A National High Speed Rail Route Map

Feb 4th, 2013 | Posted by

The fine folks at California Rail Map, led by Alfred Twu, have put together this amazing route map of a North American high speed rail network:

This is an ambitious map. And that’s exactly as it should be. It’s based on existing proposals from HSR advocacy groups across North America, as well as on existing HSR projects from the Amtrak Acela to XpressWest to the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Some may argue that this is a pie-in-the-sky approach, that we need to build out regional corridors first. Which is fine. But before the Interstate Highway System was authorized, it had to first be conceptualized on a map. This map gets us closer to the goal of an interstate high speed rail system by showing us what it looks like. And envisioning such a system is the first step toward building it.

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  1. Reedman
    Feb 4th, 2013 at 23:07

    Look at the map. Then think about the fact that to get from New Orleans to Jacksonville right now on Amtrak, you have to go through Washington DC. Perhaps if we could get low speed rail to make some better connections, HSR would be less of a pipe dream.

  2. Ryan
    Feb 4th, 2013 at 23:37

    It’s somewhat similar to one I came up with, and I’d post the picture of it if I knew that was possible in the comments. Mine basically has 4 lines crossing the country in the north (Seattle to New York), central (San Francisco to DC), south (LA to Atlanta), and the gulf (San Antonio to Jacksonville). Then there’s a N/S line in each time zone; Pacific (Seattle to San Diego), Mountain (Salt Lake to Tucson), Central (Chicago to San Antonio), and Eastern (Portland, Me to Miami). The lines connect in multiple cities, and you’d be hard pressed to need more than 1 transfer to get to any city in country.

    As the crow flows, the network has around 13,000 miles of track. I looked to see what it costs per mile an average to lay out the infrastructure, and I found a stat from Spain’s TALGO that said $25 million a mile. If that’s the baseline for here, mine is a $323 billion plan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    $25 million per mile is very low. Outside Spain, $20-25 million per kilometer is normal (or slightly low) for at-grade construction, while tunnels can go beyond $100 million/km. The Denver-SLC segment in particular is both very expensive and low-ridership, and the same is true of Sacramento-Portland. Likewise, Boston-Montreal crosses some very rugged terrain, more or less perpendicular to the ridge lines, and is redundant with Boston-Albany-Montreal. Prune the low-performers and you get something like the disconnected 10,000-mile network proposed by The Transport Politic four years ago.

    Ryan Reply:

    Something to keep in mind is that these systems are planned 30 years in advance. You imply that southern Oregon and northern California might not have the population to support a HSR stop but maybe they will. CA has water issues, and a disproportionate amount of growth might come north of Sacramento over the next 30 years.

    As well as SLC-Denver being low ridership, they could market the segment to vacationers wishing to go to Aspen, or Moab, Ut.

    I can’t speak to Boston-Montreal very much, except I know Quebec residents love to travel to southern ME on holiday weekends, and it’s about a 5.5 hour drive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If Redding and Medford consistently grow at the rates of 1990s’ Las Vegas, doubling every 11 years, it will take them about 40 years to be big enough to possibly justify tunneling in the Upper Sacramento Canyon, the Siskiyou Pass, and the Wolf/Cow Creek area. And they will not grow at Vegas rates. Even Vegas couldn’t sustain growing at Vegas rates. At Medford’s actual growth rate, make it 150 years.

    The problem with assuming away more growth is that it has to come from somewhere. US birth rates are at replacement, and there’s not immigration to lead to 19th century growth rates (and since US economic growth is well below world average – as it should be – there’s less reason for people to migrate across continents to the US). There’s no real reason for Medford and Redding to become boomtowns at the expense of everywhere else. On the contrary: good HSR investment centers development on the biggest cities, and the same is true of zoning reform making it legal to build to satisfy demand for housing and business in the expensive coastal cities.

    Something similar is true of vacation spots in Colorado and Maine. You need international vacation destinations to fill trains with that kind of travel, like Vegas and Orlando. Aspen doesn’t really play at that level, nor does it want to – it goes for exclusivity, not mass travel. The same is true of Maine. More likely, vacation travel will reorient along the HSR lines built for other reasons. In the Northeast, this means more travel to Niagara Falls, the Hudson Highlands, either the Adirondacks or Vermont, and maybe coastal resorts in Maine using TGV-style through-service at low speed. In the West, this means Disneyland, Vegas, Palm Springs, San Francisco, and marginally Yosemite (via shuttle from Fresno) and Monterey (via shuttle from Gilroy if Pacheco is kept).

    Ryan Reply:

    You might be right about Aspen not wanting to be on a HSR line, but they could also remain on the exclusive side by limiting growth of hotels and resorts above what they have now. Another resort area could lobby to be on the HSR line to attract visitors. Winter Park already caters to Amtrak travelers…

    But even if there is no vacation oriented stop in the mountains before Denver, the trip would easily be one of, if not the most, scenic trips built. I’ve driven along I-70 multiple times and always hated not being able to just lean back and enjoy the view.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    My guess, by the way, is that the kind of people who vacation in Aspen are very pro-HSR for cities, but would turn into total NIMBYs if anything were proposed for Aspen. (And the fact that the economics of a line to Aspen suck don’t help.)

    If there were Chicago-Denver HSR, which is already marginal, the best thing to do would be to electrify parts of the Moffat Route and run a few trains per day on it. But even that’s not enough to fill enough seats on Chicago-Denver to pay back 1,600 km of HSR (or even 1,000 from Kansas City). What I’d propose is to run fast overnighters, on upgraded trackage west of the end of the Midwestern HSR network. It requires dealing with UP, which owns the most direct Kansas City-Denver line, but that line is a fairly unimportant freight route, and at the level of investment required to bring other intercity lines up to speed the government’s bargaining position with UP is stronger. A 12-hour travel time is aspirational but possible with upgraded tracks, good operating practices, and tilting trains.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    At total, complete, utter build-out in 2099 or beyond, this is about as much of a system that is viable to build:


    The way this is all going to end is by merging the airlines and high speed rail operators into regional monopolies that help limit the use of airports for short haul flights. The key is building an effective hub in each region of the country. What people don’t quite get is that San Francisco and Chicago have taken the lead to cement their economic and transit links going forward.

    A map like this is divorced from that reality.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There are more people between Buffalo and Albany than there are in metro Montreal. Metro Hartford is half the size of metro Montreal. You don’t have to go through customs and immigration to go from Syracuse to Boston. Or Hartford to Rochester.

    There are two fast, reasonably straight, railroad ROWs between Buffalo and Cleveland. One of them abandoned. It’s moderately flat. It’s going to be really cheap to build HSR between Buffalo and Cleveland. If Bostonians want to get to Montreal why wouldn’t Clevelanders want to get to Toronto? Or Rochester?

    Metro Nashville, metro around half a million, connected to Birmingham metro around a million. Yet Cleveland, metro area around 3 million isn’t connected to Buffalo which has a metro of around a million. Hmm. With Rochester, metro around a million and Toronto, metro around 6 million not far away. Hmmm.

  3. PeakVT
    Feb 4th, 2013 at 23:46

    Will the idiotic BOS-MTL line never die?

    Eric Reply:

    Not until the earlier primary elections in New Hampshire do :)

    PeakVT Reply:

    Funny, but I don’t think the libertoons of New Hampshire care much for railroads. They don’t contribute to the Downeaster service, and they won’t implement commuter rail into Boston, despite the fact a large portion of the state’s residents live in Boston’s suburbs and exurbs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Vermont studied it and came up “no”


    doesn’t mean it’s going to die.

  4. Eric
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 01:20

    Cross country lines are not economically viable. The expense is too high, and at 220MPH they are not competitive with flying. So ditch them and focus on California, the east coast, the Midwest, and Texas.

    Eric Reply:

    Oh, and the Cascades region.

    Andy M Reply:

    Very long high-speed lines are only viable if they are made up of an overlay of shorter corridors. Thus the East Coast line is entirely viable. I can well imagine the NEC, or whatever will replace the NEC, to eventually run all the way down to Florida. There are enough cities and economic activity in Virginia, the Carolinas etc to justify any number of regional corridors, but just make sure all those regional corridors are compatible so that they can one day justify a Miami to Boston run. But the longer cross-country lines are going to be tougher to crack as its difficult to see much local traffic from which the longer route can be made as an overlay. Maybe some day somebody will develop a massively cheaper way to build high-speed lines across deserts?

    Also, look at the trains. A TGV or Shinkansen is only competitive because it has high-density seating. A proper dining car or observation dome? All things of the past. Now compare that to the Sunset limited or California Zephyr. Would you be prepared to trade your roomette with en-suite bathroom, your full-length dining car and your observation dome for a high-density coach seat with a folding table that is barely more luxurious than your average commuter sardine can for a journey that will take the best part of a day (or night).

    Alex M. Reply:

    They certainly will be competitive with flying when airfare becomes extremely expensive in the future.

    Eric Reply:

    If you are talking about extreme increases in gas prices, that would lead to a big decrease in the overall amount of long-distance travel. The “pie” would be so much smaller that even if HSR grabbed a bigger “slice”, it wouldn’t be viable.

  5. John Burrows
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 01:28

    The “United States High Speed Rail System” might now be in existence if back in the 1950’s we hadn’t started our interstate highway system and if Boeing hadn’t come out with the 707.

    But those things did happen over 50 years ago—In the present time and for the near future a high speed rail system linking every city in the USA is a multi-trillion dollar expense that we can do without.

    Lets concentrate on finishing our California system and getting the NEC up to true high speed.
    Just to do this we are up to mid-century and hundreds of billions of dollars. By then the Chicago Hub might be seriously upgraded and Texas could even have HSR. And if The Northwest or the Southeast get something going—All the better.

    Then let’s take another look—maybe National High Speed Rail won’t seem so ‘pie in the sky” after all.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Its late—“linking every major metro area” makes more sense.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Yes the Federal Gov/cities thru tons of taxpayer money for airports…all the 1950s airlines did was move in and pay rent…At the taxpaying railroads expense..that did the most damage to passenger rail..I think we would have a great HSR system had the oil and highway/aerospace lobbies had not got the huge funding thru.. And developed on the airlines own capital… With the freeways constructed as toll roads as in China..Love to hear what the “Reason” speak tank would say about that!

  6. Neil Shea
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 01:40

    I like his CA HSR promotional postcard http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~atwu/alfred/graphics/cahsr_1.png

    BrianR Reply:

    I saw a proposed / future CA transit map by SPUR done in the graphic style of a BART map. I liked the way they labeled the initial SF to LA CAHSR route as “HS1”. I know this may seem very trivial but there is something encouraging in the simple optimism implied by that designation that there might in fact be an “HS2”, an HS3 and 4 and so forth! It’s kind of nice to entertain the “crazy” idea that HSR will not be a failed experiment in the USA that begins and ends with the CAHSR project. I know many people here are convinced that’s exactly what will happen but arguing that is not my point. In theory just as we have multiple interstate highways it shouldn’t be inconceivable to have more than one HSR route in this country.

  7. Neil Shea
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 01:45

    If you check their FB page where they posted this national HSR map, you can see what a nerve this has hit by the negativity in the comments. It scares a lot of the anti-change people that younger and more forward-looking Americans will want this

  8. Ryan
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 03:36

    A few counter-points to the critique that cross-country HSR lines will never be viable in the US. An important point to start off with is that a national system should be planned for 30 years down the road, so you have to think about what the US will be like in 2045, not 2013.

    1.) That they will never be able to compete with air travel.

    Today, maybe they can’t. But air travel actually has a limited infrastructure to work with, it’s called airport gates, air routes, and seats on a plane. And those are getting closer and closer to full capacity and it’s not a done deal that airports can build new terminals and gates everywhere. Along with that limitation, airplanes are flying close to full capacity. Thus, as the country grows and becomes more densely populated, there could easily be more people wanting a seat on an SF to Chicago flight then there are seats. The airlines could respond by flying larger planes, but will tickets remain the same price, and what will the fuel cost 30 years down the road? Will we be able to fly SF-ORD r/t for $350 in 30 years?

    2.) That riders will only be interested in using the train for long distances.

    Even if there is a SF to DC line going across the center of the country, that doesn’t mean it’s dependent on riders going on the entire line. Trains can, of course, stop along the way, so the rider could get on at SF and off at SLC, or on at Denver and off at St. Louis, or on at Pittsburg and off at DC (from a 4 hour drive to a 1.5 hour train ride, WITHOUT having to deal with Dulles. Nice).

    3.) That it will be a multi-trillion dollar expense.

    A national system could be done with 13,000 miles of track. I seriously doubt the system would costs $100 million a mile or more. That’s the worst-case scenario for the CA HSR project and I won’t extrapolate from it to a nationwide system, I consider CA the prototype for the national system, and prototypes are always the most expensive part of a new product. Spain has done it for $25 Million a mile, surely we can do it for $50 million. That’s $600 billion for the system, or 1 year of military spending.

    But what can I say, I’m biased in favor and I think well planned infrastructure investments are needed in the country.

    Andy M Reply:

    Personally I believe our “progress” has passed ist azimuth. Once we start running out of oil, we’re not going to replace all that oil by new technologies (some of it maybe, but never all of it). Society as a whole will slow down again. We will no longer jet around every weekend or import food from the antipodes or have slave labor in China make us cheap clothes, and yes, we’ll be happy for passengers trains chugging along at 70 to 125 miles per hour. True HSR will be okay on the corridors such as in California and the East Coast, but not Raton Pass to Garden City.

    The sooner we come out of the denial pahse and the earlier we start thinking about how we’re going to deal with it rather than why it’s not going to happen, the better.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    For the umpteenth time…we are not running out of oil. There is enough oil in oil sands and oil shale to last for the next 200-300 years

    StevieB Reply:

    We will not run out of oil but the price will keep going up and up. The day of the gas guzzling Hummer is long gone.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    it can profitable be extracted at about $100 per barrel (same as today’s price) and as the technology improves that will go down. Basically the price of oil is going to stay in this range for the next century or more.

    Peter Reply:

    Not to mention we can’t afford environmentally to continue burning dinosaurs at the rate we are today. Either the ocean acidification would kill us all or the global temperature increases will kill most of us.

    joe Reply:

    Light crude oil is going away. If we burn the shale oil at current rates of energy use, we face extinction.

    1) Sands like those in Alberta have about the energy density of a potato. It will take more energy and co2 emissions to produce useful energy from the deposits.

    2) There’s “Thermogeddon”. How do you survive on days at wet-bulb 35+C ?

    Not hyperbole – human physiology will not be able to adapt to the heat/humidity. “Even fit and healthy people couldn’t survive sustained wet-bulb temperatures above 35 °C, say Sherwood and Huber. This heat-stress limit applies even to people sitting naked in the shade next to a fan. Without air conditioning or access to cooler or less humid places, they will die.”

    3) Positive feedback loops with increased temperatures produce non-lineral increases in co2 emissions such as accelerated soil carbon decomposition and Co2 emissions from high latitudes & boreal systems where warming is greater.

    Eric Reply:

    Luckily we invented this thing called air conditioning. It works so well that during the last few decades of global warming, most of the US population growth has been in the hottest states (the “sun belt”).

    Peter Reply:

    That’ll help the people dying of heat in Africa and Asia lots. Thanks for sharing.

    John Burrows Reply:

    My understanding is that C02 levels back then were for the most part several times higher than today. It is going to take a while to get our atmosphere looking like it was in the Mesozoic, but if we stay on our present path we will get there soon enough.

    Not so sure about “Thermogeddon” either. Our ancestors have been walking or crawling this Earth for at least 350 million years and have managed to survive temperatures and atmospheric C02 levels much higher than today.

    I don’t think that anyone really knows how bad it is going to get, but as time passes we may become increasingly grateful that we were able to buy Alaska from Russia—And it may be wise to make sure that we don’t piss off the Canadians too much.

    About the same time that we were buying Alaska, Horace Greeley was saying “Go West young man”. Before the end of this century “Go North young woman” might be a better option.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    a) Solar output was lower then.

    b) The problem isn’t absolute CO2 levels so much as the rapid change.

    c) It’s about the survival of civilization at least as much as that of the biosphere.

    d) “Go north” casts as an adventure what is really a refugee crisis for hundreds of millions of people of whom very few contributed to the crisis. Fuck “Go north.” How about “Americans should cut their electricity use by a factor of 4, and would still be above current global average”?

    Joey Reply:

    I guess it’s a good time to invest in gas masks then…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I’ll admit this is probably pie-in-the-sky, but. . .

    A cross-country trip could probably be done in 20 hours or so at an average speed of around 150 mph (very conservative for this technology). That’s the same time as the early schedules for the 20th Century Limited and the Broadway Limited between New York and Chicago–an overnight trip on two of the finest trains in America and the world of that time. Might such a trip today–late afternoon departure, nice meal in the diner, sleep while you travel, arrive in time for business in the morning–be worthy of consideration in the future?

    Now, if only there might be enough business to build that link over the Rockies from Denver to Las Vegas. . .

    Ryan Reply:

    I for one am not daunted about the aspect of mountains impeding rail infrastructure. For a few reasons:

    1.) You can take a HSR train from Italy to Germany just fine, and there’s a nice demand for it, even though there are a few hills in the way there.

    2.) Software and LiDAR today makes it tremendously easier and more efficient to plan routes through varying terrain. Seriously, there’s mapping software that analyzes contours and can plot path of least cost through them. A far cry from the days when they built the transcontinental railroad.

    As far as cross country travel distance wise, say a coast to coast trip like SF-DC is 2600 miles. With station stops, a 150 mph average speed 17-18 hours. I haven’t seen HSR trains being planned with sleeper cars, they probably figure they need seats instead to raise ticket revenue. But if there is a demand for it, and adding a sleeper car won’t hurt speed levels, maybe they’ll design it. There are seriously people out there who refuse to fly, and this’ll open up peaceful cross-country travel to them. It’d be interesting to see just how many travelers would demand it. Enough for 1 trip a day, or 1 a week?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Even with the most advanced software, and some of the lowest construction costs in the world outside Spain, those tunnels cost ~$150 million per kilometer in both Switzerland and Italy. Without the tunnels, you can still take the trains since Switzerland has a very good legacy rail system, but high speed ain’t it: Zurich-Milan, a distance of 280 km by road, takes 3:40 by train via the old St. Gotthard tunnel.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Come on D.P. Why would I sleep on a train on the way out when I could sleep in a hotel and on the way back i could sleep in my own bed. Just not realistic

    Neil Shea Reply:

    John – I think you are a climate change denier. Your priority is to extract oil from less and less efficient sources and to sleep in a hotel rather than consider any alternatives whatsoever to current transportation patterns. Not only you are actively opposed to changes in transportation modes, you assume that there will be zero pricing signals or societal policy to encourage such changes.

    For those who are not deniers, air travel emits about almost a pound of CO2 per mile flown. In very careful studies HSR emits 10-45 grams, or roughly 2-10% as much. AND you get a nice view and you can use the internet read and post to blogs while you’re travelling. What’s not to like? I bet if you actually rode a HSR train somewhere you could change your mind.

    Eric Reply:

    “What’s not to like?” – That it takes 20 hours to cross the country, duh.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    “Eww, I will never visit a flyover state. I will only ever travel to the opposite coast.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If you need to get to your destination by 9 am, a night train may be more attractive than a 4 am flight.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    John’s probably being sarcastic, but it’s possible he’s never heard of sleeping cars and how nice a night or Pullman train could be; after all, some others have made comments that HSR is going to be like the New York Subway, and who would want to go all the way across California on that?

    For a glimpse of what this was like, and could be again. . .




    Wouldn’t it be nice for travel to be enjoyable again–and faster in the bargain?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem is that even distances like Chicago-Denver are marginal (and nothing between Chicago and Denver is big enough to justify HSR). HSR’s mode share versus air is small, and even if it could be improved, the underlying travel volume is small. The travel volume on Paris-Nice, a corridor two thirds the length of Chicago-Denver, would never be enough to justify HSR all the way by itself; it’s kind of sort of enough to justify completing a Marseille-Nice leg, at least if costs can be contained (and thanks to the local NIMBYs they won’t be), but Paris-Lyon-Marseille preexists because of larger travel volumes to these larger, slightly nearer cities.

    New York-Chicago is justifiable because there are lots of medium-sized cities in between, and on top of that New York and Chicago are so big that even a 30% mode share versus air, comparable to Paris-Nice today, can fill a few express trains. The same is true of New York-Atlanta and, marginally, even Chicago-Atlanta. Beyond that, forget about it.

    joe Reply:

    American history tells me the reason there are many cities between Chicago and NY is they built a roadway (precar) and rail along which towns appeared.

    The Great Plains has undergone depopulation while deregulation has decimated bus service and made air travel to small cites expensive.

    Run a HSR line to Denver from Chicago and see what happens – HSR isn’t JUST connect the existing dots. It’s also about creating new economic activity on transportation corridors.

    Too costly ? Stop the wars. This HSR system might cut into the our defense contractors so I propose they do the work. They got to be paid so pay them to build stuff here.

    Jo Reply:


    Also, in yesterday’s and today’s Fresno Bee , there have been articles regarding the Monterey Shale oil deposits in Central California. The articles state that of all the shale oil deposits in the U.S., two thirds of the reserves are in California, and that it could bring in $250 billion in taxes during the next two decades; it could probably be taxed more than that also.

    If this is true and it can be done in an environmentally responsible way, then it is a no brainer, you those those funds to pay for HSR.

    Peter Reply:

    Kind of reminds me of the old man in the war zone in “Blood Diamond”, with bodies all around him:

    “Let’s hope they don’t find oil here, then we’ll have real problems.”

    I’m doubtful that there’s an “environmentally responsible way” to extract shale oil. I shudder to think of the environmental havoc that will be wrought upon California if this gets going. What was that about weakening CEQA?

    Jo Reply:

    I am not fond of shale oil extraction and I favor strict environmental controls; but, it is not as dire as people think. There has been a form of shale extraction in Kern County and in the Coalinga area of Fresno County for decades now on a smaller scale. So there is already some experience and precedence to it here in California.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, but we’re not talking about small-scale extraction. This would be BIG business. And Big Business has proven time and time again that it really doesn’t give a shit about the environment.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The major impediment to fracking for oil shale in Monterey County is the number of oil companies already pumping elsewhere in the State that do not pay a severance tax. California is the only oil-rich state that I know that does not have a severance tax paid to the state. Given how much attention the Central Coast region would receive, I don’t think it could be opened without imposing some sort of severance tax which would upset the apple cart for the current gang of extractors.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So, which do you prefer: to put up a family of Bangladeshi climate refugees in your house at your expense, or to put up a family of Vietnamese climate refugees?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Thanks Alon. I think a number of folks here are somehow still really unclear on the global warming path we are on. And they forget the First Law of Holes (i.e. when you find yourself in one…)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Even worse he will probably have to host a family of Unreal Americans from someplace like New Yawk

    Eric Reply:

    There won’t be any Vietnamese climate refugees. The only refugees, if any, will be from Bangladesh and a few tiny islands. Even in their case, it will be cheaper to protect and/or rehabilitate them near they currently live. It will be expensive, but not more that the military action in Kosovo or Libya which was done for humanitarian reasons, not to mention the much more expensive Iraq war, all of which the US has managed to fund without drastically affecting its standard of living.

    Steven H Reply:

    To be fair, Bangladesh and a few tiny islands would be the only climate refugees generated by rising sea levels; that doesn’t include climate refugees created by drought, famine, increased exposure to seasonal natural disasters (like hurricanes and wildfires), higher frequency flooding around rivers, and plain, old-fashioned, environmental degradation.

    We’re freaking ourselves out over the possibility of a global disaster from a SyFi channel movie 100 years from now, and have forgotten about the thousands of more arcane, regional disasters that will ruin us first.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, the Mekong Delta is very low-lying as well; a sea level rise measured in a few meters, rather than a few tens of centimeters, would flood plenty of people there.

    And second, I don’t think going zero-emission would affect first-world living standards that much either. Cutting residential electricity consumption by a factor of 4, i.e. enough to zero out all fossil fuels without adding new capacity, isn’t that hard; if you assume people start installing rooftop solar then the cuts are smaller and much easier. Not driving is also very easy, if it’s done by a government regulation that makes it impossible for other people to drive as well. The hit to living standards in both cases is low. The biggest hit is to the American pride of doing things without having to care about the rest of the world. It’s a political problem, not a technical one.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Run a HSR line to Denver from Chicago and see what happens


    Not much of anything because Denver to Chicago is 1,000 miles with a whole lot of nothing between them. Even with average speed of 200 MPH it’s a 5 hour trip. Average speeds, even across the flat empty Great Plains is likely to be 150. At an average speed of 175 that’s 5:45. People will fly. I picked two Wednesdays, 5 weeks from now, to fly between Chicago and Denver, It’s 168 dollars with fees and taxes. If half that is fuel that means tripling the price of fuel makes the fare 338. Quadruple the price of fuel and it’s 420. There will be fuel at quadruple the price. Someone somewhere will be feeding garbage and switchgrass into a reactor that makes something like jet fuel.

    Omaha you say. Omaha to Denver is over 500 miles. So is Kansas City. Salt Lake City is 400-ish. Not that Salt Lake City is big enough to be building 400 miles of HSR through the middle of nowhere to get to Salt Lake City from any direction… it’s 400 miles to Las Vegas, 500 to Reno, almost 700 to Phoenix. Through a whole lot of nothing.

    The median center of the US population, the place where half the people in the US live north of a line drawn through it or half south of it, or half east and half west, is in southwest Indiana. Lets call it Indianapolis.

    Indianapolis to Chicago is 175 miles. 175 to Columbus. If you bring HSR to Chicago from Indianapolis, Milwaukee is less than 100 miles away. To get to Columbus it passes through Dayton. If you are passing through Dayton you can change trains to the one running between Cleveland and Cincinnati. Cleveland to Cincinnati is less than 300 miles if you pass through Dayton. Indianapolis to Pittsburgh is 400. the line you are building serves Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. If you are going to Cincinnati from Dayton it’s only 100 miles to Louisville Kentucky. Louisville to Pittsburgh is 400 miles. Louisville to Cleveland is 350. You can work in trips to Detroit. Metro Detroit’s population is bigger than the Front Range Corridor’s. You pass through Toledo to do that.

    New York to Chicago is roughly the same distance between Chicago and Denver. Buffalo or Pittsburgh are roughly halfway. Going through Pittsburgh you pass through Philadelphia. It makes Pittsburgh to Baltimore attractive. Maybe even Pittsburgh to DC. Especially if someday they build a line between Baltimore and Harrisburg. Going through Buffalo you pass through Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, a spur to Toledo and Detroit. Got a high speed line between Albany and Chicago it means the part that has to be built for Boston to Chicago is the Albany to Boston section. Albany to Boston means Albany has connections to Cleveland, New York and Boston when they build the line to Montreal. NY-Montreal is marginal but if you can use it for Montreal-Boston and Montreal-Buffalo, it makes much more sense. Powerfully expensive to build through the Adirondack Mountains, Green Mountains or the Berkshire Mountains but lines would be well used. Metro Montreal is roughly the size of metro Denver.
    It’s 100 miles from Buffalo to Toronto. Got a high speed line running between Cleveland and Albany that makes Syracuse to Toronto attractive. And Albany to Toronto. Probably wouldn’t make sense for someone in New Jersey but for someone in Yonkers, Yonkers to Toronto might be attractive. Less than 600 miles from New York to Toronto or Boston to Toronto. Might not be attractive but getting to the airports is a real pain. If it’s fast enough it might make sense. Do customs and immigration on the train while it’s in motion and it looks much better than standing in yet another line at the airport.

    Chicago to Denver is roughly the distance between Chicago and New Orleans. Atlanta is closer to Chicago than Denver is. Chicago to Jacksonville is roughly the same distance. Nashville to Miami is roughly the same distance. It would pass through Chattanooga, Atlanta and Jacksonville. Jacksonville is smaller than metro Denver but not by much.

    Ryan Reply:

    You have a lot of distances noted, but I guess I’m look at the Denver to Chicago dilemma a little differently than others here.

    First, Illinois is planning a Chicago to St. Louis HSR line, so now it becomes a St. Louis to Denver dilemma.

    Missouri has a St. Louis – Kansas City Amtrak line called the Missouri River Runner. Twice a day, 600 people a day. Takes 6 hours to complete at a distance of 283 miles. If they improve the track to HSR speed, the trip would take 1.5-2 hours, and those ridership figures would definitely increase.

    So now it becomes a Kansas City to Denver dilemma. The question is, do we cross Kansas, and maybe have a regional stop to pull in people on the western part of the state. In other words, do we give them a way to travel instead of driving to Wichita airport?

    I don’t know really what to make of a state like Kansas, I’m sure they’ll eventually take a close look at how things played out in the Central Valley of CA. It should be a relatively simple state to build through, land assembly problems notwithstanding. If it puts locals to work, that’ll be an argument. If the Koch brothers think HSR will hurt their income, then they’ll lobby against it without fail.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There aren’t any people in Western Kansas to attract to a train. There aren’t enough of them to spend 100 million dollars building an HSR station to use. The population of western Kansas has been falling for decades and probably will continue to do so for quite some time.

    Ryan Reply:

    It would actually probably cost $11 Billion to build from Denver to Kansas City. It would simply be to connect the dots. If there’s no one in western Kansas, then there would be no reason to have even an irregularly scheduled stop.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    A lot of attention here focused on Denver-Chicago, but the map does propose other interesting routes that may be viable now, such as Miami through to Minneapolis and Miami-San Antonio.

    Sic Transit Philadelphia Reply:

    I also don’t think your case is as strong as you think it is. Ryan brings up Chicago-St Louis-Kansas City. I would add to that Chicago-Quad Cities-Des Moines-Omaha, which is a weaker set of standalone markets, but ones that the state governments of Illinois and (the present Tea-fuelled administration notwithstanding) Iowa are very interested in. And the travel markets are such that 220 mph HSR connecting to both Chicago and Denver will wipe out commercial aviation across southern Iowa and put a serious dent in the numbers at Omaha.

    Now the question is, is it worth it to build the 500 miles to connect the Chicago Hub endpoint at Omaha (or Lincoln) to Denver. I am very skeptical of anyone who says they know the answer is no; I am equally skeptical of anyone who says they know the answer is yes. What I do know is that the EAS program props up commercial aviation to southern Nebraska to the tune of $6MM per annum, in addition to the hundreds of millions in direct and indirect subsidies received by the allegedly self-sustaining airports KDEN, KLNK, KOMA, KDSM, KCID, KMLI, KORD, and KMDW, not to mention Interstates 80, 88, and 76.

    Sic Transit Philadelphia Reply:

    As a further note, on the desirability of replacing short-haul air service with rail: this Hipmunk search shows 51 nonstop flights to Chicago from points along this corridor between Lincoln and Quad Cities, on Monday May 6th of this year. An equivalent search shows only 25 nonstops from Southern California. (Southwest Airlines is not included in flight aggregator results; they have 6 flights from Omaha, 2 flights from Des Moines, and 8 from Southern California.) The resources tied up by this corridor, which is about sixth or eighth in ridership potential and priority for Chicago, are quite large, between the fuel, runway slots, gates, etc. A rail service that served as a well-integrated feeder to O’Hare as well as serving the Chicago local market, ought to end any discussion of a third Chicago airport for decades, if not permanently. It’s the flip side of Cruickshank’s favorite saying, that the cost of doing nothing is not zero. There is a lot of capital funding savings on the table for even moderate-to-low ridership corridors in the Midwest.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Everyone more or less agrees that few if any people will be sitting on a train for almost 6 hours to get from Chicago to New York. Chicago is closer to New York than it is to Denver.
    Chicago is closer to Montreal than it is to Denver. Service to Detroit and Toronto is part of the deal.
    Chicago is closer to Boston than it is to Denver. Cleveland, the 5 million or so people in Upstate New York and Western Massachusetts get service. Hartford too.
    Chicago is closer to Washington DC, even if you detour through Philadelphia. Indianapolis, Dayton and Columbus are along the way. Short spur gets Cincinnati in too.
    Chicago is closer to Charlotte, Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas.
    Where are we going to build HSR first?
    Denver is too far away from any other large population center to have HSR connections, unless airplanes are banned.

    Eric Reply:

    Since median center of population ignores distance, you probably should instead consider the mean center of population, which right now is in south-central missouri.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How far people are from south central Missouri doesn’t make the distance between Washington and Boston any shorter.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not 1850 anymore. The US population grew 30% per decade then, and was also rapidly urbanizing. It’s growing 10% per decade now and is already almost fully urbanized. It’s the same reason why building subways to suburbs today doesn’t give you the same ridership as the 7 train in New York: 1910s’ Queens was mostly farmland, but it was farmland that doubled in population every decade with urban growth.

    The US today is more like any other developed country today than like the US of the 19th century. And those other countries have sometimes revitalized cities using strategy that included HSR, for example Lille, but never created cities from nothing or large boomtowns from small cities. It’s unreasonable to expect HSR to raise Omaha’s growth to the levels of Houston.

    And even if it were possible to redirect growth to the Great Plains, why would you want to do that? After all, that population would come from other regions. So what you’re saying is that the US government should spend tens of billions of dollars on a population dispersal program away from New York, Boston, Texas, California, etc. and toward the Great Plains, just so that they’d justify more infrastructure. Essentially, nationwide sprawl, no different from population dispersal programs that aim to increase growth in the suburbs in order to justify more roads.

    joe Reply:

    Judge Dredd wants us to live in Mega Cities.

    There are millions of people living in these vast wastelands of American.

    Look at where the NBA has franchises. Ok-la-ho-ma. San-Antonio min-a-so-ta.
    Joe Sez each NBA franchise city could support a HSR line.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, and those millions of people aren’t living anywhere that’s concentrated enough for HSR. If they want to keep living where they do it’s fine, but don’t ask me to subsidize expensive infrastructure for them just so that they can maintain their lifestyle and pretend that people like me don’t exist or are icky deviants who shouldn’t exist.

    Ryan Reply:

    I like the way you think. Yeah seriously someone needs to pull a defense contractor aside and tell them the country wants fewer bombs and more trains, get working on that.

    Ryan Reply:

    “(and nothing between Chicago and Denver is big enough to justify HSR)”

    Kansas City and St. Louis. You already have Illinois planning a St. Louis to Chicago HSR line. And Kansas should be one of the easiest and cheapest states to construct a line across.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    St. Louis-Kansas City is marginal, but still fine. But then you still need to build Kansas City-Denver, and on top of that the route through St. Louis and Kansas City is more than 200 km longer, adding almost a full hour to the trip.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Best case scenario 50 years from now- HSR in Cali, maybe Texas, and the NEC becoming true HSR. Other corridors “higher” speed rail in 110mph range. Freight railroads finally equip all their locomotives with PTC.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    And in 60 years, CBOSS finally declared operational. Mission Accomplished!

    Jonathan Reply:

    More likely, CBOSS development (over and above ITCS) fails completely. After 5 years and a 50% cost overrun, Caltrain runs off-the-shelf ITCS. Menlo Park and Palo Alto scream bloody murder about gate-down times, and agree to grade separation ;)

    Neil Shea Reply:

    I think you read the plot synopsis without waiting to see the movie

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    1. You can build airports cheaper than HSR, even if you put them out of the city center and run a train to it. Also, not all airports are at capacity, take Denver International, it runs at 1/2 to 1/3 of capacity because when they built it they built it to expand for the next 100 years.

    2. As explained so well above, there is nothing between cities once you get away from the coasts. I grew up in Colorado and I assure you that the drive between Raton NM and Canon City is perhaps the lonliest drive in the world…unless you count Casper to Cheyenne. Just not enough people traveling at all, even if they went 100% HSR.

    3. It is going to cost you a trillion just to go over the Rockies…look at how much more it costs to build roads vs flat spaces.

    Just not worth it considering we have a fullly build road system and a fully build air system.

    If you were starting from scratch (like China or India) it may be worth prioritizing it over long distance roads, but the US has made its choice.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    John’s comments suggest, at least to me, that a good regular rail service in Colorado and in other Western locations is worthwhile–too far and uncomfortable to drive, too lightly settled for air service. Not enough to justify HSR, at least for a long time, but maybe enough to justify what we had prior to 1960 or so.

    Despite his comments about having a fully built out road system, I question whether it will stay that way. The farebox recovery ratio is getting worse and worse for the road system (it’s now down under 46% or so), the fuel tax hasn’t been raised for years and years (while the cost of road repair materials keeps going up), fewer people are driving for several reasons (fuel cost is only one of them, and not necessarily the primary one), cars are more efficient, some cars don’t burn gasoline at all, and all of this negatively impacts the budgets of a highway department.

    At the same time, rail cost recovery ratios are improving (dinosaur Amtrak is up to 87% or better overall), and rail patronage on said dinosaur Amtrak is bottlenecked primarily because of a lack of equipment (again, speaking for the system overall). Some relatively minor investment, perhaps a few billion for more equipment for three to five years with an expansion of the network, might get the operating cost recovery over 100% overall. That might make things interesting–especially in view of the falling highway cost recovery ratio.

    By the way, I can’t locate the quote, but supposedly Matt Rose (BNSF president) has said that if America ever decided to level the playing field (what I’ve called “unrigging the game”), including having oil users pay what the road system costs and to pay for the Gulf wars of which they have been the primary beneficiaries, his railroad would strongly consider going back into passenger service.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Great point about the farebox recover of roads, no one wants to pay taxes anymore just to support someone else’s roads

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Denver isn’t at capacity, but it’s also the largest city in the US that has no reason to have HSR. The larger cities, anchoring HSR networks that have reasons to exist other than connecting dots, have airports with severe capacity problems: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. In both New York and Los Angeles, HSR would have a large effect on airport congestion, freeing up slots that could be redistributed to longer-range flights that aren’t HSR-competitive. (If anything, HSR could make some of the secondary airports in California very lonely, since they have a larger share of their flights going to HSR-competitive destinations than LAX and SFO.)

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    what is cheaper Alon….building a commuter railroad between LAX and Ontario and/or John Wayne to expand LA air capacity (both airports are underused) or building a HSR system. Rinse and repeat for every other major city in the US. Bottom line, expanding air capacity (if needed) is cheaper than building an HSR system.

    Joey Reply:

    “commuter rail” … you need something a lot more frequent, fast, and reliable than Metrolink to make any sort of effective transportation. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but the term “commuter rail” carries a lot of negative connotations.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In LA, Ontario is just too far for most origins and almost all destinations. If you want to make it closer, you’ll need to build HSR to it, at a cost that’s a substantial fraction of the cost of LA-SF thanks to urban viaducts. The Gold Line Foothills extension is planned to eventually get to Ontario, but not at speeds that are competitive with LAX. John Wayne is more interesting because it’s close to Disneyland, but it has the same problem of being surprisingly expensive to serve. There’s a relatively easy spur from the Orange County Line, splitting off at Santa Ana, but building such a line at acceptable speed is equivalent to building LA-Anaheim plus a lot more. Again, it’s less than LA-SF, but it’s still a substantial fraction of it, and LA-SF has many benefits other than airport decongestion.

    In New York it’s even worse. On the one hand, HSR on the NEC only looks expensive because Amtrak likes pouring concrete more than coordinating schedules with commuter railroads. On the other hand, getting to the relief airports is hard. There are three plausible relief airports: Stewart, Westchester County, and Islip. All are very far from both most origins and almost all destinations, and travelers are likely to keep preferring the three main airports instead. Stewart and Westchester County are also very hard to connect by rail at acceptable speed, and Amtrak’s plan to have an HSR station at Westchester County involves heavy suburban tunneling. Islip in contrast is already on the LIRR Main Line, making it the most plausible relief airport in the future, but the problem is that the Main Line has so much traffic that whatever extra capacity it gets is best spent on local and regional traffic rather than on airport traffic, and on top of that any speed boost from increasing speeds is automatically also a speed boost to Jamaica and JFK.

    In other cities, there’s a problem in that secondary airport traffic is not enough to justify a rail link by itself. If it can’t piggyback on a line with high traffic otherwise – as Ontario, Islip, and Burbank can but almost nobody else can – there’s no real reason for the line to exist.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Amtrak likes pouring concrete more than coordinating schedules with commuter railroads.

    When the economy is good they get 26 trains an hour through the North River Tunnels at peak. How many more can they squeeze in?

    Ryan Reply:

    According to Chris Christie, North River Tunnels are sufficient as they are.

    Joey Reply:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked doubling the North River tunnels was a small fraction of Amtrak’s $100b+ price tag.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Amtrak isn’t trying to just double the tunnels, but also to build extra connections and new platforms at Penn Station, for a total of $13 billion.

    Joey Reply:

    If you’re spending that magnitude of money, then you’re better off reconfiguring the existing platforms and interlockings for higher capacity rather than adding new platforms, even if it would require underpinning the Farley building and MSG (or preferably demolishing MSG).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The opportunity to do that passed in the 80s and definitely hasn’t been viable since the hordes of people showed up for Midtown Direct service. Would have been much easier if East Side Access had opened on schedule in the late 70s.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Amtrak runs 4 tph at the peak right now. Three are low-occupancy regional trains, one is a low-seating capacity Acela. Nothing that 16-car EMUs wouldn’t fix.

    Ryan Reply:

    1.) I’m not sure it’s as easy as you say it is. I lived in San Diego during the height of the movement to replace Lindbergh field, and one of the options they had was a one in the desert with a mag lev train going to the city. It didn’t have a lot of support, to say the least. Lots of cities have large airports already, and scoff at the costs of building brand new ones. HSR, even if it might be more expensive, is a response to a different kind of travel demand.

    2.) I don’t see much point in an Albuquerque to Denver HSR line. I do foresee one of the biggest debates in HSR into the future is whether you connect the dots by building through states like Nevada and Kansas or whether or don’t. I see great value in doing it, accommodating growth and travel options into the future.

    3.) A Trillion to go over the Rockies… I don’t know about that. Look at the costs of the new high speed rail line through the Alps… called the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

    The system is 35 miles long and is expected to cost 10 Billion USD. The Rockies are maybe 120 miles long, let’s just say 140 miles of varying terrain to cover Pitkin, Lake, Park, and Jefferson Counties. Extrapolate from how to Swiss are doing it and it would cost 40 Billion dollars. Yeah it would be the most expensive per mile part of the network, but we could do it.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    1. It would not be easy…but much easier than building an HSR system. You can figure out more air capacity and build it for a fraction of the

    2. What travel option are you trying to provide? Much slower than air…much less convenient than cars (i.e. no way to move around once you get to your destination). And the US is barely growing. Right now birth rates have dropped below replacement levels, we are not going to double the population like we did in the past.

    3. First, 35 mile tunnel costs and a 140 mile tunnel costs don’t scale in a linear fashion.

    Second, Look at the cost of roads through the Rockies.


    specifically this quote

    The cost was $490 million (equivalent to $800 million today) to build 12 miles (19 km), 40 times the average cost per mile predicted by the planners of the Interstate Highway system.[21]

    now take the 45 million per mile they are predicting for CAHSR (no we can’t build at the same cost as the Swiss, just accept it)


    so 40×45 = 1.8 billion per mile x 140 miles = 252 billion so I exaggerated a little, but much closer than 40 billion.

    Same article says chunnel cost 202 million per mile but it is only 24 miles long

    Bottom line…all rational arguments point to not do it

    Ryan Reply:

    The costs cited in the article for European are segments are higher than I had last thought, i’ll have to check what sources I had when I first started looking into the costs to build.

    I’m curious why you think we would never be able to have costs similar to the Swiss. I don’t have an argument for why we could, but it’d be interesting to here why we couldn’t..

    The chunnel is in a world of it’s own, we’d never have any need for any project like that, save for a second transbay tube for HSR and Caltrain to continue north from SF. The current one is 3.6 miles long ($727 Million at Chunnel avg, but of course costs vary, BART wants a 4 tunnel tube, and they didn’t use a boring machine to construct the first one).

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Why are US costs high? Environmental laws, construction companies that are not state owned, a general acceptance that Mega projects run over budget.

    To be fair it is hard to say, but the easiest explanation may be that we are just big. The Swiss are a very modem and developed society, but they are just a small state compared to the US. Just easier to get things done.

    My best argument however is past experience and examples, I may not know why, but I can point to examples where we spent way too much (big dig, bay bridge, etc)

    joe Reply:

    Construction costs in Switzerland are more than 25% higher than anywhere else in the world and 71% higher than the UK, according to built asset consultant EC Harris’s annual International Construction Cost Comparison Report published today.

    The report, which benchmarks the construction costs in 55 countries worldwide using UK prices as a baseline, revealed that Europe is the most expensive continent in which to build, providing eight of the top 10 entrants in its league table.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Building (offices, industrial, residential) construction cost, not railway infrastructure construction cost.


    joe Reply:

    It specifically include transportation and mentions HSR in the US so YES it is aggregated as construction costs and YES it includes HSR.

    I except that there is variation across sectors and the study says US costs are *currently* about UK costs …

    That study on rail road construction costs and analysis is where ?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    They also get what they pay for. The construction quality brings tears to the eyes.

    Here we pay through the nose and get far worse than shit.

    joe Reply:

    I accept.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, the study you link to uses international exchange rates rather than PPP. Switzerland has a severely overvalued currency relative to PPP. In exchange rate francs, its rail construction costs are about average. In PPP francs, they are very low.

    It also includes many things other than rail infrastructure, both public- and private-sector. In the US at least there’s a large difference between private- and public-sector performance: the new 1 WTC cost more than twice as much per unit area as a comparable private-sector skyscraper built in Midtown over the same period. If the private and public sectors do about as well then it’s a matter of high labor or material or shipping costs, but if there’s a large divergence, it means the public sector underperforms because of bad regulations (in New York’s case, lowest-bid rules for contractors) or bad incentives (e.g. revolving door), which can be reformed.

    joe Reply:

    Just because somethings written and published does not make it authoritative but it has more weight than stuff that isn’t published.

    You write about US costs and explain it due to a “revolving door” but that’s an opinion. Where’s that demonstrated and documented – give examples since it a systematic cost for all US projects. Not examples of people changing jobs but how it’s a demonstrated casual event adding to cost.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Cost of complex urban tunneling in UK: $1 billion/km
    Cost of complex urban tunneling in France: $250 million/km
    Cost of complex urban tunneling in Spain: $50 million/km, not fully apples-to-apples

    It’s not size.

    joe Reply:

    It’s neat to see this numbers but gosh darn it – sometimes people have stuff reviewed. Is there any study that lists this normalized costs – like the crappy link I found above to a civil eng publication.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Flyvbjerg has a study that I can link you to, but it understates the US-Europe difference because the US rail tunneling projects it considers are more suburban and thus easier. The most recent projects are not included at any case, but in addition the most expensive US project in the time period studied, New York’s $1 billion/km 63rd Street Line, was not included.

    I do not know of a single database that covers the most recent rail projects comprehensively, and people are bugging me to finally update the database that I do have.

    joe Reply:

    Apparently their isn’t a consensus on US costs. When your list is updated – publish it in a journal and see if it passes peer review. There are venues to publish data and when done well, they are heavily cited and / or corrected.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, you don’t do science for a living. I do. This means that your idea of what peer review does is based on popularization, whereas I can tell you that what it really does is check whether your results are interesting more than whether they are correct. Correctness is verified informally at a preprint stage – the results of my papers were accepted as correct before they ever went through peer-review, and it’s routine to reference a preprint pending peer review if you know the material or the author well enough to vouch for correctness. When I tell people that I check papers that are given to me to referee for correctness line by line, some are astonished and say it’s not about that.

    On the level of science as a whole, peer review works, i.e. the peer-reviewed consensus on global warming is almost certainly true because it’s hard to get a large volume of crap all erring in the same direction without any dissent leading the way. But on the level of an individual paper, crap routinely gets past peer review. The paper that said HSR emissions would be higher than highway emissions because of a unit conversion error passed peer view. Flyvbjerg, who does not release his data sources for his cost overrun estimates, passed peer review. If I even try publishing anything about cost comparisons, it’s not going to be just a database, because that’s not interesting; what I’m thinking about writing is looking at whether there’s a correlation with GDP per capita (on the eyeballing level there doesn’t seem to be one when you prune the US) and whether there is one with an English legal heritage.

    joe Reply:

    I do science. Data is publishable and not just as a database. Published data is cited. Citations are currency for academics. Or publish it along with a study … but publish it.

    If what you have is not interesting then why do you use it to contradict conventional cost comparisons. It is being done incorrectly, imprecise. Obviously what you collected is

    Peer review is imperfect BUT it helps catch errors, it provides commentary and forces some degree of rigor.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I do science.

    Choo choo = good. At a 6 standard deviation level of confidence. SCIENCE says so!
    Subsidized commute from Gilroy to Palo Alto = good. P value < 0.01. SCIENCE!
    Golf courses = good. FORE!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, my career depends on getting citations for math papers. It doesn’t depend on getting citations for anything about rail or transit or urbanism. That’s the impetus to publish; at least in the field I’m in, the primary purpose of formal publication is to act as a line on your resume when applying for tenure-track jobs, and the secondary purpose is to act as a line on your resume when you’re up for tenure.

    I think it’s different in lab sciences, but even there, crap gets past peer review on a regular basis. The field’s conventions as a whole are sound, again, but an individual paper has a very high chance (my ex quoted her lab PI as saying it’s 50%) of being crap, e.g. a shoddy study for a drug financed by the company that manufactures the drug.

    You have not in fact given any conventional cost comparisons for rail. You’ve given a study that’s basically a PPP comparison, showing that in the entire construction sector (as in any other sector), the Swiss franc is overvalued relative to PPP. It does not look at what we’re talking about, except insofar as rail construction is a small subset of the construction sector. The percentage of the sector that’s public rail construction is much smaller than the percentage of the economy that’s health care spending; what you’re doing is akin to saying that the US doesn’t have a health care cost problem because its overall price level is lower than that of the EU.

    The reason I say what I have is not interesting is that it involves just a lot of data collection, without analysis. It’s pointing to a problem; I’m very open about the fact that my analysis and explanations are fairly speculative.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    a general acceptance that Mega projects run over budget.

    That’s reason 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

    The US public sector as a whole exists largely as a patronage operation: “welfare” in the pejorative sense.
    The mega-projects public sector is a 100% fully owned cash laundering subsidiary of the private sector.

    joe Reply:

    We can feed the system and build flying death drones for Skynet OR feed the patronage machine to build public infrastructure.

    I choose infrastructure.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Outstanding Work, Upright and Informed Model Citizen! Excellent Use of Your Freedom of Choice! Duty Now for the Future!

    You choose the same criminals operating under a separate DBA.

    Would you like your shit sandwich with extra dysentery or would you prefer it with super-sized cholera, sir? Your democratic voice counts!

    joe Reply:

    The system is rigged for wealthy. That needs to be fixed.

    Meanwhile, I prefer the system build in stuff domestically rather than wage empire building wars and build flying death machines. I’d repurpose the well connected defense contractors to the HSR project and have them build a trench from Gilroy to SF. When finished Halliburton can run it.

    No new money – just dial back the empire we’re supporting and spend the money here. Free actually.

    It would be expensive and LMCo would profit greatly as it needs to profit form everything they touch but they’re going to get paid regardless. Boeing can join in too.

    Your way we continue to build and empire and flying killer drones.

    My way contractors build US infrastructure at no additional cost.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    My way is student loan debt forgiveness (~$1 trillion) and nationwide free college tuition subsequently (on the order of $250 billion a year to achieve 100% gross enrollment).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So the barista at Starbucks can tell you all about here degree in Poly Sci.

    joe Reply:


    Debt forgiveness would help economy. It benefits mostly less wealthy who are more likely to put that money into circulation – mostly in younger people and allow them to spend, get apt or home or other items. Allows them to begin modest retirement savings – most of that money would stimulate demand.
    It undoes some of great recession setbacks.

    Free tuition is a problem – bonanza for the schools and ripe for abuse with profit schools. I know of kids that got suckered with 20k bills for a few crap on-line for profit college courses.

    We have excess supply of skilled workers underemployed so I’d suggest rehiring teachers and adding college courses and campus with more full time faculty and bringing public school tuition back to historical levels of say the late 70s. Maybe try a few VoTech schools. Not everyone needs to read Plato.

    I’d outlaw Business Degrees as that is not a Major or a discipline and bar Physics Majors from ever working as programmers.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure. And while we’re at it, not 100% of jobs today require literacy, and way fewer than 100% require high school education. So why bother with universal education?

    joe Reply:

    Literacy and high school eduction or equivalent is required for a functioning democracy and a basic human right. An individual is born with the right to have unfettered access to basic reading and education.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    As for for-profit colleges, that scam is partially a matter of the way student loans are structured. They can pretend to offer cheaper education that’s friendlier to people who work full-time, and then when their students drop out they surreptitiously keep charging them.

    There are enough models both within the US and in other developed countries for free education. (No, the 70s’ tuition levels wouldn’t cut it; Canada’s in that situation and has the same student loan problem.) There’s the K-12 model, the grad school model, and the Swedish college model. Either way, the idea is, tuition at public schools is free; universities get full funding, and aren’t allowed to charge tuition beyond nominal fees. Private universities can be shoehorned into this system if they want, becoming like charter schools. Think of it this way: there are no for-profit high schools, despite full funding, and this persists everywhere in the developed world regardless of how local or national the funding model is; at most, there are test prep schools and cram schools, which add to instead of replacing the main school system.

    It’s similar to universal health care in a way: the system has plenty of potential abuses, but no more than the preexisting private system, and on top of that there are many real-world examples of how to mitigate the abuses.

    Sic Transit Philadelphia Reply:

    The US is expected to grow to 439 million people by 2050. That’s slow, steady year-on-year growth, but “barely growing” is grossly overstating the case.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure, but by 19th century and even 20th century standards, it’s really low – much less than you’d need to justify expensive infrastructure to tiny cities.

  9. BMF from San Diego
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 07:37

    This is a bit ridiculous. Routes should focus on markets that are 2-3 hours apart from each other. These are fine if there are consistent strings of markets that look to have high ridership numbers and which supports the investment in HSR and high service levels. Otherwise, this map falls flat for credibility or having an inkling of merit.

  10. StevieB
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 08:42

    Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who now says he will remain in office until a successor is announced, reiterated the presidents support of high speed rail to POLITICO.

    “There’s no turning back on high-speed rail. This is the president’s vision. It’s the American people that want this and I continue to see investments being made. … High-speed rail is the next generation of transportation for the next generation. The previous generations have left us the Interstate system. Our generation will leave high-speed rail to the next generation,” LaHood said.

  11. StevieB
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 08:55

    The linked Amtrak stations by ridership map shows existing areas of demand.
    Amtrak station map (2013-02-02)

    Jim Reply:

    Areas of supply, rather.

    joe Reply:

    Exactly !

    aw Reply:

    Unsuprisingly, corridors that have multiple routes and frequencies have high ridership. Corridors that have two (or fewer) trains per day that pass in the middle of the night have low ridership.

    Joey Reply:

    Also unsurprisingly there is some correlation with population density.

    joe Reply:

    Correlation is not causation.

    Caltrain service cuts were fought on the premise that it would negatively impact ridership – supply builds demand.

    Joey Reply:

    Sure, but 4tph in a heavily populated urban area is still going to get you more ridership than 0.5tph in the middle of nowhere.

    Joey Reply:

    Other way around. Yes, population density isn’t the only factor, but it’s going to affect demand significantly.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    But keep in mind that “population density” is often a fairly, er, malleable figure..

    An area with lowish average population density computed over a large area, can have a much higher effective density for the purposes of ridership if everybody lives near the train stations and the rest is sparsely populated…

    Joey Reply:

    Which is not the case for many of the lines on this map.

    joe Reply:

    And density isn’t competitive – that is the ridership in the midwest and great plains is independent of the number of people in manhattan.

    So as much as people point to density and show us where it is highest – the issue is not about maximizing density.

    If one looks at the night time lights – or an electoral map by district population, the lines on the map follow population clusters. If Oklahoma City can support an NBA franchise, it can support a HSR station and be a transfer for local service.

    Ryan Reply:

    That’s a cool map for sure, but to me it just shows where people are enthusiastic about taking the train based on how it currently operates. Part of the appeal of HSR is that it will make more and more people consider it a viable alternative car travel and flying.

  12. Brian_FL
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 10:12

    O/T But latest news about All Aboard Florida (AAF). I posted this comment on another discussion forum site today:

    Yesterday Feb 4th, the FRA released its decision (signed on January 30th, 2013 by Mr. Joseph Szabo) on the Environmental Assessment (EA) that was submitted for public review back around the first of November 2012. They concluded with a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI). This means that no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required and also appears to clear the way for AAF to apply for a RRIF loan for the section of the project between Miami and WPB. If other federal RRIF loans are sought for other portions of the route, a similar EA review will have to be undertaken for those sections.

    Here is the link to the EA report document in pdf format:


    Interesting paragraph from page 26, Barriers to Elderly and Handicapped:

    “Further, AAF trains will be single level, fully accessible coaches, with level floor boarding from platforms. All station facilities and platforms will have elevator access, and individuals with disabilities will not encounter stairs in boarding or departing from trains. Also, there will be no stairs or other obstacles to impede movement on board trains. AAF trains will be the first-in-the-nation to have the entire train accessible to wheelchair passengers, including access to pass between coaches for the entire length of the train.” (From the FONSI report)

    What available train sets match this description? Especially the claim of wheelchair access between train cars?

    Peter Reply:


    swing hanger Reply:

    AAF station platforms will be 50″ high.

    Joey Reply:

    I guess they’re not using superliner derivatives then…

    This would imply that they’re using single level trains in fact.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Er, the statement above explicitly says they’ll be using single-level trains… :]

  13. Alex M.
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 10:24

    In the 60’s, flying was something only the rich could afford. Airfare was very expensive and on the rare times you did fly, you dressed up. In the present day, we’ve been spoiled by cheap airfare that is in no way sustainable. As oil becomes harder and harder to get out of the ground, and as oil prices inevitably go up and up, airfare (among other things) will skyrocket in price even more than it has in recent years. In other words, in the future flying will return to how it was in the 1960’s. People will not be able to afford flying somewhere for vacation on a whim.

    This is why this map is not a total pipe dream. Something like it may very well be our only real choice for national intercity travel for everyone except the rich.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I believe you are thinking of the early fifties. You know, John Wayne in “The High and the Mighty”, wherein the Duke has to contend with the prop engines going out one by one. Just businessmen wore suits in the ’60’s.

    Peter Reply:

    And just who do you think were the most common airline passengers in the 1960s? Hippies?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not much different from today but a lot more military during the Vietnam War. PSA stewardesses had really sexy outfits. You could smoke. No crazy-ass jihadists around.

    The international flights were the expensive ones. I flew with the Scots Soccer Club to Glasgow in 1970 – charters were the way around the rules.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    I remember $11 standby LAX-SF.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr. Reply:

    Alex M:

    I overheard the following exchange in the old Greyhound terminal on 7th Street, San Francisco, ca. 1969:

    “How much to L.A.?”


    “Well, gee, the plane is only $16.50!”

    I was old enough to understand that 1.) the reason “the plane [was] only $16.50 is because ICC (remember that?) regulations did not apply to intrastate markets . . . and that 2.) if ever the regulations were abolished, and interstate flights were priced similarly, then Greyhound would have a tough time surviving against airborne competition.

  14. Cascadian
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 10:47

    As much as I’d like to see this system in my lifetime (which will likely extend to mid-century), or even 10-15 years if we treated it like the critical investment it is, the reality is that this is the achievable vision for end of century. We need to have an end goal in mind that we can work toward.

    The question is how to get from here to there. Clearly the answer is to start with the high-demand corridors at the ideal distances, and then build out the network by adding on destination segments over time until the whole network is filled in. The core systems for California, New York to DC, Texas, Florida, and especially Chicago, the eventual national high-speed rail hub, are the first priorities. Then you work outward from there.

    Some of the extensions are going to be hard to justify on their own, without the long-term network benefits. I can see Chicago to Des Moines because it’s only one segment from the core and adds lots of destination pairs even if Iowa by itself is not a major destination. But from there to Denver? Denver to Vegas through Utah, even with a midpoint stop? El Paso to San Antonio? I can actually see the Cascades line working just a bit better than these other options to come into being. Portland to Eugene is an easy stretch, Sacramento to Redding is a bit sketchier but doable, and once you have those adding the final segment to have a full West Coast line seems possible.

    But for the medium term and even some time into the long-term, the realistic vision is airports to connect the hubs of each region, with each region serving a disconnected regional system (albeit with compatible technology), until such time the regions can be interconnected. And when each segment is built, it’s likely to start as 110 MPH rail and be upgraded later to full HSR. It will be maddeningly slow to build but our grandchildren will thank us

  15. synonymouse
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 17:43

    More San Francisco nuttiness:


    They never should have given up streetcars on Mission. On a par with the B on Geary. Truly unfortunate the subway bond issue did not pass in 1937.

    Where do they expect the 14 to go or Samtrans or GGT?

    Joey Reply:

    It might work … Market and Mission are pretty close. But the additional capacity necessary would probably necessitate actually going through with banning private vehicles from lower Market.

  16. JJJJ
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 20:12

    I like that they add the Canadian cities. Toronto-Chicago makes a lot of sense.

    blankslate Reply:

    And the Mexican ones. Monterrey has 4m people and would send a lot of riders up to the Texas triangle. TJ is a no-brainer addition to CAHSR.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “No-brainer” is exactly what US Vaterlandssicherheitsdienst offers.

    EJ Reply:

    130,000 people already commute from TJ to San Diego every day.

    EJ Reply:

    or, rather, meant to say, that’s total border crossings. Daily commuters are a significant fraction of that.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    About a million people fly domestically within the US every day. This doesn’t mean that the TSA isn’t nuts.

    Joey Reply:

    Tijuana is likely a valuable but technically nontrivial addition to California intercity rail service and San Diego regional rail service. The only way I see to make this work is to convert the existing blue line to regional rail (closing a few stops) so that it and HSR/slower intercity rail can run on the same tracks with the same electrification (maybe a few passing sections). Otherwise you’re looking at 4 tracks the whole way, which could be rather difficult in some sections.

  17. Ryan
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 20:14

    It’d be interesting to ask everyone how much they estimate this will cost in total to see through over a thirty year period. I’ll start:

    Baseline for a 13,000 mile system would be $350 Billion. Lawsuits and politics could raise it to 525 Billion.

    That’s less than a year of defense spending. And my highest estimate would place a tax of around $50 per resident per year. I think it’s worth it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    With the tunnel percentage required, I’d guess the system depicted would cost $1 trillion: $50 million per kilometer, slightly inflated relative to rest-of-world costs but by less than you’d think (those base tunnels are expensive).

    Ryan Reply:

    I could see a political backlash to a trillion dollar price tag for sure, but it really is all in the messaging. Closing overseas bases, bringing troops home, and not blindly accepting defense contractors lobbying to build the latest and greatest stealth fighter could shift money away from Defense to the DOT. Plus, I keep in perspective this will be decades in the making.

    By base tunnels do you mean the ones that would be needed to go through the Rockies? I calculated that segment at $40 billion and John N. said $250 billion. At this point I’m theorizing that advances in LiDAR measurements and software can bring the costs of laying paths through mountains more efficient than in the past, by quick determinations in the least-cost paths. Software can tell when it will save money to go through a pass 30 miles away rather than bore through a mountain. But, I’m not writing a thesis on it or anything, maybe in the future with more research.

    Joey Reply:

    A lot of the cost comes from having to deal with unpredictable geology. Technology is improving of course but determining the exact geometry hundreds of meters below the surface isn’t going to become easy any time soon.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What you’re saying is already the cutting edge in existing tunneling across the world. The cost is still enormous when you’re building long tunnels.

    The base tunnels I’m thinking about are through the Rockies (where multiple tunnels are required), but also through the Siskiyou Pass and Sierra Nevada.

    The problem with funding this out of cutting defense is that there are many other things in the US that could also be funded out of cutting defense: unemployment insurance, free college tuition, guaranteed minimum income, local transportation, water infrastructure, clean electricity grid, Social Security.

    blankslate Reply:

    CAHSR is $68b for 400 miles. Extrapolating, this system would cost $2.2 trillion.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The $68bil figure is likely low. But then the cost-benefit-ratio and load factors of the CHSRA scheme are probably just about as poor as hsr in the Rockies.

    Richard is right – this constitutes contractor welfare. Payouts to losing bidders is a dead giveaway, literally.

    The real upshot of the Jerry & Perry Show is that Jerry knows that when the scandal of departing California businesses becomes even more in your face he will be forced to cut various kinds of tax reduction deals with business. Even the quite doctrinaire Hollande has be compelled to do this in France.

    Megaprojects that require ongoing subsidy will ultimately be bankrolled by middle and lower level taxpayers way more than promised. Truly taxing welfare to pay for welfare.

    synonymouse Reply:

    been compelled

  18. Loren Petrich
    Feb 5th, 2013 at 20:14

    That’s a rather optimistic map, but I think that subsets of it are rather likely, like between pairs of big cities separated by a few hundred miles. The lines in the less populated areas seem unlikely except for the pork-barrel value they might have.

    But I think that we Americans have fallen behind compared to the eastern and western ends of Eurasia, and the above map is roughly comparable to what eastern and western Eurasians have built.
    High-speed rail – Wikipedia:
    File:High Speed Railroad Map Europe 2011.svg – Wikipedia — in western Eurasia
    File:Eastern Asia HSR2011.svg – Wikipedia, the — in eastern Eurasia

    Jo Reply:

    Add Africa to the list. They are building high speed rail systems in Morocco and South Africa.

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    Morocco: building one between Casablanca and Tangier
    South Africa: planning one between Johannesburg and Durban — not yet at building it

    If we count planning, then we’d have to include several more nations outside of Eurasia’s east and west ends, nations like Uzbekistan, India, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and the US itself.

    But Morocco looks like it’ll beat the US.

    Peter Reply:

    Anyone know what happened with the IC4 lent to Libya?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The US has been planning one since Lyndon Johnson signed the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965.

    Jo Reply:

    Vietnam, watergate, etc got in the way. Hopefully we can finally start to get it right now.

    blankslate Reply:

    What’s really sad is all the grey lines on those maps. We used to have a “normal speed rail” network denser than western Eurasia, but we dismantled it.

    Eric Reply:

    Well, we still have the rails, but they’re used by freight.

  19. Andrew
    Feb 6th, 2013 at 16:08

    Very long routes like Chicago-Los Angeles which is about 11 hours at 300km/h (with no stops) are difficult to justify. One extremely long route (Beijing-Guangzhou, 8 hours) has been built in China, but this is much slower than air (3 hours). Long high speed rail routes are likely to have very low market share against air, and become like the Tokyo-Fukuoka route, which is one of the world’s busiest air routes (Boeing 777 several times an hour) despite competing against HSR (5 hours). This HSR route has OK ridership because Osaka-Fukuoka is competitive with air and is a large market, but there is not enough population between Chicago and Los Angeles to generate trips between intermediate cities.

  20. Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
    Feb 6th, 2013 at 23:25


    Quite apart from the validity of your point re. “population between Chicago and Los Angeles” is the fact that Tokyo – Fukuoka is a bad example.

    At 2010, air traffic Tokyo-Fukuoka and Tokyo-Kitakyushu totaled 8.4 million. The rail:air modal share was stated at 8:92; this implies about 700,000 rail passengers per year. That’s a tiny fraction of the 64.4 million carried by the San-yo Shinkansen (2011). Another source (the “Inter-regional passenger traffic survey”) implies about 1 million rail passengers per year; still a tiny fraction of the total (“26 thousand passengers/day,” as stated by a JR-Central online factsheet, is not correct).

    Osaka – Fukuoka (in fact, Osaka – Kitakyushu + Fukuoka) is not a “large market,” at least not by Japanese standards. At 2011, annual air traffic amounted to less than 800,000. The rail:air modal share was stated at 88:12; this implies about 5.7 million. Again, a fraction of the 64.4 million passengers carried by San-yo Shinkansen. Survey data imply about 5.4 million rail passengers.

    The Tokaido Shinkansen is dominated by long-distance traffic. JR-Central says 31 percent of “daily” ridership is Tokyo – Osaka and 16 percent is Tokyo – Nagoya. Even so, more than half of the annual ridership (143 million, at 2011) occurred in “other” markets.

    Andrew Reply:

    The data you show clearly shows that very few high speed rail passengers on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen are going all the way from Tokyo to Fukuoka, while the vast majority on that route fly. Most of the ridership is going to intermediate cities, although Osaka-Fukuoka is a small portion of the ridership on the Sanyo Shinkansen. The problem with a very long route like Chicago-Los Angeles is that there is negligible demand for traveling the entire route, and the intermediate cities are far apart, and small compared to a huge city like Nagoya or Osaka – the most significant cities are Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City and St. Louis. Los Angeles-Denver and Chicago-Denver are too long for HSR to be competitive, so you are dependent on markets like Salt Lake City-Denver, Kansas City-Denver and Salt Lake City-Las Vegas which are short enough for HSR to be competitive with air, but are unlikely to be big enough, by themselves, to justify a costly HSR line. Consequently, I think you are likely to see a large east coast HSR network on routes like Boston-Miami or Chicago-New York, and a smaller California-Nevada-Arizona regional network, but the high cost of building a link between those two networks makes this unviable.

  21. Hughes Synergies
    Feb 7th, 2013 at 18:46

    In order to justify construction costs a system must move not only passengers but also expedited freight and we have advanced a system called ICEPack since about 2004 which moves both Passenger Trainsets and Trainsets carrying nominally 5 semi-trucks at a time at 150 mph with 1 minute minimum intervals intervals. Even at just 30% load factor the system will not require subsidization but will instead gross $50 billion and net $25 billion per year and since the parameters going into the model are entirely different in that the model captures $2.50 for every mile that the semi-trucks are transported in addition to providing 2.5 times normal speed the model indicates that construction in low density corridors pays exactly the same as high density. In fact, if one thinks about it, it is desirable to conduct Research and Development in low density areas where land and cost of living are inexpensive and then export the technology into the high density areas.

    Regarding this map, there is a major problem in that a line traversing the Rockies into Denver is extremely prohibitive and even a low speed line would fail any test of justification if it moved passenger only. Even from LA to Las Vegas we are talking extremely rugged terrain. Clearly without even employing computer optimization the Optimal lines across the mountains are across the I-40 corridor in Phase 1 and a line from Gillette through Southern Idaho to Portland/Seattle for Phase 2.

    We do not like to post on websites and have thus far shared with Prime Contractors, Contractors, Vendors, EconDevs, and Government. If anyone would like a map of ICEPack Phase 1, please write Hughes Synergies, Phil A. Hughes, Rail90@aol.com.


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