Memorial Day Weekend Open Thread

May 29th, 2010 | Posted by

This weekend I’ll be in Orange County, soaking up the sun and (maybe) doing some surfing at San Clemente.

My wife and I will be driving there, and this gives me a perfect opportunity to, once again, explain how incredibly useful HSR would be to me right about now. This is especially relevant given recent discussions in comments about the HSR ridership model and whether people will choose a bullet train over driving from NorCal to SoCal and vice versa.

The numbers matter. But from a conceptual perspective, I am stunned there’s even any doubt about this. My experience, which is similar to that of many other Californians considering a cross-state trip for this holiday weekend, shows how HSR would be an enormous improvement over driving.

Because of work schedules and upcoming vacation plans, my wife and I can’t take any time off for this weekend. So we have to get to and from Orange County in the free/off time we have.

We could leave as soon as she gets home from work, which would be about 6:15 PM. We’ve done that before – head out from Monterey immediately after her work ends. It’s inconvenient and undesirable, since the last thing we want to do after a long week of working is sit in a car for the 6 to 7 hours it takes to get to central Orange County from Monterey. By the time we arrive it’d be past midnight.

But the alternative isn’t much better. We’re going to leave early tomorrow morning, around 8AM, with hopes of making it to my sister’s new place in Anaheim around 2PM. That’s more relaxing for us, but it won’t leave us a lot of time in Orange County. We’ll have lost most of Saturday, have a full day on Sunday, and then only part of Monday – if we want to get back to Monterey at a decent hour on Monday and not so late that we are exhausted on Tuesday, we’d have to leave OC around noon or 1PM.

Flying isn’t much better. Let’s add it up:

• Travel time to the airport: 1:30 (if we’re going out of San Jose, and a Friday afternoon/evening from any Bay Area home to any Bay Area airport will probably be less, but perhaps not by very much)

• Security/Preboard: 0:45

• The flight itself: 1:00 (to SNA, a bit less if to BUR or LAX)

• Deboarding: 0:15

• Getting from the airport to our final destination (0:30 if there’s no traffic)

Total via airplane: 4:00

If we left here at 6:30, we might get in to my sister’s in Anaheim around 10:30. Not bad, but flights on a holiday weekend aren’t cheap, and flying isn’t the most convenient thing in the world.

What about HSR?

• Travel time to Gilroy station: 1:00 (0:45 if not on a Friday afternoon; there’s usually about 15 minutes extra of traffic getting from Monterey to Marina)

• Preboard: 0:15 (could probably cut it closer, but I like to be cautious)

HSR from Gilroy to Anaheim: 2:16

• Deboarding: 0:05

• Travel to final destination: 0:20

Total via HSR: 3:55. Let’s make it an even 4:00.

So the train would be about the same in terms of travel time as a plane. Even if you think I padded the security/preboard (and I don’t think I did, you have to be there 30 minutes before departure and 15 minutes for security sounds about right to me), it’s a hell of a lot better than getting in after midnight. As any working person knows, those last two hours make a huge difference.

Moreover, the travel experience on a train is much better than on a plane or an automobile. We can relax, stretch out, get some dinner on the train, watch a movie, etc. Most importantly, we’d get an extra day on our vacation (all of Saturday) and a lot more time on Monday.

And it’s likely that the fare on the bullet train would be cheaper than the flight – especially in 2020, when high fuel costs will make it difficult to buy a plane ticket for an affordable price; the era of “$50 flights on Southwest” will be long gone by then. Even if it were somehow the case that the HSR ticket cost more than driving, the time savings is so totally worth it that I wouldn’t mind paying more – and yet it would be a more pleasurable experience than flying.

HSR is a huge improvement over driving, especially for a 3-day weekend. It would spur significant growth in tourism and service industries, and allow people an easier and more affordable way to get around California to see family and friends than flying or driving.

I’ll be enjoying our Memorial Day trip, but I’d enjoy it a lot more if I could use a bullet train to extend the vacation.

  1. wu ming
    May 29th, 2010 at 11:03

    no kidding.

  2. YesonHSR
    May 29th, 2010 at 11:57

    There were at least 3 people from work driving to SoCal this weekend and one even asked me when the HSR will be opening as they would have loved to take it instead of driving..they thought it was going to be ready in just 4 or 5 years!! I said I wished but 9-10 ..ridership will be huge

    rafael Reply:

    Meanwhile: ekranoplan (aka hoverwing) service, anyone?

    They’re a lot slower than commercial jets but also far more fuel-efficient plus there’d be no need to waste a lot of time with homeland security malarkey. They’re classified as boats, therefore they wouldn’t interfere with regular air traffic control. Think of them as extremely fast ferries, rather than planes.

    Flyship 80 concept, est. top speed 100 kts (~112mph). The larger the craft, the higher the top speed and the higher the waves it can cope with.

    If you’ve got $75m lying around, you can buy your very own Caspian Sea Monster from a Florida company called Bentley Yachts. They cater to the super-rich, but I expect they could install regular rows of seats in the interior just as easily.

    Here’s some potential routes in California:,-120.410156&spn=10.868647,18.500977&z=6

    Peter Reply:

    Ah yes, the aviation/maritime version of a gadgetbahn.

  3. Evan
    May 29th, 2010 at 12:37

    I thought about heading down to Orange County with my girlfriend to see her family for the weekend. It was a last-minute trip, so when I looked, cheapest round-trip fares hovered just over $200. I’ll keep that in mind next time someone tries to tell me that it’s $100 to fly to and from SoCal.

    I decided not to go because of the cost and the time it would have taken.

  4. nobody important
    May 29th, 2010 at 13:05
  5. thatbruce
    May 29th, 2010 at 13:43

    You know if you got a better wetsuit, you wouldn’t have to drive all that distance just for warmer water.

  6. john lindt
    May 29th, 2010 at 15:30

    Kings County Board of Supervisors voted this week to oppose proposed route east of Hanford.
    see my web site for article.
    Regards John Lindt

    rafael Reply:

    From :

    “Ironically, like the railroad conflicts of the past – this too will pass and it will be the high speed rail platform in a decade from now that will bring fresh farm goods to the big urban markets in an hour time providing a way for Kings farmers to survive.”

    IMHO, High speed cargo is an excellent idea – for perishable produce (farmed trout, salad, tomatoes etc.) and cut flowers. As an aside, it would be especially valuable if direct service to Las Vegas were possible, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    What I don’t know is if these types of water-intensive crops are significant in Kings and Tulare counties or if they could be in the future. Moving walnuts at 220mph doesn’t make any sense.

    Also not that while CHSRA flirted with HSC early on, they’ve not done so recently. It’s a completely different animal from conventional rail freight and would not compete with it at all, but perhaps they were concerned John Q Public wouldn’t appreciate the distinction. Also, HSC operations require transshipment terminals, slots on the timetable (e.g. at night, at reduced speeds through populated areas) and/or protocols for piggybacking onto short passenger trains during the day plus – and this is the crux – sufficient demand for very fast but expensive shipping within the state. Even in pro-TGV France where diesel is expensive, where this idea was born, HSC hasn’t really taken off and virtually all perishable goods are trucked.

  7. John Burrows
    May 29th, 2010 at 16:09

    If, ten years from now, you were to buy a home in a TOD near the Gilroy HSR station, you could make the trip in three hours or less. As HSR nears completion, thousands of people will do exactly this as they begin moving into new homes in Transit Oriented Developments around the new stations.

    Spokker Reply:

    I don’t see big potential for TOD near high speed rail stations, at least any that make sense. I only see potential for high speed rail stations that become intermodal gateways to all kinds of transit, from the local bus to commuter rail to high speed rail. In that sense, high speed rail could be a rising tide that lifts all boats if stations become transit hubs.

    When I’m looking for places to live, I’m not looking to live near medium to long distance forms of transportation. I’m looking to live near the subway or light rail. So if I’m considering the Gilroy station, I’m doing it because Caltrain is there. HSR is only secondary.

    rafael Reply:

    Put another way, you’d want to live close to whatever type of transit lets you commute to work in less than an hour. If you work in Silicon Valley but can’t afford to live there, commuting from a home close to the Merced or Fresno HSR stations might be an option IFF there is connecting transit to your office or you can walk there.

    In France, it’s now quite difficult for a provincial city to attract inward investment (i.e. get large out-of-town businesses to set up shop) unless they have a TGV station. TOD isn’t just about condos. In fact, it’s mostly about office towers.

    Spokker Reply:

    I’m expecting California’s high speed rail system to price out all but the richest commuters.

    Most of us will be looking for TOD, if we want to live in a TOD, near a good bus stop. I have a bachelor’s degree. No way will I be able to afford to take high speed rail on my salary. My generation will make much less than our fathers did, and they only had a high school diploma.

    Joey Reply:

    Probably just as well. No reason to encourage people to live unnecessarily far from where they work.

    Spokker Reply:

    Permanent renting is in the future for a lot more people. The American Dream is on life support.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Rafael, your sentence about France should have ended after the word “investment.” Lyon and Nice have a little outside investment, but even they are basically vassal cities to Paris.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    For me, if the choice was between TOD in San Jose and Gilroy, I’d probably go for San Jose, since it’s closer to the amenities and transportation options I’d want to use. Not that Gilroy TOD is a bad idea – I think it would work pretty well.

    But HSR-related TOD is really going to take off in Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield. It will revolutionize those towns.

    Matthew Reply:

    Presumably HSR stations will be hubs of the local transportation network as well if local transit districts have any sense. Locating housing and offices near these transit hubs will make sense both for people traveling long distances as well as short distances. Rail stations aren’t noisy like airports and don’t preclude nearby residential use.

  8. Robert Cruickshank
    May 29th, 2010 at 20:53

    Wow, the traffic in SoCal today was horrific. I thankfully was driving against it most of the way, but I saw one long traffic jam from downtown Santa Barbara east all the way to at least the 101/405 interchange in the Valley. Obviously not on the HSR route, but it is further evidence that SoCal desperately needs a huge expansion of passenger rail. The current system, where you have to have a car and be willing to sit in traffic in order to get through the region, is a total failure.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Welcome to Los Angeles.

    Victor Reply:

    Traffic was moderate out here just beyond Barstow going towards Las Vegas on the 28th(I15), Now It’s the 30th and the traffic is light on the I15 fwy. Temps in a few days are predicted to rise to about 1064F(41C), So summer is here, If Yer going across the desert, bring some water, Ya might get thirsty, As the heat out here will just suck the sweat right off Ya without anyone being the wiser.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    One day, I took in my car an American colleague who had an appointment in Paris. The SNCF was on strike, which means only 1/3 of the trains were running. The traffic got worse and worse as we approached Paris, and in the end we were hardly moving at all. So, I explained to him this was exceptional because most of those people would normally be on trains, not in their cars.
    “Oh, it’s OK”, he answered. “That’s Los Angeles any day”.

  9. D. P. Lubic
    May 29th, 2010 at 22:29

    On the basis that the title of this thread is what it is (“open thread”), I’m assuming one can post almost anything in regard to HSR. Since I don’t know where else to put these, I’m adding these video links as a sort of reference item, hoping they might be of some use.

    First, a retrospective on the Japanese Shinkansen service; most interesting item for me is the footage of equipment development with models, particularly as the engineers search for solutions to the problem of truck and wheel hunting at speed.

    Shinkansen operations, with subtitles that do not quite translate properly, but of interest in showing cab footage, including safety practice of “calling signals” (American term), adding a Japanese touch of not just a verbal call, but a point to the cab indicators, apparently to emphasise the attention to the indication. I also took note of the traditional pocket watch as the primary timepiece for this verteran “motorman” (the Shinkansen is an electric MU train, and so I use the rapid-transit term):

    “The World’s Fastest Woman,” actually what I would consider a “puff” piece, but some good cab footage, and she’s a cutie. . .

    Nozomi operations and Tsubame construction shots; semi-custom construction work, fairly high skill and presumably with pay to match–this could be a good use of some stimulus money. A program on the features of the Tsubame follows.

    Shots on “Dr. Yellow,” the Shinkansen diagnostic trainset; the film crew had fun with the choice of music!

    TGV record run; what stands out is how smooth that track is at the speeds involved. I shouldn’t be surprised, you do need smooth track to run like that, but it is still very impressive:

    Earlier record run in 1990; the French crew members looked a little more nervous than they would some years later. Practice must give confidence!

    TGV cab footage from a record run:

    Japanese maglev demonstrator. I wonder what the fuss is about this technology, particularly the claim of no track friction. At the speeds this and conventional HSR trains run, wind resistance is the big power sponge, going up exponentially to the square of any speed increases, i.e., a doubling of speed increases wind resistance by a factor of four. To go three times as fast increases wind resistance to nine times what it was at your original base speed! Starts and stops take much longer to get to and from operating speed as well, and this factor along with wind resistance may limit the amount of speed you can actually use in service. Maybe people like gadgets, and gadgetbahns, too. . .

    I’m a steam fan, and so for historical perspective, we go into the cab of AT&SF 3751 on an excursion to Fullerton, Ca. Note the jouncy, bouncy ride, visible in the movements of the crew and reminscent of jockeys on a horse, an iron horse, so characteristic of a steam locomotive with its large rotating and reciprocating parts; one of the crew members placing sand into the firebox at 4:17 (oil-fired engines can build up soot in the firebox and flues, which interferes with heat transfer, so the sand scours out the soot–not needed on coal burners, as the cinders do the scouring there); all manual operation, no computer assist on one of these beasts; and of course that magnificent sound. Best way to experience this as a passenger is in a car with windows that open, even if those windows let in smoke and cinders. . .

    Not the best footage, but it helps explain the wonder and excitement of steam, particularly the big engines.

    Amazingly, Randall O’Toole is a steam fan, and a volunteer with a railfan group that keeps Spokane, Portland & Seattle No. 700 running. This is “his” engine, and in my opinion, a graceful machine:

    My personal favorite, Chesapeake & Ohio 614, the last steam passenger locomotive built by a commercial locomotive building firm (as opposed to a home made locomotive from a railroad shop)–Lima-Hamilton Corporation, Lima, Ohio, 1948:

    Only a small part of steam railroading was in passenger service; for our final perspective, a coal drag on the Norfolk & Western in the late 1950s, at the top of a nine-mile pusher district at Blue Ridge, Va. This was the last grand steam railroad in America, serving coal fields in West Virginia with the best coal in world available for its fireboxes; its locomotives were among the best too, and products of their shop in Roanoke, Va. For this road, home-made really was the best, with steam powered trains running as late as the spring of 1960. I have to warn you, this is not high speed railroading; but then, the coal has kept for millions of years in the ground, a few more hours riding in a train will not hurt it. . .

    Hope you enjoy these clips.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A minor correction, the clips on the features of the Tsubame is here:

    rafael Reply:

    Great video playlist on the development of the FasTech 360. The program focuses on the efforts made to increase speed while reducing weight (i.e. wear and tear on track geometry), the innovative cooling system, the active tilt feature, brake testing, interior design, noise emissions and on the extremely long nose, which designed to minimize tunnel boom.

    The FasTech was the testbed for JR East’s new E5 production model. This will replace the old E2, which has a top speed of 275km/h (172mph). The target of increasing top speed all the way to 360km/h (225mph) was met, but maintaining the emergency both brake distance (i.e. line capacity in terms of trains per hour) and noise emissions at E2 level as well proved impossible. Therefore, the E5 fleet will operate at a top speed of “only” 320km/h (200mph).

    dejv Reply:

    I suspect that they didn’t go for 360 km/h because it involves 382 mm of theoretical superelevation, higher than 344 mm used on Tokaido or 320 mm on Köln-Frankfurt. Slowing down to 320 km/h allows them to require only 302 mm, feasible even with conventional values of cant and cant deficiency, like 172 + 130 mm (or similar).

    rafael Reply:

    Apparently, they solved the superelevation issue with the active tilt mechanism. From what I’ve read, the gating issues were indeed line capacity and noise emissions.

    But yes, JR East management may have concluded that running trains at 360km/h on the Tohoku shinkansen was simply too ambitious on all three counts and probably, on operating cost as well.

    dejv Reply:

    Fastech’s (and E5’s) tilt is 2° which equals to 1500 * sin 2 = 52 mm. That still leaves 330 mm to cant + cant deficiency – feasible (compare to Tokaido’s 344-26 = 318 mm or 320 mm of Köln-Frankfurt), but quite expensive.

    rafael Reply:

    I don’t think JR East ever had any intention of messing with the track geometry to enable 360 km/h operation. They’d either have looked for ways to increase the tilt angle or (more likely) they would have limited operation at that speed to sections that were straight enough. I’m not sure how many miles of such track there is on the Tohoku or, how important it would have been for the marketing departments of both JR East and the train vendor(s) to claim that 360 number.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Tohoku Shinkansen still has 20 more mm of potential superelevation increase – it has 180 mm of superelevation, compared with 200 on Tokaido.

    In response to your question: there are some stretches of straight track on the Tohoku Shinkansen, but they’re not that long: 10 km here, 18 km there, separated by curves of radius 4 km. The acceleration rate at very high speed is so poor that going from 320 on a curve to 360 and then back to 360 is just not worth it when the straight section is only 18 km long. A train with much better acceleration than the Fastech (namely, one with N700 acceleration profile and exponential decay in the tractive effort/speed curve) would save about 14 seconds going 360 on the straight section.

    In other words, what’s most likely is that JR East figured a way to increase cant deficiency. This is quite possible. The track geometry standards compilation that we pass around to one another is really an investigation of the feasibility of a very high-speed tilting train, concluding that at very high speed about 250 mm of cant deficiency is possible and safe. The standards for vertical curve radius, cant, cant deficiency, and so on are included only as background reference material.

    Dan Reply:

    So now that I’ve googled and (reasonably) understand “superelevation”, could someone explain to me how much cost is actually involved in re-angling (“cant-ing?”) a section of track for higher speed, and/or how much transit time is lost in a representative trip if one slowed down for the curves which were not appropriately angled for the acheivable max speed.

    //thanks — dan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know what the cost is. It should be very low. There are ballast-spreading machines that can re-cant tracks at high precision nowadays.

    How much transit time you lose depends on the curve, the top speed, and the train’s acceleration profile. My 14 seconds figure comes from an idealized train that has similar acceleration profile to the N700, which has the best acceleration of any HSR train, but can in principle maintain a higher speed.

    (I’m also making a specific assumption on how much acceleration slows down as speed increases: I’m assuming the decrease is linear, which means that the speed/time curve looks like exponential decay to the theoretical top speed. This is not quite accurate, and tends to underestimate the time penalty of slow zones at very high speed.)

    dejv Reply:

    Dan –
    I don’t know about US prices. In central Europe, one day (8-hour shift) of modern mainline tamper is worth some $5000 + $600 for each extra hour. Modern tampers can do up to 2600 m/h. You’ll also need ballast plow ($4000 + $500) and dynamic stabilizer ($3500 + $450).

    The trouble with high cant is that cant excess of freight trains is undesireable, so for given radius/curvature, the slowest freight trains limit maximum cant and fastest desired set minimum trains. With small radii or big speed differentials, you’ll often find out that minimum cant for fast trains is higher than maximum cant for slow train, so you’ll have to either go for tilting, or limit the speed.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The no-friction issue with maglev is important for acceleration. Transrapid and JR-Maglev both have much better acceleration and deceleration profiles than conventional high-speed trains, in large part because their tractive effort can remain high even at high speed. For a conventional train, relying on friction to move itself, acceleration drops off sharply as speed increases, more because of loss of traction than because of air resistance: see for example the Velaro’s tractive effort/speed curve. This is not as big an issue for maglev.

    The lower-performing Transrapid has a stop time of about 3 minutes: the trip between Longyang Road and Pudong International takes 3 more minutes than if the train had accelerated and decelerated to its top speed instantaneously, cruising at 431 km/h the whole way. The higher-performing JR-Maglev, which has a much higher initial acceleration (about 1.1 m/s^2 on level track, versus 0.5 on Transrapid), has a stop time of about 2-2.5 minutes even though its top speed is higher, at 500 km/h. Conventional HSR doesn’t do nearly as well. A train with the acceleration profile of the N700, which has the best acceleration of any conventional HSR train, would have a theoretical stop time of 4 minutes with a top speed of 360 km/h.

    Maglev also has an advantage in grade climbing and turning. The grade climbing just comes from higher speed. The turning comes from being able to superelevate and tilt better. Transrapid tilts 13 degrees, allowing it to maintain top speed on a curve of 4 km. The equivalent cant isn’t much higher than what a Pendolino can do at 250 km/h, but is higher than what conventional trains have done at 300+. Potentially, a Fastech 360 with stronger tilting could get close to maglev performance, but the only railroad in the world that needs such a technology is the Northeast Corridor, and Amtrak is still too incrementalist to ask for it.

    Maglev has other problems, which make it inferior to conventional HSR in almost every instance. It’s more expensive technologically. It creates vendor lock – there are only two systems, which are mutually incompatible. It’s not fully debugged, and a train collision on the Transrapid test track killed 23 people in 2006. It can’t leverage existing legacy tracks near city centers, forcing new construction where it is the most expensive. However, as a technology, it’s superior to conventional HSR.

    dejv Reply:

    For a conventional train, relying on friction to move itself, acceleration drops off sharply as speed increases, more because of loss of traction than because of air resistance

    That’s completely wrong. Back to basic physics:

    F = P / v <= μ*Q

    F is tractive effort, P is power, v is speed, μ is adhesion coefficient (decreasing slightly with speed, google Curtius-Kniffler for details) and Q is vertical load. Coherent units must be used of course.

    So the train is limited by friction in low speeds, in nearly linear part of curve, until v increases enough to make P/V lesser than μ*Q. This speed is called continuous speed and above that, the train wheels cannot slip. Beyond continuous speed, the tractive effort is limited by power, so it decreases hyperbolically with speed.

    more because of loss of traction than because of air resistance

    So while loss of traction can’t be the culprit, as explained above, air resistance seems to be prime suspect, right after that damn v in denominator :) because it increases with square of speed so power required to overcome it increases with cube of speed (P = F*v; F = F(v^2)).

    So maglev is equally limited by power in high speed. In low speeds, it’s limited by maximum current of linear stator, similarly as locos with series-wound DC motor, so actual initial acceleration limit is artificial, to keep passengers comfortable.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The tractive effort reduction dominates air resistance; check the Velaro’s tractive effort/speed curve. The advantage of maglev is that its power source doesn’t decrease with speed, so that the initial acceleration rate can be sustained for a long time. The initial rate is not artificially limited for comfort, at least not on Transrapid; the Transrapid’s initial acceleration is about 0.5-0.6 m/s^2, which is low when compared with JR-Maglev, the N700, or any commuter train. The reason it has better acceleration performance than the N700 is that it can maintain initial acceleration until its speed is above 300.

    Dan Reply:

    (unrealted) Alon Levy — I’ve seen a number of your posts on this and other sites, but a quick google doesn’t reveal who you are. Do you have a website? Clearly you have some technical knowledge on HRS and infrastructure…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I used to have a website. It’s still linked in all of my comments; click on my name at the top left of the comment. I stopped writing there well before I developed an interest in mass transit and infrastructure.

    I don’t have special technical knowledge, no. I’m a pure math grad student. I just read the technical standards that people post.

    Spokker Reply:

    Haha good God, that blog of yours is full of crazy. Good for you switching to mass transit and infrastructure.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Thanks, Spokker. Much appreciated.

    Spokker Reply:

    Hey, I switched from crazier Internet crap too. Switching to an obsession over trains was actually healthier for me!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Meh. Being told various platitudes about how the Netroots are important for the Democratic Party (the proximate cause of me quitting blogging) isn’t any different from being told various platitudes about the future of American transit by the planners who can’t get anything done for less than $25,000/rider. The difference is that in this community there are a lot of people who actually see through the bullshit.

    Rafael Reply:

    @ Alon, dejv –

    steel wheels acceleration is usually not limited by friction. The coefficient of friction of real-world steel-on-steel contact is typically 0.35-0.5, easily enough to prevent the wheels of HSR trains from
    slipping. Only in special situations, such as when you have wet leaves on the tracks, does this coefficient fall to critical levels in the 0.05 range.

    At low speeds, HSR acceleration at low speeds is limited by the rated sustained torque of the on-board electric motors, i.e. mechanical strength and cooling capacity. At intermediate speeds, it is limited by the rated power of the OCS system and/or motors. The limit speed is defined by the rotor dynamics of those motors. In theory, a Velaro or AGV could climb up a 0.5% slope at 350km/h without slowing down. Of course, vehicle mass, rolling resistance and above all, track gradient also factor into acceleration performance as well.

    The reason maglev can reach higher speeds is simply that half of its motor is buried in the track, so the vehicle as such features much higher specific power. This can be sustained up to much higher vehicle speeds because there is no OCS/pantograph system to limit the power level, nor is there are there any rotor dynamics to worry about. Aerodynamic drag affects both technologies in roughly equal measure at identical vehicle speeds, but more power can be made available in a maglev system.

    dejv Reply:

    At low speeds, HSR acceleration at low speeds is limited by the rated sustained torque of the on-board electric motors, i.e. mechanical strength and cooling capacity.

    Mechanical strenght was never a problem and judging by starting μ of GE Evo (= 0,48), it isn’t even at heaviest locomotives. The forces in HSTs are much lower than that. The cooling limit applied to series-wound DC motors, however it didn’t apply even to separately-excited brushed motors, let alone to variable frequency motors. Traction asynchronous motors operate around one tenth of slip rate of general purpose three-phase motors, so they develop adequately less waste heat.

    In case of Velaro, starting acceleration seems to be quite low considering the number of powered axles, but it’s 300 kN/447 t = 0.67 m/s^2 – actually the limit where people on board start noticing it. Note that N700 does 0.88 m/s^2 – not that much difference, but probably necessary at crowded Tokaido Shinkansen.

    The reason maglev can reach higher speeds is simply that half of its motor is buried in the track, so the vehicle as such features much higher specific power.

    There’s more than that:
    – maglev trains lack trucks or pantographs, so they’re much smoother
    – maglev cross section allows to have more seats per cross section area
    both of these features substantially reduce power needed to overcome air resistance, so the train can go faster with the same consumption.

    Rafael Reply:

    I was referring to the mechanical strength of the internals of the motors, not the friction coefficient. HSR induction motors are more efficient than industrial ones, but they still generate a boatload of heat when they run at high torque (= high current through the windings). Permanent magnet synchronous motors, such as those on the Alstom AGV, are more efficient still but the special ferromagnetic material is very sensitive to heat and also brittle. A recent Siemens PMSM design features water cooled magnets.

    The on-board power converters and transformers also generate a lot of heat that needs to be wicked away. Maglev vehicles don’t even have those, all of that is dealt with in the track.

    Afaik, the N700 has a starting acceleration of 2.6km/h per second, which translated to 0.72m/s^2. Better than their French and German counterparts, but not by a mile. The Talgo 350 has the best power-to-weight ratio of any HSR train on the market, thanks to the use of just one wheelset per unpowered short car. All the bruce is in the four motor bogies in the tractor cars at either end, cp. TGV and ICE1/2 designs. Therefore, the motors may be smaller and running at higher RPM – at the expense of traction force at low speeds (i.e. starting acceleration).

    As for the seats per cross-section area, that’s true for the reasons you mention and it does help cut drag to some extent. For the same speed and passenger count, a maglev system will consume less electricity and generate less noise than a steel wheels system. Too bad the tracks are so goddamn expensive to build.

    dejv Reply:

    I have my information about traction system limits from people, who actually designed a modern locomotive. Sorry, I trust them more than I trust your info. :)

    JR Central states in this presentation value of 3.2 km/h/s, that translates to 0.88 m/s^2

    Therefore, the motors may be smaller and running at higher RPM – at the expense of traction force at low speeds (i.e. starting acceleration).

    The torque of motor is related to it’s volume – so when you make motor smaller and faster, you’ll get the same power and torque on wheels (and therefore starting tractive effort), because P = M*ω.

    Rafael Reply:

    Ok, my number on the N700 may be for an older version.

    If you run a smaller motor faster using a short gear ratio, you get the same traction force at high speeds. However, you don’t get the lower traction force at moderate speeds because there’s a design limit on the motor itself. Smaller motor = lower limit.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The current value for the N700 is 2.6 km/h/s. 3.2 could be for the newer export model.

    The maglev bit you can see on JR Central’s acceleration curves for JR-Maglev, Transrapid, the N700, and the TGV. Transrapid has the lowest initial acceleration, but maintains its acceleration for longer, so it overall outperforms the N700 and TGV. JR-Maglev does much better; if the acceleration is constant then the information in the graph means it’s 1.48 m/s^2, of which 0.39 comes from the acceleration being on a downward 4% grade and 1.09 comes from actual acceleration.

    dejv Reply:

    The tractive effort reduction dominates air resistance; check the Velaro’s tractive effort/speed curve.

    Checking it – the tractive effort at 100 % power drops some 25 kN at 250-300 km/h interval, while total resistance rises some 25 kN again. I wouldn’t call that dominance. In addition, both functions are convex, so the effect of TE reduction will diminish beyond 300 km/h and resistances will rise even faster.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At very high speed, yes, air resistance starts becoming more important. But 0-300, loss of tractive effort is worth nearly 200 kN and air resistance 75.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I wonder if a reference category can be established among the links here. Might be handy to have some of this technical info really handy to check up on things.

    Here are some potential entries:

    This talk of tractive effort/acceleration brings to mind a modest little book, “A Practical Evaluation of Railroad Motive Power,” by Paul Keifer, who was the New York Central’s chief locomotive designer in steam days. The book summarizes a series of tests between NYC’s new S-1 class 4-8-4s, called Niagaras on this road, and earlier steamers and new diesels, the latter consisting of 2,000 hp. GM-EMD E7s, used in sets of two and three (4,000 and 6,000 hp, respectively).

    What was interesting in this book, which included a lot of graphs and charts, was an acceleration/time curve chart. Now, with series DC traction motors, tractive effort or torque is very high at low speeds, but drops off considerably at higher speeds, while horsepower is almost constant. A steam locomotive is a completely different animal, with essentially constant torque, but variable horsepower; this is because its source of power is really that boiler, while its transmission is the cylinders, rods, and wheels. This means that horsepower/tractive effort for a steam locomotive is a curve with a peak at a certain speed, like an internal combustion engine. This means the steamer is or can be relatively sluggish in lower speed ranges, but becomes much livelier in higher ranges, say above 35 mph. or so for hgih-drivered passenge power.

    The acceleration/time graph reflected this, with the rate of acceleration peaking relatively lower for the two older steamers, which had top speeds of about 75 and 90 mph respectively. The diesels topped out at about 95 or so with the same 1,000 ton train used in the tests, and accelerated much faster than any of the steamers below 50 mph. Where it got interesting was that the Niagara, while accelerating slower to reach various speeds below 50, had an improving acceleration curve that meant it accelerated to 50 in the same time it took the diesels to get there–and from there it took off like a rocket, acclerating to 100 mph in the time it took the diesel to get to 75–and the speed was still climbing at the point the line ran off the chart!

    I don’t know what the top speed was for this 4-8-4, but I do know the engines were given a high-speed slip test to check their counterbalancing. Counterbalancing in steam is important to reduce track stress with all those large rotating and reciprocating parts; engines not as well balanced as they should be could actually have driving wheels rise off the rail and come back down again with a tremendous crash, damaging the engine and track, and even causing damage without actual wheel lift. The slip test involved marking the driving wheels with black and white paint, and photographing the action with a high-speed camera on the locomotive as the engine was run at high speed onto some greased track. The resulting loss of traction resulted in rotational speeds in excess of 140 mph, and proved the balancing to be excellent; there was no wheel lift at this tremendous speed, which was almost double the 79 mph speed limit of the NYC.

    Of course, the Niagaras had a fatal flaw in the late 1940s and early 1950s–they were steam locomotives. . .

    Another steamer with a record of very fast running was the Pennsylvania’s T-1, a divided-drive machine. This one was noted for a number of problems, including a temperamental valve mechanism, but in good condition and in the hands of an engine crew that knew how to use it, was capable of some amazing speed. Supposedly some of these machines may have gone well over 140 mph in service on trains that were behind schedule–but thisclaim was not on any officially timed runs, and was based on maintenance problems that apparently came from very fast running, and occasional dispatcher reports that included anomolies such as a 90 mph average speed between two stations, which included in at least one case, a stretch of 6 miles restricted to 30 mph going through a freight yard!

    Anybody know where I can contact Mr. Peabody about borrowing his Way Back Machine?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Some other video items involving crash tests:

    A number of serious accidents involved grade crossing incidents with trucks loaded with steel coils, hence tests involving such a situation:

    Test in Russia:

    Crash tests in regard to effects on passengers:

    More from the FRA-DOT:

    After all that, we need to lighten up a bit, in this case, with advertisements from British Rail; maybe there are some ideas we can use here:

    How do you like the police locomotive?

    As some of us who have been promoting rail have been called Communists, and at least one writer has called rail service “socialized transportation,” we might as well have some fun with the charges, and annoy them:

    Some more:

    British Rail must have had a wonderful advertising budget in the past:

    Trains are not just transportation, but grace, beauty, history, and poetry in motion. This is so in America, and Great Britian, too; it’s something many of us have forgotten, yet the national memory lives on:

    trainsintokyo Reply:

    Since you said you were a steam locomotive fan, here’s an HD video of the SL Yamaguchi, an excursion train on the Yamaguchi Line in western Japan.

    Here’s another video, a compilation of SLs from around Japan:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thank you! I’m afraid I don’t know Japanese, but I can figure out enough of the soundtracks to figure some people there still like steam! The second one in particular sounds like early rock music from the 1950s; again, thank you.

    I’m not as familiar with Japanese rail history as I should be, but I understand that much of its technical development followed American practices, partially as a result of American export locomotives in the early years. One of the more pleasant aspects of this was the adoption of American-sounding chime whistles that one American writer thought of as sounding like those on the Reading’s passenger engines.

    The Jewett Car Company, a firm noted more for street railway equipment, built a 5-car passenger train set for Japan back around 1900 or so; these were classic cars of the time, of wooden construction with clerestory roofs, gracefull arched windows, and six-wheel trucks. The set was simply called “the train,” according to the history I have of the Jewett Car Company.

    I don’t have the magazine in front of me, but back around 1960 a writer from Trains had a two-part article on JNR, featuring steam (the subject as very nearly dead in the US by then), and one thing I remember was his description of a line in northern Japan as being very mountainous, looking and feeling like the rugged West End division of the Baltimore & Ohio in West Virginia.

    I also recall a story about a need for passenger locomotives in WW II that was met by rebuilding some freight locomotives. What was interesting about this was that the rebuild used very little of the original engines; apparently the “rebuild” description was practically a ruse to get the resources for the needed passenger power in wartime. What’s funny about this is that some railway managers in America and Great Britain were doing the same thing at the time, either with very extensive rebuilds of older locomotives or with new engines with a driver diameter that nominally classified them as dual-service engines.

    I had the chance to speak to a gentleman from India who ran a business here (I’m an auditor for the state of West Virginia), and he had some interesting stories about his brother, who was a division superintendant in India on one of the last sections there to run steam. He said his brother’s biggest challenges revolved around employees, particularly engineers, some of whom ran too slow, others who ran too fast, some who drank too much, and some who were sympathetic to poor people who lived along the road, and shared coal from the locomotive with them, the problem being it came out of the railroad’s fuel budget. I told him I had the chance to speak to an American counterpart recalling steam here, and he mentioned all the same challenges!

    I guess railroaders are the same everywhere!

    Thanks again, these were appreciated!

    Victor Reply:

    Small World, Isn’t It?

  10. rafael
    May 30th, 2010 at 10:47

    This Memorial Day Weekend, the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just topped 1 trillion dollars!

    Rethink Afghanistan asks: How would YOU spend that?

    According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ self-serving estimate, that would pay for almost half of all urgently needed improvements to the nation’s civilian infrastructure. This includes ***cough*** California High Speed Rail ***cough*** as well tons of other projects in the state and nationwide.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    While we’re at it, what about the big bank bailout? That was almost a trillion, and in a lot shorter time frame! What did we get for it, more banker bonuses?

    In my opinion, the tea-party crowd is rightfully angry, but the anger is misdirected. I don’t think we have the government taking over business–I think big business, particularly the banks, have taken over the government!

    I could say more, and some of it relates to HSR and the rest, but not now. . .

    Rafael Reply:

    Most of that trillion was in short-term loans that have already been repaid in full. The US treasury actually turned a tidy profit on them via the Fed. However, the taxpayer did buy large numbers of shares in banks that are sitting on dicey assets, at above-market prices, to keep them from collapsing. Those are now gradually writing them down and squeezing their good customers to compensate for the impact on their balance sheets and hence, share prices. The treasury wants to gradually sell its blocks of shares to private investors, preferably without taking a bath in the process – which includes winding up quite a few small failed banks via the FDIC, essentially a mutual insurance organization funded by the banking industry.

    So yes, the numbers are huge but as I understand it, they refer to liabilities rather than actual expenditure. That sort of distinction is often lost on “journalists”. By contrast, the cost of the two wars has been real expenditure. The Saudis paid for half of the covert war against Afghanistan in the 1980s and the Gulf Arab state paid for almost all of Operation Desert Storm. None of them have chipped in much at all for Dubya’s adventures, except in the form of buying US Treasuries (i.e. loans not contributions).

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Makes you want to scream ..Everytime I hear some naysayer going on about the “huge” cost of building HSR I want to rub this fact in their face and say explain this?

  11. John Burrows
    May 30th, 2010 at 15:14

    An example of “Historic NIMBYISM”

    “Moreover the road, as planned, would pass close to the town of Northampton, and the citizens rose in protest. So much antagonism was caused that the engineers altered their route, changed the London terminus to a large piece of open land adjoining the Regent’s Canal, deflected the line from the parks of Lord Fssex and Lord Clarendon, and avoided the Hemel Hempstead and Goddesden valleys although this put them to the inconvenience and extra expense of building a tunnel a mile in length at Watford. To satisfy the people of Northampton the road was also altered there by the construction of the Kilsby Tunnel, a costly feat of engineering. This tunnel was built under almost in-superable difficulties by Robert Stephenson, and the railway of 112 miles was opened for traffic in 1838.” (Quote from “Railroads of England-Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway)

    In today’s world Northampton could be either Menlo Park or Palo Alto, and Lords Essex and Clarendon might have their estates in Atherton. One interesting note– Within a few years of the opening of the railway, the good people of Northampton were demanding that a special spur line be built to their town.

    Rafael Reply:

    Plus ca change…

    Victor Reply:

    Sounds like a small world doesn’t It?

  12. D. P. Lubic
    May 31st, 2010 at 19:11

    Well, with all the classic steam links I’ve been throwing in, perhaps I should include something on “locomotives other than steam,” as the I.C.C. used to describe electric and diesel locomotives in its safety and inspection proceedures.

    On the lighter side;

    The Japanese clips and British Rail ads tickled my brain cells a little bit, and I remembered that the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway had a cat for a mascott, named Chessie, of course. This cat worked for decades promoting the C&O and later the Chessie System (CSX predecessor). Just a bit to show that big corporations, including railroads, can sometimes show a gentler side–and perhaps this is something that might help sell HSR, too:

    Chessie apparently has feline railfan relatives around the world, to judge from the video clips of cats and model trains! A personal favorite is this one, from what looks like Japan:

    Amtrak marketing (TV ads) aren’t bad, but I think British Rail did much better–and it would help if the Amtrak service was better, too.

    Monorails may well be considered “gadgetbahn” here, and I’m not terribly impressed, but it is interesting to note that Disney’s monorail was intended as a sort of demonstrator, as shown in this clip. Check out, between 0:36 and 0:45, what we motorists really are!

    Have fun.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Continuing on a lighter note, here are some comments from Railway Preservation News about what might be considered a “green” locomotive fuel:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, I should have added, the “Eureka” mentioned in the second post is a classic jewel of a locomotive, built by Baldwin in 1875:,_1997.JPG

    Members on this weblog have commented about working with connecting services that weren’t high speed rail, such as Caltran’s existing commuter service, light rail, and bus operations. I would like to hope there would somehow be room for heritage rail and steam as well, perhaps as a way to reach historic and scenic places, much as the narrow-gauge Durango & Silverton drops off fishermen in isolated places along the Rio de Las Animas, the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon doing similar work for hikers and campers in Alaska, and the Grand Canyon Railroad (which has, or had, Amtrak connections), as once did the Valley Railroad in Connecticut and the Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio.

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