2.9.16

A LEGACY OF THE BERLIN AIRLIFT.

With the partition of Germany after V-E Day, and the subsequent establishment of rail and air corridors for transportation to and from Berlin, a direct rail route linking Berlin with Munich didn't exist.
People who travel between between Berlin and Munich these days have to grapple with the impossible decision of choosing between an expensive flight, a cheap but crowded bus, or a pricey and slow train journey.

The current train route wanders all the way over to Frankfurt am Main before cutting back into northern Bavaria and down to Munich. It takes about six hours and ten minutes, hardly value for a ticket that costs somewhere between €75 and €120.

Since a bus normally costs around €20 and only takes an hour more, many people choose to stick to the road.
At least the expensive flight is no longer at risk of being harassed by MiGs.  But the absence of a faster rail link between Germany's two most famous party cities is an opportunity for the rail network, on the wish list since reunification.  And it will be capable of handling the fast trains.
It is quite a feat of construction though - trains will cross over 29 bridges and go through 22 tunnels. In fact, during the roughly half hour spent on the new piece of track, trains will be inside tunnels for ten minutes.
Note: it's not necessary to build an entirely new rail line; rather, a strategically positioned cutoff does the job.  But the connecting lines will have to handle more trains.
The line that it will be connected with also needs to be beefed up to include four adjacent sets of track.

Then at long last people travelling between Germany’s two most important cities won’t need to spend hours deciding whether to take the bus or the plane - and they’ll save time travelling too.
I've got to check on the options for Berlin to Hamburg, another stretch that involved the border crossing until 1990.

Meanwhile, in the States, Amtrak's hopes of replacing the Acela Expresses with a state-of-the-art fast electric train provoke only scorn.
Amtrak's announcement that it plans to spend $2.4 billion upgrading its fleet of Acela trains is a little bit like a guy who plans to buy a new Ferrari to use on his daily commute and nothing else.

Sure, you've got a flashy new toy that can outrun anything else on the road—but if the roads are clogged and you can't put the pedal down to really make that baby hum, then what's the point?
There's money being spent on faster diesels and new coaches for the rest of the country, and an upgrade of the Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign to give the diesel trains free rein to 125 or 140 mph might be in order, particularly as positive train control is cut in on the main lines.

But the carping focuses on the current electrically-operated portions of the Amtrak network, and it perpetuates the canard that the United States is not thickly settled enough to warrant German-style electrified fast-train networks.
Those grand plans to reshape how Americans travel keep running into some pesky facts of life in the 21st Century: like the fact that most of America is not densely populated enough to make high speed rail work the way it does in Japan or Germany, or the fact that there's a limited amount of space on train lines in the northeast.
There's actually potential for such a fast train network south of Washington, D. C. Likewise, there are missing parts of the Chicago area regional rail network, as far east as Cleveland or Buffalo, southeast to Cincinnati and Louisville, and west to Kansas City.  The midwestern routes might be better suited to fast diesel trains, however.

Finally, the skeptics suggest there's no room to build the upgraded tracks required to speed up the trains.
A European-style high speed rail system would have to operate on its own right-of-way, but thats a problem too. There's simply not enough available space in the densely populated northeast. Acquiring a new railroad right-of-way by buying up some of the most expensive real estate in the country is simply unaffordable even for the federal government, and relying on a massive application of eminent domain would uproot untold hundreds of families and businesses while still being prohibitively expensive.
Actually, there is. The same people who carp about wasteful public spending on rail at Reason and the like are frequently advocates of increased public spending on highways.  But there's a precedent for building rail capacity and a widened road at the same time.


That's a blurry picture from a dirty interurban window of a South Shore Freight billboard placed for the edification of motorists and truckers on the Indiana Toll Road.  The South Shore Line bought land to get their tracks out of the streets of East Chicago, Indiana, but never had the money to build the tracks.  Then came the Indiana Toll Road, coveting the land.  Which the South Shore was happy to sell, with the provision that their tracks be built alongside.  Thus, commuters can board a train for the Loop, rather than stew in traffic on the Toll Road.  (And how different the wisdom of the South Shore from the New Haven, which sold similar real estate to the Connecticut Turnpike Authority, without a provision to build new tracks.)

Why not, the next time someone proposes widening an interstate, request that the plans provide for rail tracks in the median, or elevated with the supports in the median?

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