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High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

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High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 08:45:15

Topic to discuss the pros and cons of HSR in particular but mass transit in general.

Over my career I’ve been involved with a few of these projects, generally from a systems engineering perspective. I’ve become very negative about their implementation for a variety of reasons.

The one currently in public view is the California HSR project, which the Govoner cancelled on Feb.12, 2019. Or maybe not, it’s just been “scaled back.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History ... Speed_Rail

. Citing delays and cost overruns and lack of transparency from the project's leadership, Governor Gavin Newsom cancelled the project on February 12, 2019. However, Newsom said he wants to finish construction a segment already underway through California's Central Valley, arguing it would revitalize the economically depressed region. He also said he would replace the head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.[1]


https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2019/02/14/tru ... oject.html

. An audit last year faulted California's High-Speed Rail Authority for "flawed decision making and poor contract management." A business plan released in early 2018 showed its projected baseline cost soared by up to 20 percent from two years earlier and indicated the cost could rise to nearly $100 billion.


HSR has also been called for in the Green New Deal and Amtrak is asking for $38 billions more to prop up the North East Corridor and increase access into NYC. Which does not include additional requests from PANYNJ, MetroNorth, LIRR, or the NYC subway system.

https://www.railwayage.com/news/nec-com ... 8-billion/

So we are not talking chump change here. Is this a wise investment? Does it substantially help global warming? I know my answers, what are your thoughts?
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Tanada » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 10:05:58

IMO this is yet another case of focusing on the wrong problem. In the case of rail, lets start with the low hanging fruit and go for wide scale electrification first. Almost all rail traffic in North America is freight, so by electrifying the entire trackage we could eliminate enormous quantities of diesel fuel demand.

After we do that we can play with elitist high speed passenger rail around the margins where it actually makes sense.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Outcast_Searcher » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 10:29:02

Tanada wrote:IMO this is yet another case of focusing on the wrong problem. In the case of rail, lets start with the low hanging fruit and go for wide scale electrification first. Almost all rail traffic in North America is freight, so by electrifying the entire trackage we could eliminate enormous quantities of diesel fuel demand.

After we do that we can play with elitist high speed passenger rail around the margins where it actually makes sense.

I agree completely, Tanada. The big disagreement I have with the far left on their attitudes re transportation projects is the tendency to ignore or dismiss unrealistically high costs that frequently go with the projects -- vs. the benefit of the projects.

It's easy to sneer at costs when you're using other peoples' money. The "let's start with the low hanging fruit" sentiment is exactly right, but apparently too obvious for many politicians.
Given the track record of the perma-doomer blogs, I wouldn't bet a fast crash doomer's money on their predictions.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 11:05:30

Considering the fuel efficiency of diesel locomotives (470RTM/gallon) which is four times better then over the road trucks we could make a major reduction in CO2 emissions just by moving any heavy cargo that is moving more then fifty miles from trucks to trains without the bother and expense of electrifying the entire system.
RTM is revenue ton miles which takes into account the percentage of empty cars being moved back to their next load.
All it would take is a diesel tax hike that the railroads were exempt from for the industry to figure out how best to accomplish the reduction in road fuel use without bureaucratic government fumbling and interference.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 12:18:16

IIRC the current rail system has some significant bottle necks in the passes through the Rockies and also in various switching yards.

So as it stands the system is close to capacity. Not on all routes, but important ones.

The lowest hanging fruit is to simply reduce consumption. Remove the trucks while keeping the freight. Eiectify it if you will. Maybe that could be part of the overall switch HVDC electrification. Rail electrification infrastructure is over built to carry distribution lines.

Been done before. Many portions of the NEC have a commercial transmission line overbuild. You can see it described on page 7 of the attached.

http://www.pennsyrr.com/kc/motiveops/do ... 0_0360.pdf

(I worked on a project that got to rewrite this and similar documents for AMTRAK.)

http://michaelfroio.com/blog/2013/02/11 ... rification

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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Plantagenet » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 12:26:09

Yes, HSR is costly.

But so is our current system of highways and airports.

IMHO blocking HSR and electric freight rail because of the cost of electrifying the freight rail system and building out HSR for passenger travel while ignoring the cost of maintaining highways and building airports and subsidizing our current system is short-sighted.

We have a bigger problem then cost to deal with, and thats climate change. The world is heading, day by day, into huge risks associated with global warming. In less then a decade we are going to see the whole Arctic Ocean go ice-free in the summer. An ice-free Arctic Ocean, with 24 hours of sunlight per day in the summer and no sea ice to reflect the sunlight, is going to become warm very quickly. And that will have big effects on Greenland ice and Arctic permafrost and their huge CO2/CH4 stores.

We need to start reducing our CO2 emissions. Switching to electric freight rail and HSR for passenger rail and reducing or even eliminating air travel between US cities and diesel truck freight hauling is a big step we can take to help reduce CO2 emissions.

I'm appalled that the Ds in California scaled back their HSR plans, after all their rhetoric about fighting climate change. I'm not surprised---but I'm appalled. Trump's support for more and more oil drilling is dangerous enough----we don't need the Ds backing down on climate change too.

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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 12:29:59

Newfie wrote:IIRC the current rail system has some significant bottle necks in the passes through the Rockies and also in various switching yards.

.
Well there is a very good place to start.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 13:50:44

Plantagenet wrote:Yes, HSR is costly.

But so is our current system of highways and airports.

IMHO blocking HSR and electric freight rail because of the cost of electrifying the freight rail system and building out HSR for passenger travel while ignoring the cost of maintaining highways and building airports and subsidizing our current system is short-sighted.

We have a bigger problem then cost to deal with, and thats climate change. The world is heading, day by day, into huge risks associated with global warming. In less then a decade we are going to see the whole Arctic Ocean go ice-free in the summer. An ice-free Arctic Ocean, with 24 hours of sunlight per day in the summer and no sea ice to reflect the sunlight, is going to become warm very quickly. And that will have big effects on Greenland ice and Arctic permafrost and their huge CO2/CH4 stores.

We need to start reducing our CO2 emissions. Switching to electric freight rail and HSR for passenger rail and reducing or even eliminating air travel between US cities and diesel truck freight hauling is a big step we can take to help reduce CO2 emissions.

I'm appalled that the Ds in California scaled back their HSR plans, after all their rhetoric about fighting climate change. I'm not surprised---but I'm appalled. Trump's support for more and more oil drilling is dangerous enough----we don't need the Ds backing down on climate change too.

Cheers!


Except that TODAY the US electrical grid is fed by 63% fossil fuels, 20% Nuclear, and 17% renewables. (EIA figures for 2018)

As I have pointed ouit before, Nuclear is not carbon free, since mining/refining/enriching uranium fuel is heavily FF-dependant. Nor are renewables carbon-free, since they depend heavily upon materials made from petroleum using energy from all FF's.

Nor are trains especially energy-efficient transport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport

It's simply not clear whether electrified trains emit any less carbon per passenger-mile than cars, light trucks, or other alternatives.

One thing that is VERY CERTAIN is that the energy figures for trains cannot be compared from one country to the next. Trains have been viable mass transit in European cities since the early 20th century or even longer, and such cities have grown around the train service. The economics of adding train service to existing cities are very different.

Another observation: the peak transit times for cities are mornings and evenings, not a good match to Solar or Wind renewable sources, which tend to produce most energy in daylight.

Practical difficulties abound, when it comes to personal or mass transit without carbon emissions.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 14:41:44

HSR has is not at all very effective in reducing CO2. First there is al he infrastructure then there is the tremendous weight of the passenger vehicles. Plus the acceleration and deceleration.

Just think about this, an Accela trip Philly to NYC is about $150. The comparable express bus, which is only slightly slower, is about $15.

But let’s start the analysis correctly, the goal is to reduce green house gasses. One problem is transportation, human transportation. So how do we reduce the cost of human transportation?

The vast majority of our travel is by private car. Then public transit. Then plane. The area most ripe for improvement is the private commuter.

The first desire would be to eliminate as many trips as possible. Get folks to work closer to hkme, or live closer to work, or work at home.

Baring that we should try to reduce the cost of commuter trips. Shared trips, move folks to existing public transit, more public transit where it makes sense.

But we also need to make mass transit more cost effective and attractive. Right jow fare systems take from, roughly, 15% to 35% of fare box revenues. Eliminating those fares would move people to mass transit and allow more folks to work. If you are making $7/hr at a part time iob and shelling out $5 or more for transport that’s a big dissencentive to work. Eliminating fares would be a big incentive for more complete use of this public investment, more return, more folks working, more taxes to support the system.

That’s where the HSR money should go, where it does the most good.

My argument is not necessarily to build new mass transit but to optimize what we now have. While I seldom ride the Philly when I do, out of rush hour, it is mostly empty. I’ve been on cars where I was the only passenger. Same with busses, you often see big 40 passenger busses roaming around at 7pm with only 3-4 aboard. Makes no sense.

Now the other way of working that is to develop a more flexible fleet. Maybe to encourage small owner operators to run routes with 6-12 passenger vehicles. Maybe try to work a way to make the throughout dynamic to adjust for need.

Enough for now. It’s not an easy solution and HSR is not a part of it.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Plantagenet » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 17:31:34

KaiserJeep wrote: TODAY the US electrical grid is fed by 63% fossil fuels, 20% Nuclear, and 17% renewables. (EIA figures for 2018)

As I have pointed ouit before, Nuclear is not carbon free, since mining/refining/enriching uranium fuel is heavily FF-dependant. Nor are renewables carbon-free, since they depend heavily upon materials made from petroleum using energy from all FF's.


If the intent is to reduce CO2 emissions by switching from planes and diesel freight trucks to HSR and electric freight lines, it would be logical to also remake the electric grid by switching from carbon based fuels to nukes and renewables.

While this wouldn't eliminate carbon emissions entirely, it would certainly reduce them.

Cheers!
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Plantagenet » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 17:37:45

Newfie wrote: It’s not an easy solution and HSR is not a part of it.


Well, big important parts of the world disagree with you. In Japan HSR is glorious.

Go to the EU and HSR is ubiquitous. AND the EU continues to build out their HSR network today.

Go to China and you'll find a huge HSR network built largely in the last 20 years. Its pretty amazing to see.

Done right, HSR can replace a lot of intercity car travel and plane travel. Get on the train in St. Pancras in London, blast through the chunnel and get off in Paris three hours later. Downtown to downtown. Its pretty darn amazing, and actually much much faster then plane travel, when you include the time wasted in security lines and need to commute from city centers out to the burbs to get to the airports.

HSR, done right, is faster and easier and more convenient and just plain better then a plane trip. And it emits less CO2. Thats a win-win in my book.

Cheers!
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 19:15:42

Plant,

I know most of the world disagrees with me. That doesn’t make me wrong, just different. Nor does it prove your point.

I understand your experience, and I’m sure it was all very pleasurble. But it’s based on the idea that all those people were making necessary trips. The alternative viewpoint is that without that nice train the many folks would not be making those trips, that most of those trips are unnecessary.

But you did not address my point that the same trip from Philadelphia to NYC costs $150 on Acela or $15 on the express bus. And that’s on an existing ROW that’s not ever really HSR. If it’s so efficient how come it’s so expensive?

BTW: In full disclosure, besides working the industry I’ve checked up over 50,000 miles riding Amtrak’s NEC as a user.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Cog » Thu 14 Feb 2019, 19:43:49

If you stop at every Podunk city along the way, then its really not high speed rail.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby evilgenius » Fri 15 Feb 2019, 11:33:19

I think one of the big problems with high speed rail is the infrastructure from the rail station to where you want to go. Paris does have an amazing station that links up with a network that can get you around. Most places outside of Europe don't, though. People like the autonomy they get when they can take their cars with them. They could easily do without them, if they could trust the public transport options. When what is called a good bus system in the US makes you wait thirty minutes for the next bus headed your way, that isn't going to interest people in using the HSR line that takes them there. That is especially true when you consider people who need to use the link, as opposed to those on vacation who have some free time. Bad transport infrastructure harms those who have to get to work on time. They have to leave very early to use it.

When I heard they were going to build HSR in California I thought it would be a good idea. The problem is, they should be thinking about building it from LA to Vegas. People enjoying casinos, which are designed trap people in them, don't need their cars. All you need for a HSR to work from LA to Vegas is good parking in LA and a close enough stop in Vegas so that people can either walk to their hotel, or to some easy shuttle system. If Vegas wants to reinvigorate their older sections, they could provide a free shuttle. They wouldn't need to place an HSR stop there.

Another thing that could be done is to think about hauling cars on the trains. They do that at the Chunnel. That way, people wouldn't need to rely upon a bad public transport system, or pay exorbitant Uber or Lyft pricing, when their piecemeal efforts added up. If they did that within the greater LA region, they could tie various places together to and from which people burn a lot of fuel to travel now, saving the CO2 and maybe some travel time. If it cost about what it does to use the carpool lanes and was very easy to get on and off of, it might work.

The bottom line is you don't get the best transport options by allowing the infrastructure to come along organically. That sort of plan is why so many cities are mired in traffic problems now. People have to figure out what is best, and plan it out. They have to consider both the immediate and distant futures, beyond the time span of the organic model. People in the US would have to face down their fears that such projects are somehow communism coming through the back door. It is expensive, so people in the US would have to vote to approve such things as well. Good luck with that. And you can't forget to consider the technological changes, autonomous cars for instance, that are coming.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Plantagenet » Fri 15 Feb 2019, 12:15:53

Newfie wrote: all those people were making necessary trips..... without that nice train the many folks would not be making those trips, that most of those trips are unnecessary.


?????

Who gets to decide what trips are necessary and what trips aren't?

In western non-totalitarian countries we let individuals make those decisions for themselves. Thats a pretty basic predicate of a free society, IMHO.

Newfie wrote:
you did not address my point that the same trip from Philadelphia to NYC costs $150 on Acela or $15 on the express bus. And that’s on an existing ROW that’s not ever really HSR. If it’s so efficient how come it’s so expensive?


I had the same experience in Europe last year. I used an app to book a $9 Euro trip on an Express bus from Caen to Lille because there wasn't good train service along the western coast of France. I was amazed how cheap it was! The French train system uses the "spokes on a wheel" system, and for some trips you have to go back to Paris and then out again. I assumed the bus would just take me up the coast but instead I got on the bus....and it took me back to Paris, and then I switched to a different bus to back out to the coast to get to Lille. The bus station in Paris is right on the Seine, right across from the French National Library, so I went over there for lunch before the taking the next bus back out. Basically, the bus service was cheap but not very good----it took all day to travel 200 km up the coast on a bus because I the buses are slow and go all the way back into Paris to make their route transfers.

The comparable train service back to Paris and out again would've been 50 Euros or so and would've done the trip much faster.

So which was more efficient? It seems to me the measure of efficiency is not only cost, but should also include speed and comfort. And judged on those criteria of speed and comfort, HSR is more efficient then buses or planes for mid-range intercity travel.

Cheers!
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Plantagenet » Fri 15 Feb 2019, 18:34:25

baha wrote:We need Travelpods. Small van sized electric pods that can operate alone at low speeds and congregate into trains that travel at high speeds. On the highway they close up to reduce drag but they aren't really hooked together so you can drop out and exit anytime you want. Others can accelerate and join in. All controlled by a single AI communicating with each pod's AI. You only get to drive when your operating alone (if you want).....
This is an American solution. Fast, powerful, and individualized. ...


Will the mother ship come and beam us up when the pod breaks down?

Image

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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Fri 15 Feb 2019, 18:36:18

baha wrote:You all recognize the issue but haven't addressed it. Americans are individuals. Public transit doesn't work for us because we want to go wherever and do whatever we want. You're not going to change this easy or fast. So don't try...

Global shipping has evolved on it's own. It has gotten very efficient by centering on shipping containers. One or two sizes of containers that can be carried in lots of different ways. Add computerized logistics and packing and a box can be shipped anywhere very efficiently. What happens if you follow that model for people?

We need Travelpods. Small van sized electric pods that can operate alone at low speeds and congregate into trains that travel at high speeds. On the highway they close up to reduce drag but they aren't really hooked together so you can drop out and exit anytime you want. Others can accelerate and join in. All controlled by a single AI communicating with each pod's AI. You only get to drive when your operating alone (if you want).

If that makes you nervous the windows can fog and you can sit on the couch and watch reality TV :)

For long distances the pod trains enter a tunnel where they engage a third rail for more power and accelerate to 200 mph. Are you scared yet?

This is an American solution. Fast, powerful, and individualized. And it could be pretty efficient. This is thinking inside a box :) or a pod...


...just don't go calling it a HyperLoop.

Seriously, once you enter a pod, it should be accelerated to 760mph - or whatever "normal" speed is - and appended to the next passing train.

Then as you pass through a station, the train is segmented, the pods re-routed or removed, and the train re-assembled. All at full speed, by the AI, who doesn't care about screaming hysterical passengers. Then you wait for the next station. Rinse and repeat.

The HyperLoop competes with the suborbital space plane. Once outside the atmosphere, you go really fast, re-enter, and land. Hydrogen fuelled aerospike-type engines that reconfigure from jets to rockets to jets as needed.

BTW, I agree that Americans need BEVs powered by renewables. I will add 4WD and variable ride hieght suspension, to deal with deteriorating roads.

Lots of Greenies insist that we need European or Japanese-style HSR. No acknowledgment that most European cities grew around railways, while the USA grew around roads. The Interstate highway system needs to be electrified and updated for modern electric vehicles.
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Re: High Speed Rail: Pros and Cons

Unread postby Zarquon » Sat 16 Feb 2019, 07:34:39

Newfie wrote:So we are not talking chump change here. Is this a wise investment? Does it substantially help global warming? I know my answers, what are your thoughts?


I had only a brief look at the wiki page, but it seems you're basically talking about the ubiquitous cost overruns with public megaprojects, in all countries. IOW, if they had spent a $gazillion on a giant pet zoo instead, it would probably have faced the same waste and delays.

(Come on, who's going to be the first to shout "BUT THE FRIGGIN CHINESE CAN DO IT"? And then I'll say "They're sure better at hiding their failures. They also lock you up for pointing them out, which must help a lot.")

Anyway, from a politician's POV a project like this brings a ton of much needed local jobs in construction and services, which brings votes. Can anyone argue with job creation? And then a large chunk of the money spent flows back into public coffers through payroll and sales and other taxes (except for taxes on corporate profits, which somehow end up on the Cayman Islands). Suddenly the economics look a lot different than from a private company's POV.

Companies like it. Voters like it. The banks like it. Infrastructure makes everybody happy. As a politician you know in advance it will take longer, deliver less and cost more than promised. You just don't know how much, and with megaprojects like these you have no way to find out before the fact. So you vote Yes, knock on wood and hope for the best.

Once the contracts are signed, it's usually too late to pull back, which creates a great incentive to deliver a little less and bill them a little more. One delay causes the next, and delays don't add up but instead they multiply, and in the end it's never anybody's fault. In court you can always blame the delay before.

I think it's unusual everywhere for politicians to pull the emergency brake unless (or even if) costs balloon totally out of control. Doesn't matter if it's jet fighters, rail lines or nuclear power plants.

If it's any consolation, read Vitruvius. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had the same problems.
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