Sunday Open Thread

Apr 28th, 2012 | Posted by

I’ll on my way to Hawaii for the week, so posting will probably be a bit lighter than normal. If anyone wants to submit a guest post, now would be an excellent time to do so.

As a conversation piece, there’s this New York Times article on the new private high speed train service in Italy from Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori. I’m not at all enthused about the idea of competition in rail service, as I believe market forces and competition don’t usually work out well in practice, especially for transportation. But it will be interesting to see how this plays out in Italy.

  1. California Taxpayer
    Apr 28th, 2012 at 22:46
    #1

    How much longer until we californians can ride this thing. What is the hold up?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    It needs to be built first. Decade before any HSR service, not till 2029 for LA-SF.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    That can’t be. Why would construction take that long? Hire faster workers.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Everything takes longer to get done in the USA nowadays. Even the wars last longer…

    Jonathan Reply:

    and cost more

    BruceMcF Reply:

    How fast do you reckon it would take to build an all new Interstate Highway from Burbank to Merced?

    The first segment will be done and put to use quicker than that, but it’ll be used by the existing San Joaquin to turboboost the trip from Merced to Bakersfield. The connection down from the Central Valley down into the San Fernando Valley in the LA Basin is to be finished before the first Express HSR service is slated to run.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    And we have a new lame troll.

    lex luther Reply:

    and he is here to take your number 1 spot

    Nathanael Reply:

    For a serious answer:
    (1) Everything has to pass CEQA and NEPA. At the moment there are lots of frivolous lawsuits slowing things down.
    (2) Site inspections and engineering have to be finished. That also takes a while, and since the engineering for each part depends on the engineering for the next part, you really want to get it all done to a certain level before you start building anything.
    (3) Then the land has to be purchased or acquired by eminent domain. That takes a while.
    (4) The funding has to be secured. That takes a while. Things will go faster once the state government approves the bond issue.

    That all takes several years.

    After all that is done, then you could start building sections simultaneously. At that point, if you have enough skilled workers, it would take a minimum of about 3 years, assuming no long tunnels (first you move the ground, then you pour the concrete, then you build the rail). Of course there are tunnels, and there’s a shortage of firms with precision heavy construction skills (surprising, but true) so it will take longer than that.

    At the moment only Bakersfield-Merced is funded. So if everything goes very fast, that could be built by, say, 2016, absolute soonest possible date. If you want the other parts to open sooner, you need to get the funding for them approved sooner.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    And why is there a shortage of skilled construction firms?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Partly due to the lack of rail construction in the US for the last 70 years. And the relative lack of tunnel-digging…. And the fact that now there’s a lot of tunnel-digging and rail building going on all at once, “all of a sudden”. Meanwhile, highway building hasn’t stopped…

    Feast-and-famine situations in business tend to lead to a shortage of appropriately skilled firms during the “feast” periods. There’s good reason to have a more “steady as she goes” approach to public works.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In other words, this shortage would resolve itself given a steady stream of work across the country.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Breaking news: nearly all of the man-hours are civils. Shoving dirt and concrete around.

    Breaking news: building a new rail alignment is almost exactly the same as building a new controlled-access highway. Just the top couple feet differ. There are machines that do a lot of it for you (if you’re living in the 21st century, that is), just like there are machines that lay asphalt and paint lane stripes.

    Breaking news: building 700 miles of new controlled-access highway in one shot isn’t something that anybody is geared up to do in the state of California, or most anywhere else.

    Breaking news: “a steady stream of work across the country” does not generate the concentrated manpower required to building 700 miles of new railway/highway all at once.

    Breaking news: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  2. Derek
    Apr 28th, 2012 at 23:17
    #2

    What if one company (or the government) owned the rails and multiple other companies in competition provided high speed service on it? That would make it similar to the way multiple trucking companies use the same roads.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    That sounds like a good idea as long they pay some kind of fees to the state. Those fees could help pay for expanding the lines. But there might not be room for all those trains.

    I think from a consumer standpoint, simpler is better. One agency, one ticket, one website, one brand, access to all destinations. Give it a name like, you know, Monarch ( the state butterfly) or something, and have Monarch, Monarch Express, Monarch local, Monarchbus, like that,

    ok maybe not monarch but you get the idea. A single brand to which Californians will gravitate and embrace as “the” way to get around.

    People do like butterflies though.

    Spokker Reply:

    Ancillary companies come in and put everything on one web site and one service. http://www.kayak.com/ comes to mind. There are a multitude of others. Here is a case of competition and market forces solving one downside of competition and market forces. When we have a free market, companies will come in to help us make sense of that market. Consumer Reports also comes to mind.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The free market does not and has never given any city integrated fares and schedules.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    An integrated fare and schedule system requires one organization controlling fares and schedules. That organization does not need to be an actual operator, but it will at certain intervals put up certain services up for bid, and the private operators can make their offer to operate according the guidelines set by that organization. A very good example for that is the whole Swiss network, where even before the “new” system, most of the “private” companies teamed up, and worked on a common fare system.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Works when the companies are providing connecting or complementary services, but what about when they are competitors?

    Max Wyss Reply:

    With a governing organization, the competition is not direct; it is indirect. Or the competition is only at bidding time, but not for operation.

    There are places where “competition” has been made just for “competition” sake, and we all see that that particular model failed miserably. Artificial competition does not really work.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Some people are so short-sighted they see the kind of regime I believe Max is talking about as as “competition”. Others see it for what it is: a short-term monopoly. No different than the sort of short-term monopoly enjoyed by patent-holders.

    The term is somewhat less, 3 to 5 years rather than 17-to-20, but the principle holds.
    There _is_ no competition for service during the monopoly period; and if the Government sells the limited-term monopoly to a bad operator, customers are screwed. Alternatively, you can look at this scheme as privatization of profit, socialization of risk. See: bankruptcy of GNER; National Express, and the re-nationalization of ECML services as “East Coast” owned and operated by the UK Dept of Transportation.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Wow, deep economic thinking there.

    So if da gubmint decides to buy 100 widgets from Company A instead of 100 widgets from Company B, on the basis that the Company A widgets met the specifications and were offered at a better price, then this is “a short-term monopoly” and a “privatization of profit, socialization of risk“?

    I suppose you could (and logically must) argue that the answer is create the Federal Department of Widget Production, in order to remove the private profit business (and, generally, deliver inferior and uncompetitive widgets at higher price; this apparent fact despite my personal ideological prejudices.)

    Another answer might be to “avoid vendor capture of the specification writing process and the evaluation process“, and then let the best widget manufacturer win in relatively transparent competition.

    Hmmm … “vendor capture of the specification writing process and the evaluation process”? Sounds familiar, somehow. CHSRA=PBQD

    Jonathan Reply:

    Richard, don’t be disingenous. Or stupid, which is your only other choice.

    UK-style rail franchises are _NOT_ “da Gubmint” (in your eloquent term) buying widgets. HSR franchises are “the Gubmint”, selling a _monopoly_ to operate _all trains_ on a route for a period (10 years? 15 years? Germany is moe like 5 years). The prices are then set by the operator, who has a limiited-term monopoly.
    The ‘socialization of risk” is that _if_ the operator goes bankrupt, “da Gubmint” cannot politically afford for there to be _no_ service, so the Goverment picks up the operation. Gee, just like before Thatcherist privatisation of BR. Hence, private profits, but socialized risk.

    Just look a earlier in this particular post and you can see Anthony Thomas commenting on why The Iron Lady’s recipe for privatisatoin of BR should _not_ be followed. And what are those reasons? The very reasons you try (and fail, embarassingly) to ridicule. Facts, Richard. Facts. You can bring your own opinions, but you don’t get to bring your own facts.

    Tell us where you live and we can help you look for nearby remedial classes in reading comprehension and economics. Or try to find you a thinking-brain dog.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Jonathan,

    Max Wyss (in more depth than anybody else here) and I (superficially) have some idea of how Swiss and German transportation franchising works.

    I’m not sure exactly what it is you have.

    Jonathan Reply:

    To paraphrase George Carlin: “It’s the UK Thatcherist franchising, Stupid!”

    It’s possible I might know as much as Max about _generalities_ of German rail franchising. Despite the fact that you ridiculed what I’ve written here, in your own inimitable style: no evidence or counter-examples, only hyperbole and insult.

    I certainly don’t pretend to have any knowledge at my fingertips about who has the contract for the S-Bahn in Hannover versus the S-Bahn in Karlsruhe and the local Stadtbahn. (Going back to tram-trains.)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Independently franchising out connecting and complementary services seems more like a workable business model to me than franchising out two or three competing operators serving the same route.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Absolutely correct; there are several success stories in Germany and even the UK. A local operator running a connecting line, investing a little bit in rolling stock and infrastructure, increasing the frequencies … et voilà…

    And the “higher level” services from the node got more passengers too.

    This also works, on a different level, for freight.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yeah. This is the largest level on which competition works in “rail operations”.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Max, mentioning the successes without also mentioning the abject failures, leaves one open to suspicion of dishonesty. And a free clue: under these regimes, the operating companies _do_not_ invest in infrastrucutre; the infrastructure typically remains owned by the government. As in the UK, or with RFF in France.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Abject failure? You mean like government-owned SNCF-Fret? “Failure” hardly begins to describe it.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    @Jonathan
    Rail privatization in the UK was botched horribly[*], so it’s not surprising it doesn’t work so well…

    [*] I lived in the UK at the time, and it was pretty clear that the (failing) government considered it basically a “OMG I’m so conversative” manifesto bullet-point to be completed before the next election, rather than something to think carefully about and proceed carefully on.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @Jonathan: That is absolutely correct. The operators are not investing in infrastructure, because they are operators and not infrastructure managers (assuming that rolling stock is not investment in this sense).

    Operating contracts are rather complex, when it comes to details and responsibilities. A good operating contract also has the requirements and duties of the infrastructure managers spelled out, and, in order to provide the operating contract’s services, the infrastructure manager may have to get things ready.

    Besides of charging higher and higer usage fees every year, RFF does not do too bad a job. In the UK, the big failure was the private infrastructure manager. Things did improve as soon as the state-owned successor got in charge. They still have strange operating ideas, but things improved. As a state-owned infrastructure manager does not need to make a profit to satisfy so-called “investors”, more money is available to get into maintenance and renewal.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Miles: I’d tend to agree, watching it from the Antipodes at the time.

    But the fact remains that the EU model for “competition” between what used to be each member country’s national rail provider, has ended up with a regulatory environment requiring basically the UK scheme.

    @Max: i think you and I are on the same page, except that I was perplexed when you wrote:

    Absolutely correct; there are several success stories in Germany and even the UK. A local operator running a connecting line, investing a little bit in rolling stock and infrastructure, increasing the frequencies … et voilà…

    Which says tha toperators will invest in (amongst other things) infrastructure. They don’t, and you say above that they don’t. On that, we are in violent agreement ;).

    Yes, RFF is doing a better job than the private contractors who initially screwed up the former-BR infrastructure. But RFF is now making a profit, on the back of large operating fees charged SNCF. Or ot any other would-be competitor. This has caused increasingly loud murmurs from SNCF, that they cannot oth meet social goals of providing transportation _and_ cover costs (RFF’s fees) which continue to increase, and increase, and increase. Many have speculated that the high RFF fees are so that RFF wlil make a profit ,even if SCNF gets out-competed by foreign operators on its profitable services like HSR> Who knows.

    DBAG’s executive management fell into the trap of deferring maintenance in order to boost operating profit,. DGAG then got shafted with the storms in winter 2010/2011 causing utter havoc when turnouts froze up, after maintenance on the heaters had been deferred. Not a ringing endorsement for “market forces” inherently giving better or more efficient service.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Isn’t RFF on the hook for old debt from the days of operating deficits, like JNR?

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @Jonathan: OK, I may have been a bit unclear with my wording. Some of those success stories in Germany are with local operators (so, not Veolia or so), which are backed by the municipalities, who also shelled out a bit of money for improving (or adding) new stations. So, that went hand in hand. And, from what I remember reading, it did not really require much to get things going. (well, this may more show how little the DB has been doing beforehand…).

    Actually, the DBAG deferring maintenance etc. was to get overall numbers look good for an IPO (which, fortunately, got cancelled). The most obvious result of that deferred maintenance was the S-Bahn Berlin debacle, where they closed a maintenance plant (against better knowledge), making it much more difficult to fix the issues with the rolling stock.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Max: yes, the reasoin for DBAG cutting maintenance in order to boost operating profit, was to support an IPO. I had originally written that but I seem to’ve edited it out. Apologies.

    Richard and I have some prior history of disagreement here. I claimed that long-distance rail operation in Germany was a _de facto_ monopoly of DB AG (we both know the exception). So-called “competition” is largely for medium-term (a few years) monopoly-franchises to operate the many municipal-level rail lines and networks — the lines which don’t exist in the UK after Beecham; but similar local tracks survived in Germany due to the VT95/VT98. (I don’t know about Switzerland or SBB-CFF)

    I almost wrote that “Operators will not invest in infrastructure unless it shows a commercially-viable rate of return within the franchise period”. That isn’t quite “never”, but it’s effectively never — unless, as you say, the “operator” is a local organization backed (or partly owned?) by the municipality, and the municipality funds things like new stations or (ahem) eliminating level-crossings.

    slackfarmer Reply:

    Often the complaints leveled against government run operations are not founded in public vs private, but big vs small. Big bureaucracies — whether public or private — often have high overhead costs, calcified thinking and tend to discourage innovation. An HSR network is by nature large and complex, again whether public or private. Expecting nimble, low cost operations from such an entity is unreasonable.

    On the other hand, smaller, more flexible and entrepreneurial organizations are perfect for connecting and complementary services. I think both BruceMcF and Max Wyss are on the right track with their suggestions.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Would-be franchisers would have to seize veto power over route selection from politicians. So long as a project is inherently and profoundly politicized as to guarantee unprofitibility public operation is mandatory. Besides the unions connected to the single party political machine, the primary backer of hsr, will demand public operation as they can be assured of a much lucrative compensation package.

    VBobier Reply:

    Which will never happen syno.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You keep forgetting the black helicopters, Nancy Pelosi mind rays and the Trilateral Commission.

    slackfarmer Reply:

    “Would-be franchisers would have to seize veto power over route selection from politicians.”

    This is exactly what shouldn’t happen. Route selection is not all about maximizing revenue. It’s about balancing system profitability with economic stimulus and other public benefits.

    synonymouse Reply:

    So BART, the elder sibling of the CHSRA, is ripe for franchising?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yes, route selection is all about maximizing revenue. It is key if you are genuinely talking private entrepreneurs getting involved. Of course we know that is nothing but PB claptrap.

    Prop 1A demands maximizing revenue. As Richard Tolmach has highlighted, the private airlines will stomp Roundabout Stilt-A-Rail.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    As Richard Tolmach has highlighted, the private airlines will stomp Roundabout Stilt-A-Rail.

    Experience world wide, even here in the US in the NY to DC market, says otherwise.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Experience world wide, even here in the US in the NY to DC market, says otherwise.

    It’s not, strictly speaking, terribly transferrable to CAHSR. All of them had significant rail ridership to begin with even including private automobiles, and often externally restricted air competition as well as high petrol prices, whereas there is essentially no ridership base for CAHSR to begin with.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Californians find their way to airports, they can use the same skills to find their way to train stations.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Air and car trips dominated rail trips on the Madrid / Barcelona corridor.

    Indeed, if you assume no rail trip diversion and only half of the air trip diversion from Madrid / Barcelona, and then apply that to the appreciably larger LA Basin to Bay Area transport market, that’s more than enough ridership to blow synth-mouses FUD out of the water.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Are we assuming still the franchise would be operating “Phase 1″ from LA to SF? Not for a while.

    The IOS will be Burbank-Merced, partially on blended tracks. A private business may well ask for a subsidy to accommodate the unconstructed hi-speed segments and middle-of-nowhere endpoint. Also, considering Palmdale is largely on the line because of LA county development interests, they may well ask for a commuter subsidy.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The IOS will be Burbank-Merced, partially on blended tracks.

    I don’t think so, because that arrangement opens the door to someone running a fast diesel Bay to Basin. I wouldn’t be suprise if there’s a lawsuit that requires the IOS to be fully electrified. That would put us at Merced – Palmdale.

    The key here is that the “urban powers” want control over how far their systems reach into the hinterland. Palmdale and Merced are the furthest that BART and Metro will push their commuter rail services.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Air and car trips dominated rail trips on the Madrid / Barcelona corridor.

    I didn’t say that they didn’t. Rail still had an appreciable fraction of the total trips prior to HSR while in California, at best, it serves as a rounding error.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, but the trips diverted from air travel and trips diverted from cars were greater than trips diverted from conventional rail, and if you scale Madrid/Barcelona down by the share of trips diverted by conventional rail, and also scale up by the larger size of the Bay Area to LA Basin transport
    market, the larger size of the market would certainly more than compensate for the larger share of conventional rail trips diverted to HSR.

    Spokker Reply:

    Suica *might* be close but I have to research it more, and I’ll do that when I’m feeling more autistic and memorizing train routes in Tokyo.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Suica is like Clipper – one card for everything, but you still have to pay a separate fare for each operator, with the exception of reduced-fare (but not free) transfers between the two subway operators.

    It works fine for Tokyo, a city where transit never really declined in the first place, but if you want a transit revival, you need more.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Even though complicated schemes with non-integrated fares are possible, they’re deeply unattractive to the average rider. Britain has both “national” ticket sales (standard fares good on any operator) and “franchisee-specific” ticket sales thanks to Britain’s poorly managed privatization; “national” is more popular.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Japan has a JR-wide pass.

    It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from an uncoordinated private system: some bilateral and a few multilateral reciprocity agreements, but nothing consistent.

    If you think this is bad, consider the fact that although all smartcards in Japan use the same technology, making each operator accept another operator’s cards requires bilateral agreement. It works within each metro area, but you can’t just take your Suica everywhere in Japan, unless you use an operator that JR East has an agreement with.

    Spokker Reply:

    Maybe it’s my mental problems speaking, but I love the non-integrated fares and crazy schemes. You get to go on the Internet and explain it all to other people and there is a lot to memorize.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m the opposite. I love precise takt schedules that I can memorize systemwide.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Another annoyance is that sometimes even when systems are compatible and an agreement is in place, sometimes it’s just for transit use.

    E.g., I can use my “Pasmo” card (Tokyo-area private rail and subways) to travel on JR East trains (and vice-versa for Suica)—but I can’t use JR East TVMs to recharge it (add more money)…

    [and because normal usage is pretty seamless, I end up forgetting about wrinkles like this, and sometimes end up missing trains because of it…]

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    for the american consumer – provided someone had the goal of providing what conusmers really want instead of what some university study says they want – ( they are always two differnent things after all I promise you that) I digress – if someone really wants to create a system that caters to what the consumer wants… it would have the following charactaristics:

    Single name/brand
    Single website
    Set fares ( or simple buckets) for city pairs.
    An easy answer to the question “how much does it cost to go from Fresno to San jose”
    for instance.
    A single though ticket including the HSR feeder bus network ( under the same brand name)
    30 minute headways
    choices of service class coach, business, first.
    Express, limited and locals.
    On board wifi
    On board snack/lounge
    upgraded amentities/food/beverage service in first and business

    and trains that depart and arrive on shedule.

    If someone can pull that off. the system will be a raging success. period.

    Its not rocket science. Hell if you do all that, you don’t even have to offer cheap fares or be that nice to them. Just get em from a to b in comfort and style on time.

    the public doesn’t have that choice anywhere in the travel industry today other than private jets and cruise ships.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    About the only thing airlines manage to do in that laundry list is “coach, business and first” and fail miserably on the rest. They manage to get passengers.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    they get passengers only because it often the only choice, and they certainly don’t get happy satified passengers. My list gets you happy satisfied passengers.

    Oh I forgot to add for tourism, the “EurekaPass’ ( from our state motto “eureka I have found it!” EurekaPass – Find yourself in California@

    Spokker Reply:

    The only thing that sucks about flying is security. I think being able to bring your own meals on board would cut a lot of the complaining about that area.

    Flying is amazing though. I boycott it because of the security issue but the idea of soaring through the air at 500 MPH is fucking awesome to me. People made it a mundane thing but I still think it’s something else.

    I really wish I could do it without my balls being fondled by Uncle Sam.

    Spokker Reply:

    “I think being able to bring your own meals on board would cut a lot of the complaining about that area.”

    What I mean here is that I would like to hit by Subway before flying and bring it on-board like I do on Amtrak/Metrolink.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The TSA is banning sandwiches now?

    Spokker Reply:

    Your sandwich isn’t going to wait 3 hours for you to get through security and wait at the boarding area.

    The whole point is to eat while travelling. I can get a sandwich at Union Station and eat it on the Pacific Surfliner here in CA. My sandwich won’t rot in the few minutes it takes to board.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    subway is gross. and flyingm while it was aweseme an invincible young person, is not so fun as an older person, because I am not fond of being 35000 feet in the air in a tin can waiting to pulnge to my fiery death. Loved it then. Hate it now that Im old enough to undestand corporate cost cutting.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Spokker flying is miserable. the seat pitch is so tight that if you drop your peanut you can’t even retrieve it. And americans are too fat to fit. And TSA aside, the who boarding er I mean, herding porcess, with all those damn people with all thier effin crap that they shove into those bins, all the standing and waiting and squishing and squeezing and strapping yourself in then sitting there and wiating some more till all those people with all thier crap finally get seated.

    UGH. Its worse than muni. You can have it. Theres nothing nice pleasant awesome or civilized about flying period.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Your sandwich isn’t going to wait 3 hours for you to get through security and wait at the boarding area.

    The whole point is to eat while travelling. I can get a sandwich at Union Station and eat it on the Pacific Surfliner here in CA. My sandwich won’t rot in the few minutes it takes to board.

    So get a sub after you pass through security in the airport. I’ve done it plenty of times.

    Spokker Reply:

    Mr. Taxpayer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk

    The most relevant portion is 2 minutes in, but the entire clip is incredible.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Paulus, the problem with getting airside food is that because there’s restricted competition, the quality and price are worse than outside. You can get decent food at airports with huge airside areas, like Atlanta with its airside connection between all terminals, but not otherwise. The food at JFK and Newark is quite bad.

    Spokker Reply:

    “So get a sub after you pass through security in the airport. I’ve done it plenty of times.”

    Haha, I’m getting deja vu. I vaguely remember having this conversation before, and it was specifically about sub sandwiches.

    I think my next argument was that I want the freedom to get what I want and then take it to the train/plane, not have a limited selection of crappy airport food. I may even want to bring something from home. It’s a 15 minute drive to the train station that is easily accessible (assuming no security theater). The logistics of bringing food are far less complex on trains.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Spokker Reply:April 29th, 2012 at 9:15 pmMr. Taxpayer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-GkThe most relevant portion is 2 minutes in, but the entire clip is incredible
    the whole thing was pretty hilarious!

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Even before the Theatrical Security Actors were hired, there was the wait in the terminal, “now boarding rows …”, the seats designed for people both slender and 5’9″ and shorter, “please turn off all electrical devices”, and on long flights the bad dry air to save fuel. If I could avoid the small plane part of getting to a hub airport on one or both sides, I would.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The ultimate goal is to avoid the airport altogether and be in Philadelphia or Chicago faster than flying….

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If the meetings are in Philadelphia or Chicago, sure. Hell, even if they are not faster than flying: at equal ticket prices, I’d happily spend 2hrs more than flying just to avoid flying.

    If they are in Denver or San Diego, then from Ohio, not so likely.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    The problem airlines have regarding food, is that one person’s delicacy might make other people puke. People on airplanes are on the verge of puking, anyway. So the airlines try to stick with neutral-smelling and bland-tasting food. Open the floodgates and let people bring whatever they want onboard, and there will be a river of vomit running down the aisle.

    People are a bit less squished-together on trains, so maybe trains are less of a problem. That said, Metra is pretty gross following Bears games.

    Spokker Reply:

    If we could achieve what you describe, hey, that would be great. No argument there. But I fail to see how a single name/brand and a single web site (which implies a single operator) is so critically necessary to be successful.

    How do consumers handle markets in which there are a plethora of options/brands/companies/products/whatever? Take, for instance, the market for smartphones. You essentially have to choose an OS (iOS, Android, Windows), a handset manufacturer (Apple, Samsung, HTC, etc.) and a service provider (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.). It can be daunting for a first-timer, and one could make the argument that we should have one phone from one carrier from one manufacturer running one OS (each individual company would *love* that).

    Part of what makes the market work are the ancillary companies that provide information on the smartphone market. There is no shortage of blogs and web sites dedicated to making sense of this market from broad coverage sites like Engadget to narrow interest blogs like the unofficial T-Mobile blog I frequent (so I can keep tabs on what my stupid carrier is trying to pull).

    It may sound glib, but the market already takes care of this. If there is a demand for market information, companies will provide it and recoup their costs through marketing or subscriptions. Hell, in the American transit market (if you could call it that), Google Maps offers something close to comprehensive and consolidated schedules across a wide range of operators. You can either look at schedules at a specific stop or plan a trip between origin and destination. And they make money doing it. Years ago this did not exist, but the demand was there and they started offering it.

    There are a few private rail operators in Japan and they have managed to create a single reusable card, though not perfect, that works across a variety of different services, and can even be used for general purchases. In Los Angeles County, they can’t even get their TAP card working right on a single agency.

    But I’ll tell you what, if Foothill Transit was a private company and competing with a private version of Metro in the Interstate 10 corridor in the San Gabriel Valley, and Foothill Transit already had their reusable card working perfectly, you would see Metro get theirs working perfectly in no time. We wouldn’t have fare gates in limbo for years and years.

    But it’s subsidized, and the profit motive isn’t there, and there is no motivation to compete, and so we do our best with public funding.

    Disclaimer: Don’t even mention that cars should be unsubsidized in this scenario. I know it, baby.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Personally I find all the gimicks and hoop jumping required with modern communications (phone cable net etc) to be infuration and obnoxious. Its loaded with trickery and small print.

    There was simpler time when we had a think called Pacific Bell. It was simple and it was cheap and worked exaclty the same for everyone.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But it’s subsidized, and the profit motive isn’t there, and there is no motivation to compete, and so we do our best with public funding.

    But a big part of this is the classical US public penury in the middle of private plenty. If we were willing to subsidize in return for performance, we would get more of the performance we were subsidizing in return for … but if we are only willing to subsidize a bare minimum, we’re going to get the bare minimum, and long protracted fights over how much the bare minimum happens to be.

    And we get the absurd situation programmed into our system by our federal, state and local policy decisions, where the same transit authority can spend money on capital expansion, because there is funding available for that, while it is cutting spending on operations.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Spokker, in Europe they passed a law requiring the cellphones to be separate from the “cellphone contract”. This, you know, actually worked. Standard interfaces by law!

    We did something like that in the US, back when we passed a law requiring the Bell System to allow people to install their own telephones.

    People deal with the jackass stupid US cellphone system, but we’ve got among the most expensive cellphone service in the world and it’s poor quality, too.

    The problem we have here is that there is a large political group with a fetish for private profiteering, particularly in the form of monopolies, even when it’s manifestly bad for people. Teddy Roosevelt would’ve known what to do with those people…

    Spokker Reply:

    Hey, don’t blame me. I’ve got an unlocked pentaband GSM smartphone on an off-contract plan.

    Derek Reply:

    But there might not be room for all those trains.

    That would be a nice problem to have.

    But there are always two ways to eliminate a shortage: add supply, or reduce demand. Reducing demand is the easiest: simply raise the price. But not so high that demand drops to zero, of course.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    This is essentially the model in Europe. Infrastructure is owned by the infrastructure magagers (in all cases government owned). Operators pay for using the infrastructure. There must be non-discriminatory access for any operator by law. However, the rates depend on various parameters, and some runs will simply be too expensive.

    NTV is using this model; a similar private operation is Westbahn in Austria, operating since beginning of the year. From what I have read so far, they are doing well.

    swing hanger Reply:

    The government ownership of infrastructure is the key here. I hate to think of a private company cutting back on safety and maintenance to satisfy the bean counters.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Bean counters are harmless. The really dangerous ones are the so-called “investors” (or the culture of focusing on the so-called “investors” needs). This may work in some cases, but it does not work in long-term focusing enterprises.

    It is said that the long-term stability can be provided by a government… but not even this is assured.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Sure, if you are in their sights, bean counters are harmless in a corporate setting in the same way that blood hounds are harmless to a fugitive. You’re not in any danger from the blood hounds themselves, its the guys with the guns that are following the sound of their baying that are the danger.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The problem of governments being captured by short-term looters is a serious political problem and one which I have never seen a true solution too. I guess education is the first step — “This is why you should never vote for Mrs. Thatcher.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think a more poignant issue is that you should never vote LibDems, no matter how attractive their manifesto is; thank Nick Clegg for making this abundantly clear. Britain’s electorate has had a large non-Tory majority since the 1970s, continuously. It’s had a Tory government for half that time.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Even during the Falklands war? Are you sure about that?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not sure about during the war, but in 1983, a clear majority of British voters supported left-of-center parties.

    Jonathan Reply:

    .. except Max seems to be hanging up Thatcher’s privatisation of BR as a positive example….

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Hmmm… that’s an interesting interpretation…

    The Thatcher privatisation was creating artificial competition, and just about that. Ah, yeah, it also helped sprouting consultants galore. That’s why more or less anything done in the UK is more expensive than elsewheere in Europe.

    Another consequence of the Thatcher privatisation was the drying out of the rolling stock industry.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Max,

    I’ll take “interesting” ;) but I’m willing to hear your reasons to the contrary. Perhaps I misread you.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Nathaniel:

    I hope you’re lucky enough to someday see a clip from the beginning of the original Commonwealth cinematic release of “The Crimson Permanent Assurance” — the faux-short before “The Meaning of Life”.
    I’m _sure_ the soundtrack had “ruinous Thatcherist policy” ,not “ruinous monetarist policy”.
    Though it brooks very little difference, at this point.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Swing Hanger, you should hate to think of that — look up “Railtrack” in the UK and the rail disasters associated with it.

    Jonathan Reply:

    You mean Clapham Junction? I seem to recall another collision-with-stopped-train in that period, but can’t put a finger on it.

    Hm. Do you mean Hatfield?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And as with any real world institutional arrangement, that model is not the silver bullet solution that some of its advocates promised. As with any other real world institution, its has advantages and disadvantages.

    There is some coverage of this at the European Tribune: Open Access: privatise profits, socialise losses

  3. California Taxpayer
    Apr 28th, 2012 at 23:17
    #3

    I think there should be some kind of statewide HSR feeder bus system that serves parts of the state, especially the north, who are left out of, ( but who will still have to pay for) the system. Brand the buses with the hsr brand and livery and bring all the far flung nether regions into the fold. YOu know, like united we stand, ( against the texans and stuff) like this

    There are so many people who are stranded and unable to join in the economy.

  4. swing hanger
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 00:15
    #4

    “I’m not at all enthused about the idea of competition in rail service, as I believe market forces and competition don’t usually work out well in practice, especially for transportation.”
    Depends on how it’s implemented, Robert. When everything is farmed out to different companies in a free-for-all, including the maintenance, as in the privitisation of British Railways, it has led to problems. Though not utilizing the anglocentric concept of open access in question, Japan’s railways, including case of the breakup of the National Railways, is often cited as an example of how to operate for-profit rail transport in a highly competitive environment.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I agree with Swing Hanger about how competition is implemented can be a very important factor.

    It’s interesting to note that both the railroad industry and the airline industry were once regulated as public utilities, which included market access and rate control, particularly in regard to minimum rates. This came out of the railroad experience in the 19th century, in which railroads were seen as a hugely profitable, highly productive business, which they were at the time. Back then, to travel 20 miles in one day was considered quite an accomplishment in the horse and buggy days, while wagons with oxen were much slower still. Both were also much more expensive than travel by rail, even with a railroad paying for its own (expensive) infrastructure.

    The problem was there were arguably too many railroads built, notably in the eastern and midwestern parts of the United States. Rate wars would break out as traffic managers tried to steal away business from their competitors; there were some cases where you could cross the country for about one dollar, and there were similar shenanigans in the freight field. The end result was everybody was cutting everyone else’s throats, and nobody was making money. On top of that, you had people in “captive” locations (towns where there was only one railroad) where it might cost more to ship a car of lumber or grain to the next town than it did to send it halfway across the country.

    This lead to early railroad regulation under what was called the Interstate Commerce Commission, or I.C.C.; the airline counterpart would have been the Civil Aeronautics Board, or C.A.B. Under the regulatory theory of both agencies, it was seen that this field was one in which the effects of saturation could have very serious economic consequences. It’s one thing to have someone close up a bar or restaurant due to competition; it was quite another to put millions of dollars at risk and thousands of man-hours of labor, not to mention the jobs involved, in the transportation field.

    A key element of this was a price floor, or minimum rate, actually called a standard rate. All the rail routes, including those operating over multiple companies through connections, had to charge the same basic rate between any two points. This meant that the New York Central, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, and the Erie Railroad all had to charge the same rates from New York to Chicago, even though distances and operating conditions could vary wildly. In this example, the New York Central was the longest (960 miles) but also the flattest and thus quite fast, while the Pennsylvania was much shorter (about 900 miles), but had a rugged mountain crossing between Altoona and Pittsburgh, while the B&O had to contend with an even worse mountain climb, a detour through Washington, D.C. (and the necessity of a back-up move to get into the Union Station there), plus a lack of direct access to New York (the road had to rely on buses and ferryboats to get to Manhattan). The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western had the shortest route as far as Buffalo, but had to rely on a connecting railroad–the New York, Chicago, & St. Louis, nicknamed the Nickel Plate Road–to get past its own western end, and also had to rely on ferries at New York. The Erie also had a short and well-engineered route (and went all the way to Chicago), but it managed to miss all sorts of cities and towns of any size in between, and suffered revenue problems from that score, along with the need to run boats at New York, too. I won’t go into the problems faced by two other roads that were beautiful but weak for lack of good connections–the Lehigh Valley and the New York, Ontario & Western. There was a reason the NYO&W, with the emphasis on the O&W part of its initials, was nicknamed the “Old & Weary” and “the Old Woman;” it’s entire emaciated system would be abandoned after a long struggle in 1957.

    An interesting effect of this rate regulation was that you still had competition–it just wasn’t in the form of rates! The competition came in the form of service and sometimes speed. This was where and why and how you could have trains that are legends even today, trains with names, including the Capitol Limited and the National Limited (B&O), the Broadway Limited (Pennsylvania Railroad), and the queen of them all, a service that was officially New York Central trains numbered 25 (westbound) and 26 (eastbound), the Twentieth Century Limited.

    This was the era of trains that ran like clocks, the era of Pullman sleepers and the amazing diplomatic service performed mostly by black men as Pullman porters and railroad dining car employees, of some amazing food that could be had in those dining cars, of some premier trains that even included bars or club cars, smoking sections for men with their big cigars, and even barber shops and beauty salons.

    The western carriers weren’t to be outdone; counterparts in the west included trains such as the City of Los Angeles and the City of San Francisco (Union Pacific-Southern Pacific joint routing), the Super Chief and the Chief of the Santa Fe (“Santa Fe all the way” from Chicago to California), and the later, diesel-powered California Zephyr (joint routing over the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q, also nicknamed the Burlington or the Q), the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW, known as the Rio Grande), and the Western Pacific (the WP, popularly known as the Feather River Route for its scenic line down that California stream).

    All this became unraveled when subsidized and largely unregulated competition came about, both though subsidized air service and especially subsidized highways (even now, your gas taxes barely pay half of what it costs to build and maintain the road system). This lead to deregulation of railroads (and they were able to leverage their inherent efficiency in freight service–efficiency that can even beat out subsidized trucking in many cases, which made them profitable), and of airlines (a different story, as noted elsewhere on this blog).

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A glimpse of how things used to be:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WrLwDs4t74

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXfKeJdBVkQ&feature=relmfu

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQupCrYLLbk&feature=related

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Even the railroads had to admit they weren’t perfect:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHRGkGFwo7k&feature=relmfu

    Finally, Hollywood used to understand trains better, or at least had better movies overall (in my most humble opinion–cough, cough):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5OpOU4HFNY

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5tAnll0WTQ

    swing hanger Reply:

    Mr. Lubic, you basically summed up the content of my transport economics class in college, or at least the parts I remember. The professor (George Hilton) used the example of the numerous parallel railroads in Iowa in his lecture.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Interesting that you got to attend classes with an economics professor who is also a well-known rail enthusiast and rail author, although I have to disagree with him that it was just as well that the Pacific Electric died as it did. It’s curious, but it seems strange that someone as well educated and as knowledgeable as Mr. Hilton would seeming fail to recognize how the underpriced or hidden cost of the road system has distorted the world of private, for-profit rail service. That people behaved sort of rationally given the price signals they got is understandable, but Mr. Hilton’s not acknowledging that the price signals had serious faults is less so.

    http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~pgordon/transit6.html

    Of course, he may have simply been living with the argument that this is the world as it exists, and that included government intervention in the subsidizing of the road system. I wonder if his opinion of that has changed over the years.

    Still, I appreciate his books, “The Illustrated History of Paddle Steamers,” “The Ma and Pa” (the nickname of the beloved Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad), and the one he coauthored with John Due, “The Electric Interurban Railways in America.”

    swing hanger Reply:

    I liked his book about the Monon, great info and pictures of the old Dearborn Station in it. I remember he joked in his lecture that all the books he authored were about long gone companies or obsolete forms of transport. When I was in school, I think he had just finished his book on American narrow gauge railways.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Japan’s railways, including case of the breakup of the National Railways, is often cited as an example of how to operate for-profit rail transport in a highly competitive environment.”

    That ain’t competition.

    Japan’s basically got a bunch of regional monopolies now. That’s privatization, but it isn’t competition (with a few exceptions in Tokyo where there actually is competition, but demand is saturating both “competing” lines).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not just in Tokyo, but also in the other big cities. And on many routes (defined as something like “western suburbs to Tokyo” rather than a specific station pair, for obvious reasons) there are several different competitors – usually 2 or 3, with 4 on the thicker routes.

    Spokker Reply:

    There is rarely, if ever, perfect competition. There’s a duopoly in the market for consumer-grade Graphics Processing Units for personal computers, but it’s competition nonetheless.

    The markets we see in reality are more like monopolistic competition. Yes, it’s a real thing.

    On Japan’s railways, you can take the Narita Express operated by JR East or the express line operated by Keisei. It didn’t much matter to me which one we took, but I’m sure those who use them often can see the differences.

    Spokker Reply:

    Also the “limousine bus.” Don’t let the fancy name fool you. It’s just a coach.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s never “perfect” competition, which rests in part on unattainable perfect information assumptions, but there are a handful of instances of pure competition.

    However, normal competition, aka “monopolistic competition” because they only one seller of that precise good at that precise location but that good is still sold in a competitive market, is substantially the same in real world implications as pure competition.

    A tight oligopoly, especially a duopoly, is not competition at all, neither pure nor monpolistic. It is a more complex case than classical monopoly, but still retains the ability of monopoly to maintain excess profits.

    This is, indeed, one of the classical shell games that is played. First describe the benefits of competition in the technical sense in market theory of having no barrier to entry from the best qualified outsiders, then use competition in the ordinary sense to refer to the rivalry between oligopolists in a market with substantial barriers to entry, and simply pretend that the benefits of the technical competition apply to the oligopolistic rivalry. It is, indeed, well represented in the Industrial Organization field, since testifying that what is quite obviously a non-competitive market really is competitive after all for this or that obscure and impressive sounding reason is a lucrative gig if you can get it.

    Spokker Reply:

    “It is a more complex case than classical monopoly, but still retains the ability of monopoly to maintain excess profits.”

    Are you saying we should be paying less for AMD CPUs, then (using the example of the classic Intel/AMD duopoly)?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I’m saying that we can’t rely on the market structure for assurance that excess profits will be temporary things.

    The reason that Industrial Organization economists use game theory to model oligopoly is because the simplistic marginal analysis doesn’t stand up to the complexity of firms with large market shares that take into account the strategy of other firms with large market shares … but often you only need to tweak the assumptions of a game theory model a little bit to get substantially different conclusions.

    As a cross-industry average, four-firm oligopolies tend toward more competitive results and duopolies tend toward more monopolistic results, but then in specific cases, a duopoly engaged in cut through rivalry would likely give a more competitive result than a cozy, go along to get along four firm oligopoly. Company culture and the details of the production cost structures matter a lot when there a few firms dominating the market share, as opposed to either a single dominant firm or no dominant firm.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    cut through = cut-throat.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Bruce, you forgot the “no economies of scale”……

    swing hanger Reply:

    Nathaniel, they are competing with private automobiles, highway buses, the airlines, and in the big urban areas, other railways (like Hankyu in Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto or Meitetsu in Nagoya).

  5. Spokker
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 01:03
    #5

    “as I believe market forces and competition don’t usually work out well in practice”

    The cases in which market forces and competition does not work are exceptions to the rule.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Transportation seems to be one of them, largely because of the heavy capital investments required, even with subsidized infrastructure in the case of the airlines. It has been noted that airlines made a good deal of money when they were regulated, which included a certain amount of limited access, but the overall return on the air industry has been negative under deregulation. It’s been said by none other than Warren Buffet that the world would be a better place if someone had shot down that first flight by the Wright Brothers:

    http://ujwal.net/blog/what-keeps-businesses-unprofitable-lessons-from-the-airline-industry/

    http://www.mainstreet.com/article/lifestyle/travel/3-horrible-facts-about-airline-industry

    Spokker Reply:

    You’re making the case for government to build the infrastructure, which is fine. But I think competition in operations is beneficial.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Depends what you mean by “competition” and what you mean by “operations”.

    Here’s a key fact: a (particular segment of) railroad can have only one dispatcher. Which means it can practically speaking only have one scheduler. Natural monopoly, competition is impractical, etc.

    Now, if you want to put that responsibility out to bid, rather than making it civil service, there’s something to be said for that; it makes it easier to replace a really bad group of dispatchers. But that’s not “competition” as I understand it; at any given time, there’s still one dispatching operator.

    So that restricts “competition” to the very limited area of bidding to run trains in slots in a schedule which is determined by a centralized agency. That’s the British “privatization” scheme. It’s OK. It has some benefits over total vertical integration, and some disadvantages.

    Spokker Reply:

    What you describe goes without saying. I was never under the impression that Southwest HSR and Jet Blue HSR would be playing musical chairs.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Nathaniel,

    A better description of the actual UK privatisation scheme is that it’s franchised: geographic monopolies.
    For historical reasons, those monopolies sometimes overlap. And there are some cases of actual city pairs served by multiple operators with competing fares (and in the cases I remember, different routes).

    I recall raising this exact point a few months ago, as it applied to Germany (which is even more modelled as S-Bahns, each one contracted out to an operator for N years; very little actual diirect competition; and within epsilon of all the long-distance service run by DBAG) and being roundly flamed by RM, amongst others.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Network effects mean that transportation infrastructure is a natural monopoly. The problem of traffic management means that dispatching (also air traffic control) is also a natural monopoly.

    This limits the realm in which competition is even possible to a very small one. It’s not even clear whether it’s socially beneficial to have competition in vehicle operations; it leads to crazy bidding wars over “good” routes and poor service on “bad” routes, which deteriorates the network, etc.

    The place where competition is clearly beneficial is in equipment supply (rail car manufacture, track components, etc. — airplane and car manufacture, road construciton) though even there standardization is critical, limiting the possibilities for competition.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    It depends on what you are asking market forces and competition to do. For one thing, a market cannot design a complex system, so discussion of “market forces” is misleading when it comes to complex forces: the question is whether the designs that are motivated first and foremost to maximize financial benefit to a commercial going concern are going to be better or worse than designs from going concerns with a different set of motivations.

    The answer is usually, better in some respects, worse in others, so that proponents can arrive at “the market is usually right” by focusing on the respects in which they are better, and opponents can arrive at “the market is usually wrong” by focusing on the respects in which they are worse.

    Of course, the points where two different designs that are from market-motivated going concerns are superior and inferior are not likely to be entirely uniform, so being either a one-eyed advocate or a one-eyed opponent requires some flexibility in which points are “the important points” in the problem at hand.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    I think the best model for accountability is to have the state own and maintain the the infrastructure, and to start with a single operator, via a bidding process. The winning bidder would be bound to provide a particular level and type of service, and maybe pay either a flat annual fee or a percentage, to the state and keep the rest to over operating costs and profit. The state would use the annual income to maintain and expand the system. The operators success would be based on how well they please the customers with comfort, schedules, pricing and amenities. This gives the operator a lot of leeway in how they present their brand. The trains and system could either be state branded, regardless of operator, or for a higher fee, the operator would be allowed to use their own brand and logos on the trains. As a consumer I prefer the most choices in classes of service, on board amenities, and local, limited and express services. 30 minute headways system wide should be the starting point.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There are a range of franchise bidding arrangements. One reasonable model would be for the bidders to bid to agree to buy the railcars, meet a common minimum service guarantee, and pay a fixed percentage of gross ticket revenue.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    They have to buy the ones in the picture up top of this post. Nice ones like that. And they have to offer some business and first coaches with nice services and food and cocktails.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I’d expect that bids will come from consortia that each include an experienced HSR or Rapid Rail operator, and they’ll include all of those for the same reasons they include them in their current operations.

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    In addition to income from ticket sales, for both the state and the operator, additional income can be earned by the state and/or operator in the form of concessions, retail rents, advertising space on board and in stations. Billboards can be spaced along the row to generate more ad income.

    And of course, the operator could make contracts with local and international tour operators and the global tourism and hospitality industry in general, to help keep trains full and profits up.

    This is just some of the economic stimulus such a system can induce that is never talked about in the arguments. I guess people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the bigger picture. As a taxpayer I want the investment made, and then I want to allow as much creativity in generating revenue for everyone involved.

    slackfarmer Reply:

    The economic stimulus from HSR is one of its main benefits and should be trumpeted more here and in the MSM. It is also why the system is probably best developed by a public rather than private entity — it’s just hard for a private enterprise to capture the profit from such stimulus in order to subsidize the infrastructure costs. Back in the days when Huntington and others put in red car lines and other infrastructure to spur real estate development on their property such a thing was possible, but there isn’t enough undeveloped land that could be controlled by one actor to subsidize a statewide HSR system.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “advertising space on board”? You mean as in shrink-wraparound advertising on BART’s ugly-ass, noisy-ass cars? Is it happening?

    California Taxpayer Reply:

    Bart stations are routinely plastered with advertising and there are ads in every bart car. So yes. What’s your point?

    Spokker Reply:

    “additional income can be earned by the state and/or operator in the form of concessions, retail rents,”

    This is something that is ignored in the US. I think Metro is looking into it. Union Station has bustling facilities now. Lines at the Subway, lines at the Famina, lines at Wetzels Pretzels. It’s crazy.

    I shy away from advertising from a commuter’s point of view, but it is what it is.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    This is something that is ignored in the US.

    It may be ignored in your corner of California but it’s not in the rest of the US.
    For instance:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/69th_Street_Transportation_Center

    Even low use suburban stations will have a coffee shop/newsstand

    Spokker Reply:

    Asian train stations in urban areas can double as malls, practically.

    Many negative things can be said about American malls, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I don’t know why anyone would visit one. I hate them. But the fact is that people do go to malls and they have parking lots for a reason. I just wonder if many of those criticisms would go away if they were built near train stations.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    There are some who argue that malls and a lot of brick-and-mortar type shopping places are on the way out, but that’s been said of a lot of things that should have died long ago.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500202_162-4884407.html

    http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/news/are-malls-a-dying-breed-330944/

    Most interesting is this site; of particular interest for me are its histories of the mall in Martinsburg, W.Va. (which is nearly 20 years old and has at least a dozen slots for stores that were never filled), and the Delco Plaza in Winchester, Va., both about 15 minutes from my house:

    http://www.deadmalls.com/

    Have fun.

    Spokker Reply:

    It’s hard to make any conclusions about what’s happening to malls during the recession. The speculation is interesting but I doubt it has anything to do with an intrinsic and increasing distaste for malls. If the economy ever improves, malls will be bustling again. If this is the New Normal, then of course they will suffer.

    I still think people like visiting them. I’d visit them if they were near train stations. My biggest complaint is the parking. There is one near the Metrolink station in Laguna Niguel, CA that I would visit on the train, but a freeway divides the station from the mall and there is no pedestrian bridge. The mall is less than 1,000 feet from the station geographically, but the walk is a mile, and it’s not a pleasant mile.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “The mall is less than 1,000 feet from the station geographically, but the walk is a mile, and it’s not a pleasant mile.”

    Hrrumph, I don’t blame you a bit. I found out how rough an even shorter walk can be when you have to cross a parking lot of one mall, a road, and another parking lot to get to a strip mall. Very unpleasant, dangerous, surprisingly long in terms of the time it takes, and very uncomfortable (cold day in winter with plenty of wind). No wonder people get in a car to go across the street!

    I don’t think the distance was more than a thousand feet, but it felt at least two or three times that. What was interesting was how unpleasant this was for all the reasons above–yet a similar distance, which is about a city block, doesn’t feel that way when you are in a city, on a sidewalk on a street, even in comparable weather. Interesting. . .I guess surroundings do make a difference.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Pedestrian access at that station is doubly annoying because there isn’t a pedestrian access via Crown Valley. I wonder if Mission Viejo would be up for installing a pedestrian bridge over the 5 however, it would give easy access to the hospital, mall, and college; great for reverse commuting.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Contrast that to:

    The Queen Victoria Building ~ the mall I used to walk through (normally without buying anything because it was too high class for the likes of me). You simply head toward the correct exit on your way out of Town Hall station, then stick to the part with juice bars and such and, voila, you are in the basement of the QVB.

    Or Westfield Parramatta, take the bus interchange exit from Parramatta Station, cross in the pedestrian-only walk under the rail corridor, then cross two streets diagonally on a diagonal crosswalk signal and you are at the front door to five stories and 588 shops.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Providence Place Mall is built right next to a train station. It also has a massive parking garage, and fronts wide, unwalkable streets. Walking there from the train station, a distance of about 200 meters, is not recommended, especially not in the snow.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “It depends on what you are asking market forces and competition to do.”

    Thank you for making this obvious point!

    Markets are a tool. They work very well for some things (nonessential commodities) and really poorly for others (health care being the extreme example).

    Spokker Reply:

    The Swiss system is attractive to me because there is some element of competition.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/countries/

    “The Swiss example shows that universal coverage is possible, even in a highly capitalist nation with powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Insurance companies are not allowed to make a profit on basic care and are prohibited from cherry-picking only young and healthy applicants. They can make money on supplemental insurance, however. As in Germany, the insurers negotiate with providers to set standard prices for services, but drug prices are set by the government.”

    It’s the second most expensive in the world but they get better results than the United States. Of course, the individual mandate may very well be unconstitutional in the United States (I believe it is).

    The other wrinkle is that the Swiss system already had 95% coverage before the reforms.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Nearly everyone gets better results than the US. I get better care in France without (add-on) insurance than in the US with. And France has a larger percentage of the population with add-on insurance than the US has people with any insurance.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The US gets better results than the UK!!! (well, if you pick the right metrics, at least)

    Though spending three times as much as the country you point to as beating, and twice as much as a range of countries that get better results than you, would seem in fact to be saying the same basic thing, that here in the US we pay a bit over twice as much as other countries pay when scaled to results.

  6. political_incorrectness
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 01:17
    #6

    Sure a new company, but then there is the downside as Yonah Freemark pointed out a few years ago that because these make money like international air routes, HSR services typically fund the non-profitable regional lines. Competition can create the need for improvements to service, but it could also effect regional services provided by the state operated company. Pros and cons to everything.

  7. James M. in Irvine
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 08:29
    #7

    I, for one, would like to say thank you for keeping this blog running, and I hope you have a great trip!

    Jim M

  8. Anthony Thomas
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 11:50
    #8

    The Iron Lady’s example of privatizing what was the national rail service in the UK is HOW NOT TO DO THINGS. If you want a public/private partnership, then Germany’s rail system and Japan’s is what you want, simple enough.

    As for speed to which is gets built, as soon as a route is a agreed on, construction will start. That is largely the problem. The route changes here and there and where to start building so people can see the results first hand.

    Not concerned, life isn’t standing still, transportation is still an issue for me as I don’t own a car now (serious car person) and using that money normally burned up driving, maintaining a car on something quite a bit more important. It totally burns me not to own a car, but I’ll be able to buy another one someday soon, not concerned.

    That said, while America at large is still largely arguing which country we want to be, we in California are solving problems (albeit slowly). I am putting myself in a position to thrive for the next decade while the state gets its ass in gear.

    That means, relocating…. Out of the United States for awhile.

  9. missiondweller
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 12:53
    #9

    “Trenitalia’s market share increased to 55 percent from 32 percent on this route, while airline travel decreased to 32 percent from 52 percent.”

    I love this! Actual HARD evidence that the naysayers of HSR cannot refute. And that this seems to mirror France’s experience just shows France is no fluke.

  10. Paulus Magnus
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 13:41
    #10

    I’m not at all enthused about the idea of competition in rail service, as I believe market forces and competition don’t usually work out well in practice, especially for transportation.

    Can we just go ahead and call you a communist?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    How did I manage that double quoting?

    Jack Reply:

    Robert~

    Can we please upgrade to a comment system from this decade??

    Spokker Reply:

    Can we have a fight over what Mr. Magnus said? It should be a good one.

    joe Reply:

    Let’s post about our health insurance. First, who has it?

    Spokker Reply:

    Not me, but I’d rather spend my money on tortas and cell phones.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Robert,

    Can we please not change the comment system, except to include comment preview, and maybe fixing the textbox width issue if possible? WordPress to Disqus is roughly like The Wire to Law and Order. Yes, it has problems around the edges, but it’s still vastly superior in any conceivable way.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Wait, what? Lack of comment preview and editing is a huge problem… and I can’t see anything wordpress does that deserves the term “vastly superior” (after all, in the end they’re both just a bunch of nested text boxes!), especially when it’s lacking such important features.

    [The main problem with Disqus seems to be that its too dynamic, and relies on Disqus servers—but surely there’s some platform that actually offers the best of both…]

    Alon Levy Reply:

    WordPress can do preview if you have your own blog. SAS and TTP both have comment preview.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    It closes open quotes, so if your second tag was {blockquote} instead of {/blockquote} then it closes both. Its the browser that recognizes that it means a nested quote.

  11. Spokker
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 16:37
    #11

    I’ve been out of the loop on CAHSR for a while, only keeping up on the bare minimum. I’ve finally had a chance to catch up. The current plan is *better* but it appears different enough from the Prop 1A plan that CA voters deserve a do-over vote. In this sense I agree with Skelton from the LA Times.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/23/local/la-me-cap-train-20120423

    It could be productive to simultaneously ask the voters to beef up funding for local rail (commuter rail, light rail, subway, etc.) as an alternative to high speed rail. Voters would probably vote down HSR in a do-over vote, but I think if framed the right way, they would go for upgrades in rail lines “closer to urban areas” that are “more useful in the short term.”

    Not that any of this is going to happen. It’s strictly theoretical.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    BART to LA, sounds great!

    BruceMcF Reply:

    In what way is it different? Its certainly different than the Prop1a plan as interpreted by Kopp, but Kopp seemed to have a special version of Prop1a that nobody else was privy too. There never was planned to be a 220mph bullet train corridor from San Jose to San Francisco or from the San Fernando Valley to Anaheim via LA Union Station. The difference is whether one imagines that the HSR train catches fleas by running on Rapid Rail corridor shared with local rail services, rather than having its own pure as driven snow Rapid Rail corridor dedicated to HSR alone.

    Spokker Reply:

    It will probably be hashed out in court someday, many years from now.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Or not. Did you know that 2700 lawsuits were filed to stop the Golden Gate Bridge? I didn’t. I think that the lawsuits to stop HSR will be about as successful.

    Spokker Reply:

    I didn’t say that the lawsuits would stop HSR. They have not thus far.

    Look, the democrat controlled legislature has every HSR opponent by the balls. I’m not sure what you guys are so defensive about.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    That doesn’t answer the question, though ~ how do you think it differs from the envelope laid down in Prop1a?

  12. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 18:27
    #12

    In other news, car wrecks normally don’t get much national attention, but this one may, because of a high body count and a rather exotic accident site:

    http://news.yahoo.com/suv-plunges-nycs-bronx-zoo-grounds-7-killed-004554171.html

    Matthew Reply:

    This is an example of how even grade separated zoos can have car accidents.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And Matthew has a site worth looking at, too. It’s normally associated with Boston, but he has an interesting page on Pittsburgh, with references to the new extension of the light rail line there:

    http://walkingbostonian.blogspot.com/2012/04/problems-in-pittsburgh.html

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I wanted to make the same snark about car accidents not attracting attention, but this one is different, because it affects people off-road. The standard explanation for why society tolerates an auto fatality rate orders of magnitude higher than transit and airline passenger fatality rates is that driving is a voluntary risk, over which people feel like they have some control, without requiring them to trust a train driver or pilot. The same theory predicts that cars falling on people from the road will attract much more attention, like a crane falling from a building or a similar hazard.

  13. D. P. Lubic
    Apr 29th, 2012 at 18:31
    #13

    Also in other news, a sight to bring pleasure to the traditionalists here–well, except for some hard-core steam fans like me (maybe); still, glad to see something traditional turn out so well:

    http://www.rypn.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=33212

    http://railfan44.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3002260

    http://railfan44.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=3004685

    Spokker, Syn, and others, have fun.

    Spokker Reply:

    I’m a modern man, Mr. Lubic, but I can appreciate those photos. Thanks for posting them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I really like those shiny chrome bogies.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Glad you liked this style of locomotive, but those “chrome” bogies, as shiny as they are, are really painted a bright silver. Several roads did this at different times; most eventually painted them black because they were so hard to keep clean, but as you see, they certainly brightened things up when they were fresh.

    New York Central (this is the color scheme used in the 1950s, and shows very briefly in a shot of the Twentieth Century Limited at Chicago in the Hitchcock classic, “North by Northwest”):

    http://www.railroadmuseum.net/equipment.htm

    The classic “Warbonnet” of the Santa Fe:

    http://www.trainnet.org/Libraries/Lib003/ATSF38.JPG

    And applied to later power:

    http://www.trainnet.org/Libraries/Lib003/ATSF5943.JPG

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The Delaware & Hudson of New York purchased four American Locomotive Company (Alco) PA type units from the Santa Fe in the late 1960s for the D&H’s road’s passenger services; the traditional blue and silver of the D&H was modified to take advantage of the stainless steel side panels on the Santa Fe engines, and for these units, was essentially AT&SF’s “Warbonnet” in blue:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brooklynparrots/1779359215/

    The Seaboard Air Line used silver under its “Citrus” painted diesels in the 1930s:

    http://www.railwayclassics.com/images/sal01/sal3002.jpg

    The Western Pacific used a lot of silver on units assigned to the California Zephyr:

    http://i.ebayimg.com/t/Railroad-Poster-Western-Pacific-Diesel-Locomotives-/23/!B6vMVIwBGk~$(KGrHqF,!iMEyeRtpYM(BMyW3Hll3g~~-1_3.JPG

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Chicago, Burlington & Quincy pioneered diesels and stainless steel passenger trains with its Zephyrs. Later locomotives would be painted silver, but the road’s prewar GM-EMD E-5 class was notable for having bodies of stainless steel, and of course, silver bogies:

    http://donsdepot.donrossgroup.net/dr0100/cs9955a.jpg

    A postwar unit in (comparatively) pedestrian silver paint:

    http://donsdepot.donrossgroup.net/dr0903/q9964.jpg

    For a time, Burlington successor BNSF used a Great Northern inspired heritage paint scheme, with silver bogies; I’ve seen these units in person, and they are colorful:

    http://www.trainnet.org/libraries/Lib006/BNSF999.JPG

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Another variation from BNSF:

    http://www.rail-pictures.com/name/train-photo/5469/gallery/USA~Companies~BNSF.html

    You wouldn’t expect to see bright colors, with silver bogies, on a coal-hauling shortline road in Virginia, but someone didn’t tell the designers at Alco and the management of the Interstate Railroad (yes, it really was named that):

    http://hobbystop.tripod.com/webonmediacontents/368750.jpg?1329718647650

    Recently, Norfolk Southern has taken to painting some new locomotives in the colors of various predecessors, as a way of celebrating that road’s 30th anniversary. Among them is a brand new General Electric freighter, painted in the colors of the Inerstate:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-FuyYbi7LLHA/T5FWyjWix3I/AAAAAAAAALc/xowB6gkwTL4/s1600/INT.jpg

    Looking at these units, old and new, one wonders why we usually make modern trains so bland looking. I hope the Californians do better than average in this regard.

  14. morris brown
    Apr 30th, 2012 at 01:36
    #14

    California bullet train’s operating costs questioned

    http://www.modbee.com/2012/04/29/2179385/bullet-trains-operating-costs.html

    Exposing again, the nonsense that Rossi keeps trying to spread, the HSR train will make a profit, and make a profit at almost any level of ridership.

    Spokker Reply:

    Mr. Brown, what is your favorite Taylor Swift song? Mr. Lubic has a monopoly on links between age and HSR support/opposition but I want to study the link between favorite Taylor Swift song and Altamont vs. Pacheco preference.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Does Taylor Swift have more than one song?

    Spokker Reply:

    My hypothesis is that those who enjoy her earlier music that was more country than pop generally oppose HSR. Those that enjoy her more modern pop music support HSR.

    But any REAL Taylor fan loves her vintage stuff too. She is such a talent.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Could be a local cultural factor contributing to both. I have never heard more than one Taylor Swift song. My main source of pop music – what’s played at delis, supermarkets, and restaurants I go to – caters to an Eastern urban taste. And people living in Eastern cities tend to be more supportive of alternative transportation.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I’m weird. I think we need modern rail service, including HSR, but I also like really old country music, some of it going back to Jimmy Rodgers’ days. I thought country music was getting too “modern sounding” in the 1970s (percussion, electric instruments, and too many !!@#$%!!! beer-drinking songs, following a movie that came out then, “Urban Cowboy”), and considered myself lucky to “discover” Bluegrass in the later part of the decade.

    Interestingly, Bluegrass is a “modern” style, at least as a commercial genre, only dating to the 1940s. Supposedly Bill Monroe thought country was getting too far from its roots even then, and also was looking for a sound that was distinctive and traditional. The common Blue Grass band make-up–five musicians, playing guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bass, all acoustic, all strings, no percussion or brass–dates from Monroe’s band of 1947.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluegrass_music

    Since getting married, I’ve also gotten an exposure to classical, and also to the big band stuff from the 1930s and 1940s (which was also the music of my parents); all neat stuff to say the least.

    Of course, all of this dates to the steam era or before, so maybe I’m not so weird as much as misplaced–living in the wrong time. I’ve had two friends tell me so.

    synonymouse Reply:

    How can you add $2 bil extra construction cost, 50 extra route miles, and a half hour extra travel times and expect to have extraordinarily low operating costs. Higher than normal costs are indicated.

    This scheme is strictly of the welfare variety, a jobs creation nostrum for the construction unions and the concrete industry. No one in State guvmint has the energy or initiative or interest to make this thing work. If they had the stones they would move ahead with eminent domain on the Tejon Ranch Co’s Bear Trap Canyon property post haste.

    It is typical kick the can down the road, as with the pension and public employee compensation conundrum. It will be another huge chunk of depreciating infrastructure for future taxpayers to subvent and maintain. Good luck as there won’t be enough taxpayers to go around. By then so many corps will have joined Apple in Reno.

    Derek Reply:

    The report is here: http://www.cc-hsr.org/assets/pdf/NFOS.pdf

    European HSR operating cost data for 2002 is found here: http://www.fbbva.es/TLFU/tlfu/ing/publicaciones/informes/fichainforme/index.jsp?codigo=424

    For example, the TGV duplex in 2002 had an operating cost of 0.0776 euros per seat-km and a maintenance cost of 0.0050, for a total of 0.0826 euros per seat-km in 2002.

    Converting to miles, the total is 0.1329 euros per seat-mile, in 2002.

    1 Euro in 2002 was $0.9450 in 2002, so that’s $0.1256 per seat-mile in 2002.

    $1 in 2002 is $1.28 in 2012, so that’s $0.16 per seat-mile in 2012.

    I suspect what they’re doing is converting the 2002 Euros to USD using today’s exchange rate ($1.3238 per 1 Euro) rather than the 2002 exchange rate ($0.9450 per 1 Euro).

    Also, I don’t see where CAHSR claims an operating cost of 10 cents per passenger mile, except in their auto operating cost assumptions.

    Derek Reply:

    I suppose some context is in order. The report claims that CAHSR cannot possibly make an operating profit because the average operating and maintenance cost of European HSR is 48 cents per passenger mile (France’s double-decker TGV is the lowest at 31 cents), but revenue from CAHSR will be only 20 cents per passenger mile, with 10 cents of that going to operating and maintenance costs.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Hey guys,

    I’m not a super expert but follow my reasoning :

    – official figures for TGV travel in France : 50 billion passenger.kms/year = 31 bn passenger.miles

    – official figures 2011 turnover for travel division of SNCF : € 7.3 Bn = $ 9.5 Bn

    – part of TGV in travel division is estimated at aound 50% generally, let’s be generous and put it at 75% = $ 7.2 Bn, in fact this ratio will serve as a basis for costs estimation, so we assume TGV costs are 75% of all travel division costs

    – TGV is very profitable, it’s impossible that the costs are more than 85% of the turnover (and I don’t even count out the VAT but if I’m not mistaken on train tickets it is a low one), so lets put them at $7.2 Bn * .85 = $ Bn 6.1

    So maximum possible costs at $ 6.1 Bn – I’m convinced 5 Bn would be a much closer to reality figure but whatever- including the monstruous fees to RFF, for 31Bn passenger.miles = 19.6 cents per passenger mile

    …and that’s a maximum! and we’re counting reimbursements on the infrastructure!

    Where do they pull from those 31 cents etc. figures?

  15. Spokker
    Apr 30th, 2012 at 17:03
    #15

    Today’s the first full day of Expo Line operation if anyone is interested. Anecdotal reports suggest the line is not disappointing on day 1.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Did a little looking for news stories; found this so far:

    http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=8641508

    http://transportationnation.org/2012/04/30/tn-moving-stories-las-expo-line-opens-twin-cities-bike-share-theft-free-estonia-city-to-make-transit-free/

    This one’s a little loopy, but at least it’s on the subject of the Expo line:

    http://www.neontommy.com/news/2012/04/expo-line-progress-reverse

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Cab rides from a few weeks ago; found one for each direction:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-LrhxPAhQo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H73eyHOBH40&feature=related

    Spokker Reply:

    I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Expo Line with a transit advocacy group. The line is beautiful, though a bit slow. The demand is definitely going to be there but I question how able it will be in enticing drivers from their vehicles.

    A grand edition to Los Angeles, nonetheless.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Grade crossings- gonna slow things down. But 30 min. downtown to Culver City seems respectable.

    Spokker Reply:

    Grade crossings do not necessarily slow things down. It’s street-running (35 MPH top speed) vs. dedicated ROW (55 MPH).

    swing hanger Reply:

    http://la.curbed.com/tags/dorsey-high-school

    Spokker Reply:

    That’s an environmental justice issue, not a grade crossing issue. Trains can fly through grade crossings at very high speeds in general, but in this particular case the train was racist so it must stop and proceed. It must do this even though the Farmdale station is not open yet.

    thatbruce Reply:

    To quote from the loopy link:

    The advertised 30 minutes from Culver City to downtown is no revelation; a traffic-free trip on the 10 is easily half that.

    The 10 is ‘traffic free’ between 11am to 3pm, and 9pm to 6am, and like most LA-area freeways, moves like molasses during SoCal’s regular commute hours.

    blankslate Reply:

    I’ve sat in traffic in LA at all hours. Probably 11PM to 5AM is the only time I would be really surprised to sit in a traffic jam. It’s more like probabilities:

    6-11am, 3-9pm: 100%
    11am-3pm, 5-6am, 9-11pm: 50%
    11pm-5am: 5%

  16. datacruncher
    Apr 30th, 2012 at 17:10
    #16

    California bullet train plan gets positive response

    Will Kempton, who chairs a “peer review” committee that has been sharply critical of the state’s highly controversial bullet train project, sounded a more positive note Monday during testimony to the Assembly Transportation Committee.

    Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/04/california-bullet-train-plan-gets-positive-response.html

  17. Spokker
    Apr 30th, 2012 at 17:45
    #17

    A bunch of high school kids say high speed rail is not profitable in America (with the exception of Acela).

    http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/students-do-the-math-on-high-speed-rail-win-total-of-115000

    “The High Technology High School students concluded that no future high-speed railways (beyond Amtrack’s existing Acela line) would be profitable. But Guo was quick to point out how the calculations could change depending on the math model.”

    They won a $115,000 prize for their efforts. Here is their paper: http://m3challenge.siam.org/pdf/Team_286_High%20Technology.pdf

    They assume a fare of 84 cents per mile. Seems kind of high… And I’m just skimming it, but I think they assume a car travel cost of 15 cents per mile. Seems kind of low…

    joe Reply:

    Consumerreports calculates the cost own and operate a car per mile. From memory, Honda Fit is the least costly at .47 per mile.

    I also recall that airlines, Southwest as the outlier, are a net money losers. AA is the latest to go into bankrupcy.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    Once you’ve paid the fixed costs of owning the car – the monthly car payment, licensing, insurance, maintenance, 2-car garage on the house, etc, etc… The additional cost per mile of driving the thing to Fresno is closer to the 15 cents.

    joe Reply:

    I prefer writing the COST OF GASOLINE for a trip to Fresno is 0.15 per mile. That is more precise and shows the value (lack of) their analysis.

    Today’s gas price for the So Cal is 4.15/gallon and the CAFE auto standard is ~27 MPG (ave automobile on the road is 10+ years so 27 is generous).

    4.15 / 27 = 0.153703704

    In CA the 15 cents is a bit hy and can’t factor in public services, police, or that big gulp you buy to keep awake on the road.

    So compare that 15 per mile to push a car with gasoline to the industrial rates for electricity that pushes trains.

    Spokker Reply:

    Depreciation and maintenance will also be affected by a long trip like LA to Fresno or something similar. I might also include an increased risk of injury from driving vs. taking the train, but I’m not sure about that.

    joe Reply:

    I agree – there are many costs. The 15 cents is barely the cost of gasoline for the average NEW car with today’s gasoline prices. It is not real.

    Consumer Reports adds these costs up and says it is 0.47+ cost per mile. An SUV is .70-.80 per mile.

    I think people underestimate the risk of injury and don’t adquately balance costs due to vehicle depreciation/wear and tear.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Highway driving is generally easy on the wear/tear items (brakes/transmission/etc) versus urban commuting. However the depreciation is based on the odometer.

    But … most people don’t go to Fresno often enough for it to really matter.

    joe Reply:

    Problem solved. Fresno 400K people but most people don’t actually go there.

    But … my son’s teacher commutes in from Fresno. My co-worker’s wife clerked for a judge in Fresno and commuted to the city form the bay area.

    Hey is that really true that few people go there.

    Seriously.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Its true that relatively more people will have Fresno as their initial trip origin station and return trip destination station … but its still trips to/from the SJV.

    People who live in the LA Basin or the Bay Area asking “what it does for me” often forget that there are some millions of people who actually live in the SJV.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Worst commute ever :/

    lex luther Reply:

    the “SJV” is nothing but drive-by shootout gangland

    Derek Reply:

    Besides depreciation, there’s also the opportunity cost of having your money tied up in the car. For a car worth $10,000, at the 8% average stock market return rate you’re losing another $800 per year. The same calculation should be done for the value of the parking space where you keep it.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Their model predicts that flying will attract more passengers than HSR between NY and DC. Acela, which is barely fast enough to qualify as regional rail in the rest of the industrialized world, gets more passengers than air in that market.

  18. swing hanger
    Apr 30th, 2012 at 22:38
    #18

    OT, but on the topic of transportation and resources:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/delta-air-lines-buys-a-refinery-estimates-it-can-cut-fuel-bill-by-300-million-a-year/2012/04/30/gIQAmPBksT_story.html?tid=pm_national_pop

    *In the railway world, JR East Railway Company owns a hydroelectric plant to help power its electrified network. I’m sure there are other examples, both now and in the past.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Don’t all the European rail operators (German-speaking, more or less) who electrified at 16.6Hz, 15kV, have their own hydro plants, generators, and their own grid?

    They’re usually depicted that way in system diagrams, but those haven’t changed in 20-30 years, and the underlying source may have changed totally in that time.

  19. joe
    May 1st, 2012 at 01:55
    #19

    Tax and spend Liberals in Virginia Forge Ahead On State Rail Projects, **without** Federal Support

    http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/04/virginia-high-speed-rail-projects-federal-support.php

    As politicians in California debate the merits of going forward with the state’s $68 billion high speed rail project given the uncertainty of receiving federal matching funds, across the country, another state has essentially decided to go it alone.

    Virginia needs a LAO Dictator to stop their lawmakers from this risky and foolish decision to forge ahead with billions in spending on trains. There’s no dedicated pot of money for transportation (actually there is) and there is no promise of federal support.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Quibble with the wording of the article:”Higher speed rail” or “Amtrak Plus”, not HSR- i.e. incremental improvements to existing track for FRA type rolling stock (better than nothing)…. and $44mil for a “study” on the DC-Richmond corridor- Richard M’s “finest homegrown transportation professionals” have lotsa work, I reckon.

    joe Reply:

    The VA official forging ahead with this rail project is a GOP x-congressman and true believer.

    jim Reply:

    But she’s from Norfolk where the trains (eventually 3 tpd) will go.

    joe Reply:

    The GOP stance is clear: Rail at speeds up to 150 mph is okay – 110 is preferred. Anything beyond 186 mph is high speed and verboten.

    jim Reply:

    3C and Madison-Milwaukee are counterexamples to this statement.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    The failure of 3C was largely due to the completely idiotic stance of its proponents who advertised it as a bullet train system rather than humdrum Amtrak.

    swing hanger Reply:

    The media and boosters misuse of the term “high speed rail” has long been noted- in fact it would serve paxrail proponents well to bandy about the term less frequently, if only to prevent pavlonian reactions from wingnuts.

    joe Reply:

    Oh, no blue ribbon panel or citizen watchdog group needed for VA to assess that the system will pay for itself.

    Meanwhile, Drake said that her department was hard at work on an Amtrak extension that would connect Richmond to Norfolk (some 111 miles apart, see diagram at top). The project’s cost recently swelled by about $13 million to a total $114.6 million, due to added safety and infrastructure costs, all paid for in state transportation funding. The state believes the service, which will cost $33 for a one-way ticket between Norfolk and Washington, will pay for itself.

    Yes, rail between Norfolk and WA DC – will be full cost recovery.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    The two VA services have been paying for themselves, though part of this is because they only pay for operations within VA but are credited with revenue from any trip originating or terminating in VA. With Section 209 coming on board, they are no longer expected to remain self-supporting.

  20. Reedman
    May 1st, 2012 at 09:18
    #20

    Amtrak needs to re-connect New Orleans with Jacksonville (like pre-Katrina Sunset Limited). The idea that, presently, to take a train from New Orleans to Jacksonville you have to go through either Chicago or Washington DC is comical.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    A better idea would be to pay CSX to do so. Amtrak currently has no interest in supporting or expanding long distance trains.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Or All Aboard Florida, since they’ll have a train that runs from Jacksonville to Miami substantially faster than the Amtrak … if the Gulf States paid them an appropriate subsidy, they could send one of those on west to NOLA once it reaches JAX.

    jim Reply:

    If the FECR proposal does actually fly, it might be worthwhile for Amtrak to come to a haulage agreement with them, so that through sleepers to Miami get detached from the Silver trains at Orlando (or later Jacksonville) and hauled down to Miami at the end of a FECR fast train.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I don’t know all that is going on, but I can tell you Amtrak and the FEC have been talking about revived passenger service from Jacksonville to Miami for years; article below is from last October:

    http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/amtrak-ranks-florida-east-coast-line-most-promising-expansion

    In early May of 2010, Amtrak ran a test train down the FEC. Consist was two Genesis class engines, a Viewliner sleeper or diner, three Amcoaches, a full-length dome that looks like something from Budd, and another Amcoach that has been rebuilt as an office car. Although not visible here, supposedly the train was cleared for speeds in excess of 79 mph. The run included stops to simulate passenger stops.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pcaRwWY5ZU

    Found another item on the All Aboard Florida proposal:

    http://cs.trains.com/TRCCS/blogs/fred-frailey/archive/2012/03/23/florida-east-coast-and-rubber-tree-plants.aspx

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