Drawing the Right Lessons From Spain

Jan 22nd, 2012 | Posted by

The Fresno Bee’s Tim Sheehan has published another entry in his series on Spanish high speed rail, this one focusing on HSR’s impact on farms and smaller mid-line cities. It’s much more useful for his Fresno audience, although the article is syndicated around the state. This article, in contrast to his previous article on HSR in Spain, has much more useful insights on the topic and how it relates to California. At times, as before, his preconceptions limit his insights and, therefore, what we can actually learn from his reporting. And he still seems determined to argue that HSR in Spain isn’t an economic success, mainly due to the fact that he quotes academic critics of HSR but never academic supporters. Still, his article is an improvement.

Sheehan’s discussion of the Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) trains’ impact on farmland is very useful, although as before Sheehan does not necessarily draw the lessons from what he sees and hears:

On a crisp fall Saturday morning, Luis Valciente and Mercedes Martin enjoy the quiet of their farm about 20 miles northeast of Seville.

The retired husband and wife bought their patch of land in 1987, several years before Spain’s first high-speed trains started running between Madrid and Seville.

“It’s very tranquil, which is what we like after all these years,” Martin says through an interpreter.

Without warning, a loud “swoosh” briefly interrupts the couple’s conversation with a reporter. Within seconds, the noise subsides, and the couple picks up the chat, unruffled, right where they left off….

The AVE trains speed by the small farmstead several times an hour, “and it hasn’t affected us at all,” Valciente said.

“We don’t even feel them,” added Martin. Even though their house is so near the tracks, she said, the high-speed trains create no wind turbulence and are less bothersome than the slower-moving regional commuter trains because noise from the AVE trains passes so quickly.

Because conventional trains were already there when Valciente bought the farm, he doesn’t think the AVE trains affected his property value, and if the neighbors have any complaints, he says he hasn’t heard them.

This is a pretty insightful experience right here, but Sheehan misses its significance. He talks later about how the HSR tracks were engineered to have less impact on farmland, and we’ll discuss that in a moment. But the key lesson right here is, and I’ll bold it because it is very important, high speed rail isn’t as disruptive as some Californians claim it will be.

This conversation that Sheehan has with the couple is one that, to hear NIMBYs tell it, will never be able to happen again anywhere near the HSR route. They’re convinced that HSR will destroy their quality of life, although nobody Sheehan has talked to in Spain appears to believe those fears have become real in their experience. Sheehan, therefore, has exposed a pretty big flaw in NIMBY reasoning. It would be nice if he had called that out.

But his focus was instead on how HSR was engineered to have less impact on farmland, and it’s true that Spain took steps to do that. And Sheehan, to his credit, points out that the California HSR project proposes to do the same:

In Spain, the government worked with farmers from the outset to head off such concerns, said Pedro Pérez del Campo, environmental policy director for ADIF, the government-owned company that runs the track system.

“It’s in our interest to make it easier for the farmers,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. Pérez del Campo said the first priority is to make sure that farmers whose properties are divided by the tracks can still reach the other side of their land.

“About every 500 meters, there is the ability to pass from one side of the rail to the other,” he said. “We are obligated that if the rails were to cross your property, we have to give you the ability to cross.”

That access doesn’t come cheap. To prevent collisions, bridges and tunnels carry roads over or under the line. There are no at-grade crossings. Likewise, California proposes to build its high-speed line without at-grade crossings but with bridges and underpasses for selected roads and streets. It’s not clear yet how many crossings would be provided for farms in the Central Valley.

If building a bridge or tunnel for a farmer is too complicated, Pérez del Campo said, it can be cheaper for ADIF to pay more than the land is worth to simply buy the remnant parcel from the owner. That eliminates the need for the farmer to cross.

Pérez del Campo was adamant that the train system hasn’t hurt farming: ‘Especially in the wine industry, which is very important to Spain’s economy, if there were an issue, we would know by now.

If I were Sheehan’s editor at the Bee, I’d suggest that his next article be a follow-up on this very topic, examining exactly how it is that California HSR is going to be engineered and designed to address farmland impacts. He might even seek out the truth and determine whether the criticisms coming from Kings County farmers are accurate. He would also do well to examine the fact that addressing the impacts to farmers increases the cost of building the system, setting up a conflict between the two groups of HSR critics – the NIMBY types (I include farmers here) and the people who believe against all evidence that spending money in a recession is somehow a bad thing.

Sheehan also discussed briefly the impact of high speed rail on cities. Here again he missed a rather important point of comparison: that the way Spain built its high speed lines in urban areas is very, very similar to how California plans to build its high speed rail:

In larger Spanish cities such as Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Cordova and Barcelona, stations for high-speed trains are in already-developed central-city commercial districts, often near existing train stations to minimize disruptions. In Barcelona, preservationists’ fears about a train tunnel under the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia forced extensive and expensive engineering measures to avoid damaging the iconic church.

Merchants doing business near the stations generally say high-speed rail is good for commerce, even when they are unsure if it has directly helped their own stores and restaurants.

Stations for California HSR will also be in already-developed central-city commercial districts. In fact, they will in most cases be built as part of existing train stations, in order to minimize disruptions. And the results are positive. Merchants tend to be a fussy bunch, whether they’re in North America or Europe, highly sensitive to perceived impacts on their business. If they are convinced that HSR is good for their bottom line, then there’s a good chance they’re right. If it wasn’t good, they would not be shy about saying so.

One of the key discussions in the article is HSR’s impact on smaller mid-line cities. I criticized Sheehan last week for not discussing that in his first article, so it’s good that he covers the topic in the new article. However, Sheehan only talked to critics of HSR’s impact on smaller cities, and did not speak to those who believe its impact to be positive, meaning Sheehan doesn’t tell his readers that there are indeed a lot of people who believe HSR is a benefit to the smaller mid-line cities:

In Ciudad Real, a city of 75,000 people about 100 miles south of Madrid, hotel beds and hotel stays more than doubled between 1990 and 2007. The city’s population also grew at a much faster rate than the rest of Spain during the same period.

Renfe, the government-owned company that operates the AVE trains, said high-speed trains have made it easier for students and professors to commute to Ciudad Real’s University of Castilla-La Mancha and for people in the town to commute daily to Madrid for work….

But academic researchers, including Chris Nash of England’s University of Leeds, say it’s difficult to measure the effects of high-speed rail on commerce, employment, and the economies of cities and regions. Most of Spain’s high-speed lines are too new to have made a significant mark. And experts are still looking for ways to distinguish the influence of high-speed trains from other economic factors–especially when stations are built in already-established city centers.

“The issue of wider economic benefits remains one of the hardest to tackle,” Nash wrote in a 2009 International Transport Forum article. “Such benefits could be significant, but vary significantly from case to case, so an in-depth study of each case is required.”

This is a fair conclusion, but Sheehan goes further to spin HSR’s impact as being negative:

[Germà] Bel, a professor of political economics at the University of Barcelona, said it’s much more likely that smaller cities along the line between Madrid and the larger destinations suffer economically because most of the travel and commerce by residents flows to the big cities.

“High-speed rail encourages the centralization of activities in the large hubs, especially in the services sector,” Bel wrote in a new book on infrastructure economics to be published this year. “The primary hubs of the network–more dynamic–can benefit at the expense of intermediary cities, which are usually the big losers of high-speed rail. For this reason, the efforts by many smaller-sized cities to get high-speed rail stations can be unfruitful and even counterproductive.”

Bel simplified his ideas in an interview at his university office. “If you are the small guy, you get sucked. Most of the trips go to the big hubs, not to the small cities,” he said.

Not everybody in Spain shares this bleak assessment. In 2009 the Wall Street Journal looked at Ciudad Real and heard much more positive things about the impact of high speed rail:

Perhaps the most striking example is Ciudad Real, a scrappy town 120 miles south of Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha which, [José María Ureña, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of Castilla-La Mancha] says, “had completely vanished from the map.” In medieval times, the town was a key stopover point on the route between the two of most important cities of the time, Córdoba and Toledo. But the railway and the highway south later bypassed the town, and Ciudad Real began to wither.

Now it has an AVE station that puts it just 50 minutes away from Madrid, and Ciudad Real has come alive. The city has attracted a breed of daily commuters that call themselves “Avelinos.” The AVE helped attract a host of industries to Ciudad Real, and the train is full in both directions.

Indra, an information technology company, moved a “software factory” to Ciudad Real a decade ago. “Along with the University, the AVE was one of the key reasons we moved here,” says Ángel Villodre, the director of the center.

The University of Castilla-La Mancha’s campus here has grown sharply in size and importance. “The school is here because of the AVE,” says Mr. Menéndez, the department head. “Without it, it would be impossible to attract the high-level staff we need.”

Those are pretty important impacts to Ciudad Real that Sheehan didn’t examine. Instead, following Bel’s lead, Sheehan argues that Fresno might not thrive with high speed rail:

“If you want to go to San Francisco for a theater performance or a concert, you could jump on the train and be back that night,” he said. “And more people will start coming here. The Save Mart Center (at CSU Fresno) is one of the most-used concert venues on the West Coast these days. People will be coming to Fresno to do stuff.”

But Bel has his doubts. “In California, nobody in San Francisco is going to travel to Fresno to buy things,” he said. “From time to time, somebody from Los Angeles will travel to Bakersfield. But they will not be going every weekend to Bakersfield.”

Bel may be doubtful, but other urban scholars like Richard Florida argue that HSR is essential for bringing places like Fresno into the urban clusters, much like freeways brought places like Santa Clara County into the San Francisco urban cluster 50-60 years ago:

Instead of further encouraging the growth of an auto-housing-suburban complex, the government should promote those forces that are subtly causing the shift away from it. Chief among these are the creation of inter-connected mega-regions, like the Boston-Washington corridor and the Char-lanta region (Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh Durham) and ten or so more across the United States. Concentration and clustering are the underlying motor forces of real economic development. As Jane Jacobs identified and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Lucas later formalized, clustering speeds the transmission of new ideas, increases the underlying productivity of people and firms, and generates the diversity required for new ideas to fertilize and turn into new innovations and new industries.

In fact, the key to understanding America’s historic ability to respond to great economic crises lies in what economic geographers call the “spatial fix”—the creation of new development patterns, new ways of living and working, and new economic landscapes that simultaneously expand space and intensify our use of it. Our rebound after the panic of 1873 and long downturn was forged by the transition from an agricultural nation to an urban-industrial one organized around great cities. Our recovery from the Great Depression saw the rise of massive metropolitan complexes of cities and suburbs, which again intensified and expanded our use of space. Renewed prosperity hinges on the rise of yet another even more massive and more intensive geographic pattern—the mega-region. These new geographic entities are larger than the sum of their parts; they not only produce but consume, spurring further demand….

That means high-speed rail, which is the only infrastructure fix that promises to speed the velocity of moving people, goods, and ideas while also expanding and intensifying our development patterns. If the government is truly looking for a shovel-ready infrastructure project to invest in that will create short-term jobs across the country while laying a foundation for lasting prosperity, high-speed rail works perfectly. It is central to the redevelopment of cities and the growth of mega-regions and will do more than anything to wean us from our dependency on cars. High-speed rail may be our best hope for revitalizing the once-great industrial cities of the Great Lakes. By connecting declining places to thriving ones—Milwaukee and Detroit to Chicago, Buffalo to Toronto—it will greatly expand the economic options and opportunities available to their residents. And by providing the connective fibers within and between America’s emerging mega-regions, it will allow them to function as truly integrated economic units.

Sheehan doesn’t discuss this, in part because these ideas are taboo for modern American journalism. Why that’s the case isn’t exactly clear. Perhaps it’s because many journalists see themselves as defenders of the status quo. Or maybe it’s because the average age of a newspaper reader is 55, and many (though thankfully not all) people of that age are currently among the most resistant to change in America. Whatever the case, the notion that HSR can and has brought a lot of benefits, and that new ways of arranging the state’s urban and economic geography are necessary for future prosperity, are just not looked on very kindly by reporters these days.

In fact, a dose of common sense can show us why Ciudad Real’s success is likely to translate to Fresno and Bakersfield. HSR has turned Ciudad Real into three things: a bedroom city for Madrid, a university hub, and a desirable place to do business. By being located an hour or so away from the Bay Area (in Fresno’s case) and LA (in Bakersfield’s case) via HSR, those San Joaquin Valley cities are poised to repeat all three of Ciudad Real’s successes.

Both cities have lower property values than the coastal metropolises, which will prove attractive to workers in the coming decades. After all, we saw the concept of the Valley serving as bedroom community to the coast proven during the ’00s when Stockton, Tracy and Manteca became bedroom communities for the Bay Area. The rising price of oil stopped that from continuing and helped touch off the wave of foreclosures in that area. But HSR, powered by electricity, has more stable and predictable operating costs, making it easier to support commuters.

Both Fresno and Bakersfield already have universities, but HSR can make those universities even more significant as nodes of research and innovation. HSR can make those schools more attractive locations for top faculty members, as it closes the distance between the Valley and the coastal metropolises. It’s easier to recruit and keep faculty if you can explain that downtown San Francisco or Los Angeles are just an hour’s train ride away rather than a four or five hour car trip. And HSR makes it easier for top students to be willing to live in the Valley, as they would much more easily be able to visit family and friends on the coasts. Of course, it’s also possible, perhaps likely, that HSR would transform Fresno and Bakersfield and make them more desirable centers of culture and social activity.

Finally, it makes sense that HSR would play a big role in attracting businesses to Fresno and Bakersfield. Land values are cheaper there, and so are salaries. A startup based in San José or LA could rent factory or industrial space in the Valley at an affordable rate and employ local workers much more easily than they could now, since HSR closes the temporal and spatial gaps that currently keep coastal and inland metropolises apart.

There’s no guarantee that any of those things will happen, of course. But the case of Ciudad Real shows they are plausible. Nobody expects Bay Area residents to get their fashions in Fresno rather than in Union Square. Fresno, however, could be a place where they take classes, start a business, or maybe even purchase a home.

So while I’m glad that Sheehan touched on the Ciudad Real story, it’s also unfortunate that he did so in an incomplete and uneven way, without showing the full story or publishing what the supporters have to say about the example.

  1. Alon Levy
    Jan 22nd, 2012 at 18:41

    It sounds like a good article (shocking, I know), but there’s one major omission: costs. The Sants-Sagrera tunnel, with all the expensive shoring-up to protect La Sagrada Familia, cost significantly less per kilometer than the above-ground BART to Livermore on 580 proposal ($50 vs. 150 million).

    Another annoying thing about the article is the mention of Buffalo-Toronto. The border between the US and Canada isn’t open enough for HSR to do much; when border controls take 20 minutes at the fastest, increasing in-motion train speed can’t be all that important.

    If I lived in Providence longer I’d try to use the city’s ample-by-US-standards connection to Boston as a way of investigating how much revitalization actually comes out of intercity rail. Alas, all I can do is guess based on very rough data like per capita income.

    joe Reply:

    What about the UK economic geography study? They looked at the impact of HSR on towns in Germany and had a controlled experimental design.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, they did not. They did not compare regions; they compared small towns with stations. In particular, there’s nothing in that study that can separate the conclusion “HSR promotes economic development” from the conclusion “HSR is net neutral for development but concentrates it around station areas.”

    StevieB Reply:

    Concentrating development around station areas thereby reducing sprawl and revitalizing urban centers is a definite plus.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It might be the case in Bakersfield and Fresno. But sometimes the urban centers benefit at the expense of unserved urban centers nearby. For example, under the second theory, HSR in Providence would concentrate development around the station area in Smith Hill, at the expense of secondary cities such as Woonsocket and Pawtucket, and maybe also at the expense of secondary job centers within Providence such as the Jewelry District (put another way: instead of expanding to the south, the CBD would expand to the north).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Addendum: under the first-and-a-half theory, in which HSR helps development in served regions at the expense of unserved regions, Providence as a whole would grow, at the expense of Hartford. Under the first theory, Providence plus Hartford plus Worcester plus New Haven plus Springfield would see net growth, regardless of which of those get HSR and which don’t.

    joe Reply:

    I’m sorry Alon but the strength of the article is the experimental design allowed for a control and treatment; it is a comparison between similar towns before and after HSR.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The weakness of the article is that it zooms in too much, on small towns. You can do before and after comparisons on larger regions, too, and the evidence there (from the Tohoku region) is decidedly mixed.

    joe Reply:

    The article’s purpose is concise. It demonstrates economic benefit in a well controlled study.
    That’s not a weakness.

    You can do before and after comparisons on larger regions, and the evidence there (from the Tohoku region) is decidedly mixed.

    Well we know from the UK study that there is a statistically demonstrated, positive economic benefit.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The article’s purpose is to look at small towns.

    You know, “study says!” is not what someone who’s interested in a discussion says. Someone who cares about a discussion listens to criticisms. He reads other studies. The criticisms can be wrong; he will be able to explain why, rather than just repetitively says “study says!” over and over. That’s the domain of the thinktank advocate, the one who is just trying to find evidence for a preordainted conclusion.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Excuse egregious typo in the penultimate word.

    Jonathan Reply:


    a factor of 3 less is more than “significant”: BART extensions are costing 3x per km what Spain pays for true high-speed rail with expensive tunneling. That seems scandalous, on the face of it.

    But BART extensions tend to fold in the cost of some new trainsets, as BART doesn’t have any excess capacity. Is that factored into your cost-per-km? Even so, the “excess” over Spanish costs for 10km , at $100m per km, is one *billion8 dollars…..

    where’s all that money going? Massive amounts of concrete?
    And isn’t it a fairly close match in cost-per-km for van Ark’s HSR route?

    Clem Reply:

    Maybe the discrepancy is in overheads. Do the Spanish figures include:

    10 – 25% contingency?
    3% environmental mitigation?
    6% engineering design?
    3% program management?
    4% construction management?
    4% mobilization?

    This is only scratching the very surface of the problem. Then you have hugely inflated scope, mostly. Stuff that is taller, deeper, bigger, wider, longer, thicker, etc. than it actually needs to be to fulfill its purpose. For the budget currently being discussed, you could probably build a basic, cost-effective HSR system in California, and then use the $30 billion left over to pour thousands of outrigger / straddle bents in long rows in the Mojave desert, to be preserved in future millennia like a modern Carnac.

    Jonathan Reply:

    I doubt the costs in Spain include 10%-25% contingency, because the tunnel-boring machine finished six months ago, next Tuesday ;)

    Nathanael Reply:

    The contingency numbers on US projects have gotten absolutely ridiculous. This is apparently driven by Bush-era regulations.

    I believe the purpose was to deal with “Big Dig” style overruns, but the result has been that every project which is even half-decently managed is coming in significantly under budget.

    (Yes, this indicts the NYC projects, which aren’t.)

    William Reply:

    One thing I heard of other countries but not so much in the US: construction companies went bankrupt and leave jobs half-finished.

    Also, in some of the countries cited for low construction cost, does the government shoulder some liability? Or that in the US the contractors need to shoulder most if not all the liability?

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    What are you talking about? In the US, it is always the government that pays when projects have change orders.

    William Reply:

    No, I meant more of the “risk” part, such as accidents, unforeseen geological situation, etc…
    i.e. who pay for tunnel cave-ins, bridge collapse, etc… during construction?

    Worker-Comp, Health-Care might also factor into this as well…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The agency pays for changes and unforeseen complications, based on a schedule of unit costs that it agrees on with the contractors before work starts.

    Tom McNamara Reply:


    The only way you solve that problem is by getting the federal government to clamp down on defense contractors. PB and others are always going to act as you say if the federal government doesn’t have effective cost controls. A great book to read is “The Wastrels of Defense” by Winslow Wheeler.

    Your grief isn’t caused by corruption, or greed, or ________, it’s caused by monopsony….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Jonathan: I try as much as possible to exclude rolling stock from cost per km numbers I use; the reason is that my original goal was to compare the world to New York, which gets rolling stock for below-average cost, rather than to the Bay Area, which gets expensive rolling stock. I believe that the headline numbers coming out of Spain exclude rolling stock, too.

    That said, rolling stock doesn’t make that much of a difference. At present-day BART speeds, the Livermore extension would probably require just two extra trainsets.

    Mike Brennan Reply:

    That blurb about mega-regions and HSR connecting Toronto to the US is from a Richard Florida book, not from the Fresno Bee article. If only their reporting was that progressive..

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Florida is really a libertarian. As such, he’s not sympathetic with antediluvian wing of the GOP, but he’s also not what you would call a progressive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    He’s a neo-lib more than a libertarian. There’s very little in what he says about reducing government size or scope – it’s all Thomas Friedman-style boosterism, fluff stories about how what cities are doing today is just fine and they need not worry about deep social problems, and cool maps.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Mega-Meg would not have fired Van Ark.

    I am reminded of RR, whose Alzheimers was not conceded until years later. Rubber-stamp anything his handlers put on his desk(Iran-Contra)and substitute slogans for substance.

    Yeah, it’s “Morning in California” allright – for PB, the Chandlers and Palmdale speculators.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And what makes you think Mega-Meg wouldn’t have been manipulated by her handlers the same way …..every other Republican is…

    synonymouse Reply:

    She is a tycoon in her own right. She would not be afraid of other big money, no matter how old.

    She can read a map – evidently Jerry is too old for that.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Jerry is old money, at least what passes for old money in California.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Puhleez – nothing on the order of the Chandlers – Barons of Tejon. Even a public figure as gready and sketchy as Donald Trump would combine the common sense and the cojones to fell the Chandlers and Villaraigosa to go **** themselves. They are still getting great deal with the Quamtm tunnels and the very well positioned station at Santa Clarita. Palmdale is off route and properly belongs on an LA better version of BART.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Try greedy. Sorry

    Nathanael Reply:

    Nobody fired Van Ark. The scuttlebutt says he was trying to resign for months.

    synonymouse Reply:

    cover story – NDA

  2. joe
    Jan 22nd, 2012 at 20:09

    Finally, it makes sense that HSR would play a big role in attracting businesses to Fresno and Bakersfield. Land values are cheaper there, and so are salaries. A startup based in San José or LA could rent factory or industrial space in the Valley at an affordable rate and employ local workers much more easily than they could now, since HSR closes the temporal and spatial gaps that currently keep coastal and inland metropolises apart.

    CARRD, I read here, argued the opposite in Bakersfield. That HSR would allow companies to transfer jobs to a central location. It’s laughable if not said in seriousness by a self proclaimed neutral advocate. Next the CV should rip up 152 and barricade 580 and 99 to save jobs.

    CA is split with the “haves” not wanting the “have less” to derive any benefit from HSR in the near term. The sense is the coastal areas have location, location, location to prop up property values and status quo.

    HSR to San Jose is under an hour, Palo Alto is closer than Gilroy.

  3. JJJ
    Jan 22nd, 2012 at 20:19

    Also in the Bee toay, a half page a by the Fresno Tea Party, asking the mayor to not support HSR

  4. synonymouse
    Jan 22nd, 2012 at 21:00

    Earth to hsr foamers: coastal richies, yuppies, trendies are not going to relocate to the Valley. The only reason they might be interested in the San Joaquin Valley is because it is a cheap place to relocate the facilities where the “lower level employees” work. Add expensive amenities like hsr which drive up values will only motivate them to to relocate the back offices, warehouses, etc. to cheaper venues out of state.

    Compare Stilt-A-Rail to the Spanish hsr system and what do you remark immediately – the moronic undead braindead Tehachapi detour which the Spanish would never build. The CHSRA scheme is a money-loser which goes in the welfare budget. It is just another entitlement.

    Greece’s day of default is theoretically March 20. The EC has to come up with a deal by that deadline. The immediate bone of contention is the interest rate on rescue funding but clearly the deeper issue ls how bad a haircut the creditors are going to take. Default or no default it is going to be ugly and a so-called “orderly” default is useless; it has to be a panicky default to accomplish anything.

    Once the magnitude of the creditors’ losses becomes clear scrutiny will be directed to all the welfare states running a deficit. California will be right up there on the list as the wealthy of Beverly Hills will refuse to bankroll Jerry and Nancy’s dream act bs.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Dear Synonymouse,

    a default would be a disaster. If Greece defaults, that will trigger the credit-default swaps, which means all the banks who hedged other banks’ loads to Greece may go under. Ka-boom, European economy goes belly-up. The US will take a hit, too.

    That’s why the EU cut a deal for the creditors to take a _voluntary_ haircut.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You mean like what Don Corleone said to Johnny Fontane’s bandleader: “either your signature will be on the contract or your brains”

    Forcing a huge loss on the creditors will also produce a disaster but that is not so apparent.

    The EC has some real problems. A victory for Francois Hollande and the PS would, I assume, would increase the likelihood of disagreement between France and Germany. Italy has an internal unity problem with the Mafia, Camorra, etc. undermining programs in the mezzogiorno. I mean the funds for maintaining Pompeii and Herculaneum invaluable sites and simply collecting the rifiuti are being siphoned off. I suggest that the EC should basically consist of France and Germany as De Gaulle understood.

    Nathanael Reply:


    You really don’t understand anything about European economics or politics. You’re right about Hollande, but the fact is that *all* of Europe is turning against Merkel. Including Germany, which will probably throw the Christian Democrats into the dustbin of history in 2014.

    The underlying problem in both the US and Europe is the criminal zombie banks. So far nobody has seriously tried to fix this problem except Iceland (which succeeded) and Sweden (which dealt with it in the 1990s). Everything will just stagger along until someone’s willing to get rid of the criminal executives who turned their banks into zombies.

    Peter Reply:

    “Including Germany, which will probably throw the Christian Democrats into the dustbin of history in 2014.”

    They’ve basically already done that with the FDP.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yep, and the FDP has also disintegrated as the members with integrity realized their entire economic platform was a disaster and resigned.

    On the Staat level, the Christian Democrats and FDP are getting slaughtered electorally, but the thing is, the timing of the national elections is such that the national election won’t come until 2014, unless Christian Democrats start fleeing like rats and vote no confidence in Merkel.

    At the moment, an enormous amount of Europe’s fate hangs on the timing of particular elections in various countries. Sort of odd, but there you go.

    thatbruce Reply:


    Compare Stilt-A-Rail to the Spanish hsr system and what do you remark immediately – the moronic undead braindead Tehachapi detour which the Spanish would never build.

    Did the Spanish HSR system have the opportunity to build a detour? Are there any places where the Spanish HSR network bypassed a population center in favor of drilling lengthy tunnels through geologically unstable terrain ?

    It’s a bit hard to say that they wouldn’t do it, if the geography of the situation wasn’t comparable.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Van Ark had already worked up the alignment the Spanish would use and was fired for it. This is strictly a political problem but which has a profoundly negative impact on hsr viability.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Like most of the negative posters on this blog, your response does not answer the question as posed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB had already identified the optimal route but it was nixed by Brown. You foamers won but it is still a shitty route. When the “authorities” and the “experts” have too much money and too much power this is the sorry excuse they come up with, just like BART. You got a new trainset but the layout sucks.

    “Only don’t tell me that you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry.”

    Jonathan Reply:

    “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

    @synon: are you aware that you still haven’t answered the question thatbruce posed?

    And as for Synon talking about “you foamers”… enough said.

    @thatbruce: good question. The Guadarrama and the Pajares are base tunnels, 28 and 24km respectively. The Perthus tunnel is 8km under the Pyrrenees. No big population centers on the top of the Sierra Guaddarama or the Pyrenee’s, not that I know of. :-). What other long expensive tunnels does AVE have?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    <Are there any places where the Spanish HSR network bypassed a population center in favor of drilling lengthy tunnels through geologically unstable terrain ?


    When will you ever tire of idenitifying with your oppressors?

    Until a month ago I was perfectly willing to believe that until a month ago “drilling lengthy tunnels through geologically unstable terrain” was a potential problem and that Palmdale was not only a defensible decision but perhaps one of the few correct ones that had been made (accidentally) in the long and sorry history of PBQD=CHSRA. (On the other hand, I’d at least read enough to not ignorantly bandy around terms like “drilling” and “lengthy”.)

    If you actually read what your overlords at PB wrote, how read laughably they sandbagged the “alternative” route, and how grotesquely they still needed to rigged their “evaluation” to get the pre-determined right answer even after handicapping the competition into oblivion, perhaps you’d be a lot less flippant about “populations centers” and “lengthy tunnels” (you’ve got this one precisely backwards!) and “geologically unstable”.

    In the real world it is “inflating project budgets by a factor of two or more through limitless unprofessionalism” which has sunk and killed this project, not geology.

    And to answer your question, Spanish HSR routes goes around rather than through pretty much every town. Spend more time looking at maps and less auditioning for a role playing Patty Hearst .

    thatbruce Reply:

    I’m in favor of avoiding Tejon because of my background in geology (they even offer majors in it, who’d’thunkit), and am honestly terrified of any critical, singular, golly-gosh-this-was-expensive infrastructure going directly over a 3-way fault junction, or worse, underground near such a junction.

    Perhaps I should have said a ‘significant population center’, which Palmdale is, vs some of the stops on the Spanish HSR network which are tiny even by Palmdale standards. Serving Palmdale is, imo, the best of a bad arrangement. Going straight from LA to the Central Valley is bad for the above reason, and on the western side of that junction, there is the extensive width of the Transverse ranges to be crossed. East side, if you’re climbing up as high as the Antelope Valley, you may as well stop there before heading down.

    I thoroughly agree with you about PB having captured the CAHSRA and being determined to extract the most money they can from this project by overbuilding where possible. At the same time, I don’t want to press the vendor reset button on the initial segment, for fear of the project stalling if the ARRA deadlines are missed. The other segments? PB can be ditched without affecting the project as a whole.

    And why on earth would you plan any HSR network to go through every town, unless the towns are de-facto suburbs of a major center that you need to service? Even PB skips the smaller towns.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I cannot comment on the details concerning any geologic factors affecting the routing of Spanish hsr. But there are definitely no doglegs on their route map; clearly they are not indulging in the luxury of detours to pick up towns.

    As to the Palmdale exceptionalism, have you never heard of the concept of a transfer? That’s what residents of, say, Simi Valley, Ventura, Santa Barbara will have to do. But you would have God loving Palmdale more than the rest.

    Both Tejon and Tehachapi are seismically active. No way to know at this juncture how quakes are going to do down but 1952 confirms that the Detour is not exempt and the Quantm route manages to cross San Andreas and Garlock at grade, the a priori stipulation.

    And yes “you foamers” – I can’t call you PB apologists anymore because clearly PB favors Tejon. The quote is from The Godfather after MIchael warns Carlo not to infuriate a Corleone with any bullshit stories. Yeah, “you foamers”, can fall for Jerry and Antonio’s Jedi mind tricks and no doubt you have won the day by dint of sheer corruption, but don’t think for a moment that the rest of us are so weak of mind as to fall for a second for their connerie degueulasse.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The number of mixed metaphors in your last paragraph is astounding.

    Seriously, though:

    1. A transfer at Palmdale would really suck. Check how curvy and steep the Metrolink route is. In fact the reason why I advocate against Bakersfield-Palmdale as an IOS is precisely that the legacy connection would suck. It’s perfectly fine to not serve Palmdale if other places, in this case Bakersfield, get better service as a result, and especially if the cost decreases.

    2. The Spanish HSR route map has some detours, but they’re fairly subtle. There’s nothing that looks as glaring as Palmdale among the routes already built, but Madrid-Barcelona is not exactly a straight line route. Under construction routes, like the one to Bilbao and the one to Alicante, are fairly kinked.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Nice comfy MCI coach or the like from Palmdale to the hsr station at Santa Clarita.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Doesn’t look like much of a dogleg if you want to go to Las Vegas. Or much of a dogleg if they build tunnels from Victorville to San Bernandino. It’s Los Angeles’ Altamont.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think it bypassed significant population centers, but the Aomori extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen included the Hakkoda Tunnel, at 26 km. The Hachinohe extension included the Iwate-Ichinohe Tunnel, also at 26 km.

    swing hanger Reply:

    The only significant population center the Aomori extension bypassed was Misawa (pop. 42,000), but that city has an airport with scheduled service to Tokyo and Osaka, so perhaps political fallout was minimal, if any. In general, shinkansen lines try to connect rather than bypass any significant population clusters, as politics and citizen/local business interests in rural areas are powerful and are invariably pro-rail. Typically, once a shinkansen line is built, the existing parallel or nearest conventional line is downgraded to local-only service and spun off as a third-sector railway, often equipped with uncomfortable 2-car EMU stock with commuter-type seating unsuitable for long distance (over 30 min) services. As the the bigger JR’s are for-profit firms, there is no mandate to provide anything but bare-bones service (i.e. basically high school students going to/from school and the elderly going to the regional hospital or shopping) on these “left-behind” lines.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Their ‘bare-bones’ service is still superior than a lot of our commuter services though ;)

    Nathanael Reply:

    Ding ding ding!

    Pecos Reply:

    Hey Mouse, “The only reason they might be interested in the San Joaquin Valley is because it is a cheap place to relocate the facilities where the “lower level employees” work. Add expensive amenities like hsr which drive up values will only motivate them to to relocate the back offices, warehouses, etc. to cheaper venues out of state.”
    That sounds like job creation to me. Not everyone works high-paying jobs like in the textile mills in China.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Uhh, come again? Up the costs and the call centers will go elsewhere. You want jobs to leave California?

    Nathanael Reply:

    You don’t understand *anything*, do you syn?

    I really can’t spend time going through all your mistakes. I follow the global financial crisis because my living depends on it, and your statements are so confused I can’t even call them wrong, they’re practically incoherent. I don’t even know where to start with your confused ideas.

    Here’s a start: the key problem in the Eurozone lies in Germany and Merkel’s “punish the periphery” madness, not in Greece. The collapse of Greek debt will have no effect on American debt, because the big investment flows are all related to the currency trade. The collapse of Greek debt will not be the event which collapses the zombie banks, because it’s the one they’ve been watching for. Therefore everything will just stagger onward after a Greek default. It’s only a subsequent event in Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, the UK, or somewhere else like that, which will cause anything interesting to happen.

  5. Max Wyss
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 01:16

    About noise impact: it has been an old wisdom in Europe that if you live along a railroad line with reasonable level of traffic, you no longer hear the trains… in fact, you are more alerted when you DON’T the trains. The discussion about impact reminds me of the discussions there apparently were in the 1830s, when they claimed that the high speed of the trains make cow milks go sour and other serious effects…

    About impact on towns: If it may be a bit difficult to assign the effect of HSR in cities like Ciudad Real (or Fresno, or Bakersfield), a negative effect can and will be found in towns which are left out. There is, of course a temporary negative effect during the construction phase. Therefore, it would be the very best to keep this phase as short as possible.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “The discussion about impact reminds me of the discussions there apparently were in the 1830s, when they claimed that the high speed of the trains make cow milks go sour and other serious effects…”

    Sure does.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And don’t forget, when they started building the railroad from almost-New York to Philadelphia, there were posters in Philadelphia warning that it would make the city into a suburb of New York.

  6. Tom McNamara
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 08:35

    Chief among these are the creation of inter-connected mega-regions, like the Boston-Washington corridor and the Char-lanta region (Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh Durham) and ten or so more across the United States. Concentration and clustering are the underlying motor forces of real economic development. As Jane Jacobs identified and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Lucas later formalized, clustering speeds the transmission of new ideas, increases the underlying productivity of people and firms, and generates the diversity required for new ideas to fertilize and turn into new innovations and new industries.

    Here’s the basic dilemma for government entities.

    In the beginning, Americans picked land because it was inherently valuable because of natural resources. Then, thanks to the Homestead Act, they started picking it because it was free. Then after the Reclamation Act they picked it because of the weather. And then in the last fifty years, they picked it because of aesthetics (no black people…shiny and new…) or tax purposes.

    Lost in all this was any sort of attempt to reconcile things like the economy and logistics. Now, at long last, we are finally winnowing away the chaff.

    Fresno has a functioning economy (and so does Bakersfield). What Florida downplays is that HSR helps Apple move its factories back to the US (in places like Fresno). It helps the government lower its costs by moving more of its people out there and out of high rent areas like San Francisco. It reinforces stratification, it doesn’t improve it.

    That’s really the taboo subject. Everyone in the US thinks that anyone can be President, anyone can be a millionaire, and the sky is the limit. But in the end, preparing 99% of the population for an outcome that less than 1% get is… kinda crazy.

    Florida’s problem is that as a next generation libertarian he’s thinking more like “Atlas Shrugged” than “Brook Farm”. He thinks that magically, all the powers-that-be will just accede to the future. He’s argued that the Sun Belt will just evaporate away once people rationally realize it’s unsustainable. Nevermind the fact that Sun Belt is fast becoming the nation’s center of manufacturing…

    synonymouse Reply:

    That is because the Sun Belt is Right to Work. Manufacturers were already building plants in the boonies in the fifties to get away from the unions.

    But the Sun Belt will not be immune from lack of water, pollution, and social problems. Cracolandia of the future?


    Nathanael Reply:

    The Sun Belt will, indeed, evaporate away, but only because of global warming.

    Water shortages and death by heatstroke do have a way of eventually eliminating any settlement. The Sahara Desert is missing any factories it once had.

    The process will be ugly. California can build desalinization plants and whatnot and may survive; Arizona and Texas are in big, big trouble.

  7. Tony d.
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 09:54

    Just my opinion, but I think its a moot point to discuss HSR impacts on farms and mid-line cities if you don’t have the @#$%& Money to go beyond the initial ICS. If we’re going to roll the dice and go full steam ahead on the CV ICS, all discussion from here on out should focus on funding and nothing else. Again, just my opinion.

    Mac Reply:

    Yes, I would love to hear some discussion about how we are going to fund a FUNCTIONAL ICS……

    Mac Reply:

    By that I mean an actual HSR train that runs along the segment….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    My idea: wait one year. With any luck, the GOP will nominate Gingrich, who will lose in a landslide and drag Boehner and McConnell down with him. The 2013 jobs bill will then include enough HSR money to complete or almost complete the IOS.

    J. Wong Reply:

    We can only hope…

    morris brown Reply:

    @ Alon Levy:

    Going to take a lot more than luck. Keep on dreaming.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Grinch may very well lose but he will have forced a substantive debate on real issues and will have spared the GOP from a schism for the time being. There is a very real possibility that a Romney nomination will produce a third party challenge from the right. I think the split is an inevitability but there is a strong feeling that the country wants to send in a new quarterback and the GOP will patch things up for now as they are in much better shape than in 2008.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    forced a substantive debate on real issues

    The only thing they talk about anymore is who is and isn’t a Real American(tm). After they’ve worked themselves into a lather over that they then discuss how to reduce taxes on rich people. A winning strategy if there ever was one.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re right, I was totally dreaming that Gingrich’s favorability is 26-60.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Meanwhile Romney’s just shot his popularity, and the Republican Party’s popularity, in the head by releasing his tax returns, and showing all Americans exactly how unfair Republican tax policy is.

    No Republican can win the Oval Office in 2012 without mass fraud. Of course that’s what they’ll try.
    Obama would be a shoo-in, except that people are pretty sick of Democrats too. Last time this happened a new party was created, but it took several election cycles.

    synonymouse Reply:

    We might see the appearance of some new parties, our version of the Front National and an Occupy party. The current parties are in reality one party. That’s why CNBC is reporting Wall Street is very upset that Mitt might not get nominated. IMHO if Mitt is nominated expect Palin to run.

    Nathanael Reply:

    No, no, they really are two parties. As DP Lubic says, the “Repugnant Ones” and the “Disappointing Cats”. The Democratic Party is a terrible mess, but the Republican Party is run by *genuinely crazy people*.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Agree that we may see some new parties.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I can hear and see the Republican Congressional ads now. No mention anywhere that they are Republicans. I hope Tea Partiers all over the country demand that they endorse and be seen with the Presidential candidate. As often as possible.
    Pity New York has closed primaries. I’d love to vote for the Newster in the primary.

    jim Reply:

    Virginia has an open primary, but I’m stuck with Romney and Paul.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’d be voting for whoever I expected to have the least likely chance of winning.
    Rick Perry was on the way to being the most ridiculous candidate running, I’d just have to settle for the most offensive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Perry was actually okay back in September. He seemed like the only person in the bunch who understood that the GOP needed to stop hating on immigrants (which isn’t surprising – the Texas GOP is surprisingly liberal on immigration). Then he decided to try to out-Santorum Santorum as a last-ditch strategy, instead of bide his time and live to fight another day the way Gingrich did.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Vote Paul, get a brokered convention.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s an infinitesimally small chance that a brokered convention might pick a dark horse that’s electable. Nah, vote for the wingnuttiest demagogue who is sure to offend almost everyone and drive the voters to the polling place to assure that there’s no chance of him winning.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oh, a brokered convention would probably a pick someone who, if he had run in a normal primary and won it, would be perfectly electable. Someone like Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush. The problem is that all the scandals that would ordinarily come out in late 2011 and right about now would instead explode in October, when people are actually paying attention. On top of that, the candidate would have crap ground game, no fundraising infrastructure in place, and Republican rank-and-file that’s pissed that they didn’t get their dream Gingrich-Paul ticket. A brokered convention inherently hurts the party that undergoes it independently of what nominee it produces.

    Mac Reply:

    Perhaps, I should have said…realistic discussion about how we are going to fund… :-)

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Alright, here’s a blockbuster idea:

    Levy a $2 tax on passenger travel on all modes of travel between Northern and Southern California. $2 on your plane flight, Greyhound ticket, Coast Starlight, etc and when complete, HSR service. Then let the Board appropriate the money as a trust fund.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    LA to Bay area is about 16 million passengers. The $32 million per annum can be monetized to pay for about $500 million worth of construction. $98 billion is a lot of money.

    Tom Mcnamara Reply:

    Aw shucks…guess we’ll have to repeal Prop 13 instead…

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    $98 billion is a lot of money.

    True, unless of course you are talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. Then it’s a rounding error.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Can we please stop comparing CAHSR to disasters and start comparing it to useful transportation projects?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    What do you mean Alon????

    The Iraq War was worth every penny…especially now that we have $20 a barrel oil prices (wink)…..

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The financial cost was a secondary problem.

  8. morris brown
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 12:26

    Liberal Blogger Kevin Drum tees off on California High Speed Rail.

    California HSR Now Even More Ridiculous Than Before


    He notes:

    Parsons said the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year. The study assumes the trains would be 70% full on average.

    This is just jaw-droppingly shameless. There’s not even a pretense here of providing a reasonable, real-world traffic estimate that could be used to project the cost of alternative infrastructure. A high school sophomore who turned in work like this would get an F.

    This has all been mentioned before here; these non-sense numbers are the basis for Robert to keep yelling $171 billion is much more expensive than building HSR. Never has this had any semblance of truth, but like the claim that a million jobs will created, it seems the Authority and HSR advocates seem to think if they keep repeating the same lies, nobody will check and eventually it becomes accepted as truth.

    Sorry in this case it isn’t working, and I don’t think Robert will put Kevin Drum as having the same political outlook as the Reason Foundation. The fact are that those who have studied and understand the project on both sides of the political spectrum (including quite a few who frequent this blog) come to the conclusion this project should be killed.

    Mac Reply:

    “The fact are that those who have studied and understand the project on both sides of the political spectrum (including quite a few who frequent this blog) come to the conclusion this project should be killed.”
    Yes, Morris….the voice of truth!

    Mac Reply:

    How about this part from the article too:
    “If liberals keep pushing this project forward in the face of plain evidence that its official justifications are brazenly preposterous, conservatives are going to be able to pound us year after year for wasting taxpayer money while we retreat to ever more ridiculous and self-serving defenses that make us laughingstocks in the public eye. And unless we put this project on hold until we can get some genuinely independent and plausible estimates of costs, ridership, and alternatives, we’ll deserve it.”

    Wdobner Reply:

    Mr. Drum may be a self-proclaimed liberal, but he sure echoes a hell of a lot of anti-rail talking points. This is (IIRC) his fourth remarkably uninformed post on the CAHSR project, and this time he’s merely a third-hand parrot regurgitating garbage that originated with Wendell Cox.

    If the HSR system is going to provide a maximum capacity then any viable alternative should also provide that same maximum capacity. Whether or not that capacity will be fully utilized is not the issue, the alternative to the HSR should provide the same margin for future growth as the high speed rail itself. As such those calculations are entirely correct, even if they represent a worst (or best, depending on your standpoint) case scenario. Just because the CHSRA system will not operate at maximum capacity does not mean the alternatives should be allowed to achieve significantly less capacity. That’s only a surefire way of guaranteeing the state’s economy grinds to a halt as the air and road networks become clogged.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Drum’s what I call an apologist for right-wingers at this point, horrifyingly. Not sure when he went that way, but he shares this with an awful lot of so-called liberal bloggers. Their main failure is failure to realize that right-wingers nowadays lie, lie, lie, lie, and lie some more.

    36 million population of California now. If it’s going to *decline*, well then perhaps these are preposterous numbers. If it’s going to *increase*, well then… they’re totally reasonable numbers. At current population, the projections require that the average number of trips taken per year is 3.2 per Californian — which seems a bit high — but at increased future population levels, that starts to quite quickly approach a likely 1 per Californian. Of course it will really be a few hundred businessmen riding every day plus some people taking no trips plus everything in between.

    You can dispute the question of population increase in California, but if you assume fast population increase, the Parsons numbers are utterly reasonable.

  9. Mac
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 13:01

    How about this part from the article too:
    “If liberals keep pushing this project forward in the face of plain evidence that its official justifications are brazenly preposterous, conservatives are going to be able to pound us year after year for wasting taxpayer money while we retreat to ever more ridiculous and self-serving defenses that make us laughingstocks in the public eye. And unless we put this project on hold until we can get some genuinely independent and plausible estimates of costs, ridership, and alternatives, we’ll deserve it.”

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Bingo. The worst thing about being a leftie greenie is being associated with dimwits who can’t do basic arithmetic and positively revel in promoting abject failure, as long as if it greenwashed in the most superficial fashion.

    joe Reply:

    The worst thing about being a leftie greenie is being associated with Richard the Mlynarik-hearted.

  10. HSTSheldon
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 17:04

    Not directly related to this thread but I had to respond to Sobering’s conclusion that driving 200+ miles to catch a flight is always a money losing proposition. That thread is now closed. Here are the particulars. I drive a 2003 VW Jetta TDI (diesel) that returns 48 mpg on the open interstate at 75 mph. That gives me a fuel cost of about 8+ cents per mile. The car is paid off completely and has been for the last 5 years. Add insurance, maintenance, licensing etc. and my total cost is about 25 – 30 cents per mile. Now, it is impossible to get a fare from Tallahassee under most scenarios that is less than a $150 difference, often $200+, and in the case of last Christmas a $450 difference. Please convince me that I lost money driving to MCO to head north to Toronto even including the Turnpike toll of $5.00. I will stand by my statement that small airport markets like Tallahassee suffer major leakage approaching or exceeding the total volume of air travel from these airports. The calculation is even worse if my flight is headed south to the Caribbean in which case the travel time hit is less onerous. Another effect in these markets is that some trips that would be made in a larger, more cost effective market are simply either not made, or are driven in their entirety up to about 600 miles, especially if the destination is also a small market. The airlines never see these trips!! HSR would clean up with such trips that airlines cannot cost effectively serve.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @HSTSheldon: in Sobering Reality’s world, US air travel is a free market, and situations like you describe can’t happen. Besides, you don’t count; nobody drives fuel-efficient diesel cars, or at least not enough to worry about.

    SR’s positions are non-falsifiable and immune to contrary facts.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    You must have spent a lot of time on that to get the right calculations. By the way, what did you pay for parking? Next time go to Jacksonville. Fares are only about 4% higher than MCO and parking is cheaper ($4 a day vs. $10 a day in the economy lots). I’m sure you’ll come back with I parked for free at my friends house. It wont’ be a true statement, but you’ll make it anyway.

    The airlines never see these trips!!

    Ever heard of point of sale data? I bet you bought your ticket before you left or you wouldn’t have saved $450 on your fare. You think we don’t have that data?

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    I must admit I chuckled when I read your reply. You are going to tell me that I could not possibly have paid what I paid and observed what I observed on DL’s, US’s, AA’s, AC’s sites as well as Orbitz, Travelocity etc. etc. I always shop around. I am extremely frugal in my personal finances. I did not see a fare of $900 in late November on DL for example or $800+ on US via CLT from TLH or a fare of $750 from JAX, or a fare of $700 from ATL? I did not end up paying $440 on AC from MCO in late November? I also did not watch the fares for over a week before committing. My, you know me and my actions even better than I do myself. It must be amazing to have such god like powers.

    So, I spent a lot of time fabricating my trip cost because I do not own a black Volkswagen Jetta 90 hp ALH TDI MK4 body style bought in September 2003 in Johnston, IA just outside downtown Des Moines. If I do not own such a vehicle, please use your god-like powers and tell me what kind of automobile I own and drive daily? I am curious to know myself. Please also tell me I do not have cousins (I guess they don’t fall under the category of friend) who live in Orlando, one of whom’s residence my car was left parked for the 8 day period and who transported me to and fro MCO to catch AC 907 and be retrieved from AC 906. In any case, why do you not ask what is the parking cost at TLH? Would you believe it is only the small sum of $11 per day and no economy lots available. I am very familiar with JAX’s parking rates as I have used them on more than one occasion. TLH rates are such that for any trip longer than 5 days, a cab to/fro is cheaper than parking there. I do not like bothering friends unnecessarily regarding rides to the airport and TLH is in a very inconvenient location relative to daily travel for me and those friends.

    On your point of sale data, please explain to me how they will capture persons who never even enquire about an airline trip but just by default head the 500 miles down the interstate or major highway to their destination? In fact, lack of such data is one of the issues with long distance travel demand modeling, of which I am very familiar given that I work with them on a daily basis.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Sometime ten hours in the car isn’t worth 100 bucks.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Agreed, ten hours in the car is not worth $100 but it may be worth $300+ which is often the case with small market trips at peak seasons.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Absolutely. Though there are people who barely *have* $100 and so ten hours in the car is worth $100 for them.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People who don’t have 100 dollars don’t have it to spend on 300 dollar airfares either. Depending on trim, options and condition he’s driving a 7 or 8 thousand dollar car. At 25 cents a mile he’s spending 125 dollars plus parking to save 200. And spending ten hours in the car.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yep. The people who don’t have 100 dollars drive all the way in the car.

    Without hotel stops.

    Yes, this isn’t safe.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People who have jobs don’t drive from Florida to British Columbia.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Sorry, used to having to respond to that clown Jonathan. You kind a got caught in the middle.

    Anyway, we have the GDS data from the Airlines that provides the leakage pattern for the given market, for example we can track a person in the TLH market that bought a ticket in the TLH area and boarded in JAX or MCO. We won’t capture a walk up, but that is such a small number of passengers it’s not worth worrying about. Obviously it’s not 100% data – we estimate about a 85% capture, but it’s far superior to the O&D DB that is nothing more than a 10% random sample grossed up.

    Nathanael Reply:

    15% leakage is pretty terrible. :-/

    Of course you’re basing that on credit card addresses, right? So it’s not going to be fully reliable. The errors should cancel out on the “home” end.

    But on the “destination” end you have no way of tracking how many people flew to Chicago to rent a car to drive to Detroit (for instance). Sounds crazy, I know, but I can think of lots of examples where it worked out better for people.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    My God you’re dense. You don’t even understand the conversation.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They figure out who’s going to win elections based on 0.1% samples (much less per individual poll, I’m just comparing the total sample sizes of the polls in 538’s averages to the number of voters).

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    So imagine the benefits of an 85% sample out of 1.9 billion passengers a year.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The benefits of 85% over 0.1% are close to nil when the sampling is done by a semi-competent statistician.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    GDS data … TLH market … TLH area and boarded in JAX or MCO …

    Oh baby. It gets me really hot when you talk like that. I just wanna get away to GIG, FAT or SUX with you. Coffee, tea, or me?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    By the way, the average round trip fares last December:

    TLH-YYZ – $550
    MCO-YYZ – $330
    JAX-YYZ – $320

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Seems like I should have waited to purchase the $330 fare from MCO. Not surprised that nobody took up the airlines on the ridiculous fares they were quoting in November forcing then to “sober up at the reality of no customers”. Even with your data, notice the gap between TLH and JAX/MCO which would still trigger a drive by my calculations. I am not in the business of being benevolent to airlines as I know my costs very well.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    It’s all when you buy it. You may have started your res about 30 seconds before someone booked 10 seats. Search engines (like Expedia) have created a mess when it comes to fare availability. Rule of thumb is, buy a ticket at midnight when everyone else isn’t.

    As for the time, if it’s worth it then it’s worth it. Not many people have that much free time.

    Nathanael Reply:

    On time, driving from Philadelphia to Ithaca is now usually *faster* than catching a connecting flight, though the rental car is somewhat more expensive. Flying has some really serious problems these days.

  11. Jeff Carter
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 19:04

    News Flash!!!

    100 homes and numerous businesses destroyed in San Bruno!!!

    Caltrain recently built two additional “shoo-fly” tracks next to the existing Caltrain tracks and is now operating on the shoo-fly tracks. This brings a total of FOUR tracks at grade in San Bruno. The two original Caltrain tracks are being ripped up to make way for the San Bruno grade separation. The new shoofly tracks have lead to a path of destruction of homes and businesses along First Avenue and Huntington Avenue in San Bruno. Homeowners and business owners fought a valiant battle but to no avail, in the end their homes and businesses were lost and they now have nothing…..

    Copyright 2012, Peninsula NIMBY News Services.

    Well, Peninsula, Morris, Nadia, Elisabeth, Burlingame City Council, Senator Joe Simitian, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, can you tell us why all these home/businesses in San Bruno have not been destroyed during the construction (and now operational) of the two (additional) shoo-fly tracks?

    Inquiring minds want to know…

    Joey Reply:

    100 and they couldn’t even take 5 more to improve the curve?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Perhaps Jeff’s point was that there weren’t 100 houses demolished.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Maybe they should have bought them?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yes, big, heavy FRA-complaint trains are well known for “hopping off the tracks”
    (the San Mateo County Times reports this as resident’s worry, now they are some 50 ft from the tracks)

    Peter Reply:

    Given that people expect high speed trains to come flying off the tracks at 220 mph, it’s no wonder that they expect FRA-compliant trains to do the same.

    Peter Reply:

    IIRC, all they took was a small cut out of a commercial parking lot.

  12. joe
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 20:14

    Tallahassee is the State Capitol. It has a unique demand and some fraction of air travel is pretty insensitive to price.

    High fares are going to depress travel but not travel related to the government and lobbying the government. So the incentive to cut prices to increase non-government related travel is offset by the loss in revenue from low fares from government business and lobbying.

    MCO on the other hand is a tourist airport so the price sensitivity is higher, it is a destination in competition with other airports/cities.

    FWIW if I travel to Melbourne, I use MCO and drive the rest rather than the Melbourne airport. The same reasoning applies. You need a rental car to get around anyway.

  13. Joey
    Jan 23rd, 2012 at 21:54

    Stations for California HSR will also be in already-developed central-city commercial districts. In fact, they will in most cases be built as part of existing train stations, in order to minimize disruptions.

    Except that in Spain non-stopping trains don’t blast through downtown at full speed.

    Peter Reply:

    “Except that in Spain non-stopping trains don’t blast through downtown at full speed.”

    I find it doubtful that the 2:40 design “requirement” from Prop 1A will translate into express trains actually traveling 2:40 in practice. Primarily because of the need to slow trains going through downtowns. Not to mention the fact that the operator may well decide (correctly) that 350 km/h operation is not worth it and top out between 300 and 320 km/h.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, in Spain they build through downtowns AND they build bypass lines through farmland. Think that would be popular in California? Get both the downtown NIMBYs and the farm NIMBYs angry in every single city?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The farm NIMBYs don’t make the top 10 on the list of the concerns for CAHSR. I doubt they even make top 50.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    You sure about that? http://www.amazon.com/King-California-Boswell-Making-American/dp/1586482815

  14. Andrew
    Jan 24th, 2012 at 22:13

    The claim that high speed rail has much use for commuters needs to die. High speed rail is not generally a commuter train. Only trivial numbers of people (at most a few thousand people) commute from Ciudad Real to Madrid. The reason that few people commute by high speed rail is that (a) tickets are expensive, and people who can afford to buy tickets every day can easily afford housing close to work (b) trains are infrequent – there are generally only a few departures in the morning and a few departures in the afternoon (c) there are inevitably going to be delays/strikes, as there are with any method of commuting (d) most jobs are not near the train station, so a door to door commute (drive/take bus to station, wait for train, take train, take subway/bus to work) could easily take 2 hours one way. The vast majority of commuters with long commutes in cities with HSR like Paris, Madrid, Tokyo etc. commute by regular commuter train or car. Although a few parts of the CAHSR system might be useful for commuters (Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco, Palmdale-LA, LA-Anaheim, LA-Ontario), they will only see significant commuter traffic if they form part of a larger expanded Bay Area/Southern California mass transit network, they have high frequencies and low fares. Very, very few people will be crazy enough to commute from the Central Valley to LA/Bay Area.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    The claim that high speed rail has much use for commuters needs to die.

    Oh well, that settles that. No need to upgrade Caltrain as part of HSR. And all that nice, shared RER/TGV infrastructure into Paris — get lost RER commuters. Don’t need you!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    A “High speed train” and a “commuter train” are completely different things.
    One is “high speed”, while the other is “commuter”, which aren’t the same word. Obviously. QED.
    (Just ignore the “train” part, OK?)

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And while we’re at it, let us recall that commuter trains, intercity trains (including some with sleepers and full diners), regional trains, and the Acela all share the NEC–and that even the lowly commuter services can exceed 100 mph there. . .and this is with the “dinosaur,” “overweight,” “Soviet style” FRA-regulated legacy operation that is the NEC. . .

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Scuttlebutt on the railroad.net boards is that everyone everywhere will have ACSES by 2013. Well the LIRR may be getting by with it’s 1950s fully functional PTC. IF everything everywhere has PTC there’s less reason to worry about ramming into stalled freight trains. California turns down it’s three billion there’s lots of things they could do on the NEC to make faster, more reliable etc.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Unfortunately the freight class Is are trying to use a different system from ACSES, because they like to do things el cheapo. At least all the freights are working with the same system now.

    ACSES will be on everything Amtrak-owned and state-owned in the Northeast. Amtrak has something else called ITCS for the Michigan line.

    Meanwhile the EU is establishing ERTMS/ETCS *everywhere* — including non-EU countries.

    When the EU, which isn’t a country, has more unified standards and policies than the US — and EU-Swiss coordination is better than Illinois-Indiana coordination — it should show us that there’s something seriously wrong with the federal government. Republicans have been working for decades to *create* this problem by pushing “deregulation” everywhere, all the time, no matter how inappropriate. Unforutnately in the last few decades Democrats have been buying into the nonsense too.

    It is absolutely true that if California turns down its three billion it will go elsewhere. Wisconsin may have a new government by then. :-)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Meh, they’ve tested whatever acronym the Class Is are using this week with ACSES, they are interoperabie.
    “everything in the Northeast” is the majority of passenger train traffic in the US.
    How many years did it take them to get the HSR trains in the Netherlands using ERTMS version xyz.2 to work with xyz.1 in Belgium? or whatever it was. ERTMS will be interoperable someday.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Ooh, the testing actually worked? The problem with the Class I system was, basically, that nobody had made it work yet. The original designs, due to cheaping out and trying to rely on GPX, had a fundamental flaw, which was that they couldn’t tell which of two adjacent tracks you were on. Did they ever fix that by agreeing to put in track circuits in double track areas? :-/

    It’s easy enough to make the systems interoperable — it’s just extra money and trouble.

    “Everything in the Northeast” may be the majority of passenger train traffic in the US, but there’s actually a lot around Chicago, too — which is going to be the Class I system except for the Michigan Line. And in California, which is going to be the Class I system.

    Actually Metrolink is scheduled to be the *first* implementer of the Class Is’ system, before any of the Class Is.

    Nathanael Reply:

    That’s “GPS”, not “GPX”. Damned typos.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    that nobody had made it work yet

    In 2006, they’ve been busy little beavers since then.

    It’s easy enough to make the systems interoperable — it’s just extra money and trouble.

    Apparently it’s software at the central office. If the control system is “talking” to an ACSES equipped train it “speaks” ACSES, if it’s talking to a freight it “speaks” freight. Unless it’s “talking” to an ACSES equipped freight, which exist, then it “speaks” ACSES.

    “Everything in the Northeast” may be the majority of passenger train traffic in the US, but there’s actually a lot around Chicago, too —

    If the numbers on Wikipedia are correct, it says they are sourced from the American Public Transportation Association’s Ridership Reports Statistics for 2011, and I did the arithmetic correctly,nationwide the average daily ridership is 1,924,626. The average daily ridership for Metro North, the LIRR and NJTransit is 916,163. Or roughly 47 percent of the riders in the nation use systems that serve Manhattan. The ridership for systems along the NEC is is 1,217,063 or 63% of the riders. Metra’s ridership is 311,500 a day. NICTD has another 13,000 or just over 16%. Or 80 percent of the people using “commuter” rail in the US are along the NEC or around Chicago. For what it’s worth, the places where Metra has level boarding, it’s using NEC standards… since the all Pullman train had to be able to pull out of New York and arrive in Chicago 16 hours later or vice versa. So it’s not going to be any problem for the Lake Shore Limited to pull out of Penn Station and arrive in Chicago or vice versa.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Obama administration could just wait until 2015 and give the money back to Florida after it dumps Scott.

    EJ Reply:

    I don’t think that’s the point. What he’s saying is that there’s not a lot of high-income potential commuters that can afford a daily HSR ticket from, say, Merced, but can’t afford to just move to the Bay Area, or need to stay in Merced for random personal reasons. Maybe the point is less valid in SoCal, we do love our sprawling upper-class suburbs here so probably you’d get people moving to, I dunno, Acton or whatever if they could get downtown on HSR.

    Andrew Reply:

    My point is that very few people will ever commute on high speed trains. Regular commuter trains on Caltrain and Metrolink may benefit from track upgrades related to the high speed rail program and if frequencies are improved these trains will be heavily used, but almost all of these trains will be running on low speed track. High speed rail is just too expensive and too inconvenient for most people to use, very few people can tolerate commutes longer than 1 hour each way. For instance in Paris high speed trains run along the same rail corridors as RER D/Transilien H (towards Lille and Lyon), RER E/Transilien P (towards Strasbourg) and Transilien N (towards Tours/Le Mans), on low speed track. These regular commuter trains are very heavily used by commuters, while high speed trains have neglible commuter traffic, they are mostly a substitute for short haul air traffic and some long distance intercity driving.

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