[FoRK] Non-stop high-speed trains

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Sun Mar 3 21:41:49 PST 2013

On Mar 3, 2013, at 8:40 PM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
> 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.

At what cost? We don't even know how to build vacuum trains yet. There are a great many things we can feasibly do if we devote ludicrous amounts of capital toward them and ignore the opportunity cost. Prove it is valuable on a small scale before devoting a large portion of the world's GDP to it. And prove that it makes economic sense to invest countless trillions of dollars in a replacement for a small fraction of air travel.

It is a cool idea but does not pass muster as a sensible public investment at this stage.

> 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. 

I understand this. The light rail that (literally) runs underneath the building where I live has an operating cost *3 times* what they charge. Never mind the billions spent on the construction by taxpayers. The bus costs much less but still loses money. This is a subsidy to me paid for by taxpayers that never use it. This subsidy is not generosity; if they charged what it cost to run it then few people would use it and it would be an embarrassment to the government.

I get why someone might or might not want to use rail but you are plying me with anecdotes. I'm looking for hard data and analyses that legitimately consider the plethora of alternatives.  In the US, rail projects consistently underperform yet little analysis is done to prevent future waste or to address the real issues that cause rail projects to underperform in the first place. 

The reason rail will never be viable in the US is that the Republicans refuse to acknowledge that it can be efficient in some circumstances and the Democrats refuse to allow the circumstances in which it could be efficient. Neither party has an interest in cost effective rail.

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