10.11.09

A NEW COLD WAR INITIATIVE. Fruits and Votes picks up a Wilson Quarterly article on the state of high speed Passenger Rail in the world.
Since entering service in Japan in 1964, fast trains have been gaining in speed and popularity. The first Shinkansen, or bullet train, traveled between Tokyo and Osaka at a maximum of 130 m.p.h. The latest-generation Shinkansen runs at a top speed of 188 m.p.h., and its ancestor is now in a museum. France launched Europe’s first high-speed railroad between Paris and Lyon in 1981, the Train à Grande Vitesse (“train of great speed”), better known as the TGV. Today, trains doing 125 m.p.h. or more zip across 13 European countries as well as Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia recently let contracts for a European-style supertrain between the western port of Jeddah and the religious centers of Mecca and Medina, while Israel has a new Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem line in the works and Iran is upgrading its main lines out of Tehran to standards exceeding 120 m.p.h.
We've seen those museum pieces. There was no imperative to view the Soviet Union's trains as a strategic threat, with their streamlined 4-6-4s in service as late as 1957. But Iran and Saudi Arabia ... perhaps there's reason to stay ahead of them in Passenger Rail as well as in nuclear weapons.

It doesn't matter whether the author reads Cold Spring Shops or not.
The result is that train service is slower today than it was in the 1940s, when “streamliners” touted for their speed—such as the Super Chief, 20th Century Limited, Denver Zephyr, and Hiawatha—routinely topped 90 to 100 m.p.h. between station stops. While the rest of the world has advanced, America’s passenger rail has stalled, if not reversed direction.
Preach it, brother.
While maybe not a pie-in-the-sky project, instituting high-speed rail—or even getting train speeds back to 1940s standards—will be a tall order requiring years of commitment and vastly more than $13 billion to pull off.
Rethink the speed and signalling standards. Repaint the westbound speed boards at A-5 that currently read 79-55 as 110-55. Continue in like manner through Rondout and Wadsworth and ...

Not so fast, say critics. According to Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, high-speed rail is a “mirage” that would do little to reduce highway traffic congestion or improve the environment. He and others argue that most congestion involves travel within cities rather than between them, and O’Toole contends that high-speed rail in any event “won’t take more than three or four percent of cars off the highways it parallels.” At best, supertrains would replace commuter airlines, and at worst, the lines would cause a long-term drain on public finances at a time when the United States is in dire fiscal straits.

“Taxpayers and politicians should be wary of any transportation projects that cannot be paid for out of user fees,” O’Toole warns. But roads and airports are paid for only in part by those who use them through gasoline taxes and other user levies. For example, airline ticket tax receipts cover airport construction costs, but the costs of safety measures and a portion of air traffic control—more than $2.5 billion per year—are subsidized by all taxpayers, including those who never fly. Intercity trains are likewise subsidized out of tax revenues from the whole population. Last year, Amtrak earned 72 percent of its costs from ticket receipts and received about $1.2 billion in direct federal subsidies.
Passenger Rail and air compete for a small share of total passenger mileage, with a three- to four- percent reduction in automobile mileage leading to a substantial reduction in congestion. Passenger Rail need not be restricted to high-speed intercity limiteds: more frequent commuter service, perhaps mixing expresses and stopping trains, can also reduce congestion. To repeat, the weekend Chicago area commuter trains, some of which run on two hour headways, routinely run six to nine full cars, as shoppers and museum goers balk at congestion and at parking charges beginning at $20 for the first half hour, without any European-style policies in place specifically to discourage urban driving. And those regional airlines are undependable tax sinks.
Even the most farsighted planners behind the Interstate Highway System did not anticipate the extent to which the new roads they built would help spawn a burgeoning suburbia, with its far-flung office and industrial parks, edge cities, and immense shopping malls and commercial areas.
Complex adaptive systems will do what they please.
High-speed rail doesn’t simply proceed from point A to point B; it has the potential to energize the cities and towns where it stops in between. The normal practice is to locate intermediate stations in populated areas roughly 50 miles apart. In Europe, high-speed railroads have generated the most growth in provincial cities, as once remote districts benefit from their newfound closeness to hubs such as Paris and Berlin. In a century that will demand more compact, energy-efficient development, high-speed rail has the potential to establish a new superstructure for growth.
I'm pleased to see this idea diffused.

There's a lot more in the article, it will reward careful study. But note this paragraph, on the current constraints on mixing freight and passenger trains.
The Association of American Railroads currently requires dedicated track for passenger trains running at 90 m.p.h. and over. An agreement relaxing this policy to permit shared-use trackage could reduce expenses. Still, retrofitting freight lines will not be easy or cheap. A coalition of midwestern governors hopes to use stimulus money to develop lines out of Chicago with train speeds of 110 m.p.h. Wisconsin plans to rehabilitate a rail link between Milwaukee and Madison, at a cost of $600 million.
Look at this speed tape, and visualize the opposing passenger and freight train traffic on the C&M.

RUNNING EXTRA. There's a conversation of the validity of Mr Reutter's faster 1940s service assertion going on at Marginal Revolution.

1 comment:

MSS said...

There is quite a discussion about this article underway over at Marginal Revolution.