French President’s Newsworthy High Speed Rail Vacation

Aug 5th, 2012 | Posted by

The recently elected president of France, François Hollande, made news with his use of high speed rail for his vacation this month:

Lorient. Photo Benjamin Géminel.

Frugally-minded Hollande, who promised during spring’s presidential campaign to save money by catching trains, took high-speed rail on Thursday from Paris with his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler.

They’re headed for the Fort de Bregancon, an official retreat in southeastern France.

They travelled first class. But it’s a stark contrast from the unpopular Sarkozy, who was criticized for vacationing using a Dassault Falcon 7X jet and an Airbus dubbed “Air Sarko One.”

Hollande has carefully cultivated a “Mr. Normal” image. He says traveling by train is an important symbol at a time when “many French want to go on vacation…and can’t.”

The backstory to this is that in France, bullet trains are seen as the populist, affordable method of traveling around the country, a legacy of the decision of Hollande’s Socialist predecessor, François Mitterand, to subsidize TGV prices so that they would be broadly affordable to the public. Hollande has been positioning himself as a populist, in contrast to the glitz and glamour of the Sarkozy era, and his decision to take the train is certainly part of that move. Plus it has a lower carbon impact, which makes a difference too.

California’s governor likes to show his frugality in similar ways. Currently, a flight from Sacramento to LA via Southwest is seen as the main low-cost travel choice for getting around the state. But I have no doubt in my mind that Governor Brown looks forward to the day (should he live that long) that he can take a bullet train from Sacramento to LA, and have that be the populist travel option available to and affordable for the masses.

  1. Paul Druce
    Aug 5th, 2012 at 22:01

    You tried to cite a page that Google does not show on that book. Let’s not forget that Mitterand and his fellow socialists consistently voted against the TGV until taking power shortly before its inauguration.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “frugal”? Quelle betise

    Assurement pas le drole de train de M. Moonbeam.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Why did they vote against it? [What was their transportation plan?]

    Andy M Reply:

    I believe they wanted to retain a dense network of classical lines at affordable prices. They saw the TGV as abstracting attention from that and creating a two-tier system with high-speed versus classical lines. In a way they were right as the intervening years have seen the local and classical systems in many regions retrench with many rural lines being bustituted. But the question is whether this would have happened anyway, which it probably would.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    I think it would have happened anyway, and if I remember correctly from my reading, the Paris – Lyon line was getting at capacity.

    However, what happened, is that the service on the classical lines got cut, and it is just nowadays that the Régions are building it back up again (but still not to a very high level)

  2. Drunk Engineer
    Aug 5th, 2012 at 23:10

    As usual, Robert gets the story completely wrong:

    France may abandon plans for a major extension of its high-speed train network, one of the most visible if costly symbols of its engineering prowess, as the new left-wing government strives to shrink its huge debt.

    Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac broke the news in a public TV interview on Wednesday, saying it seemed extravagant to spend so much in hard times on 14 new TGV train lines former president Nicolas Sarkozy promised before he lost power in May.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    The issue I have with the “14 ne TGV train lines” is that I cant list them. Essentially two come to my mind: the line along the Côte d’Azur (which would become rather expensive because of a big percentage of tunnels), and a second line towards the South East (because the current line is getting at capacity, even with signalling upgrades). Of course, I may miss some others, but I can’t get to that mentioned total.

    Andy M Reply:

    Other proposed lines I can think of

    – filling the gap between Montpellier and Perpignan, hence connecting Spanish and French HS systems.
    – Paris – Orleans – Lyon
    – second Nord line, this time serving Arras and so serving the regions that lost out when the present Nord line opened.
    – missing bits of Rhin- Rhone corrdior
    – missing bits of Est corridor, including connection to German HS system, and branch to Luxembourg.
    – extending Atlantique line towards Bordeaux, ultimately to Hendaye.

    I don’t know at what stage these systems are, and what effect the recent decison may or may not have on them. Also, depending on how you count, you can consider each of the above a single project or as several independent projects, as even when subdivided many of the bits still make sense as standalone extensions.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Thanks, Andy.

    I would have to confirm it, but the connections towards the Spanish border already have the Declaration d’interêt public, and would be built anyway. The same applies for the Rhin-Rhone segments. Unless there are lots of connectors, Montpellier – Perpignan should not be very expensive.

    That leaves the second line to Lyon, the second line to the Nord, and the Bordeaux extension (plus the Côte d’Azur).

    agb5 Reply:

    The Côte d’Azur TGV line has been talked about for decades but has always been difficult to justify given the high cost (because of difficult terrain) and relatively little gains in travel times. Today TGV trains travel at slow speed along the cost to get to the major city of Nice.
    Many experts think the best way to connect Nice with HSR is to come down through Italy and approach from the East, but this is politically difficult for SNCF to accept. Maybe budget realities will put the Italian option back on the table.

    Nathanael Reply:

    With the much-contested tunnel from France to Italy looking like it’s actually going to get built, that might make it more likely for France to consider the Italian option.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    But between Torino and Genova (where the line most likely would hit the coast), there are additional mountains, and there is no HSR.

    Also keep in mind that the new Mont Cenis tunnel will be mixed operation, freight and passenger. And having a big spread of speeds reduces the capacity of the tunnel considerably (that’s also what gets seriously discussed about the Gotthard base tunnel, where fast passenger trains will run at 250 km/h, and freight at 80 to 100 km/h. That will also require very careful scheduling.

    Andy M Reply:

    “May” being the powerful word in this statement.

    Outgoing governments typically start lots of projects in a two prong strategy, on the one hand they try to harvest votes in an attempt to cushion their oncoming defeat, and on the other – knowing full well that they are unable to follow up on all their promises, they are obliging the next government to cancel major projects early in their term and so send their approvals rate spiralling. That gives the new opposition breathing room for reform as their popularity instantly shoots up in the polls. Its an old strategy and every failing government does it.

    14 new lines in one bang seem overly optimist by any count. Cancelling half of them or even two thirds or all but one or two is thus not an anti HS measure by any lengths, but just restoring post-election reality.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    We’ll see what happens. France and Spain both had properly ambitious HSR expansion plans. To sacrifice them for the sake of austerity is foolish, and Europe is already on the precipice of catastrophe thanks to four years of austerity. Let’s hope Hollande, trying to walk a fine line between growth and austerity, doesn’t fall prey to the same foolish decisions like those made in Portugal to cancel an AVE extension.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    I hope neither, but then, the potential of the connection between France and Spain is considerably bigger than the Portuguese connection to the Spanish network. The connection between France and Spain crosses several hundred kilometers of tourist areas, and it is also well connected towards the North.

  3. Stephen Smith
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 00:45

    France? What do the French know about HSR? I thought they only existed to steal money from gullible Americans with silly things like “investment-grade business plans.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    The French don’t stand a chance with the CHSRA – they failed to tom to the Chandlers.

  4. Andy M
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 02:55

    good post.

    I can’t agree more.

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 04:15

    Off topic but of interest–more commentary by William Draves (NineShift) on the California system, which includes a link to an environmental site discussing the same:

  6. Loren Petrich
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 08:50
  7. Loren Petrich
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 09:05

    From the article and various sources about what’s under construction:

    Under construction:
    – Metz/Nancy – Strasbourg
    – LeMans – Rennes
    – Tours – Bordeaux

    Likely to be built:
    – Bordeaux – Toulouse, reducing the Paris-Toulouse time from 5h to 3h15m.
    – Nîmes – Montpellier
    – Paris Gare de l’Est – Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy

    Lines likely to be canceled or placed on low priority:
    – Marseille – Nice, which is expensive, there is no agreement on the route, and the Paris-Nice by TGV will not be much faster than by air.
    – Lyon-Turin, which now would have rather low freight traffic, not enough to pay for it over 20 years. However, if the economy takes off again, there will be plenty more.
    – Rhin-Rhône’s remaining 50 km between Dijon and Mulhouse, which will cost about 1 billion euros for about 10 min improvement.
    – Rennes to Brest or Quimper, which may be a bit expensive for the passengers it will have.
    – Poitiers to Limoges, likewise.
    – Bordeaux to the border with Spain, a lame duck because it’s rather expensive and there’s opposition to high-speed lines in the Basque country. It may only go to Mont de Marsan or Dax.

    Lame duck = Google Translate of “a du plomb dans l’aile”, “has some lead in its wing”.

    Lines graphed by not mentioned in the article’s text:
    – Paris to Caen or Rouen – Le Havre
    – Rennes to Nantes
    – Paris to Orléans – Bourges or Nevers, then to Lyon
    – Dijon / Besançon – Bourg-en-Bresse – Lyon
    – Narbonne – Montpellier, Perpignan, Toulouse
    – Dax – Tarbes

    PeakVT Reply:

    Dax-Tarbes? Who knew Sarkozy was a foamer?

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    How so?

    Looking at that list, it seems like there is a lot of tonneau de porc in it, like going to Quimper and Caen and the like.

  8. Reality Check
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 11:18

    Consultant, professor look to bring training for high-speed rail to UNLV

    Teng already is writing or has finished nine outlines for courses in railroading and high-speed rail technology that would be available at UNLV. Twenty-six professors there teach civil, mechanical or electrical engineering classes that could be folded into the institute’s mission.

    Students also would be able to take specialized classes at the university’s Transportation Research Center and from other UNLV departments, including business, liberal arts, urban affairs and hotel administration.

    UNLV already has in place one of 10 student chapters of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association, and student members correspond with other chapters nationwide about rail engineering.

    Skancke believes an international institute would raise the credibility and visibility of UNLV, especially if it is the center of a regional program.

    “This brings the higher education region together under one umbrella,” Skancke said.

    Skancke and Teng imagine that graduates from the institute would be equipped to go out into the world and design and build high-speed rail systems in other desert regions.

  9. Alon Levy
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 11:20

    Off-off-topic: NASA’s new Mars rover is now online. You see? Americans can be trained to do unit conversion right.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How do you know the BBC didn’t do the conversions?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m referencing the fact that a previous Mars rover failed because of English/metric unit conversion error.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They probably did the whole thing in metric/SI.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    How do you know the BBC didn’t do the conversions?

    How do we know that “NASA” didn’t fake all the “engineering” displays and communications that the sheeple were duped into believing were “real” last night on their so-called “live” broadcast from what they said was “JPL” but was really a sound stage in Hollywood with the miles and inches hastily taped over by blue helmeted UN metric storm troopers?

    How do we know you’re not just typing “random words” incessantly on “random topics” as a obfuscation because you know that we can’t handle the truth?

    BTW Alon: it was a non-lander that was lost because of pound-seconds. You only get 9/10.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Due to the influence of Nancy Pelosi mind rays I was busy watching reruns on TVLand instead, so I wouldn’t know.

    VBobier Reply:

    Plus We can deliver 1 ton packages to remote locations on almost untested technology, the rover could last anywhere from 2 years to 10 years I’ve read, people over at Seti@Home have been watching this…

  10. Reality Check
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 11:20

    Caltrain receives $3.2 million for modernization

    Caltrain will receive $3.2 million in U.S. Department of Transportation grant funds to install an advanced signal system needed to support modernized Caltrain service and the eventual addition of high-speed rail.

    A portion of the grant funds also may be used to identify other safety improvements at the Caltrain corridor’s vehicular crossings.

    Installation of the advanced signal system is a component of the $1.5 billion Caltrain Modernization Program and includes Positive Train Control technology. Caltrain modernization will also convert Caltrain’s current diesel system into one that provides faster, quieter, more frequent service to more stations and more riders using state-of-the-art electric trains that also reduce the system’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90 percent.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Caltrain’s limitlessly incompetent staff and Caltrain’s limitlessly corrupt consultants to receive $3.2 million of pure, unadulterated pork, which they will spend on themselves and their friends.

    Negative public benefit to be delivered.

    Another $200 million, please! They’re not done yet. There’s so much else they need to give to their friends. Because, alone of all the billions of humans on earth, only their special friends truly know how to design and build a signal system, one that Caltrain’s mighty fleet of two dozen trains, alone among all the trains in the entire world, can truly feel comfortable with.

    Everybody concerned deserves to die in a fire.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Here’s the full press release:
    Caltrain Receives $3.2 M for Modernization and Safety Improvements

  11. Reality Check
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 11:28

    The Uncertain Future of the California Bullet Train

    The hurdles the project must overcome include:

    * A major lawsuit asserting that the Central Valley line project as proposed and approved by the Legislature does not comply with various provisions of the enabling Proposition 1A. According to the plaintiffs, the deficiencies include:(1) no electrification, (2) lack of a ”useable segment” (the 130 mile section in the Central Valley by itself is claimed not to satisfy the requirements of an operable segment); (3) lack of adequate committed funding; (4) trip times above the promised 2 hrs 40 min; (5) the need for an operating subsidy; (6) inability to meet the Federal requirement to complete project by September 2017; and (7) inability to meet the promise of a “one-seat ride” from LA to SF (the ”blended” approach would require at least one transfer). (John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and County of Kings v. California High Speed Rail Authority). The suit is moving toward trial sometime in 2013.

    * A lawsuit filed by the Madera County and the Madera and Merced County Farm Bureaus asking for a preliminary injunction to block rail construction in the Central Valley, slated to begin later this year. The suit asserts that the rail line would disrupt 1500 acres of fertile land by cutting off irrigation canals. Officials of the two bureaus say more than 500 farmers whose land lies in the path of the rail line plan to fight any attempts by the state to seize their properties by eminent domain. “It’s going to be a long battle for the Rail Authority,” said executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau. “There is going to be opposition every step of the way.”

    * Several lawsuits challenging the Program level EIR for the Bay-Area-to-Central-Valley section of the statewide project. A victory by the challengers of the Program EIR would “undo” the project level EIRs for the Central Valley construction project, according to Gary A Patton, an attorney who has been involved in the litigation.

    * Several environmental lawsuits charging the HSR project with violations of the state environmental law (CEQUA) and the Endangered Species Act. The Governor, under pressure from environmentalists, has recently withdrawn his threat to waive CEQA requirements.

    * The possibility of a legal challenge that Proposition 1A money is being used “unlawfully,” i.e. for non-HSR projects, in the ”bookend” areas.

    Any of the above actions could delay the issuance of the bonds and/or land acquisition, potentially delaying the start of construction and threatening the Authority’s ability to complete the Central Valley section by the federally imposed deadline of September 2017.

    When asked about the potential impact of litigation on the Authority’s schedule, Chairman Dan Richard observed that “simply filing a lawsuit does not means they will win, nor if they do win does it automatically mean injunctive relief.” In other words, the litigation may or may not delay construction in the Central Valley. It’s California, so there will always be lawsuits,” Richard added with a chuckle.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The litigation will demonstrate that Prop 1A is not worth the toilet paper it is written on.

    Translation of “It’s California, so there will always be lawsuits.” = “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

    Derek Reply:

    inability to meet the promise of a “one-seat ride” from LA to SF (the ”blended” approach would require at least one transfer)

    False. Phase 1 Blended will offer a one-seat ride all the way to Los Angeles Union Station. However, Phase 1 Full is required to get to Anaheim without a transfer.

    Maybe the plaintiff was referring to Bay to Basin, which would require a transfer at the Sylmar/San Fernando station.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Quoting PG&E Richard in the above article: “We will be looking for federal funding, to be sure, arguing that this can help free up freight capacity, assist goods movement through the Central Valley and enhance the efficiency of ports.”

    This comes after crowing they have enough money for Bako to Palmdale. What utter nonsense is this? Does this guy know anything? There is no, as in zippo, passenger service, over the Tehachapi Loop. This is because the UP claims too busy but there is in actuality not that much demand. And the UP and BNSF lines in the Valley don’t need freeing up; otherwise the class ones would not be catering up to Amtrak or demanding monies for track expansion.

    And of course the Tehachapi Roundabout will not be at all freight compatible. What a dip. And they fired Van Ark on this clown’s orders?

  12. Paul Druce
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 13:23

    In California related news, COASTER now lets you buy round trip tickets online, emailing them to you for printout or showing on your smartphone.

  13. Reality Check
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 13:41

    Damn! I thought this crap only happens with China HSR …

    Caltrans’ records show problems with tests on Bay Bridge, other bridges

    A special team within Caltrans has uncovered problems with safety testing far broader than previously known.

    After reviewing records for roadways and bridges, the engineering team has uncovered doctored data and other suspicious tests, including work done on the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

    The engineers started examining test results in December to learn how much trouble a single rogue technician caused California. They found problems that extend beyond that former employee and call into question testing of the new Bay Bridge and three other key Bay Area spans.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Aren’t you happy now that there was no reborn “Key System” type rail track included in the design. If the Bridge failed they would blame the train’s vibrations.

    There have to be some darn NIMBYS behind this lack of faith in the Program. C’mon naysayers, Jerry wants to get some shit built.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Uh, naysayers and deniers. Forgot that touch.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The Roeblings over spec’d the materials used in the Brooklyn Bridge. Because they wanted to be sure it was still safe if the suppliers tried to cheat. Turns out they were right and they over spec’d the over specification. They did this because they were experienced bridge builders… and knew there would be problems like this. I suspect the Romans learned the same thing from the Greeks and Egyptians…

  14. synonymouse
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 13:59

    I wonder if Reid-Obama’s offensive against Adelson and Romney might derail the Deserted Xpress, under whatever name.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What offensive? So far Romney is scoring own goals.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Reid – he’s from Nevada after all – has to have some skeletons in his own closet so you have to ask why he would be a party to the Nixonian friends and enemies list investigation of Adelson and practically charging Romney with tax evasion. None of these functionaries have clean slates and want to reveal the intimate details of their personal finances. Remember Nancy’s insider trading?

    Reid has really gone out of his way to rub some powerful people in Nevada the wrong way. Wynn and the others have to see what’s going on with Adelson. They could be next. Hopefully his career is over.

    The Deserted Xpress is just the Sin City Monorail writ large – put both out of their misery straightaway.

    Joe Reply:

    Have you never heard of the Honey Badger? Senate majority leader, recently re-elected and could not give a shit. He is pounding away. Thank god he is a HSR advocate and Pelosi is backing him up.

    I smell a Federal grant for HSR cooking in the next Congress.


  15. Jon
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 14:09

    O/T: there is a presentation summarizing the impacts of the various Fresno-Bakersfield options posted on the CAHSR website

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Note that ALL of the bypass alternatives they present have lower cost than the dimwit “existing rail corridor”.

    The question any remotely rational person would ask is why nobody is spotting some sort of pattern here and why this whole “bypass” thing isn’t extended to include the west of Fresno and the far west of Bakersfield.

    A quarter of a billion here to relocate a freeway in an “existing corridor” here, and an extra billion or two there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

    Joe Reply:

    Why that is an amazing discovery.

    Could you make the trip to Gilroy’s next council meeting and let the city know about this pattern?

    The city recommended a downtown station and not the bypass station. If we only knew.

    You can explain this pattern to the council and mayor. We are a small town so just be yourself.

    I’ll sell popcorn and watch.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Welfare queen.

    VBobier Reply:

    A fictional term, Welfare Queens do not exist, this is a made up term, a Right Wing Talking Point, a MYTH and a LIE

    Since Reagan never named a particular woman, the description can be viewed as an example of dramatic hyperbole.[citation needed] Critics Paul Krugman and Mark J. Green have argued that the story grossly exaggerates a minor case of welfare fraud.
    Reagan’s use of the term was related to a growing unease among New Right politicians about the expansion of the welfare apparatus. Touching on the cornerstones of American political philosophy (individualism and egalitarianism), the New Right sought to form a top-down coalition with big business and white working-class voters to undo the popular Great Society programs of the 1960s.[3]

    In response to Reagan’s use of the term, Susan Douglas, a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, writes:

    “He specialized in the exaggerated, outrageous tale that was almost always unsubstantiated, usually false, yet so sensational that it merited repeated recounting… And because his ‘examples’ of welfare queens drew on existing stereotypes of welfare cheats and resonated with news stories about welfare fraud, they did indeed gain real traction.”

    joe Reply:

    Thank you Mr Noé Valley Nice to see your classless retort.

    Now did anyone really not know bypasses were less expensive ?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Well, Richard, at least you are consistent. You also recommended we bypass San Francisco and just serve Oakland — no actually you preferred Livermore — instead.

    That would save a lot of money. And it would sure show PB that we are Master of Our Own Domain. You aren’t going to fool us by trying to bring our new train to some existing transit center or community hub. We would rather use this as our opportunity to sprawl some new exurbs. (But no one will profit from THAT though!)

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Atta boy, Neal!

    With just a few more years of practice you’ll be reading at a third grade level.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Maybe the upperclassman would care to show his work by listing some better choices in proven transportation engineering firms, pointing of course to their track record of completed projects across different countries (such as HK, UK, PRC, Taiwan, NYC) and their demonstrated low prices.

    We’ve heard a lot about how awful these people are. Remind me which unsuccessful bidder should we have chosen and which firms should we have begged to bid on the HSR work.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Starts with an S, ends with an NCF…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, Richard, of COURSE it’s cheaper to skip all the existing cities. But then it actually WOULD be a train to nowhere.

  16. Reality Check
    Aug 6th, 2012 at 16:37

    Q&A: Amtrak President Joe Boardman on the Rational Inevitability of High-Speed Rail

    TN: Is it realistic to expect Congress to find $151 billion for high-speed rail in the Northeast?

    JB: I think the opportunities for having this funded over the next several decades are excellent. I think clearly it is absolutely required. I think it will include all levels of government and include the revenues that will come back from the improvements that we will provide for the customers in the Northeast.

    JB: You’ve got right now about 20 percent of the GDP coming out of the Northeast United States. If we don’t fix this [mobility] problem, that won’t last. So the business community in the Northeast, as it begins to wake up to what’s necessary to have the free flowing mobility … is going to need to look at reasonable solutions to that mobility. That’s train travel.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sigh. And I spent today’s post on a cheerful study from last year regarding Vancouver, when I could have ranted about how comments like “150 billion is a small portion of our GDP” and “this is necessary to have the free flowing mobility” are wrong, false, and mistaken.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    150 billion is a small portion of our GDP. And train travel along the NEC is one of the more rational solutions for insuring mobility along it.
    ……whether or not 150 billion dollars is a reasonable amount to spend to do that is a different question.

    Joe Reply:

    Rail enthusiasts will find a way to screw this up by creating some lowball threshold for cost effective service, any figure beyond that threshold and the project should be stopped.

    Joey Reply:

    Rail enthusiasts will find a way to screw this up by creating some lowball threshold for cost effective service, any figure beyond that threshold and the project should be stopped reduced.

    There I fixed it.

    Joey Reply:

    Dammit, strikethrough doesn’t work in block quotes apparently.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    The problem isn’t so much the fact that it’s $151 billion, it’s that throwing $151 billion at a problem like US rail inefficiency is just going to make things worse by rewarding incompetence, setting the bar even lower for next time. I hate analogies, but the drug addiction one here is pretty good. Yes, by removing the heroin from your son’s veins you will make him feel shitty tomorrow – it’ll suck that there’s no HSR line being built in 2012 or 2013 or whatever. But in the long run, you can’t keep chasing the high – it’s just not sustainable. You end up passed out in a ditch with a needle in your arm muttering things like “$151 billion NEC HSR” and “$7 billion Union Station” (btw, I don’t think either of those costs actually includes the 6 tunnels of HSR at Union Station, right?). At some point you need to just bite the bullet, kill a few projects or two, and do the dirty work of actually making things cost reasonable prices.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    $150 billion is a small portion of GDP, but intercity rail is a small portion of transportation, and transportation is a medium-size portion of spending. It’s similar to how $4 is a tiny fraction of my annual income, but I’m still not going to spend that on a half-liter bottle of water.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    This guy seems to think it’s important enough to spent huge amounts his spare time writing about it.

    The Northeast’s solution to getting from Boston to DC and all the points in between is HSR.
    Probably the solution for Cleveland-NY and all the points in between and NY-Toronto and NY-Montreal which then makes Philadelphia-Montreal really cheap and Boston-Toronto and Boston-Montreal very cheap.

    The cost issues are intertwined with that but have separate solutions. That can be applied to building HSR in Florida. Or Chicago-Detroit. Or Atlanta-Charlotte. Or…

    Reality Check Reply:

    Amtrak’s $151B Price Tag Hits a High Speed Bump

    Amtrak, which for years has drawn criticism for its inability to turn a profit, has admitted that its newest vision would cost a staggering $151 billion, most of which would come from government funding. That’s a massive price to pay at a time when the federal government is struggling to find ways to deliver on such entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicare.

    Yet Amtrak executives say that the investment, like investments that have been made in high-speed rail elsewhere in the world, would prove to be well worth it. According to experts at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania, the massive project does in fact hold vast economic potential, and could, over the long haul, help revive local economies, improve employment numbers and generate greater productivity up and down the Corridor, while at the same time alleviating congested roadways and airspace. Those exact same arguments, they note, have been borne out by recent high-speed rail successes in the United Kingdom, and were also used by high-speed rail backers in California to win approval in early July for a multibillion-dollar line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    At the same time, these experts add, there’s no easy way to predict the economic benefits of these projects. That’s because, when it comes to high-speed rail, “economic benefits” are apparently difficult to define, making the sales pitch for any high-speed rail project almost as difficult as building one.

    “The benefits [of the Amtrak] project are pretty diverse,” says Robert Yaro, a practice professor in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. “We wouldn’t be the first country to do this, as basically every other major industrialized country is already moving along with improvements of this kind. But yes, the economics are hard to get at. They are fairly long-range and fairly diffuse.”

    “It’s tough to convince people that just because you have a positive cost-benefit ratio, a project is worthwhile. Most people have a hard time seeing that,” notes W. Bruce Allen, an emeritus professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton. For example, “if you try to tell [someone] that so-called ‘time benefits’ are worth so much money, they’ll ask you, ‘Well, can I see that? Is that real money?'” Although high speed rails shorten commuter times considerably, such factors as “time saved” and “increased productivity” are not necessarily “real” money to the average citizen, Allen points out , And as a result, not to the politicians holding the purse strings, either.


    But Yaro says he is convinced that the project is both worthwhile and reasonable. “It’s a lot of money, yes, but the Northeast has a $2.6 trillion economy. It would be the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world if it were its own country. And we have this problem right now, which is that the corridor is basically full. So this is really about capacity.” He notes that the existing Amtrak lines, which share space with regional rail systems such as Philadelphia’s SEPTA and New Jersey Transit, are running near full capacity. Airports in Boston, New York and Philadelphia are regularly backed up, and Interstate 95 is gridlocked in most major cities during working hours.

    Given the available options, then, building a new rail network, even at a cost of $151 billion, could rightly be called the most practical solution of them all. Yaro points out that it was this kind of dynamic that gave the California project proposal its winning edge. “One of the strong arguments that both [former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current governor Brown] have made effectively is that although [a high-speed rail project] is expensive, the roadway and airport expansion alternatives would cost even more,” he says.

    Still, Allen has doubts the Amtrak proposal will gain needed traction among citizens who will likely be blinded by the price tag. “Look, I would use it,” he says. “When I go to Washington, I don’t fly. I take the train. I don’t drive in the Corridor unless I’m on a leisure trip, and I’m a big advocate for high-speed rail. But I just don’t think the guy on the street is going to buy into this. If we could wave a magic wand and a new system would instantly appear, people would flock to it. But getting there is going to be a huge battle. You have to convince people it’s worthwhile to spend all this money, and that won’t be easy.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I stopped reading that article at “recent high-speed rail successes in the United Kingdom.”

  17. Reality Check
    Aug 7th, 2012 at 10:43

    Russia to build high-speed rail for World Cu

    MOSCOW – Russia will build high-speed rail lines by 2018 for the FIFA World Cup, the state-owned Russian Railways (RZD) said on Sunday.

    According to Gorky Railway, a subsidiary of the RZD, the rail lines will connect the central Russian cities of Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, which are contesting to host the World Cup.

    “A new railway station opened in Kazan today, which was designed already with taking into account the high-speed trains,” chief of the Gorky Railway Anatoly Lesun told reporters in Nizhny Novgorod.

    Local experts are confident that trains will be the main transport means for the millions of spectators from around the world.

  18. Reality Check
    Aug 7th, 2012 at 11:14

    Jerry Brown Shows He’s an Equal Opportunity Offender

    For weeks, the governor has been anxious to kick over every political hornets’ nest in the state, whether it’s high-speed rail, the peripheral canal or environmental regulation. In the process, he’s managed to anger just about everyone in the state but his wife and Sutter, the Brown family pooch. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and builders, Brown’s found something for everyone to get mad about.


    He offended environmentalists by publicly backing a San Diego power line from the deserts of the Imperial Valley, by suggesting — briefly — that the high-speed rail plan shouldn’t have to meet existing environmental rules and by seemingly going out of his way to say last week that “I’ve never seen a (California Environmental Quality Act) exemption that I didn’t like.”

    Yet Brown also has enraged Republicans by strongly pushing the “cap and trade” system for carbon emissions and the high-speed rail plan, not to mention his revenue-raising initiative on the November ballot, which has the state’s anti-tax brigade in an uproar.


    California’s problems are so wide-ranging that it’s impossible to fix them with either a Republican solution or Democratic solution. Maybe it does need someone who isn’t afraid to offend absolutely anyone if that’s what it takes to get things done.

    And realistically, that person probably has to be someone who isn’t looking forward to a long and happy career in politics, because making people mad isn’t a key to re-election.

    But if Brown is willing to take the political heat by making the desperately hard decisions needed to pull the state from the abyss — and succeeds at it — whoever follows him, whether in 2014 or 2018, will have a lot to thank the governor for.

    synonymouse Reply:

    He can be thanked for throwing money at boondoggles.

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