Former Shell Executive Predicts $5 Gas by 2012

Dec 30th, 2010 | Posted by

A recent interview with a former Shell Oil executive has made waves this week, as John Hofmeister, president of the company from 2005 to 2009, predicted $5/gallon gas by 2012:

“When American consumers are short or prices are so high — $5 a gallon for gasoline, for example, by 2012 — that’s going to set a new tone. It’s going to be panic time on behalf of the politicians,” John Hofmeister, who was president of the company from 2005 to 2009, told Platts Energy Week. Platts Energy Week aired the interview with Hofmeister Sunday.

“What I fear the most is that by 2012, gas prices are so high that we have a backlash from the electorate and we go in reverse and we go back to a hydrocarbon-only type of a future, maybe with some nuclear, instead of moving on into the 21st century,” Hofmeister said.

By “backlash,” Hofmeister surely means an all-out effort to deny reality and avoid the inevitable truth that cheap oil is gone forever. When gas hit $4.50/gal in the summer of 2008, we saw proposals to “drill, baby, drill” off of nearly every coastline, as well as proposals to suspend the gas tax (because there’s such a huge difference between paying $4.82 a gallon and $5.00 a gallon). Thankfully those didn’t come to fruition, and instead Californians approved $10 billion in high speed rail funding and passed a series of tax increases to fund expanded passenger rail service.

Hofmeister’s suggestion is not idle speculation. Just before Christmas, oil prices broke $90/bbl for the first time since 2008. Prices at the pump here in California are well into the mid-$3 range ($3.45 at the nearby station here in Monterey). And this is all part of the long-term secular trend upward in oil prices that had Deutsche Bank predicting $175/bbl by 2016:

The implications for California are clear: we need to get ourselves off of oil. And that means we need to finish what we’ve begun and build out our local and intercity passenger rail networks, and preserve and expand our local bus systems as well.

Since the last gas price peak in 2008, we have seen a growth of HSR opposition around the state as a small group of ideologues, convinced that driving should be the only option available to Californians, have tried to destroy a train project that a clear majority of voters supported. I have previously argued that HSR opposition is a bubble phenomenon enabled by the temporary lull in the long-term rise in gas prices. As California prepares to begin construction on our HSR project, I have to imagine that HSR opposition will soon become very unpopular as gas prices continue to rise.

I’m sure some HSR opponents will claim that rising fuel prices will spur improvements and wider usage of hybrid and electric cars, rendering HSR unnecessary. I certainly hope the first part comes true – I’m all for more and better zero emissions vehicles. But that won’t impact our need for HSR.

First off, it doesn’t matter whether a car is fueled by electricity or by gasoline – it still takes a LOT longer to drive between NorCal and SoCal than it does to take a bullet train. So HSR will still have the automobile beat in terms of travel time as well as convenience, since you can’t work from your driver’s seat.

Second, electric vehicles in particular are best suited for short trips close to one’s home. While range improvements will surely happen, it’s not likely that we’ll see people driving 500 miles on a single charge anytime soon. Even if they could, you’re back at my first point – driving takes over twice as long as the train. In the meantime, though, it seems likely that even people who buy electric cars will still use the bullet train for longer-distance trips. This happens in Europe, where cars get much better mileage yet HSR is extremely popular.

Third, like the time problem, there is also a traffic problem that hybrids and electrics won’t solve. In fact, they might even make things worse, especially if the car-only fanatics get their way and all alternative forms of transportation are defunded. Already Southern California freeways are jampacked, as are many Bay Area freeways. As we know, the cost of building more lanes and roads to try and relieve the congestion is far greater than even the worst-case scenario cost estimates for the HSR project.

I hope that vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and the Tesla product line are spectacular successes. But they won’t change the need for high speed rail. California has to use less oil, and part of that means we’re going to drive less no matter what powers the car engine. (Especially since it’s quite unclear whether the electric grid can handle a mass switch to electric cars.) That’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. If you ask most Californians who are stuck in their cars for their commutes, they’d much rather have a more comfortable, affordable, and convenient method of getting around their cities, their metro areas, and their state.

Driving is always going to be part of California’s transportation system. But we are already on the path to developing the long-overdue alternatives that Californians want and need in order to enjoy 21st century prosperity. Rising gas prices will simply give a further kick to those efforts, while exposing HSR opponents as the reality-hating NIMBYs they always were.

  1. jimsf
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 17:08

    Oh good I was hoping you’d do one on this topic. Anyone who hasn’t realized by now how gas prices work is very naive. Of course prices will keep going up. They woo us, then they stick it to us, then they back off a little to make us feel a fake sense of relief, then they inch it up again. They use any and every unrelated “event” ( hurricane, rusty pipes, broken ship propeller, whatever) as an excuse to jack up prices at random just to make a few extra bucks for kicks. There’s the phony “california two flavors” gas ( winter spice and summer mint) which they always say is why we pay more here. They will squeeze every last nickel out of the driving public and walk that fine line between what the public will and won’t tolerate, ever pushing the threshold of pain to new limits. Well I got rid of my car cuz I’m not into s&m like that but so many folks seem so willing to submit to the oil companies and their submission is dragging the whole country down. It could be a different way in a heartbeat if the american people would just put their collective foot down once and for all. But they won’t, forcing us all to participate unwillingly in their fete marquis de sade.

    “I don’t want to be a slave to taxes for transit because I’d much rather maintain my twisted little relationship with big oil, that’s what I’m into”

    Can americans agree to put their foot down about anything at all anymore or is that long gone forever?

    Victor Reply:

    I’ll still pay the gas tax, Even if It were raised some, As the roads are in terrible shape and the tax doesn’t go as far as It used to, The very idea of getting rid of taxes is insane, As where would money come for their repair? I still need to drive to bring My food home as frozen food doesn’t travel too well on a bus and I usually buy My food once a month, Unless I goofed and need something extra. Will the price go to $5 a gallon? I don’t know, On TV they said the price of oil would have to be double to get there, Of course back in 2008 oil speculators had forced oil up with oil futures and a lot of people was driving an SUV, I wasn’t, My car gets about 26mpg and It’s paid for, It’ll be My last car too as I don’t have the income for a newer car than the 1999 Ford Escort zx2 Hot Coupe that I own, I get $845 a month in SSI income($674 from the SSA and $171 from the CA SSP) as I’m a disabled person, $50 or more dollars for 10 or so gallons of gas does not enthuse Me, But then Congress refuses to give Me and people like Me bigger limits and yep more money, I’m allowed a burial plot for $1500 and no more, Yet nothing around California costs that little anymore, Paying rent is a good joke, As SSI is supposed to be able to provide basic survival, Problem is It’s 1970’s basic survival in the 21st century, the cheapest rent I could find for an apartment is $609 in Barstow CA and these places require double the rent for income to qualify, Otherwise they say go away and subsidized rent? Try a 1 year to 5 year waiting list, Food Stamps would be nice, But the Feds(USDA and SSA) have an Embargo on California SSI recipients cause of a policy dispute with the State of California(Cash Out) and Congress could solve this and just change the rules, Do they? No. Conservatives say then too many people will be helped and It will cost too much, Of course to them It costs too much now, Of course raising the $674 to double or triple would solve this. But will Congress do this?Nooooo They’d rather spend tons of money on Jets and stuff like that, I mean couldn’t the Marines reskin the Harrier instead of building a new stealth jumpjet?(the F35). Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

    The United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft for an estimated US$323 billion, making it the most expensive defense program ever.[14] The United States Air Force (USAF) budget data in 2010, along with other sources, projects the F-35 to have a flyaway cost that ranges between US$89 million and US$200 million over the planned production of F-35s, depending on the variant.[15][16][17][18] Lockheed Martin expects to reduce government cost estimates by 20%.[19]

    Maybe they could make do with 1/3rd or 1/4 less instead, It wouldn’t hurt and the money could go to people like Me who could then really help the economy, Plus the deficit could be reduced too. Oh and don’t get Me wrong I’m all for national defense, But does the Military need such an expensive plane? I mean why reinvent the wheel, the Russians aren’t doing stealth are they? And what about China or the UK or the French or Germany?

    I’m sorry I went off topic some, But I felt I needed to say something as some like to say “I don’t want My tax dollars paying for that program or that program and If I can’t get My way I want My taxes reduced to cripple the existing programs until their forced to redirect the money away from objectionable programs”. Eventually If that were allowed to happen collapse could happen, Sounds like shades of the Roman Empire…

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Very collapsing Roman Empire on a high-speed timeline that is the US.. we have six times the national defense budget of any nation.. they got everyone bamboozled that we need to spend this much.. the poor people volunteering in enlisting in the military make a whopping like 25,030 year so all this money is going to the military corporate defense industry.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    3….. 2…… 1…….

    Isaac Reply:

    “I mean why reinvent the wheel, the Russians aren’t doing stealth are they? And what about China or the UK or the French or Germany?”

    Hi Victor.

    Actually the Russians and the Chinese are developing it’s own stealth fighters:

    But the USAF already has the F-22 Raptor which it’s comparable and better than the F-35, so I kind of share your fustration.


    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Not to mention that Germany had a stealth fighter prototype abandoned at end of Cold War, Eurofighter and Rafale have reduced observability features, and both France and the UK are working on stealth unmanned combat air vehicles.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    We should be breaking ground and under construction in the Valley just at the point when the money is really needed and gas prices are hitting the five dollar mark.. to be interesting to see what will happen with the media and the knee-jerk American-style planning.

    Victor Reply:

    Cheap ass Jerks in Congress not withstanding of course.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Yes it is ridiculous for people in Congress and the media to scream about this horrendous backbreaking high speed rail budget…. a whopping 2.5 billion last year when hundreds of billions are going out the door every week on all kinds of crazy stuff that most average Americans will never touch or use

    Victor Reply:

    Like the supposed single design of the F-35(A, B and C) which is actually 3 different aircraft, It should be one aircraft that can work for the Navy, Air Force and the Marine Corp, If It can’t be one aircraft design, Then don’t build the aircraft like that as It’s way too expensive in the numbers they want. Especially when the aircraft makers underbid and windup having costly cost overruns after the contract is signed. Having one aircraft that can do what the Navy, Air Force and the Marine Corp want, Which will lower the cost as the aircraft will then have one set of parts with no variation. HSR is chump change compared to the Military Aircraft Industry, Which views the Military budget as a blank check with an endless amount of zeros attached to It.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    I’m sure if gas goes to five dollars a gallon in 2012.. all the T. baggers and rights will blame it on Obama for not having increased offshore oil leasing .. not that it would done a bit of good if he had done so.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, the right-wingers in the call-in columns of a couple of local papers are already blaming Obama for the upward trend in gas prices. Embarrassing as can be to see how dumb some of my fellow citizens are. It’s no wonder this country is becoming something of a laughingstock to the world; the only thing that may be keeping us from being totally disrespected is that huge military and enormous nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, even that could have feet of clay, with its dependence on affordable (to the military) liquid fuel to run all that machinery it uses.

    Interestingly, the military does see this problem. This includes a push for things like solar power for field camp electrical power; the purpose of that is to avoid having to haul fuel in for mobile generators, which the military calculated costs something like $400 per gallon if you factor in the military escorts for a fuel convoy in a place like Iraq. The air force has been running tests with a B-52 running on liquified coal fuel. And I can’t find the source at the moment, but somewhere I’ve seen something about the army wanting to buy rail passenger equipment to replace buses for certain troop moves in Virginia, citing greater capacity and safety. The military boys are anything but dumb; too bad they work for some of the biggest jerks in the world.

    Local call-in columns:

    Of course, it’s interesting that the military, the army in particular, has a strong railroad heritage, going back to the Civil War.

    To be continued:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The military still operates railroads, too; these are on large bases and other installations, for material movement.||United States Army||||||1|||||||||||United States Army||||||||||||||||||&newsort=3

    My station-restoring friend in Shepherdstown, W.Va., tells me that amatuer military historians discuss tactics–and the professionals discuss logisitics.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Damn it, that Railpictures link is still worthless! Phooey!

    Isaac Reply:

    Hi, D.P. Lubic, let’s see if Railpictures links can be solved usin “a href” HTML tags:

    Railpictures link.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Hey, it works! I guess being a steam fan means I’m not exactly a computer whiz. Have to check that out “href” business. Thanks.

    Isaac Reply:

    You’re welcome.

    I’m not very good at HTML either, but I have that page added to favorites, so every time I need to put a link that messes up or it’s too long I simply follow 3 steps:

    1. Copy “World Wide Web consortium” example.
    2. Copy the link page over the “http…” into the brackets.
    3. Change description in “>…” part, and Done!


    Victor Reply:

    They’ll blame Him for anything that’s convenient, Cause He’s a Black Man in the White House, But that’s no surprise.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Bernanke prefers inflation to deflation. No faster way to induce inflation than higher fuel prices.

    The Arabs aren’t as dumb as they act. They know that oil prices higher than a certain level will induce alternatives to the dominance of petrochemicals. They will pump more if need be.

    A poorer American populace will simply travel less, no matter what the mode.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    They will pump more if need be.

    1980’s, say hello to the 21st Century and Peak Oil

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    If they can; there have been suggestions that they are facing limits. One even came from, of all people, George W. Bush. . .blast it, can’t find a link, but he said something about how oil production, even in Saudi Arabia, could not be ramped up overnight. . .

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s the International Energy Agency, which predicted that newly discovered oil will magically compensate for dwindling production of existing fields ~ giving rise to the Oil E Coyote diagram ~ and even under that magical scenario, there is no ramping UP of production.

    John Burrows Reply:

    They will pump less if we piss them off. In October 1973 the Arab oil producers really got upset when we resupplied Israel at the end of the Yom Kippur War. The oil embargo that followed did a real number on us—-gas lines are even less fun than traffic jams.

    Oil producing countries (not just Arabs) also pump less oil when they are at war or when they are experiencing massive internal unrest. The 1979 turmoil in Iran which led to our boy the Shaw taking a very long vacation, tanked Iran’s oil production. And a year later when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, production from the two countries took another hit. If I remember right Saudi Arabia and others were able to increase production and take up the slack, but not before we took another big hit complete with more gas lines.

    This can happen again—-Many of the big oil exporters (Saudi Arabia, Iran,Iraq, Nigeria, or Venez
    uela, either don’t particularly like us or else they have internal problems: And this time around it might be much harder to try and make up for capacity lost by a sudden disruption to the oil supply.

    Who knows if a crisis like this will happen again or how severe the impact would be if it does? But if we did have a situation of fuel prices going through the roof accompanied by long gas lines; and almost certainly accompanied by another bad recession, we would be thankful to say the least that California had a high speed rail system.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    Funny thing … I can’t think of a single example of a country which has not determined that “deflation” is something to be avoided – even at the “price” (so to speak) of inflation.

    I’m not certain how many Americans take the following seriously, much less into consideration, but:

    As recently as 1983, there was no such thing as a “private motor vehicle” in China – the government would not license them.

    Statistics for private vehicles were first published for 1985. The number of “civil” (non-military) vehicles was stated at 3.2 million. Fewer than 20,000 were “private passenger vehicles, and most of these were for business rather than household use. Domestic motor vehicle production: little more than 5,000.

    In October, the Ministry of Public Security announced that China had 199 million motor vehicles, including 85 million automobiles. Sales of all vehicles totaled more than 13.1 million during the first nine months of 2010. This was up by nearly 40 percent (!) from 2009. Total sales for the year reached 16.4 million through November. Projected sales for the year were 17 million, nearly matching the highest annual sales volume to date in the U.S. (17.4 million, in 2000).

    Passenger car sales increased by more than 29 percent from November 2009 to November 2010, when more than 1.3 million were sold (including exports).

    Monthly production by Chinese automakers during November 2010 was nearly 1.8 million, including nearly 1.4 million passenger cars.

    The Chinese know that they cannot rely on petroleum-based fuel indefinitely if this growth rate is to be sustained (and the government is determined that it will be). So, China is pursuing large-scale development of alternative fuels. The Arabs know that have absolutely no influence over this drive … the Chinese do, too … and the Arabs know that the Chinese know.

    It’s going to be an interesting rest-of-decade.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    Thanks for mentioning China. So many times the oil-based arguments are made as if whatever the US does to make reductions in fuel consumption that it will solve everything. But China is adding so many drivers to the roadways each year. I heard that Beijing in 2005 was adding 460,000 cars to the roads each year alone. That’s a city of Sacramento in cars!

    Even if we get more fuel efficient cars, they are still getting shipped over seas by inefficient means. They are still using massive quantities of oil to produce. And, practically everything that’s on the shelves in Walmart and Target is coming from Asia. It doesn’t just magically appear there.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Beijing just now decided to stop it and is limiting the growth of its number of cars to 240,000 per year.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    Yes, and a few days ago Beijing opened new subway lines and extensions totaling 108 km.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’ve heard. I’ve been spending 3 days explaining to other blog commenters that China’s construction costs aren’t actually that low.

    But these aren’t really the same thing. Beijing has been expanding everything since about 2000. But due to political pressure from rich party members and businessmen, the city did not enact any traffic restraint, up until now, while Shanghai has long limited and auctioned off license plates. Naturally, Shanghai is much less polluted and traffic-jammed than Beijing, and presumably Beijing’s new policy will make its environmental problems subside in the next few years.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Please.. the middle east has been merchants and traders for centuries.. making that statement that they’re smarter than they look is insulting to them… NO its actually my fellow Americans that are the dumb ones … the ones willing to not change anything just keep a car pedal under their foot and pay the increasing cost.. the same ones duped by the oil industry lobbies that somehow light rail transit and now high speed rail is some socialist covert program to steal their right to drive and buy gas.

    synonymouse Reply:

    My comment about Arabs was that they are smarter than they act(stoning of women, etc., etc.) Supply and demand – the reason why crude dominates is simply because it is the cheapest way to proceed. Alternatives will kick in when crude becomes too expensive. Conservation may be the main response but some researchers claim great progress on synthetic fossil fuels. Tech breakthroughs are very hard to predict – maybe so, maybe no.

    The actual amount of oil in the ground is another question. The heavy hitters don’t want you to know that. Think DeBeers.

    The 1973 Arab oil embargo was a total failure and was the genesis of auto mileage requirements.

    Nathanael Reply:

    EVERYONE prefers inflation to deflation, except the super-rich.

    The biggest problem with deflation is that it makes it harder for people and businesses to pay off debts. The second-biggest problem is that it leaves rich people with little incentive to invest in actual productive businesses.

  2. Alon Levy
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 19:00

    Aren’t Shell and BP the top manufacturers of photovoltaic cells?

  3. dfb
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 19:02

    Robert: Belittling others is no way to convince others to agree with you.

    You said: “Since the last gas price peak in 2008, we have seen a growth of HSR opposition around the state as a small group of ideologues, convinced that driving should be the only option available to Californians, have tried to destroy a train project that a clear majority of voters supported.”

    Classifying opponents is not so simple as you make them seem. Rather than lumping all opponents into one bucket, labeled “ideologues,” you should accept that there are many reasons why folks oppose the HSR project in its current iteration. Many opponents support the concept of high speed rail and are generally supportive of efforts to build the system. Some opponents are what you label NIMBY. Others oppose it because of the costs, whether financial, cultural, or environmental. Others oppose only certain decisions of the CHSRA or its dependence and thoughtless rubber stamping of contractors’ recommendations.

    Belittling others demonstrates you ignore valid criticisms and reasonable suggestions and ideas from opponents.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Are you saying that it is false that a small group of ideologues have tried to destroy a train project that a clear majority of voters supported? That seems to be demonstrably true.

    Are you saying that Robert claims that every opponent of HSR is in that small group of ideologues? That is patently false, since Robert nowhere makes any such claim.

    jimsf Reply:

    most of the different opponent groups you mentioned are really the same group using different arguments du jour to oppose the project.

    Just like the republicans who ruined the economy, lost congress in 2006 and lost the presidency in 2008, and as of today still control nothing, but who continue to use every tactic they can to keep from admitting defeat instead of of just saying, “hey we lost this one lets move on and we’ll do better next time.”

    Its an attitude that has become rampant among people who simply do not want to accept that america is changing.

    jimsf Reply:

    and further, regardless of what excuses you make for !a passing. The fact is it passed. That is democracy. The voters said “we want high speed rail”. period. The state then set up an authority to make it happen. It is not up to every tom, dick and harriet to constantly second guess what’s being done. Especially when its so obvious that for the most part, its not genuine second guessing, but bush league political sabotage. As if that isn’t obvious. God it so tired. So tired. And actually a little embarrassing. The desperation of it.

    jimsf Reply:

    and really, “belittling” ? oh please. boo hoo. No one was being belittled. What’s next, we shouldn’t talk about the issue around christmas because what about the baby jesus? Give me a break. The right has become the biggest bunch of crybaby losers in this county’s political history. Its politics. You lost. Move on.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    No, that is hopelessly confused. We shouldn’t talk about Public Private Partnerships around Easter. Money changers in the temple and all.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    As you can see, I am not much concerned about the “feelings” of HSR opponents when their actions are placing at risk the future prosperity of this state. I’m *far* more interested in them explaining how this state is going to survive $5/gal gas without HSR than I am in carefully editing my writing to make them feel better about themselves.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I’m *far* more interested in them explaining how this state is going to survive $5/gal gas without HSR

    My goodness, what a Chicken Little. $5/gal will certainly have a drag on the economy, but not because of SF-LA travel prices.
    Even at $5/gal, SF-LA roundtrip by car is still only ~$130 in fuel.

    Victor Reply:

    Well at least someone will have money for gas, I’d be lucky to be able to put 5 gallons in the tank for the entire month at that price.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    That totally ignores the fact that the costs of ALL goods will increase, not just gasoline prices. It would have a massive effect on low-wage earners if suddenly the price of everything they purchased increased by 60%.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    Sorry, the transportation costs in the goods would increase by 60%, not the total costs (hopefully).

    I am a strong believer in worldwide peak oil production and I think it will happen. I really don’t want to see it happen though. I think the effects would be more devastating on our way of life than people might realize. I just hope we get HSR built before material and construction prices skyrocket. Building a HSR system will use a lot of oil. When Southwest’s sweet fuel deal runs out, air prices will go way up as well.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The transportation costs wouldn’t increase by anything remotely close to 60%. As an exercise, take your favorite good, and compute the cost premium you’d have to pay at $20/gallon, given that Class I freight railroads have a fuel economy of a little more than 400 ton-miles per gallon.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    For what it’s worth, a very great many of the same people who oppose HSR also oppose light rail and rail transit in general (i.e., Reason Foundation, Cato Institute, Wendell Cox, Randal O’Toole, etc.) I should know; I dealt with this trying to get a local rail transit option instead of another 4-lane road.

    Which brings up an interesting point: So many HSR critics claim that if this is such a good project, the private market should be seeing a great opportunity. That they don’t is supposedly a sigh that our highway system is financially superior (cheaper).

    If that’s the case, why do we have a government operated and heavily subsidized road system? Why is it not a mostly private system? Is there not a great financial opportunity there?

    Some material on the “Dulles Greenway,” a partially private toll road in Northern Virginia (one section of it is state-operated, the other is privately owned) which has sometimes had mixed results financially.

    “The road was envisioned as early as the 1970s, when new residents were attracted to Loudoun County because of the relatively low cost of real estate. The Greenway proposal prompted the enactment of the Virginia Highway Corporation Act of 1988[18] that authorizes the construction of new toll roads without the use of eminent domain[19] under rates set by the Virginia Corporation Commission.[18] The law requires the facility to be turned over to the state after a stated time period.[20] The road was completed and opened in 1995, but the original owners defaulted on its loan due to lower than projected use.[21] It receives no public funds, was built with no subsidies, and is policed at its own expense, competing as a wholly private enterprise with the state-built and -maintained roads.[22] Tolls are computed to assure that the owner will recover the original investment plus a return on that investment. The losses incurred during the early years of the project are rolled forward to justify higher tolls in later years. Subsequent improvements, which were constructed in exchange for an extension of the toll road to 2056, include adding a third lane in each direction, resurfacing the entire road in 2009, and the construction of an improved eastbound exit ramp to Dulles Airport in 2009”

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    Because they make money and gain fame from it. Any negative article (or part of one) you read about smart growth or non-auto transportation features one of them. They are basically the only ones. Maybe someday people will start to realize this and you’ll see them become irrelevant. Or maybe those UN conspiracy people will start to take their place.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They already are irrelevant. Cox has gotten to the point that he has to pay interns to troll blogs (see the comments of Mixner, or his various aliases – Gordy on TTP, DillonS on The Infrastructurist, etc.). Ballot propositions for transit are winning huge majorities, and US cities are spending as much money as European and Asian cities on rail expansion. The only problem is that US construction costs are 3-10 times as high as rest-of-world construction costs, so the same amount of money doesn’t go as far.

    Spokker Reply:

    I don’t doubt it, but how did they figure it out?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Who figured what out – that Cox is paying trolls (or a single troll – it’s unclear whether it’s one person or a composite personality)? The argument style screams paid shill, and the subjects of choice are those that Cox cares about.

    Spokker Reply:

    The trolls. They could check the IPs to find out whether or not it’s the same person posting under multiple names.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    To the degree that I got answers about this from the bloggers, it is. More precisely, there are multiple IPs, some shared among multiple troll names, some not.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    “The only problem is that US construction costs are 3-10 times as high as rest-of-world construction costs, so the same amount of money doesn’t go as far.”

    This type of hyperbole is not useful. A paper on Japanese expressway (tollway) development I read recently stated that (expressway) construction costs are about twice as high as elsewhere, and Japan is reputed to have the world’s highest construction costs.

    Another issue – which the road gangsters would prefer that you not ask about – is environmental mitigation. The percentage of total cost that is accounted for by environmental mitigation is an apparent sore point. I had the cheek to bring this up with a group of WA State DOT engineers, with reference to the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington, ca. 1990.

    One of them all but bellowed, “You will not get anyone at DOT to discuss that.”

    Two can play at the macho man game, I thought. I replied OK, then this is what I’m gonna do. Some pages from one of those free newspapers just happened to blow into my feet this morning. It had an article about the I-90 bridge, which said that “up to 40 percent” of the total cost was environmental mitigation. So that’s what I’m gonna put in my article.

    The response: “That sounds about right.”

    (No, I did not make up the story about the free newspaper, which was probably the “Seattle Weekly.”)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This isn’t hyperbole; it’s true. Japan has very strong property rights protections and high property values, both of which make expressways unusually expensive there. Rail is expensive in Japan as well, but not nearly as much as in the US (or UK). Look up the costs of Tokyo’s Oedo and Fukutoshin Lines, and compare them to the costs of New York’s 7 extension and Second Avenue Subway. Tokyo Metro is complaining that future lines will be even more expensive than the most recent lines, at $500 million per km, and has declared it will not do any future construction; meanwhile, New York’s tunneling costs are north of $1 billion per km.

    James Fujita Reply:

    For what it’s worth, there’s barely a single gap in the Tokyo subway system, so it’s not like they would be adding to the 100+ miles of subway already in existance.

    Also, Japan is public-private partnershipped up the wazoo, JR and Tokyo Metro and the dozens of private lines.

    Gas is also expensive, and most of that is taxes for transit, not corporate profit.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    There’s an outward extension of the Hanzomon Line that’s on the chopping block. And JR East and Toei are still expanding, not because the network has gaps but because the trains are still overcrowded. JR East’s long-range plan calls for extending the Keiyo Line west from Tokyo to build a reliever for the Chuo Line.

    James Fujita Reply:

    Well, there is a difference between expanding because there’s a whole rail new corridor which hasn’t been built out yet (Metro Gold Line Foothill, or even the Subway to the Sea) and expanding because the existing trains out to the suburbs are crowded (Fukutoshin takes pressure off of the Yamanote Line).
    If the Hanzomon Line doesn’t get extended, suburban Chiba commuters take other train lines into downtown.

    When you get far enough out of downtown Tokyo, all of those subway lines become ground-level, suburban commuter train lines, so the costs are going to be different. And, getting back to the “will private investors take up HSR?” question, many of these rail lines are private.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    The fact that a rail line is “private” does not mean that infrastructure financing was raised from “private” sources. In Japan, financing for a significant length of recently-built “private” railway lines and extensions includes low-interest or zero-interest government loans. I’d have to say that the latter in particular is a form of “subsidy” (the dreaded “s word”).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The day farebox recovery numbers in the West start to include interest is the day I’ll agree with you that the loans to the Tsukuba Express are a subsidy. I could even argue it the other way: Western lines are all built with government funds, but in Japan a fair number are built out of private operating profits, most notably the Chuo Shinkansen.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    Oh, so you’re going to set your bottom lip and refuse to look at what the Japanese do today – until the U.S. does something more to your liking?

    Grow up, bub.

    Rail and transit “cost recovery” statistics in this country have never included “interest” – simply because “interest” (or capital charges) are not “operating expenses.” Thus the older term “operating ratio.”

    If a private business kept their books in the manner that you apparently wish, then they’d get hauled into court.

    I’ve noticed, however, that libber-tarians and other ideologues tend to ignore reality whenever it causes too much cognitive dissonance.

    For example: Half a century ago, losses experienced by the investing community were described as “what might be called a private capital subsidy of Chicago transit exceeding one-quarter billion dollars,” or two billion at today’s prices.

    (Schroeder, Werner W. 1957. Metropolitan Transit Research Study. Chicago: Chicago Transit Authority.)

    Schroeder’s estimates take into account interest and principal not paid to bondholders, and capital losses experienced by shareholders, during the interval 1907-1947. He does not bother calculating the amount of dividends not paid to shareholders. Reasonably so; there is no contractual obligation to pay dividends, and unpaid dividends are not considered part of an investor’s loss. However …

    Among the concepts worshiped by (some) Libber-tarians (among others) is “opportunity cost of capital.” I’ll be honest: I do not “like” this concept because it is difficult to quantify with reference to the future (unless you can literally predict the future). It is also difficult to quantify with reference to the past (as an old friend says, “History does not reveal its alternatives”). However, I don’t see how you can exclude “foregone” dividend payments from retrospective assessment of (historic) “cost of capital.” In fact, you can’t: historic literature (ca. 1920s) uses a 7 percent return on investment as the “benchmark,” and there are even sources that assess the performance of individual streetcar lines against this standard.

    But, as Obama wrote, “ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Foregone dividend at 7%? Today’s discount rate is 4%, in the US; in Japan, which is in a liquidity trap, it’s about 0.

    On top of it, post-WW2 standards for cost recovery and subsidy sometimes include depreciation and sometimes don’t, but to my knowledge never include interest. Operating ratios exclude depreciation, and recovery ratios do not. I find it interesting that the only people who’d go so far back in history to find standards by which Japanese rail lines (sometimes) require subsidies are you and the highway lobbyists.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    Yes, “US construction costs are 3-10 times as high as rest-of-world construction costs” is hyperbole.

    You have provided one example of “twice as high.” Now let’s have one for “three times as high” … and one for “ten times as high.”

    Oh, yes, and please don’t slip in the O-Edo Line. Advertantly or not, that is an “apples and oranges” comparison.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, the example I provided is closer to 5-6 times as high. The Fukutoshin Line cost $280 million/km and the Oedo Line $343 million (why are they apples to oranges?); SAS and the 7 extension cost $1.7 billion and $1.3 billion.

    Second, there are examples where the factor is a lot higher than 10. There are examples of factors of 15-20 – e.g. Seoul’s Bundang Line, Milan’s Line 5, and Naples’ extensions. And Madrid’s MetroSur stands far below the rest, at just $50 million/km. It’s the other end of the range that’s rare: very few projects anywhere outside the US go above $400 million/km, and those usually get castigated as boondoggles.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Your ‘bad’ examples are all in New York City, Alon.

    I think you’ve demonstrated that *New York City* has some serious construction cost inflation problems. Some reasons for this have already been identified: a culture of mafia-connected construction companies; arcane state-mandated contracting rules which discourage nimbler contractors from even applying for jobs, and encourage the contractors to fight with the agency; derelict utility companies whose maps are inaccurate and who can’t be bothered to do their relocations to anyone else’s schedule; derelict building owners who expect “someone else” to pay to bring their building back up to code; et cetera.

    None of these appear to be universal to the US.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Um, let me specify, “state-mandated” means “New York State legislature mandated”.

    Joey Reply:

    It’s true outside of New York as well. Take the Central Subway, the Bay Bridge East Span Replacement, or any of BART’s extension projects, compare them to similar projects anywhere else, and you will find that costs are grossly inflated. Or even look at CAHSR — the $43 billion price tag is going nowhere but up, but at Spanish construction costs, we could build the same thing for a fraction of the price.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, here are some non-NYC examples:

    1. The Central Subway, at $500 million per km. (It overlaps the most complex projects in Europe and Japan, typically lines that have to dive under much more infrastructure than just the BART and Muni tunnels.)

    2. Portland’s Milwaukie extension, at $100 million per km for a surface light rail line. (It overlaps the cost estimates of fully underground lines in Korea, Spain, and Italy).

    3. The Dulles Airport extension, at $180 million per km with minimal tunneling, and long segments in highway medians.

    The only places in the US where construction costs are in sync with the rest of the world are various Sunbelt light rail lines, but those tend to be in lightly populated areas and, with the exception of the Houston Metrorail, have pitiful ridership.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:


    All that you’ve done is demonstrated a large disparity in labor costs, among certain other things.

    We can’t have Spanish construction costs over here because (overall) Spanish labor costs are roughly 15 percent less than ours on a per-hour basis – and even lower on a per-employee basis.

    Japanese labor costs are roughly 15 percent below ours – and “non-wage” costs per hour (that would be fringe benefits) are even lower. So we can’t have Japanese construction costs, either.

    Korea? You’ve got to be kidding. South Korea has labor costs that are, very roughly, 50 percent below U.S. levels.

    I’m working from memory, but Italy is a “lower-cost” economy (in Western Europe) because labor costs per employee are significantly lower than ours.

    This is a “loaded” comparison – I admit that I’m working from memory, that the statistics are several years old, and that the stats “probably” relate to the manufacturing rather than the construction sector. But the point should be clear.

    The Tokyo Fukotoshin Line segment between Ikebukuro and Shibuya, 8.9 km, was started in 2001 and completed in 2008.

    The total construction cost is stated at 240.4 thousand million yen. I am certain that this represents “nominal” expenditure, not “adjusted to the mid-point” of the construction interval, as one would be expected to do over here for a formal analysis.

    These days, construction-cost forecasts over here are prepared in terms of “year-of-expenditure” dollars – that is, with anticipated inflation already factored in. If you don’t make some attempt to control for this, your comparisons might have a great deal of inherent uncertainty.

    The Fukutoshin Line cost breakdown is: “Civil Engineering” 177.4 thousand million, “Electrical Equipment” 24.8 thousand million, “Rolling stock” 17.1 thousand million, and “Other” 21.1 thousand million.

    Rolling stock demonstrates the significantly lower costs: 36 10-car trains = 360 cars. That works to about $500,000 per car. If you believe that we can build subway cars in this country for a unit cost of $500,000, then I’ve got a line of bridges in the S.F. Bay Area to sell; you might want to pick up one, or more.

    (I will accept, based on what I’ve seen, a best-case “minimum credible unit cost” of $1 million per car – but not less than that.)

    The O-Edo Line is not relevant to other subways because it was built for small-profile trains powered by linear-induction motors. Off the top of my head, the reduction in tunnel inside diameter halves the amount of spoil removed, and that in turn leads to a 30 (?) percent unit cost reduction. It’s not 50 percent because, among other things, station costs do not go down in proportion and the LIM trackbed is somewhat more expensive to build.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Looks like the Japanese can have cost problems, too. . .

    Of course, I have to partially agree with Alon, this stuff seems to cost more than it should here; my opinion of this is that we have incompetent leadership in the politicians as much as anything else. How many elected officers in this country have any sort of technical background at all? How many have even a rudimentary understanding of engineering, enough to talk intelligently with engineers about their options? I certainly do not consider myself a qualified engineer, but I understand the subject probably 100 times better than the average politician I’ve met. Most seem pretty useless, in fact; I wonder how they get elected.

    It’s pretty disgusting, I tell you, and disappointing, too.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay. So Spain has 15% lower construction costs. So what? It builds subways for 95% less money than the US. For other countries, it’s closer to 80-90%, still several times what you could explain with labor costs. I could even argue it the other way: because Europe has stronger unions and higher middle-class wages than the US, construction costs there should be higher, not lower. (Besides which, if labor costs were the main issue, China wouldn’t be building subways and HSR for the same cost as Western Europe).

    I’d give you more examples, but I’d just be naming all the subway lines built outside the US in the last 10 years. Some I included here. Others I didn’t – e.g. in Italy and South Korea. Look up any non-US subway project on Railway Gazette and Urban Transport Technology for more.

    All the numbers I’m giving are inflation- and PPP-adjusted, using the midpoint of construction. Japan has had no inflation this decade, so the nominal costs of 2001-8 are fine today.

    Japan’s rolling stock is unusually cheap. So is New York’s, by the way – the R160 order cost $1.5 million per car, whereas $2.5 million is more common in the rest of the world. Both Japan and New York benefit from huge economies of scale when it comes to rolling stock, and Japan more so than New York. In addition, Japanese trains are built to last 20 years instead of 40, reducing initial construction costs further; such cost reductions are not possible with subway tunnels.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Spain has 15% lower labor costs; the construction costs are 90-95% lower. Sorry about the typo.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    35.5 cents per mile, 42 cents during peak hours, for the tolls and they still have financial issues? Impressive. I’m fairly sure that’s one of the most expensive tollways in America on a per-mile basis. You’d need to kick the gas tax up to $1.57 per gallon to match that.

  4. Brandon from San Diego
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 19:38

    Of course, oil and gas price dilemma has additional layers…. but I respect the need to keep it as simple as possible for some of our friends.

    Even so, if we were to peel the onion back one more layer, we would see that our gas money eventually ends up in the hands of Middle Eastern powers supplying the oil for our refineries. And, Further, that some…. Some of that money is likely funneled, even if it is a tiny amount, to people that hate Americans because of what we supposedly represent. Essentially, some of our gas money is going toward funding terrorists.

    I am not a fear monger, but I do get some level of gratification pointing out the hypocrisies of some things that some choose to skip observing for the sake of convenience.

    Another layer to this onion is that America sends young men and women to defend the nations that supply the oil…. to ensure supply lines are stable. And so far, over 3,000 given their lives to do so. When… When…. Is enough? How many lives and how much in defense spending is necessary?

    Just sayin….

    jimsf Reply:

    you just want to keep me from driving to 7-11 to get my big gulp cuz you’re unamerican!

    mrcawfee Reply:

    oddly enough 7-11 is owned by a Japanese company ;)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    3,000? Try 240,000. And that’s just people definitely killed by coalition forces until the middle of 2006.

    jimsf Reply:

    but what about convenience!

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Re read the statement. Don’t cherry pick.

    I spoke to what America has sent, of which, over 3,000 have given their lives. Certainly non American lives is notable and meritorious to cite. But, I spoke to America’s investment.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Not to mention the 35,000 die every year on America’s highways for this freedom to drive!! Funny how that number is blinked at for this addiction… the pushers keep providing the drug(oil) and an ever-increasing cost and somehow everyone keeps coming up with some more money to pay for it..

    wu ming Reply:

    i’m less worried about middle east oil barons than i am about the ones from texas and socal we have right here at home, who are far more involved in funding all manner of rightwing political groups, and undermining any attempt to get out from under the bootheel of the petro economy.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Wu, your comment reminds me of a line from “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in which Thomas Mitchell, as Uncle Billy, says to Lionel Barrymore’s Henry F. Potter, “After all, Potter, some people like George had to stay at home. Not every heel was in Germany and Japan.”

    Remark is just after 5:00 on the link below:

    Unfortunately, I’m afraid there is much truth to this editorial:

    And look where it got us. . .

  5. Derek
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 19:49

    Electric cars on comparatively inefficient rubber wheels that have to carry their own sources of power and that have to push a lot of air per passenger out of the way can’t achieve anything close to the fuel efficiency of an electric train. So that’s another reason why the “rendering HSR unnecessary” argument is bunk.

    jimsf Reply:

    living in the city, it seems there would be more important aspects to electric vehicles than just the enery consumption. I imagine for one, how much quieter the city would be if were 100 percent electric.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Certainly. And even better neighborhood electric vehicles, which reduce the incentive to speed, because there’s only so much speed they can get up, and so make the streets safer for people.

    Nathanael Reply:

    If only oil had never been discovered at Spindletop.

    Local short-range electric cars were popular in the late 19th/early 20th century for travelling around town and to the train station before the gasoline guzzlers took over due to cheap oil. Ironically the other reason they took over was a shortage of electricity service outside of big cities, which is not a problem any more.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oil wasn’t especially cheap then, not compared to disposable income. The advantage of internal combustion engine cars was that they had much longer range than electric vehicles, just like today.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Gasoline cars were cheap. Very cheap. At their lowest price, a new Model T sold for $3,000 in 2010 dollars.

    wu ming Reply:

    and how much cleaner the air, minus that particulate. there are especially big gains to be made in air quality if diesel-burning delivery vehicles are replaced with electrics.

  6. Daniel Jacobson
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 20:34

    Electric vehicles are not zero emission vehicles–the electricity has to come from somewhere, and we wont have 100% clean energy for decades. It will also take decades for us to turn over our automobile fleet, since few people can afford a new $40k (or even $20k) electric car. Both points go back to what you said: HSR is a more efficient form of transportation that we can roll out now.

  7. joe
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 21:35

    It currently costs 0.50 per mile to operate a vehicle.

    Cost and congestion along with the benefits of mobile computing / connectivity will lead people to demand better bus and train service.

    HSR is a part of the solution, city to city.

  8. synonymouse
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 22:47

    This is how project developers deal with “nimbys” in China:

    Joey Reply:

    I take it you’ve never heard of the Tianamen square incident…

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    This is aimed at “synonymouse:”

    I have yet to meet an American who would dare to put that “incident” into context.

    Care to take the bait, M. “mouse”?

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Synonymous, What’s your point?

    Walter Reply:

    Ted, this is known as the “Throw S**t at the Wall and See What Sticks” approach.

    See, corrupt Communist Party officials (who are kinda like the CHSRA) killed a Chinese villager (which is kind of like a Peninsula suburbanite) over a land claim regarding farmland (which is kind of like rail ROW). Thus, the Authority is likely to brutally suppress and murder Peninsula anti-HSR whiners. Therefore, build Tejon.

    StevieB Reply:

    I think it was an attempt by synonymouse at humor. He is funnier when he tries to be serious.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A more appropriate Chinese historical allusion would be Shanghai 1927 when, if I have my story straight, Chiang Kai-Shek used his Green Gang mobster connections to massacre Communist Party members. It has been a long time since I read “La Condition Humaine” by Andre Malraux.

    The sordid history of LA and the Owens Velley farmers is more germane to California.

    Remains to be seen which group of voters will turn out in greater numbers for Jerry’s tax increase initiative- construction union guys or disaffected Peninsula residents. I really can’t determine just how disgruntled the California electorate is but that vote will tell the tale.

  9. David K
    Dec 30th, 2010 at 23:30

    We saw the increase in transit use when gas hit $4 in 2008, which coincided with Californians voting for HSR and improved local rail transit (Measure R in LA County, SMART in Sonoma/Marin Counties). As the price of oil recovers from its Great Recession crash and rises to $5 and above, more people will get out of their cars and back on trains and buses as their commutes become too expensive. When Southwest has to raise their fares on flights between Socal and the Bay Area to compensate for the steep rise in jet fuel, people will notice this and will be less willing to stand by and let the Anti-HSR lobby and NIMBYs attempt to delay and derail HSR.

    HSR opposition relies on the idea that cheap oil can keep our current transportation status quo forever, as the price of oil inevitably rises the opposition has zero arguments against HSR, and the people will be demanding HSR faster than it can be built.

  10. Jerry
    Dec 31st, 2010 at 01:15

    This just in:
    The Onion has reported that some mystery writers have come out against HSR because it gives them so much less time to solve the murder before the train stops.
    More at 11.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I could do some of what they do there; how do I get on and (cough) get paid?

  11. TomW
    Dec 31st, 2010 at 06:36

    “[It’s] quite unclear whether the electric grid can handle a mass switch to electric cars.”
    Electric cars will generalyl be plugged in overnight, precisely the time when electricicity demand is at it’s lowest. If the grid can handel the current peaks, it can handle the over-night trough being not quite as low. (As a plus side, this means power stations will have less powering up/down to do, making them more efficien).

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Or we could just toss a couple more nuclear plants on the grid.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    “Especially since it’s quite unclear whether the electric grid can handle a mass switch to electric cars.”

    It’s actually quite clear whether the electrical grid can handle a mass switch to electric cars, but it depends on what you mean when you say “the grid”. We have more than enough generation capacity to handle electric car charging, so additional new plants aren’t likely to be needed. And the transmission grid is likewise able to handle the relatively small additional load.

    However, the distribution grid, from the substation to your home, will need to be upgraded in many areas. The power companies are already planning for this, and have their own teams working on forecasts for electric car adoption and what they need to be building out to support it. It’s not a big deal, and the power companies are more than happy to sell you additional KW/hrs especially at night.

    I fully believe that electric cars will be incredibly popular. However, I think that makes HSR an even better option. Yes, the environmental benefits relative to driving are reduced, but there are two huge effects of mass electric car adoption that make HSR even more attractive:

    1: Range. While this is likely to become marginally less of an issue over time, battery density actually isn’t improving much, it’s just getting cheaper, so long trips in an electric car will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Similarly, charging is getting faster, but not much, you can fast charge these things but you don’t want to do it too much, and that hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last few years and it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon.

    2: Traffic. This is the big one. With electric cars, the incremental cost of driving goes down to something like the equivalent of sub-50 cent per gallon gas. With cheap driving, traffic is going to get worse, and most traffic is short trips. It can take several hours just to get out of the LA area now, imagine what that will be like when it only costs people $5 to fill up their tank. The impending traffic nightmare brought on by electric car induced traffic is going to make HSR incredibly attractive.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I happen to like this site (Low Tech Magazine), which shows just how advanced we can be without computers and other aids; what we need is to connect our eyes (and the other senses, too) to our brains, and pay attention to the physical world.

    This particular page from the magazine is one of several on electric vehicles, which may be an interesting read.

    In the case of electric cars, I think a problem we are facing is simply the limits of chemistry. There is only so much power available in certain chemical combinations/reactions. As it turns out, the combination of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in combustion (basically a high-temperature chemical reaction) is also the chemical reaction with the highest energy yield, with the advantages of compact space and low weight compared with the alternatives. Everything else, including the chemical reactions in batteries, has an extremely low energy yield by comparison.

    We are talking basic physics here, and there’s not much you can do to change that.

  12. Ben
    Dec 31st, 2010 at 06:43

    This was from the Washington Post yesterday. Articles like this make you really wonder about the intelligence of a great part of the population. If gas does rise to $5 per gallon in 2012 or before then, you can bet these manly-men who buy these huge SUVs and trucks will be the first to complain about high gas prices.

    SUVs lead U.S. auto sales growth despite efforts to improve fuel efficiency

    By Peter Whoriskey
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 29, 2010; 10:01 PM

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Well the article nailed it.. Americans are just big overgrown seven-year olds !! We want our big toy concept truck extended long bed extra cab that gets a whopping 14 miles a gallon.. what will happen when the gas goes to five dollars a gallon is Obama will get total blame for it from the fox news media and the rest of that crowd.. hell even last time they did not blame Bush or his crony buddies they blame the liberals and environmentalists for not having allowed offshore drilling and Alaska.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Actually five dollar a gallon gas at this point in time would be a disaster for Obama possibly leading to his defeat and then again that’s just what the far right would like to see nevermind that its terrible for the current economic system. Losing Obama for second term would have huge implications for future funding of high-speed rail. Today’s American mindset and culture is a knee-jerk reaction.. Five dollar a gallon gas will result in some insane oil industry giveaway tax break to increase domestic oil production which of course is nowhere near capable of sustaining our huge oil demand . Republicans in the House and possibly the Oval Office will have no long-term funding to reduce oil use with transit and high-speed rail.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You neednt worry. No matter how bad Obama is, the GOP can find someone even worse to run against him. 2012 should be an assured Republican victory if they hadn’t turned so completely crazy.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A thought came to me–who’s buying these big SUVs? It can’t be teens and other younger ones; as a rule, they don’t have the jobs or the money, and there’s that generational shift, too. Ditto for laid off people and people on the edge. Maybe some businessmen who actually use these things on the job (i.e., tradesmen such as plumbers and carpenters), but for most of them work is pretty slow now as well.

    In short, who has money and enthusiasm? Sounds like the grey crowd again, around 60 or so, or at least that portion of it with money.

    Alternately, are these all private sales–or are there fleet sales in there as well, say to utilities that also use these vehicles for maintenance jobs?

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Well I still think it’s a lot of today’s American culture … I was back home last summer the younger single mom with two kids had just purchased some giant whopping extended cab truck that probably cost 35 or 40 grand..WHY??? She is not in the construction business she manages a restaurant. Americans are willing to spend up to 40 of 45% of their income to taken care of these baby semi trucks instead of saving their money.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Meant to say the my parents next door neighbor the young single mom!!

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The marketing professionals have been very successful in leveraging the feeling of security in driving a truck disguised as a car into an explicit misperception that they are much safer, and so a responsible parent drives their kids around in an SUV.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Bah! I remember having to rent a vehicle to attend a staff meeting in Charleston, W.Va., because my own wasn’t available (my wife needed it for the job she had at the time), and two things I remember about this enormous Dodge I got stuck with was its thirst, and how I had to be careful with it on curves. This was on the West Virginia Turnpike approaching Cabin Creek, which was originally built in 1952, with an allignment that still includes restricted curves sharp enough to make your tires howl at 50 to 55 mph, with trucks restricted to 40. If you’ve ever driven this road, you can see why those curves are still there; you would have to move whole mountainsides and build amazing bridges to straighten the route. As it was, I didn’t even dare go that fast on those curves.

    Security in case of a collision? Why do you want to hit anything? And how much is that truck going to protect you if you hit one of those huge coal trucks we have around here that dwarf your SUV? Bah! Phooey! Baloney!

    As it is, the rebuilding that was done took a lot of the fun out of this turnpike. This included a steep downhill approach to a tunnel over a bridge, followed by a right curve coming out of the tunnel, all still on a steep downgrade–and at the time, the road was only two lanes, with two way traffic in the tunnel! I think it was fun because I had better eyes then. . .and I think other drivers were better, too. . .

    Spokker Reply:

    Well, in car vs light truck/SUV collisions, the person is the car is much more likely to die than the person in the light truck or SUV. Of course, this doesn’t make these vehicles any “safer.” I actually see a kind of selfishness in driving an SUV. You become a much bigger danger to others on the road.

    John Burrows Reply:

    When I drive our Honda I’m Dr. Jekyll.
    In my old F-150 I’m Mr. Hyde.

    Spokker Reply:

    I’ve driven all manner of trucks and SUVs and I don’t quite get what the appeal is.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I had fun driving big pick-ups, some with four-wheel drive, when I worked for a TV cable company. Interestingly, in the vehicle fleet of the time, only one was air conditioned, two had power brakes, and none had power steering or automatic transmissions. One had a manual choke. Only one had a V-8 in it, and it had so much weight with the gear it carried, including a man bucket, it was anything but a hot rod.

    For me, the fun came in using this gear with precision on the job. In a way, this is part of the appeal of watching towboat pilots on the Ohio maneuver their barges and boats through river locks, or of watching railroaders at work. Both of those professions move big things with little power relative to the job; you can hear both towboats and locomotives strain at their jobs, yet the job also requires skill to put large objects like barges and boxcars right where they need to go.

    On my driving job with the cable company, this included meeting the challenges of driving very smoothly at low speed with a man in that bucket, with the bucket extended, and of driving in snow and ice when nothing else would move, again a job requiring not blazing speed but good control and a gentle touch. I was the only driver with the company at the time who was decent at back up moves with a cable trailer, using just the mirrors like the big truck drivers do; everyone else would uncouple the trailer and manhandle it into position because they couldn’t back it with the truck. I’ll also mention all this was relatively short trips that did not tire you out like long drives of hours do, and the best driving was on country roads or even off road, where you did not have to deal with traffic or idiots. As it was, the idiots still sometimes would search us out, or so it seemed. With manual brakes, manual steering, manual transmissions, and a lot of weight relative to capacity, you just couldn’t do things too fast, and you learned to try to keep plenty of distance around you at all times, as well as anticipate an potential trouble. That was something the idiots never seemed to understand.

    I’ve had enough close calls, then and since, along with enough money wasted on gas and enough time wasted in traffic, that I’m ready for the end of the auto age.

    Could I have a post without a link? Nah. . .

    A PR film from the Norfolk & Western, from about 1949 or 1950, featuring the freight service, and how the N&W fulfilled its slogan as being a firm producing “Precision Transportation,” with its manifest trains running with the skill used for passenger service, and the precision of its civil and mechanical engineering departments as well . . .

  13. swing hanger
    Dec 31st, 2010 at 20:39

    Cars=extension of Americans’ egos. Unfortunately many adult men and women still have the mentality of 13 year old boys in this respect.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Or compensating for body parts that don’t extend enough…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I don’t have my copy of John Keats’ “The Insolent Chariots” in front of me, so I’m working from memory, but if my head is straight on this, this was actually a “concern” of auto stylists in the 1950s. As I recall Keats describing it, some auto stylist got upset at some auto design, specifically the front end, actually saying something along the lines of “Its penis is drooping.” I am discreet enough not to normally bring this up, but that was in there.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A bit on the author:

    Suburban sprawl was a concern to Keats in 1956, as recounted in “The Crack In The Picture Window:”

    Have fun.

    Spokker Reply:

    Actually, cell phones are becoming an extension of Americans’ egos, especially among the young people.

    iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and well, we’ll be nice and put Windows Phone in there. They try so hard.

    jay taylor Reply:

    I have to disagree. I am a car nerd, and love my car.But I get it when it comes to mass transit.
    I just wish there was a way that I didn’t have to put so many miles on it in the daily grind, and save the car for track days which I love.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “I just wish there was a way that I didn’t have to put so many miles on it in the daily grind, and save the car for track days which I love.”–Jay Taylor

    This is essentially the argument I tried to make for a light rail line in West Virginia. Sadly, most of the people in charge couldn’t “get it,” at least 20 years ago, and not just here, but everywhere. That’s why we are going to be stuck again when gas hits $5 per gallon, and then “everyone” will blame those “evil liberals” for no drilling or some other reason.

    Sometimes I wish I could move to New Zealand or Australia or somewhere; my country seems to have a collective case of dementia, as if everyone is down with something like Alzhiemers. . .

  14. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 1st, 2011 at 00:51

    Off topic, but a little “foam” for Nathaniel, a recent discussion of the reasons for GG-1 retirements from Railway Preservation News, with some comments about the replacements still not being quite up to what the old motors were:

  15. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 1st, 2011 at 18:53

    Another nostalgia trip–but this one is not a ride on a glamorous American streamliner.

    I’ve commented before how I think in many we we are in a war situation, but are not behaving like it, and had some material about what people did without in the war years, including no candy, no booze, short rations of meat, and with most people limited to four gallons of gasoline per week (later reduced to three, all of this to conserve rubber).

    This last item meant a lot of traffic that moved by road and air (both freight and passenger) and also by ship (coastal shipping was decimated by German submarines, including oil shipments from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast), was shifted to railroads. It did not help that a lot of rail equipment was old and due for replacement, but had not been because of the preceeding depression.

    This huge increase in traffic was carried by a rail system in what many would consider a heroic effort, and which some say still stands as the railroad industry’s finest hour. These video clips are from that time, and I hope they help us see some of what we may need to do today in the face of peak oil.

    It was recently mentioned about how the military, particularly the Army, has had long experience in rail transportation. Here, is an Army instructional film illustrating the action of Railway Operating Batallions, both in action and in training, the latter at Camp Claiborne, La.:

    To be continued:

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    (coastal shipping was decimated by German submarines, including oil shipments from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast), was shifted to railroads.

    Oil was eventually “shipped” by pipeline – the Big Inch and Little Big Inch which are still in use.

  16. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 1st, 2011 at 19:36

    The heroic effort of the railroad industry in WW II included troop movements, illustrated here by a vintage Army film:

    Finally, a glimpse of things just before the storm–a New Haven promotional film from 1942, illustrating its freight and passenger operations, steam and electric power, and repair and intermodal facilities.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I would not normally have added this after the other nostalgia films today (danger of overkill), but this one is interesting in that its early segments illustrate how the early promoters of the Chicago & North Western had to deal with doubters and a touch of NIMBYism too–in 1848, in Chicago:

    Oh, and Yes On will appreciate the views of this road’s streamliners that were in service in 1948, including views of some prewar trains still running then in a joint operation via the Union Pacific to the west coast.

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