November 6, 2011

High Speed Rail, Slow Speed Plan

High speed rail is considered to be a liberal or progressive cause in the U.S., but all those terms are increasingly outmoded. 

Consider California's attempts to build a high-speed rail system. At present, there are attempts to build a Train to Nowhere from somewhere in the flat, rural Central Valley to somewhere else in the flat, rural Central Valley. But even that easy stage is running into entrenched opposition. From the LA Times:
Critics say such blunders are routine for the rail authority. Across the length of the Central Valley, the bullet train as drawn would destroy churches, schools, private homes, shelters for low-income people, animal processing plants, warehouses, banks, medical offices, auto parts stores, factories, farm fields, mobile home parks, apartment buildings and much else as it cuts through the richest agricultural belt in the nation and through some of the most depressed cities in California. 
Although the potential for such disruption was understood in general terms when the project began 15 years ago, the reality is only now beginning to sink in. 
The potential economic, cultural and political damage may be an omen. The Central Valley, where construction could start next year, is expected to be the politically easiest and lowest-cost segment of the system, designed to move millions of passengers between Southern California and the Bay Area. The project's effects could be even greater in more populous places like Silicon Valley, Orange County, Burbank, San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles.

Okay, so they've been planning away for 15 years, and now the real fights begin.

California's freeways were built during the heyday of majoritarianism in the middle of the 20th Century. The amount of high-handedness required to build the freeways seems staggering today. Let me give an example not from freeways, but from a business law class I took in 1979. Even by then, this seemed hilariously high-handed.

After WWII, the U.S. government started above-ground nuclear bomb testing in Nevada. One nuke shock wave knocked down a bunch of ranchers' barns and all the scared cattle ran away and most of them died before they could be rounded up. The ranchers tried to get compensated for their barns and cows, but the feds said they had taken every reasonable precaution; therefore, the ranchers shouldn't get a dime. The ranchers sued on the grounds that nuclear bombs should fall under the doctrine of strict liability, just as owning lions and tigers do. If you own a tiger and it eats somebody, you are liable even if you took all the precautions a reasonable man would. The courts ruled for the government: the government's nuclear bombs shouldn't be treated as something inherently dangerous, in contrast to scary lions and tigers.

In contrast, compare that to the federal government's plan to store nuclear waste under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The feds began studying Yucca Mountain in 1978, but then gave up in 2010, almost a third of a century later.

The 1960s can be characterized as the switch from majoritarianism to minoritarianism in America, when the moral high ground shifted from the majority to anybody who can successfully characterize themselves as a victimized minority. Not surprisingly, this gets in the way of progressive plans like High Speed Rail. 

Further, the power of Not in My Back Yard politics grows with the number of back yards. When the freeways were built, there was a lot more open land. In other words, the huge population growth in California makes for a more gridlocked society. This isn't all that complicated, but the connection between immigration, population growth, and gridlock isn't on the mental radar of even 5% of the punditocracy.

110 comments:

Wes said...

Excellent piece, I had never thought of it that way. Yes, back a few generations ago, people were expected to make sacrifices for the common good. How ironic, that the Left's policies of open borders, mass immigration and victim-worship make the grand scale projects they love less likely.

Amerikan Graffiti said...

In the 80s the construction of the Century fwy seemed liable to bankrupt the state. The sections not below grade are several stories off the ground. I-710 was never finished, much to the chagrin of the port and the satisfaction of wealthy South Pas/La Canada homeowners. Caltrans is considering burrowing underground to avoid losing funds.

The train's in the arid cow-towns because the right-of-way costs to run it up the SF peninsula would approach EU sovereign debt levels. The San Joaquin Valley ward heelers also got a piece.

Anonymous said...

Is there any op-ed more likely to be printed in the New York Times than a professor plugging his anti-Phoenix book which finds their lack of green faith disturbing?

Get Off My Lawn! said...

How ironic, that the Left's policies ... make the grand scale projects they love less likely.

The Left doesn't love all grand-scale projects. If they love this one, it's because it involves a train, and Trains Are Good. If the project in question were a highway, the Left would hate it, grand or not, because Highways Are Bad.

I'm sure this is a naive, dumb question, but why do we need a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles? If people want to travel quickly from one city to the other, can't they fly? What advantage would a high-speed train offer over flying?

In fact, I don't see the point of passenger rail service except in densely populated corridors like the Northeast or LA-San Diego. For other trips, if you're in a hurry, you fly. If not, you drive. What's the point of trains that go from LA to SF or NY to Chicago, etc., except nostalgia?

Steve Sailer said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours.

Eric said...

...and through some of the most depressed cities in California.

If you can't build a train when land values are low and you don't have to compete for labor, when can you build it?

sf said...

re: century freeway. My inlaws got $18,000 from the state for their house in Lynwood. Hard to imagine that bankrupting the state. But the expensive $48,000 house to which they had to upgrade is now paid for and worth well over half a million even in these times.

Lugash said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours.

Firing up TelePresence is even cooler.

Anonymous said...

You are Lugash?

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

You are Lugash?

I am Lugash.

I am Lugash.

Anonymous said...

Your post is spot on until you try to tie it into immigration. I know that's your theme, but it's a side issue.

"Further, the power of Not in My Back Yard politics grows with the number of back yards. When the freeways were built, there was a lot more open land. In other words, the huge population growth in California makes for a more gridlocked society. This isn't all that complicated, but the connection between immigration, population growth, and gridlock isn't on the mental radar of even 5% of the punditocracy."

It's true that California had a lot more open space when it built its freeways. It's also true that building the freeways in Los Angeles involved demolishing and clearing tens of thousands of homes and businesses. LA wasn't exactly empty farmland back in the 60s before the big wave of Mexican immigration.

What has happened over the last four decades is that property owners (and "neighborhood activists") have gained A LOT more rights and benefits. And it's not just CEQA and other environmental laws. Prop 13 has made the idea of the government cutting people checks for their houses and telling them to move somewhere else almost unthinkable.

I have neighbors who pay $900 a year in property taxes on houses worth $1 million (thanks Zillow). They will probably stock up on fertilizer and firearms and go Waco before they let the government kick them out of their houses.

All those laws have worked out great for people who bought lots of properties back in the 70s. They now have sky high property values and lots of rights to make sure those values stay high, no matter what. For everyone else it's not so hot.

Get Off My Lawn! said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours.

I get the logic, but is there enough downtown-to-downtown travel to support frequent high-speed rail service at a competitive price? As soon as you have to travel a distance to the station, or greatly modify your schedule to cope with infrequent service, or pay twice the price of airfare for a RT rail ticket, air travel becomes a more attractive option (which, considering how dismal an experience air travel is these days, is pretty depressing).

If the high-speed service can turn a profit without subsidies, then it's a great idea. If subsidies are required, then it doesn't seem a good enough idea to deserve them.

I just did a quick check on Travelocity. Round-trip coach fare LAX-SFO is $139 for SAME DAY flights booked a week in advance, and there are lots of them, leaving all throughout the day. (I made a point to check the price for morning out, evening back flights because airlines often charge more for such business-friendly schedules, but there was no difference.) Even booking just a day ahead, the price is still only $355. It's hard to see how high-speed rail can even come close to that level of service. I do realize that price may not be a point of concern for some business travelers, but again my question is whether the volume is there to justify the enormous expense and disruption of the undertaking.

Anonymous said...

In England, NIMBYism has a whole different take.
Basically, the south-eastern portion of England is the most crowded piece of real estate in the developed world (not including city-states).
Most of that population is cooped up in that huge great wen, London - and due to the Labour Party's lunatic open immigration policy, that population has swelled and swelled, to the extent that the meanest nastiest bedsit flat is unaffordable.
However, due to zoning laws, London is very tightly constrained.In the bucolic countryside just outside of London live many comfortably off middle class English who were fortunate enough to purchase homes in those areas.They are extremely and viciously opposed to any attempt to put other people's houses near 'their' countryside.
They are one of the strongest and scariest lobbies in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of rail, ride the Cain Train:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF9dr-FItR8

Reg Cæsar said...

If they love this one, it's because it involves a train, and Trains Are Good. If the project in question were a highway, the Left would hate it, grand or not, because Highways Are Bad.

Which is why that notorious Russian pinko Ayn Rand made a railroad executive the heroine of her 1957 anti-capitalist novel/screed.

I don't know what's more pathetic-- today's progressives nursing a visceral hatred for the accomplishments of yesterday's progressives-- e.g., suburbs, the Pledge of Allegiance, eugenics, nuclear war. Or today's "conservatives" and their equally rabid defense thereof.

jody said...

steve, did you see the report where the estimated cost to build this california high speed rail project from SF to LA was increased all the way to 98 billion dollars or something ludicrous like that?

absolutely, positively no way it gets built, just like every single conservative said.

more hardcore, physics and math, reality denial from liberals. LOL at them trying to pretend that only conservatives do this kind of thing.

oh hey, and then there's that solyndra thing. yet more hardcore science reality denial from liberals. none of the energy production numbers made sense there, or in most solar power oompanies. the physics don't work that well, which is why we don't have bulk photovoltaic electricity production in our year 2011 society. energy density is TOO LOW, retards. my goodness, steven chu.

Goulash said...

Lugash wins the thread. Genuine LOLZ.

Steve Sailer said...

" is there enough downtown-to-downtown travel to support frequent high-speed rail service at a competitive price?"

Right. I mean, say you need to go see somebody in Silicon Valley. But where's the there there? (As Gertrude Stein said about Oakland). A train is great if you can grab a cab or walk to your destination, but if you have to rent a car to get to your destination, you might as well fly or drive.

Over time, homes and businesses have shifted out toward the airports. High speed rail might be great for cities that have lost out to Dallas and Atlanta because they don't have big hub airports (Cincinnati, Milwaukee).

Graham Asher said...

There is a mad plan to build a high-speed railway (HS2 = High Speed 2) across Southern England, from London to Birimingham, damaging some of the most beautiful countryside near London, the Chilterns. There is no economic case for the railway. It will cost tens of billions of pounds and lose money. It would probably be cheaper to buy everybody a personal helicopter with a full-time pilot on standby. The project, however, steamrollers ahead because it would benefit quite a lot of Dave's friends. Rent-seeking is the applicable term.

Anonymous said...

Are the train services between New York/Boston/Philly/Washington profitable?

In the UK they want to spend billions on a high-speed train link between London and Birmingham even though the journey time is only two and a bit hours anyway.

Anonymous said...

On the Facebook page of the environmental group I belong to, there was the new article about overpopulation dangers. A couple of posters congratulated this "brave piece" that "exposes the elephant in the room". So I decided to post the question I've been waiting to ask for ages: "So, it OK to talk about immigration, now?"

The silence was deafening.

Anonymous said...

funny how we're turning rails into trails but also proposing high speed, new rails - sounds like boongdoggle.

why not just convert some highways? why not just fix up existing rail rather than add more to a decaying infratstructure.

regarding eminent domain -it is so abused now - for shopping malls, stadiums, ect. that people have come to mistrust it. as they should.

Read up on all the stadium/arena debacles in NYC under Bloomberg.

Anonymous said...

James Kunstler has called the suburbanization of america, the greatest misallocation of resources in human history. I am inclined to agree.
Conservatives don't like the idea of funded high speed rails, fair enough but.. besides wall street the most subsidized group in america is the driver. The driver does not pay the price of roads, we all do.

Liberals forget they are the ones who attacked the 'robber baron' railroad companies to build highways. (in the UK too - check youtube for the bbc show 'why i hate the 1960s')

now we live in a country where oranges from california make to the NY by truck. that's ridiculous. It's ridiculous that transport is so subsidized that new york state, which largest producer of apples in the country, has supermarkets with 80% apples from washington state.

mybuttsmells said...

I think people soured on these big central planning projects after all the failures of the 1960s - the robert moses style destruction of neighborhoods for low income housing that would 'eliminate' slums.

Harry Baldwin said...

I have become accustomed to Obama's colossal gall and disingenuousness, but he occasionally outdoes himself, as when he said recently, “People used to travel from all around the world to look at what we built: the Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, Grand Central Station, Interstate Highway System. Now people aren’t coming to see what we built because they’re building it over there.”

Of course, thanks to the environmentalists that Obama represents, today America couldn't possibly build the great projects he references. But perhaps he hasn't really thought about that. I find that leftists rarely trouble themselves over the consequences of their policies.

Also, I'd be curious to hear Obama discuss the fact that California had the new San Francisco-Oakland Bridge constructed in China. What good is it to speechify about putting Americans back to work on infrastructure if even our infrastructure has to be imported?

Udolpho.com said...

"Firing up TelePresence is even cooler."

great another commenter with Aspergers

Duncan said...

I am on trains the Benelux regions frequently. And it is obvious that these are very densely populated countries. However, I am rarely in a completely packed train. usually there is plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Freeways in the region are every bit as wide and packed as something you'd see in the I-95 corridor in the U.S.

If they can't pack em in the low countries how can they pack em in the States?

Also, I was told on good authority by some folks in the rail industry that U.S. freight rail dwarfs the level of freight shipments in Europe.

Carol said...

Even booking just a day ahead, the price is still only $355.


geeez, in 1968 you could go one way on PSA for $13, last minute booking, and flights left every hour. Has there been that much inflation since then?

AMac said...

> If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours.

The Rail Authority's Trip Planner (seriously) says the LA/SF trip is 432 miles and will take 2 hrs 38 min. That's an average speed of 165 mph. With 10 intervening stops, the top cruising speed is stated as 220 mph.

According to Wikipedia (sourced!), "At mid 2011, [France's TGV rail service] is the fastest conventional train in the world, reaching 200 mph on the LGV Est [route]. A TGV service held the record for the fastest scheduled rail journey with a start to stop average speed of 173.6 mph."

On the Japanese Shinkansen system, Wikipedia notes that the current network runs at speeds of up to 149–186 mph, with plans to increase the maximum on the main Tōhoku Shinkansen line up to 199 mph. Also, "Extensive trials using the Fastech 360 test trains has shown that operation at 224 mph is not currently feasible because of problems of noise pollution, overhead wire wear, and braking distances."

In other words, aside from the obviously insane economics, CalTrans' High Speed Rail system is going to spring fully-grown from Zeus' forehead with performance characteristics that established, successful operators are unable to achieve.

Liars

-- or --

What could possibly go wrong?

Anonymous said...

Subsidized Amtrak Acela fare from Boston to New York: $198.00 round trip.

JetBlue airfare from Boston to New York: $152.00 round trip.

Good luck with that train, Cali...

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled why dirgibles aren't coming into vogue again since they presumably could be used to shorten downtown travel times, and would make excellent short haul craft.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

"What's the point of trains that go from LA to SF or NY to Chicago, etc., except nostalgia?"

Same point as cruise ships, i.e. a leisurely way of going from here to there and seeing the sights. Ideally, this is a business the government should not be in, but every form of transportation - even the cruise industry - is supported in some fashion by taxpayer provided facilities. Not saying it's right, it's the system we have.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, High Speed Rail is just another attempt to transfer money from the middle class to elite industrialists.

CA does not need high speed rail. It is no improvement on airlines.

I am glad it is being screwed.

ben tillman said...

I don't understand how the ranchers couldn't win their lawsuits on the simple basis of trespass, aside from the fact that the fix was in.

Anonymous said...

"California's freeways were built during the heyday of majoritarianism in the middle of the 20th Century. The amount of high-handedness required to build the freeways seems staggering today."

In the fifties Charles Schultz ran a series of comic strips about the imminent destruction of Snoopy's dog house to make way for a freeway. Lucy, the harsh majoritarian, tells snoopy he has no right to mope, that he's hardly the first person to lose a house, and that he should stop feeling sorry for himself. On the other hand, the overwrought community organizer Charlie Brown gives an impassioned speech to Linus,"Since when is a freeway more important than a dog's home? Have we lost our sanity?" M'kay. At first, Snoopy's home gets a reprieve because of National Dog week. Snoopy strikes various heroic poses on his roof while waiting for the bulldozers and wails about not having friends in high places but finally is told not to worry because at the rate things were going the freeway wouldn't arrive until 1967.

In 1967 Schultz never came back to this storyline. He was too busy populating his whitebread comic strip with new minority and lesbian characters.

Vilko said...

Steve Sailer wrote :
Over time, homes and businesses have shifted out toward the airports.

IMHO it is sensible to shift to train travel (at least when the journey is less than 500 miles long) in the approaching era of exorbitantly expensive kerosene. Global oil production is peaking, and thereafter it will decrease, whereas demand will continue to grow, especially in China and India. Gasoline and kerosene will become very expensive. Modern trains run on electricity, whose price won't rise so fast. New economic conditions will hurt air travel, and trains will become competitive again.

Anonymous said...

You are Lugash.

Let me tell you what a relief that is.

Anonymous said...

If a high speed rail line were established then in time its major stops would draw development in their own rate just as major airports have.

Robert Holmgren said...

That 2.5 hours time between downtown LA and downtown San Francisco will be kinda hard to accomplish. The stretch between San Jose and SF is subjected to the current 79 mph speed restrictions made necessary by national safety laws. Local opposition to changes to grade separation and widening is fierce. And as well, the rail right of way is controlled by Southern Pacific who use diesel trains instead of the electric lines proposed by high speed rail.

Anonymous said...

What about earthquake risk?

Georgia Resident said...

"In other words, the huge population growth in California makes for a more gridlocked society."
Being even more crowded than California hasn't stopped the Japanese from building bullet trains. But then, of course, they are Japanese, and don't have the dubious blessings of diversity.

Maya said...

"Which is why that notorious Russian pinko Ayn Rand made a railroad executive the heroine of her 1957 anti-capitalist novel/screed."

Back then, most Americans didn't own cars and air travel wasn't widely available. The fasted, most efficient way to travel WAS by rail. Makes sense that the virtues of capitalism were personified in a rails CEO. Today, none of this applies, and the trains symbolize a greener, more European lifestyle.
On a side note, I, generally, wouldn't use Ayn Rand to support a point I'd want to be considered valid. There is a hefty helping of personal emotional issues mixed into everything she wrote.

Eric said...

It's generally cheaper to build out new rail lines than it is to build new highways. The implication is things have changed enough in the last few decades that we can't do either. Nor can we build new power plants or new oil refineries.

How long can such a sclerotic society prosper? It seems like we've reached the screw-the-granchildren part of the civilization curve.

Kylie said...

"In the bucolic countryside just outside of London live many comfortably off middle class English who were fortunate enough to purchase homes in those areas.They are extremely and viciously opposed to any attempt to put other people's houses near 'their' countryside."

Yes, I can't imagine anything more extreme and vicious than wanting to keep all that urban vibrance and diversity at a safe distance.

By the way, googling "London +riots +2011" got me 42,900,000 hits. But that's only because I googled so extremely and viciously.

Anonymous said...

Steve, what about the "Trans-Texas corridor" (considered to be a part of the infamous "NAFTA Superhighway"):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzplErZ4EMQ

It's supposed to be a massive truck highway, rail link, and possibly even bullet train link, that cuts a huge, wide swathe.

Due to public outcry in Texas (most Americans seem unaware of it), the project is supposedly being done more quietly and in pieces.

Anonymous said...

Over time, homes and businesses have shifted out toward the airports. High speed rail might be great for cities that have lost out to Dallas and Atlanta because they don't have big hub airports (Cincinnati, Milwaukee).

There's a globalist business book that came out this year called Aerotropolis by John D. Kasarda that talks about this shift of activity out towards airports and promotes it as a form of urban development for the 21st century:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerotropolis

"According to Dr. John D. Kasarda, airports have evolved as drivers of business location and urban development in the 21st century in the same way as did highways in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th century and seaports in the 18th century. As economies become increasingly globalized and dependent on electronic commerce, air commerce and the speed and agility it provides to the movement of people and goods has become its logistical backbone."

Jim said...

Jody -

Except that Solydra went bankrupt because prices are dropping so fast that it couldn't keep up with it. 7% a year, and no signs of it slowing down. It doens't really matter how dense the energy is, if the things are so cheap that you can use them instead of tarpaper for your roof.

Retard.

Anonymous said...

There doesn't seem to be much demand for high speed rail travel between LA and San Fran.

Perhaps the hope is that creating a high speed rail link between them will generate the demand for travel between them.

Isn't there a significant difference between the kinds of people and industries in LA and SF? My impression is that the kind of people in LA who travel a lot and are part of the jet set crowd travel more between LA and NY and are more connected to NY than SF.

Otis McWrong said...

In a previous life (i.e. more than 15 years ago) I was a consultant and among other things, worked on high-speed rail/subway projects. As of that time, there was no rail-based public transportation anywhere in the world that made a profit. Or even covered its costs.

NY Subways come close, and if allowed to close some routes/stations, rid itself of diversicrats, and take a few other operational changes probably could be turned profitable. That's it. Nothing else. Not Tokyo, not London, not France, not China.

There is a zero point zero percent chance of the SF-LA (or to Fresno as was planned when I finally moved out of that state governed by lunatics) covering its operating costs. Yet alone recovering any of the however many zillions it would cost to build.

Asking questions like "is there enough demand..." misses the point entirely. To the left, the train should be built because it will cost lots of money that otherwise would be left in the pockets of various citizens for them to spend as they see fit.

Jeff said...

In addition to minoritarianism, the role of graft should also be recognized. In the 1970's political contributions were probably about a quarter of what they are today. Much more political influence is being bought today.

Some of the buyers are those lawyers and bureaucrats who gum up construction projects while pocketing millions.

The minoritarian philosophy fits in with endless, expensive government planning, studying, and arguing. It provides more things to argue about.

Modern proceduralism is also a way to shift some boodle to minorities. It gives them more tools to shake down wealthy property developers.

Crazy Commie said...

"I'm sure this is a naive, dumb question, but why do we need a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles? If people want to travel quickly from one city to the other, can't they fly? What advantage would a high-speed train offer over flying?

There's something called the enviroment, honey. One day we'll be out of oil, and if all we have then are ancient and ineffiecent railways, then we're kind of screwed.

Black Death said...

Steve, you miss the point of the whole high speed rail thing. Obviously the projects make no economic sense - the current price tag is around $100 billion and is certain to climb higher. How can we possibly justify such spending when there are already dozens of reasonably priced daily flights between LA area airports and SF area airports? Well, it's easy to justify it if you realize that the benefits have nothing to do with efficient transportation. I'm sure this type of thing is what they're really after:

1. Contracts for politically well-connected companies (Jeff Immelt, the chairman of Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, is CEO of GE, which makes locomotives and other railroad stuff). Plus lots of good construction contracts.
2. Plenty of high-paying jobs (yes, green jobs!) for unionized construction and railroad workers. The unions tend to be big supporters of the Democratic party.
3. Kickbacks and photo ops for politicians (Joe Biden!).

Seen in this light, the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there is a technological solution. The real advantage of mag-Lev trains is not that they make higher speeds possible--they do but at a far higher cost--but that they are much quieter, making elevated railways possible without blighting all the neighborhoods through which they pass. Perhaps the higher capital costs would be offset by the lower cost of obtaining right of ways. There is no reason why an elevated railway could not follow the lines of existing railroads or freeways.

Peak oil is coming and will be accompanied by huge demographic shifts--think gentrification on steroids. There will be huge urban renewal projects. Blacks will be moved out to the suburbs to make way for luxury condos in the inner city for SWPL couples. Perhaps this is the best long-term solution to America's racial problems, but as a white person living in the suburbs I am not exactly looking forward to it. Anything which slows down this process and makes it more gradual is to be encouraged. Mass transit and more fuel-efficient cars are two of the things that liberals are right about.

Paul Mendez said...

If people want to travel quickly from one city to the other, can't they fly? What advantage would a high-speed train offer over flying?

Avoiding any dealings with TSA is a big plus to train travel.

ex-Californian said...

Along with generous welfare to illegals like in-state tuition denied US Citizens and unassailable state union retirement benefits far beyond anything in the private sector, this high speed rail graft makes me all the more inclined to support a federal bailout of California.

Big Brother said...

Paul Mendez

What advantage would a high-speed train offer over

Avoiding any dealings with TSA is a big plus to train travel.


How innocent. How long will it be before proposals to have TSA "safeguard" train travel are passed and enacted?

They are already setting up roadblock checks 100mi inside the US boarder.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece, I had never thought of it that way. Yes, back a few generations ago, people were expected to make sacrifices for the common good.


Except those sacrifices were often not completely voluntary or for the common good. A big financial interest would have a stake in building project x, usually in a poor neighborhood that had little sway politically and could be effectively "railroaded" with government backing. It's telling that many of the *most* dysfunctional black communities in America are in places that had big old freeways built right through them during the 50s and 60s, i.e. Minneapolis, L.A., etc. That mentality continues today with boondoggle stadium projects where sports franchises say they'll leave town unless a new stadium is built on the taxpayer dime.

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled why dirgibles aren't coming into vogue again since they presumably could be used to shorten downtown travel times, and would make excellent short haul craft.

The Hindenburg disaster. I think the iconic image and memory of the disaster is too much for it to be accepted by the wider public.

Anonymous said...

As of that time, there was no rail-based public transportation anywhere in the world that made a profit. Or even covered its costs.

It's profitable for real estate magnates, large land holders, etc., especially in urban areas. It increases land values tremendously, making huge capital gains and rents for these people. Taxpayers and consumers of public transport are basically subsidizing these people's wealth.

Anonymous said...

You probably should get acquainted with HSR systems a bit, how these corridors get built and their economics around the world. It's getting tiring to see the American press and commentators harp about figures and prices they can't make sense of, but more generally about the "ideology" of trains, if only because this technology remains so foreign and they know nothing else. I'll provide some links:

http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/category/places/california-high-speed-rail/
(a more political view)
http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/category/transportation/high-speed-rail/
(a more techncial view)
http://www.cahsrblog.com/
(the comments section is rich with information and skepticism)
http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2008/2/7/45315/07369
(more international-DoDo has posts covering how HSR systems from Taiwan to Korea's KTX to Spain got built)

Anonymous said...

Enforcement of eminent domain would have silenced a lot of greedy homeowners and facilitated big projects.

Ancestral Spirit said...

"Due to public outcry in Texas (most Americans seem unaware of it), the project is supposedly being done more quietly and in pieces."

Having some ties to an area where 69 is being made over into the Mexican highway, I can say it's 6 of one 1/2 dozen of the other. There's also the possibility of limiting the number of off-on ramps so that the road truly does lead straight from Mexico to Canada...

Anonymous said...

Steve, I doubt what you wrote about kerosene/train popularity will ever come to pass.
Railroads are inherently very expensive and loss making enterprises (perhaps not in China).The sheer physical cost of all the fixed assets that rail companies must maintain - and maintain to a high standard seems to destroy profitability.Add to the fact that railroads always fall down on the 'door-to-door' problem.No, railroads werea 19th century soltion made before the internal combustion engine and the rubber tire and differential gears etc.Not that I knock them - they were a great solution while they were in their pomp.
I'm pretty sure that kerosene can be synthesised from the elements using the high grade process heat from pebble bed nuclear reactors.(Sich reactors are inherently safe an cannot 'melt down').If serious will was put this way, kerosene 'too cheap to meter' could be synthesised to fuel jet engines way into the forseeable future.
And, oh, by the way, the Chinese are investing in pebble-beds big time.

not a hacker said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours.

Was this sarcasm? If not, I can't believe Steve actually said it. More proof that even really smart people know nothing about law practice. Even in the '80's, before legal economics changed so radically, it was pretty unusual for an L.A. lawyer to have to go to S.F., or vice versa. Now, with companies and courts having spent 15 yrs. developing methods to prevent or curtail litigation, and with most corporate work manageable without need for face-to-face meetings, there's no way there's any significant demand for L.A.-S.F. business travel. If that was serious, it was one of the uninformed musings ever.

beowulf said...

Honestly, we'd be better off spending the money improving the infrastructure we have instead of building new toys from scratch. If we shifted long-haul freight from trucks to rail and electrified high traffic rail lines (at half the cost of the the $1T required for a high speed rail network), we could cut national oil consumption by 15% (going back to a 55mph speed limit would cut it by only 10%). http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2009/0901.longman.html

Besides, are there really that many travel destinations are too far to take a bus and yet too close to take a plane?

Anthony said...

If they could figure out an efficient (inexpensive) way to take your car on the SF-LA train, it would make *lots* more sense.

Paul Mendez said...

How long will it be before proposals to have TSA "safeguard" train travel are passed and enacted?

I don't know. You tell me.

Whiskey said...

China is losing money on their railways, new construction was halted, and it is generally a disaster along the lines of Ourdos (empty city in Western China).

Rail cannot succeed in America in a wide way unless non-Whites have criminal law vigorously enforced (i.e. they are arrested for even minor offenses). No one wants to sit next to thugs on their way to work or on the way home. The LA Blue Line (LA/Long Beach) is populated almost exclusively by non-Whites. A White person would be a sitting duck. Modern PC/Multiculturalism and Civil Rights make enforcing the law against any non-White in a large scale way impossible. Thus almost no Whites will use rail or any public transport unless the area is lily White (Portland, Seattle, etc.)

Suburbanization buys peace. It allows Whites to simply flee Blacks (and Hispanics) and leave them to their own devices. Urbanization means White control over non-Whites via rigorous law enforcement with no PC/Multi-culti/Civil Rights handcuffs.

Thus suburbanization is likely to continue as it buys social peace and buries conflict. Nor is peak oil a reality, given oil shale advances, as long as Obama is tossed out. Then we'll see a massive oil boom in places like Ohio, PA, etc. Already South Dakota is booming from oil/gas in their shale formations.

S.Anonyia said...

"Same point as cruise ships, i.e. a leisurely way of going from here to there and seeing the sights. Ideally, this is a business the government should not be in, but every form of transportation - even the cruise industry - is supported in some fashion by taxpayer provided facilities. Not saying it's right, it's the system we have."

National parks are also supported by taxpayer money...So what? There is nothing wrong with taxpayer money going towards projects that are actually useful or enjoyable to large swaths of people. I'd rather it go there than to support failing schools or towards WIC for single mothers. High speed railroads, cruise ship terminals, national parks, etc are great resources that mainly middle class people use.

Anonymous said...

The left likes trains because europe has trains and they think if we have more trains like europe our country will become europe. Also trains funnel money from poor and middle class conservatives to wealthy progressives. Sadly, they'd have had europe long ago if not for their determination to also have Mexico and Africa

Anonymous said...

Thus almost no Whites will use rail or any public transport unless the area is lily White (Portland, Seattle, etc.)

The Tri-State area (NY-NJ-Conn) isn't lily white and plenty of whites use public transport there - the Long Island railroad, NYC subway, New Jersey Transit, the Metro North that connects NYC with NY and Conn suburbs, etc.

The DC Metro is also heavily used by whites.

rec1man said...

Peak oil is a myth

Canadian Oil Sands have more crude oil than Saudi Arabia.
The extraction cost is $50 a barrel

In addition ,Sasol, uses the German synthetic petrol formula to create liquid hydro-carbons from coal and natural gas, both of which have over 100 year supply
The conversion cost is $20 a barrel

Anonymous said...

Lets be fair here, much of the highway system was built by demolishing through black and even lower class white neighborhoods (it was easier for them to use them to get to the suburbs though) in the 50s and the 60s, at a time when blacks didn't have nearly the representation or voice in government that they have now. Furthermore, much of the harm from building these bullet trains will be inflicted on wealthier farmers as well as suburban whites, hence there is significant, vocal opposition

beowulf said...

"If they could figure out an efficient (inexpensive) way to take your car on the SF-LA train, it would make *lots* more sense."

Auto Train is an 855-mile-long (1,376 km) scheduled train service for passengers and their automobiles operated by Amtrak between Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando). Although there are similar services around the world, the Auto Train is the only one of its kind in the United States.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_Train

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the hope is that creating a high speed rail link between them will generate the demand for travel between them."

Does anyone know the going rate for meth and black tar heroin for SF and LA? I suspect it's significantly cheaper and more potent in SoCal. High speed rail will equalize the price and potency as Mexican mafia dealers can bring their product directly to the Bay Area. As things are now, stuff probably gets cut multiple times as it works its way up the Central Valley.

P Rian said...

The character of Taggart in Rand's book was hardly supposed to be a typical railroad executive, leading a typical railroad company like the Union Pacific, which engaged in some of the worst acts of crony capitalism before FDR rose to power. More like the decent people who built the Great Northern line.

Anonymous said...

The newly-built Gautrain in South Africa seems to be high speed rail for rich/white people done right. It was built on an entirely different gauge to the rest of the aging local rail infrastructure, and has brutally strict law enforcement (by South African standards).

All this is attracting riders between Johannesburg and Pretoria , to the extent that it's standing room only at peak times, within 3 months of starting operation.

Oddly, much of the initial opposition to the train came from the same whites who benefit most from it, and it was forced on them by a black government.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that the best way to improve the welfare of white NIMBYs is to ignore them.

Anonymous said...

"Subsidized Amtrak Acela fare from Boston to New York: $198.00 round trip.

JetBlue airfare from Boston to New York: $152.00 round trip."

Bus from Cambridge MA to Penn Station NYC (with WiFi): $30.00 round trip

Mel Torme said...

"Which is why that notorious Russian pinko Ayn Rand made a railroad executive the heroine of her 1957 anti-capitalist novel/screed."

What the hell? Ann Rand wrote that book in 1957, like you just said. The fastest airliners flying then (not for long, though) were ones like the Super Constellation*, with a cruising speed of about 280 knots true. The interstate highway system was just being started to be built in 1957, so highway car travel was maybe 30-40% slower than today (due to both slower speeds and more circuitous routes).

Train travel was a fairly competitive mode back then, for speed at least, and I'm sure it beat airline travel on cost by a lot. That's why Mrs. Rand wrote about the passenger railroad business in Atlas Shrugged. If she had written the book just 5 years later, she may have had a different industry for the story setting.

The other commenter are correct - the progressives like to spend other peoples' money on their pet causes, whether these causes are financially viable or not - lot's of people like trains (I do), but I have the sense to realize that, if it can't make money, nobody but an inept bunch of government morons will build/run a passenger railroad.

* The most beautiful airliner that ever flew, even prettier than the 757 (which is a looker - long legs and big, honking, uh, engines)

11/7/11 12:37 AM
Anonymous Goulash said...

Lugash wins the thread. Genuine LOLZ.


You really ought to give some credit to the straight man, Mr. Anonymous, was it?

Mel Torme said...

" ... that have lost out to Dallas and Atlanta because they don't have big hub airports (Cincinnati, Milwaukee)."

Those are bad examples, Steve. Cincinnati is quite a big Delta hub (though smaller than in the past), and Milwaukee is still something of a Northwest (now Delta) hub, because they were trying to oust Midwest Express that I think was Milwaukee based.

sprawltronics said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours

In other words, 2011 liberalism is a lot more Yglesian than Jane Jacobsian

Anonymous said...

On the east coast, the best way to travel between NY and DC or NY and Boston is by bus.

In the early 2000s, Chinatown buses started becoming popular by offering $20 one-way/$30 round-trip tickets between NY/DC and NY/Bos. Lots of young people, like college kids coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, started taking them. This was a lot cheaper than Greyhound buses at the time, and the Chinatown buses stopped in a nicer part of DC than the Greyhound bus terminal which was in a ghetto, ratty part of town. It's about a 4 hour travel time, with one stop usually in southern New Jersey at a rest stop for a 10 minute break. And they would play DVDs sometimes too, sometimes American movies, sometimes Chinese ones.

This competition caused companies like Greyhound to lower their fares. And it brought in corporate bus lines like Megabus (owned by CoachUSA/Stagecoach Group of UK) and BoltBus (Greyhound/Peter Pan joint venture) who offer around 18 departures everyday almost every hour between busy routes like NY-DC, free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. They offer low prices at a yield management model, with most seats booked at between $5-$25.

The cheapest Amtrak between NY and DC is around $80 at non-peak departures like at 3 am for a 3.5 hour trip. The fastest trip is around 2 hours and 45 minutes for about $220.

Greening of America said...

The "New Urbanist" James Kunstler? What's the phrase I'm looking for... "He really should find a football team to root for"

(perhaps not easy if dividing your time among Saratoga Springs, Georgetown, Santa Fe, Carmel)

Anonymous said...

All I know is California would be a lot better off with less people. Its truly a shame the population couldn't have been capped at 20, or at most, 25 million people. The quality of life would be much higher and far less harm would have been done to its ecology. I'm baffled as to why America needs a larger population. It makes no logical sense to me at all.

beowulf said...

"(perhaps not easy if dividing your time among Saratoga Springs, Georgetown, Santa Fe, Carmel)"

That sounds like a lot of walking, one long emergency if you ask me.

beowulf said...

This competition caused companies like Greyhound to lower their fares. And it brought in corporate bus lines like Megabus...

Right, there are some things that only the govt can do (defense, basic research, and, let's be honest, national health insurance), but everything else, private sector competition will almost certainly be preferable to a govt run agency.

Speaking of Megabus, they're starting service in Atlanta next week. I was looking through their schedule the other day and noticed the Atlanta to Mobile run neglected to account for the change in time zones (so the route was listed as 5 hours 15 minutes one way and 7 hours 15 minutes the other). I emailed the company to point this out. Within a couple hours, Megabus's CEO sent a nice note thanking me for catching it. I was impressed that he paid attention to emails coming over the transom (and on a Saturday).
I deal with a lot of govt agencies and the next agency head who emails back to a "customer" comment on a Saturday will be the first.

Anonymous said...

"he idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer in downtown LA, it would be cool to get to downtown SF in 2.5 hours."


High speed rail from la to sf is stupid. There are a few areas it might work, but not many in the US. You don't have to build and maintain hundreds of miles of infrastructure for a plane. You can fly for 220 dollars from chicago to San Francisco. How much does Amtrack cost?

Anonymous said...

"now we live in a country where oranges from california make to the NY by truck. that's ridiculous. It's ridiculous that transport is so subsidized that new york state, which largest producer of apples in the country, has supermarkets with 80% apples from washington state."

I agree. The trucking industry beat the train freight industry. It's too bad. It seems trains are better for freight than trucks most of the time. We had a great Interurban network that was destroyed by the car.It seems the more we moved into metro areas the more we started to use cars.Cars are great in more rural areas, but buses and trains are good for metro areas, but you need some density for that.

I think buses are way under utilized in America. We already have the roads and buses can easily shift from one route to another unlike trains, which are stuck on their fixed route. If you had a 30 mile trip into a city, you could make it in half an hour tops if there was no heavy traffic. Instead of having a train station, you would have a bus station in the suburb. We have to get a % of cars off the roads so commutes can be faster. It's the traffic at rush hour that ruins highways. The bus could then make a few stops in the city so people wouldn't have to catch another bus or train to get to their destination once downtown. This would work great without bumper to bumper traffic at rush hour. I know buses aren't as cool as trains for the SWPL, but express buses are the answer. It's sitting in traffic that kills it.

Anonymous said...

"They offer low prices at a yield management model, with most seats booked at between $5-$25. "

Buses are a good idea, which I mentioned above. But in America they are associated with Nams and low class people. I've ridden on nice buses with nice people in Europe because of the demographics there. In the US it might be different.

Reg Cæsar said...

The idea behind high-speed rail is to cut downtown to downtown travel time. If you are a lawyer...

Should've said "executive". But Steve's timing is good. The Financial Times reported this weekend that businessmen in the UK and Europe have been shifting their travel to rail of late:

Big boost for trains as flying costs soar

Besides the city-center and screening issues, a big advantage is relative productivity. One "travel management" executive says, "Travellers know they will get more work done, so they will now accept up to four hours [rail travel time], whereas a few years ago the limit of acceptance was closer to three hours."

Anonymous said...

New York's Penn Station used to look great:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOzH02Pko4w

It's looked terrible ever since Robert Moses redesigned it.

Anonymous said...

The loss of Penn Station was bad but wasn't that due more to factors other than goo-goo liberal planning-lust, i.e. the death spiral of passenger rail?

As I write I'm in short driving distance from Davis in Yolo County (area which supposedly produces 95% of America's tomatoes!) I'm aware of refrigerated dairy cars but don't know why it's not better used for other produce, aside from logistical concerns. Of course I can't do anything about NY crunchy-cons being offended by CA tomatoes at market.

ATBOTL said...

NYC area passenger rail is not in a death spiral. Trains are standing room only.

Anonymous said...

It's looked terrible ever since Robert Moses redesigned it.
it was redesigned, it was razed.
and not only is it terrible looking, its a horrible ugly, demoralizing, confusing, chaotic place to catch a train. It's become worse with the heavy influx of third world immigrants.

The experience of catching a train there and at Grand Central is night and day.

jody said...

"Except that Solydra went bankrupt because prices are dropping so fast that it couldn't keep up with it. 7% a year, and no signs of it slowing down. It doens't really matter how dense the energy is, if the things are so cheap that you can use them instead of tarpaper for your roof."

that's why every building is using these for their exterior surfaces instead of any other material. oh wait. no building is using this stuff because it doesn't work. germany has dumped a couple decades into this stuff and it still doesn't work. i got friends at MIT developing massive industrial batteries to store power from vast solar farms and wind farms. but they'll never sell many to solar farms, because this technology model barely works even in the desert.

i remember when they built a huge solar installation at nellis airforce base. despite it's size that thing only provides like 20% of base power, and that array is HUGE. that's a ludicrous area-to-watts production ratio which will NEVER work in a city or suburb.

space based solar might work, and solar thermal might work in limited applications like geothermal power, but slapping photovoltaic surfaces on buildings does not work. the energy density is not there and will never be there, period. combine that with the problem of the transduction efficiency not being there either, and will never be there, and you've got a real problem.

do some math. even if they were 100% efficient these things don't deliver the output you need in most climates when you look at the watts per square meter of photons coming down. and they are far from 100% efficient. they're like engines. down there at below 50% efficiency even in the lab, and below that when deployed. real world PV efficieny improvements creep upwards at like 2% per decade.

jody said...

then you have states like california, where the roof surfaces of most buildings must be coated in a reflective color like white - part of their "power efficiency instead of new power plants" policy. not a bad idea at all except, well, most PVs are deep black.

like the ethanol production initiatives which are also a bust, you can't make much money building and selling photovoltaic stuff. this technology exists only in a highly subsidized form. that's why the majority of these companies are going out of business. it has nothing to do with falling prices. it's just start ups starting, finding no buyers, and failing. normal business cycle stuff. the stock price of first solar (FSLR) has crashed after the hysteria has worn off and the "Oh, this doesn't really work" phase has kicked in.

many liberals are SUPER BIG on solar. they're wrong, and simply ignore basic math on topics like this. carter put these things on the white house in 1979 - but even if you put the best 2011 ones on the white house today, they'd still not generate much. we'll be using oil and coal and natural gas for a long time.

those bloom boxes that that indian guy is building and selling in california, THOSE might work. i'd be interested in learning more about bloom. but they're pretty secretive. probably similar in technology and scope to the power cells the japanese are developing. if they work, not a bad way to power houses and office buildings.

Paul Rian said...

Trains better for freight than trucks? True, in the same way that ships would be better, and teleportation better still. But in real life, there are trucks at both ends of the train yard/dock/teleporters. Chances are good that the workers at the transportation terminals are being paid North American wages, too, which isn't such an issue if a truck takes the goods all the way from the fields.

Anonymous said...

"Subsidized Amtrak Acela fare from Boston to New York: $198.00 round trip.

JetBlue airfare from Boston to New York: $152.00 round trip."

Bus from Cambridge MA to Penn Station NYC (with WiFi): $30.00 round trip


Amtrak is explicitly subsidised. Whereas airlines and roads have more hidden subsidies. Im pretty sure that applies in a lot of places, not just the US.

If roads were privately built and operated, tolls etc then we might start to see what the real costs were.

Anonymous said...

Amtrak gets a lot of flak but its also a medium of corporate welfare in its own right. Its taken on the pensions of defunct railroads. It subsidises the lines that it uses for the freight operators who own the track.

Im guessing also that there is an element of strategic hedge betting involved. At some level the govt is dimly aware that while rail is not currently too vital, that may change and at least a skeleton rail network is maintained for the future. Cheaper than starting from scratch.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:49

Yeah, but you have to worry about the illegal Asian bus driver dumping the bus negotiating an offramp on the Mass Pike!

neil craig said...

An interesting thought Steve. the risec of "minoritarianism" coindides with the rise of anti-technology scare stories (eg the LNT radiation theory was officially promulgated between 1959 & '63 though it had supporters before it was official and has become even more enforcably official since). The reinforcing connection is that the more scary theories the courts listen to the smaller the minorities who can claim to believe they are being harmed by allowing something. This leads to the situation where GM foods are largely suppressed on the extreme version of "precautionary principle" that if there is anybody, anywhere who believes there is a danger, albeit they can suggest no mechanism whereby it would work or test of the theory, it must be banned. This would be the reductio ad absurdaum of minority effects, with the minority effected reduced to zero, if it were not where we now are.

As somebody who thinks minority rights a sign of civilisation I can't object to some movement from the early 50s position. However it is easy to demonstrate that the net loss to the community must almost always be greater than the gain to the special interest group.

On the other hand it provides ever more work for lawyers which may explain it all.

Anonymous said...

If roads were privately built and operated, tolls etc then we might start to see what the real costs were.

Not necessarily. In that scenario prices might not reflect costs but be greatly above them. Private firms might have great market power over certain routes and be able to charge dearly and capture huge economic rents.

David said...

"Monorail" from The Simpsons.

Lyle Lanley: Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine,
Bona fide,
Electrified,
Six-car
Monorail!
What'd I say?

Ned Flanders: Monorail!

Lyle Lanley: What's it called?

Patty+Selma: Monorail!

Lyle Lanley: That's right! Monorail!

[crowd chants "Monorail" softly and rhythmically]

Miss Hoover: I hear those things are awfully loud...

Lyle Lanley: It glides as softly as a cloud.

Apu: Is there a chance the track could bend?

Lyle Lanley: Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?

Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.

Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?

Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.

Wiggum: The ring came off my pudding can.

Lyle Lanley: Take my pen knife, my good man.

I swear it's Springfield's only choice...
Throw up your hands and raise your voice!

All: Monorail!

Lyle Lanley: What's it called?

All: Monorail!

Lyle Lanley: Once again...

All: Monorail!

Marge: But Main Street's still all cracked and broken...

Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!

All: Monorail!
Monorail!
Monorail!

[big finish]

Monorail!

Homer: Mono... D'oh!

Anonymous said...

All you paleocons are hilarious. I'm so glad you innumerate buffoons haven't had a chance to run anything yet. Let's see, trains are a bad idea, not because local planning and general malaise have made large mutually-beneficial projects impossible in an era of polarized politics and corrupt governance. No, you seem to think that high-speed rail is a bad idea because a magic wand - er, sorry, "the market" - will appear and make gas cheap again, only this time, it'll be forever!

Evil Sandmich said...

I can't take credit for it as I read it elsewhere, but instead of NIMBY, the guy used BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Get Off My Lawn! said...

I am on trains the Benelux regions frequently. And it is obvious that these are very densely populated countries. However, I am rarely in a completely packed train. usually there is plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Freeways in the region are every bit as wide and packed as something you'd see in the I-95 corridor in the U.S.

No surprise there. Europeans take to cars every bit as readily as Americans (and everyone else around the world) when they can afford them.

Trains are a little faster than cars, but not enough to outweigh the many advantages a private car offers. Three that come to mind immediately: (1) You can take lots of stuff in your car; (2) the car takes you directly from your own home to your exact destination; and (3) it does so when YOU want to travel. No need to worry about getting to and from the station or matching your schedule to rail company's.

I would imagine the the last two points are also significant for freight: A truck can go directly from port to warehouse and from warehouse to store. A train generally can't without relying some intermediary transportation.

Trains are useful in few limited circumstances. Otherwise, I stand by my original point: Long-distance or very high-speed travel = plane. Shorter distances = car.

Oh, and I've been hearing about "peak oil" and how we're about to run out of fuel for a few decades now. And skeptics are always met with the same response. "Sure the fears were exaggerated in 1973/1980/whenever, but this time it's really true!"

I'll believe it when it happens. In fact, I believe it won't happen at all because we'll extract oil from tar sands and figure out how to run cars on fuel made from coal, of which we have enough to last for centuries.

Anonymous said...

"thus suburbanization is likely to continue as it buys social peace and buries conflict. "

The suburbs are not what they used to be. People are having to now flee their once white suburbs to other ones.

Anonymous said...

"All you paleocons are hilarious. I'm so glad you innumerate buffoons haven't had a chance to run anything yet."

I love trains and I am a car hater but trains are only good in some circumstances. Many of our areas are just too spread out. We need a balance of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Each is good for a certain area of need.The best set up is being able to choose to drive or take mass transit, including the much maligned bus, according to each person's preference. This would be for day to day life. For distant travel the plane is usually better.

Have you read Ivan Illich's Energy and Equity, Tools for Conviviality and Toward a History of Needs? His critique of cars is brilliant. Lewis Mumford's The American Way of Death essay is great.

Anonymous said...

Steve, have you been following driverless cars?

They're said to be advancing rapidly and getting to the point of being better than human drivers.

There could be networks of driverless cars with lots of robotic driverless taxis zooming around. It could look similar to a rail network, like a decentralized rail network with individual cars driving around for people to hitch rides on.

Road trips across the country in a driverless car would be cool.

Anonymous said...

not a hacker: To paraphrase Lionel Hutz there's lawyer and "lawyer"--i.e. doing stuff besides practicing law (tax compliance, industry liaisons, political campaigns, schmoozing). I think Steve may have been using it in the latter, modern sense. Having a JD is now de rigeur for a certain level of overclass participation.