Seattle to LA via HSR In Less Than 8 Hours?

Dec 27th, 2012 | Posted by

OK, OK, the headline for this post is something of a tease. Today China began service on the world’s longest HSR line, running nearly 2,300 kilometers from Beijing to Guangzhou:

Two trains departed from stations in Beijing and Guangzhou at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively, to mark the opening of the 2,298-km line.

Running at an average speed of 300 km per hour, the new route cuts travel time between Beijing and Guangzhou from over 20 hours to about eight.

A total of 155 pairs of trains will run on the new line daily and alternative schedules have been made for weekends and peak travel times, according to the Ministry of Railways (MOR).

There will still be 183 pairs of trains running daily on the old Beijing-Guangzhou line that runs parallel to the high-speed line, allaying concerns that the new line will increase passengers’ travel costs.

A second-class seat on the new high-speed line costs 865 yuan (138 U.S. dollars), while a sleeper on the old line sells for around 430 yuan.

China is continuing to invest in high speed rail, and over time it will become clear that they made the right choice. Some may complain that most of China’s HSR lines aren’t turning a profit, but that’s not the point of good transportation infrastructure. By providing reliable, low-cost transportation, you are supporting the creation of other economic activity. As oil production peaks and as the price continues to rise in the years to come, China’s high speed rail network will prove to be a major competitive advantage.

This new route is particularly notable for its long distance. The usual rule of thumb has been that HSR makes the most sense for city pairs under 800 kilometers (or, 500 miles). China is throwing that out the window, and expects that there will be demand for an eight hour ride between those cities. I expect they’ll see that demand materialize.

What would that route look like in North America? Going by driving distance along the Interstate 5 corridor, it’s 1825 kilometers from Seattle to Los Angeles, and 2222 kilometers from Vancouver BC to Tijuana BC – almost exactly the distance from Beijing to Guangzhou. One could travel border-to-border here on the West Coast in eight hours. Currently, a trip from Seattle to LA on the Coast Starlight is 36 hours. True, those are 36 very enjoyable hours, especially in a sleeper car, but an eight hour trip would be amazing.

As oil begins to fade as the primary fuel for transportation in North America, long-distance high speed rail will have to become an important part of this continent’s infrastructure plans. Once California HSR is built from LA to Sacramento, and Pacific Northwest HSR is built along the Amtrak Cascades route from Vancouver BC to Eugene, there would be a conspicuous yet closable gap. There are certainly a few engineering challenges between Eugene and Redding. But once the regional systems are built, connecting them should be a priority.

Or, like China, we can just do it all at once. The United States remains the richest country on the globe by far with a GDP of about $15 trillion and growing. Surely a small percentage of that each year can be dedicated to building a sustainable transportation network powered by renewable energy, carrying people between cities, states, and regions on high speed trains.

It’s going to happen eventually, and within many of our lifetimes. And I look forward to traveling the West Coast via bullet train.

  1. Paul Druce
    Dec 27th, 2012 at 20:31

    There is absolutely no reason for such an HSR line.

    VBobier Reply:

    Predictable response Paul Druce…

    BeWise Reply:

    VBobier, must you always be so cynical?

    VBobier Reply:

    You don’t want a reply to that, now do You?

    Derek Reply:

    They’ll build HSR from Vancouver to Portland, possibly to Eugene. California’s HSR might eventually make it as far north as Redding due to the flat topography. But the 315 mile (driving) gap between Eugene and Redding is very mountainous, and the 580 miles from Portland to San Francisco is too far for HSR to attract many riders right now. Of course Peak Oil may change that.

    Joe Reply:

    Peak oil and driving in the mountains is dangerous and prone to weather related risks and delays and it can be monotonous driving.

    Andy Chow Reply:

    First, I don’t think whatever the Chinese government is planning is always sound.

    Second, the line may be the longest but it was built in segments connecting cities that are already well populated: Guangzhou 11,070,654; Changsha 3,093,980; Wuhan 6,434,373; Zhengzhou 3,132,000; Shijiazhuang 2,604,930; Beijing 18,827,000. So the HSR corridor won’t carry people that just travel end to end. It is just that the new corridor can take people end to end in 8 hours.

    Andy Chow Reply:

    The city on the corridor with the lowest urban population: Shijiazhuang, is comparable to the city population of Chicago. I don’t think that any of the cities other than Beijing and Guangzhou have airport as large as O’Hare. (And Beijing and Guangzhou) don’t have secondary airports like many large American cities do.

    Eric Reply:

    Chinese municipalities include all of the suburbs. So Shijiazhuang is comparable to St Louis, and the Chicago area is only slightly smaller than Guangzhou, the second largest city on the line.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It depends on your definition of Guangzhou. Guangzhou itself is only 12 million people, but the metro area has agglomerated with Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, and Hong Kong. That’s more than 40 million people.

    Andy Chow Reply:

    I used urban population in the Chinese number, and the city population of US. It is not easy because cities are organized differently between those two counties. Generally, a “city” in China is about the size of a county in the US. A city in the US is about the same size as a “district” of a “city” in China. In the US, cities are organized strongly influenced by local, historical, and racial politics, the metro area has to use other political tools to organize regional and especially transportation planning. Businesses use other ways other than city political boundaries to organize metro areas. In China, everything is decided by the Communist Party so if the party thinks it is right to organize cities according to the size of the metropolitan area, they will do so unilaterally.

    Shijiazhung has the urban area of 154.2 sq mi. St Louis has the metro area of 8,458 sq mi. Shijiazhung has a total of 10,163,788 people for the area of 6,070 sq mi. So counting up the suburbs in Shijiazhung still has more people than St. Louis even counting up the suburbs. Chicago metro has nearly 10 million with the area of over 10,000 sq mi.

    Nathanael Reply:

    So, logically, it would make sense to build HSR New York – Philadelphia – Pittsburgh – Columbus – Indianapolis – Chicago.

    For example. Perhaps the alternate route through upstate NY, Canada, and Detroit would be viable as well if we weren’t at war with Canada (eyeroll).

    Nathanael Reply:

    (Yes, that’s a joke, but reports of the border patrols and customs and immigration at the Canadian border sure makes one wonder whether someone decided that there was a Cold War on.)

  2. Matthew
    Dec 27th, 2012 at 21:19

    Well 8 hours is about the same time it takes a NE Regional to get from Boston to DC and the only folks I know who ride that long are either railfans or afraid of flying. Are they expecting a lot of end-to-end traffic, or more likely (I think) a lot of intermediate station usage? I have a friend who has been already making use of the Guangzhou – Wuhan segment since it opened, a more reasonable sub-4 hours I think.

    blankslate Reply:

    The Beijing to Guangzhou line passes through several multimillion+ metro areas along the way. The combined population along the entire line is 400 million, higher than the entire population of the USA. Intermediate travel will easily justify the line, and it will pick up quite a bit of end-to-end as well.

    The West Coast probably won’t justify such a route, at least until flying becomes prohibitively expensive. All three states combined only total 48 million people, and a fair number of those are not near I-5. The biggest problem is the long, sparsely populated, mountainous stretch between Sacramento and Portland, which themselves are not huge draws (only about 2 million in each metro area).

    In the USA, the biggest potential for “long” HSR routes lies east of the Rockies, where large metro areas are closer together and have less challenging terrain in between. It’s conceivable that San Antonio-Houston-New Orleans, New Orleans-Birmingham-Atlanta, and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh-DC could be justifiable as stand-alone HSR lines, which could make it possible to ride HSR all the way from San Antonio to Boston (about 3,000 kilometers, maybe 14-15 hours including stops). Similarly, if the Chicago “hub and spoke” idea reaches out west to Omaha and east to Pittsburgh, they could be combined with a Pittsburgh-Philly-NYC-Boston line to give you a one-seat ride from Omaha to Boston in about 10 hours. Note that no one would ever propose that linking San Antonio or Omaha to Boston would justify building any of these lines, but if they emerged as a result of interlining several independently justified lines, you can bet that some people would ride end to end.

    Anyway, considering that it will be more than 10 years from now before we can ride HSR from Fresno to Bakersfield, I predict none of the above will happen until the 22nd Century.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    The bulk of the population in Washington and Oregon are along I5.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Of course. No argument there: HSR from Portland to Seattle is a good proposition, and the same is true for Seattle-Vancouver as long as the border crossing is handled well. The problem is what happens in the Sac-Portland gap. Redding and Eugene are both small cities, enough to justify electrified legacy links with through-service onto HSR, but not enough for more. And between Redding and Eugene, the biggest city is Medford, which is tiny and in the middle of the mountains.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    I agree, I was just commenting the comment made that the majority of the West Coast’s population doesn’t live along the I-5 corridor. For Oregon and Washington, that is most certainly not true.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    And going east to Bend us even smaller in terms of population than Ashland-Medford.

    blankslate Reply:

    Well I actually said “a fair number are not near I-5” not “a majority are not near I-5.” This was in comparing the 400-million population along the Chinese line to a reasonable back of napkin estimate for a West Coast line, which would be the population of the 3 states (48m) minus the “fair number” who don’t live close enough for such a line to be useful, probably a few million.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    In CA, possibly, sure. But not in WA or OR.

  3. John Burrows
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 00:37

    From the “Railway Gazette”—“The longest continuous high speed line in the world now connects Beijing with more than 30 cities, including the provincial capitals at Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, and Guangzhou, as well as Shenzen on the border with Hong Kong. The express rail link carrying high speed trains onwards from Shenzen to Kowloon is due for completion in 2015.
    Serving areas with a combined population of around 400 million people, the route is expected to lead to the development of “city clusters”, promoting day trips between adjacent economic zones.”

    From what I have read, nearly 700 million Chinese now live in urban areas with another 300 million expected to head for the cities and towns within the next 20 years.
    If these estimates are correct, then by the time CaHSR reaches San Francisco, the Beijing-Guangzhou line should be serving a market of well over a half billion people. When it comes to building up their transportation networks, no wonder the Chinese are trying to do it all at once—Looks like they will need everything they can build.

    As far as the West Coast goes, we obviously have a “population gap” when compared to the Beijing-Guangzhou area of China, but let’s not try to catch up—We don’t need a 500 or 600 million population to make high speed rail work here, and fortunately we don’t need to build it all at once.

    Completely off the subject: I was looking at a map of China trying to get my bearings and had forgotten how close Taiwan is to the Chinese Mainland—Some old business here that is not going to indefinitely stay on the back burner.

  4. BeWise
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 00:45

    I’m sorry, but why would you take an eight hour train ride when you can hop on a plane and make it in 2.5 hours? Even accounting for TSA, it’s still much faster. In my own opinion, high-speed rail still only makes sense for routes less than 500 miles.
    I know people keep talking about peak oil and that flying will become much more expensive. But over time, passenger jets, like automobiles, will become more fuel-efficient. Heck, even Boeing is designing a hybrid gas-electric concept jet called the SUGAR Volt.
    Before we go looking at markets greater than 500 miles that don’t really have a business case, maybe we should continue to focus just on getting the first 435 miles from LA to SF completed.

    Steven H Reply:

    There’s no way you can get from Beijing to Guangzhou in 2.5 hours by plane. The fastest commercial flights take about 3 hours gate to gate. Assuming light traffic (and you should not), trips to the airport from each city’s CBD is about 45 minutes. Assuming that the entire airport routine (baggage check, security and travel to the gate at the departing airport; travel from the gate, baggage claims, and finding a cab at the arrival airport) only takes 30 minutes at each airport; and assuming that you plan to arrive at the gate as soon as the gate closes, the fastest possible trip between the cities is 5.5 hours by air. The train will probably take longer than 8 hours for similar reasons.

    Of course, you could also ask why so many Chinese passengers were (and still are) willing to spend 20 hours on a train when the air trip is only 5.5 hours. Obviously the Chinese are more price conscience than time conscience. Since the HSR, though expensive, is still half the cost of a plane ticket, there are a lot of people who will gladly sacrifice a couple extra hours (which aren’t exactly wasted on the train anyway) in order to save money, particularly if they can get a deal on a sleeper ticket (thereby benefitting from the trains 8 hour run). That might even save them an extra night in a hotel. Add to that the fact that it isn’t hard to find discounted tickets (both air and train), and you’ll now have a number of factors in play.

    Since there are now tens of millions of middle class chinese citizens running around out there, HSR will probably find a market.

    BeWise Reply:

    I was talking about Los Angeles to Seattle.

    Jim Reply:

    One does not “hop on a plane”. Flying is cumbersome. I’m traveling to Boston next week. I’ll walk to the Alexandria station, get on the train, when it gets to Back Bay, I’ll get off and walk to where I’m staying. If I were flying, I’d drive to the airport, drive around the parking lot looking for a space, then walk to a shuttle bus stop, get the shuttle bus to the terminal, walk to the security line, shuffle along in the line, go through TSA, walk to the people mover, get the train to the concourse, walk to the gate, get on the plane. That’s three intermediate vehicles between the house and the gate (and more walking, too). The total trip may take less time, but that time is constantly interrupted. One can get nothing else done. The train may take eight hours, but that time is usable for other things: there are papers I want to read, videos I want to watch. I can do that on the train.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Why would anyone drive from SF to LA when they can fly in an hour?

    As gas prices soar, it’s good to have a variety of options for travel. Some people will fly. Some people will drive. Some people will take a train. We should stop insisting everyone pick one option alone.

    I do think that even with more fuel efficient jets, the rising price of gas is going to hit them too. Eventually it will not be affordable for most people to fly or drive, even though there is technically enough oil to do so. That’s where intercity and interregion high speed rail becomes important. China is investing in that now, while it’s cheaper to do so and at a time when their economy gets a needed boost. Eventually the US will do the same thing, but at a greater cost because we insisted on waiting.

    VBobier Reply:

    SF to LA, pfft, childs play Robert, try LA to the southern Washington state border(just north or Portland Oregon) and on $2,000.00, of course gas prices in 1971 were a fraction of what they are today, My parents and I made that trip, earthquake or not, Dad went up the 5 instead of the 99, the 5 in parts was still under construction too, He was looking for Greener Grass, needless to say He came up empty, but We had mostly a good time, even got see SF, but not much else on the business trip, Dad was in the Newspaper business then, He was an expert route manager, but I’ve got the slides of the trip at least.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    8 hours is far beyond the point at which you will have a meaningful diversion of travelers. Furthermore, the average fuel cost per passenger is only $36.28 (an average per passenger fuel consumption of 35.76 kilograms). While that will go up with rises in the price of oil, it will not meaningfully impact the affordability of airfare between LAX and Seattle (currently starting at $220 round trip from what I’ve found). Furthermore, because of the significant track maintenance requirements that such a journey entails, it is highly doubtful that fares would be cheaper or more affordable on the high speed train, since they would need to be only a nickel per kilometer in order to match air fare.

    Nathanael Reply:

    8 hours can and will generate a meaningful diversion of travellers provided
    (1) it’s well scheduled and reliable
    (2) the alternatives suck.

    TSA and the hub-and-spoke airlines are doing their best to create the situation for (2) in the Rust Belt.

    At the moment the West Coast is not seeing the same situation, however.

    BeWise Reply:

    But at what cost do we insure that people have a third option of travel on a route that really doesn’t have as high a traffic volume as CA intercity routes? Assuming a Seattle-Eugene route is eventually built, you would still have to spend tens of billions, possibly hundreds of billions, to get through the Cascades. That’s a lot of spending for little benefit. Instead, we should focus the little money we gave on busy intercity routes, with convenient connections to airports.

    Derek Reply:

    Rather than build directly through the Cascades for the whole 240 miles from Eugene to Redding, it might be cheaper to head east 88 miles from Eugene to Bend to get out of the mountains, then head south 215 miles to Burney, CA, then west through 46 miles of mountains to Redding. It would exchange 106 miles through mountains for 215 miles through flatland.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Bend is a fucking backwater that cannot support any kind of passenger service. I don’t think people who aren’t from Oregon realize where the overwhelming majority of the state’s population lives.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Also, going east to Bend means going over mountains.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Can’t help but laugh at that comment, Amanda:

    Sure, lots of Californians during the height of the housing bubble (including maybe you) moved to Bend in search of the promised land. But the route of the Coast Starlight currently does what Derek describes and actually traverses the Cascades south of Bend.

    As he states, the benefits are to allow for track that can go a fast speed for longer (why CAHSR goes through the San Joaquin Valley) and because if you ever want HSR to Idaho that’s the only way to do it….

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Im a native Oregonian, and while Bend is a center for ex CA yuppies, its isolated and not as populous or important as Ashland-Medford. And really, you’re appealing to the authority of the current Coast Starlight route? Which BTW doesn’t actually go through Bend?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The authority of the current Coast Starlight route? LOL.

    The thing you have to remember about railroads is they are more sensitive to grades than highways. It always makes more sense to cut through mountainous terrain quickly and run more track through flat land than drag it out….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The thing you have to remember is that a modern EMU can climb much steeper grades than a mile-long coal train hauled by diesel locomotives.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Hmm…if you want HSR to go a faster speed longer, I assume you also think Altamont is superior to Pacheco?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Wouldn’t 8 hours be a good sleeping car run? Multi-tasking, eating, working, and so on, nice early arrival for a full day of work? Doesn’t necessarily mean the economics pencil out, but with adequate intermediate travel for day trains, possibly the collapse of air service (despite some comments that jet fuel is a relatively small part of an air ticket, I’m not sure the air service can continue as it currently does), maybe we’ll still need something. . .

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Even really cushy seats with increased inter-row spacing would be pretty nice for dozing off… maybe just increased first-class accommodation during the night would be popular…

    Jonathan Reply:

    I take it none of you people have ever done trans-Pacific flights! Eight hours in a decent HSR seat beats the hell out of 10 to 15 hours in coach.

    Sure, getting through the Cascades will cost an awful lot of $$$$; wouldn’t be my first choice. Butit sounds like a cood candidate for Federal funding, once oil hits $200/bbl.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If oil hits $200/bbl, there are still more important HSR priorities. Sac-Redding can be upgraded to 200 km/h top speed and ~140 km/h average speed cheaply. Portland-Eugene can be upgraded also, but less cheaply. Eugene-Redding is 575 km of pain along the Natron Cutoff, on which the largest city is Klamath Falls, or 615 km of pain along the Siskiyou Line, which at least has Medford on it and so little freight it can be made passenger-primary. Both of these lines are doable in 6 hours if most things are optimized, or maybe even 5 if you militarily occupy the FRA and sit down to have a chat with UP about its property taxes in states other than California.

    Now, with HSR, you can cut off the length of the line to about 500 km or even a bit less, and because it’s mountainous it’d be 2 hours even fully greenfield. That’s a game-changer for Sac-Portland, but since nobody is interested in riding Sac-Portland, the effect on longer city pairs is much smaller. People who’d ride rail on LA-Seattle at 8 hours would for the most part also do it at 12.

    Of course the most important thing for an interconnected system is to make sure service from the north can serve as many cities in the south as possible. This means getting the SF-Sac connection right. So naturally, any such proposal would also use Altamont, right?…

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Didn’t CORP abandon the Siskiyou Line?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    On second thought, yes, it did, at least over the Siskiyou Pass itself. Sorry, I’d been working with Zierke’s site’s information, which is 7 years out of date by now.

    This is actually good for passenger rail, though. The line would need rebuilding to support faster-than-bicycle passenger trains anyway, and no freight trains means lower maintenance costs and higher possible superelevation.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The Siskiyou line is definitely the route to rebuild for decent Portland-California passenger service, simply because it goes through Medford and has no freight.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    I take it none of you people have ever done trans-Pacific flights!

    haha… pretty much all the flights I take are trans-pacific…. TT

    Yeah 13 hours in a seat is never going to be the most pleasant time, but nicer seating definitely helps.

    Back in the Saddle Reply:

    Robert- Not only are the airlines facing a potentially serious rise in fuel costs, two other issues are potentially major problems for air travel. First, is the forthcoming shortage of qualified pilots. With the new experience rules enacted by Congress and the FAA, pilots will need significantly more flight experience to qualify as a commercial airline pilot. The retirement of baby-boomer era pilots and the new experience rules will have commercial air carriers scrambling for pilots. This problem could restrict routes that the air carriers serve. Second, if the looming pilot shortage is averted, the gate shortage at major airports present another potential problem for the air traveling public.

    As a commercial pilot and flight instructor, I read about and work with these two issues daily. Therefore, it is imperative that options are made available to the traveling public. Building a viable passenger rail system in this country is necessary to compensate for the problems the air carrier industry is going to face.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Well, Go-Olly. Another industry based on government-subsidized (military) training of Baby-boomers?
    Who’d a thunk it? ;)

    Seriously, though, we used to have a regular contributor who swore up and down that airlines were not subsidized. He also asserted that gate shortages could be trivially fixed just by flying bigger aircraft. I’m dubious that he considered issues like space for people to sit and wait at the gate; increased time for more people to get off, and on, a plane; or even whether bigger aircraft would fit at the gates.

    Oh, well…..

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Given that there has been a major glut of pilots and that pay for them has been held low as a result, I suspect that that shortage is a bit of a myth.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I believe the reality is that to combat rising costs, airlines started turning routes into those using prop planes or commuter jets as opposed to full size jets. The smaller planes require a pilot with less training and get paid about 1/3 I think of what a “real” commercial jet pilot does. Plus, keep in mind that you can’t buy experience.

    Peter Reply:


    I don’t know of a single passenger airline flying turbine aircraft that flies with less than two
    pilots (Cape Air flies piston-engine Cessna 402’s on the vast majority of their routes with one pilot, who is, however, a fully qualified Airline Transport Pilot). Some turboprop airliners are certified to fly single-pilot (Beech 1900, and Embraer Brasilia, for example), but no passenger airline flies them single-pilot. Any “commuter jet” is highly likely to require two pilots by the terms of its type certificate (I’ve never heard of one that does not).

    You are correct, however, in your assessment of how little airline pilots get paid.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    It is amusing (if horrifying) to think of the possiblities… single pilot takes off, then as soon as possible puts the plane on autopilot, gets up, starts serving drinks and preparing meals…

    Peter Reply:

    Well, any airliner with more than 19 seats requires a flight attendant…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    That glut of pilots won’t last forever. If you don’t pay people enough, they won’t go to work for you, indeed they will never enter the field, particularly if they have to pay for their training, as many pilots have done.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Hmm, does anybody have any hard data on the current average age of airline pilots, and the rate of new pilots being certified? That could confirm or correct some statements here.

    Peter Reply:

    Number of student pilots down overall, but up since 2000, private pilots down SIGNIFICANTLY, commercial pilots and ATPs steady.

    Please note that MANY student pilots never complete their training to become anything more than student pilots.

  5. ks
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 01:11

    Shale gas boom probably means that ‘peak oil’ is delayed. And I doubt many people want to ride HSR from LA to Seattle. Agree with BeWise that the priorities should be LA to SF, and NEC.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Kheng Siong, let me be the first to say “Welcome to the discussion” as you respond and watch from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    I’m including a proper link to your site; I think a number of readers here may be interested in some of what you have to say, in particular a fellow named Alon Levy.

    Hope you enjoy the discussions.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The shale gas fracking disaster has delayed “peak gas”, but not meaningfully delayed “peak oil”.

    After LA to SF I think the priorities have to be the three NY to Chicago routes and the associated Rust Belt cities; these are going to attract people as global warming wrecks the tropics. The NEC is in tolerable shape already. NY-Chicago isn’t.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Wait, three? Not two?

    The primitive ridership model I came up with at my place a few months ago says the highest-performance lines after NEC and LA-SF are extensions of those two lines, like DC-Atlanta; the trick there is that once the initial lines are in place, building HSR extensions to the line means there are more people riding the preexisting tracks to connect to new cities.

    For example, once LA-SF is in place, especially if it’s via Altamont, a Sacramento extension is very high-performing. LA-Manteca is 520 km via Tejon and Manteca-Sac is 100. Now the aforementioned primitive model predicts 5 million annual riders LA-Sac. They generate 3.1 billion passenger-km for just 100 km of construction; the ratio, 31 million pkm/km, is very good, especially since the terrain is pancake flat. (Via Tehachapis you get incrementally lower ridership coming from the 10 extra minutes of trip time, and constant fares since in a competitive market you can’t raise fares just because your trains detour.) Via Pacheco of course things are much murkier since you need 210 km of new construction and not 100, and you won’t get SF-Sac ridership.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Except CAHSR isn’t going via Tejon. And it’s currently planned to vo via Pachecho, not Altamont.
    that will be very difficult to change: BART (and MTC) would have to come clean and say:

    “Ooops! we wanted HSR via Pacheco back when we were building BART to San Jose Fleamarket, so we could get the right-of-way! But now we’ve done that, we want to change our minds, and have you go via Altamont, so we can take the Caltrain right-of-way to Ring The Bay!”
    That won’t happen until all the power-players involved have died or retired; which may well be too late to change the Pacecho plans and EIRs.

    And _then_ what would they do about the true-HSR money used to electrify the Caltrain corridor?
    Would MTC have to pay back half the HSR moneys used for Caltrain electrification?

    I have yet to find an Altamont supporter who is intellectually honest about the _difficulties_ of getting a brand-spanking-new right-of-way from Altamont to the Bay; and getting across the Bay.
    And of getting Altamont HSR to San Jose and Silicon Valley _at all_ given that BART-to-Sn-Jose-Flea-Market took an ‘oibvious” right-of-way. Hah, I guess BART is going to give that back, too??

    Too many bureaucracies would have to admit to bad mistakes for HSR via Altamont to happen.

    synonymouse Reply:

    UP to doubletrack the Tehachapi Loop and other locations:

    Good enough for an Amtrak run. Meantime the Tejon Ranch Co. says its kingdom is the greatest and not snowed in:

    Fine locale for a real hsr line, methinks.

    Peter Reply:

    UP to doubletrack the Tehachapi Loop”

    Wrong again. Page 4. “Tehachapi Loop Not Affected”

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Ok then oil sands have delayed “peak oil”. There is enough $100 per barrel oil to last for several hundred more years. You may not like it, but it is true. And it is domestic (Canada and the western US) so you can’t use the national security argument

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I take it you’ve signed up to host in your own house one Native American family displaced by tar sand pollution and ten Bangladeshi climate refugee families.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Those Native American families will be living better than me on mineral rights royalties. And how do you separate the climate refugees from the political refugees from the war refugees from the just general refugees?

    Short answer. Boo hoo.

    I know it upsets you thar peak oil is not going to happen Alon, but try to take solace in the fact the world economy won’t collapse and everyone will not become an economic refugee

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They’re not getting royalties. Neither are the Upstaters dealing with fracked water.

    And yes, the world economy will collapse. What do you think happens when a large fraction of the world’s cities is flooded? Most first-world value added is not in the tar sands; it’s in what’s done with the products in New York, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, and other cities.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I still believe in upstate NY’s ability to fight off fracking.

    It’s too late for upstate Pennsylvania, though.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Speaking of royalties, some California families will soon be living better than they do now. The latest estimate is that with the help of fracking, we may be able to squeeze another 14 bilion barrels of oil out of the Monterey Shale—Enough oil to supply the whole country for 2 years.
    Apparently agents of drilling companies have been going door to door in parts of Monterey County trying to buy up mineral rights.

    At $100 per barrel, we have $1.4 trillion, and it might be a lot more. It could easily equal a years GDP for California— A nice little supplement to our state economy. What if the state were to impose an extra fee on all oil produced by fracking and then use a big chunk of it to help fund high speed rail?

  6. Loren Petrich
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 02:16

    The Beijing-Shenzhen line is about 2203 km / 1307 mi long, with Shenzhen – Hong Kong 26 km / 16 mi long.

    NYC – Miami: 1281 mi
    NYC – Omaha, NE: 1245 mi
    Chicago – Corpus Christi, TX: 1291 mi
    Seattle – San Diego: 1256 mi
    London – Sevilla, Spain: 2178 km / 1354 mi
    Amsterdam – Sevilla, Spain: 2234 km / 1388 mi
    London – Naples: 1276 mi / 2054 km

    That Chinese line:

    Beijing – (a few days ago) – Zhengzhou – (3 months ago) – Wuhan – (3 years ago) – Guangzhou – (1 year ago) – Shenzhen – (2015) – Hong Kong

    Europeans aren’t exactly slouches in HSR, but they’ve taken over 30 years to get to where China got in only a few years, and there are still some gaps:

    London – 2007 – Ebbsfleet – 2003 – Chunnel – 1994 – Lille
    Amsterdam – 2009 – Antwerp – ? – Brussels – 1993 – Lille
    Lille – 1993 – Paris – 1981 – Lyon
    Lyon – 1992 – Valence – 2001 – Nîmes – (2017) – Montpellier – ? – Perpignan – 2010 – Figueres – (2013) – Barcelona – 2008 – Tarragona – 2005 – Lleida – 2003 – Madrid – 1992 – Sevilla
    Lyon – ? – Turin – 2006 – Novara – 2009 – Milan – 2008 – Bologna – 2009 – Florence – 1978 – Rome – 2005 – Gricignano – 2009 – Naples

  7. A Lynch
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 07:27

    I would love to see a Canada to Mexico hsr line running along the coast but given the current reality it seems so far off as to be a fantasy. When the situation changes (peak oil) lets hope that we have in place a strong backbone of the Eugene to Vancouver and Sacramento to San Diego rail.

  8. James in PA
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 09:50

    The frustrating part is how China writes its own rules. ‘Borrowing’ HSR technology so they don’t have to figure out all the details and not paying royalties. Now they are to build up 155 train pairs for one of many lines in development? They didn’t just get a copy of a Japanese HSR running, they started a factory which has been cranking out train-sets full speed.

    Do they have any conscience? They have commented that they modified the Japanese HSR design so they tell themselves it is now theirs. I don’t buy it. And HSR is not the only technology China is ‘borrowing’ lately. The Russians are frustrated watching them use their aerospace technology. All kinds of software and electronics are available in Chinese after-markets. I suspect they contract to build a USB smart device and turn right around and produce it locally. They have a zoo of combinations of electronics technology for sale, most of it likely borrowed.

    Yes the US has a large GDP but we cannot compare to China where the government has much greater control of the economic resources. I would not be surprised that that the Chinese HSR development benefits from low cost labor, the ability to tell any NIMBYS to take a hike, and a low bar for environmental impact, if not for safety.

    What takes us 10 years they seem to do in 10 months. That is made much easier when you don’t have to pay for it. How is the US supposed to match them?

    Still this does not happen in a vacuum. We cannot match them but we are forced to by our economic links. When you set a price on something, that is its value. So Japanese HSR IP is being linked to a large economic structure that has placed a value of zero on it. You cannot have this without a stress on the world economy. Sure it does not show up now in the accounts of the Japanese HSR company right now but the stress is still there. Lost profits are only part of the effects.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Every industrializing nation does this, the US was no exception.

    James in PA Reply:

    True. The shoe is on the other foot. The relevant question is then should we accept bids from China to build HSR in the US? If we do then HSR IP is devalued. If we don’t, then we pay too much.

    China is a significant economy by itself. It has the resources and lately technology to build HSR and the population to fill it. In the process some percentage of the value of HSR IP is being destroyed. The destruction is cemented if we buy China HSR products. Just like we buy cranes, bridges, and ships from China, lowering the value of steel work.

    For all the theory, study, and experience of economics throughout recorded history, I think the power of economics is still underestimated. The Wall St. crash gave us a taste of the power. Sometimes it feels like humans are the pilot fish next to the big fish which is the economy.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    China isn’t playing in the same league as the Europeans and Japanese when it comes to HSR. They shouldn’t be allowed to bid, but not because of their IP violations – rather, they should be disqualified early on because of their unproven record. They’ve never exported the technology anywhere except Vietnam, where they won out for political reasons. That’s the thing about stealing and cheating – it can only get you so far.

    Travis D Reply:

    China is building the HSR lines in Saudi Arabia. We’ll see how that turns out.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Travis,

    Chinese built the track foundations, which was 10% of the project value. The actual track laying and the supply of HSR equipment will be done by a Spanish consortium.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Stephen Smith

    Vietnam picked Shinkansen, not Chinese bid. Vietnam is a fiercely anti-China country and would never give away a national infrastructure like HSR to be controlled by the Chinese.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah ironically Vietnam likes anyone that will work with Vietnam and that includes the US too, the Chinese Empire once included a Conquered SE Asia and that includes Vietnam, I doubt very much Vietnam wants to invite China in, next would come their Army…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    China doesn’t actually build HSR for cheaper than the rest of the world, though.

    Useless Reply:

    @ James in PA

    > The relevant question is then should we accept bids from China to build HSR in the US?

    Russia ans Brazil banned Chinese bidders from bidding on their HSR projects, I don’t see why the Chinese would be able to bid on the US projects.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    However, what happens when China wants to see money from the US?

    Or if for obvious political reasons, Chinesese bidders were not allowed, and China wants to see cash?

    Keep in mind that a non-neglectable amount of the US debts is in Chinese hands…

    Useless Reply:

    @ Max Wyss

    China does not want to see the cash because doing so would drive up the value of yuan and cripple China’s export. The CCP has nowhere to park the money anyway.

    And the reason Russia and Brazil banned Chinese bidders was a safety concern, which is a valid cause.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They’re free to sell their dollar-denominated debt, weaken the dollar, and boost American export competitiveness at the expense of their own.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Competent countries don’t respect “intellectual property”.

    The US, during its most successful industrial period, was famous for ignoring other countries’ patents and copyrights.

    That’s just how it is.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Maybe “borrowing” is now called “Joint Venture”. That’s what in fact exists between Bombardier and chinese manufacturers, as well as between Siemens and chinese manufacturers. Both made big money, but, of course, with the risk to raise a competitor. Alstom did not do any JV with chinese manufacturers for TGVs, that’s why you don’t see any of that types on chinese rails.

    I dno’t know whether there are JVs with the Japanese manufacturers, but I would not be surprised if there were…

    swing hanger Reply:

    Joint venture or no, China takes up a whopping 50% of Japan’s export market for railway equipment- perhaps no longer whole HSR trainsets, but component export will continue, such as traction motors, electrical equipment, and signaling systems. It’s a market no manufacturer can ignore, despite the considerable risks.

  9. Stephen Smith
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 11:28

    The usual rule of thumb has been that HSR makes the most sense for city pairs under 800 kilometers (or, 500 miles). China is throwing that out the window, and expects that there will be demand for an eight hour ride between those cities. I expect they’ll see that demand materialize.

    Robert – this is insane. Nobody is going to ride this thing for the full 2,300 km, and not even the Chinese government is dumb enough to expect “that there will be demand for an eight-hour ride between those cities.” Rather, the demand is for intermediate city pairs.

    VBobier Reply:

    China has the worlds biggest population, so people will ride it, how many? Only time will tell and only when time is darned good and ready to do so.

    Useless Reply:

    Not very many based on the empty seat count.

    Ordinary Chinese prefer to ride regular trains because of their cheap ticket prices.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Stephen, try taking a trip to Auckland or Sydney, or even London. Oh, wait, you assert no-one will sit in a seat for that long. Hah! What share of the market did Concorde get, and what was its price differential over conventional jets with the same passenger-service level?

    thatbruce Reply:

    Before or after they realized that they may as well price the Concorde tickets where the public expected them to be? As introduced, Concorde tickets were the same price as regular tickets across the Atlantic. Once they increased the fare to match public perception and provided service to match, there were no conventional jets providing the same passenger-service level in the same market.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    The rule of thumb as I’ve heard it is 3 hours for a HSR line to be air-competitive. As trains get faster, I’d expect that to change. If the French ever get their AGV trains running scheduled service at 358 mph, that would probably be air-competitive over 5 hour (1750 mile) routes.

    Clem Reply:

    Nonsense. An hour is an hour, regardless of speed, and even an AGV is unlikely to exceed 220 mph in service for basic reasons of operating cost.

    BeWise Reply:

    Not to mention wear-and-tear on the rails and catenary systems.

    Joey Reply:

    It’s that and electricity costs that make it uneconomical to run trains much above 200 mph. South Korea is experimenting with very lightweight trains which might fix some of these problems, but we’re definitely pushing up against the boundary of how fast we can reasonably make trains run.

    Clem Reply:

    Right. All the same reasons that we don’t fly on supersonic planes, and planes are no faster today than they were in 1965.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Actually, Clem, cruise speed of a 787 is Mach 0.87, or ~665 mi/hr; about 85 mi/hr faster than the
    ~580 Mi/hr cruise speed of a DC-8. (I didn’t easily find that in Mach.) Newer, wide-body jets, with better aerodynamics and engines, are a little faster and signfiicantly more fuel-efficient than DC-8/707-vintage airliners.

    But overall I agree with you. Diminishing returns, and all that.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I didn’t easily find that in Mach.

    Hours of painstaking Research on the Internet (in Private Banking Mode, just to be sure) reveals the following super obscure Need To Know Eyes Only sources:
    Burn after reading.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Jonathan Reply:

    Yes, Richard, you little wank-stain. The Wikipedia page on the DC-8 is where I _looked_. The only mach speed it gives relates to a DC-8 which broke Mach 1.0 in a dive. You don’t even read your own citations. that’s unforgivable.

    Clem Reply:

    Mach 0.87 is not 665 mph. It is closer to 575 mph. The Mach number for a given ground speed is altitude-dependent (well, more fundamentally, temperature-dependent) and you must account for typical cruise altitude and temperature before converting between Mach and mph. Thanks so much for quibbling on the details, though…

    Jonathan Reply:

    No, it isn’t. I quoted someone who posted a botched conversion. Serves me right for trusting

    Clem, the _ground_ speed is affected by the _air_ speed relative to the ground!
    I also checked other sources which say the cruise airspeed for a 787 is about 5% more than a 767, though I can’t vouch for that.

    And the reason to use Mach is that, as a limit, it doesn’t vary with altitude or temperature.
    (I also read that speed of sound doesn’t vary that much between 20,000 feet and 30,000 feet — in clear air, anyway) As you say, temperature is more of an issue.

    Hm. I also read that 747s were originally designed for high cruise speed, at the request of Pan Am, in the 60s, back before the 1973 oil price shock. But — partly due to a super-critical wing
    (something NASA experimented with on an F-8 crusader some 30 years ago; i used to own the issue of Flight magazine covering that!) — the 787 can cruise at the design speed using “20% less fuel” than the similarly-sized 767.

    No bets whether, in service, they cruise faster, or cruise at the same speed using less fuel ;)

    Clem Reply:

    Mach number does vary significantly with temperature (as the square root). It doesn’t depend on density or pressure, which is somewhat counter-intuitive, but that’s just how it is. Many things in aviation are confusing, starting with how airplanes stay up in the sky… most pilots can’t even give a correct answer to that one.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “starting with how airplanes stay up in the sky… most pilots can’t even give a correct answer to that one.”

    I know it has to do with air pressure (well, duh), but the exact mechanism is pretty easy to forget. I learned it once, but I have certainly forgotten.

    Clem Reply:

    You must be a pilot ;-)

    Jonathan Reply:

    Uh, do you want an angle-of-attack and Newtow’s laws explanation, Bernoulli-over-wing
    explanation, or a boundary-layer-and-vortex-shedding explanation, or all the way to Navier-Stokes and numerical methods? (Does working on MP3D count?)

    “[S]omewhat counter-intuitive”? Really? Pause for a breath, think: idea-gas law (PV = nRT), Brownian motion, sound conducts as a wave through the bouncing molecules; seems quite intuitive in that light _for a given composition_. (Energy average of a mix of pure gases?? ;) )
    But the composition of the atmosphere — e.g., humidity — varies with height, as well as all that nasty weather stuff (which is why i wrote “clear air”) And, uh, lighter molecules are going to move faster when hit by heavier molecules (conservation of momentum). So the speed of sound _will_ vary with humidity. How different is the mixture of air in the upper troposphere versus the lower stratosphere (30,000 to 35,000 feet)? Most of the ozone is higher, so I’d guess largely humidity differences?

    Clem Reply:

    Please hold forth and enlighten us!

    Jonathan Reply:

    Oh, that’s going waay back. And I’m terrible at drawing diagrams online. I’ll cheat and look for a physics department which already has decent graphics.

    I’m more curious, what _you_ consider a valid explanation.

    James in PA Reply:

    An aircraft passing through a volume of air has the effect of inducing a downward component of velocity in the air. The mass of air deflected downward times its velocity equals the weight of the aircraft for steady-state flight.

    Similarly you can consider the velocity vector of the air passing by the aircraft to be deflected downward.

    Or sum the pressure difference across the surfaces of the aircraft.

    Or the forces that induce a circulation in the volume of air. These are all different ways of saying the same thing; that the dynamic interaction with the air supports the aircraft. Circulation is interesting because a vortex must be closed. If the vortex is closed and the vortex rolls off the wing tip, where does the vortex close? For example, a smoke-ring is a ring so it closes on itself.

    As for the DC-8 Mach 1 dive, this is true but it was an extremely dangerous maneuver. Even if the stout Douglas design was up to the task of an incremental increase in load, they could have encroached into the regime of Mach tuck and lost control.

    JBaloun Reply:

    BeWise Reply:

    Basically, high-speed rail maxes out at around 200-220 mph, and conventional jet aircraft max out at around 580 mph. This just happens as different technologies reach their limits. Probably why Japan is developing their superconducting maglev technology for their future Chuo Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka. Notice how they’re not building a conventional shinkansen steel wheel on steel rail system for this route.

  10. Howard
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 12:21

    The LA to Pheonix / Tuson HSR track could be extended east to El Paso, where it could connect to the Rocky Mountain HSR line (El Paso, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Pubelo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Cheynne). El Paso by itself is only 800,000 population (metro) , but when you include the Mexican part, Ciudad Juarez, the combined total is 2.5 millon people.

    Derek Reply:

    That makes sense. I think those routes would be inexpensive to build and might be profitable.

  11. D. P. Lubic
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 14:31

    Off topic but of interest: Cap’n Transit on Santa Clara Valley’s light rail line:

    And Yonah Freemark weighs in on light rail to Los Angeles International:

  12. Travis D
    Dec 28th, 2012 at 23:31

    When are we going to find out who got the construction package for Fresno?

    Oh and I’d be all in favor for a San Diego to Vancouver HSR line. Will come in real handy when commercial aviation collapses.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah knowing would be nice…

  13. Ted Judah
    Dec 29th, 2012 at 00:02

    A high speed rail line spanning from Seattle to LA would only happen if you ended up with something like this:

    Different lines radiating out from the Bay Area to other metro areas not unlike BART.

    Dec 29th, 2012 at 00:30

    What a silly post ..Robert we are trying to get a real HSR between SF and LA what a nonsense pipe dream..there is no need for such an expensive project..And this is what makes real HSR projects become some UFO/Rosewell level mindset

  15. Useless
    Dec 29th, 2012 at 10:52

    The reasons China’s obsessed with HSR are largely two fold. The first is the corruption within the Railway Ministry where the officials can make more money from bribes and kickbacks when there are new HSR projects; this flow of money would dry up if the HSR construction project stopped. The second is the ability to move large number of people(Troops) whereever they are needed. The Chinese communist party leadership is afraid of small regional civil unrest eventually going national and overthrow the regime based on China’s history, so the communist solution is to maintain an ability to deploy a million troops to anywhere in China to crush any civil unrest and signs of revolt in its infancy. HSR is much more efficient for mass troop movement than either by road or by flying.

    VBobier Reply:

    The North in the US Civil war used railroads to move troops, they were key in defeating the South, the South couldn’t do the same, but then they had State Governments holding onto vital Military Supplies, like shoes, which Lees Army of Northern Virginia went and invaded Gettysburg for, what a waste, but that’s the South back then Dumb and very Selfish, not much in some quarters has changed any, except now their Stupid and Selfish…

    Useless Reply:

    Well, it’s not like the US would need a rapid troop deployment within the US to crush rebellion with the possible exception of Texas, but Chinese communist party definitely need this ability.

    This is also the reason why China wants to build a HSR all the way to Singapore, to enable a rapid troop deployment in the South China Sea when needed.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why would the government need trains to be high-speed, though? For mass troop deployment, what matters is throughput rather than latency. The US projects power via air carriers, which aren’t known for their speed.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Alon Levy

    In case of a rapid troop deployment to close the strait of Malacca, every second counts. With HSR, China would be able to send some 5000 special force troops to Singapore within the matter of an hour, to secure the area for the follow on cargo trains carrying tanks and armored vehicles.

    Just as the US plans a naval blockade against China when necessary, China plans to take control of the Strait of Malacca as a counter measure and the HSR is instrumental in such operation.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Please tell me you are joking and not that absurdly insane.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Paul Druce

    I am not kidding. China is pressuring North Korea to let it install a high speed rail all the way to Pyongyang, and the North Korea is rejecting the Chinese demand. Why would China want to build an HSR line all the way to Pyongyang when it would hardly be used? For the same reason as the Singapore HSR line as described above.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    I hear echoes of Colonel Max Hoffman

    Nathanael Reply:

    I suspect this is just excuses — remember that the Eisenhower Defense Highway Network (aka the Interstates) were supposedly for the purpose of moving tanks. Yeah right.

    Andrew Reply:

    This kind of commentary is standard fare on Chinese television. The truly absurd thing is, the folks who think this way think we think this way too. And that this is all perfectly natural and normal. They make Fox News look like a paragon of journalistic professionalism and critical self-awareness.

  16. Loren Petrich
    Dec 29th, 2012 at 20:38

    Some population numbers (metro areas; Wikipedia):
    Seattle – 3.5 m
    Portland – 2.3 m
    Eugene – 0.35 m
    Bend – 0.17 m
    Medford – 0.21 m
    Klamath Falls – 0.02 m
    Redding – 0.09 m
    Sacramento – 2.6 m

    Google Maps highway distance:
    Seattle – Portland: 174 mi
    Portland – Eugene: 111 mi
    Eugene – Redding: 315 mi (mountainous terrain)
    Redding – Sacramento: 162 mi
    Portland – Sacramento: 580 mi

    Andrew Reply:

    Not a single major metro area along the whole route. The US should think in terms of region-based hsr networks, not a national one. The regions should be based on continental rather than national geography – Tijuana goes with CA, Monterrey goes with Texas, Vancouver goes with PNW, St. Lawrence-Chicago corridor, etc. The Chicago, Texas, and NY-based networks would eventually link up; the LA-based network and PNW line (Vancouver-Eugene) would not. Perhaps in a hundred years the LA-based network and Texas network would link up between Tucson and El Paso/Juarez, if there were really enough demand for it. Having a nationwide network is not an end in itself

    Andrew Reply:

    The Chinese should also not see a national network an end in itself (although they do). But in their case it does make sense for the regional hsr networks to be linked (excluding taiwan).

    But one could perhaps imagine an unlinked Kunming-Hanoi or even Lhasa-Kolkata line, in a less nationalistic future.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The terrain between Lhasa and Kolkata is a bit hilly, though.

    Andrew Reply:

    a lot fewer hills than the line from xining had to deal with

  17. Alon Levy
    Dec 29th, 2012 at 21:11

    Redding should be 0.18; 0.09 is just the city proper population.

  18. Joey
    Dec 29th, 2012 at 23:44

    HSR ridership tends to fall off significantly past 800 km/500 mi/~4 hr travel time. Is it really worth building full HSR through mountainous terrain where very long trips would be your only market? Where the light might support 1 tph (if that)?

    Of course there will be some end-to-end ridership on the Beijing-Guangzhou line. But that vast majority of ridership is going to come from intermediate destinations. A more comparable US example might be Boston-Miami, where there are enough intermediate destinations to build HSR even though end-to-end ridership would be small.

  19. Loren Petrich
    Dec 30th, 2012 at 10:25

    Let’s see about the US East Coast:

    Portland ME 0.5 m – Boston 4.5 m – Providence 1.6 m – New Haven 0.9 m / Hartford 1.2 m – New York City 18.9 m – Philadelphia 6.0 m – Baltimore 2.7 m – DC 7.5 m – Richmond 1.3 m / Norfolk 1.7 m – Research Triangle 2.2 m – Greensboro 0.7 / Winston-Salem 0.5 – Charlotte 1.8 – Atlanta 5.4 – Savannah 0.4 – Jacksonville 1.4 m – Orlando 2.1 m – Miami 5.6 m

    Nearly 70 million people near that route.

  20. D. P. Lubic
    Dec 30th, 2012 at 13:15

    Off topic, but of interest in that it’s a glimpse of what the automobile future was supposed to look like–the complete version of Walt Disney’s “Magic Highways” from 1958:

    BrianR Reply:

    always interesting to see Walt Disney’s brand of “1950’s American Futurism”. The last 10 minutes or so of that film is fascinating; like witnessing an LSD trip. How much longer until we have color coded freeways so we longer need to read signs or punch card controlled computerized cars transporting us on vast networks of undersea highways connecting every continent!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And how about those atomic-powered hovering cars without wheels? Whooee!!

    Witnessing and LSD trip? In 1958? By Disney? Man, what were those guys smoking?

    Equally fascinating, given Disney’s enthusiasm for trains, was the portrayal of how railroads for a long time put the highway system under. “The dark ages of American roads” indeed! And how about things like the “Slumberbus,” disposable cars, inflatable cars, and the cars that fit together to reduce road space? Although played for laughs in the film, these were supposedly ideas from real citizens!

    The portrayal of motorists in traffic as cattle, turkeys, and sheep still plays today!! Whooee!!

  21. Andrew Lambdin-Abraham
    Dec 30th, 2012 at 18:50

    Has anybody studied what the demand curve would look like for rail with blanket airline code shares? If you give airlines revenue in exchange for securing the loyalty of their customers that might decrease the resistance to buildout and boost marginal riders who might have had a slight preference for flying or driving before.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    You might call it “code share”, but it is not really quite it; there are several airlines which have agreements with the national passenger rail operators (SNCF, SBB, DB).

    For example, SWISS and SBB agreed to allow air tickets between Basel and Zürich Airport (on the hourly train running direct), and they also seem to have through-baggage check-in (which is essentially the “Fly Baggage” service SBB has been offering for years).

    Lufthansa has/had chartered a number of seats on the ICEs between Frankfurt Airport and Stuttgart, and they are booked as LH “flights”, and I think the same applies between Frankfurt Airport and Köln and Bonn. Also, a long time ago, Lufthansa actually ran their own trains between Frankfurt Airport and Bonn and Köln (along the Rhine line).

    Several airlines have seat contingents on TGVs serfing Paris CDG or Paris Orly, and sell them under their own flight number, essentially as feeders for the intercontinental routes.

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