The Acela’s Success Bodes Well for California HSR

Aug 17th, 2012 | Posted by

Acela Power Car 2038

A great op-ed in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times by Dan Turner makes a strong case that the Acela’s success means California high speed rail should do even better once it’s built:

Currently the only high-speed train in the United States, Acela runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. It is the only part of Amtrak’s network that actually makes money instead of losing it, and has been gobbling market share from commercial airlines. According to a recent New York Times story, 75% of travelers between New York and Washington now go by train; before Acela’s arrival in 2000, only about one-third of travelers between those cities chose Amtrak.

Business travelers prefer Acela to flying because the train has power outlets, Wi-Fi and cellphone access, making it easy to work during the trip. They also don’t face the security hassles of airports nor the long ground travel and waiting times that can erase the speed advantage of airplanes.

There’s no reason to think California’s bullet train couldn’t be as successful, and maybe more so. For one thing, California’s train is designed to move faster, with a top speed of up to 220 miles per hour; Acela has a top speed of 150 mph but averages only about 75.

The whole thing is worth reading. It comes on the heels of this New York Times article showing that the inconvenience of air travel is a major factor in fueling Acela ridership:

“On the train, you’ve got power outlets and Wi-Fi, you can talk on the phone — it’s usable time,” said George Hamlin, an aviation writer and airline consultant who frequently rides Amtrak between Washington and New York. “Even I’m guilty of it,” he said of taking the train.

I keep making this point, but a lot of California journalists refuse to believe this. The difference is that the Acela actually exists and journalists and others can see for themselves the many ways in which it is superior to flying. Once California high speed rail is built, many people on this coast will see it too.

  1. Joey
    Aug 17th, 2012 at 20:37

    For accuracy’s sake, it’s worth noting that the article fails to mention that the 75% number is of the air/rail market, not the total market.

    MarkB Reply:

    The two charts accompanying the article clearly state “Amtrak’s air/rail market share.”

  2. Jo
    Aug 17th, 2012 at 21:20

    Correct. Again for accuracy’s sake: of the air/rail market segment only – Amtrak Acela has 75% of it.

    joe Reply:

    ” The whole thing is worth reading. It comes on the heels of this New York Times article showing that the inconvenience of air travel is a major factor in fueling Acela ridership:”

    Roberts comment clearly specifies HSR advantages over air travel.

    Marc Reply:

    Again for accuracy’s sake: of the air/rail market segment only – Amtrak Acela has 75% of it.

    No, for accuracy’s sake: of the air/rail market segment only – Amtrak (not just Acela) has 75% of it. The majority of people traveling between NYC and DC by train ride on the Northeast Regional in coach, as it’s half the price and and only takes 30 to 40 minutes longer (primarily due to additional stops)…

  3. John Nachtigall
    Aug 17th, 2012 at 22:58

    It is hard to believe that HSR ridership will be a huge success when even the authority keeps lowering the ridership estimates. But regardless, that is not the major objection to this project.

    The major objections are…

    1. The constant ignoring the “inconvenient” provisions of prop 1a (such as time requirements)
    2. The overall cost/benefit
    3. The major risk of stranded investment due to no federal support

    Simply put that 70+ billion could be better spent in other areas with a greater impact on the environment and transportation patterns.

    Travis D Reply:

    Really? I certainly can’t come up with anything better to be spending that money on.

    As far as I’m concerned high speed rail is the best bang for the buck we can possibly get.

    Joey Reply:

    It’s hard to keep ridership estimates high when you keep fucking up the technical aspects. Half of the trains terminate short of Transbay because trains need to sit in the station with no passengers for 40 minutes. HSR just has to have separate platforms from CalTrain so that transferring is made as hard as possible and the TSA can fill their groping quota. BART can’t give up one of it’s three massively underutilized tracks at Millbrae so we need a $500 million tunnel. And a massive station with aerial tracks is non negotiable at San José as a testament to Rod Diridon’s manhood.

    It’s not HSR that’s the problem, it’s the people designing it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    $500 million tunnel

    $1.9 billion tunnel, according to the 2010 Business Plan.

    Joey Reply:

    I vaguely remembered the cost increasing, but I didn’t remember the exact number. So yeah. $1.9 billion. Down the drain.

    Jonathan Reply:

    all to avoid touching a BART station which cost .. $100 million?
    Even at inflated year-of-alteration dollars, that just doesn’t make sense.
    Unless your goal is to
    (a) build a wholly-separated bureaucratic hegemony; or
    (b) maximize contractor income.

    Joey Reply:

    Take your pick. I don’t have enough experience with the politics involved to say which one is more likely, but something is obviously wrong here.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “It’s not HSR that’s the problem, it’s the people designing it.”

    You are just now noting this phenomenon? And the trend is straight negative – Moonbeam & PG&E Richard are a huge step downward from Van Ark. Hell, even Quentin Kopp would question spending billions to send Californians to Nevada to drop their social security and welfare checks. Moronics.

    You just gotta love Nancy and Jerry planning to send California money to Adelson, their supposed political enemy.

    Joey Reply:

    I noted it a long time ago. But some people are still confused.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Richard M. occasionally laves me wanting to puke. But I have to admit, he has a valid point about the station-design, and station-throat design, at TTC.

    I am not a railway engineer, but I have spent decades reading station-design diagrams, movement diagrams, usw, from Australasian European railways. (And operating model trains on faithful models thereof.) The TTC design … doesn’t match that. I don’t have enough familiarity with US freight railroad track layout to assert that the TTC just screams “US Freight railroad mindset”, but — given tha:
    * TTC designed by US engineers, and
    * engineering is an apprenticeship-based discipline
    * no-one, absolutely no-one in the US has designed high-speed, high-throughput -de novo_ passenger terminals in two generations

    a rational person would expect a mediocre-to-poor design. TTC seems worse than that.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The bigger stranded investment risk that California faces is the risk that its far larger investments in new roads will be stranded investments ~ and California is expanding its lane miles even as it has no sustainable means of maintaining the lane miles it already has.

    joe Reply:

    Here’s an example of hundreds of millions for road improvements on HW 101 between Gilroy and Salinas/Monterey. It will awesome to pump that many cars into the peninsula. Rail experts tell us this is an ideal automobile corridor. Don’t mind the accidents.

    Stretch of Prunedale highway gets $91 million boost
    Last week, the California Transportation Commission unanimously approved allocating $91.3 million for construction of the Prunedale Improvement Project, which calls for two new interchanges, an overpass and a median barrier along a stretch of the highway north of Salinas.
    The funding is contingent on adoption of the state budget, but area officials are confident that Caltrans officials may actually send the project out to bid in the next few months. Much of the advance work for the $288 million project, including design, right-of-way and environmental review, has already been funded and finished.

    …the busy section of Highway 101 saw 782 accidents resulting in 453 injuries and 11 deaths in 2003-06, and has already been subject to several previous upgrades including the San Miguel Canyon Road and Highway 156 overpasses. The roadway handles estimated 70,000-103,000 vehicle trips per day.

    Keep on pumping money into this road – there is no way any rail service would be more competitive. Locals call this stretch blood alley – Alon says it’s far better for automobiles than rail because the route is shorter. More dangerous too – blood alley is the nickname but that’s not on google maps.

    We drive the HW 129 route – following the UP rail line – because it is safer than 152 or 101. Another attribute not displayed on google maps.

    KEG Reply:

    I’m a local, and I can provide a little more context here. I’m sure Robert could too, since he’s from Monterey.

    What you fail to recognize (and is in fact mentioned in the article, but you failed to include in your snip) is that this is a major grade separation project. As it stands, this stretch of highway is dangerous because locals need to cross the very busy 2 or 3 lane road to reach their homes and businesses in many cases.

    So yes, as someone who’s lived here, seen the risk, and in fact, regularly DRIVEN THE RISK, this is money very well spent. In short, I’m reading some sarcasm in your post, and it’s entirely unwelcome and representative of the ignorance of some local transportation projects. Highway 101 is in many cases the only way to reach some locations in the area, and this roadwork includes funding for frontage roads, and involved some extensive eminent domain to clear the way.

    That being said, I’d love to see rail extend down the 101 corridor from Gilroy to Salinas. However, this is quite literally one of those cases where if you don’t build the roads, folks will have no way to get to the station…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The issue is whether investing in roads and nothing but roads carries a risk of investing in a white elephant.

    There are some road projects that would make the grade is forced to compete for funding on a level-playing field allocation of transport funds, but the fact that the road building lobby opposes pooling transport projects by transport task and having road projects compete on a level playing field against other projects tells us that distributing the same funds on a level playing field would result in less road funding and more funding of alternatives to driving.

    joe Reply:

    More specifically, adding rail service was deemed inferior to these very dangerous and difficult to drive roads with frequent backups and congestion.

    This assessment was done using google maps.

    I don’t know engine power or platform heights or doors etc. but I know enough to not assume google maps is enough to definitively make such a conclusion.

    This route is heavily traveled by auto because the Bay Area is connected to Monterey despite the horrible roads. Pumping money into the roads helps connectivity with the HSR station in Gilroy, so would investing a few hundred million in adding rail service and extending it to Monterey.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Eh, you guys are jousting at windmills again. The “Prunedale Bypass” freeway project has been killed. Instead, Caltrans is doing “basic safety improvements” by adding a couple ramps which really should have been built in the 1970s. ($288M might sound like a lot of money, but as we’re learning with HSR, it’s nothing for an infrastructure project.) And, you are comparing this some hypothetical commuter rail project which only exists as an internet argument.

    joe Reply:

    “In short, I’m reading some sarcasm in your post, and it’s entirely unwelcome and representative of the ignorance of some local transportation projects.”

    I don’t consider myself ignorant of the project or area. I commuted DAILY from Santa Clara County to work at CSUMB/Seaside for years via 101 to 156. I use that route about once a week now. I know those roads very well and avoid them when I can.

    The context of my comment is rail vs auto. The claim is driving 101/156, as it is, is better than putting in rail to offset car trips. This assessment was based on distance with google maps, not experience. It’s naive and I think you agree it doesn’t factor any risk or the congestion along the route.

    The fact hundreds of millions of dollars need to be spent to reduce accidents and improve the corridor to basic standards didn’t factor into this car/rail assessment.

    So it’s another case where highways and roads are improved without any consideration or debate but adding rail service on an existing corridor (amtrack) is always subject to rigorous cost/benefit analysis an din this case naive assumptions about the roads.

    This bias is no different than automatically widening 101 in MountainView Palo Alto while hand wringing about Caltrain electrification and grade seperations.

    KEG Reply:

    Ahh, I clearly misunderstood the tone of your comment then.

    I don’t hand-wring about rail improvements. I’d love to see commuter trains come down 101 and serve Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay. I also wholeheartedly agree with you that the engineers should have also realistically scoped out the costs and benefits of a rail link as a part of their alternatives analysis. However, I don’t think a rail option would solve the primary political driver behind the grade separation project, which was road safety and upgrading it to freeway standards.

    The problem is that so many people have moved up into those hills above Prunedale that the consequent infrastructure was also not built up. The folks up there like to think they still live in a rural area, but the number of users for each of the rural roads connecting to 101, in addition to the growth of traffic travelling through has reached the point where it’s dangerous just to try to go to work or to school. In this road project’s case, we’re talking about decades of lag between the demographic change and the need for infrastructure improvement to accommodate those people. I have no doubt that this project would have been less disruptive and probably a little cheaper (in real dollars) if they’d incrementally upgraded the corridor along with growth.

    As an option, If we had built up a rail connection back in the 1990s when all this growth was happening, we might have been able to mitigate this problem to some extent. I think that if we did build a rail line through the area, it’d probably would off-set the traffic travelling through the area by a significant amount (especially commuters from Salinas, and leisure travelers down to Monterey). It still would not change the fact that the Prunedale stretch of 101 would remain unsafe for local residents and users. You may have the luxury of avoiding these roads when you visit, but locals do not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “Simply put that 70+ billion could be better spent in other areas with a greater impact on the environment and transportation patterns.”

    Simply put, in Jerry Brown’s thinking and practice, there is no better way under the sun to spend that $70bil than to give it to PB and Tutor, and house unions. Especially when some of it is coming back home to Jerry and Nancy et al in the form of union campaign contributions out of the union members’ dues.

  4. Alon Levy
    Aug 18th, 2012 at 00:43

    Robert, every time you mention HSR and the Acela together, you tarnish the HSR brand. You open yourself up to questions like “the Acela only gets 3 million riders, how can California get 60 million?”. An HSR-Acela comparison even appears in Reason’s Florida fraud: Cox and Poole cherry-pick the fastest nonstop segment of the Acela and the fastest nonstop segment of the TGV to argue that FLHSR is just like the Acela and will not meet ridership projections.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Well if you are out to make it look bad, complaining that Acela only gets 3 million riders looks much worse than saying the NEC gets 11 million riders. And you definitely don’t want to bring up that it is estimated that the NEC carries 100 million passengers a year, after all Americans don’t ride trains, do they?….

    Winston Reply:

    Alon’s right. The Acela is embarrassingly bad service in a very good corridor. We need to learn from its mistakes when we build HSR in California which has a worse corridor in many ways.

    joe Reply:

    How about
    “Shitty rail service run by dumb gubberment makes a profit. ”

    Why the hell isn’t this a sign that rail transportation would be profitable?

    Alan F Reply:

    I’m curious. How is “the Acela an embarrassingly bad service in a very good corridor”? I’ve taken the Acela and NE Regionals numerous times in the past 3 years between DC and NYC & other stops on the NEC. On-time performance is pretty good, the trains are comfortable, I have a choice of 36 daily trains each way on weekdays between DC and NYC. Works for me. I live in northern Virginia, BTW.

    Heck, even Ivanka Trump takes the Acela between NYC and DC. There is an article in today’s Washington Post on how the Trumps, yes, the Donald and his daughter, landed the contract from the GSA to take over the Old Post Office Pavilion and convert it to a high end luxury hotel. In the article, there was this bit about Ivanka’s trips to DC: “Ivanka began assembling a bid last spring, traveling almost weekly on the Acela train to buttoned-down Washington to tour the building and competing luxury hotels with investors, engineers and architects.” I expect she took first class.

    The biggest hindrance to better trip times and better reliability is the Northeast Corridor, which needs a lot more funding to someday reach the formal level of being in a State of Good Repair.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Acela trains are too heavy and “special” (=too expensive, slow to procure, fuel-consuming, damaging to tracks, slow, etc.) and the tickets are too expensive (/the service isn’t making enough profit given its high prices).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So, I think I only ever took Acela once, and that was many years ago. But in the last year and 3 months, when I shuttled on the Regional between New York and Providence over 20 times one-way, the trains were on-schedule about half the time. Most of the late trains were only late by 10 or so minutes, but several were over an hour late.

    And that’s not even talking about average speeds, which are a sad joke.

    Winston Reply:

    Acela only manages to be on time about 90% of the time. This is too low for a service that you need to rely on. More importantly, it only averages about 85 MPH along its route – barely enough of a time savings to make it worthwhile. When you compare it to real HSR it’s very sad.

    joe Reply:

    FWIW; Airlines depart on time when the door on the aircraft is closed. That event marks the official departure time for statistical purposes.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    A key selling point of non-French HSR networks is that they’re far more reliable than air travel. The AVE will refund your ticket if the train is late by more than 15 minutes, or 5 minutes on Madrid-Seville. It only has to refund tickets in less than 1% of cases.

    In contrast, Amtrak pads the schedule just before the last stop in order to boost on-paper OTP, while not improving the punctuality as experienced by passengers who are not traveling to the last stop.

    The reason I supported CAHSR in the first place, and still support it now, is that it’s not the Acela.

    Alan F Reply:

    The Acela has managed an endpoint on-time performance (OTP) of 90% over the past 12 months according to Amtrak’s statistics. It was 93.4% in the first 7 months of FY12 (April monthly report) before a couple of breakdowns due to old bridges & catenary and weather related events such as the derecho storm knocked down the OTP. The surge in funding in the past 4 years for modernizing the power systems, track and equipment maintenance have resulted in a more reliable NEC. A lot more needs to be done, but there has been progress.

    While there is always a lot of wiggle room and fudging for OTP, regardless of the industry, in how one measures it, 90% for the Acela is still better than the US airlines on-time numbers as the US DOT measures it. Quoting from a BTS (Bureau of Transportation Statistics) August 9 press release:

    “According to the Air Travel Consumer Report issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the 15 largest U.S. airlines posted an 83.7 percent on-time arrival rate during the first six months of 2012, the highest mark for any January-June period in the 18 years the Department has collected comparable data.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Endpoint-to-endpoint doesn’t matter to people who do not ride endpoint-to-endpoint. The schedule from Providence to Boston is 10 minutes longer than from Boston to Providence. That’s not how competent railroads work; they spread the padding throughout the line because they use it to make sure passengers are on time, not to boost OTP statistics on paper.

    To give an illustration of how bad Amtrak is, here’s something I saw one trip to Providence: the train stood, on canted track, in eastern Connecticut. When I went to the empty deadheading car in the back and asked the conductors why, they said that a lightning strike the previous night had knocked down the signals on the bridge on the Connecticut. Put another way, Amtrak had something like 12 hours to know about this, and still not only delayed the train 20 minutes but also chose to do so by standing at a point where it would be maximally uncomfortable for passengers.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Competent railroads don’t have to deal with red state Senators who represent Real Americans who drive everywhere and think funding Amtrak is a waste.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Boxer and Feinstein? Tools of the Koch Brothers!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When did California become a red state?

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Could it be that Acela could do better, but that’s what can be squeezed out of the existing fleet? I don’t have much active experience with the Acelas, but they seem to be well filled most of the time, and could handle more.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Think of Amtrak operations and maintenance as being 1/10th as good as Italy’s FS and you’ll have some idea of the situation with fleet availability, utilization, scheduling, and non-revenue vs in-revenue time.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Richard (and Paul Druce),

    I hope maintenance at Amtrak is better than what the FS does with the ETR470 Pendolino… In total, 9 sets are around, but when on a given day 3 are operational, it is a very good day, and most likely those 3 sets belong to the SBB…

    Anyway, in research for another answer, I stumbled over the French Wikipedia entry about the SBB multisystem TEE train sets from 1962. Four sets were around, and they had a 4-day diagram with one day in Zürich for maintenance. After a serious accident, one set was out of service for more than a year, and they ran the that diagram with 3 available sets… and during that whole time it took to repair the 4th set, not one service got cancelled. And they were running a pretty demanding (technically and commercially) service … (day 1: Zürich – Milano; Milano – Paris. day 2: Paris – Milano. day 3: Milano – Zürich, Zürich – Milano, Milano – Zürich) … all premium services, first class only. So, for almost 18 months they had a required (and achieved) availability of 100%!

    Back to Amtrak: What are the reasons that the trains are not used more efficiently? (and just saying because it is government does not count). Are there outdated working rules? Or is it “that has always been done so”?

    Joey Reply:

    and just saying because it is government does not count

    Is saying because it’s Amtrak different than saying because it’s government?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It’s strongly cultural.

    Public transportation performance is only ever compared to other US examples. (aka The Special Olympics)

    As I wrote at some length earlier there are strong political and business reasons to actively reward failure, and to only ever expect failure.

    In the US important assets (such as trains, station platforms, etc) are not perceived as limited and expansive public assets whose utility must be maximized, but rather as stuff for 1:1 scale historical model railroad enthusiasts to play with in an authentic long-ago period fashion, and as profitable stuff for contractors and staff to be paid to supply and muck around with, irrespective of public utility.

    There’s no expectation of success, and benchmarking against foreigners (who just don’t understand it’s all well and good for 1435mm gauge trains to turn around in 10 minutes, but God-fearing Jesus-loving American 56 1/2 inch trains need three hours) is anathema. So the setting for institutionalized and self-perperuating failure is perfect.

    Just look what happens even here on this forum when such subjects come up. Instead of “yeah, why are we doing so badly?” it’s “The Koch Brothers did it”, “give Amtrak more money”, “buses are bad”, and similarly irrelevant nonsense.

    “Why can’t we have nice things?” is what I ask. It’s odd, because the mythology is that Americans are supposed to be aspirational — wanting the biggest and best — but when it comes to public sector performance the only thing that matters is its performance as a welfare mechanism for staff and contractors, not on whether Americans get nice things in return for their tax dollars.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    4 foot 8 and half inch trains.
    If the agitprop for the past 40 years has been “gubbermint bad, private enterprise holy” what do you expect?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    See what I mean?

    Abysmal US passenger rail equipment utilization is the fault of the Koch Brothers’ and their evil anti-gubmint agitprop.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s not just the Koch Brothers, it everybody to the right of Bella Abzug. Though Bella is dead and doesn’t have very many political positions anymore.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Richard is quite correct here. Observing from abroad, it is apparent how political everything to do with rail transport is in the states, with proponents and opponents taking diametrically opposed political and cultural positions, when the issue is essentially one that should be largely non-political and approached objectively- with room for both public and privately funded ventures, not an either/or.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The problem is that it cannot be approached objectively because the purported trusted “experts” are either corrupt(work for contractors or influence peddlers or featherbedding unions), are incompetent(hard to fire and takes lotsa sendoff money), or are actively saboteurs(Bechtels conspiring with SP to shackle BART with broad gauge).

    In a place like China some really nasty things could befall such a crooked bunch, but not here. Instead they will have stuff named after them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    A while ago, I tried to figure out how they could use the existing Acelas better to provide more capacity (the trains really are quite full), and looked at schedules. The trains turned out to arrive in Washington about 47 minutes after the hour (sometimes 52 because of an extra stop) every hour, and depart on the hour. So I assumed they can turn in 13 minutes and tried to diagram a schedule based on that.

    Instead, it turned out that they turn in 1 hour and 13 minutes. David Gunn commented that it’s impossible to turn trains so fast because the cafe has to be stocked and the cars cleaned. Mind you, Gunn is one of the more competent rail administrators in North America; at Amtrak he tried to improve labor utilization (while the Bush administration cared about privatization above all else, to the point of accidentally appointing a union person to the board), at SEPTA he tried to reform Regional Rail to make it more S-Bahn-like, and so on. This is not a random hack saying that something can’t be done; this is someone who knows what he’s doing and meaningfully improved (or tried to improve but hit political opposition) passenger rail.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and partly because the Acela can arrive more than 13 minutes late and does so fairly frequently.

    VBobier Reply:

    Sounds like there aren’t enough trains there to meet the schedule and the demand, so the trains are late, that could be fixed, of course that might require upgrades to track that has what been on old ROW that has been around for like decades? Like since maybe around the year 1900 or so? I’ve never ridden or been in the NEC of course, so I can only imagine what is needed for the Acela to shine like it could, like gradual curves replacing older tighter curves and newer straighter track, new ROW seems like what is needed for this and yep I don’t know what the land places are like and they can’t be all that inexpensive to acquire, worth it to build/improve to make part of the NEC into true HSR? I’d say so, but that’s just My opinion.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If Amtrak can’t even reliably meet that schedule, they should just stop running the trains and let people who can be more punctual do so.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people who run trains more reliably are going to have to contend with the ancient systems that Amtrak runs with. Rebuilding the converter in Metuchen for instance, doesn’t depend on who is operating the railroad, it depends on how much money Congress is willing to spend.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It depends more on spending priorities, honestly. Amtrak spent years undermaintaining its systems to look better on paper for privatization. The Milwaukee did the same during its merger talks with the C&NW; Amtrak’s actually doing a lot better than the Milwaukee did in the 60s. Now that there’s money, Amtrak’s discovered a huge maintenance backlog, but is at the same time trying to take over ARC and proposing expensive, over-ambitious station remodels. There’s no thought to what the limiting factors to capacity or reliability are. If it’s the signals, then fine, upgrade the signals. Doesn’t take an enormous amount of money. Ditto the electrification.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    An hour to restock a cafe car, clean the train, and do the usual end-of-line inspections, plus run the equipment out to and back from Ivy City and whatever the counterpart in Boston is to do this work? That actually sounds pretty good!

    A recent comment by Don Phillips in Trains revealed some interesting points about the Acela, one of which is how the trains came in the configuration they have. Seems they were originally intended to have only a single power car at one end and a control trailer at the other, like the Swedish X2000, but some sort of regulatory body, perhaps the FRA (I don’t have the magazine, I’m having to work from memory, feel free to correct), put its foot down and said a control trailer wasn’t safe enough in a collision, so Amtrak wound up having to buy 20 more locomotives to make double-ended sets. Reportedly one of Amtrak’s officials–whoever was president at the time, it may have been Gunn–had fits over this, frustrated at how short the trains would be, and with all that power to go to waste. Phillips commented that the new cars will mean the Acelas will be finally “right sized,” both for the market and to make proper use of all the energy those power cars can put out.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    An hour to restock a cafe car, clean the train, and do the usual end-of-line inspections, plus run the equipment out to and back from Ivy City and whatever the counterpart in Boston is to do this work? That actually sounds pretty good!

    Special Olympics!

    Amtrak gets a Gold Star Award for Extra Effort despite Multiple Profound Developmental Disabilities.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They do a minimal clean and restock in under 15 on the trains at Penn Station in NY.

    Winston Reply:

    It really seems like these folks aren’t trying very hard. My local bus agency is a good example. When the recession hit, they made major cuts to all lines, to the point that on their best lines they have service every 30 minutes and on their worst they run 1 round trip per day. When I decided to look at the details of their service to see if their express buses were really as popular as The Atlantic said they were I realized that by eliminating their 5 least productive routes that they aren’t being paid by someone else to run they could save enough money to double service (to 15 mins) on their most productive routes. Further, one of their least productive routes actually duplicates other routes for most of its distance. The staff at the bus agency know this (because the data on their website is of great quality, including nice maps showing the number of boardings at every stop) and there must be something in the agency’s culture preventing them from doing the right thing, but I can’t really understand what it is.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Shinkansen turns in 10-12 minutes, including cleaning time. If the cafe car is the limiting factor, then don’t have one. The Keystone gets along fine without it. All other things being equal I’d rather have a cafe car, but if it comes at the expense of one sixth the train’s seating area, and, worse, if it means the train has to spend an hour out of four parked at the terminal (=fewer trains for me to pick), then screw it, I can buy food at the station.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The new cars Amtrak has on order are designed for food service carts, so the cafe car restocking time for NEC Regionals with those cars should drop. And of course they are 125mph cars.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    David Gunn did wonders for those agencies, but he wasn’t particularly daring by European or Japanese standards (which, when it comes to administering US transit agencies, is probably a good thing). I talked to him for at least an hour over the last few days, and he didn’t get very worked up about commuter rail overstaffing, he agreed that FRA regs were a problem but didn’t seem that concerned about it (though that could have been a product of him not having managed an FRA-regulated regional railroad in a while), etc. Union work rules and craft unions were his big thing – he was, after all, on the other side of the big SEPTA regional rail strike – and at Amtrak his biggest concern was the Railway Labor Act. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was overly conservative when it came to things like how long it takes to turn a train around…I get the sense he had bigger problems.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    If one had the clear opportunity — as Caltrain had, and as California HSR had — to not be a “railroad” at all and not subject to any of that nonsense, why in God’s name would one not take it?

    The only possible answer is that sky-high costs and massive personnel inefficiencies (construction, operations, maintenance) are in fact the primary aim of the decision making parties, and that whoe side-show business with trains and passengers is at best a tertiary consideration.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Alon Levy:

    And now we know why they want more tracks under DC Union Station, to store the trains for a few hours while they’re being turned.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Well, Amtrak starts with a utilization rate of only 80% (four sets out for maintenance and whatnot at any given point in time) and the turns in NYC and Boston are apparently three hours long each (two hours in DC), so I’d say that they could definitely squeeze some more out of it.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Definitely squeeze?, gawd I hope so! 2, 3 hour turnaround times…incredible, as in incredibly bad…

    Jonathan Reply:

    Acela is not HRS. It just isn’t. Not by any sane definition of HSR. Irrespective of whether the US Congress or DOT has adopted a definition of HSR which has been torqued and stretched to include Acela. In the 1960s or 1970s, maybe. This century? Just do the math.

  5. Donk
    Aug 18th, 2012 at 05:00

    “The difference is that the Acela actually exists and journalists and others can see for themselves the many ways in which it is superior to flying. Once California high speed rail is built, many people on this coast will see it too.”

    There is a good example of this point in CA. When Metro Rail was being built in LA County, many of the middle class folk were against it, because they just saw it as a way for poor people to travel into their neighborhoods. Back then, the only thing they had to go off of was the Blue, Red, and Green lines, which mostly went thru poor neighborhoods and carried poor people.

    Then in 2003, when the Pasadena Gold Line was built, all of this changed. Middle class people saw that the Gold Line was a clean, comfortable, safe way to get to S. Pasadena and Pasadena (both wealthy communities). I believe that this route singlehandedly changed the perception in LA that trains were just graffiti-covered metal cans that dump criminals into their neighborhoods – and that they could actually make a neighborhood more attractive.* After 2003 things started changing, including Villariagosa’s “subway to the sea” platform in 2005, the reversal of the subway ban, Measure R in 2008, America Fast Forward, and now the Measure R extension. These were all a result of Villaraigosa’s policies, but I believe were enabled by the Gold Line.

    Anyway, this is what I predicted would happen when I was reading all of the negative articles about the subway back in 2000-2003, and is the same thing that will happen in CA after a descent leg of the CHSR is built. Eventually, this will snowball so much that it will cause CA and other western states to start blowing billions on HSR lines that are not needed.

    *(Unfortunately, the Pasadena Gold Line was the last time Metro build customized, attractive rail stations. All of the newer ones, especially on the Expo Line, are just drab concrete platforms with no character.)

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Donk, your comments also parallel those of Bruce McF, who has made comments that certain interests, at least in the past, have been fighting against HSR and rail in general for fear of losing some sales of gasoline or car insurance or something. Once something starts running, and if it’s even halfway decent, and people can experience it for real. . .

    The number of people who have traveled overseas and seen those operations help, too. . .

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute continue to fund Cato, Reason and Heritage, and they continue to propagandize in support of the Big Oil party line on High Speed Rail.

    And, despite their purported “libertarian” ideology, against the relaxation of parking mandates on property developers.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Every few years theres a short unenthusiastic blurb against exclusively single family zoning too. Usually in the context of “why can’t I convert the garage and den into an in-law apartment?” Usually with a caveat that the in-law apartment could only be occupied by people over the age of 55 and related to the owner of the primary residence. And additional off street parking would have to be provided. And that when the house is sold it reverts to single family.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Some of the interest in the Small Homes movement is a response to those zoning restrictions, since there is often a footprint below which a secondary building does not require special permitting. In this town, its 200 square feet, and there are a number of Small Home designs that qualify.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And Randall O’Toole had really nasty things to say about small homes in Portland. Apparently, if only the city had embraced sprawl more fully, those things would not be needed.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I took a look at the O’Toole small homes piece and at the video clip he provided. I can’t say I like the designs portrayed in the video clip, but the cost of $300 per square foot works out to that of some VERY nice bungalow replicas that have all the feel of something built in the 1920s, including an interior that has so much wood it looks like the inside of a tree, but with modern amenities, such as air conditioning. I’ll also mention that some of those original houses, as well as the replicas, were very comfortable, very homey, and in that size range.

    In contrast, the big houses I’ve seen around here that look like what O’Toole mentions are “particle board palaces” with vinyl siding that warps with weather changes, have kitchen cabinets that fall apart in five years, and some have had roofs fail in less than 10 years. Seems big and cheap doesn’t age too well. . .

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Can we have a sort of Godwin rule for transit where the first person to mention Exxon, Cato, Reason, or the Kochs automatically loses?

    joe Reply:

    Yes. It is unfair and off topic to mention any political interest working against HSR.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Depends on the circumstances, really. In LA, James Moore was a major thorn for rail, what with his predictions that the Blue Line would never even come close to reaching ridership projections (it did reach the projections). And in Florida, Cox and Poole really did play a key role in canceling HSR.

    Of course, it’s not true everywhere. Reason et al have played no significant role in the attacks on CAHSR and have had no role at all in the the debate about expensive Eastern projects.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, as soon as Exxon and the API stop investing in anti-transit, anti-public transport and anti-Active Transport propaganda and Cato, Reason and Heritage stop creating and pushing it. That propaganda is part of the transit policy debate, and pretending that it isn’t only serves the purposes of Exxon and the API.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Looks like the Kochs, or at least one the policy groups they back, doesn’t like trolley cars in Milwaukee:

    At least the anti-trolley site has some interesting vintage photos of the system:

    A big part of the cost of the system in Milwaukee is relocation/rebuilding of a lot of public utilities; supposedly this aspect is nearly half the cost of the project. I wonder if that is work that needs doing anyway; if that’s the case, then they might as well go whole hog and get trolleys back in the bargain. . .

    Billy Reply:

    Does it really matter what the stations look like? Wouldn’t it be the most cost effective just build average but functional stations for most stops but make the major stations like LA or SF pretty to look at . I think people just want a clean station they can arrive and leave from efficiently. Even downtown Palo Alto’s Caltrain station is more or less just a concrete platform but it’s clean and functional. New York subways are mostly white tile asbestos-covered ceilings but they work and have that wonderful subway smell. I actually like the subway smell when it’s not urine. Who’s with me?!

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, the main destination stations have a case to be made for being impressive ~ especially in terms of impact on passengers arriving by train. The primarily origin stations, like San Jose, don’t have the same case.

    Donk Reply:

    Have you seen the Expo stations? They are pretty crappy. Have you seen the Pasadena Gold Line stations? They are well integrated into the neighborhoods. They could have at least decorated the concrete viaducts at La Brea, La Cienega, and Venice.

  6. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 18th, 2012 at 09:36

    “I keep making this point, but a lot of California journalists refuse to believe this.”

    Out of curiosity, have any of the California journalists in question ridden any of the trains in Europe or Japan? Have they even been to the East to ride our own Acela?

    VBobier Reply:

    If they have, their preconceived notions still say waste & fraud, as it represents heresy to their bad ideas.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Some if not most of California journalists have ridden HSR in Europe or Japan and they love it! But their preconceived notions say that’s Japan and Europe and Americans don’t ride trains.

  7. joe
    Aug 18th, 2012 at 10:45

    HSR would divide Palo Alto as HW 101 divided Palo Alto from East Palo Alto – and other musings from the Palo Alto City council and prospective candidates

    Fighting the Train: City Council Candidates Weigh-In
    Palo Alto City Council candidates discuss their views on High-Speed Rail

    The original proposal for an elevated 4-track system across the peninsula has since been scrapped in favor of a 2-track proposal where existing Caltrain tracks will be electrified.
    Nonetheless, concerns abound among Palo Alto residents about the potential of the system to increase noise pollution, decrease property values and divide the town in the same way as the 101 Freeway currently divides Palo Alto from East Palo Alto.
    Most of the candidates for City Council in Palo Alto expressed strong opposition to the High-Speed rail proposal as it stands.
    Attorney Marc Berman discussed his concern about the constantly changing cost projections and plans for the project.
    “From what I’ve seen of the proposal where it stands, I don’t trust the numbers,” said Berman.
    Mark Weiss echoed Berman’s concern and added that he is not confident in the proponents of the project.
    “I don’t trust today’s powers that be to build it right,” he said.
    Council Member Greg Schmid, who is seeking re-election, expressed concern about the failure of the High Speed Rail Authority to be receptive to local concerns. As a result, he is skeptical that the 2-track proposal will bear the test of time; rather, he fears that the 4-track proposal will end up being implemented.
    Council Member Pat Burt, who is also seeking re-election, shared Schmid’s concern.
    As the City Council Representative to the consortium of Peninsula Cities on High-Speed Rail, Burt has long worked as an advocate with neighboring cities opposing the project.
    Burt was equally skeptical about promises of a 2-track system and added that the 4-track proposal would be “very destructive.”
    Supervisor Liz Kniss was the lone proponent of high-speed rail among the candidates.
    Kniss stressed that she too was opposed to the 4-track proposal but insisted,
    “I have not heard anything in the past four years that would suggest there will be four tracks.”
    In addition, Kniss stressed the importance of funding the electrification of Caltrain, a move that she contends would make “an incredible difference” for the commuter rail service.
    For now though, the first stretch of the train line is set to be constructed from Madera to Bakersfield in the Central Valley, in a segment that has been called “the train to nowhere” by opponents of the project.

    Very interested in the political future of the lone HSR proponent, Liz Kniss.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes the four electrified tracks through Greenwich and Stamford have turned them into dystopian hellholes.

    Alan F Reply:

    As someone who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, roughly a 1/2 mile from the electrified 4 track Penn Railroad Main Line, I find the amount of fear and fear mongering in these quotes from the people in Palo Alto to be just bizarre. The Main Line in that part of PA has long been grade separated, varies from running in ravines to sections of elevated tracks – and is just part of the landscape that hardly gets a second thought. Its presence, mostly as a SEPTA commuter line these days, with Amtrak service to Harrisburg & Pittsburgh, has long added to property values of the homes within walking distance or a short car trip of the stations.

    Matthew Reply:

    I had the unfortunate experience of living on Alma next to the existing Caltrain tracks, for a few months. Alma is a disgusting and dangerous road that desperately needs reconfiguration. The tracks are hidden behind an impassable wall of trees and the ROW is already impenetrable for long stretches. Only a fool would want to keep all that as it is.

    Yet, these Palo Alto NIMBYs can’t even see the barrier that’s already there, and has been there for ages. Instead of taking the opportunity to create more permeability, they whine and whine about any change at all. Even when the rest of the state is willing to help pay for it.

    It’s simply disgraceful.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    You’re right about the situation with both Alma (and Central Expressway) and the at-grade tracks being an unacceptable barrier.

    Unfortunately for everybody — for backyard-adjacent residents; for other neighbours; for Caltrain riders; for local, regional, state and federal taxpayers; for potential HS riders — the sub-cretinous “engineers” of Caltrain/CHSRA and their consultancies (PB/HNTB/etc) have completely poisoned the well on grade separation.

    Instead of offering — indeed, instead of even thinking about or understanding that there might be — any sort of local benefit in the forms of all of:
    * better suburban neighbourhodd environment;
    * better Caltrain service (with concrete examples and a concrete phased implementation schedule delivering real improvements to real riders and residents);
    * less intrusive train service (a non-FRA non-shithouse system that doesn’t blow its fucking horns all the times, which the FRA cretins are to require at stations even if road grade crossings go)

    all that our genius little local crop of “engineering” and “planning” professionals provided was:

    * “We’re going to run high speed trains at 125mph, non-stop, on their own tracks, fucking over Caltrain, as a Flight Level Zero Airline surrogate that provides only costs and no benefits to you … and here are the viaducts the FL0 Airline is running on. Act grateful.

    So yeah, grade separation is highly desirable. More than two tracks (in some carefully selected locations) are highly desirable. Elevated viaducts and elevated berms are not only highly desirable but far better than existing conditions, on at least half a dozen different fronts, some of which you mentioned.

    But America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals have so totally fucked up the terms of the “debate”, by offering nothing but downsides, that we’re going to fucked over by not illegitimate local opposition for a decade or more to come.

    The people involved — not the “NIMBYs”, but the Planing Professionals — all deserve to die in a fire.

    Every single time they say or do anything they more or open large caliber fire at the target of “better transportation” and “better environment”. The fact that these sub-cretins are paid public dollars to fuck over the public is an outrage.

    joe Reply:

    “the sub-cretinous “engineers” of Caltrain/CHSRA and their consultancies (PB/HNTB/etc) have completely poisoned the well on grade separation.”

    Thank god you are here to fix things.

    Palo Alto residents are victims of Caltrain.

    The people involved — not the “NIMBYs”, but the Planing Professionals — all deserve to die in a fire.

    Thank you for helping.

    Can I forward your resume to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins ?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Thank god you are here to fix things.

    Tell ’em The Baby Jaysus sent you.

    And, I’ll try to break this to you gently, because down yonder Gilroy way you may not have much experience of this sort of thing but … how to say this? …well, having a IQ of over 80 isn’t a huge deal. Billions of very average human beings manage it. You may even have met such people, without knowing it!. Sadly, they’re automatically disqualified from decision making positions at US transit agencies: there are very effective procedures for preserving the purity and consistency of the outcomes.

    joe Reply:

    IQ has nothing to do with emotional maturity.

    Richard Mlynarick will wish us into the corn field if angered.

    What was the age of that character in the Twilight Zone episode? Was he 10 or 12?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:


    joe Reply:

    Bill Mummy right?

    Palo Alto has a plan for the Caltrain corridor. First one ever it appears dated May 2012. Awesome to think that’s a first. They’re behind Gilroy in getting started. Ours is in draft 1 and it’s not technical but we are not in the immediate plans for the HSR system.

    IMHO iPA is a little behind the curve to start planning in 2010 – maybe that’s Caltrain’s fault …??? I think not.

    Any city has a responsibility to plan and put out a vision for development. PA had none apparently. Since this is finally out in May 2012, it tells me the mean and nasty Caltrain people are not fully responsible for the confusion in Palo Alto. After all – PA didn’t have an articulated vision. Maybe its a game of “Go me another rock.”

    But what do I know. My IQ is ~80. If I were a member of Mensa, I’d be wishing fiery death on people. That’s what smart people do.

    Safer rail crossings and better east-west corridors throughout Palo Alto should rank among the city’s highest transportation priorities, the Planning and Transportation Commission concluded Wednesday night, May 30, when it voted to endorse a new vision document for the Caltrain corridor.

    “It did not simply look at train tracks, but it looked at the city from Alma Street to El Camino, both sides, and in doing so, it gave the city an opportunity to examine what has been sort of put together haphazardly over the years,” Wasserman said. “If high-speed rail has done any good so far in this process, it’s that it has called attention to this major asset in the community — which is also a major obstacle.”

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Palo Also has passed resolutions against both elevated tracks and against more than two tracks. It won’t be the last city to do so.

    That’s what Caltrain/CHSRA staff/consultant poisoning of the wells has done.

    The worst outcome for everybody.

    As I said earlier, I can only hope that your offspring take advantage of government programs and manage to attain levels of reading comprehension and abstract reasoning skills of analysis and synthesis beyond those to which you find yourself limited.

    joe Reply:

    No is not a plan.

    Resolutions do not show citizens how the city wants to improve the corridor.

    The city has the responsibility to put out a vision and plan. Mean stupid blah blah blahCaltrain is not an excuse to not plan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, here’s one of many jokes I heard in 2003:

    Consider the following moral dilemma. You’re a photographer, and you’re in Miami, where there’s widespread flooding because of a hurricane. You’ve heard that President Bush is visiting the city, but you’re astonished when you see him try to swim against current in the flooded streets, trying to avoid being swept away. You know you can help, or you could just take photographs of Bush drowning and make your career.

    So consider your options carefully: do you photograph Bush in color, or in classical black and white?

    I laughed hard when I first heard this joke. So did my friends and family when I told it to them. How quickly we’ve all forgotten Heil Bush and Bu$hitler and other things we said in the run-up to the Iraq War?

    So excuse me while I don’t bat an eye at comments like “They deserve to die in a fire.” They’re par for the course. The only people who insist on enforced civility in every circumstances are the Very Serious People who don’t really care about the issues they write about except as interpreters and pundits, and aren’t affected by them.

    joe Reply:

    Well that’s explains it – I never thought Richard’s comments were jokes but I guess if you look at them like jokes then they are just a series of jokes.

    I like this joke: Caltrain’s bullying and uncivil behavior is a problem so (this is the punchline) Caltrain employees should die in a fire. …. I get it. The “die in a fire is uncivil and suggested punishing for uncivilly.

    joe Reply:


    Alon Levy Reply:

    You may be surprised to hear this, but pretty much everyone who I tell lines like “In other words, about what your average non-English-as-a-first-language (ie potentially competent) railway engineer with basic skills (ie certainly not American) would toss off in his or her sleep” finds them funny. And none of the people who laughed care much about public transportation.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The people involved — not the “NIMBYs”, but the Planing Professionals — all deserve to die in a fire.

    People who say such things and actually mean them would not normally be classed as entirely sane.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    as been there for ages.

    As was there when their suburban lots were subdivided from farmland.

    …horns..which the FRA cretins are to require at stations even if road grade crossings go

    No they don’t.

    There may be some initial paperwork involved in not blowing them but they do not require every train to blow it’s horn when it goes through a station. And that’s a diesel btw.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    It’s the stopping at the station that is the problem. Regulations require sounding the horn before moving the train. You know, just in case someone is still hooking up a boxcar.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No it’s not

    you can wander YouTube for days watching the foamer videos of trains running on the LIRR. Or Metro North. NJTransit rings the bell. That’s what three quarters of the trains running in the US?

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Interesting. I had no idea the LIRR ran in California.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The LIRR, NJTransit and Metro North are regulated by the FRA just like railroads in California.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 222.21 requires that a train horn be sounded while trains approach and enter public highway-rail grade crossings. However, horn sounding upon approach to pedestrian-only crossings at or near rail passenger stations is generally governed by State law.

    On the other hand, horn sounding at passenger stations is usually performed in accordance with a railroad-issued instruction or operating rule. In order to supplement the audible warning provided to rail passengers by the locomotive horn, some railroads also require sounding of the locomotive bell on approach and while moving through passenger stations. FRA recommends adoption of this practice, whether or not the train will service the station.
    etc etc etc etc

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    so it’s not required. Hmm.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yep. And the UP freights seem to have noticeably louder horns than the Caltrain F40PH’s.

    @D.P Lubic: I haven’t seen the rusty “Rio Grande” (g0ld-on-blue) livery GP in a while, no clue if it’s still operating here.

  8. joe
    Aug 19th, 2012 at 04:08

    Oh My.

    Researcher discrediting high speed rail had bias
    By JAMES P. REPASS A major economic forecast released by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, which debunked the economic value of High Speed Rail
    The UCLA report was written primarily by Jerry Nickelsburg, according to UCLA public affairs, who is identified in the document only as “Senior Economist, UCLA Anderson Forecast.”
    He is in fact a former career employee of, and on-going consultant to, the aircraft industry, a fact nowhere disclosed in the UCLA report, or in any press kits issued with the report.
    That information however can be found on the website of his consulting firm, Deep Blue Economics, which sells aircraft simulation tools to the airline industry. It boasts: “Deep Blue Economics is a business and aviation consulting company with specialization in the analysis and disposition of business assets including aviation and simulation assets. The associates have over 50 years of experience with particular expertise in start-up operational, financial, route, fleet, and strategic planning and flight simulator capital planning evaluation, disposition, inspection, and appraisal. For more information, please contact Jerry Nickelsburg, Ph.D.” It then lists his phone number and other contact information.
    He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota in 1980 specializing in monetary economics and econometrics. He was formerly a professor of Economics at the University of Southern California and has held executive positions with McDonnell Douglas, Flight Safety International, and Flight Safety Boeing during a 15 year span in the aviation business.”

    Airlines might not oppose HSR but any consultant focused and dependent on airline travel would have to consider a new mode of transportation which takes market-share from airlines as threat to their consulting business.

    joe Reply:

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One would think someone with a Phd in economics could see that HSR would make his airline consulting business thrive. Evaluating how the airlines can rebalance their operations in the face of the new competition…. And point out to them that they can shed their high cost low profit short haul flights.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s no telling whether that particular economist saw any of that, but the best positioning for obtaining the business doing that for the airlines is having a reputation as being on their side.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Being neutral or positive about HSR is being on the airline’s side.

    Airlines frequently abruptly abandon routes. They even abandon whole hubs, Pittsburgh and Saint Louis come to mind. They and their consultants spend a great deal of time trying to out wit the competition. They should, at this point anyway, see that HSR is an opportunity to make more money… by getting rid of the puddle jumpers and using the airport capacity for flights with better profit profiles.
    Nary a peep out of Delta or USAirways over their lose of market share in the Northeast. They’ve shifted to places Amtrak can’t compete with them. And very likely make more money doing that. Your life will be much more pleasant when Ohio has more flights to places that can’t be reached by HSR since they are using that capacity to serve those places instead of ORD, LGA and DCA…. And you will be able to take a train to Chicago, DC or NY….

    joe Reply:

    I see two problems.

    1) Rather than expand air travel and airports in CA, the HSR system is supposed to defer construction and consequently reduce expansion and opportunities for consulting.

    His interests and airline interests are not perfectly aligned. It would be profitable for airlines to use their limited gate space at terminals for servicing longer distance, higher fare city pairs. That’s profitable for them – simpler.

    2) If there isn’t a conflict then why would an UCLA economist and airline transportation expert NOT refer to his credentials and NOT analyze the economics of airline/HSR interactions? He is an expert and economist who works for the State of California Institution.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The conflicts of substance here are not between the airlines and the CHSRA. What are the real conflicts?

    1. Far and way the ongoing wars will be between the various entitlement factions over access to taxpayer subsidies from the general fund. You already see a conflict of major proportions between charter and CTA public schools. Segue to the competition between the general education lobby and the general social services(welfare for the poor)lobby for state funding. Not to mention BART vs. every other transit operator for operating, maintenance, rolling stock, and capital improvements subsidies. That’s why the tax levies come November are so important – defeat will bring pressure on Brown to economize – including the extravagant and exorbitant Grande DeTour.

    2. Conflicts between terrestrial interests that airplanes fly over. I’m talking regional warlords like Antonovich and Villa demanding diversions for their political benefit. Not to mention an unconstitutional embargo over a natural, unique, and blatantly optimal transport corridor being imposed by the Tejon Ranch monopoly in direct opposition to the commonweal.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    that’s the ticket, get the extraterrestrials to give us their transportation technology.
    Do you buy the tinfoil when it’s on sale or do you pay full price for the name brand stuff?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Extra-ordinary terrestrial profits of Deserted Xprss cheerleader:

    tax records hermetically sealed in lead, better than tin foil.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s not unusual for people to get near retirement and discover they are worth millions.
    It’s much more unusual to discover they have have tens of millions in their IRA, like Mitt Romney,. And how MItt Romney managed to do that is much more interesting than Harry Reid’s real estate transactions. After all the Las Vegas real estate market was booming for years, it would have been difficult to not make money in it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They are very similar, stone 1-percenters; that’s my point.

    Deserted Xprss does not merit one penny of public funds.

    And the case for spending taxpayer funds on the CHSRA is poor, certainly in comparison to urban mass transit.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Harry Reid barely makes it, if he makes it at all. It cost twice as much a year to keep Mitt’s s=wife’s horse as it does to keep an average American family.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The airline industry and any purported bias emanating therefrom poses no problem for the CHSRA, which is not competitive with airline service. The CHSRA scheme is a sort of AmBART, regional commute service hobbled by a slow, circuitous north-south link that will pose no problem for the air carriers. The Tejon Ranch Co. holds the smoking gun, not the airline industry.

    The CHSRA scheme is welfare for the consultants, contractors, and the construction and transport unions and will require significant and regular bailout straight from the General Fund. And be in direct competition for funding with other social service(like education and welfare)and other public transit ops like BART, Muni, AC, Metrolink.

    Modal competition and sabotage is really a deadend phenomenon anyway. For instance GM initially opposed BART but gradually capitulated because the rising boat of urbanization came to be recognized to be beneficial to all enterprise players. All the business interests share the overriding goal of pushing unlimited population growth.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Of course HSR isn’t competitive with airline service. Unless you live at the airport and are destined for a hotel at the airport where your flight ends, HSR is a much better alternative.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That’s why the rental car business thrives. The SF-LA hsr route via the Roundabout is too slow to be competitive. Unless you live at LAUS.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So get off in Burbank ( or Anaheim ) which is a short taxi ride to your destination.

    joe Reply:

    IMHO HSR helps airlines. The airlines have limited gate space so HSR servicing short haul trips can free up terminal gates for longer haul flights.

  9. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 19th, 2012 at 08:22

    For the political and economic junkies here–national debt as ratio to GDP from FDR to Obama:

    VBobier Reply:

    Seems slanted against President Obama as He inherited the debt and 2 wars, 1 war has been stopped, Clinton had no war of course, one thing Bush could have done is to have sold bonds like FDR did, instead He spent with wild abandon and off budget, it’s said a standing army is an expensive thing to have and We have a large one that is deployed and there have been no bid contracts since the Bush Administration with the Military, Bush’s tax cuts aren’t helping either, all 3 are drivers of the deficit and the debt that need to be ended. We do need to bring home troops from overseas as their a drag on the budget and their being seen as occupiers and the USA does not need that…

  10. joe
    Aug 19th, 2012 at 17:38

    The fight for high-speed trains rages on
    MENAFN – Arab News>

    I WRITE this article from California, where its legislature has recently approved about $ 6 billion in funding to start the construction of a high-speed rail line, for the first time in its history.

    The line would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with trains expected to run as fast as 350 kilometers per hour. This funding is the first installment on an estimated $ 68 billion cost for the system. Californians are showing leadership at a time of difficult economic times, the likes of which California has not seen in decades.

    They are providing a lesson for us in Saudi Arabia, where the debate goes on over the value of an extensive rail network.
    California’s voters had already voted in 2008 for issuing nearly 10 billion dollars in bonds to finance the project, and it was former Republican Gov.

    For train opponents, the passenger car should continue to be the focus of any transportation system, as it has for decades. Few in the United States now remember that most of their cities used to have extensive rail service before they were dismantled.

    During the (1936 to 1950) period, a number of companies (car makers and oil companies mainly) bought up around one hundred train traction systems in 45 cities including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Newark, New York City, Oakland and San Diego, making way for buses and passenger cars.

    Most industrialized countries have either adopted high-speed trains or are in the process of doing so. In Japan, fast trains now run as fast as 300 kmh and in China, high-speed conventional rail lines operate at top speeds of 350 kmh, while one Maglev line in Shanghai exceeds 433 kmh. The US has been the main exception among industrialized counties.

    The American debates are echoed in Saudi Arabia, where it is going to be even more difficult to replace passenger cars with train systems, inside cities or between cities, especially if gasoline prices continue to be as low as they have been. However, as I pointed out in previous essays, such transformation has become a necessity as Saudis now consume more oil per capita than any other nation in the world. However, the only way to wean Saudis away from their cars would be through the establishment of modern, state-of-the-art, high-speed trains. Slow trains would not cut it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not to worry, a regime in which oil prices stay low is one in which oil production comes from unconventional oil in the US and Canada (i.e. Saudi Arabia loses its only export and shrivels) and one in which they don’t is one in which there’s strong climate action and reduction of demand (i.e. Saudi Arabia loses its only export and shrivels).

    It could redevelop to an amazing country in a hundred years, though.

    E Carroll Reply:

    The Saudi cost of production of oil is much lower than that of unconventional oil. They also have assessed their other mineral assets, which are considerable. They can continue a rentier economy for many decades, but have been attempting to change to a more balanced economy to absorb the large younger generation of workers.

    What could have an affect is if their transition to a partially democratic monarchy is not smooth. There is a real battle going on in the royal family between the more conservative and the more liberal.

    This is no longer an isolated country: Everybody watches satellite TV. Change will eventually come. We just hope it is peaceful for everyone’s sake, both ours and theirs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Those other mineral assets are mainly natural gas. Oil and gas are if I remember correctly 90% of Saudi exports. They’re trying to be more diverse, but they’re still very far from there, unlike (say) the UAE.

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