Thursday, February 17, 2011
WaPo Got Pushed Too Far
If FedEx won't resurrect the Concorde then who will?
It was introduced in 1976 and retired in 2003. Something needs to be done!
And where are the high speed cargo ships?
Modern cargo ships slow to the speed of the sailing clippers
"Container ships are taking longer to cross the oceans than the Cutty Sark did as owners adopt 'super-slow steaming' to cut back on fuel consumption"
Why won't the government fix this!
Adorable Low-Speed Chipmunk!
Adorable Low-Speed Retriever!
Adorable Low-Speed Kitten!
Adorable High-Speed Train Spotter?
We could give the rides away and reduce unemployment!
1)For the hyper-Keynesians, the labor spent building a steam locomotive is just as "stimulative" as the labor spent building a modern electric locomotive
2)Steam locomotives are much cooler and cuddlier
3)More crew will be required, both for operations and for maintenance, further increasing the JOBS payoff of the project
4)Slow speeds will allow track to follow the curvaceous paths which will be required in any case by environmental and NIMBY issues
5)Slow speeds will reduce the stress of modern life
(Historical note: actually, some railroads regularly ran steam passenger trains at 90mph, which exceeds the speeds planned for some segments of the "high-speed rail" project)
I really like your idea. I'm running with it!
I don't see why we couldn't improve on that.
It's just that we seem to have to go for the glitzy stuff.
But most of all, we need power. If we're not going to do coal, which I see from the president's budget we are not, then we'd better get cracking and start building a whole bunch of nuclear plants. That's not something we can do on the fly - it needs careful planning.
If we're not careful we could find ourselves like India, where the power pretty much goes out most days.
I believe that all mass transit systems are an 1800s solution to current problems. We just don't live the kind of lifestyle to make those systems work for most of us. Even car pooling is difficult. I'd love to find someone to share my 150 mile commute, but doubt I could find anyone working my shift.
I think the old transit systems (think Chicago or NYC) work quite well, except that the big cities used their infrastructure advantage to put in place crony capitalist systems that negate their competitive advantage. The politicians monetized the city infrastructure to their personal gain.
The new transit systems are, for the most part, fantasy systems designed on the one hand to serve a non-existent urbanist utopia, and on the other to serve a the projects of a few crony devlopers. Boondoggles.
I actually think that speeding-up the existing freight lines for the purpose of medium-speed passenger trains would be a good thing in some areas. The 79mph limit is a government-imposed limit, they require special signaling and grade-crossing devices to go faster. Getting trains up to 125mph peak speeds is possible, but won't pay if it's just freight. If the public wanted to pay for sped-up passenger service out of some of the highway funds, the freight could probably be sped-up too. It's possible with modern locomotives.
Right-of-way and signaling improvements would be a reasonable use of Federal and state transportation money, but I think there's probably too much NIMBYism for it to happen. I know the proposed Chicago-St.Louis line is having trouble that way.
Neil, while mass transit systems like those in NYC have high levels of ridership, they are fiscal time bombs (at least in NYC). The fare box only covers about half of the operating costs. The balance is covered by an ever expanding array of taxes, ie tolls on the bridges, phone and electric bills, sales tax, real estate transactions, and most recently a payroll tax - it is quite a list. And as for capital costs, well they just borrow those with no hope of amortizing the principal involved - just a ponzi style debt accumulation.
Lastly the system is probably the worst example of the public sector union/elected official industrial complex out there. We pay people $25 an hour to sweep the floors in the stations (that's just wages, not benefits), employees get first dollar health care coverage for life with no contribution and they can retire at age 55 with 20 years service. It is a complete joke. When the MTA wanted to move retirement back to 62 a few years ago, the union went on strike a week before Christmas during one of the most important weeks for retailers in the city.
In short, this is just one more government entity that will need a bailout - it's just a question of when. The traditional pattern has been to find some other activity to tax and hope that no one looks too hard at what they are paying. They have never once succeeded in controlling cost in the system and no one has had the stones to stand up to the unions. We'll see what happens next time.
Christie's decision to defund the 2nd Hudson river tunnel for NJ transit caused a political earthquake and sent people like Frank Lautenberg into a tizzie (he's got a station named after him in Secaucus so you know where his campaign dollars come from). Perhaps that is the first sign of a change in tide for the black hole of public transit. Taxpayers in NYC can only hope that is the case
I've done a lot of travel by rail in Europe. Europe is quite small by comparison to the U.S. so distances are not as great. Their system grew up and was continuously financed by high taxes on fuel and autos to make auto travel prohibitive. (Only the upper middle class and above have autos.) Many European cities have narrow winding streets that don't accomodate autos very well and there is practically no parking anywhere in a city in Europe. They have a pretty well rationalized system. Most people can take a convenient bus or taxi to the nearest rail connection and once at the new destination, there are further buses and taxis to get you to your destination. The big drawback is that it takes time to get around and you have to do advance planning. However, it is very well planned and efficient compared to trying to travel by rail, bus, and taxi here in the U.S.
Air travel is far more efficient here in the U.S. considering the distances people need to travel here.
The libs here in Puget Sound are all excited about building a high speed rail from Portland to Vancouver, B.C. We presently have rail service on that route from AMTRAK, but it doesn't make money. Why they think high speed rail would do any better, I have no idea.
What progressive planners don't understand is that the auto gives a person personal freedom that those without autos in Europe don't have. As long as poor families can own an operable auto and afford gas for it, bus and train travel will not catch on nor should it. Our cities and our infrastructure are built around the auto. It's impossible to rationally plan a mass transit system that is efficient and will be self supporting.
I'm old enough to remember when my suburban area bus service and commuter rail service was via private operators - and the service was excellent. I wouldn't say it was a bargain, but it was reasonable especially for the level of service provided. Once fares were capped, service was less frequent, then shortened, then taken over altogether by a government agency which continued to reduce service.
Make no mistake, part of the problem was the advancement of automobiles, especially steel-belted radial tires - this took a lot of the fear of driving away from women and the demand for mass transit service. But I remember the switch-over to the government-run transit and it was not pretty - my sisters used the bus every day to work downtown, a 20+ mile express trip that cost about 75 cents in 1973. The fare on the now-public system didn't go up, but the service hours were cut and the riders on the earlier runs quickly organized a charter bus service to handle the hours the government agency cut. But it cost more and over the course of a couple years as people changed jobs, moved, etc. The charter service was discontinued because it could not attract new ridership (partly because there was no way to get the entire community well-informed about it). And then the agency prevented new charter services from being established.
I'm not sure how much good higher speeds would do for freight..in terms of the door-to-door schedules, you still have to make up a train, disassemble it at the other end, and possibly do intermediate switching.
For passenger trains, note that there is a tradeoff between speed and frequency of stops...if it takes 2 minutes to slow down, 3 minutes to let passengers on/off, and another 2 minutes to accelerate again, then for a 180mph train that station stop consumes the time equivalent of 15 miles of travel.
The higher speeds mostly apply to container traffic. Container yards are remarkably fast at unloading a train onto trailers. But really, it's about capacity, not speed of service. Faster trains = more trains on the same line. I doubt capacity is a problem at the moment, but it will be again someday.
Crossing a bridge within the city limits, I pay four to twelve dollars in tolls. Maybe a quarter of that goes to the upkeep of the bridge; maybe not even. (In 1970 the toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge was ten cents.) In other words, I pay more for a subway ride than the subway rider.
If those monies were used for capital construction and heavy repair/renewal I wouldn't mind so much. But they are used to keep the fare artificially low. Or to allow salaries to be artificially high. The MTA has an abominable history of taking monies that were granted for capital improvements and using them to hold the fare down, a clear case of fiscal malfeasance and seed-corn gorging.
And yet ... NYC really does make good use of the subways, and expanding them would help a lot. The Lexington Avenue Line alone carries more passengers daily than the Boston and LA systems combined, and more than the entire Washington Metro. If the current Second Avenue line work is carried to completion, it will provide some relief, but it's only a two-track line, not a four-track line like the other north-south lines. By 2030 we may be back where we are now,
I think buses would have to be a part of it. High-speed rail doesn't work for lines with a lot of stops to pick up riders. If you have high enough ridership, you can run trains with alternating stops (train1 picks up stations 1, 3, 5, 7; train2 picks up stations 2, 4, 6, 8) but even that doesn't give you much effective speed.
The problem with close-in commuting is less rail speed than the number of stops.
I don't think we have enough inter-city commuting to make real high-speed profitable. And anywhere we do, you'd probably have to have an adjunct bus station to get riders to a central pickup point, so....
Higher speed rail can move trains across rails more quickly, especially freight, so that the lines can be shared usage. But we gain so much from the efficiencies of the freight rail system that I'd hate to see us swap an efficient system for an inefficient, deficit-running system.
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