Florida TV News Goes To Spain To Learn About HSR

Feb 26th, 2010 | Posted by

Wouldn’t it be nice if California news outlets actually showed their viewers how HSR works in other countries, instead of giving airtime and ink to uninformed critics and NIMBYs who make HSR out to be some kind of alien and unfamiliar technology? That’s what one Florida TV news station, Orlando’s WFTV, did earlier this month. They sent reporters to Spain to learn first-hand how HSR actually works in practice.

I wish I could embed the videos, but you’ll have to go to WFTV’s page to see them. One of their reports, on cost and ridership, led the anchors to report – accurately – that Spanish HSR is a financial success, generating high ridership and covering its operating costs. The reporters explained why:

Just like Central Florida, Spain’s number one industry is tourism and the Spanish railway authority has agreements with airlines, cruise lines and travel agents to include high-speed train tickets at a discount.

“Any idea how many extra tourists Spain draws because of its investment in rail?” Rasmussen asked Sanchez.

“So the people, for instance, arriving from Mexico City in Madrid for a one week tour in Spain, they can get, directly, the tickets for the train, Madrid, Seville, for a cheaper price,” he said.

By 2020, Spain will spend half of its transportation budget, more than $160 billion, on rail, but managers say yearly operating costs are not subsidized by the government, because the system makes a small profit overall.

Another showed in detail what riding a high speed train is like:

Eyewitness News noticed that passengers had a lot of space and plenty of legroom. The crew was welcomed on-board. Once inside the cockpit, Eyewitness News crews set up two ‘point of view’ cameras so you can experience 160 miles per hour from a front row seat.

Trains like it being considered by Florida are powered by 25,000-volt electric lines overhead. In Spain, they have a spotless safety record and are known for being on-time down to the minute; on the line between Madrid and Seville, passengers who arrive more than five minutes late get a full refund.

Eyewitness News compared going from Ciudad Real to Cordoba, which is the closest example of Orlando to Tampa, to see how long it takes. It took just 54 minutes, with one stop in between.

And a report on the jobs HSR will bring:

Now, leaders say it has created tens of thousands of jobs. Florida has been promised 23,000 jobs for the 90-mile line planned between Orlando and Tampa.

Executives with Spanish train maker Talgo say it’s possible. The idea is to have something like Talgo’s smaller factories in Florida, with local workers building the trains. Four-hundred-eight-five people work at the smaller Talgo factory, but experts say the jobs that come with high-speed rail aren’t limited to construction.

“It goes from blue collars to white collars. It’s a lot of engineering,” said Jose Uriarte, Bombardier Inc. “This requires a lot of safety equipment and technology, which comes close to military-safety standards.”

Obviously these aren’t in-depth reports. It is TV news, after all. But it’s refreshing to see a US news outlet going past all the bullshit spun by HSR critics here in the US and actually looking into real-life, operating high speed rail systems and look at the evidence to see how well it works.

It would be fantastic if KTVU or KABC would send a camera crew over to Spain or France or China to cover their HSR systems and show Californians just how well this system works. Put an official from RENFE on TV to explain that Spanish HSR covers its costs and doesn’t require subsidies. Find an American tourist on the TGV and get them to say “this is awesome, I can’t wait to have one back home!” Go to China and show people at work building tracks and trainsets.

The LA Times has gone down this path to some degree, publishing an article by freelance journalist Bruce Selcraig about the AVE trains in Spain. Unfortunately too many other journalists repeat the frames from HSR critics that the system will be too costly, that nobody will ride it, etc, without questioning these claims or even demanding any evidence.

Let’s hope that other California news outlets follow the LA Times’ and WFTV’s lead and start reporting on HSR as it actually exists, instead of giving more space to evidence-free and speculative criticisms.

  1. David Bloom
    Feb 26th, 2010 at 18:40

    KTVU and WFTV have the same parent company, so this might be more than just wishful thinking.

  2. Spokker
    Feb 26th, 2010 at 22:19

    Learn something from another country? Never!

    Jathnael Taylor Reply:

    No kidding…this is the US we are talking bout .

    angeleno Reply:

    Maybe we can’t trust those durned, effete, socialist foreigners, but perhaps we can listen to upright, red-blooded, individualistic Americans who have lived in or visited countries with well developed HSR? In Japan or Spain, HSR beats everything else for interurban transit. How many American visitors would hop in a car or a plane to get from Tokyo to Osaka or from Madrid to Barcelona? Probably about as few as Californians would be who would drive or fly between our cities if we had HSR up and running.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    No upright, red-blooded American would set foot on foreign soil unless they’re conquering it. ;)

  3. Maxi
    Feb 27th, 2010 at 07:06

    I wish there a flhsrblog led by someone as dedicated as you. Someone to take on the papers, someone to mobilize the people, someone to tell authorities to do it right despite the additional costs. At any rate the failure of that project will sour American’s moods toward California…better secure all funding before that happens.

  4. Risenmessiah
    Feb 27th, 2010 at 12:23

    These TV reports present an inherent paradox.

    Madrid’s Barajas airport is the gateway to Latin American for Europe. Visitors who land there have their choice as to see Spain…but it has limited connectivity still to TGV and the rest of Continental Europe.

    Florida is like Spain in that its tourism industry is all self-contained and independent of the Southern United States. And Florida also contains the gateway to Latin America from the US…Miami. But if you will notice the plan is not to contact the biggest international air hub to the city with the largest tourist visitation in Florida (Orlando). No it’s to connect Orlando’s airport to Tampa.

    It’s would seem likely that the decision to build the Tampa to Orlando alignment before the one to Miami is political. The “I-4” Corridor has been crucial in swinging the state to the left or right since 2000 and its construction industry has suffered enormously. But it’s also true that because the construction would be on flat terrain, it could be built pretty quickly and cheaply and allow American to “experience” HSR in the US first even if it’s a “train to nowhere”.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Tampa to Orlando is just the first phase. They are hashing out Orlando to Miami

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I’m aware of that. But if you wanted to build a spec demonstration line while you are “hashing out” the Miami to Orlando alignment, I would have told you to save the money and instead connect WDW, Orlando’s airport and Port Canaveral instead. I realize the FRA didn’t make that a “designated corridor” but you could get high ridership, build it fast, and still have flat terrain.

    “Phase One” will get plenty of people going from WDW to Busch Gardens…but it’s not as if lots of people travel between Tampa and Orlando for “business”.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Business people travelling is only 40% of the patronage of the most business-travel-oriented HSR in Europe … as any first stage, you can’t look at either transport demand or cost in isolation, but have to look at transport demand for the dollar. If they would add a crossing-platform transfer station for the Suntrain (Sunrail? Sun-something-trainey anyway), it’d be a quite workable alignment. And since the median alignment has been retained, there are few alignment-acquisition costs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sunrail is way too slow to be useful for intercity transportation at the Miami-Orlando distance.

    The point about business travel isn’t relevant. There aren’t enough people traveling between Tampa and Orlando, period, for the market share of downtown-to-airport HSR to get high ridership. It’s not like the Acela or even the Surfliner or the Lincoln Service, which manages to succeed with low market shares because the overall market is big.

  5. morris brown
    Feb 28th, 2010 at 05:54

    Finally the LA Times is beginning to realize what a boondoggle and a disaster for the State this project represents:


    Some fear California’s high-speed rail won’t deliver on early promises

    The authors have really done an excellent job here of exposing much of what is really taking place. Note the extremely strong statements by Senator Lowenthal. (Yes, it simply doesn’t pass the smell test) “To now put in that we have to [give] some kind of revenue guarantee . . . is totally unacceptable,” Lowenthal said. “That’s not what we agreed to”

    I await with baited breath Robert’s rebuttals. His problem is as more and more is exposed the more and more it bocomes obvious what a disaster this project represents.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Once upon a time, newspaper articles and local TV pieces sounded different, with print being a more in depth. Thanks to all the media “consolidation”, now we read newsprint that is as shallow as the “Five-O-Clock News”.

    This article is a disaster. It doesn’t properly identify what actually happened to make Lowenthal and Katz (both Southern Californians) nervous.

    1) The more expensive high speed rail sounds, the more that the fragile bipartisan support HSR has deterioriates and becomes something the Dems have to carry on their own. In Lowenthal’s district that’s enough this election cycle to give him heartburn.

    2) The agency isn’t part of the greater California state bureaucracy. Lowenthal (and Katz probably) don’t want contract staff who obviously got the job because of their political connections building Potemkin’s village just because of Schwarzenegger’s view that the agency was better served being “independent”.

    3) What FRA funded as part of the grant program was none of the route’s most challenging and technical pieces (like Pacheco or Techachipi) and it wasn’t the easiest the build either. No, it was stuff that had been on the local transit agency wishlist for decades. I don’t think Art Brown for example, was ever against the proposal to “triple track” the railroad that serves the Buena Park Metrolink station. But I can understand if, Buena Park sought something cozy and pedestrian and then watched HSR planners come in and say they needed double the space. Also unspoken is that Buena Park’s benefits from HSR are probably much smaller than their neighbor, Anaheim, who also mysterious has its Mayor as chairman of the CAHSR board….

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    As usual, you believe that as long as criticisms are made, they are therefore valid, even if no evidence is presented to justify the criticisms.

    The article is a weak attempt to attack the project, and makes no reference to other globally successful HSR systems as I had hoped such news outlets would do. It’s an example of the worst of American journalism, where they report on a controversy instead of reporting on facts.

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