[FoRK] Non-stop high-speed trains

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Sun Mar 3 20:30:37 PST 2013

On Mar 3, 2013, at 7:36 PM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> The vacuum trains are cooler and far faster, but these would be good to prove economic viability.  The quoted cost of about $100 per person isn't that bad of an investment.

I use rail several times per year and it works well for regional travel and distances like you find in European countries, individual States in the US, assuming the rest of the infrastructure is in place. Rail is inexpensive for me but it is also obvious that this is because of large subsidies. For interstate distances, it usually makes more sense to fly both in terms of cost and time, even after the rail subsidies.

The cost ($4000 per person spread over many years) is not how you describe what is and isn't a good investment. What are the alternatives given a similar amount of investment (or outright subsidy)? Also, I am skeptical of their cost claims since California's tiny high speed rail project is creeping over $100 billion. It would not be surprising if this proposal ended up costing $1 billion per mile once the whole thing was actually done. If we are lucky. Many of the taxpayers that would be paying for this will receive little if any benefit from this "investment".

I'd like to see proofs of return on investment at a regional level that are competitive with alternatives before embarking on a nation-wide boondoggle. Regional rail can work well but few governments in the US seem to be able to make it sustainable in a cash-flow sense. Long distance rail, which will be inferior to air by almost any metric, will have an even higher hurdle. 

In the US we focus on sexy projects that make no real difference, wasting vast amounts of money, while ignoring the less sexy changes that would need to be in place for such projects to be viable. Let's demonstrate that regional rail actually makes economic sense first or at least provide a model where that is the case even if most local governments can't pull it off.

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