Global HSR News: China Moves Ahead, UK Pauses

May 13th, 2010 | Posted by

A couple of items from around the globe:

  • The Washington Post reports China is pulling ahead in the worldwide race for high speed rail – and it is very much a race, since the country that has the largest network gets not only a more affordable and sustainable transportation system, but also gets to develop an export industry that can provide economic growth for years, maybe even decades to come. China’s HSR spending has been very smart, providing short-term stimulus while building out long-term growth potential. Meanwhile the US remains locked in thrall to the obsolete models of the 20th century, spending billions to prop up automakers while dithering on long-term federal HSR funding.
  • The change of government in Britain is having an impact on high speed rail plans. Labour’s HSR plans are being scrapped by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. However, that’s not because the coalition wants to kill HSR, but because they believe Labour’s specific plan was flawed and that they can do it better. The Conservatives are if anything more deeply committed to HSR than was Labour. And it’s not as if they have the option to not do HSR – the new coalition has scrapped plans for a third runway at Heathrow, meaning that HSR is now a necessity to move travelers around Britain.
  1. Rail>Auto
    May 13th, 2010 at 17:56

    I know this isn’t related to the topic here but recently I wrote a letter to the editor at my paper trying to get High Speed Rail to come to my hometown of Evansville, Indiana. A lot of ppl here aren’t familiar with the great benefits of hsr so I would greatly appreciate if you of you guys would write in too in support of hsr here. Thank You

    dwight david diddlehopper Reply:

    Are you kidding? The people on this blog have one concern: to get as much money from the federal government as they can to build high speed rail here in California. They have NO INTEREST in helping you secure your share of the federal pie.

    Spokker Reply:

    I’m sure the majority of HSR nuts on this blog support high speed rail in the US, not just California.

    James Fujita Reply:

    I, for one, support rail transit, either in the form of Amtrak, light rail, commuter rail, HSR, trolleys or subways, in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

    However, Rail>Auto’s request does rather beg the question: are there no rail transit advocacy groups in Indiana? Are there no rail fans or rail nuts in Indiana? Doesn’t the Midwest have its own congressmen and senators trying to get trains built from the Chicago Hub out to all points?

    For goodness sake, Evansville isn’t even particularly close to anywhere in particular. A train to St. Louis to Cincinnati, maybe….

    Joey Reply:

    Ultimately we need a dedicated funding source which is large enough that individual states aren’t fighting over scraps of federal money.

  2. YesonHSR
    May 13th, 2010 at 19:07

    A goal of passing some kind of HSR funding system is a must late this year or early next year ,if no dedictated funding is approved then the deniers will get just what they want..a reason to stop the project. I belive we will see this money in the transportation bill thou it may not be 50billion maby somewhere around 35-45 but that will be enough for Cail as we need about 1.8B a year and this bill would cover thru 2018 by that time private or an extension of this bill will see us thu till 2020

  3. hsradvocate
    May 13th, 2010 at 19:49

    And at the same time as China exports bullet trains all over the world, there’ll be a lot less need for passenger jet service for short intra-country distances.

    I think I foresee a Boeing bailout soon. And that’s too bad as Boeing passenger jets are probably the few profitable things left that are still built in America.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    There already was a bailout for Boeing of sorts in 2003….

    Peter Reply:

    Replacement Tanker Deal = Boeing Bailout

    Anthony Reply:

    Short Flights in Europe or America?

    Its hard to beat Ryanair and Wizzair in Europe, I know from personal experience. Even taking the train is not an option to some places when the plane goes for $35-40 mid week one way and less than $100 RT. Example, when I was in Stockholm, it cost more to take the train and it wasn’t HSR it was slower speed until I got to Germany, then it was HSR (ICE).

    Inside America, California HSR will totally bite into the market Southwest rules with its cheaper flights from LA to the Bay Area. By the time you go through the extra security measures at LAX or Burbank because of a flawed Homeland Security system, you would be up and over the Grapevine before the plane got off the runaway and that’s if there’s no delays.

    I was delayed twice; on my flight from LAX to London and when I came back. 20 mins the first time, 15 the second time.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, that’s why HSR only rules under 3 hours travel time. Anything longer and airlines will, for now, pretty much always beat out HSR.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    So what you are saying is that HSR cannot thrive outside of 500 miles?

    Peter Reply:

    Only with respect to city pairs at greater distances when there is air service between those same city pairs. You can have an HSR route longer than 500 miles that is successful if it includes a number of major city pairs that are less than 500 miles apart. That’s my thought on that.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know if Peter meant that, but you should know that “HSR only rules under 3 hours” doesn’t mean “HSR cannot thrive outside of 500 miles.” European experience is that HSR obliterates air under 2 hours, rules under 3 hours, and is competitive under 4:30. Japanese experience is somewhat less kind to HSR – the point of surpassing air is about 4:00, not 4:30. It’s somewhat more than 500 miles, especially if there are worthy intermediate markets. The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen through-trains get a lot of traffic, but almost none of it is people traveling all the way from Tokyo to Fukuoka.

    Anthony Reply:

    I doubt it, Airbus is struggling, Boeing will be fine.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The danger won’t come from HSR but from the Chinese C919 narrowbody. It incorporates the best of B737 and A320 technologies, more or less voluntarily transferred by Boeing and Airbus. This 100% Chinese aircraft is said by COMAC to be much better than the B337NG and B320 it will compete with.
    The only remaining problem for the Chinese was the engine. They have never been able to copy western jet engines and all their experiments have led to deadly crashes.
    The problem in now solved Article in English
    CFM will supply its latest LeapX engine, more energy-efficient than the CFM56 used on the B737 and A320. Of course, technology will be transferred.
    What worked for rail technology, ie: pitting western firms against one another, has also worked for aerospace.

    Peter Reply:

    It still runs on jet fuel. Which will become a lot more expensive, no matter who builds the airplane.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Boeing lives off of DoD pork. If the US keeps building massive weapons systems designed to defeat the Soviet Union in a shooting war, then Boeing will prosper. If it doesn’t, then it won’t.

  4. rafael
    May 14th, 2010 at 07:16

    With HS2, the underutilized airport in Birmingham will be just 38 min from St. Pancras Int’l. For reference, the existing standard-speed Heathrow Express from Paddington takes just 15 min. Labour’s HS2 plans did not include a direct high speed shuttle between these airports. Such a service could potentially include baggage handling.

    There are also currently no plans for grade separated connections – of any type – between the five London airports. The present transfer times of 2-3 hours are highly unattractive. Complicating matters is that BAA operates Heathrow and Stansted but not the other three nor Birmingham.

    TomW Reply:

    If you look at the destiantiosn served by each airport, the only pair people might want to travel between is Gatwick and Heathrow. Even then, most connections are done purely within Heathrow. Also those journey times all seem to be by road – by rail it’s quicker.

    The notion that Birmingham Airport is underutilised is a strange one… what makes you say that?

    rafael Reply:

    Birmingham airport has a lot of spare capacity. It is continually looking to attract new airlines and destinations and, to position itself as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow. Cp. Ontario vs. LAX for a roughly analogy in California. Note that if and when a fast rail link between two airports is available, customer demand is likely to shift and airlines will react accordingly. There is no imperative to preserve existing patterns.

    Btw, I forgot about Crossrail, a GBP 16 billion plan to increase regional, standard speed services on an east-west axis through central London. Rapid transfers between the airports is a secondary consideration at best. Much of the cost is related to new tunnels, but the new UK government will have to consider carefully if it can afford to construct both a suitably modified version of HS2 and Crossrail at the same time, since the country is currently running a budget deficit of roughly 11%.

    Note that the most vocal opposition to Labour’s preferred route for HS2 came from residents of the very affluent and heavily Tory Chilterns area north-west of London.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    I don’t understand why people would opt to connect from one airport to another on high speed rail. If you’re connecting from a long distance international flight to a shorter flight, odds are your destination is accessible via HSR. You’d just take the train to your destination. Nobody is going to fly into heathrow, take the train to Birmingham, and then fly from Birmingham to Glasgow.

    Connecting airports to each other is a stupid idea. If there is enough demand to build a train link between airports, there’s enough demand to just send flights to the smaller airport.

    rafael Reply:

    That presumes you have enough slots to “just send flights to the smaller airport”. Heathrow’s two runways are operating at 99% of capacity during peak periods and, the incoming government just put paid to efforts to add a third.

    Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport. Unable to grow further, airlines must now expect rising fees for landing slots, which should make Birmingham + HSR an attractive alternative. The snag is that any airline that decides to switch some or all of its flights will also want to retain the ability to offer connecting flights under its own flag or that of a partner airline – including those that stay put. It is for those cases that a fast rail shuttle between the airports would be useful. In practice, it might run between the city centers of London and Birmingham (or Manchester) via the airports.

    I do agree, though, that passengers will continue to prefer itineraries that involve as few transfers as possible. Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam could all benefit from Heathrow’s growth constraints if HS2 cannot deliver effective relief.

  5. TomW
    May 14th, 2010 at 07:26

    The report on the British HSR system is a bit off. The Coneservatives agreed with Labour that London-Birmingham should be teh first phase, but refused to commit to the exact route that was proposed. In other words, they may decide to send it the other side of a village, or have tunnel portals in different places.
    Beyond Birmingham, the new government gives higher priority to connecting the north-east of England (from Birmingham) than the old one.

  6. Tony D.
    May 14th, 2010 at 11:05

    Robert, Rafael, or anyone,
    Re: possible Chinese investment in our HSR system: How would such a venture/partnership be approved politically? Is it simply our governor, or legislature, giving the go ahead? Or would the Feds have to give the OK? Just curious.

    Tony D. Reply:

    By the way Rafael, here’s my email address:

    Hit me up if you can; got something I want to share with yah.

    rafael Reply:


    Wrt to Chinese investment, this is a strictly civilian project so I see no basis for an exclusion based on national security concerns. However, I suspect interest will remain muted as long as that country’s own HSR program is forging ahead at breakneck speed. Once they have excess construction capacity, that might change.

    The legal vehicle for receiving investment from outside investors hasn’t been set up yet, since it will depend on the form that investment will take. For example, there would be a big difference between a silent partner taking an equity stake in the infrastructure and a soft loan in kind (i.e. a company providing rolling stock at zero up-front cost in return for a sufficiently generous share of operating profits, if any, over a set period).

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