[FoRK] Non-stop high-speed trains

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Mar 3 20:40:05 PST 2013

On 3/3/13 8:30 PM, J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> 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.

Vacuum trains could compete with and even beat the speed of air travel.  There is no sound barrier to avoid and, depending on 
rolling method, little friction.  Much more difficult to create, but technically better than everything else.

> 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".

There are problems with current rail, and it is definitely likely that any rail project is going to have issues with cost and 
economic efficiency.  But there are some reasons why a project like this might be a good bet if done right.  The California rail 
project is a one-off, while this would reach an economy of scale similar to the Interstate highway system.  High speed rail has 
a much different profile than traditional rail.  I have a very easy walk to Light Rail, but only take it in a pinch because it 
is far too slow.  I can beat it easily on a bike or on skates, and I've actually outrun it running for a few stops downtown SJ.

Seems to work well in Japan.  I crossed practically the whole country from city to ski area in a couple hours.  Once you 
subtract the overhead of flying (security, being there early, etc.), high speed trains could do well.  And they carry a lot more 
weight cheaply.

> 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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