27.6.18

FREQUENCY AND CONNECTIVITY TRUMP SPEED.

Railway Gazette presents the report of an audit conducted by some Eurocrat on the still-not-integrated high-speed rail networks of the former NATO allies.
The [audit committee] ‘performance audit’ sought to examine long-term strategic planning, cost-efficiency in terms of construction costs, delays and cost over-runs, and ‘the sustainability and EU added value of EU co-funding’. Since 2000, the EU ‘has provided €23·7bn of co-funding to support investment in high speed rail lines’, of which almost half has gone to Spain. However, the auditors express concern that ‘there is a high risk of ineffective spending’, and warn that the EU’s target of tripling the length of high speed line by 2030 ‘will not be reached’.
In particular,
Noting that there is a trade-off between more station stops to improve catchment against end-to-end journey times, the auditors argue that trains run ‘on very high speed lines at far lower average speeds than the lines are designed to handle’. However, the criterion of ‘real speed slowest train to maximum design speed’ used to reach this conclusion is dubious as there may be some, possibly many, other trains running at higher average speeds on all or part of the route.

Suggesting that this speed differential ‘raises questions as to sound financial management’, the auditors argue that ‘the alternative solution of upgrading existing conventional lines could save billions of euros’, although it is not clear whether they have considered the disruption experienced on busy routes where such a policy has been adopted.

‘A high speed line should ideally carry nine million passengers per year to be successful’, the auditors believe, adding that on three of seven completed lines in the audit ‘the number of passengers was far lower’. They estimated that nine of the 14 routes audited ‘did not have a sufficiently high number of potential passengers in their catchment areas to be successful’.
But if you're putting in high-speed service between Stuttgart and München, one of the audited routes, is part of your strategy to shave 36 minutes off that trip to skip stops at Ulm and Augsburg?  Are you more likely to attract nine million passengers onto your trains if passengers riding Stuttgart - Augsburg, Augsburg - München, Stuttgart - Ulm, Ulm - München usw. are occupying some of the seats in addition to the seats held by the full-route passengers.  You know where I stand on this.  "At such short distances, there's not much reason to put a lot of money into a train that will spend about a third of the journey accelerating to and decelerating from 300 km/h -- and then throw in a few stops in the banlieus."  And increasing speeds to 300 km/h (I'll say 180 mph to a first approximation) doesn't necessarily buy you much time saving.  Consider a station that's well-suited, because it's on a long, straight, flat stretch of line.  Sturtevant, Wisconsin comes to mind.  Now suppose a train is capable of accelerating and braking at 3 miles per hour each second.  Twenty seconds to accelerate to sixty; forty to accelerate to 120, you can be zipping along at 180 in a minute: not bad, but you've spent all that extra money to knock just over a minute off your accelerating and braking intervals, and maybe four minutes total between Sturtevant and the Milwaukee airport station, a little better in the Glenview direction.

The benefit-cost calculations don't impress Reason's Christian Britschgi, either.
This failure looks even more galling when you compare the time saved by these high-speed rail lines to the costs of building them. In four of the lines looked at in the [audit committee] report, transportation officials spent over €100 million ($116 million) for every minute of travel time saved.

For instance, a planned German high-speed rail line is expected to get you from Munich to Stuttgart 36 minutes faster than conventional rail lines at the cost of some €13 billion ($15 billion). That shakes out to €368 million ($423 million) per minute saved. (A flight between the two cities takes 45 minutes.)

The [audit committee] report also stressed the poor coordination between European countries when building their high-speed rail lines, making for poor continent-wide connectivity and suppressing ridership.
The plane might take 45 minutes, but throw in all the airport security hassles and getting to and from the airport, and the best 1987 timings (yes, before reunification) of 150 minutes or so, with those intermediate stops for Ulm and Augsburg, don't look too bad.  Can you fly from Stuttgart to Augsburg without having to jump out of a C-47?  Frequency, connectivity, intermediate stops.

The report being Reason, who have a large blind spot in their libertarian leanings when it comes to socialism for motorists and general aviation enthusiasts, unsurprisingly use the shortcomings of the grand European Expresses (mostly sans Wagons-Lits these days) to take a dig at the perpetual cost overrun known as California High Speed Rail.  "Once promised to deliver commuters at blistering speeds straight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California's high-speed rail will now wind through the state's Central Valley on a mix of high-speed and conventional rail tracks." I agree, the Imperial Valley L is not the best use of public moneys, and would very much prefer augmenting the conventional lines in California.  Specifically, there is a corridor service linking San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, with one day train as far as San Luis Obispo, as well as the Los Angeles and Seattle Coast Starlight, plus emerging Commuter Rail services centered at Los Angeles and San Diego.


There's a second corridor, connecting Silicon Valley with the East Bay communities and Sacramento, with one train running east of Sacramento to the foot of the Sierras: the territory further east being for California Zephyr sightseers; that service also includes the San Joaquin Valley trains for and from Bakersfield.  The a-building high speed tracks run alongside the San Joaquin route.  Presumably that mix of conventional and high speed rail is how the trains will get either into Emeryville or San Francisco proper.  There wasn't enough stimulus money to, for instance, dig through from Bakersfield to somewhere northeast of Los Angeles.

Likewise, if you're in San Luis Obispo, do you know the way to San Jose?  It isn't far on a map, but on the rails, there's the Cuesta Grade.
According to a chapter in the book "The Achievers" by Edson T. Strobridge and Loren Nicholson, the highest point in the Coast Line between San Francisco and Los Angeles was difficult terrain. Southern Pacific's veteran chief engineer William Hood said of the task: "the tunnel work on the Cuesta Grade is harder than the case in the Siskiyous."

According to the book "Southern Pacific's Coast Line" by John R. Signor, it was the most costly 17 miles of the line. The path from Santa Margarita to San Luis Obispo included seven tunnels in the the original design. Signor quotes the Oakland Tribune estimating the cost at $3 million, other sources from the time — including the San Luis Obispo Tribune — placed the cost at $1.5 million. Either way, it would not be cheap.
An avoiding line, even one engineered for 79 mph passenger railroading, connecting the northern and southern corridors still looks like a better use of money than any extension of the high-speed line.  A recent Passenger Train Journal story on the California trains notes that the network's average speed is about 45 mph.  That still beats drive time in a lot of the thickly settled areas.  On the north end, the train schedules pay some attention to connectivity between the San Joaquins and the Silicon Valley services.

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