail network, much of it run by private companies. I still have a copy of the Tokyo rail map. It looks like a street map, there are so many tracks. You are never more than a 10-15 minute walk from a train station and trains run very frequently. I used it a lot when I was there because it is so efficient. And it feeds into the Shinkansen (bullet train) which is largely used for inter-city travel. It also runs right into both major airports in Tokyo. It seems that most of the people drooling and slobbering to get this going are the same ones who think they will get us out of our cars. (and it seems a lot of them found this article judging by the minuses). (They are also the same ones who think that government is the solution to every perceived problem. It's not, in fact government is often the problem). Not going to happen. Yes, there are times I would use the train, but having my own personal transportation is just too convenient and useful. If we had a good train system where I live, I would probably use it to get to work to save wear and tear, but when it comes to road trips or hunting/fishing trips, I will continue to use my SUV. Options, people, are good things. There is room for both.
The LA to Las Vegas run is so obviously the right place to start, that the absence of this from the plans is all you need to know re: the mismanagement of HSR in the USA in general, and CA in particular. There could be 2 or 3 stops on the route, to facilitate the transportation of fresh produce from the inland empire to both metropolis. This is almost beyond tragic. Perhaps farcical better describes the current CA HSA plans that Nelder extols here.
Enhanced light rail feeding a central HSR terminal for HSR running from LA to Las Vegas (300 miles) would be perfect for a start. The Las Vegas end could be toward the edge of the city and connected to the Strip by a monorail spur. If cargo was accommodated in the train and station designs one could only imagine the number of trucks hauling everything from packages to fresh food that would be eliminated from the highways. The cargo alone could subsidize at least 10 trains a day. If properly linked, regional rail, like Caltrain, could be modified to haul cargo to and from the HSR station. Even once a day in each direction would be a financial boost for the regional rail and make the HSR cargo more advantageous for a larger area. Links from the ports of Las Angeles and Long Beach could speed cargo to and from Las Vegas and beyond. The latest designs for HSR in Europe are designed to better handle cargo. With a design that is a throwback to the design of the NYC subway system, the newest HSR in Europe has a higher passenger capacity compared to any other HSR design in operation or planned. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5164ecce-6827-11df-a52f-00144feab49a.html#axzz20RGgqCJR Such a project would lay the foundation for HSR across the area with the most to gain. The American Southwest with its hundreds of miles of nowhere to cross.
A ***well executed*** CA HSR - (esp one with an LA -> Las Vegas corridor) would be an excellent promotion for a bleagured state. Tragic that they are doing it so wrong. How can they drop the Las Vegas route? They should build ****just**** the Las Vegas route. The drive from LA to Vegas is misreable. Las Vegas is suprisiing manageable without a rental car. Golden opprotunity being blown by the Golden state. Tragic. Nice commentary from Hates Idiots. Hates Idiots is the best part of the Neldersphere.
jonrosen presents a comment that is fundamentally illiterate, from a financial standpoint. Yes, both the Eurozone and the USA have debt situations that are troubling. But the former is, on whole, far far worse. One only needs to look at the yields on government bonds to see this - there is a tremendous demand for USA debt, since the market believes to be, relatively speaking, quite solid. The Eurozone (with the exception of one or two countries) needs much higher yields to convince people to buy their debt. In some cases, the yields have risen to disturbing levels. So yes, the USA and the Euros both have debt problems. But, on sum, the USA is much better off. (Or course, we work longer hours, experience more stress, are more "odiously large" (in Nelder's callow language) etc ... but from a "manageable debt" standpoint there is no real comparison).
For California's proposed HSR line, there will be many stops; a political requirement for the line. Either the proposed train will never reach advertised speeds, or there will be a lot of bypassed stations that we'll be wasting billions on building. As for Europe, expansion of the low-fare carriers is expanding far faster then HSR ridership; so much so that the Europeans are trying to slow that growth by implementing carbon taxes to make trains more attractive.
HSR does indeed need a route past slow trains to reach city centres - but this has now been solved in loads of ways in the 12,000 miles of new lines built in the last 2 decades all over the world. In most places there is an existing rail route that can be expanded with extra tracks, or a freeway that could have 2 tracks laid over it on a viaduct (as with New York's skytrain). More typically the route is put into a tunnel for the final section to the city centre (as our HS1 line runs into London via the Stratford London Olympic site that you are about to see on TV). The tunnelled route is the most expensive - but have no planning problems! As for stations, a HSR will have very few. Your mass transit systems are supposed to get people to those HSR stations - which may be SOLELY in the city centre itself and just outside at a single park & ride or airport hub interchange location (eg Frankfurt city centre and Frankfurt airport or the central Paris stations paired with Paris CDG). In Europe, trains have taken the place of many short haul air journeys and airlines now own some train companies. Air France recently announced that it wanted to run trains instead of planes :-)
You observation about communities opposing giving up land without getting a HSR station is spot on for one of the biggest flaws in the California HSR plan. HSR is not a metro rail. A well designed HSR system has a minimum 200 miles between stops. You want fast trains to go fast. 30 miles or less between stations is a gross waste of HSR best asset. Speed. Regional rail, light rail, monorail, buses and anything else you can think of is what should handle the need for frequent stops and should feed into and out of centralized HSR stations. Regional rail running at 80 to 120 mph and light rail running up to 80 mph are more cost effective solutions for multiple stops. Regional rail should stop no more often then every 20 miles. It is for your larger regional markets. Light rail can stop as often as needed to fill the gaps. HSRs on dedicated tracks fits in to handle the 200 miles or more running between major metropolitan areas. The desert southwest is the prefect place to start the US HSR system. Local system design is important to make it all work. Local train schedules need to keep the number of stops reasonable. A train stopping 12 times in 40 miles, like the MBTA does going north out of Boston, is almost useless to a commuter. And contrary to popular myths, trains do run into traffic. Little details like locating stations on side tracks to allow other trains to pass on the main line while a train is stopped loading can make a huge difference in day to day operations. Another problem is most commuter rail runs on the same tracks as freight trains. Commuter trains are often held up while freight trains stop to drop cars at train yards. All of these problems and the solutions are almost as old as trains themselves, but have been forgotten by the alleged experts behind the California HSR plan.