Thursday, October 14, 2010

High-speed rail: a bad investment

Article on high-speed rail in the on-line edition of USA Today: “The history of transportation shows that we adopt new technologies when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and far more expensive than either one. As a result, it will never serve more than a few marginal travelers.”

Thanks to Randal O'Toole at the Antiplanner.



At 3:11 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Slower than flying only if you live in a world of false economies. I was staying in a hotel in Rome and needed to get to Milan. I went to the train station with my suitcase and a credit card. 15 minutes later I was on a train to Milan. Just to get to Rome airport would take nearly an hour, and I would have to arrive 90+ minutes before flight time.

I arrived in downtown Milan where I walked to my hotel. Again, the Milan airport is the better part of an hour away from downtown. Regards costs - I was able to walk to my hotel instead of paying for two expensive cab rides.

Trains run from Rome to Milan hourly. So while I can't leave "whenever I want" as I would with a car, the delta is small and more than offset by the speed of the train and the convenience of spending 4 hours in a roomy train with a bathroom and a bar car instead of cramped in an automobile and being required to actively drive the car.

SF to LA is a similar distance, the train stations are both substantially closer to downtown than the respective airports, US security lines at airports are generally more pesky than European ones (Americans have more trouble negotiating said lines due to language and custom barriers, but this is not inherent to the airport itself). There is no reason not to run with hourly frequency - there is more than one flight an hour from SFO to LAX, a train could sustain the passenger load needed if we built it right.

Cue pat answer - "This isn't Europe"

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Tim said...

High-speed rail is also

-better for the environment
-safer than driving
-more pleasurable than driving or flying (leg room and dining car as murphstahoe said)
-provides more access (when is the next flight to Fresno?)

Will it make sense for every inter-city trip to be by HSR? Probably not. But there's no reason not to expect the over 50% rate that Spain and Taiwan's similar systems have achieved in recent years.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I like trains too, and the faster the better. But the issue with high-speed rail---and railroads in general---is the cost. A recent Chronicle editorial provides a good summary of the cost problems already confronting the LA to SF high-speed rail: the projected price tag has already gone up radically for both construction costs and tickets; the projected passenger count was wildly inflated; the system is counting on billions of subsidies from the Feds and from local governments because even its supporters admit that it won't be self-sustaining.

The SF Muni budget is around $750 million a year. Those federal subsidies are needed here in SF--not to mention for the Central Subway to Chinatown boondoggle---not on a new rail system for well-heeled people like Murphy that will siphon off much-needed transportation dollars for a project that won't help SF or LA handle commuters in those cities: "The improved public transportation we do need is within metropolitan areas to speed the commute to and from work."

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

And here's a summary of and a link to the state auditor's report critical of the high-speed rail project.

At 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rob, for dedicating a whole column to my previous post and digging yourself deeper into your burrow of ignorance and denial. No real issues were addressed, successes ignored. When you're complaining about traffic volumes in Hayes Valley, I'm assuming that you would have supported, at the time, extending the Central Freeway through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, to connect it with the Park Presidio Freeway and the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep fighting for that, Rob. It will give all that anger something to do.

While it's true, Hayes Valley could be better off without Octavia Boulevard at all, and Oak and Fell would be better, safer, friendlier streets were they not the designated east/west traffic sewers and converted back to bi-directional streets with broadened sidewalks, these are things to look forward to tackling in the future, along with the demolition of the remains of the Central Freeway.

Citing anything from Randall O'Toole, (so aptly named!) the designated quacking head of the Cato institute can only be described as as hypocritical as the libertarian "think tank" is by its very existence. O'Toole routinely argues against any project that could put a dent in the profits of the automobile industries that provide Cato with much of its funding. He's a hack who doesn't get it, much like Anderson. If Anderson was collecting funding for promoting internal combustionality, some of his viewpoints would make sense, from a strictly mercenary perspective. As it is, the viewpoints expressed are always tainted by a deep lack of the understanding of planning and the urban fabric, and what makes a neighborhood thrive and function as a network of public and private spaces.

And California High Speed Rail is integral to the shift from inconvenient airports to long distance travel that serves the urban core. Have you used the highly successful TGV system in France? Have you even been to France? How can anyone who has enjoyed the comfort and convenience of HSR argue against it? In Japan, the Shikansen, which dates back to the 60's, uses ridership profits to expand the system. It's a profitable system. Consider HSR as a remedy to both the cost of expanding our at-capacity airports, and adding lanes to Interstate 5 and it will put the project in a better financial perspective. No need to mention the environmental impacts of adding aircraft and autos to the already overburdened system, and HSR's commitment to use only renewable energy sources.

By the way, have you paid that $50,000 bill from the city yet? We need the money to stripe bike lanes on Masonic, and we need it soon.


At 9:07 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"When you're complaining about traffic volumes in Hayes Valley, I'm assuming that you would have supported, at the time, extending the Central Freeway through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, to connect it with the Park Presidio Freeway and the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep fighting for that, Rob. It will give all that anger something to do."

What anger? What ignorance and denial? You need to be more specific. You're the one who sounds angry. When I point what a fiasco Octavia Blvd. is, that means I'm angry? Actually, I'm just mystified how you progs can still defend it. Of course I didn't/don't defend/advocate a freeway over the Pandhandle. All I'm saying is that one can argue that the Central Freeway was better than what we ended up with---most of that freeway traffic coming through the heart of Hayes Valley on Octavia Blvd.

Oak and Fell, as they did before the freeway was torn down, handle the east/west freeway traffic. Yes, of course you folks---let me guess, a bike dude?---want to turn Fell and Oak into two-way streets, along with Hayes Street, which is so stupid even the anti-car city of SF won't do it. Yes, we understand that you think every street in the city where traffic moves well is dubbed a "traffic sewer" and that's what you want to put a stop to. How about making Franklin and Gough two-way streets, too?

The "remains of the Central Freeway"? I suspect that the folks on Division Street have seen what you've done with Octavia Blvd. and are forewarned about doing that. Not going to happen. Besides, isn't screwing up Masonic next on the agenda? Best to see how that goes down before getting ahead of yourself.

Sometimes O'Toole is right and sometimes he's wrong. He's right about high-speed rail and the anti-car bullshit, and, interestingly, he's a cyclist in Portland.

"Promoting internal combustionality"? What, are you writing speeches for Mirkarimi? Why can't you just say, "motor vehicles" or "cars"? The answer: you're mind is so clotted with bullshit, you can't think.

HSR serves the "urban core"? Yes, but only the well-off, not the working people of SF or LA or San Diego, who need buses in those cities to get to and from work.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I'll never have to pay that bill, since I'm on Social Security and have no assets.

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words you're a deadbeat. Nice.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What a moron. You can't even comment to the right post.

You would pay a $50,000 bill even if you didn't owe the money? That bill is nothing but an attempt to punish us for daring to sue the city in the first place and, even worse, winning. The city created thousands of pages of a completely unnecessary public record and want us to pay for it. It's just lawyer bullshit.

But it does set an interesting precedent for future litigants. What if, for example, you bike assholes wanted to challenge what you think is an illegal/bad city policy in court? How likely would it be to get a neighborhood group to sign on to your litigation with this sort of retaliation a real possibility?

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Todd Passeto said...

Randal O'Toole is a well known train hater, he'll pretty much say anything that promotes more freeways. High Speed Rail isn't meant to go everywhere, but for connecting major cities that are less than 350 miles apart, it can't be beat. It's worth every penny.

Furthermore, and Rob you might want to look into this, the main reason it's so expensive is political kickbacks and way too much progressive bureaucracy that increases the cost of everything..

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

HSR can be beat by both the airlines and driving, which is cheaper, if not faster, than the HSR system if you have more than one passenger in a car. Motor vehicles can't be beat in door-to-door transportation. Like the airlines, high-speed rail just takes people to stations, where they then have to figure out how to get to their actual destination.


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