Don’t Run Bilevels

For years, the RER A’s pride was that it was running 30 trains per hour through its central segment in the peak direction (and 24 in the reverse-peak direction). With two branches to the east and three to the west, it would run westbound trains every 2 minutes between 8 and 9 in the morning on the seven-station shared trunk line. Moreover, those trains are massive, unlike the trains that run on the Metro: 224 meters long, and bilevel. To allow fast boarding and alighting at the central stations, those trains were uniquely made with three very wide doors per side, and two bilevel segments per car; usually there are two doors near the ends of the car and a long bilevel segment in between. But now the RER A can no longer run this schedule, and recently announced a cut to 24 peak trains per hour. The failure of the RER A’s bilevel rolling stock, called the MI 2N or MI 09, should make it clear to every transit agency mulling high-throughput urban rail, including RER A-style regional rail, that all trains should be single-level.

On most of the high-traffic regional rail lines of the world, the trains are single-level and not bilevel. The reasoning is that the most important thing is fast egress in the CBD at rush hour. For the same reason, the highest-traffic regional rail lines tend to have multiple CBD stops, to spread the load among several stations. The Chuo Rapid Line squeezes 14 trains in the peak half-hour into Tokyo Station, its only proper CBD station, discharging single-deck trains with four pairs of doors per 20-meter-long car onto a wide island platform with excellent vertical circulation. Bilevels are almost unheard of in Japan, except on Green Cars, first-class cars that are designed to give everyone a seat at a higher price point; on these cars, there aren’t so many passengers, so they can disembark onto the platform with just two doors, one per end of the car.

Outside Japan (and Korea, where the distinction between the subway and regional rail is even fuzzier), the busiest regional rail system is the RER. The RER A runs bilevels, but the most crowded line while the RER A was running 30 tph was the RER B, which runs 20 tph, through a tunnel shared with the RER D, which runs 12 bilevel tph. Outside Paris, the busiest European regional rail systems are in London (where bilevels are impossible because of restricted clearances), and in Berlin, Madrid, and Munich, all of which run single-level trains. Berlin and Munich moreover have three door pairs per 17-to-18-meter car. Munich squeezes 30 tph through its central tunnel, with seven distinct branches. Other than the RER A, it’s the less busy regional services that use bilevels: the RER C, D, and E; the commuter trains in Stockholm; the Zurich S-Bahn and other Swiss trains; Dutch regional trains; and many low-performance French provincial TERs, such as the quarter-hourly trains in the Riviera.

Uniquely among bilevels, the RER A’s MI 2N (and later MI 09) was designed as a compromise between in-vehicle capacity and fast egress. There are three triple-width door pairs per car, allowing three people to enter or exit at once: one to the lower level, one to the upper level, one to the intermediate vestibule. The total number of door pairs per unit of train length is almost as high as on the RER B (30 in 224 meters vs. 32 in 208), and the total width of these doors is much more than on the RER B, whose doors are only double-wide.

Unfortunately, even with the extra doors, the MI 09 has ultimately not offered comparable egress times to single-level trains. Present-day peak dwell times on both the RER A and B are about 50-60 seconds at Les Halles; here, the RER B, with its prominent Gare du Nord-to-Les Halles peak in the morning, is in a more difficult urban geography than the RER A, with four stations that could plausibly lay claim to the CBD (Les Halles, Auber, Etoile, La Defense). The RER B has long had problems with maintaining the schedules, due to the 32 tph segment shared with the RER D, using traditional fixed-block signaling; the RER A in contrast has a moving-block system called SACEM. But now the RER A has problems with schedule reliability too, hence the cut in peak frequency.

The problem is that it’s not just the number of doors that determines how fast people can get in and out. It’s also how quickly passengers can get from the rest of the train’s interior to the doors. Metro systems optimize for this by having longitudinal seats, with their backs to the sides of the train, creating a large, relatively unobstructed interior compartment for people to move in; Japanese regional trains do the same. European regional trains still have transverse seating, facing forward and backward, and sometimes the corridors are so narrow that queues form on the way to the vestibules, where the doors are. The RER A actually has less obstructed corridors than the RER B. The problem is that it’s still a bilevel.

Bilevel design inherently constrains capacity on the way to the door, because the stairs from the two decks to the intermediate level, where the door is, are choke points. They are by definition only half a train wide. They are also slow, especially on the way down, for safety reasons. When the train is very crowded, people can’t just push on the way up or down the way they can on a flat train floor. If passengers get off their seats in the upper and lower levels well in advance and make their way to the intermediate-level vestibules then they can alight more quickly, but on a train as crowded as the RER A, the vestibule is already full, and people resort to sitting on the stairs at rush hour, obstructing passageways even further.

As a result, RATP is now talking about extending peak dwells at the central stations to 105 seconds, to stabilize the schedules. Relative to 60-second dwells, this is 45 seconds of padding per station; with about 3 minutes between successive stations in the central segment, this is around 25% pad (on top of the already-existing pad!), a level worthy of American commuter trains rather than of Europe’s busiest commuter rail line.

What’s more, this unique design cost the region a lot of money: Wikipedia says the MI 09’s base order was €3.06 million per 22.5-meter car, and the option went up to €4.81 million per car. In contrast, German operators have purchased the high-performance single-level Coradia Continental and Talent 2 for €1.25-1.5 million euros per 18-meter car (see orders in 2014, 2016, and 2017); these trains have a top speed of 160 km/h and the power-to-weight ratio of a high-speed train, necessary for fast acceleration on regional lines with many stops. Even vanilla bilevel trains, with two end-car door pairs, are often more expensive: at the low end the Regio 2N is €7.06 million per 94-meter trainset, at the higher end the high-performance KISS is around €3 million per 25-meter car (about 2.7 in Sweden, 3-3.5 in Azerbaijan), and the Siemens Desiro Double Deck produced for the Zurich S-Bahn in 2003 was around €3 million per 25-meter car as well.

High-traffic regional railroads that wish to improve capacity can buy bilevel trains if they’d like, but need to understand the real tradeoffs. Average bilevel trains, with a serious decrease in capacity coming from having long upper- and lower-level corridors far from the doors, can cost 50-100% more than single-level trains. They offer much more capacity within each train (the KISS offers about 30% more seats per meter of train length, with a small first-class section, than the FLIRT), but the reduction in capacity measured in trains per hour cancels most of the benefits, except in cases where peak dwells don’t matter as much, as in Zurich with its two platform tracks per approach track. In terms of capacity per unit cost, they remain deficient.

The MI 09 was supposed to offer slightly less seated capacity per unit of train length and equivalent egress capacity to single-level trains, but in practice it offers much less egress capacity, at much higher cost, around 2.5-3 times as high as single-level trains. If RATP had bought single-level trains instead of the MI 09, optimized for fast egress via less obstructed passageways, it would have had about €2.5 billion more. Since the cost of extending the RER E from Saint-Lazare to La Defense and beyond is about that high, the region would have had money to obtain far more capacity for east-west regional travel already.

The American or Canadian reader may think that this analysis is less relevant to the United States and Canada, where the entire commuter rail ridership in all cities combined is about the same as that of just the RER A and B. Moreover, with higher US construction costs, the idea of saving money on trains and then diverting it to tunnels is less applicable than in Paris. However, two important American factors make the need to stop running bilevels even more pertinent than in Europe: CBD layout, and station construction costs.

North American CBDs are higher-rise than European ones – even monocentric cities like Stockholm have few city center skyscrapers. The job density in Paris’s job-densest arrondissement (the 2nd) is about 50,000/km^2, and it’s higher in its western end but still only about comparable to Philadelphia’s job density around Suburban Station. Philadelphia has three central stations in the SEPTA commuter rail tunnel, but only Suburban is really in the middle of peak job density; Market East is just outside the highest-intensity zone, and 30th Street Station is well outside it. In Boston, only two proper CBD stations are feasible in the North-South Rail Link, South Station and Aquarium. In New York, Penn Station isn’t even in the CBD (forcing everyone to get off and connect to the subway), and only 1-2 Midtown stations are feasible in regional rail proposals, Penn and Grand Central. Some of these stations, especially Penn and Grand Central, benefit from multiple platform tracks per approach track in any plan, but in Boston this is not feasible.

The other issue is station construction costs. High construction costs in the US mean that spending more money on trains to avoid spending money on infrastructure is more economic, but conversely they also make it harder to build anything as station-rich as the RER A, the Munich S-Bahn tunnel, or Crossrail. They also make stations with multiple platform tracks harder to excavate; this is impossible to do in a large-diameter TBM. This makes getting egress capacity right even more important than in Europe.

New York and Philadelphia meandered into the correct rolling stock, because of clearance restrictions in New York and the lack of a domestic manufacturing base for bilevel EMUs. Unfortunately, they still try to get it wrong: New Jersey Transit is buying bilevel EMUs (the first FRA-compliant ones). Railroads that aren’t electrified instead got used to bilevel unpowered coaches, and get bilevel EMUs: Caltrain is getting premium-price KISSes (about the only place where this is justifiable, since there are sharp capacity limits on the line, coming from mixing local and express trains on two tracks), and the Toronto RER (with only one CBD station at Union Station) is also planning to buy bilevel EMUs once electrification is complete.

Paris’s MI 09 mistake is not deadly. The RER E extension to the west will open in a few years and relieve the RER A either way. Being large and rich can paper over a lot of problems. North American cities are much poorer than Paris when wages are deflated to tunnel construction costs, and this means that one mistake in choice of alignment or rolling stock can have long-lasting consequences for service quality. Learning from the most forward-thinking and successful public transit operators means not just imitating their successes but identifying and avoiding their failures.


  1. Michael James

    This is a disappointingly narrow view. It totally misses the point that the RER is a long-distance suburban commuter train. The RER behaves like a standard Metro within Paris; there are about 33 RER stations for the 5 RER lines in central Paris; Chatelet-Les-Halles which still lays claim to being the biggest metro station in the world hosts three RER lines (A, B, D) and 5 Metro lines. Being both a destination and a huge interchange station it is where most of the congestion occurs, aggravated by the fact that RER-A also serves two mainline rail stations (Gare de Lyon and St Lazare) plus La Defense, the largest business district in Europe (in fact it connects the old business district at Auber-St Lazare with the new at La Defense). The RER was designed as heavy-rail in the 1970s for the suburbs, to be more comfortable, faster and higher-capacity than the light-rail Metro. London’s 118km CrossRail, due to open at the end of this year, was explicitly modelled on Paris’ RER-A So it had more and wider seats, and more seats as a fraction of total passenger load (ie. seated and standing). RER-A opened in 1977 and in 2011-12 had its 4th iteration in design including SACEM signalling system. Obviously the newly designed duplex trains (MI09) were so they have 50% more seats than the single-level trains (MI84) they replaced: 948 seats versus 624 seats. In turn, for comfort reasons these trains have 2+2 transverse seating compared to about 25% less total seating in longitudinal seating arrangements that many Metro systems choose, with more passengers standing for short journeys. There is no argument that more standing passengers in single-level trains with more doors can allow for faster egress/ingress of passengers and thus allow for potentially shorter dwell times; though note that there are no single-level trains outside of Asia that match RER-A’s passenger performance. (So Alon can only compare this line to itself and theoretical considerations of other car configurations.)

    The real reason for the reduction in train throughput at peak hours is the relentless growth in popularity of RER-A which carries about 1.2 m passengers per week day and more than 300m per year, well beyond design or expectation. This is the busiest commuter line in the world outside of Asia. If comfort and seating is considered a priority for such a service that spans 100km of Parisian suburbs, then the impact of these changes can be measured as below:

    Seats per hour:
    ……………………………30tph ……..25tph
    bi-level MI09 trains: ….28,440 ……23,700
    1-level MI84 trains: …..18,720……15,600

    The bolded figures show the difference in the two situations: the bi-level trains still carry 4,980 more seated passengers per hour than the single-level trains even when the former is at “only” 25tph and the latter is at 30tph. That is 26.6% more. But the duplex trains in total can carry 2,600 passengers so it has the ability to deliver very large numbers of passengers. These “limitations” only occur for a few hours around peak times. At all other times the bi-level train carries 50% more seated passengers for their long journeys than the old (or any modern alternative) MI84 single-level train.

    There has been a relatively modest adjustment of train frequency at peak times to cope with exceptional crowding at a few city stations. Is this really a “failure” as Alon would have us believe? Your answer may be conditioned on whether you enjoy standing on the 40+km trip from Chatelet to Cergy-le-Haut. Or the 44 km to Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy (Disneyland).

    • Alon Levy

      A couple things.

      1. The MI 79 is slightly shorter than the MI 09, and also the tph count I’m contrasting is a slightly bigger spread (30 vs. 24, not 30 vs. 25). So there’s still more seated capacity on the MI 09 per unit of train length per tph, but only by 13%, not 27%.

      2. The RER is not really a long-distance regional system; that would be Transilien. In German, the RER would be called an S-Bahn and Transilien Regionalbahn. Shorter-distance systems like the Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich S-Bahns (comparable to the RER) run single-levels, while longer-distance systems like the Zurich S-Bahn and the Stockholm Pendeltåg run bilevels or a mixture. The distance from the RATP-RER commuter ends to Les Halles is 34 km (Saint-Remy), 22 (Saint-Germain-en-Laye), 24.5 (Boissy), or 26 (Torcy). Compare this with Stockholm: Bålsta is 43 km out of Stockholm Center, Märsta 36, Nynäshamn 62 (and Västerhaninge 32), and Södertälje 38. The MLV branch is longer but doesn’t really peak, and the Cergy branch is reverse-peak, so they’re less relevant than the commuter ends.

      3. Paris is a big city, but it’s not the most transit-oriented one in Europe. Vienna and Prague both have much higher rail ridership per capita (both mostly on metros, not regional rail), and Stockholm, Berlin, and Munich have comparable rail ridership, Stockholm mostly on the T-bana and Berlin and Munich on a Paris-like combination of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and Regionalbahn. And of course all of these places are well below Tokyo. So Paris can’t really be solipsistic and ignore real advances that have been made elsewhere in Europe (mainly Germany in this case), or in East Asia.

      • Michael James

        Those are minor points though as to (1) your 13% cannot be correct. You must use actual trains (since these are actual trains, it is silly to use some derived metric like seats/m of train). It is the capacity per train-set that actually runs or has run on these tracks and stations that counts. My figures are not wrong. (On costs you could calculate the cost per pax which would reduce the effective cost of MI09 cars. I haven’t bothered.)

        On point (2), RER is replacing Transilien; it has taken its tracks and ROW directly from Tansilien, except in those places–like the tunnels etc across central Paris–it couldn’t. Clearly this was always the intention.
        I don’t understand your distances; from the far western end of RER-A (Cergy-le-Haut) it is about 44km to Les Halles and likewise it is listed as 44.5 km to Disneyland at the eastern end. That is more than half the distance from London to Brighton (on an Intercity train). On RER-D it is 85 km to Malesherbes at its southern end, and about 70km on RER-C to St-Martin-d’Etampes. By comparison, while it feels much longer it is a mere 34 km from JFK to Washington Heights (it could do with an RER service).

        All those other Euro cities are much, much smaller than Paris. It’s as useful as people who give Zurich as a wonderful example of public transport when it is about one tenth the size of Paris. Paris can be compared only to 3 other cities in Europe: London, Moscow and Istanbul. If you want to compare to Vienna then you need to compare only with inner Paris (ie. intramuros, 2.2m people and metro stops about 500m apart). Besides which, GPX is going to change those comparisons in a few short years (well, maybe a decade+). I don’t know on what basis you imply that Paris is ignoring the rest of the world. They may seem to do things in a particular fashion but it is not without examining so-called worlds-best-practice.

        Also you attribute any problems to people moving on the steps to the vestibule but do you have evidence for that (I’ve not read anything specific)? Can you be so confident that with the 30% increase in patronage since MI09 was introduced that MI84 would have coped any better? Not to mention that the duplex trains are still delivering more passengers! As you yourself have pointed out, if it wasn’t for the multiple branching it may well cope with the higher tph and occasional glitch (resulting in a 30 sec delay or whatever).

      • Michael James

        Looking at London CrossRail again, I think it is worth comparing. Apparently it is planned for the service to commence at 15 tph but I reckon that is going to be overrun instantly. I mean, in the first week of operation. They have two options to increase thru-put: 1. increase train frequency (IIRC it is designed for 35 tph) and 2. add extra carriages (I forget exactly but they are beginning service with either one or two carriages short of the maximum the stations can handle.) But anyway here are the calcs. The trains that will run in December this year will hold 450 seated and a total of 1500 (seating + standing).

        Seats per hour:
        ……………………………30tph ……..25tph ……..15tph
        bi-level MI09 trains: …..28,440 ……23,700……23,700
        1-level MI84 trains: …..18,720……15,600…….23,700
        CrossRail(short train):..13,500……..11,250……….6,750

        Total pax per hour (standing + seated):
        ……………………………30tph ……..25tph ……..15tph
        RER-A MI09 trains: …..78,000.……65,000…….39,000
        CrossRail(short train):..45,000……..37,500………22,500

        From its opening in 1977 it took RER-A 40 years to reach, and break, its carrying capacity (perhaps it really broke thru the comfort bar almost a decade earlier). After four iterations in its design and signalling systems. I really can’t see that London CrossRail is going to have any time at all. And even if it gets its extra carriages and trains quickly enough, and can actually run at 35 tph, it will still carry ‘only’ 52,500 pax per hour. At the upper end who knows when it will reach those limits (true, it will open in sections over a year or more), but it does seem to me they have under-designed it. CrossRail will be trying to cope with pax from 3 major inner mainline rail stations (and half a dozen minor ones further out), both business districts (The City and Canary Wharf), the busiest shopping street in Europe plus, unlike RER-A, travellers from Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe! Of course passengers can crush up, and perhaps you will say they can do that more easily than in a duplex or transverse seating arrangement like the RER.

        We’ll see. I am reminded of the year I arrived in the UK. The M25 orbital motorway around London, which had been delayed for decades (compare, Paris’ Peripherique construction began 1956, opened in sections from mid-60s with full completion 1973–it carries 1m cars a day and is Europe’s busiest road), had been operating for about a year. It ran into severe congestion its first year and instantly was subject to constant repairs, lane additions etc. to this day!

    • Eric

      I look forward to reading both sides of the argument. Hopefully it will remain polite.

  2. mdfinfer

    NJ Transit made a serious mistake with the multilevel cars, and they refuse to recognize it. There are four doors on each side of those cars, but they are positioned in a way that the passengers using the inner doors block access to the outer doors. Only the handful of passengers riding on the mezzanine at the ends of the cars can get to the outer doors easily.

    Those cars take forever to unload at busy terminals like NY Penn Station. Those trains running through to Sunnyside yard spend a significant amount of time taking up track space in the station. I can see how the cars actually reduce capacity.

    NJT wants to be 100% multilevel within about five years even though that involves retiring a significant number of single level cars early. All I can do is groan.

  3. digamma

    New York and Philadelphia meandered into the correct rolling stock, because of clearance restrictions in New York and the lack of a domestic manufacturing base for bilevel EMUs. Unfortunately, they still try to get it wrong: New Jersey Transit is buying bilevel EMUs (the first FRA-compliant ones).

    NJ Transit’s fully-electrified lines are also running bilevel coaches today on their most crowded rush hour trains. The dwell times are horrific, but the real bottleneck is egress from Penn Station’s platforms rather than from the coaches.

  4. James Sinclair

    mdfinfer is correct that the NJT design means 2/4 doors are useless. An easy solution would be to force movement so that the lower stairs discharge from the first door, while the upper stairs are forced to continue through the vestibule to use the second door. Without crowd/movement control, everybody uses the same door.

    This problem came to light especially at the Super Bowl, which was a disaster because the loading times were so long.

    Mind you, this just moved the bottleneck in Penn Station to the tiny, tiny stairs. Oh and surprise, the escalators are running down and the train was just called for boarding even though people haven’t finished getting out.

    However, one aspect I don’t think you should discard is the marketing value of bilevels. They look cooler. Futuristic. Dare I say, European. In the US, especially, it is important to present your transportation choice as more attractive.

    Alon, one thing I think you should address is the US-centric phobia of more doors in general.

    40-foot buses in the US had 2 doors by default, 1 door in some especially stupid occasions. NEVER 3 doors, which is the standard in Latin America and common in Europe.

    Sao Paulo

    Because in the US, the rear door is actually firmly in the middle, you lose capacity as people fail to move back, and you extend dwell times as people are blocked exiting. Adding a 3rd door doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, as this is an off-the-shelf design, and US bus agencies don’t have to deal with FRA style rules.

    60-foot buses in the US had 3 doors by default, 2 doors in some especially stupid occasions. NEVER 4 doors – some 60-foot buses in Latin America have as many as 5 doors.

    IE: Geneva

    5 door

    And a 6 door bi-articulated in Mexico

    • Alon Levy

      Do bilevels look more futuristic? I guess a four-door design like the RER B looks like a crummy metro, but I think triple-wide doors look futuristic and sleek regardless of the number of levels.

      • James Sinclair

        In the context of America, where bilevels are “new”, I think they absolutely look futuristic and sleek.

        Same with bilevel buses. In Hong Kong, they’re business as usual, but when you see one in the US, it grabs your attention.

        It’s one reason why Las Vegas was the first (and only?) major transit system in the US to deploy a fleet of them. Marketing. (“The Deuce”)

        • Eric

          Bilevel buses are extensively used in places like London. Question: Do they help or hurt? They take up less space than an articulated bus, but have fewer doors and thus potentially longer dwell time.

          • Michael James

            The fact that HK still has bi-level buses and trams, is not coincidental to the fact that it is often cited as the most crowded city on earth. It has the fewest roads of any city/nation (per capita or any measure really) so must optimise their use (even though it has more Rolls Royces per capita and per km of road than any other city on earth too …). The fact that it was a British colony is why it has an infrastructure that permits these tall buses and trams; few cities could have them even if they wanted them. Those cities that like to have a few as gimmicks, for guided tours etc, must carefully adhere to restricted routes.

            Oh, and they are popular. A few years ago there was consideration of junking the trams but public outcry kept them (but running them was contracted out to the French Veolia! Even here, Alon, it is the Anglophone econocrats, who are abandoning the bi-levels! Must be socialist, only for the riff-raff.). As a visitor I highly recommend two trips on them:
            (1) From the airport take the #31 bus (as easy to get to, and use, as the train or taxis) and quickly head to the upper level and grab the front seat; it gives you a panoramic view for a fabulous thrill ride into the city. Better than the Airporter train which uses the lower level of the Tsing Ma bridge (so you see nothing of either the bridge or HK). En route, you pass the biggest container terminal in the world. It goes all the way down Nathan Road for which there is a guide (leaflet and a screen display) of which stop is closest to which hotel; except for a few extremely ritzy hotels the bus gets you much closer than the train. You can safely leave big and heavy luggage in the big racks on the lower level because it is under video-surveillance with displays on the upper level. Actually, there is a second bus trip I could recommend (which means there are probably quite a few more) and for the same reasons: you get a quite exhilarating tour from the top level. I once caught the bus back from Aberdeen to Central and it was the one that took the west-coastal route (faster are the ones thru the tunnel and today of course there is the new Metro line), and it happened to be in the middle of one of those horrendous tropical downpours. Wondering whether you were going to plunge into the sea next to the highway or just be drowned by the ridiculous downpour (which anywhere else would have stopped all traffic).
            (2) Take the Island Line tram from Central or Admiralty or Wan Chai (ie. the CBD) and ride it all the way east to Shau Kei Wan. If you want more free tour advice–for a day trip–I suggest you take the bus (at same terminus as the tram) across to Stanley (markets & beach) which is another fabulous bus ride (not bilevel, IIRC) over the mountain range, across the top of Tai Tam reservoir etc. You continue circumnavigating HK island, clockwise, from Stanley to Repulse Bay, Aberdeen, even use the ferry across to Lamma Island if you want a nice diversion (with some wonderful walking trails and empty deserted beaches).
            But the tram is more than a gimmick. Even though it has to use the same congested roads as all that traffic, it is in fact a quicker way to get around the northern HK harbour strip than the Metro, because you can hop on and off at so many points. It costs the square root of stuffall (but for that you don’t get air-con).

          • po8crg

            Double-decker buses are essential in a city with many narrow streets like London – articulated buses need rear-guidance if they’re going to fit down the narrow streets.

            Note that most European cities had many narrow streets widened in the nineteeth and early twentieth centuries as an anti-revolutionary measure (Haussmann’s Paris most famously, but hardly the only one) and British cities didn’t, resulting in quasi-mediaeval layouts persisting in Britain.

        • lol

          It’s also a class thing. Single level = urban subway or el = tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Bilevel = suburban commuter line = well-mannered protestants on their way in from leafy green lawns. *Of course* a guy named “Michael James” is going to be arguing for bilevels. *Of course* a guy named “Alon Levy” is going to be arguing for single levels. It couldn’t be any other way.

          • Alon Levy

            The complication is that Michael is doing this out of deep Francophilia, not out of any attachment to the bilevels in Australia, or to the nonexistent ones in the UK.

          • Michael James

            It is quite incorrect to say I argue for bilevels out of deep Francophilia, even if I admitted to this affliction in earlier posts. But Alon, you must understand that for a Parisian it is a constant love-hate relationship, almost certainly easier to love when one is not there! Once I too was a dumb Anglospherian, reflexively locked into Francophobia (even if I too was dumbly unaware of it) . I’d like to say that being a research scientist saved me from such a dumb outlook but not really, though perhaps it made it more likely to be converted or more quickly converted. By the evidence! I should say there was another factor that made my Francophilia a bit more emotional than rational (even though at base it is entirely rational and experiential): for close to 20 years I travelled frequently between Paris and London, and you’d have to be seriously resistant to evidence to not see that in most things, especially rail transport, the French were vastly superior. I think they set a high bar and while many significantly smaller cities in Europe are perfectly fine, I don’t think there is another megacity that surpasses Paris (Tokyo is fine but well .. it really is tooo much. If I lived in Tokyo I would be grateful for their Metro but I would try to live where I wasn’t overly reliant upon it.)

            I had no especial opinion on bilevels until I started reading dumb things being said about them. The Sydney NW Metro political fiasco was probably the last straw. These are at least two systems where the bilevels unarguably work, ie. Sydney trains and Paris RER (C and A). Both these systems are suburban commuter trains but are also a Metro service thru the city. The fact that other places have similar service (Tokyo, Berlin etc) without apparently having bi-levels hardly proves a negative case. And who knows maybe they’d be better if they could have them … And the London long-distance commuter trains (Brighton, south coast, Cambridge, Oxford etc) could have avoided their horror stories if they could have accepted bi-levels but their track and tunnel infrastructure couldn’t take them (so this “rejection” of bilevels has zip to do with engineering or pax movement mechanics). Try paying US$6,260 for a season ticket and then standing up for the entire 90km journey and see if you don’t agree! It’s exactly the same reason the French made bi-level TGVs to serve the extremely popular Paris-Lyon route.

            All the data (ie. evidence) still supports that contention–the arguments against on this blog don’t stand up. I think yorksranter makes some sensible points, but many others here are coming to conclusions based on inappropriate comparisons between American suburban trains that terminate at city stations. (And I’ll make some more points there.) Or dumbly claiming that a slight reduction in tph represents some total failure!

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, love-hate describes it pretty well, but with hate more than love. The researchers I know from IHES who I’ve talked about this with really don’t like the RER B (it only comes every 15 minutes and the MI 84s look worn). I managed to get a free rebooking that I wasn’t entitled to when I missed a flight because the RER was being weird – the elevator at Nation was out, and with it my fast way to the platforms, and that led to a cascade of missed trains that deposited me at CDG 55 minutes before my flight rather than 1:05. The airport workers sympathized. I doubt it would happen anywhere that people aren’t used to complaining about the trains.

            The TGV Duplex is something different. It’s intercity, so the dwell time problem is less acute. The bigger issue with the TGV Duplex is that the design is inherently incompatible with EMUs, and then the power cars and separate baggage space (since there’s little room overhead) consume the space you gain from having two levels. A single-level 16-car Shinkansen in 2+2 configuration, has a few more seats than a TGV Duplex running in double traction; the Shinkansen has no cafe cars (and neither should European HSR), but has longer seat pitch than the TGV, and two door pairs per car rather than just one.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/01/06 – 07:31

            the Shinkansen has no cafe cars (and neither should European HSR)

            ! That’s a sign that you haven’t gone “native” yet. In time you will. It sneaks up on you. (then again you are an econocrat:-) For me I would say the turning point was about 2 years maybe a bit more. Oh, and you’ve got to stop treating it as a transient gig. But that little maxim of Hemingway’s (if you know Paris as a young man …) is astoundingly perceptive. Of course plenty had said it a century or more before him. Was it Jefferson (or who cited it) who said “Every man has two countries – his own and France.” And that refers to “every man/woman who has lived in France” though I suppose Jefferson and others refer to the contributions to enlightenment and democracy etc. Works both ways. And too, you don’t need (at least at first) to love Parisians or even French to love France or Paris …

            A single-level 16-car Shinkansen in 2+2 configuration, has a few more seats than a TGV Duplex running in double traction

            There must be something missing from that. Is the Shinkansen longer than the TGV double? Or is it attributable to 2 trains each with a resto car and a traction car in the TGV double? Besides doesn’t it just show there is more than one way to skin a cat? The duplex carries 45% more pax and the 200m trains will fit all existing rail platforms …
            But anyway, I think your approach to these things is another example of “the perfect being the enemy of the good”. It is easy today with perfect hindsight to criticize, but in the late60s-mid70s the TGV was given funding and priority, and had to do a very fast switch from gas turbine to electric. (At the same time as the French went full-steam ahead on nuclear electricity generation.) I presume if they had gone all the way to EMU it would have involved long delays. The facts kind of speak for themselves as not only was the TGV a great success but it is attributed to saving the French rail network. Once again compare to the UK where their rail network was successively eroded and starved of money and expensive development was throw out with the bath water (esp. by Thatcher); here we are almost 40 years anniversary of the first TGV and the UK still is only building its first proper HSR line (I don’t count HS1 which owes more to the French persistence at pushing the English Tunnel thru despite all the conservative resistance.) And UK rail remains in perpetual semi-chaos and profound dissatisfaction with the public. Personally I am still very disappointed that the Germans didn’t have whatever it took to do anything with their magnificent MagLev … It’s not just a matter of costs, but reveals a deep lack of political will at just the time they needed it. Yes, it was the econocrats of the newly dominant German neo-libs who killed it (the same ones who are degrading the German rail network today and for the past decade).
            RER-B was the main one I used both within Paris (and my first year at Cité Universitaire was my only Metro link to the rest of Paris) and of course for CDG. I guess a lot of it was shiny new when I first lived there; the ND-St Michel station opened years after I had already been in Paris. I never had any trouble getting to CDG, despite my habit of refusing to allow huge swathes of “safety” margin in time. I missed flights from Heathrow because getting to it from Oxford (or Brighton) was a pain and you had to run the gauntlet of the M25 and the huge sections of their entire motorway system that had lanes closed for repair work. I once did show up at CDG for a flight to the US with a ticket that turned out to be for the following day! French secretary got the date wrong (you soon learn that as a junior you have to do all that stuff for yourself because unless the secretary or whoever answers to you, they are a bit too casual with anything they do for you–one even suspects it is a bit of a tradition condoned by the patron! a little power game). The airline rebooked me on the next flight so it didn’t matter!
            Anyway, I suppose it is no surprise if RER-B is showing wear and tear, when you consider the pounding these things get. But I always found their arrangement to be good for either just Metro use or as a traveller with baggage. Is it really that bad? Methinks you need a visit to the UK or the US to remind you of what train travel is like in the Anglosphere.

          • Alon Levy

            I’m comparing 400-meter long Shinkansen to 400-meter long TGV Duplexes. The Shinkansen is about even on capacity in 2+2 layout. Reasons include,

            – EMUs rather than dedicated power cars, which consume about 20% of the TGV’s length
            – No restaurant car
            – Using the entire car for seating, with overhead baggage space, which there’s no room for on the TGV Duplex

            Conversely, the Shinkansen has slightly longer seat pitch, and two door pairs per car rather than one.

            The TGV was good technology in the 1980s, but the rest of the world has transitioned to EMUs; the ICE-1 and -2 have power cars, but the ICE-3 is EMUs and this is what Siemens decided to export as the Velaro. The only other HSR with power cars is the TGV-derived KTX (and South Korea is developing EMUs to replace that) and the Talgos, which use a tilting system that’s incompatible with powered axles.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/01/07 – 07:18

            I’m comparing 400-meter long Shinkansen to 400-meter long TGV Duplexes. The Shinkansen is about even on capacity in 2+2 layout.

            This may be fair enough. I haven’t really done a careful comparison but I note that your “solution” and preference for single-deck trains always seems to come down to sacrificing passenger amenity in one form or another. The French are planning for trains to the far corners of their country (about 5 hours by fastest TGV) and comparable international trips within Europe (eg. 7h25m from Paris to Barcelona which I would definitely do instead of flying). One of the great advantages of a train versus a plane is that you can walk around and visit the bar or restaurant. I wouldn’t have it any different. Do those Eurostar Velaro e320s not have a resto car? I’d bet they still have bar service to their first-class seats … Note that it is often a matter of efficient travel-planning; I know for myself in my last Eurail Pass wanderings around Spain and France (admittedly First Class since it is a while since I was 26y) I optimised my time in cities etc and had a meal on the train (which it turned out, was gratis on First Class in Spain!): not trivial, as rushing around trying to eat before a journey is often a real bore/chore which is why those junk-food places do so well at train stations and airports.
            In addition to comfort is the intention to extend fast trains to more provincial cities, and a 400m train is not going to fit that bill. (I also can’t see that the power car needs to consume platform?)
            Further, the old TGVs have been reconfigured for the Ouigo service that holds 600 all-economy seats. Do those trains have a resto car? And is it parasitising the normal service?

          • Alon Levy

            Life is tradeoffs, and I’m really not convinced SNCF is making the right choice with the TGV Duplex. Evidently, the rest of the world is not buying these, and Alstom itself developed the single-level AGV instead.

            The Velaro has restaurant cars, yes. It’s common in Europe. It’s still much worse than offering good fast food at the train stations and selling 80 more seats. Station food isn’t great, but is it really worse than on-board food? The one time I went into a TGV restaurant car I fled in horror after seeing what was available.

            OuiGo has more passengers per train, but the Shinkansen has higher seat pitch and three Green Cars per 16-car train. OuiGo reads to me as SNCF’s trying to throw things at the wall and see what sticks – it decided it wants to act like an airline and offer something like a low-cost product, but instead of just reducing operating costs (there are 8 conductors on a regular TGV running in double traction vs. 4 on a 16-car Shinkansen) it’s reducing passenger comfort in order to segment the market. There’s no platform crunch at Gare de Lyon, but the OuiGo still serve Paris at MLV, to deter passengers who don’t want to change trains to the RER A and add another 40 minutes to their trips. (You know when people might have to stand on an RER A for 40 minutes? When a full TGV with more seats than the RER A pulls into MLV.)

          • Eric

            The TGV Paris–Barcelona time is currently 6 hours 25 minutes, and when the new TGV segments open it will shorten further.

            Perhaps people will tolerate more inconvenience for a 20 minute train ride from the suburbs to La Defense, but not for a 3-6 hour intercity HSR ride? On the other hand, perhaps the opposite is true, since the commute is more frequent.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/01/11 – 05:54

            Life is tradeoffs, and I’m really not convinced SNCF is making the right choice with the TGV Duplex. Evidently, the rest of the world is not buying these, and Alstom itself developed the single-level AGV instead.

            But isn’t that covering the bases? The duplexes can hold high numbers for standard trains/platforms for the large number of provincial destinations they have always planned to try to serve with faster service. I recall the first pax car attached to the power car was itself powered so that means they always had the design/technical capability …

            The Velaro has restaurant cars, yes. It’s common in Europe. It’s still much worse than offering good fast food at the train stations and selling 80 more seats. Station food isn’t great, but is it really worse than on-board food? The one time I went into a TGV restaurant car I fled in horror after seeing what was available.

            Alon, putting on his economic-rationalist hat (ha, an econocrat hat!). You’re never going to enjoy France with those attitudes! I also remain unconvinced about your comment on the food, quite apart from the logistical points I made. Though ok I will admit for some journeys I may just buy a jambon fromage sandwich for the train. But it is definitely good to be able to take a break and get an espresso if not necessarily a full meal etc.

            Eric 2018/01/11 – 06:10

            The TGV Paris–Barcelona time is currently 6 hours 25 minutes, and when the new TGV segments open it will shorten further.

            Isn’t it terrific? I’ll do it next time. Last time I took the slow scenic route back: trains from Barcelona across to Bilbao and then up along the west coast (to Bordeaux) to Paris. That time I had begun by taking the night train Paris to Madrid, which no longer runs (a bit of a pity for train romantics like me, but that TGV to Barcelona is going to be hard to beat; HSRs are killing all of Europe’s night trains, wagon-lits.).

    • mdfinfer

      The other issue at PennStation is the practice of bringing two multilevel trains in or depart from the same platform or having a train arrive on the same platform where another train is loading.

      Now that’s a bottleneck.

    • Alex B.

      There’s a simple reason US 40-foot buses don’t have three doors: Buy America.

      The DC Circulator system for a long time ran Van Hool 3-door, 40 foot buses. They operated Van Hools because the initial funding was entirely local dollars and thus wasn’t subject to FTA’s Buy America requirements (which Van Hool does not meet). This created several problems, in spite of the nice bus design. There’s not a robust supply chain for replacement parts – everything is expensive, since almost all of the US operators use Buy America compliant buses.

      When looking to replace that original fleet, the Circulator just bought New Flyer buses. In talking with the Buy America compliant manufacturers, they asked about the 3rd door. And those manufacturers don’t offer it because it requires drastically changing the drive train of their vehicles. That raised floor section above the rear wheel is where the bus’s transmission is, and it’s not something they can easily reconfigure. Doing so would require a complete redesign, and there’s not a huge market for them to do that – particularly because doing so doesn’t actually help with meeting ADA requirements.

      While the differences in the rules aren’t as big as the FRA regulations, there are still differences in the standards for the EU and the US. Any use of federal money for buying buses require that they pass the ‘Altoona Test’ in addition to meeting Buy America:

      Now, Van Hool could try to become compliant with Buy America, but that means setting up a factory in the US to serve the US market, and the market for new buses frankly isn’t big enough to justify the expense.

      • James Sinclair

        Obviously designing a bus with a 3rd door isn’t an engineering challenge, since they’re widespread throughout the world. New Flyer doesn’t see demand for a 3rd door because American transit agencies do not care about dwell time and so don’t ask for it. And why spend a single penny improving the design if no transit agency is every going to ask for an improvement? To my eyes, the last “innovation” in US buses was making the front half low-floor, and ONLY because of ADA, even though that too speeds up loading times.

        Also, I see no reason why NJ Transit, which insists on operating only high-floor buses, couldn’t add a 3rd door in the back, which does not conflict with the transmission in any way. That again feeds into “we’ve always done 2 doors, why add another?”

        • Nathanael

          Is NJ Transit entirely insane? I don’t know of another agency in the *world* which is buying high-floor buses for anything other than multi-hour intercity trips.

        • Bjorn

          A few reasons why 3-door buses aren’t common.

          1. Engineering complexity: As mentioned above, 3-door buses require he transmission to be dropped a foot or so and the fuel tank (on diesel buses) to be relocated. As space is already at a premium in bus engine compartments, some stuff has to be moved to the road side of the vehicle, which means that a few seats have to be on an elevated platform. Thus…

          2. More tripping hazards: In partial-low-floor buses, passengers traverse a vertical change and then sit down in two separate motions. With elevated seats effectively required by the engine redesign, seats have a small platform in front of them but otherwise require passengers to climb and sit at the same time. This is difficult for some passengers, especially the elderly.

          3. Lower seating capacity: Buses don’t run completely full all the time. A third door requires reducing seating capacity by at least three seats. Whether a loss in seating capacity for a gain in door throughput is worth it is a situational decision, but the tradeoff needs to be acknowledged.

          An option (by Gillig, at least) is to order buses with double-wide rear doors. This is the best picture I have on hand at the moment (full disclosure: I drive for the agency with the bus pictured). Wide-rear-door buses remain rare in the US.

          • Alon Levy

            That piece you’re linking to… I love how it blames rising labor costs and weak ridership (which plagued the entirety of Bay Area transit in the aftermath of the collapse of the tech bubble) on the new buses, or how it’s trying to tell a story about doing an end-run around American workers and safety regulations that comes from importing technology from a country with way stronger unions and better road safety, or how it says “actually the survey was biased” line right after bringing up the fact that the fall rate from the three-door buses was the same as from US-made two-door buses.

            In reality, every bus requires some passengers to climb, somewhere. High-floor buses require everyone to climb getting on and off, which slows everyone down. Partially low-floor buses, as in the US and Canada, require passengers sitting in the back to climb, with why-fix-what-was-good-for-my-grandfather complaints about the risks of being flung forward down the steps when the bus brakes. Fully low-floor buses, as in this part of the world, require passengers sitting in the back to climb to individual seats.

          • Bjorn

            I linked that article from the East Bay to provide a dissenting opinion from some people that should be considered (even if the other pros were to ultimately outweigh their concerns).

            It’s extremely rate for passengers to fall from the upper section of partial-low floor buses, which any responsible driver should know to avoid by braking smoothly. (Additionally, in my riding and driving experience the upper section is slightly more popular with transit customers; perhaps people like cats, prefer sitting on an elevated platform.)

      • James Sinclair

        I was just in DC and noticed that one of their circulator buses, while having only 2 doors, was like 95% low floor. There was only a step for the very last row. Why not make the 3rd rear-door with steps?

  5. SC

    Alon’s dwell time analysis here for the Paris RER is important and significant, but when compared to North American systems, the comparison is not applicable to commuter rail systems that have termini in CBDs (all systems in North American except Philadelphia). The reason is that trains dwell longer durations at terminal stations like New York Penn Station for reasons independent of how quickly each car can empty out; for instance, to allow conductors to check that all cars are empty and to walk to the opposite end of the train. For systems with major CBD stations that are not termini stations (i.e. through-running systems that terminate at opposite ends of the metro area), dwell times are shorter and are comprised more of the time that it takes passengers to alight. Since the design of the car affects the time that it takes passengers to alight, of course, it is more important for through-running systems to have cars that allow passengers to alight quickly. Clearly, the MI 09 units do not meet this standard because of the unusual door placement due to the bi-level design, so it’s reasonable to say that these units are a failure specifically for the Paris RER system. This doesn’t necessarily mean the bi-level design is a failure in general, though, or even just for systems that rely on short dwell times to push high TPHs through major track segments.

    • Alon Levy

      I was told that the 9-car bilevel without level boarding that runs express between Worcester and Boston takes 3 minutes to unload at Back Bay, a through-station. The Worcester Line has dedicated tracks at Back Bay, but the other lines don’t, and 2- or 3-minute peak dwells there would wreck any attempt at fast scheduling (which is, granted, impossible with current equipment, but electrification is cheap and the MBTA’s diesels are falling apart).

      • James Sinclair

        US Commuter Rail dwell times are also so slow due to a lack of urgency. Because there is a conductor at every other door, there’s almost zero risk of you not getting on or off in time. People wait for the train to come to a complete stop before standing up.You simply yell “wait” and they will in fact wait. The little dance they do with the flashlights also doesn’t help.

        Compare that with a subway system where the doors close like a guillotine, and people are getting off before the train stops moving (Paris, Mexico City). You have 20 seconds to get in or out and no one is going to wait if you don’t make it.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        Somewhat poor comparison because the Worcester platform at Back Bay is still a low platform w/ 1-car mini-high, owing to freight deliveries of big boxcars of newsprint that went to the Boston Herald’s headquarters a few blocks west of Back Bay until the Herald outsourced printing about 12 years ago. Rush-hour nine-packs on the Providence Line using the full-high platforms at BBY aren’t hit with nearly as severe a dwell as their Worcester counterparts. They’re supposed to finally be raising that Worcester platform to full-high soon. I think it’s scheduled a year or two after the package of general Back Bay building repairs and air quality improvements that’s funded and currently out for contractor bid finishes up.

        All lines through BBY would also function much better if the automatic doors on the coaches were activated instead of having to wait for a conductor to manually open the doors. For whatever idiotic reason it’s institutional MBTA practice to do manual door openings only on all lines that aren’t 100% end-to-end full-highs, so across the entire system it’s currently only the Middleboro, Greenbush, and Kingston/Plymouth Lines that actually use the auto doors even though 100% of the bi-level fleet and about 50% of the single-level fleet is fully equipped with active auto doors. Even the Fairmount Line doesn’t utilize them yet because of the last two unrenovated mini-high stops at Fairmount and Readville. This is a huge problem when the conductors can’t physically fight their way through crowds or get into position in time, so you frequently have cars with only one end’s doors open or have to pass entirely through to different cars. It even kills the Old Colony dwells when equipment rotations get messed up and one of those schedules gets stuck with a random trainset of manual door -only Bombardier single-levels that normally don’t ever roam on those lines.

        There’s no reason they can’t run automatic until the door traps have to be flipped for the first low-platform stop: Hyde Park on the handful of Providence/Stoughton trips that stop there, Canton Jct. on all others; Readville for the Franklin Line; Roslindale for the Needham Line. And once the Worcester platform @ BBY is fixed they need to run auto-door until either Newtonville or (on Newton-skip runs) Wellesley Farms. While they’ve still got a huge systemwide backlog of platform-raising work to do, just that simple-assed instant ops change would enormously improve dwells in/near the southside terminal district.

        As for bi’s vs. flats in Boston…there isn’t that dramatic a loading/unloading difference, all else being equal. The MBTA never had any flats with extra center doors like the NJT Comet IV’s & V’s or Metro North Shoreliner III’s & IV’s, so differences in loading/unloading bi’s vs. flats is pretty minimal in Greater Boston with rider behavior at jockeying for exit position staying consistent/predictable regardless of car type. It’s definitely a more jarring change in NY/NJ with the flow contrasts between sets of three-door flats and sets of MLV’s covering the same schedules.

        • Alon Levy

          A big difference is that single-level trains can be procured more easily with adequate doors: you want two quarter-point doors, at least double-wide, going up to triple-wide on busier lines (and on the busiest lines you really need four doors per 25-meter car). With double-wide quarter-point doors, narrow corridors, and not great vestibules, the LIRR’s M7s can clear at Penn Station in about 1:40 at rush hour.

          Bilevels with wide quarter-point doors exist, but then a good chunk of the train is not bilevel, which compromises some of the capacity gains, and it still takes longer to clear the car than it does to clear a single-level train.

          One thing that surprised me about Zurich is that it manages 30-second dwells (except at Hauptbahnhof) without level boarding on some trains. The platforms are 550 mm, and the more recent rolling stock is low-floor, with board-to-lower-deck bilevels, but the older trains make you climb stairs to an intermediate level. But the doors are automatic and wide, there is a lot of space in the vestibules, and the passageways aren’t as obstructed as on the MBTA, so people clear faster. But this is not really replicable in a larger city with more crowded rush hour trains than the Zurich S-Bahn.

          • bensh3

            Perhaps the limit is a 350M/year system like Sydney Trains, which can clear a rush hour crowd in 30 seconds and follow 60 second dwells.

          • ant6n

            The video you posted of Sydney doesn’t show a “rush hour crowd” being “cleared” in 30s. For example the closest-visible door shows 4 people exiting and 8 people entering. Assuming a capacity of 300ppl, that’s 1% exit and 2% enter.

        • Nathanael

          Oh, I hadn’t heard that they’re finally planning to raise the Worcester Line platform at Back Bay to full-high! This is badly needed. That entire platform environment is totally miserable and needs a major renovation anyway. (I end up taking Amtrak there, and it’s the sketchiest platform on the route, as well as the slowest to load / unload east of *Syracuse*. Though the plump, garbage-fed rats are very cute.)

        • Nathanael

          I have read that one of the top Worcester Line priorities is getting dual platforms at the three Newton stops, all of which would have to be raised to full-highs as part of the process. If they manage to do that and Back Bay, they’ll have full-high territory until Wellesley Farms. (Apparently the biggest capacity limitation on the line, however, is now actually *at Worcester*, so they’re trying to work out how to get the freight trains out of the way and/or get a second platform.)

          • F-Line to Dudley

            Worcester Union Station expansion is already funded with Request for Bids issued, so they’ll be breaking ground on Platform #2 by mid-2019 at the latest. It’ll be an island platform spanning current Track 1 and adjacent Track 2 so all doors on both sides of the train will open to both platforms when they’re stopped at Track 1…and a return to the old platform layout of the pre-1974 historic station. You can clearly see on Google ( the gap where the old Tk. 1 & 2 island with its up/down egress to ground level used to be and where the new platform will be fitted. They’re also planning to extend the very short current 375 ft. full-high to a full MBTA-spec 800-footer that’ll fit all 9 cars of a max-size T consist. Platform extension will stretch east over the Grafton St. overpass–at slight width pinch point on top of the overpass–onto the old low platform in front of the derelict 1975-2000 Amshack station building in the surface parking lot (the Amshack building scheduled for demolition this spring).

            That Worcester Union platform project should get finished before Back Bay because the package of overdue building and air quality renovations @ BBY have to run their way to completion before they disrupt the platform level with any major surgery. Therefore it’s not going to be soon-soon for the perma-fix on that low boarding WOR platform…probably more on the order of 4-5 years to construction starts instead of 1-2. But it is, at long overdue last, getting action.

    • Michael James

      Since the design of the car affects the time that it takes passengers to alight, of course, it is more important for through-running systems to have cars that allow passengers to alight quickly. Clearly, the MI 09 units do not meet this standard because of the unusual door placement due to the bi-level design, so it’s reasonable to say that these units are a failure specifically for the Paris RER system.

      What unfounded nonsense! This is what Alon’s absurd headline and narrow perspective creates in readers who haven’t an idea about the RER or Paris. The line handles 1.2m pax per day! There may no system (in the rich west) that can handle such a torrent of people, especially when it is compressed in a few hours of the day and at a few select stations/interchanges. The RATP or STIF, looked very carefully at how to design this bilevel to improve service over the MI84 it was to replace. It succeeded–perhaps too much as ridership has increased by 30%. In fact it can handle 30tph but at some point with this level of traffic they have a few incidents (I nor Alon know how many; it might be once a week or maybe once per peak time) that means it is better to scale back the running schedule (especially because of all the branching that complicates timing of all the trains using the shared line) for a somewhat smoother trouble-free operation. But it is still running 25tph and it still carries far more pax than the MI84 did, and still much more as seated. Is everyone reading this story or my reply, innumerate?!
      Millions and millions of Americans in their big cities could wish for such a “failure”. By comparison NYC’s A-train has weekly ridership of 600,000, exactly half that of RER-A. Even though it has 4 tracks in its busiest sections, it manages only 15 tph. Only two lines of the NYC subway has modern signalling capable of automated high train frequency though it has been planned to upgrade the whole network for ages. Even with this lower frequency there are plenty of complaints about erratic interruptions. Here is CityLab’s Laura Bliss this year on the NYC subway problems:

      On a recent Monday afternoon at Grand Central Station, strings of subway cars clatter up to the 4/5/6 platform. As trains arrive every four minutes or so, doors open and shut quickly, rarely parting longer than the 10 seconds they’re supposed to. They stick to schedule.
      But as afternoon melts into evening, larger numbers of passengers surge onto the platform. “Dwell times” brim over their scheduled mark, as doors linger open and conductors bark at riders to press toward the center of the car. As trains hang longer than they’re supposed to at successive stations, running times stretch further and further past what’s planned.
      The steady accretion of micro-delays during peak hours can unleash all manner of subway chaos. But it’s not necessarily the fault of the drivers.
      “On every line I have studied, they’ve under-scheduled the peak,” says Adam Rahbee.
      In other words, it’s not just that operators are driving behind schedule. Schedules are going too fast for the operators.

      The solution sometimes is to actually relax a tight schedule, to restore order and predictability to the stressed system. In response to increased ridership, London and NYC have done this (discussed by Bliss; apparently on the London Northern Line a.k.a. “Misery LIne” which is a highly-automated long line not totally dissimilar to RER-A but with annual ridership 60m less than RER-A) and now as ridership surpasses absurd levels Paris has done it to RER-A (though to a level still 67% higher frequency than the A-train).

      • Alon Levy

        New York’s A train doesn’t have 4 tracks all to itself, ever. What are you talking about? It has two tracks shared with the C; elsewhere it has two tracks shared with the D. With all the branching and recombination, it’s hard to maintain consistent schedules. In contrast, the London Underground’s more self-contained lines run 35-36 peak tph (the Northern line runs less, because it has the same reverse-branching problem as New York). Those trains are 130 meters long rather than 224 meters long, with slightly lower annual ridership, but there’s nothing in the ridership figures that suggests the RER A is sui generis in Europe. In Moscow, the non-branching Metro lines run 39 tph, and some have higher overall ridership than the RER A; Moscow isn’t what Paris usually compares itself with, but we’re here to discuss public transit and not Western European snobbery toward the rest of the world.

        The Adam Rahbee quote doesn’t mean what you think it means. He’s talking about schedule fragility and how to keep trains on time, and has a lot of criticism of how the London Underground does it, but isn’t saying dwell times are >60 seconds. He told me that New York overestimates its own dwell times, because its low-resolution train tracking system can’t distinguish dwell time from when the train is just entering the station slowly because the driver is going slowly.

        “Every four minutes” refers to off-peak frequency, not peak frequency. Peak frequency on the 4/5 in New York is about 24-25 tph, limited by dwell times at Grand Central (which is a busier subway station than any single Metro or RER station) plus poor systems, with no automation at all, hence the slow entry into the station. Peak dwell times in New York are around 45 seconds – 60 indicates something is wrong, unlike on the RER.

        I don’t think it’s actually true that the MI 09 increased ridership by 30%. RATP is terrible about providing ridership figures per line, so everything I know is a few years out of date, but ridership seems to be around 300 million per year now, and was 260 million when I first read about the RER in 2007-8, when there were some MI 2Ns but most rolling stock was single-level (and I can confirm the MI 84s were cramped in 2010, mostly because of poor interior design, with obstructed passageways and full vestibules). What’s going to happen to ridership with the throttled frequency is not yet clear.

      • SC

        “Millions and millions of Americans in their big cities could wish for such a “failure”.” – but we’re talking about the Paris RER here, and in day-to-day train operations, what happens elsewhere doesn’t matter. Maintaining a running schedule of 30tph has failed with these bilevels on RER A because of the longer dwell times needed; if it wasn’t a failure, they wouldn’t have to reduce service to 25 tph. It may be that the overall goal of moving more pax has been reached, but the specific goal of 30tph has failed, and now they had to decide whether the 30tph goal was more valuable, or pax happiness by being able to get off the train at their station was more valuable.

        We also shouldn’t be normalizing incident frequency while maintaining planned operations schedules. Even with a few incidents a week, or one incident per peak period, etc., we should be building schedules that allow for incident flexibility without impacting operations. Otherwise, if we build operating schedules at theoretical capacity and normalize away a visible incident rate as acceptable, that impacts schedule fragility to the point that pax morale is impacted and pax are unhappy.

        My point was, anyway, that bilevels are not failures in general, but they can be failures in specific cases for specific operators, which is counter to Alon’s argument that bilevels are failures in general and never should be used. Bilevel cars are suitable for many applications under many operating conditions, just perhaps not for a through-running line with multiple CBD stations where operations are already at theoretical capacity and dwell times can’t be lengthened without reducing tph.

        • Michael James

          So, you’re diallling back your previous blanket statements. Read yorksranter for a proper consideration of balancing train frequency with reliable service. As pax numbers burst thru never-intended thresholds.

          • SC

            You sound like you like to pick at people who don’t agree perfectly with you, and dismiss people who only partially disagree with you. Other people have opinions, too, that might only be partially aligned with yours, but they have a right to express their views.

          • Michael James

            SC 2018/01/06 – 02:00

            Maybe. And you can have that as an opinion.
            But on material matters under discussion or dispute, you seem to believe any old opinion deserves respect even if it is clearly against the evidence. On your opinion about MI09 duplex trains and their designs, Alon may or may not be correct that single-level versions would be coping with the same crowds (there is really not enough real-world evidence to decide that), but regardless of that issue, it seems to me the MI09 is most likely the best designed duplex ever. (The Sydney trains seem quite good but they never have to cope with these phenomenal pax loads; remember RER-A carries more pax than the entire Sydney train system.)

            So, by all means express your views but be prepared to have them challenged. (And tell me where yorksranter is wrong. He did a much better defence than my first post which was my amateur (non-traingeek) attempt to say something similar.)

          • SC

            One of the easiest ways to cause offense is to impolitely treat others as if they are unintelligent; everyone believes that they are intelligent, and expects to be respectfully treated as such. Most people shut down conversation once you offend them, unless they have particularly argumentative personalities.

            Feel free to read between the lines, and also read what isn’t written. I can do so, and I suggest you practice the same skill.

        • Michael James

          Michael James 2018/01/06 – 04:56

          (The Sydney trains seem quite good but they never have to cope with these phenomenal pax loads; remember RER-A carries more pax than the entire Sydney train system.)

          Speaking of … It’s been 24+hours of chaos on Sydney’s train service. It’s been blamed on a confluence of things: (1). weather: the past 48 hours has seen Sydney’s hottest day (47°C) for 80 years, immediately followed by huge and violent storms that ripped up some electrical installations (and maybe control gear); (2). 65-70 drivers called in sick yesterday (this is apparently on top of it being the peak Australian summer vacation period; I’m even a bit surprised this caused train chaos since the cities tend to thin out and things don’t really return to normal until February (when school starts). But the state political opposition and the transport unions are blaming it on (3) a new timetable that was introduced just before Christmas that “introduced about 1,500 extra weekly services on to the network, in part by pushing decades-old S-set trains with no air-conditioning into service more often. Briefings prepared in the lead-up to the new timetable reportedly warned of “reduced fleet maintenance windows” and an “increased demand on maintenance as [a result of the] fleet doing more kilometres”.”
          It may just be possible that those 70 drivers calling in sick was an orchestrated reaction to this (I really don’t know) but it is true that conservative state governments usually wage a vicious war against unions (teachers, healthworkers, construction and public transport being the prime targets). The quasi-privatisation of the NW-Metro is part of this war. At the same time the introduction of the new timetable is a response to chronic crowding and complaints about the trains, which in turn trace directly to chronic underfunding, both in maintenance and (not) building the system over the last 70 years. It might also support the lesson that increasing train frequency may be a simplistic response.

          Sydney trains to be investigated after network meltdown causes transport chaos
          Passengers subjected to ‘indefinite delays’ on multiple lines during evening peak due to storm damage and lack of drivers and staff
          Michael McGowan, 10 Jan ’18

          • Untangled

            Just a few things on Sydney:

            On the frequency increase, most of the increases happened during the off-peak and weekend. There has been little boost to the peak hour services, just a shuffling of services to maximise the use of their capacity, most of the frequency increases did not happen during the busiest part of the day.

            On the driver thing, I don’t know if it was an unofficial strike either but I there’s been news that Sydney Trains knew about they would be short of staff on Monday and Tuesday and they were preparing mass cancellations over the weekend but decided to wing it, of course then other things happened as well and compounded this issue. (Of course, the driver staffing issue also makes a strong case for more fully driverless train lines but that’s another story.)

            On your point about the conservative war on unions, it’s worth noting that the government’s default position is a 2.5% increase every year for all government workers and this is what the government is offering to the unions. This 2.5% policy has been around since the start the Rees days so if there’s any war, the conservative government did not start it. Besides, a 2.5% increase is quite generous considering the stagnant wages across the economy and low inflation. Having said that, it does appear that Sydney train drivers are paid less than their counterparts in other cities.

            I somehow managed to avoid all the big mess so I’m not complaining for now.

          • Michael James

            Untangled 2018/01/10 – 07:24

            On the frequency increase, most of the increases happened during the off-peak and weekend. There has been little boost to the peak hour services, just a shuffling of services to maximise the use of their capacity, most of the frequency increases did not happen during the busiest part of the day.

            If you say so. But why would they be adding extra services out of peak and then why would they need to bring in old trains? (I am assuming they are running the new trains at peak times and they must have some free at off-peak times.) There may well be valid answers to those questions that I as a non-traingeek nor Sydneysider don’t know.

            Those 2.5% increases are one reason why conservatives want to get rid of all unions and organised labour; it is presumably long-standing EA arrangements about which they can’t do anything. Well, they can try to sack workers but since the Qld conservatives broke their promises immediately after winning an election and sacking 15,000 health workers–and not the overpaid top-heavy management it is infested with these days but actual nurses–and got kicked out in a landslide election after one term of government, other state governments are a bit more cautious.
            But as in Trumpland or Brexitland, rightwingers need to be careful of what they wish for. Reducing employment opportunities for blue-collar and no-collar workers never has a happy ending. BTW, it must surely contain some lessons for the Anglosphere that France has managed to introduce modern rail transport (ie. driverless or minimally-staffed trains) such as RER-A, M14 & M1 (and eventually all of the Metro lines) without a union meltdown (or at least resolution). Especially in the context of many of Alon’s pieces detailing how painful and hyper-expensive any cross-jurisdictional public transit projects are in the US, it is perhaps (perhaps not) remarkable that Paris created the RER from separate institutions (RATP, SNCF etc). To put it bluntly, the hyper-partisan and hyper-confrontational approach of Anglosphere conservatives (if that is the correct term; maybe it should be “far-right ideologues” and the econocracy) in the Anglosphere is a failed one. As you know, this approach has wrecked our NBN, our energy grid, sensible transit planning for our major cities, HSR to link cities and Sydney’s airport arrangements.

      • Michael James

        SC 2018/01/09 – 00:00

        You’re trying to set yourself up as the arbiter of what is polite. And thus trying to shut down discussion. Contrary to your statement, the greatest respect to another comment/commenter is to counter it with rational argument.
        If people are indeed turned off from participating, then one usually finds they weren’t using rational argument but evidence-free emotion and fake politesse. So, no loss to the debate.

  6. Alex

    What about labor costs? My (limited) understanding of North American commuter rail is that labor costs are a relatively high percentage of operating costs, because each train needs 3 or more conductors, in addition to the engineer.

    In this environment, it seems like it would make sense for NJ Transit and other North American systems to run fewer, higher-capacity trains to maximize capacity/dollar. Obviously this comes at the expense of frequency, but high labor costs make high frequency more expensive than it is in other places.

    Obviously labor costs could be significantly reduced by moving to a proof-of-payment system, but there’s no indication that will happen in the near future.

    I’d be happy to be corrected if I’m getting this wrong.

    • anonymouse

      The labor cost analysis depends on whether the number of conductors is proportional to the number of cars or the number of passengers. For opening the traps, it’s logical to have a fixed number of conductors per N cars, but for the other equally important job of using a hole punch to punch a hole in every single ride ticket, it makes more sense to have a given number of conductors for every X00 passengers. In the latter case, bilevels do nothing for labor costs.

      • Alon Levy

        In theory it’s easier to inspect single-levels than bilevels because passengers can’t escape the conductors so easily, but in practice labor agreements don’t account for that.

        • Michael James

          Having conductors on trains clipping tickets is seriously last century, maybe 2 centuries back.
          In any case, I thought most bilevels in the US were gallery trains and the gallery was partly to allow the conductor to clip the gallery-level pax when he stands in the lower level?

          • SC

            Many of the bi-level cars in the US and Canada are not gallery cars – for instance, the Bombardier MultiLevel Coaches run by NJT and AMT/RTM are not gallery cars.

          • F-Line to Dudley

            Metra, Caltrain, Virginia Railway Express, and Music City Star are the only current users of gallery cars in North America, while SEMCOG in Detroit has purchased refurbbed galleries for its 2022 service start. NJT, LIRR, MBTA, AMT/RTM (Gare Central-terminating routes), and MARC use 48-inch boarding Bombardier MLV’s or Kawasaki bi-levels & clones. All other 8-inch boarding commuter agencies use Bombardier BLV’s & clones: GO Transit, Metrolink, Caltrain (small fleet), AMT/RTM (Lucien L’Allier-terminating routes), FrontRunner, Sounder, Tri-Rail, West Coast Express, Trinity Railway Express, ACE, Coaster, SunRail, Rail Runner Express, Northstar. And Amtrak’s Superliner/Surfliner/California Car fleets are a wholly distinct bi-level design evolved from the ATSF HiLevels.

            BLV’s are the most ubiquitously-used coach design on the continent by a wide margin over all other car permutations: gallery bi’s, Superliner/HiLevel bi’s, 48-inch boarding bi’s, end door -only flats/xMU’s, mid/quarter-point door flats/xMU’s, and niche low-boarding flats (e.g. Amtrak Cascades Talgos, Stadler GTW configs that blur the line between commuter DMU and diesel light rail).

          • Alon Levy

            Nearly half of US commuter rail ridership is on lines that use single-level EMUs exclusively or almost exclusively: LIRR, Metro-North, SEPTA, Denver RTD. Add NJ Transit EMUs and this might actually be half.

          • adirondacker12800

            Assuming whoever last edited the Wikipedia article was using reliable sources there are 1,145 Bombardier bilevels in service in the U.S. and Canada. 643 Multilevels are not included. There are 1,136 M7s between the LIRR and Metro North. And 405 M8s with more on order. Apparently still 160 Arrow IIIs still in service with NJTransit and 180 Silverliner Vs between SEPTA and RTD.

  7. lake9856

    Makes sense! The double-decker NJT ride from Newark Airport to Penn Station is especially frustrating, as people boarding with suitcases at Newark Airport choose to stay in the cramped intermediate level rather than venture up or down the stairs to find seats in the upper or lower levels.

    What about double-decker busses? What’s your opinion on those? Are they better or worse than articulated busses?

    • James Sinclair

      The bottom level has no overhead storage, and the top level has storage that wont accommodate anything thicker than a backpack. Never mind the hassle of the steps.

      I would think that 2-level buses are optimal for longer distance routes, or routes focus on a single terminus, while articulated is best for city routes with on-offs at every stop.

  8. Joey

    Troll alternative: Use bilevels, but have doors on both levels and corresponding two-level platforms. Would work even better with something like the Talgo 22 where both levels are continuous.

      • Nathanael

        Oh, I’m not the only one who’s proposed this!

        It would be massive capacity. If you’re digging a single tunnel for two tracks with such tall trains, you could probably fit the dual station platforms within the tunnel envelope as well and have a really good design…

        • Michael James

          Doesn’t Chicago have very tall bi-level trains? I don’t mean their gallery cars.
          I once took the train from Hangzhou to Shanghai which were full bilevel cars with stairs at the ends only. They were commuter trains, express from city to city with 100% pax seated, so no comparison to RER, but the capacity and sheer numbers were frightening–though it was a comfortable efficient service. I forget exactly but running at maybe 10 minute intervals; these were ICE-like trains, express between the two cities which are only about … 100km ? apart. It has since been upgraded to full HSR I believe. The movement between these close big cities was why they contemplated extending the MagLev to Hangzhou but HSR was easier/cheaper I suppose.

    • bensh3

      In my experience, the SLIV’s with their legacy vestibule design and vestibule doors take significantly longer to empty than an SLV with modern quarter-point doors. There’s always a queue to exit in the former. But there’s no reason except possibly FRA requirements that there shouldn’t have been two double-width doors per side.

  9. adirondacker12800

    two important American factors make the need to stop running bilevels even more pertinent than in Europe: CBD layout, and station construction costs.

    The only place that needs more capacity, at the moment, is Manhattan and Manhattan has plenty of platform. It doesn’t have enough tunnel. Bilevel/multilevels carry more people per car. Very occasionally NJTransit multilevels wander all the way to New Haven. When Metro North starts service to Penn Station those cars or similar ones would carry more passengers.

    To keep the math simple 24 trains per hour through a tunnel into 6 platforms at three islands is 4 trains per hour per platform. Getting to and from the platform may suck up 3 minutes of that. 12 minutes with the doors open. Make it 48 per hour, through two sets of tunnel that’s 8 trains per hour and 4.5 minutes of open doors. Getting on and off the train isn’t the problem in Manhattan. NJTransit was proposing to terminate 26 an hour into the six stubby tracks in Macy’s basement. With oddles of pedestrian access north of 34th Street with provisions for more if it was needed. To beat a dead horse, Gateway has the foamers are all frothy because trains won’t be in Sunnyside and wouldn’t be able to get to Penn Station even if they were, when things go bad! And everybody will get to cross Penn Station with all the other people trying to get to and from the existing platforms! No evil 5 minute escalator ride up from the bowels of Herald Square instead a five minute walk from 30th Street! To beat another dead horse, ARC was supposed to be completed this year. I’d take a nice shiny multilevel pulling into a platform deep under Macy’s to gazing fondly at a PDF of DEIS for Gateway. With Son-Of-East-Side-Access deep under Madison Avenue and 44th in 2035. Except for Chicago and San Francisco everyplace else has great big gobs of ground level space. Or so little demand that the two island platforms at Jefferson are more than enough for a very long time…. Aren’t “long” SEPTA trains six cars long?

    In New York, Penn Station isn’t even in the CBD

    Just stop. It’s in the CBD anyplace else in the U.S. and probably anyplace in North America except maybe Mexico City. I’m not gonna go try to find stuff about Mexico City. More pedestrians use the main entrance to Penn Station than use Caltrain.

    Almost as many people use the Herald Square subway station as use SEPTA commuter trains or the MBTA commuter trains.

    Or use the Penn Station subway stops. Where they don’t even have to go outside to change between the subway and commuter trains. In very round numbers, 34th Street on the ACE, 123, BDFM, NQRW have one third of the ridership of Washington’s whole Metro system or three quarter’s of BART’s. Just stop.

    Almost as many people use PATH’s World Trade Center station as use Caltrain. Just stop. Or use the “uptown” lines as use Caltrain. Obscure itty bitty little PATH. Just stop.

    Almost as many people use Columbus Circle, definitely on the outer reaches of Midtown, as use Caltrain. Nowhere near Grand Central, the Port Authority, Penn Station or PATH. For that matter as many people use the Staten Island Ferry as use Caltrain. And there are probably masochists who take a bus to St. George to take the Ferry to the 1 to get to work near Columbus Circle. Just stop.

    forcing everyone to get off and connect to the subway

    That happens when the CBD spreads across multiple subway stops. Where there is subway. You can’t change between the commuter train and the subway in Indianapolis because there isn’t any commuter train and there isn’t any subway. You can’t do it in Atlanta because there isn’t any commuter train. ….. MARTA has less ridership than PATH.

    Many of them don’t, see above about pedestrian traffic. I worked on 41st and Broadway, when the weather was cooperative it was just as fast to walk to Penn Station as it was to take the subway. I walked to Penn Station even though there was a bus leaving the Port Authority, to the same bus stop that the bus from Penn Station Newark would take me to, it was faster and more reliable. In the 80s, traffic hasn’t improved any since then. And the subway still used tokens so walking saved a fare. Although the trip between Newark and Manhattan is longer than it was back then, I would still take the train. .. When the weather was lousy I didn’t have to go outside until I got off the bus at my suburban stop. I don’t know about today, the skyscraper I worked in was torn down to build an even bigger skyscraper. It was a no-brainer when I worked at Broadway and Barclay St., bus to Penn Station Newark and PATH to the World Trade Center. That distance in wonderful metro Albany.. I’d be out in farmland. I’d be beyond the farmland if it was from the epicenter of Glens Falls.

    Who knows how many of the people using the Grand Central or Penn Station subway stops are using them to get from one CBD, Midtown to another, Wall Street. Other places in North America don’t have two. Other than Chicago’s Loop other places don’t have a CBD as big as Wall Street. Which is quite a hike from Grand Central. Or Penn Station or the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Not that awful from the ferry terminals.

    Market East is just outside the highest-intensity zone, and 30th Street Station is well outside it.

    Everyone thought Commodore Vanderbilt was nutz when he built his depot way way up on 42nd Street. Redeveloping the ROW that was the access to the PRR’s Broad Street station sucked all of the air out of building near 30th Street. It’s beginning to happen. The former ROW has been redeveloped.

    • Alon Levy

      The NSRL docs from the 1990s seem to think dwells at the central Boston stations are 2-3 minutes, judging by sample schedules; the capacity they propose is very weak as a result.

      Chicago has capacity problems, too. There are a lot of tracks at Ogilvie and Union Station, but not that many at Millennium (7 tracks, 4 approach tracks), and under any attempt to connect the Metra lines to each other and to the center of the Loop, there is going to be exactly one platform track per approach track in the new stations.

    • F-Line to Dudley

      The reasons Metro North is planning a wholesale East-of-Hudson coach fleet replacement to MLV-dimension bi’s does directly have to do with managing dwell times.

      All of the Upper Hudson diesel platforms are 6-car max, and all of the Upper Harlem diesel platforms are 4-car max. Both lines hit the platform capacity limit at peak, and can’t add capacity by lengthening consists without handicapping dwells from not all cars being able to platform throughout the trip. Upper Hudson’s a bigger and more immediate problem because every diesel is already a GCT run-thru (no shuttles like the Upper Harlem), and substantial service expansion up there can come as soon as New York makes its triple-procurement of new replacement dual-mode locoss for the Amtrak Empire + LIRR + MNRR in a couple years. MNRR will get substantial fleet padding over its currently threadbare P32AC-DM roster in that loco order. And then the longer-range Penn Station Access plans for the Empire Connection will eventually add another diesel service layer that has to keep its station dwells disentangled from all other Hudson schedules. Unfortunately they need the per-car capacity increase sooner than simultaneous funding+design+build of platform extensions at 7 Hudson and 6 Harlem stops is going to be real-world feasible.

      Therefore, the MTA determined that uniform MLV fleet in a 2 x 2 seating config was the most expeditious way to head off the problem. In a perfect world expedited platform extensions would keep the window wide open for another procurement generation of flats, but NY transpo politics being the perfectly rancid world it is doesn’t practically allow for a close-enough match on timing platform construction with the next fleet procurement. Today it’s hard enough to schedule the routinest of rolling repairs at some individual MNRR stops that have co-ownership/control entanglements with unruly host towns dating all the way back to the NY Central days. So…one hand tied behind back and all…they committed to the MLV solve for diesel territory capacity and dwell management knowing that was the move that had the highest odds of addressing the fullest spread of issues soonest and cleanest without extraneous parties gumming up the works. It was probably the most logical decision they could make under the circumstances.

      Additionally, increases to the EMU fleet with ConnDOT’s ongoing M8 supplemental order and all un-exercised options on the M8+’s and M9’s will result in a lot more standard 10-car New Haven, Stamford, Croton-Harmon, and North White Plains consists filling out the long platforms at GCT. This will gradually increase the pressure-over-time on keeping diesel sets contained to the structurally unexpandable 8-or-less car platforms on the lower level. While there’s plenty of practical space for the most monster-size diesel packs to fan out onto the longer platforms, they don’t want the unintended consequence of pressure-over-time leaving the shortie platforms going increasingly underutilized while the 10+ car platforms see ever-spiraling traffic levels.

      They also aren’t getting optimal flow efficiency out of the current single-level fleet. Only the 105 Shoreliner III & IV’s have triple doors, while the 101 Shoreliner I/II and Comet II’s are end-door only. The way diesel consists are assembled and ripped apart on MNRR doesn’t allow for much in the way of delicate assembly of alternating 2-door vs. 3-car cars in an idealized set, so trains tend to be more often than not wildly unbalanced on door distribution. Today they need a uniform-configuration fleet more desperately than they need to revamp yards for high-precision car shunting. Since no one has produced new aluminum Comet II-IV -lineage clones in 22 years or remanufactured any in the last 10 years from lack of demand, the cost for doing another midlife overhaul on the oldest cars with mods to match the door config of the Shoreliner III/IV’s is going to price out poorly. Not enough reputable large-scale vendors who’ll bid on that because the profit margins on that job on those cars has evaporated over the last decade. And another all-new production run derived from the 21st-century Alstom Comet V design refresh is very unlikely, because those stainless steel Comets running West-of-Hudson became huge disappointments for the unusually rough ride quality imposed by their heftier frames and other nagging problems. They would probably have to reset the clock before the Comet V’s and commission another new design refresh to net a new single-level fleet that has maintenance hegemony with the more or less idiot-proof Shoreliner III/IV’s…not worth the cost. Hence, the wholesale replacement of all 200 flats (and all 134 end-of-life LIRR bi-levels) shotgunned with the changeover to MLV’s on the Upper Hudson & Harlem.

      • Alon Levy

        But Metro-North manages to use M8s at stations with short platforms: “only the first six cars will open, if you’re in the back two cars, walk forward.”

        Platform capacity is actually a bigger problem on Metro-North than on the railroads that use Penn Station. The bottleneck isn’t Grand Central, but Harlem-125th Street, where each approach track has just one platform track. It only works if you have dedicated tracks to trains that skip the station, but even then the trains serving the station need to open and close their doors quickly.

        • F-Line to Dudley

          They absolutely do run sets that can’t completely platform, but it does them no favors on escalating dwells so the noose is tightening with pressure and time. That’s why there’s a race to get the last 3 sub- 10-car platforms west of Stamford lengthened before Penn Station Access happens and that stretch of railroad gets even tougher to load-balance. But platform lengthenings are much easier to do on the New Haven Line where 10-car platforms have been the design standard for all new/renovated construction for 25 years now. Only a handful of individual stations still need to get picked off, most of them eons-outdated outliers already saddled with other glaring accessibility deficiencies needing ASAP action. ConnDOT’s thrashing through that bucket list at faithful enough pace to finally start seeing light at the end of that tunnel. The ongoing New Haven Line service improvements study is trying to peg an actionable valuation on putting together a big enough moneybomb to finish the job sooner.

          Upper Hudson/Harlem are different because all of those diesel platforms are modern full ADA-compliant construction done when the formerly low platforms were all converted en masse to full-high in the 80’s and 90’s. 6- and 4-car platforms were the MTA design standard at the time. A big miscalculation re: future demand growth for damn sure, but coming out of the early-90’s recession with analytics being as primitive as they were they can be somewhat forgiven for underestimating by orders-of-magnitude the growth explosion that’s taken place since. Those are tougher because the only way they got redone was as a state-of-repair fiat of all the legislation that gave birth to MNRR in the first place as a formal MTA division. The local-yokels in the townships who make life hell over the smallest of station improvement projects for the pettiest of turf wars were all rolled by the hugeness of the change in the MTA charter, so all of the attached capital improvement programs that constructed those current platforms were able to proceed in-sync and without incident. Simple capacity expansion projects today can’t use the same mechanism to bypass the death-by-thousand-cuts of forced community involvement because they don’t affect the makeup of the agency charter, so unfortunately the timeframes for getting all of diesel territory uniformly lengthened get bogged down in one drawn-out hot mess of NY local politics. With the coach procurement decision coming up for bid in 2-4 years, they have little choice but to work the vehicle-side capacity mgt. solutions first. Ideal?…hardly. The best they can do within their practical scope of control?…yeah, probably.

          Connecticut’s no local politics paradise either, but their stops being ex-NYNH&H instead of ex-NY Central means the New Haven’s much stronger company control of its depots passed intact into the state ownership era and doesn’t give Fairfield County NIMBY’s as much power to fiddle for the pleasure of watching the world burn as their cousins across the border in Westchester and Dutchess. ex-NYC depots tend to be a much bigger poopshow of dashed-line reporting relationships between municipal and state/RR authorities, with paper trails stretching deep back into the 19th century.

  10. yorksranter

    I think this may be a case of “pick your optimisation criterion”. Metro designs – i.e. single deck, token seating, lots of big doors – will do better if you want to optimise for tph. RER style will do better if you’re less interested in frequency, perhaps because your binding constraint is how many distinct train paths you can squeeze through junctions, or because your goals include providing high capacity from lots of peripheral locations to the centre.

    The RER funnels a lot of peripheral routes into the cross-central tunnels – that’s its mission in life – and because of this, if it were to use smaller trains and optimise for capacity-by-frequency in the centre, it would either have to run in an old-fashioned and inefficient Victorian mode where you have terminuses with dozens of platforms to turn trains back and then have to provide huge interchanging capacity with metro and bus routes, or else it would have to starve the periphery of capacity because 4tph of community rail < 4tph of RER.

    But if you run big bilevel trains, you can provide worthwhile capacity from a lot of obscure banlieue stations at timetable frequencies, while also providing timetable-free service on the cross-central trunks where the lines all run together. It's a twofer! Of course, you pay for this with a longer limiting dwell time in the core tunnel, but then what did you expect, a free lunch?

    There's another issue here, though. London Reconnections recently did a very good post about the Victoria Line modernisation which has pushed it to 36tph in the peak:

    This is pretty great service, especially as it's the fastest route on the Tube, and it's a bestial amount of capacity. There is a problem, though. Capacity-by-frequency tends to be very sensitive to micro-operational issues. Victoria modernisation has drawn a lot of ridership to the line, which is fine when it's working perfectly. But if, for any reason, the cycle rate drops below demand…oy. The platforms back up very quickly, stations close, and delays cascade into other bits of the system. And at these orders of numbers, absolutely anything other than perfection means chaos. At 36tph, a 60 second dwell leaves 40 seconds to resolve anything that happens before the signalling headway is consumed and the next train is delayed.

    Scale matters. If you're going to run 36*12 = 432 trains a day, that means you get 5 trains a day on average that encounter your 99th percentile of delay somewhere along their route. If your system is closely coupled between trains – as it must be with headways below 100 seconds – your 99th percentile delay must be < 40 seconds to keep it from cascading. Capacity-by-frequency has a massive dependency on heroic regularity if it's not to fall apart daily.

    • Alon Levy

      This is true of the longer-distance, more highly-branched RER lines, i.e. the RER C and D (and eventually E, which is taking over more Transilien P branches). It’s less true of the RER A and B. The RER A has, going east, two branches, and three stopping patterns: trains to Boissy, trains on the Marne-la-Vallee branch short-turning at Torcy, trains to MLV, each running 6 tph off-peak. Going west, it has three branches, and three stopping patterns as well; it used to be 6 tph, but one branch got cut to 3 tph, and the other 3 matching to the east only run east of La Defense. At rush hour stopping patterns get more complicated, because of turnback capacity, so the extra rush hour trains to Saint-Germain-en-Laye short-turn. These aren’t really obscure banlieues. The RER B actually has more of a timetable frequency – it has on each side two branches and three stopping patterns (weaker branch, locals on the stronger branch, expresses on the stronger branch), each running 4 tph off-peak, and when I was staying in the Latin Quarter I timed myself based on the clockface schedule to get to IHES. It runs single-levels because otherwise the crowding at Les Halles and Gare du Nord would delay trains too much.

      • RVA_Exile

        If you read French sources and nerd blogs, they will tell you that the RER B runs single-level trains because of low bridge clearance issues on legacy tracks in the southern suburbs

    • Michael James

      yorksranter 2018/01/05 – 13:12

      Scale matters. If you’re going to run 36*12 = 432 trains a day, that means you get 5 trains a day on average that encounter your 99th percentile of delay somewhere along their route. If your system is closely coupled between trains – as it must be with headways below 100 seconds – your 99th percentile delay must be < 40 seconds to keep it from cascading. Capacity-by-frequency has a massive dependency on heroic regularity if it's not to fall apart daily.

      That is very impressive if the Victoria Line is doing 36 tph for 12 hours a day. I’m especially amazed they can get Londoners to cope with 40 second dwell times as my experience (a long time ago) was that they are a bit of shambolic bunch when it comes to such matters–and also exploit the fact that most lines still have conductors who keep those doors open for stragglers/malingerers. Perhaps the new fully-automated Vic trains quickly discipline passengers? (Which I have always claimed it would if the system imposed it.) In Paris (and doubtless on the Asian systems) everyone knew that that door was going to close ready-or-not, and it packed a bit of a bite if you got caught. Of course once trains get this frequent it is not such a bore if you miss a train.

      I see that the broadly comparable Paris M1 is designed for potential 85 sec headways (42 tph) but I don’t know what their normal peak hour performance is (M1 does carry marginally more pax than Vic: 213m v 199m). I read that shortly after all the new trains were installed, the system was severely tested when, due to failure of RER-A (which runs parallel to M1 all of its length within Paris to La Defense) broke down, it was inundated; it passed the inadvertent test by carrying 1m pax that day, 33% more than its normal peak of 750k.

      Excellent post.

      • Alon Levy

        I think part of M1’s high ridership is a matter of having multiple peaks. It doesn’t carry a tidal load of east-to-west commuters because the RER A is faster. Compare the following stations and their ridership levels:

        Gare de Lyon: M1 36,352,115, RER A 37,192,652
        La Defense: M1 15,031,139 (25,348,524 inc. Esplanade de la Defense), RER A 31,115,228

        The Metro website is bad at telling me the frequency, but I believe M1 comes every 2 minutes at the peak, though it’s capable of better. This is far less capacity than the RER A (frequency is the same, but the trains are 40% as long and single-level). What I think is happening is that more people use M1 for short trips, missing the most crowded point. I take either M1 or the RER to Les Halles, the RER to Auber and points west (where the crowding is), and M1 to Hotel de Ville and points east. My trips to Gare de Lyon to take a train don’t add to peak congestion, because the peak is Gare de Lyon to points west, and the real peak is on the RER A (between Les Halles and Auber) and not M1.

        The Victoria line has the same tidal issue as the RER A at Gare de Lyon, with a mass of commuter rail passengers getting off at Victoria heading north.

        • Michael James

          Yes. If you arrived at Gare de Lyon, or St Lazare, or Chatelet, you would–other things being equal–you would take RER-A instead of M1. That one million pax day on M1 shows that (and I don’t know when RER-A failed that day). Likewise M14 takes some load off it too. I have to be careful to project on others but that part of Paris is very walkable too–from Bastille, rue de Rivoli, Champs to Elysee–and I would only take M1 if I was going all the way up to Arc de Triomph (and that was hardly ever).
          OTOH M1 does serve a roll-call of iconic destinations in Paris but many of those visitors trips might be relatively short, so yes not the tidal wave you mention for some lines.

          Victoria Line was “my” line because, from Brighton of course I arrived at Victoria station. It was always better than the older lines (Circle and District, also with stops at Victoria). Victoria station also serves Gatwick (the second or third busiest airport in Europe) in addition to the southcoast traffic. Southern Rail (for the south-east) handles more pax than any of the other rail companies.

        • Michael James

          And, though it is really the same point, M1 with 25 stations (over 16km; versus 16 stations over 13km for Vic) a lot of those 213m pax never share the same train at the same time. ie. the load is much more distributed.

          • yorksranter

            To be exact, the Vicky line runs at 36tph in generously defined peaks (TfL now considers the peaks to be three to four hours each – it’s always the peak in London…) but they are progressively extending this service level through the day.

            The Tube doesn’t have conductors, although it does have despatchers on the platforms.

  11. Nathanael

    Well (hah), I had a better bilevel design which could be used for high capacity, but it would only work for brand new routes with all-new stations and all-new tunnels.

    Have boarding on both levels. Bilevel station platforms. Nobody has to walk up or down stairs inside the train. (You might still have an internal staircase for emergencies but it wouldn’t be used regularly.)

    When I first heard about bilevel trains this is what I imagined. Nobody’s ever done it, though, AFAICT…

  12. rational plan

    Bi Levels might be finding there way to London at some point in the future. There are a couple of designers traveling around train expo’s offering designs that would fit UK Gauge (almost). One would offer a 35% uplift, with three across on the upper deck. But it would be a high speed long distance commuter route of about 100 miles ot so and less than 5 stops. Long distance commuting has been the strongest and most prositable segment of the UK rail market and even if the did a mass programme of High speed lines and extra crossrails that still leaves plenty lines needing more capacity.

    Another more ambitious design would require platform clearence work and so would restrict the routes it could be used on. And so it would be restricted to the big commuter towns 50 to 70 miles away. So say London to Basingstoke, Oxford, Colchester, Sevenoaks etc. The big advantage would be 1500 commuters SEATED, not mostly standing like now. Much more expensive but can be done on a route by route basis and not so expesive as it would avoit branch lines.

    • Michael James

      I mentioned this in an earlier post. I’m not up to date but the reasons for not doing this, decades ago (though due to the congestion I guess the idea gets thrown up at least once a decade), was that the tunnels wouldn’t allow it. Cost of modifying platforms is not trivial either. Of course there would be another unholy fight about who pays since the network was in such danger of collapse it was renationalised and it is the network who owns all that infrastructure (rails, signalling, tunnels and most stations).
      But the profiteers who now run British rail services have the same attitude as Alon and Untangled: let the pax eat cake. They can stand the whole way even as we hit them for a $6k season ticket!

    • Gsg Halfrunt

      There’s a reason why those concepts “almost” fit the British loading gauge.

      “European freight gauges are agreed and (relatively) easy to achieve on selected UK routes. The reason why clearance for a GB+ passenger vehicles would be very poor value for money is with the area below floor level. The UK loading gauge provides very little width beyond running gear, i.e. bogies, axle boxes and where needed, pick-up shoes.
      The UK standards for platform edges impinge on what would be needed for any lower deck capacity gain, and more importantly, there are hundreds of trussed overbridges where the trusses located between the tracks also use this space. They are prevalent accross much of south London where enhanced capacity is most needed. Fixing them would involve replacement of all of those bridges, many of which span busy inner city roads.
      All this would give a marginal increase on route capacity over current high frequency operation.”

    • Jason Leahy

      Aeroliner 3000 bi-level train was a finalist in the rail safety and standards boards 2014 tomorrows train today competition,it conforms to the British loading gauge (height/width of tunnels and bridges),it only has a 30% extra capacity as the upper deck has 2+1 seating not 2+2.Alstom said that if it wins the bid to build trains for the HS 2,the trains could be double deckers on the London to Birmingham section,that because new lines have to be built to the wider and higher European Berne loading gauge,single decker trains would be manufactured for the route to Scotland.

  13. rational plan

    im not sure your point. The system needs extra capacity, Bi level can do this on some routes in the UK. One design offers a decent boost for long distance services. The other is more restrictive but with much higher capacity but at high cost. Both though would not be suitable for RER type services.

  14. Christopher Parker

    No discussion of operating costs other than the cost of labor (which ideally shouldn’t be a factor with proof of payment systems). What about the cost of maintaining equipment. This is not insignificant – it may be the largest single category of expense. If you can carry 50% more people with the same cost, that’s a win, right?

    UNLESS the dwell time eats up those savings. A few busy stops in the center city is not much of a factor for a long distance regional commuter service, I would think.

    Based on operating costs I would think commuter rail operators should hasten to move to double deck as the standard when they can. Indeed, that is what is happening. Certainly in the states, every commuter rail operation that can operate double decker, does.

    • Alon Levy

      Are equipment maintenance costs lower for bilevels? Procurement costs are higher per seat.

      American commuter rail operators are specifically running diesel locomotives rather than MUs (and this is stupid and they should stop). The cost and weight premiums of bilevels over single-levels seem smaller for unpowered coaches than for multiple units, and I presume the maintenance costs are concentrated in the locomotive anyway.

    • Alon Levy

      Well, with two platform tracks per approach track at Gare du Nord and Les Halles on the D, and at Magenta and Saint-Lazare on the E, the platform capacity issues are less acute than on the RER A.

      However, there is no excuse in the world for spending 4.6 million euros per 25 meters of train length. Even Caltrain is spending less than that on the KISSes. French train procurement reminds me in so many ways of the US – a lot of pressure to buy from domestic factories, so trains are always special rather than just off-the-shelf Coradias or Talents or Desiros. Sometimes the costs are reasonable, but often they are not. They even tend to be heavier per meter of train length than the German trains.

      • Michael James

        Alon, the problem with that (econocratic) approach is that the kinds of governments or societies that think like that, end up with neither. London CrossRail will only open its new tunnel late this year, exactly 41 years after RER-A and B. And as you have pointed out many times, building these already expensive tunnels in the Anglosphere is much more expensive than in places like France, Germany or Asia (who happen to be the ones who build both the trains and the tunneling machines).
        So, you want to have your cake and eat it.
        Further, if France had purchased its trains from non-French sources then 1. it would have a much higher welfare bill (for the thousands of workers, direct and in the supply chain); 2. it is arguable how much cheaper it really would be (from a national government point of view, the cost of a foreign purchase would have to be at least 30% cheaper to be equal; remember the huge amount of the costs that flow directly back into the local economy and in fact back to the government in taxes); 3. it wouldn’t have a train industry, and 4. in reality, if you look at the Anglosphere, you wouldn’t have very good mass transit no matter what cost.
        There is no accident that the countries that have the best mass transit (France, Germany, Japan, China, Korea) also have significant native train industries. Even Sweden & Switzerland.

        Of course most countries realize this and will demand that some of the train construction occurs in-country, such as the Bombardier trains for London CrossRail, and anything in the US. But Australia manages to get the worst of all worlds: they awarded the contract for the Waratah trains to the cheapest Chinese bidder, but the company couldn’t cope with the sophistication required and had to outsource to another Chinese company that could (extra cost paid by NSW gov. or the whole thing would have gone down the plughole) and with final finishing in Australia. It doubled the cost and has bankrupted the entity set up to handle this contract.

        • Alon Levy

          Germany freely imports trains from Switzerland and vice versa. The Netherlands freely imports trains. Eastern Europe sometimes has transplant factories, but the companies that make the trains are headquartered elsewhere, and somehow Prague and Budapest manage. There’s EU-wide free trade, with a lot more rules than the Americans can deal with to ensure fair competition (the crap that American cities are pulling to get the Amazon headquarters wouldn’t fly here) and apparently more than the Brits can deal with, too. France buys German goods and services without tariffs and in response Germany buys French goods and services. Macron’s supposed to be the one calling for EU-wide unity, getting acclaim from a lot of German left-liberals who yearn for more leadership than Merkel’s endless austerity plans, and yet in practice he’s rescuing companies that would otherwise end up controlled by Italian firms.

          Protectionism doesn’t lead to better transit. On the contrary. The US rolling stock industry was decimated by it. It never had to learn to compete, so it couldn’t export, and by the 1970s it was making defective products because it was protected by Buy America rules. New York’s lawsuits over defects in the R44 and R46 bankrupted two different American train vendors.

          It’s especially bad for France because France evidently is capable of exporting trains, whereas the US was a lost cause by the 1960s. People buy Alstom trains all the time without being told to do so in a Jupiterian lecture about the evils of postmodernism. The Coradia is a good product and one variant (the Coradia Continental) is incredibly high-powered. But for whatever reason TERs don’t really buy that, and Transilien isn’t buying it either, instead getting expensive bespoke sesquilevels.

          The “it plugs in money into the local economy” excuse is common in the US too, and it’s wrong here as it is there. When you buy a bespoke train, the extra money mostly isn’t going to electricians and metalworkers. The amount of welding and electrical work that need to be done is at the end of the day the same. The money is going to design consultants and engineers who, if they weren’t doing this, would be doing something else rather than collecting welfare. French industry is basically dead (France is the bottom country in the OECD in percentage of workers employed in manufacturing), but French engineering is good and doesn’t need state sinecures to succeed.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/01/16 – 10:15

            Protectionism doesn’t lead to better transit. On the contrary. The US rolling stock industry was decimated by it. It never had to learn to compete …

            On the first point, you’d need to explain Japan, Korea and now China. Have you read any of Ha-Joon Chang (Cambridge via Korea economist)? They haven’t become industrial giants by exactly embracing free trade. But then, as Chang explains, neither did all today’s superpowers including (especially) the US. I happen to be reading Dani Rodrik’s (Harvard economist) latest book (Straight Talk on Trade) which covers similar ground (Chang was often derided by the economic rationalist school but many are now beginning to have a similar rethink). I think the problem with much of the economic nomenclatura is a “black hat” approach: an all-or-nothing and no wonder we end up with such a mess.

            On the second point, I’m not sure the failure of the US pax rail industry really has anything to do with lack of (international) competition, but much more to do with lack of political leadership or indeed civic leadership on where to put their tax dollars or industrial subsidies etc. And exactly the same thing by Thatcher who single-handedly killed British rail innovation (indeed she sold it off cheaply to the Italians). Exactly as I wrote earlier.

            Your very point that France has a competitive rail manufacturing industry rather proves my point, not yours! BTW, the new Cityduplex train is a joint venture with Bombardier (ok, it’s about one fifth and possibly nominal to get past EU rules? but then a lot of trains being made in the US appear to be Bombardier-Alstom joint ventures too so it appears to work). France is a big trading nation so I think a lot of complaints fall squarely into the Francophobe bin. … which leads to:

            French industry is basically dead (France is the bottom country in the OECD in percentage of workers employed in manufacturing), but French engineering is good and doesn’t need state sinecures to succeed.

            I have no idea where you get that from. I know it is dead wrong because Australia happens to be last with the UK not far behind. (And it is very worrying, nevermind all the econocrat blather about services etc.). Here is the data. Note, this is for %employment (I couldn’t find %GDP which would be good to see; can only find “industrial” which includes mining so puts the UAE, Iran, Norway and Saudia Arabia at the top of the list; along with Australia which is one giant hole in the ground, industrially speaking; as you know France has high productivity so I am guessing that as %GDP would be higher up the list):

            Table 2: Manufacturing OECD:
            Country Share Rank

            So, France is almost identical to the USA and ahead of the UK (no surprise). France has chosen to support industrial sectors like nuclear power, rail, power engineering, aerospace etc and has generally succeeded quite well, in addition to create export income and high-quality jobs. In its support of aerospace it has helped all of Europe (via Airbus which from France’s actions essentially saved European aviation from oblivion). Incidentally if you removed the massive defense industry (almost totally subsidised by the state, including its exports which are diplomatically forced on to its allies, look at the F35) where would the US be on that list?

            The “it plugs in money into the local economy” excuse is common in the US too, and it’s wrong here as it is there. When you buy a bespoke train, the extra money mostly isn’t going to electricians and metalworkers. The amount of welding and electrical work that need to be done is at the end of the day the same. The money is going to design consultants and engineers who, if they weren’t doing this, would be doing something else rather than collecting welfare.

            Well, you are wrong. Again, tell that to Japan, Korea and China. On bespoke trains, those engineers etc would probably not be doing anything else (except in the minds and theories of economic rationalists), and continuity of (speciality) work is necessary to keep a sector alive (that was the story behind the heroic effort to keep European aerospace skills alive, first with Concorde then Airbus). But if they purchased a Siemens train then those metal-bashers would not have had any employment at all (witness the devastation of such industries during Thatcherism, never to recover and “replaced” by empty financialisation). Also, you have not been convincing in claiming clear superiority of alternatives (to Metro or HSV). One can make technical critiques (which can be more or less correct on a technical basis) yet in the end it is performance that really matters and as an end-user, I give France a big tick.
            France runs a quite good mixed and sophisticated economy and is not some kind of socialist basket case (say like East Germany) that some like to portray. I think its transport system is a wonder to behold, all the more for being the biggest geographic country in Europe. (And I include roads; its autoroute network is far superior to the UK which is about one third the geographic size, and if you could population-weight it, really about one fifth the size.) One simply cannot say this about the Anglosphere–especially the UK which is so directly comparable to France, because so little works very well there (and look at the omnishambles of Carillion, the end result of absurd government outsourcing to the lowest common denominator, now to be rescued by the public including its abrogated billion dollar pensions commitments).

            Re Macron: too early to tell. he’s got 4+ years.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, I’ve read Chang. He’s a hack. He makes contradictory claims in Bad Samaritans – e.g. praising South Korea’s developmental state as a model, justified by its own success, and then elsewhere calling for giving in to union demands as a way of reducing labor strife (in the actual South Korea, as opposed to the fictional one he writes about, strikes were illegal and the state restrained labor action). He’s blaming the reduction in South Korea’s growth since 1997 on loosening protectionism, and not, say, on the fact that it’s hard to grow 9% a year when you’re already in the first world. He’s treating Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund as a model of efficiency, when in reality this fund managed to lose several hundred billion dollars of citizens’ pension savings, leading to savage cuts in social security for the poor. And his take on Hong Kong’s growth is basically “it didn’t literally abolish the government, so its free trade model was equivalent to South Korea’s developmental state.”

            Pseudoerasmus goes further and shows how Chang selectively cites research in economic history (link) re the correlation between tariffs and growth. This is why the experts deride Chang and not people who are capable of more nuance, like Rodrik, who has never to my knowledge said anything along the lines of “government rules requiring buying domestic goods in a developed country are good for the economy.”

            As for American industry: yes, it’s dead, too, despite high productivity (France, Germany, and the US all have approximately equal GDP per hour worked, and Germany has slightly higher personal income per hour worked). I’m not comparing France with the US. On the contrary, I’m accusing France of engaging in an American industrial policy in rolling stock, rather than in a German free trade policy. There’s more to the world than the Anglosphere and France, and from a German perspective the UK and France have many things in common that Germany lacks. Trade policy is obviously not shared (France is protectionist, the UK isn’t), but the complete replacement of manufacturing by other industries is shared by the two countries, as are the trade deficits, and the long colonial history, inherited today by softer imperialism toward foreign colonies. If you want to see manufacturing, you go to Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, all of which freely import trains. Stockholm’s buying Coradias, rather than buying trains from Bombardier and insisting that it build them in Swedish plants.

            As for “tell that to Japan”: that line would have worked better in 1989 than today, when Japanese productivity lags the West and isn’t converging. It used to be that you could get cool gear in Akihabara that you couldn’t find in the West; today there’s nothing there that you can’t get at an Apple store or any place that sells Android. In the rail industry, the frontier of rail signaling has pushed the minimum interval between two metro trains on an isolated, branch-free line to about 90 seconds. The Ginza and Marunouchi Lines are stuck at 130 or so. Japanese rolling stock is excellent and Europe should get over its buff strength rules and import more of it, but at the same time Japanese train protection systems are inferior to ETCS (and as a result everyone else in the world building HSR uses ETCS and not D-ATC), and Japan is completely behind the curve when it comes to driverless trains.

          • yorksranter

            To be exact, Carillion hasn’t been “rescued” by anybody. It’s gone into liquidation. The shareholders have been wiped out, the creditors will be lucky to lose only 90% of their claims, the company no longer exists, the customers have 48 hours to decide what to do with the outstanding contracts. They have literally turned off the lights. The only thing that’s been rescued is the pension scheme (or rather schemes – it was such a ramshackle collection of acquisitions it had a dozen different ones)

          • Michael James


            To be exact, Carillion hasn’t been “rescued” by anybody. It’s gone into liquidation.

            I was referring to the rescue of the pensions which was particularly egregious because last year the company chose to pay a dividend to shareholders while withholding (illegally?) contributions to the pensions.
            But the government has said they will guarantee the salaries of all the public sector workers whose jobs were taken over by Carillion; ie. the great outsourcing scam that everyone knew was going to end in tears. I think you’ll have trouble finding anyone with sympathy for their shareholders whose income has come at the expense of countless workers, their pensions and ultimately the state who will bail out some of this. (Except if pension funds were “investors”; really they should be prevented from investing in such scams.)
            Oh, and the CEO “resigned” back in July when the debacle was revealed but apparently has still been receiving his £1.5m salary (I’ll bet that is before bonuses) and still will! (No explanation given in any of the reports I’ve read. It seems so outrageous maybe the newspaper reports are wrong but I don’t know why they would say such a thing.)

            I mentioned Carillion because it is a typical example of the hypothetical advantages pimped by economic rationalism: outsource any and all of government that possibly can be, so that private industry will perform those functions more “efficiently” at lower cost, blah, blah … Of course the great railway privatisation scam continues to roll on (it actually costs more for government than it did when it was run by government, and it is doing a poorer job and actually running fewer services; of course Network Rail was so close to chaos and disaster that it had to be renationalised at great cost –and the same thing happened as Carillion, even when the disaster was known big dividends were still paid to shareholders!).

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2018/01/17 – 06:08

            Sheesh, that was a mish mash! Strikes me as the insiders getting all antsy about someone who holds a different opinion to the prevailing orthodoxy.
            Chang’s point, that surely is self-evident, is that while neo-liberalism preaches totally open economies–to the point of dissolving sovereign states–all of the rich west got that way, ie. rich, by heavily protecting and favouring their own industries. (The UK even actively destroyed India’s cotton industry so as to monopolize it at home.) The Asian NICs did the same thing (Japan, Korea, Taiwan first then today Malaysia & Thailand & of course China today). But economic theorists now want to “pull up the ladder”. Yet it doesn’t work and invariably makes things worse. This is not an argument for a closed economy but nor is it an argument for a totally open economy.

            As for “tell that to Japan”: that line would have worked better in 1989 than today

            Indeed, I was talking, as was Chang, about Japan’s early phase of industrialisation–it is that which made it wealthy, the equal of the richest western countries. The fact that Japan may be fossilising a bit in its literal old-age is neither here nor there in the argument. They are essentially making that choice and they have the right to. And it certainly doesn’t make the case that Japan should be totally open to “fix” its current predicament … which happens to continue as one of the richest countries in the world, with excellent infrastructure, education and healthcare etc. (I’m not defending Japan’s tendencies to insularity but I certainly don’t think the neo-libs have anything to offer either–except of course to impose austerity, ie. destroy their social fabric, educational and health systems, because, you know, they cost too much. Destroy the very marrow of a nation so as to add a few points to growth.) Anyway Chang’s points pertain to how poor undeveloped countries climb the ladder into prosperity. But you seem in denial of this reality and instead are obsessing about fine details of their current situation.

            Economies and nation states, like everything in the known universe, go thru cycles of growth and decline, decrepitude and renewal. I’m not going to waste much time on worrying about Japan’s future. Even if it is “failing” in neo-lib terms, it actually appears to be doing quite well. If that is the future of the rest of us (wealthy nations) as we age, we could, and probably will, do a lot worse.

            I don’t know what you are referring to re Singapore Sovereign Wealth Funds–sure they had a few hiccups due to the GFC though it seems that was to the tune of hundreds of millions not billions, and today the two funds are worth half a trillion USD, the same league as Norway and Saudi Arabia and UAE (without having their natural resources). They own our second telco, Optus, and a major share of our second airline, Virgin Aust. and lots of other stuff. I suppose neo-libs don’t like that Singapore has a national debt of 120% of GDP but they have taken the initiative to make investments in their own future. I wish Australia, with vastly greater resources (and income) would do the same. Instead we’ll go into debt to spend $50bn on the US’s F35 jets and promise to fight alongside them in more useless wars to support their (not our) defense industry.

            Rodrik, who has never to my knowledge said anything along the lines of “government rules requiring buying domestic goods in a developed country are good for the economy.”

            That is falling into the trap of giving priority to (short-term) economy instead of wider issues of a country (like employment, self-sufficiency, equality, long-term industrial goals, health & education etc). Perhaps it is a reflection of your metrics of an “economy” being all wrong.
            In this new work (less than halfway; not sure yet how coherent it is) Rodrik explicitly says that hyperglobalisation needs dialing back. Here he is:

            Though developing countries may pursue smaller trade agreements, the two major regional deals on the table, the TPP and the TTIP, were as good as dead immediately after the election of Donald Trump as US president.
            We should not fear their passing.
            We should instead have an honest, principled discussion on putting globablization and development on a new footing, congnizant of our new political and technological realities and placing the requirements of liberal democracy front and center.

            That economics has ignored the importance and existence of sovereign states and human’s innate tribalism. The reality is that the world developed fine (especially in the post-war period) without hyperglobalization and without ceding everything to multinationals. Neo-liberalism likes to claim the wealth generation as if it is 100% owed to implementation of its theories whereas the truth is very different, and of course its own policies have brought the world closer to economic implosion than any other time in the past 80 years. For which the economic geniuses behind neo-liberalism did not predict or expect, and still do not explain. (The very same thing that caused that problem for Singapore’s funds and probably every investment fund in the world.) And what worth is that wealth when $20 to $50 trillion of it is locked into tax-havens and chasing returns via one financialisation scam or another that doesn’t generate any real benefits for the majority of people. Here is another extract from Rodrik:

            Getting the balance right.
            The problem with hyperglobalization is not just that it is an unachievable pipe dream susceptible to backlash–after all, the nation-state remains the only game in tow when it comes to providing the regulatory and legitimizing arrangements on which markets rely. The deeper objection is that our elites’ and technocrats’ obsession with hyperglobalization makes it more difficult to achieve legitimate economic and social objectives a home–economic prosperity, financial stability, and social inclusion.
            Is there still a case for nation-states in an age where the transportation and communications revolutions have apparently spelled the death of geographic distance? How much sovereignty do states need to cede to international institutions? What do trade agreements really do, and how can we improve them? When does globablization undermine democracy. …
            All of these questions require that we restore a sane, sensible balance between national and global governance. We need a pluralist world economy where nation-states retain sufficient autonomy to fashion their own social contracts and develop their own economic strategies. I will argue that the conventional picture of the world economy as a “global commons”–one in which we would be driven to economic ruin unless we all cooperate–is highly misleading.

            I suppose you are a fan of the TPP and the TTIP which aim to entrench in international law* the power of multinational companies over sovereign states, including (an example in Australia) anything that a state might do to improve its people’s health if it disadvantages (reduces profit) of a company (Big Tobacco took Australia to court in Hong Kong–where they had a subsidiary and we had a trade agreement with ISDS clauses, and they liked their chances in the HK courts on this “international trade” issue–to stop Australia’s law on plain-packaging of cigarettes; they lost. Under TPP they probably would have won, and we would never have really known how or why. The cancers and huge cost to our healthcare system would be the consequence but hey that’s “free markets”.)

            (* I say “international law” but in fact it won’t be in any transparent open court but extra-judicial tribunals, with no right of appeal. But of course the real concept is for it to induce ‘regulatory chill’, where governments back away from critical health or environmental regulations because of the threat of ISDS. Incidentally our conservative party in opposition fought fiercely against the plain-packaging law, but it was popular and too entrenched by the time they got back in power! Trump may be clueless as to why he opposed the TPP but Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and ultimately Clinton weren’t. Rodrik and I would guess Stiglitz too. Maybe Shiller.)

            My argument–and I believe Chang’s and now maybe Rodrik’s–is that it was the extremism of neo-liberalism and hyperglobalism that has created today’s instability (driven by increasing inequality). We simply don’t need it. There is room–indeed a necessity for–some flexibility on national interest issues. I happen to believe France gets a lot of these issues correctly balanced (and profoundly hope Macron doesn’t tip the balance too much in the globalist orientation). The US and UK don’t and it shows (Australia doesn’t either but for the moment we are “the lucky country”, ie. pure dumb luck.) Given how rusted on to economic globalization you seem to be, I understand a bit more why you are uncomfortable in France. And there is the same factor that drives so much Anglosphere negative comment that makes you rather hostile–it is frustration and incomprehension that the country does so much better “than it deserves to”, ie. given its propensity to socialist meddling. It must be very tricky, on one hand, to admit they have a successful rail tech industry, but on the other lament that they aren’t totally open and simply buy it all from Germany or Switzerland. (While persisting with the notion that all its designers, engineers, metal-bashers etc will go off and find equally rewarding jobs … somewhere in the perfect market economy that will instantly react and create those new opportunities.)

          • Alon Levy

            You’re not actually engaging with the criticism of Chang, just asserting that because he’s arguing against mainstream economics, he must be right.

            The “Britain did this in the 18th century so it must be the right way” line is yours, not his. Chang argues that Britain’s monopsony in its early imperialism in India means that development must involve protection… but would he argue that Britain’s habit of hanging poor children who stole bread in the same era means that violent suppression of the working class is necessary? No, on the contrary: his section on unions tells developing countries to give the unions and the workers what they want. This is why I accuse him of cherrypicking. Meanwhile, in economic history it’s not at all clear that Britain’s 18th-century protectionism was positive for its own development; the same blog I link to in the previous comment notes that with so much protectionism, British consumers actually paid more for sugar than their Continental counterparts; the often-common theory (e.g. in Pommeranz) that British mercantile imperialism artificially lowered prices for British consumers at the expense of lowering wages in the colonies doesn’t seem supported by the evidence.

            Your example of Malaysia goes the exact opposite way of what you think. In 1980, Malaysia and South Korea were about equally rich. Today, Korea is much richer. And you can trace this to Korea’s preference for exports while Malaysia was protecting its industries hoping to build an internal market. You can see this with the auto industry. As Paul Barter’s thesis explains, Malaysia destroyed its informal transit systems and didn’t build alternatives and encouraged people to buy cars and live in single-family housing, hoping to create an internal market for the state-owned car industries. South Korea instead suppressed domestic consumption in order to invest in capital goods for export, forcing its auto industry to compete for global markets. Barter is studying transportation policy rather than economic policy, so he’s tracing a link from this difference in policy to current differences in urban layout and transportation (Kuala Lumpur is possibly the most auto-oriented city in Asia, Seoul has a vast subway network and even Busan has decent rail ridership). But by the same token you could use this to explain why Malaysia’s domestic auto industry, which never had to compete, is flagging, whereas Korea is a global exporter.

            Rodrik is not the only opponent of the TPP. Jagdish Bhagwati opposes the TPP, too. Don’t take it as evidence that you can freely quote either of them in favor of industrial protectionism. Might as well start claiming that I’m in favor of cars and against public transit by listing the various American transit expansions that I think are too expensive.

            Rodrik’s actual point about global governance in trade agreements is that there are democratic and undemocratic mechanisms. Any global governance mechanism in a trade agreement constrains the ability of the state to act in the future; the question is, on what grounds is it justified? If it’s justified on the grounds that “we might succumb to domestic lobbying pressure” then it’s democratic; if it’s justified on the grounds that “we might be replaced by a more protectionist opposition party” then it’s undemocratic. His contention is that some governance mechanisms in trade agreements are the latter rather than the former. The distance between this and justifying anything that Chang says, let alone buy-domestic provisions in public procurement, is huge. Buy-domestic provisions are not a political battle line between different parties, certainly not in developed countries. Evidently, even the most economically liberal French presidents (Chirac and Macron) adhere to these rules and are making no effort to change them. The same is true of a lot of EU rules mandating free trade among the member states: for example, when the courts forbade then-RFF, now-SNCF Reseau, to charge track access fees by the car, pointing out that this is intentional discrimination in favor of bilevel TGVs and against single-level ICEs, they were not intervening in domestic French politics, but instead creating a situation in which French and German producers must compete on even grounds.

            The idea that the national interest is served by spending more than twice as much on rolling stock is just wrong. I’d argue that on the contrary, the national interest is served by having a larger RER and Transilien network for the same budget. Start saving money now by getting rolling stock on the pan-European market and soon you’ll have enough money to quadruple the B+D tunnel, to connect Montparnasse to the RER system, to break the RER C so that both halves have access to the CBD instead of awkwardly serving the Left Bank, and to install SACEM on more lines in order to permit 30 tph. This crayon involves 20 km of new tunnel, so maybe €5-6 billion at Central Paris construction costs.

            No, the issue at stake is not national interest, but national feelings. France, like the UK and US and unlike Germany and such, thinks it’s a great power and must look like one, and importing something it considers important hurts its feelings. French policy on so many things is purely about the feelings of the organic state or of the powerful people within it: cops strip women on the beach, state nutritionists compel schoolchildren to eat pork, Provencal mayors try to close kebab shops, Macron prevents a defense contractor from being sold to an Italian company, the inhabitants of the 8th and the 16th refuse to let their tony neighborhoods commercialize as the area around the Opera did last century. It’s all about feelings and not facts. Occasionally it’s justified on the grounds that this is necessary to prevent people from voting for Holocaust negationists (which is silly – the white French citizens most exposed to immigrants and diversity, the Parisians, are the ones least likely to vote for the negationists). What’s really at stake is that the PS, LR, and now REM and FI elites themselves feel emasculated, culturally by seeing minorities who don’t act 100% like their collaborationist grandparents walk on city streets and economically by seeing Germany outproduce France.

  15. Michael James

    Looks like an evolution in the MI-09 (currently on RER-A). Carries 1860 pax per 130m train. 8 powered bogies. In your link is the clearest explanation/rationale for the seating/standing arrangement:

    The X’Trapolis Cityduplex: An open train with different zones
    The new train design is baptised ‘X’Trapolis Cityduplex’. It is entirely open (without separations between the cars) and was specifically designed for the dense zones of traffic in Île-de-France. Thanks to its large doors, the train provides extremely fluid passenger exits and entrances as well as offering three distinct travel spaces. Passengers can thus choose their space according to their journey time: platform zones for travelling standing-up when the journey is very short, making it easy to move around, like in the metro; mixed-use zones (standing or sitting) located lower down for journeys under 20 minutes, and higher up, areas offering regional-style comfort with more seating for longer trips.

    Upper deck is 2+2 while lower is 3+2 (with the third seat on aisle being a strapontin). Note that there are only two doors per car but because the cars are open, the vestibule areas of adjoining cars merge to be one v. large vestibule and has two (extra-wide) doors so pax movement on and off should be extra-good.

    Looks like a sophisticated design to me. All it needs is a restaurant car (just for Alon … :-).

    • Alon Levy

      If they’d bought single-level trains at the same cost as Germany, they’d have had much more than enough money left over to quadruple the Gare du Nord-Les Halles segment.

      • Michael James

        If they’d bought single-level trains at the same cost as Germany, they’d have had much more than enough money left over to quadruple the Gare du Nord-Les Halles segment.

        As I wrote earlier, the nations that take that approach, don’t build anything or spend decades and decades debating building it (USA–look at NYC, or HSR; UK, Australia). Of course then the cost has blown out to humungous, and it gets delayed some more. The bean counters decide that allowing private industry to build toll-roads and hyper-expensive road-tunnels is preferable (until a few decades pass and it turns out it isn’t).
        And Paris instead has chosen to build the RER-E tunnel for a completely new RER and to relieve RER-A. RER-B and -D aren’t under the same load stress as these other projects. Transport choices are never perfect and one can always nitpick what is ultimately chosen, but it seems to me Paris has not done badly. Even as I see the logic of doubling that tunnel to allow B and D to be totally independent …

  16. Bjorn

    Was the cut from 30 to 24 tph, or 20%, really necessary? I’d expect that if the issue were marginal delays, a more marginal cut to 27 tph or so would balance capacity and delay mitigation.

  17. Untangled

    Not relevant to bilevels but given that the comments here regularly off topic I should probably make a passing mention that there’s news that the Grand Paris Express metro expansion is facing a 13 billion euro cost overrun according to Cour des Comptes.

  18. Michael James

    Alon Levy 2018/01/18 – 05:22

    Now you’re trying to verbal me. I don’t believe I’ve misrepresented either Rodrik or Chang. Read those Rodrik quotes in my earlier post and they agree with my viewpoint much more than yours. And you’re nitpicking between what the Brits may or may not have done “better” and Malaysia v Korea. Obviously Korea is more successful but it is still a very closed market for most things; tariffs on cars have only recently started reducing (and of course there are non-tariff barriers that all these Asian countries deploy). Our conservatives, when they regained government, gave a deadline of 12 months to sign a FTA with Korea (and a few other countries; terrific negotiating strategy huh?), and sure enough it yielded almost nothing of use (it reduced tariffs on vehicles but the conservatives were shutting down our local car industry!); the miserly “concession” on beef and some other agriculturals, was spread over 18 years (and even then they can wiggle out of it). But our conservative neo-liberals believe even unilateral liberalisation of trade is nothing but beneficial … (BTW, that table shows Australia has 8% employment in manufacturing but it has already gone down to 6.2%, probably due to the loss of car manufacturing .. though the full effect, on the whole supply chain, is yet to hit.) You can buy Australian food products in Japan and Korea but they’ll be exceedingly expensive due to the tariffs and non-tariff charges.

    But the point, again, is that these success stories in development all applied protectionist policies in their beginner and middle phases and only began relaxing them when mature. I’m not sure why you are discussing mid- to late-19th century England because it was already a mature industrial power by then, and to be sure arguments were being made of the advantages of a more open trading regime. But is there an example of a successful country that got there by practising what neo-libs today advocate?

    The idea that the national interest is served by spending more than twice as much on rolling stock is just wrong. I’d argue that on the contrary, the national interest is served by having a larger RER and Transilien network for the same budget. Start saving money now by getting rolling stock on the pan-European market and soon you’ll have enough money to quadruple the B+D tunnel, to connect Montparnasse to the RER system, to break the RER C so that both halves have access to the CBD instead of awkwardly serving the Left Bank, and to install SACEM on more lines in order to permit 30 tph. This crayon involves 20 km of new tunnel, so maybe €5-6 billion at Central Paris construction costs.

    Once again this shows the fantasy of how you think big spending decisions are arrived at, and a very narrow monetarist view of “national interest”. First, money might be fungible but between big projects it isn’t. Politicians don’t think or behave like that (shifting “savings” from one pot into another pot for something else or an alternative) and I doubt even the heads of RATP or STIF do either. Second, if non-French stuff was not part of the deal then you may find no political will to put that kind of money into the RER etc. Voters and unions, which have a valid input despite what neo-libs would like. This is by no means the whole story but it has to be a factor behind why the UK and US have such lousy pax rail infrastructure. (That and the belief that financialisation is a viable substitute …) You also remain convinced that the single-deck trains are better than the duplexes but I remain open on that. I don’t think it is some arbitrary design but a careful one. TBH, I haven’t even looked carefully at the cost difference (I noticed that about half a billion euros of it was the development of the new model …).
    (That RER plan looks good but you know, the current one is hardly a disaster. Who knows how many permutations various people have gone thru over the years.)

    Re your comments about France and its pride. Well, yes, but it is not as bad or as capricious as you make out. They’re not idiotic about it. It is far more sensible than idiotic American “pride” (empty bombast like Trump represents) which usually just amounts to brute force (ugly giant inefficient cars and roads and houses and suburbs and cities etc; then what about multi-trillion-dollar wars? The US could have rebuilt its entire transport system for the cost of the Iraq war alone; and guess who refused to be bullied into joining the “coalition of the willing”? France, of course.). You seem to have forgotten that the French were the driving force behind creating the EU (and the hapless Brits would break it up). As an Anglo I reacted not so differently but over the years I came to view it by a more mature light. In some ways I wish they were even more nationalistic on some matters (I seriously wish they had banned the American junk food chains. Another appalling effect of globalization and brain-dead consumerism. Of course it has taken time for us to realize just how awful it is and how insidiously it is undermining our lives and indeed society. If Ernest and Henry and George and Oscar and Gertrude & Alice, maybe Jefferson & Franklin too, were alive I am sure they would agree. And I don’t care if lots of French patronise them–indeed that is why! Perhaps allow Maccas and Starbucks in France but only allow access with a foreign passport 🙂 I support Macron’s attempt to UNESCO list the baguette! (Of course this nothing much to do with Macron who is just being opportunistic as politicians are wont.) The cuisine is already listed.

    Here is something from Rodrik, from the chapter on “Economists and their models”:

    Adam Smith (the Wealth of Nations): “money should not be confused for wealth”.

    Mercantilism … offers a corporatist vision in which the state and private business are allies and cooperate in pursuit of common objectives, such as domestic economic growth or national power. The mercantilist model can be derided as state capitalism or cronyism. But when it works, as it has so often in Asia, the model’s “government-business collaboration” or “pro-business state” quickly garners heavy praise. … Governments in rich countries for the most part looked the other way while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China protected their home markets, appropriated “intellectual property,” subsidized their producers, and managed their currencies.

    Perfectly concordant with what Chang was writing 15 years ago.

    • Alon Levy

      What Korea did with car tariffs is very much not what France is doing with trains. South Korea did not levy high tariffs on cars in order to encourage citizens to buy domestic rather than imported cars. It levied high tariffs on cars in order to encourage citizens not to buy cars at all, or other consumer goods, and instead save money in order to provide capital for nascent industries, such as shipbuilding. John Williamson notes high domestic savings as a shared characteristic of the four East Asian Tigers, and says that it’s more important to focus on that and on other shared characteristics (e.g. high education levels) rather than on particular differences (i.e. South Korea’s high tariffs vs. Hong Kong’s free trade vs. Taiwan and Singapore’s mixed regimes).

      Joseph Stiglitz notes the importance of East Asia’s high saving rate as well. In Globalization and Its Discontents, he specifically says that the IMF model of austerity worked in Latin America but failed in East Asia, because high Asian domestic saving meant that there was ample domestic capital to fund industry, unlike in Latin America where countries needed to attract foreign capital.

      Also, where am I discussing 19th-century England? The point I bring up about sugar costs is in the 18th century, when Britain was mercantilist.

      France gets credit for refusing to support the Iraq War, yes. But ask Haiti or Mali (or midcentury Vietnam) how peaceful they find France. And today, Macron talks about diversity from one side of his mouth and deports refugees from the other side. The combination of deportation of refugees and new programs seeking high-skill immigrants (the entire “make the planet great again” shtick) is so Anglophone… Tony Abbott would be proud.

      • Michael James
        A French family reunion in the Perigord
        Posted on January 18, 2018 by French Girl in Seattle •

        Alon, you should chill out and take the new (bi-level?) TGV l’Océane to the south-west, now only 2hr to Bordeaux, as per this blog (above) that just came in overnight. Oh well, maybe not in winter as the Perigord gets pretty chilly in winter. (The blog is of last summer even though she only just posted it.) Still, a great part of France and Bordeaux city would be fine in winter, and a wonderful city. If you needed an excuse (you don’t) you could inspect the wirefree trams that glide thru the UNESCO city centre–but I guess they aren’t rare anymore (it’s already ten years since I was there and I recall Bordeaux may have been the first, as it was to solve the issue of a modern tram thru the heart of the UNESCO area). Of course it is Alstom (though they purchased the “Alimentation par le Sol” from another company). There is one of these in Sydney now.

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  22. Prateek

    The problem isn’t just that the train is bilevel, it’s that the train is bilevel *and* the platform is single level. Imagine if both the train and the platform were bilevel, with the levels aligned, and with doors on both the levels. Then it would almost be like two separate single-level trains operating one on top of the other. Not sure about the vertical clearance needed for such a configuration though.

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  26. thenerdysaxophonist

    Question: If Caltrain 4-tracked themselves so express trains could run independently from non-express trains, would bilevel cars be unnecessary?

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