Japan Wants to Help Fund Maglev in the USA

Nov 18th, 2013 | Posted by

Despite the promising headline I gave this post, the details are not quite as rosy. The Japanese government is busy building a maglev line to connect Tokyo to Osaka. But they also are under pressure – unnecessary but very real – to make money off this technology. So Japan is trying to pitch American governments on buying their maglev tech, offering some startup funding – but only if Americans fund the rest of it.


The New York Times explains:

To interest lawmakers and investors in the United States in the Japanese technology, Japan has offered to cover several billion dollars in costs. The commitment of Japanese taxpayer money is a sign of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s determination to do whatever it takes to prime the Japanese economy and to restore Japan’s fading reputation for technological prowess.

Japan’s maglev could easily become Mr. Abe’s boondoggle unless Japan can export it. Even in Japan, the maglev faces considerable skepticism. One reason is the cost, which is as breathtaking as the speed: the estimated budget for the Tokyo-Osaka line has risen to nearly $100 billion.

So Mr. Abe is looking for a prominent overseas showcase. That is why the former [American] politicians were here.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to explain how completely screwed up this thinking is. So what if the cost is $100 billion? Only in our austerity-obsessed bizarro world in which we now live is that considered somehow problematic. Maglev is the next evolutionary step for intercity passenger trains. It provides faster speeds using electric power, providing better service without burning fossil fuels to do so. In a society that is focused on progress and innovation rather than penny-pinching, the fact that Japan is building such a system would be cause for celebration.

Instead, you see the same ridiculous criticisms leveled at Japan’s maglev plans that have been thrown at California high speed rail:

The Tokyo-Nagoya portion is not expected to be completed until 2027, with the Nagoya-Osaka stretch to follow only in 2045. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research expects that by that time, the population of Japan will have declined to about 105 million from the current 127 million, raising questions of whether there will be enough people to ride a speedy new train.

“If you seriously take a look at its high cost and low demand, you’ll find it makes no business sense,” said Reijiro Hashiyama, a visiting professor at Chiba University of Commerce who has argued against the project for years.

Let’s be clear here. In a country like Japan, with a mature national network of high speed trains, maglev is the next obvious step. It doesn’t matter if the population is falling, since they’ll still see the benefits of faster electric trains. Infrastructure projects like a passenger train should not be assessed on whether they “make business sense.” Their purpose is to serve social and civilizational goals. Of course, these goals usually do wind up helping achieve financial goals as well, since faster speeds and electric trains reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the staggering costs that come with global warming. And the time saved creates its own economic value. So too do the savings in fossil fuel consumed and carbon emitted, although such savings will be much larger in California than they will be in Japan where they already have a mature HSR system.

In any case, Japan does still feel the need to market maglev abroad, which in itself is fine. And if they want to help with some seed money, all the better. But will America go for it?

Mr. Pataki, along with the other dignitaries on the train, including Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader; former Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania; and former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, are helping him make the sale. Along with former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who could not make the trip, they are on the advisory board of The Northeast Maglev, a company in Washington that wants to build the Washington-New York line….

To get the American line off the ground, Japan has come up with a method of financing that is similarly novel. In a meeting with President Obama last winter, Mr. Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system free for the first portion of the line, linking Washington and Baltimore via Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a distance of about 40 miles.

Analysts say Japan has had trouble exporting the technology. It figures if the United States takes it, others will follow.

The Northeast Maglev, the company behind the effort, wants to raise the rest of the money from private investors and public sources. The company was founded in 2010 but only recently began ramping up its lobbying in Washington, with Mr. Daschle, now a policy adviser to the law firm DLA Piper, serving as a central figure in those efforts.

Look at the names: Pataki, Rendell, Daschle, Whitman, Peters, Obama. They’re all moderate Democrats and Republicans who are generally pro-infrastructure. If they still ran the country I think they would find a way to take the money and build maglev on the DC-NYC route, which as much as I love California does seem like a logical place to pioneer maglev in America.

But here’s the problem: they don’t run the country, not any more. By steadfastly refusing to ever spend a dime on any infrastructure project, Tea Party Republicans have seized control of national infrastructure policy. Japan can offer all the money it wants, but if there’s an American match required, the Tea Party will make sure to block it. The junkets with former elected officials is great PR for Japanese maglev, especially as it resulted in a New York Times article. But until they get Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn and Kevin McCarthy on those trains, they’re going to continue to struggle.

Let me suggest a different strategy to the Japanese government. Fly Jerry Brown, John Pérez, Darrell Steinberg, and whoever it is that succeeds the latter two in the legislative leadership over to Tokyo for a trip on the trains. Offer to help subsidize California’s HSR system rather than maglev. The Tea Party is a non-entity in California and we destroyed the California Republican Party as a statewide force in 2010, so Japan might actually make some headway and some profit in the Golden State. Japan was already planning on using cash flow from the Shinkansen to fund maglev. If California buys Japanese trains and technology, they can use that funds to develop maglev. And once maglev becomes mature in Japan, they can come back to California and help build it there too.

That strategy isn’t perfect. But it’s workable for both California and Japan, whereas a national strategy won’t work, not until the Tea Party’s power is broken and austerity is driven out of American politics.

  1. BMF of San Diego
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 20:12

    How long will this idea be around?

    I forward that the following linkages might have longer legs than others.

    Las Vegas to LA
    Chicago to someplace big

    VBobier Reply:

    Not long I suspect, I think some in Japan don’t understand old Repubs/baggers in the Federal Government don’t like HSR or Maglev…

    Bill Reply:

    Neither do Nimby’s. Everyone’s in each other’s back yard in Japan. Minority dissenters rules in this country unfortunately.

    Andy M Reply:

    Only the Japanese think long term. The bill for this won’t hit the table in the legislature of the current president and most likely not in the legislature of the next either. What does it matter if a couple of naysayers have temporarily seized the reins of power? They know the pendulum will swing back and they’re trying to influence the direction in which it will swing. So this is not really about convincing politicians but seizing the hearts and minds of the broader public so they demand this.

    Useless Reply:


    Japanese politicians are clueless on situations outside of Japan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Also inside Japan, judging by comments they make about women or about immigrants. Koizumi managed to sound like a cheap anti-feminist troll, Abe worships his genocidal grandfather, etc.

  2. EJ
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 20:26

    In the real world, money does matter.

    VBobier Reply:

    True and who controls the money does too, Robert makes some good points, but unless Mr Abe wants to help California with HSR, California can’t help Mr Abe with Maglev down the road.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Of course it does. But money can be printed, or obtained through any number of other means. And a $100 billion megaproject is a big stimulus for a country that is still suffering from 20+ years of slow growth. So I say again: so what if their maglev costs $100b? That has advantages and disadvantages, but since we live in a world dominated by austerity ideology we only hear the disadvantages and never the advantages.

    Bill Reply:

    Japan invented HSR no? If they’re skeptical about a transportation project it’s probably with good reason. It does need to make economic sense. Countries are businesses too.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    They’re not skeptical. The government is moving forward with maglev. It’s just a few people who are making criticisms.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    JR Central is moving forward with maglev; the government decided against helping fund it.

    Andy M Reply:

    Similarly Germany developed the Transrapid with big plans for a national intercity network. Those dreams have since been scaled back to some airport links plus a short line in China which is not likely to generate much follow up, at least not for the German companies who installed it.

    quashlo Reply:

    That’s not entirely accurate. The Japanese government would probably be willing to help fund a good portion of it, but JR Central won’t let them get anywhere close to the project because they don’t want politicians messing up the plan and trying to influence things like alignment and station locations.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Hmmm? What I’ve read is that the LDP decided to approve the project but not give any money a few years ago. Or was that because JR Central demanded the straightest route whereas the government would only fund a route that served Nagano?

    Eric Reply:

    Sounds like a vote of confidence to me. The project is so promising that private investors can fund it completely without any government help.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Maybe we could mint one of those trillion dollar coins that were proposed a couple of years ago to get around the debt ceiling—Think of all of the mega-projects that we could do—And we could work out a suitable payment plan for future generations to worry about later.

    But if somehow we ever do build a maglev line, Baltimore might be a good place to start—If I am not mistaken the first passenger rail line in the USA started from Baltimore over 180 years ago.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Japan isn’t engaging in austerity, but it’s not funding maglev, either. The funding for the project is entirely private.

    joe Reply:

    There is an infinite amount of money. Money is a artificial creation. It has one key purpose, to allow debtors to pay off their debt. A debtor can pay off a debt with money and the creditor must accept the payment. It must be accepted.

    The sign there is too much money is inflation and we are not even close to inflationary economy.

    So not there isn’t a finite amount of money.

    VBobier Reply:

    What? Money is an artificial creation? Eek! Egads even… ;)

    Yep, the CPI-W cola for Social Security says 1.5%, which is close and undervalued, but still it’s close.

  3. Paul Druce
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 20:29

    It’s worth pausing for a moment to explain how completely screwed up this thinking is. So what if the cost is $100 billion? Only in our austerity-obsessed bizarro world in which we now live is that considered somehow problematic.

    Uh, no. There is a finite amount of money available to be spent. There are rather more funding requirements than there is funding availability. Thus, there has to be some degree of prioritization.

    It provides faster speeds using electric power, providing better service without burning fossil fuels to do so.

    That rather depends on how the electricity is generated. Just a head’s up: The majority of US electricity is not, in fact, generated by unicorn farts. Same for Japanese electricity actually (63% fossil fuels).

    Let’s be clear here. In a country like Japan, with a mature national network of high speed trains, maglev is the next obvious step. It doesn’t matter if the population is falling, since they’ll still see the benefits of faster electric trains. Infrastructure projects like a passenger train should not be assessed on whether they “make business sense.” Their purpose is to serve social and civilizational goals.

    JR Central is only building this because it makes business sense. Social and civilizational goals are completely irrelevant to them.

    Of course, these goals usually do wind up helping achieve financial goals as well, since faster speeds and electric trains reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the staggering costs that come with global warming.

    Actually faster speeds increase energy use and with it carbon emissions, not to mention all the carbon emissions related to construction. Maglev is potentially marginally more energy efficient at the same speed (about 7 Watt-hours less per seat-km vs ICE at 125mph I believe, but N700 is significantly more energy efficient than either), but faster speeds are always going to be more expensive energy-wise. And again, JR Central does not care about carbon emissions. They care about money from selling tickets.

    Seriously, stop being such a ridiculous cheerleader.

    EJ Reply:

    Paul, your problem is you’re thinking about it like an adult. What you have to keep in mind is that it’s a train. If you oppose a train, you are bad, dumb, and wrong.

    Also it makes no sense to quote costs and economic analyses. That’s like math, and math is just a bunch of made up stuff by meanies who don’t want us to have cool stuff.

    Eric Reply:

    “In a country like Japan, with a mature national network of high speed trains, maglev is the next obvious step.”

    That’s exactly the same logic as “In a country like the US, with a mature national network of freeways, widening those freeways is the next obvious step.”

    Emmanuel Reply:

    Actually here’s another one. In a country like the US with a lot of air traffic, extremely short distance flights and super sonic flight wwould be an obvious step.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The US actually doesn’t have big air markets relative to its size. Japan has much thicker air city pairs, and as a result it’s done the next step of flying widebodies on short-distance flights, whereas the US and Europe fly 320s and 737s.

    Supersonic flight, like maglev except at much higher distances, is not useful unless there’s plenty of distance for the higher top speed to make a difference. But maglev at the 1,000-2,000 km scale can poach mode share from air better than conventional HSR can, whereas supersonic flights have no such benefit since at long distances everyone already flies. So maglev can still be a net energy saver if it causes people to switch from flying, whereas supersonic jets are huge fuel hogs because of higher speeds and (at least on Concorde) lower capacity.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    No, there isn’t a finite amount of money to be spent. You can always go find more. Doing so has consequences, but it can be done should one choose to do so.

    I’m actually not a maglev cheerleader. I’ve said numerous times on this blog that it doesn’t make sense for California, not right now.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    No, there isn’t a finite amount of money to be spent. You can always go find more. Doing so has consequences, but it can be done should one choose to do so.

    How in the world did you ever manage to make it this far with such a horrible misunderstanding of economics?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Economics ≠ neoliberal austerity ideology.

    EJ Reply:

    In your analysis, what is the economic return for Japan on spending $100 billion on a maglev line that duplicates an existing Shinkansen trunk line?

    swing hanger Reply:

    It’s not mentioned here, but the maglev line is intended as a relief route- the existing conventional HSR Shinkansen route is at capacity and cannot be expanded (it already runs at subway-like headways during the peak hours).

    joe Reply:

    Paul Druce fails fundamental macroeconomics. There is not a finite amount of money to spend.

    EJ needs to quantify people’s suffering as economic return?

    “These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies — homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started.”

    “They suggest that economic weakness has already reduced America’s economic potential by around 7 percent, which means that it makes us poorer to the tune of more than $1 trillion a year. And we’re not talking about just one year’s losses, we’re talking about long-term damage: $1 trillion a year for multiple years. ”

    If you have a economy operating at below capacity and historically low interest rates and unemployment what is the cost of not returing http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/opinion/krugman-the-mutilated-economy.html?_r=0

    EJ Reply:

    Did you notice that Krugman’s article is about the US, not Japan? We’ve got a lot of young people out of work. Not to mention while our immigration policy is a mess, it’s not quite as ruthlessly xenophobic as Japan’s.

    Japan’s population is aging and declining. They’re pouring money into developing autonomous robots because there aren’t enough young people and immigrants to do manual labor.

    joe Reply:

    As Robert wrote.

    But money can be printed, or obtained through any number of other means. And a $100 billion megaproject is a big stimulus for a country that is still suffering from 20+ years of slow growth.

    Same economic problem and it’s hurt their younger generations.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    In your analysis, what is the economic return for Japan on spending $100 billion on a maglev line that duplicates an existing Shinkansen trunk line?

    That’s the point of the article, you see.

    Japan wants an exportable technology that would be very difficult to clone given the propensity of the Koreans and Chinese to steal their patents (I mean, um, given the “assumed” propensity.)

    The fact that this was in the Times means that the Japanese are desperate to get traction about it. Still it is odd, given that the Japanese made their money selling Toyotas and Hondas to America, not BMWs and Mercedes Benzes.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Good thing I don’t subscribe to “neoliberal austerity ideology” then.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There is in fact, an arbitrarily large amount of money available — we print it at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

    The practical limit on money-printing is high inflation — we are nowhere NEAR that.

    So, unfortunately, Paul, you’ve absorbed some of the nonsense of the austerity ideology without realizing it. You don’t understand money.

    Money is rarely a real problem for a sovereign government which can print money. There are OTHER, much more serious problems — do we have enough labor? Do we have enough raw materials? Is this project actually useful? — but money is simply not a problem.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Thank you for acknowledging that there is a limit to available funds (the point at which printing more is merely destructive). The idea that money itself can be infinite is a patently absurd one which ignores the fact that it exists in creation and is thus inherently finite, as with everything else in it.

    Of course, there is always the practical political limit. You simply aren’t going to ever see the government merely spinning the printing press and thus must deal with what can be reasonably raised via taxation and borrowing and approved by Congress.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, the practical political limit is what people who argue like Robert does miss. There’s a limit to how much deficit spending is possible, which in times of recession is set by politics rather than economic necessity (and in times of growth is the other way around, i.e. the political system accepts higher deficits than are economically prudent). A billion dollars borrowed to spend on HSR is a billion dollars not borrowed to spend on unemployment insurance, college debt forgiveness, or grants to inner-city school districts. This is where priorities are required: is an HSR line so important that it’s okay not to raise unemployment benefits in order to fund it?

    I’m open to the argument that Joe’s made from time to time, that it’s more politically acceptable to borrow the marginal billion to spend on HSR than on unemployment insurance. But so far I’ve seen no evidence in that direction. The GOP as a whole is hostile to both kinds of spending, and the most moderate major voice in the party today, Christie, gets conservative cred by canceling rail projects. The technocratic centrists who are open to HSR as a long-term investment are also warming up to cash benefits to poor people as more efficient welfare than specific subsidies for food and housing.

    joe Reply:

    Pedantically one can argue we cannot make infinity money but Robert’s not claiming we will make Infinity money.

    Both of you guys are making pedantic arguments against what Robert wrote and don’t address the spirit of the point – we can spend much more right now and benefit the economy.

    First there is no limit to money. It is an artificial creation. When people argue it’s finite it’s wrong.

    Secondly Robert knows inflation is the price for creating too much money. We’re so far from that now it’s silly to make it counter point. Realistically, there is absolutely no way we risk inflation, quite the opposite, we have too little inflation so NO there isn’t a limit for spending 100B or 500B right now.

    Political reality is self-fulfilling. I want to contrast our views with their views rather than pretending we are in modest disagreement and create some fake bipartisan consensus or quit before hand.

    Technocrats gave us the Rube Goldberg health system – they botched the web site roll out and that’s supposed to be their forte. Techo-crats are phony and just triangulate. They offer nothing but complexity and contorted solutions.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t actually see Robert or you acknowledge any such reality. The liquidity trap won’t last forever; the US has positive population growth, unlike Japan. Money may not be finite, but real resources that go into building infrastructure are.

    As for the political reality, you need the technocrats, or the populists, or whomever. The social democratic base alone isn’t a majority. That’s the political barrier to deficit spending, and pretending that if only the US spends $500 billion on HSR rather than on unemployment benefits then it’ll get past the Blue Dogs is wishful thinking. Maybe it’s the infrastructure lobby that creates its own political reality by treating cash benefits as a humiliation and infrastructure as national greatness?

    Joe Reply:

    Really? So he thinks we can spend freely for ever ? His views are permensnt regardless of economic conditions ? That resources are not finite?


    How many blue dogs are there left? Most lost to republicans in 2010. Are there 4 of them or 6?
    What blue dogs? The leader resigned from congress.

    I don’t agree with all the labels or parliament collation thought.

    The national party is pushing infrastructure, that’s what we do. Push for the right rings and not prenegotiate away assets or values.

    No one can predict 2014 right now. All we know is car ownership trends down, urban areas with mass transit trend more popular and rail ridership trend to an increase.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If the Dems retake Congress, the Blue Dogs will come back. The Elizabeth Warrens and Nancy Pelosis don’t win in swing districts. Remember how in 2009-10, the most conservative Democrats extorted the party leadership to agree to vote for Obamacare.

    As for the national party, I sincerely hope it’ll push for unemployment benefits, college debt forgiveness, etc., and not just for infrastructure.

    joe Reply:

    I have family involved in Dem politics at the highest levels in DC and they lack your certitude.

    Dems do need to fix college loan debt policy which is criminal. They are pressing for extension of benefits and infrastructure now.

    Being a blue dog was about running against Dem policies – Republican Light and play deal makers. The Dogs and leaders had no support to sustain this strategy. They burned bridges. Dems disliked their triangulation politics and Republicans voted them out. Leadership lost or resigned facing defeat and ain’t coming back. The meatball who recruited many of them is now Mayor of Chicago.

    Pelosi knows how to whip the party to get votes to pass legislation and not whip one vote more than needed. She can also protect members in conservative districts. Morris Brown mistakenly thinks HSR passed with only 1 vote in CA. It passed with the necessary votes and no more. She is also a large fund raiser for congress.

    HSR is gong to be in a future Dem bill and she’ll be sure Dems know that running against it will not help them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes. And to spend this money requires giving up political capital in the form of unpopular bribes like the Cornhusker Kickback. There isn’t a $500 billion pot lying around, not anymore. In 2009 Obama could’ve spent $1.3 trillion on stimulus instead of $800 billion and it would’ve passed by the same margin; people had no concept of these amounts of money then. 2015 won’t be 2009, not with the VSPs (who will remain the median Congresspeople) pivoting to deficit reduction.

    joe Reply:

    “Yes. And to spend this money requires giving up political capital in the form of unpopular bribes like the Cornhusker Kickback.”too

    He’s too is out of politics — no longer in the Senate. That kick-back was unpopular in NE as was his triangulation against his party. You give examples of failed politicians whose unpopular tactics backfired. I don’t see this repeating. Joe Lieberman is out and Max Baucus is stepping down.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And who do you think is replacing the Baucuses and the Nelsons? Joe Manchin is of the same breed. Mary Landrieu, whose credits include preventing Obamacare from including a public option, is running for reelection; if she’s getting replaced, it’s not by a progressive.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Better center right Democrats than frothing Tea Party types.
    On the other side of the aisle the centrists get primaried out by the Tea Party types. How hard would have Richard Lugar needed to run to win in Indiana? Would he have even had to shown up?

    Andy M Reply:

    There is enough money there but the priorities are just elsewhere. Defence for example.

  4. Stephen Smith
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 20:42

    So what if the cost is $100 billion? Only in our austerity-obsessed bizarro world in which we now live is that considered somehow problematic.

    Robert, you’re becoming a parody of yourself.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    And you’re a market ideologue whose responses are easily predictable.

    Tell me, what’s wrong with JR spending $100b on maglev?

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Nothing’s wrong with it, and I wish them well.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    A market ideologue would say “fuck California HSR, let a private company build it if they want.” But that’s never been my position – rather, it’s that the government should do a more competent job of building it, putting me more in line with, say, Alon Levy than Randal O’Toole.

    Predictable, I’ll cop to that.

    synonymouse Reply:

    California government “cannot do a more competent job of building it”.

    They are not even capable of doing route planning. They cannot optimize squat.

    joe Reply:

    So what if the cost is $100 billion? Only in our austerity-obsessed bizarro world in which we now live is that considered somehow problematic.

    Robert, you’re becoming a parody of yours

    Nothing’s wrong with it, and I wish them well.

    But but … What’s the parody? You make no sense.

    Predictable, I’ll cop to that.


  5. Stephen Smith
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 20:49

    Also: you look at the names “Pataki, Rendell, Daschle, Whitman, Peters, Obama” and see “moderate Democrats and Republicans who are generally pro-infrastructure.” I look at the names (well, except the last one) and see a bunch of people who messed up every infrastructure project they’ve ever stuck their fingers in!

    Also pt. 2, here’s a fun fact about Mary Peters: she got her bachelor’s from the University of Phoenix while she was working at the DOT.

    If they still ran the country…

    You do realize that George Pataki’s biggest public works legacy is fucking up the World Trade Center redev, right? And that after that it’s signing off on East Side Access, the biggest transit mistake New York City’s ever made?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    East Side Access is costing a breathtaking amount but it’s cheaper than the alternatives. The breathtaking amounts are a mistake but not the concept. The execution isn’t that bad either.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    No, the execution is very, VERY bad. Specifically, the Manhattan station cavern. Absolutely no reason, other than Metro-North not wanting to “share its toys” (a phrase I’ve heard from a number of high-level transit officials), that they couldn’t have just hooked the tracks into Grand Central’s existing, world-record-setting number of tracks instead of building a $2bn+ cavern. Some consultants who the MTA is now ironically paying to oversee the project (carrying it out, not designing it) actually wrote about this a while back: http://www.irum.org/lirr_esa.htm (Delcan I think is the one who is now consulting for the MTA; Schabas is also very well respected though, certainly not a Parsons Brinckerhoff, tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear type.)

    And I haven’t published anything on it yet because I’m still working on getting it on the record or at least a little better sourced, but suffice it to say that the people who made the decision and those who are now executing it – at the absolute highest levels – realize what an awful mistake it was.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    In a way, ESA is actually making the same mistake at Grand Central that Penn Station avoided by, ironically, having ARC killed by Chris Christie. (Who certainly didn’t do it for the right reason, but nevertheless killed a project that deserved to die. Though I definitely wish he’d have come up with an alternative rail solution rather than just taking the highway money and running.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s in a deep cavern because the tunnel under the river that sat unused for 40 years is too deep to get trains all the way up to the lower level in Grand CentraL Metro North was formed after the completed tunnel had been sitting unused for years. If the state had offered to lease or buy Grand Central in 1960whatever, when all of the planning for this started, the New York Central would have been delighted.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It’s technically possible to connect the tunnel — I’ve seen the diagrams — but it would have been very finicky work with steep grades and difficult digging at near-surface level under very expensive buildings. Quite possibly cheaper to build the deep cavern.

    It’s worth doing that kind of finicky near-surface work on expensive properties if you’re going to get something really good out of it, like through-running from NJT to Metro-North, but there was little point to it for LIRR.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It needs Dagny Taggart and Reardon Metal.
    it would be under very expensive buildings that are teetering over very busy railroad tracks.
    Metro North and NJTransit through run 12 times a year. On Sundays when there’s a football game but they already do it. There’s no technical reason why Empire Service trains don’t go to Woodside or beyond it’s just that Amtrak chooses not to. There’s no technical reason why trains with an MTA logo on the side couldn’t do the same.

    They broke ground for the river tunnel in 1969. That didn’t happen because Gov. Rockefeller got up one morning and had the urge to dig some holes in Central Park. It involves compromises that are wider than just the LIRR in Manhattan. The river tunnels also carry subway traffic. The compromises include where there are tunnels in Queens .. part of the 8 billion dollars for the project complex tunnel digging in Queens. That’s probably cheaper than burrowing through Astoria to come across the river further north. And it’s not just two tunnels in Manhattan, lots of it is four tunnels in Manhattan and eight tunnels just before the platforms. And a crossover cavern.

    I dug up some interesting tidbits for Stephen. From

    http://www.prrths.com/Hagley/PRR1968 June 04.pdf

    Jan. 1968 NYC leases air rights over Grand Central Terminal head house to UGI Properties, Inc., American subsidiary of Union General Properties, Ltd., headed by British developer Morris Saady for 50 years at $3 million a year; plans construction of high-rise office tower. (NYT)

    Feb. 28, 1968 Gov. Rockefeller and MCTA Chairman Ronan announce $2.9 billion program to expand subways and commuter railroads; includes new LIRR station at 48th Street and 3rd Avenue in
    Manhattan, reached by 63rd Street tunnel; LIRR spur to Kennedy Airport. (NYT)

    June 19, 1968 Marcel Breuer unveils his design for a 55-story office building to be cantilevered over Concourse from a core inserted into the Waiting Room; building would be 150 feet taller than Pan Am Building; as a further concession, Breuer is to restore main concourse and remove advertising and concessions; City Planning Commission denounces scheme. (NYT)

    http://www.prrths.com/Hagley/PRR1969 June 04.pdf

    Nov. 24, 1969 Gov. Rockefeller and Mayor Lindsay preside over groundbreaking for 63rd Street LIRR-subway tunnel. (NYT)

    …if in 1968 the New York Central is anxious to tear down the terminal or major parts of it to build an office building they would have been delighted to sell or lease all the excess capacity they had down on the lower level. The NYC not Metro North… It’s not the nefarious Metro North, a subsidiary of the MTA not playing nice with the LIRR a subsidiary of the MTA. All of them creatures of the State of New York. Mostly because there wasn’t a Metro North around to be nefarious or anything else at the time the initial plans were drawn up. And the consultants who came up with 197 plans that have been offered since the mid 60s, they all can’t be frightened of the unions.

    It’s a not-bad compromise that is actually going to get build. ARC was a not-bad compromise that’s going to be replaced with Gateway which will cost more, have less capacity and take longer to build. The foamers get all frothy because Gateway will theoretically allow trains to go to or come from Sunnyside. Whopee! When the excrement hits the ventilator in the middle of rush hour it won’t do any one any good. The trains won’t be in Sunnyside. If they were chances are very good that it won’t happen while the LIRR is on strike, which if they are running normal service sucks up all the capacity in the tunnels between Sunnyside and Penn Station. If they concede that point, most of them won’t because they think that running trains from New Haven to Trenton with them mostly empty between Newark and Trenton in the morning and from Trenton to New Haven with them mostly empty between Penn Station and New Haven or vice versa in the afternoon will somehow be wonderful. Or that the long escalator ride from deep under 34th Street would have been terrible but the long walk from track Minus 8 at 30th Street will be a delight. Or that the long escalator ride would have been without competing with the people who will still be using tracks 1 through 21 to get to 34th Street and the Subway. Especially since there would have been access north of 34th which Gateway won’t have.

    …and consider that people, other than people who think there’s a dark struggle going on within the MTA between Metro North and the LIRR, point out that Metro North is crowding pedestrian space in Grand Central and dumping 160,000 LIRR riders into them wouldn’t be a good idea, The deep cavern spreads them out to the periphery. Like ARC would have….

    …. there’s one foamer who will insist vehemently that the major reason Metro North wants to serve Penn Station is so that people can more easily change between Metro North and the LIRR. He then reminds everyone reading his froth that it can’t happen until after East Side Access is open. When someone points out that one of the features of East Side Access is bring trains to Grand Central, where almost all currently running Metro North trains originate or terminate… he gets pissed off.

    Ted K. Reply:

    Glitched link repair :

    PRR Chronology 1968 (PDF, 33pp., PRRTHS.com, June 2004 ed.)

    PRR Chronology 1969 (PDF, 28pp., PRRTHS.com, June 2004 ed.)

    NB – PRRTHS = (The) Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (Home page w/ Java app.)

  6. adirondacker12800
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 22:17

    Let’s be clear here. In a country like Japan, with a mature national network of high speed trains, maglev is the next obvious step.

    Back in the 70s supersonic airplanes were the next obvious step. We were all going to flitting off to London for the day by 1995. It didn’t happen. One of the reason maglev was developed past the conceptual stage was that back in the 60s everybody “knew” that conventional trains couldn’t go faster than 125 and another technology would have to be used to go faster than that. Since then maglev has been developed and has reached 361 MPH/581 KPH. More conventional trains have reached 357/574.

    Andy M Reply:

    Well back in the final days of steam engines we had guys like Andre Chapelon doing smart things with thermodynamics that improved their efficiency a bit here and a bit there and reduced costs a bit here and a bit there and then proclaim that diesels were a dead-end development and steam was here to stay. History proved them wrong (I’m still a great admirer of Chapelon and Porta by the way). Similarly in the final days of sailing ships, people invented things that briefly maintained their competitiveness to steam ships. In the final days of the stagecoach, stagecoach operators pressed their horses as hard as they could and actually went faster than trains. You can also squeeze a little bit more out of the toothpaste tube. But that doesn’t mean you can keep new technologies out forever.

  7. synonymouse
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 22:22

    PB and Tutor do not know how to do maglev.

    They design and build retrograde BART and BART is too consumed by its totally unearned hubris to even read a contract or maintain trackage without running over its own workers.

  8. William
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 22:51

    I wouldn’t mind if Japan offered California loan in the range of $20 Billion to complete IOS or even Bay-to-Basin in exchange of pre-selecting Japanese Shinkansen trains for CAHSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Why not pre-select a Japanese contractor to build it instead of Tutor?

    Eric M Reply:

    They did. Japan Offers California Loan for $40 Billion High-Speed Train

    J. Wong Reply:

    The problem is that it locks in the equipment to be used. I don’t think the Authority is ready to do so.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The lock-in is already in place: PB-Tutor-Bombardier.

    J. Wong Reply:

    And where do you get this information (besides your fevered imagination)?

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB-CHSRA = BART = Brown-Pelosi patronage machine

    BART kindly and conviently provides the template, your “digital mockup”.

    House engineering consultant: PB

    House contractor: Tutor

    House equipment supplier: Bombardier

    Take it to the bank.

    synonymouse Reply:


    EJ Reply:

    Connect the dots, sheeple! BART is the key to everything!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    First Stockton,then the world!

    VBobier Reply:

    Bagger alert!

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART, CHSRA and the clients PB, Tutor, and so far Bombardier are the very special pets of the Brown-Pelosi patronage machine which enjoys political control of the State and its monies. Capische?

    Not so very hard to grasp – it is called corruption and thoroughly run-of-the-mill. Same as practiced in Louisiana, Illinois, Jersey, etc. If you want consideration and/or get the job/bid you must “tithe” early, often, and handsomely.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    So far, your prediction seems accurate given that the State rejected

    a) the Japanese
    b) the Chinese
    c) the French

    only to sign a RFP with Amtrak for a joint high speed rail locomotive purchase order.


    I think the Administration doesn’t want to give the Canadians such a prize. I’m betting an American consortium is the winner. After all, notice in the bidding for the ICS, the firms with Spanish partners were shut out.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Bombardier is tied into BART, which ties them into PB.

    Yeah, it could be somebody else, but Bombardier will be savvy enough to partner with someone who has hsr experience.

    In the end it is the payola that wins the day..

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What American consortium?

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Ted Judah:

    After all, notice in the bidding for the ICS, the firms with Spanish partners were shut out.

    They weren’t shut out. They would have won, if Morales hadn’t changed the rules on-the-fly, because “that’s how Caltrans does things”. So. Does the Dragados consortium have a revolving-door for people like Morales and Richard? That seems like a much more relevant question!

  9. John Nachtigall
    Nov 18th, 2013 at 23:05

    I find it hilarious that Japan is held up as an example in any way. The Japan government has done exactly what is being advocated. They spent untold trillions on infastructure projects and government spending to end the lost decade..make that the lost 3 decades. And in the end what do they have to show for it, a huge debt and a mortibound economy.

    Japan is the proof that more government spending does not equal economic success. They are now one more economic shock away from a real crisis.

    100 billion for a maglev train that will be redundant to the already existing train with a population in freefall? Who is going to be working to pay taxes in this generiatric country? Why are they trying to sell it in the US when the EU is more train friendly? because they know that no rational country is buying this boondoggle.

    I hope that Japan keeps going, just to prove How wrong people like Krugman are.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Japan never cleaned up the “zombie banks”. In order to straighten out the economy, you need to do that too — they’re a giant drain on real economic activity.

    Nobody in the US seems to have the guts to clean up our “zombie banks” either.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    John’s never going to admit that you could never have the Lost Decade without the zombie banks eating the brain of Japan’s GDP. I’d argue with him about it, but it’s not as if he would change his mind.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    We’ll prepare to be surprised because I agree, the zombie debt is killing them. You know why the US stays on top economically, because we are willing to let companies go bankrupt and take the short term pain. This is why we had the worst recover in history in this last recession because the government would not let all the weak businesses go bankrupt. Some, but not all

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, one lost decade, not three. In the 2000s, Japan had the same per capita GDP growth as the US.

    Second, Japan engaged in some stimulus and then pulled back. Bernanke made that criticism in real time, and proceeded to do the same with US monetary policy while Obama did the same with fiscal policy, with Krugman providing the real-time criticism and demanding larger stimulus without a taper. Far from proving Krugman wrong, Japan was actually the example that led Krugman to his current thinking about liquidity traps.

    And third, Japan is trying to export maglev to the US rather than the EU because the EU has a mature rail network whereas the US is close to a blank slate outside the NEC. Japan of course also has a mature network (two of them, in fact – legacy and Shinkansen), but Tokyo-Osaka is at capacity. In Europe the only line at capacity, Paris-Lyon, is primarily not about Paris-Lyon trips but about trips like Paris-Marseille or Lille-Lyon for which Paris-Lyon is a subsegment; this means that a new maglev line that’s compatible with nothing is not a good replacement for the LGV Sud-Est, whereas it is for the Tokaido Shinkansen. The EU is also a more protected train market, because the US has no rail industry, so that US protectionism merely requires foreign companies to set up local transplant factories, putting Japanese firms on equal footing with European ones.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Actually 2 lost decades going on 3. I am assuming they will continue the hairbrained economic policy despite (or perhaps including) “Abenomics” depending on the implamentation.


    As for the liquidity trap argument, Krugman is wrong. They did exactly what Krugman wanted, lots of government spending and it did not work. Look at that graph in the 2000s, a decade you said they had equivalent growth to the US. Nothing but a straight line up on debt using government projects.


    So krugman suggested what he always suggests, its not his thoery, its that they did not spend enough. He said the same thing about the US stimulous and about the Greece debacle. The truth? That goverment spending does not heal an economy, those days are gone.


    best Quote

    Abe’s LDP spent almost 20 years building bridges, roads, tunnels, dams and airports to nowhere and forcing the central bank to add liquidity to the banking system to end deflation. And what did those unimaginative policies leave Japan’s 126 million people with? The easy answer is the world’s highest ratio of debt to gross domestic product. The harder one: Japan has become a nation that can’t proceed without the economic equivalent of a walker.

    As for the maglev. Japan is trying to export this to the US because we are the only ones with the money. All of the EU except Germany cant support this kind of project (neither can Japan, which is the point of the article). Germans are not going to waste a ton of money on yet another mode of transit that offers even less advantage over existing modes (including HSR) and that is not compatible with existing HSR. They will never export to China (who would not accept it anyway). That leaves the only sucker in the room as the US. Not that there is any realistic chance of it getting built here anyway, but they have to try.

    With a declining population and a xenophobic attitude that rejects all immigrants combined with the “dead man walking” economy I think we should use the Costanza principle and do exaxtly the opposite of whatever Japan is doing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They did exactly what Krugman wanted, lots of government spending and it did not work.

    No, they didn’t. You should read what Krugman actually wants, not what people say he wants. Krugman said that Japan should accept higher inflation and have sustained deficit spending. The BOJ never accepted inflation – it was happy with net deflation and every time it made an effort at quantitative easing it stopped once inflation projections turned positive. In addition, the government limited its deficit spending after there were positive signs in the late 1990s, in the same way as Obama’s taper.

    Abe’s LDP spent almost 20 years building bridges, roads, tunnels, dams and airports to nowhere and forcing the central bank to add liquidity to the banking system to end deflation.

    Um, no. The LDP was hesitant about it until Abe, who because of his fascist roots doesn’t really care much for what mainstream economists say or for general concerns about solvency. There have been a sharp fall in the yen (boosting exports) and rise in inflation expectations since it became clear he would become the prime minister.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    How much more sustained could the deficits be. Look at the graph, the debt goes straight up. They did not taper off. The spent trillions on infastructure and all they got was debt

    joe Reply:

    …and they have first world infrastructure.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, so first, the big infrastructure spending was during the postwar growth period. Nearly all Shinkansen lines predate the 1990s crisis.

    And second, Japan’s debt interest is extremely low, so this debt level can be sustained for a while. People in Japan want to save money – less than in France or Germany or South Korea, more than in the US – and government debt is a safer asset than the stock market. Of course recessions don’t last forever and when there’s growth the debt interest rises because people can invest in growing private-sector industries, but that’s in the future.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Again, look at the graph. It was consistent deficits from the 1990s on.

    Second, Pick a side Alon. So you admit they spent decifit so for 2 decades. But the economy has been lethargic.

    Third, they just got a downgrade because the debt is so large. At 200% of GDP it is unrivaled in the 1st world.

    What does all this prove? That government spending without end does not an economy make. It takes a private sector and a vibrant population neither of which Japan has. The biggest embarrassment is that there was a time when educated Americans thought that Japan was the model to follow

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re making a qualitative argument; I’m making a quantitative one, about the size of the deficit rather than whether there was one at all.

    You’re also ignoring the role of monetary policy and deflation. There’s more than just fiscal policy at play.

    As for the downgrade, the market doesn’t seem to be reacting – Japanese debt interest is still very low.

    nick Reply:

    harebrained as in the brain of a hare not the brain of a hair !

  10. Alon Levy
    Nov 19th, 2013 at 02:59

    I’d like to seize on one particular point you make, re carbon emissions:

    Infrastructure projects like a passenger train should not be assessed on whether they “make business sense.” Their purpose is to serve social and civilizational goals. Of course, these goals usually do wind up helping achieve financial goals as well, since faster speeds and electric trains reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the staggering costs that come with global warming.

    This might make sense if we were talking about New York-Chicago, a city pair too far away for conventional HSR. But we’re not. We’re talking about either Los Angeles-San Francisco or Tokyo-Osaka, and you also add New York-Washington. All of these are perfect for conventional HSR. On the Tokyo-Osaka city pair, the Shinkansen has a market share higher than 50%. On the Tokyo-Nagoya one it’s 30% if I remember correctly, but this is because at that distance the speed advantage over cars is reduced; higher speeds will help, but not much if as planned JR Central increases the fare. On LA-SF, conventional HSR is fully capable of attaining very high mode share as well: the distance is much more than Tokyo-Osaka, but it’ll be a newer line with much higher average speed to match it. On New York-Washington, Amtrak’s medium-speed service has much lower mode share, in the single digits, but is already handily beating air travel; to beat cars and buses, Amtrak needs to increase speeds but also cut the fare, and the difference between the 1:30 travel time that conventional HSR is capable of and the 0:55 travel time that maglev is capable of is not all that meaningful given station access time and given that both travel times handily beat cars.

    Building maglev on those routes is if anything going to increase greenhouse gas emissions, because of higher energy consumption at higher speeds. It directly conflicts with those civilizational goals. In Japan, the busiest air travel city pairs, Tokyo-Sapporo and Tokyo-Fukuoka, are at longer distances, where the Shinkansen either doesn’t exist or is too slow. But nobody’s proposed extending the Chuo Shinkansen to Fukuoka that I know of. Overall travel time by train will still be reduced if passengers transfer at Shin-Osaka, but the research about transfer penalties suggests that the transfer penalty will cancel out a large fraction of the travel time gain.

    Something similar happened in the earlier plans for HS2 in Britain. The environmental effects of a first phase to Birmingham and Manchester are actually negative, because those cities are close enough to London that most travel between them and London is already done by train. To achieve net greenhouse gas emission reduction, HS2 would have to open all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh, which have sizable air travel to London because trains take 4.5 hours.

    The analogy is routes like New York-Philadelphia and San Francisco-San Jose (ignoring Pacheco vs. Altamont for the purposes of this comment). They’re far too short-distance to justify building HSR: medium-speed conventional rail is perfectly competitive. Amtrak isn’t losing out to buses on New York-Philadelphia because of speed but because of fares. But those two routes are subsegments of longer lines that are beyond the range of medium-speed rail and require HSR. The same is true for the next speed class, maglev: if the US decides to go all in on that and build maglev from Los Angeles to Seattle and from New York to Miami then Los Angeles-San Francisco and New York-Washington are good subsegments, but otherwise it doesn’t make much sense. Spend that money on more conventional HSR lines elsewhere.

    Owen Reply:

    If Amtrak really does want to spend a hundred billion or more to build a new northeast corridor, why not do it with maglev.

    Then, could you not think of the Chicago corridor, perhaps with a short spur to Detroit, as just an extension of the NEC past Washington? It’s a bit of a DogLeg(thanks for the term synonymouse) compared with the straight-line route, but at 250mph average speed it’s a DogLeg that loops in about another 30 million people in Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, in exchange for 20 minutes extra travel time between NYC and Chicago.

    Tack on Hartford and Boston and you get another 10 million people for a grand total of about 75 million people on an 1100 mile corridor that could be traversed in just over 4 hours.

    Steven H Reply:

    Why don’t they propose New York-Chicago instead of DC-NYC? NY-CHI would serve two economic behemoths–each the heart of strong train and transit networks–that have a vital, long-standing relationship with one another, but are poorly served by existing surface transportation and notoriously congested air connections. There are plenty of good intermediate markets between NYC and Chicago as well.

    Even if this particular trade group has strong ties to the NEC in particular, maglev’s speeds would probably allow a more southerly alignment b/t the East Coast and the Midwest–say, between the PA turnpike and the Maryland border–which means that New York and Philly could both be served by the same train; and a relatively short spur–maybe a north-south spur from around Hagerstown, MD, to Dulles–could serve DC and Northern Virginia. You still get to capture most of the NEC as an intermediate market, while capitalizing on maglev’s strengths in longer corridors (NY-CHI, DC-CHI…maybe CHI-VA/NC).

    I’m not saying we should build maglev…. I was living in China when that country was debating maglev v. HSR, and I think they were right to go with HSR; however, if I was proposing a maglev new start, I think I would propose NYC-CHI.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In nice round numbers it’s 900 miles from Chicago to New York via Pittsburgh. At an average speed of 200 miles an hour that means it will take four and half hours to get between the two. People will fly,

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, exactly. I really think it’s an instinct people have to scale down everything to a starter project, even when the technology is such that the extensions have very high marginal benefits. That’s the point I was making about HS2 in Britain, but the same is also true for various situations in the US. In California, once LA-SF has HSR, the incremental benefits of completing an extension to Sacramento are huge because it’s a lot of passenger-km for not many extra route-km to be built, especially if the route into the Bay Area is Altamont. In the Northeast, NY-DC is the obvious starter line for HSR, but once that’s in place the benefits of NY-Boston are huge because of all the current Boston-DC fliers who’d switch.

    So with maglev, because of the scaling down instinct, people propose DC-Baltimore, even though the technology is useless at that scale and only becomes interesting at scales like New York-Atlanta, New York-Miami, Los Angeles-Seattle, and New York-Chicago. All of these connect strings of large and medium-sized cities, and are at such distance that they can poach market share from air.

    It’s just that maglev works at such a different scale from medium-speed rail and even conventional HSR that the regional lobbying groups are still separate: there are the Midwestern groups, the Atlanta-centered Southern groups, the Texan groups, the Floridan groups, the Californian groups, the Northwestern groups, and the Northeastern groups. Kind of like how lobbying groups that think in terms of commuter rail distances wouldn’t be asking for NY-DC HSR.

    joe Reply:

    DC is the nation’s capitol. It is the wealthiest urban area.

    The reason for DC is as plain as day – it’s where the money and power reside and the successful rail line services DC.

    The length is a lower cost – low risk investment.

    The geographic analysis is probably irrelevant to the political power and wealth concentrated in DC.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, so it’s rent-seeking. (Note that DC isn’t richer than SF, New York, or Boston – it’s just where the politicians work.)

    Joe Reply:

    DC Metro area.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    NY metro. It may have lower per capita wealth but it has more than twice as many people. Very rich people pay the same far as fairly rich people. There’s more of them in metro NY. And more of them live without cars.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Per capita personal income, per metropolitan statistical area:

    Boston: 57,893
    New York: 56,770
    San Francisco: 61,395
    San Jose: 61,028
    Washington: 59,345

    So DC is slightly richer than NY and Boston and slightly poorer than the Bay Area. But Baltimore drags it down a lot while New York has rich suburbs in Connecticut outside the officially-defined metro area. On the level of combined statistical areas, we get:

    Boston: 52,750 (dragged down by Providence and Worcester)
    New York: 56,750 (dragged down by New Haven and Poughkeepsie but brought back up by Stamford)
    San Francisco-San Jose: 58,361 (dragged down by North Bay suburbs beyond Marin County)
    Washington-Baltimore: 56,103

    So Washington flips to barely poorer than New York rather than slightly richer.

    And then there’s the part about how New York has 20 million people and the Washington-Baltimore area has 8 million.

    On top of that, DC-Baltimore is one of the most easily improvable parts of the NEC. Curves are already gentle, with perhaps one exception around BWI. All that’s needed is higher top speeds, some way of mixing HSR with commuter rail better, and most expensively better-configured station throats, including a new B&P tunnel. Nobody needs maglev there. Build the demonstration segment somewhere useful, like LA-Bakersfield, where maglev’s ability to climb 6% grades means it could be done more cheaply than conventional HSR.

    Bill Reply:

    You think SF-SJ might be dragged more so by the East Bay than north of SF? North of SF is wine country until you get to Mendocino County.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The East Bay is included in the SF MSA. The latest definition of the combined statistical area puts Stockton in the Bay Area CSA and Allentown in the New York CSA, both of which are significant drags, but I’m not sure whether the BEA numbers, which are from 2011, reflect this update.

    Clem Reply:

    DC is most definitely not the nation’s capitol. Remember this: capitols are buildings; capitals are cities.

    joe Reply:

    Yes That’s a good prinaipal.

    joe Reply:

    principal. ugh

  11. JB in PA
    Nov 19th, 2013 at 07:52

    Which corridor should be first for Mag Lev?
    DC – Baltimore – Philly – NYC?

    Would a DC-NYC Mag Lev express prevent the steel wheel line from filling enough seats? Would it impact filling airline seats? Guided cars may squeeze more cars on the freeways but population is rising. We eventually need to more travelers more efficiently to meet future travel demand.

    It seems like only a matter of time (50 years, 100 years) before Mag Lev replaces HSR around the world. The HSR road-beds would make excellent Mag Lev road-beds.

    Future technology breakthroughs may make current Mag Lev designs obsolete in 30 or 40 years. Should we continue with steel wheels until the next generation of Mag Lev?

    To throw fuel on the synmouse fire: A low speed Mag Lev can eventually (some time this century) replace BART which would greatly reduce the noise.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART is not capable of operating and maintaining maglev. BART, Muni, AC managements are in free fall.

    The only possible scenario for maglev in California would be private ownership and operation. Politically out of the question – we cannot even get a private concessionaire for the DogLeg abortion. It will bleed losses and the pet unions will strike any Veolia or Virgin type. They can extract a much richer compensation package out of an agency-authority-district and the Burton-Pelosi-Brown Machine will enable them.

    Real question is whether the courts or the Feds will discern what a hokey jury-rig PB has patched together and issue a “recall” order for the whole thing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Like the private company Penn Central was going to revitalize railroading?

    synonymouse Reply:

    And the connection between the late Penn Central and JNR or SNCF is?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I dunno what JNR, which was a government agency that was dissolved in 1987, has to do with anything. Or SNCF which is a quasi government agency.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB is a quasi-government agency.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    JNR’s privatization actually helped revitalize Japan’s rail network, by giving up low-volume markets (cars are good at getting to where nobody wants to go) and concentrating on high-volume urban lines plus the Shinkansen network. It also allowed the private companies to engage in real estate plays, in which building major department stores at train stations raises the demand for train travel.

    Andy M Reply:

    There is no reason a state-run JNR couldn’t have done any of that.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, there is: political pressure to serve rural parts of Japan, the same pressure that led it to build the Joetsu Shinkansen (to connect to the prime minister’s hometown).

    swing hanger Reply:

    I believe the Joetsu Shinkansen even required a separate financing scheme from the other lines, due to underwhelming traffic prospects. The legacy line circa 1980, given the market, had a quite adequate regular interval service of 16 trains in each direction/day,

    EJ Reply:

    It’s impossible to get anything built properly in California. Because BART.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    BART’s radioactive Cold War-era broad gauge kills all that it touches. Even standing close by can drive honest men to into madness….

    Useless Reply:

    @ JB in PA

    There will be no maglev in the US; it is cost-prohibitive relative to the good old steel-rail HSR technology and will remain a Japan only technology.

    It is already hard enough to get funding for cheap steel rail HSR; where do you think money will come for this maglev that costs 3~4 times as much as steel-rail HSR?

    synonymouse Reply:

    absent uncertain tech breakthrus such as room temperature superconductivity or quantum computing permitting unheard of micromanaging in real time.

  12. Emmanuel
    Nov 19th, 2013 at 11:53

    Maglev is the worst idea in the world. Just because you see it in shiny, fancy “sy fy” movies doesn’t mean that it will be the future of public transportation. That’s like saying rocket propelled trains are the future. They might cost $100 billion, but what does cost got to do with it? – Robert essentially.
    The TGV train and rail test has shown that conventional rail can reach those speeds. It’s all about the economics and designing a track with very long curves. Something the authority is not doing btw which means that 50 years from now, the babies of today will go through all the obstruction again buying even more expensive land because we didn’t want to tear that ranch down or didn’t build a bridge there cause of some birds and frogs that noone cared about until we wanted to build HSR. We intentionally build a system that doesn’t support higher speeds then go on to blame technology for it and dream of riding in tubes and on magnets. You gotta love democracy.

    JB in pa Reply:

    It was foreseen.
    THX1138 was partly filmed in BART while under construction.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Emmanuel

    Maglev makes sense for Japan. It just doesn’t make sense outside of Japan where the rail passenger volume doesn’t justify a $200 million/km(That’s $310 million/mile) maglev corridor.

    The US is lucky to have steel wheel HSR on shared tracks.

    EJ Reply:

    Yeah fuck the frogs and birds. Let’s pave this mofo.

  13. Paul Dyson
    Nov 19th, 2013 at 15:30

    Oh gawd, back to the Maglev – HSR debate, with a dash of socialist utopianism thrown in for good measure. And we haven’t even laid our first High Speed rail. I sense that the agenda here is to stop HSR and convince us to make a technological leap to Maglev. There will be many that will buy into it.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    And very timely to this discussion, I heard today that the Monty Python ensemble is getting together again. I think they have a lot of alimony to pay off. I guess they are not allowed to print their own…

    synonymouse Reply:

    California gets a real good $600mil screwing:


    Thank you, PB
    Thank you, Jerry
    Thank you, Dan
    Thank you, Barry
    Thank you, Michael

    May the gods reward you appropriately.

    swing hanger Reply:

    So it goes. I bet the U.S. is the best market for these so called “consultants”- given the propensity of governments there to fund “studies” generously (“officials are studying the possibility”- that phrase repeated for years on end) that never get anywhere beyond producing reams of paper in three ring binders.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Per capita, Canada is even better at that. The number of studies recommending Toronto-Montreal HSR over the last three decades is sad.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the studies have been recommending HSR between NY and DC for 50. The High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 didn’t spring full blown from the brow of the Transportation Committee chair in an afternoon…..

    Resident Reply:

    as usual, as soon as there’s some relevant news, Robert posts a new topic – to Quick! hurry up and burry it. I recommend always checking the last several posts on the previous thread when a new topic is posted – for the most interesting developments related to CHSRA…

    Now, what’s interesting here is not that CHSRA is ripping off california blind – thats old news, goes without saying. But that they’ve published their YTD spend, and they’ve just about blown through the administrative allocation from Prop 1A., They’re allowed around 900M on planning, administrative, environmental, etc. And they’ve used up over 600K already. Luckily, they’ve got the thing all planned and with environmental reports and clearances, all the engineering, all the eminent domain, etc – all taken care of…

    joe Reply:

    Where’s your blog? I want to keep on topic – HSR SUX – and not be distracted by plans for HSR in CO, FL or elsewhere.

    Funny though, HSR spends too much on planning and HSR needs to plan more. Maybe you can expand on this in your first post.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m not buying into it. Maglev is fine for a country like Japan that has a mature HSR system. For California it’s wildly inappropriate. Build HSR first.

    swing hanger Reply:

    FWIW, the maglev is technology owned by JR Central. The railway company that has shown interest in the California project (at least in the past) is JR East, which is pushing conventional HSR.

    EJ Reply:

    Conventional HSR looks a lot more attractive now that the FRA has indicated they’ll look at allowing UIC compliant trains to run on conventional tracks without waivers. That means that it may be eventually viable to extend HSR by running it on upgraded mixed traffic lines.

    EJ Reply:

    Before that I was honestly like, meh, if you’ve got to build a new system that’s totally incompatible with your current rail network, maybe Maglev is the way to go. I mean, if maglev existed in a viable form in the 1960s, maybe Japan would have built the shinkansen system as maglev lines.

  14. Andrew
    Nov 20th, 2013 at 21:44

    The Shanghai Maglev hemorrhages cash. Lesson: Don’t build the most expensive type of line where there is a less expensive alternative that cheapskate passengers will use. Therefore build US Maglev not along the Northeast Amtrak line, but in the Southwest against no competition:


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