High Speed Rail

I’ve never understood the left’s fascination with high speed rail. Maybe it’s because it makes them feel unenlightened that Europe so heavily invested in it, while the US ignored it. Maybe it’s because they hate the automobile that much. But whatever the reason, Megan McArdle, who has been in China on a business trip, shows why the US isn’t going to have China’s high speed rail system. Today she points out that the efforts to make high speed rail a reality in the US could have a detrimental effect on freight rail, which is truly green.

I am not against high speed rail per-se. It makes sense where cities are packed tightly together, like the Northeast Corridor Washington to Boston route. But for passenger travel to distant cities, planes are probably going to more economically efficient, and likely more energy efficient as well (depending on how fast the trains go, how full you can keep them, and the types of grades they have to traverse). Speed is costly in terms of energy. It doesn’t take a trivial amount of power to keep something as large as a train running 200 MPH at sea level or close to sea level, and even at that speed, it’ll still take close to 14 hours to get from New York to Los Angeles. That’s more than twice as long as a typical flight to Los Angeles. Even New York to Dallas would be a whopping 8 hours.

14 thoughts on “High Speed Rail”

  1. Another thing to think about is the land rights. Lot’s of trackage rights were sold to bordering land owners.

    Decades of eminent domain lawsuits will abound.

  2. Having ridden the Shinkansen in Japan, and flown the same distance, I can tell you a 1 hour flight is a 5 hour train ride, even at 150+ mph, due to stops, changing to the locals, etc. And the cost is within $20 of a plane ticket to fly the same distance. Most of the track it runs on was specially built and cost billions too!

  3. Once the Left lost the economic argument, they started arguing from a cultural perspective. Since all the cool kids have rail and the terrible plebians like to drive cars, trains are cool and cars are bad.

    Plus, nothing says powerful overlord like forcing the plebes to stuff themselves into public transportation and schedule their lives around the need of unionized transportation workers.

  4. Sean hit the nail on the head – but another aspect of “high speed rail” will be to create misery and poverty out of success.
    In California on the Peninsula here, the elevated exercise will shove a fifty-foot tall Berlin Wall down El Camino from San Jose to San Frandisco and divide cities into two parts, creating new areas of real-estate privilege and status, and new barios of neglect via the KELO takings effect.
    The civil-engineering structural requirements to elevate the zoomy train are fairly hideous in the epic-monumental Fascist Style.
    Palo Alto already has poverty-zone East Palo Alto, but you will also end up with well-defined and poor East San Mateo and rich and desirable West San Mateo, and the same thing will happen to Redwood City, Mountain View, San Carlos, Belmont, Burlingame and the other cities of the Peninsula…

    And it’s butt-ugly, why don’t they ever mention that?

  5. I just like how they assume people want to go from city center to city center. You know where the jobs and the homes aren’t. I’ve seen plans to run trains to Atlanta and Houston. Both as a concept require long distance car transportation to get anywhere people actually congregate in any numbers.

  6. I think the left needs to be reminded that most communities/cities in Japan and Europe have remained essentially stable geographically for the last 200 years. They haven’t experienced the same growth and change that U.S cities have so they can afford the kinds of long term investment required.

    Having said that, I do like traveling by train in both Europe and Japan, but not enough to pour a trillion dollars into it here.

  7. Kiss “Rails to Trails” goodbye.

    I’m a rail-fan, I think trains are cool… but who the hell wants to go where the train goes?

    Those who want to travel from city to city… How many are there? I don’t know any (I have few ‘progressive friends). Somehow I can’t imagine a lot of people in Madison wanting to go to Milwaukee, Chicago or Cleveland. In fact this time of the year they want to go to Tampa or Fort Lauderdale and that ain’t happening on a train.

    Sure, Europe has great pubic transportaion… We have real estate, lots of it. Most European countries can fit inside a couple of state borders.

    I did always like the P&W high speed trolley… It can take you from Norristown to Upper Darby in 20 minutes (I don’t want to be in either one).

    They had there time but suburban sprawl and it has passed. Towns are made up of developments now and every town has it’s own industrail park. Imagine the spaghetti bowl of tracks and schedules that would stop at all with required station (and TSA Agent) at every cull-de-sac.

  8. I’ve looked at the route of the high speed rail in California and I think it’s a good idea.

    While plenty of planes fly from LA to SF, high speed rail is going to cut through the central valley so you could take a train to Bakerfield, Fresno, Modesto, etc. It’s considerably harder to catch an easy flight to those cities. On top of that, you could skip the whole mess of catching a flight out of the airports. I have plenty of friends who catch Amtrack to ride from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara or Del Mar on weekends.

  9. Planes require fossil fuels, which won’t last forever. A high speed rail would presumably use electricity (hopefully generated from a renewable source), and would be more sustainable.

  10. This is true, but hopefully by the time we run out of fossil fuels, we’ll have better solutions for moving aircraft. It is theoretically possible to use electricity to power planes to high speed if you use superconducting electric motors powering a high bypass fan rather than a turbine.

  11. “I’ve never understood the left’s fascination with high speed rail.”

    Oh, come now, you’re smarter than this. Why does the left fixate on anything?

    It’s the ant farm, baby!

  12. BEWARE property owners!! You will be sorry the High Speed Rail ever passed. Not because of the rail itself but because of what will happen to you over Right of Way Acquisitions whether it be by negotiated agreement or Eminent Domain. Believe me, I speak from a position of experience. I was just served with notice by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) that they are seizing my home under Eminent Domain for $150,000 BELOW my property tax basis from 2003! That’s right; legally they are suppose to pay property owners Fair Market Value but that is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! I have been tangled in this diaster for 6 years. In that time my property became worthless on the open market – I couldn’t even get a real estate broker to list it. I couldn’t rent it for market value because of construction noise, false timeline, etc. I have been forced to carry this property for over 5 years at an out-of-pocket cost of $250,000 and now they are seizing it below what I paid for it in 2003!! Good Luck!

  13. Sorry to hear about that. Eminent Domain abuse is really out of control. I hope you have some means to fight them on this. They should give you fair market value from before they announced they were going to condemn the property.

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