MAGA Trains

American railfans are full of nostalgia for a past era when American trains were great. So much of the discussion among industry insiders, railfans, and advocates is about how to make American railroads great again, how to return to the mid-20th century era of American domination. This is not correct history: while American railroads were in fact in a pretty good position from the 1920s to the 50s, they were not competitive with mass motorization and air travel, and trying to imitate what they were like then has no chance of competing with cars or planes. The story of American railroads has to be understood not as decline but as stagnation: operations, technology, and management stagnated, and this is what led to ridership decline. Instead of indulging in a MAGA fantasy about past greatness, it is important for the United States to implement all the innovations of the last half century that it has missed out on, innovations coming from East Asia and Western Europe.

Organization

American railroads were private until Amtrak took over intercity operations and states took over commuter rail operations, which happened well after the terminal decline in ridership. There was intense competition between rival companies, at times leading to physical violence. There was no coordination of operations between different railroads, no coordination with municipal public transportation systems, no attempt at seamless passenger experience. What was the point? This system evolved in the early 20th century, when there was no competition from other modes, only from other railroads.

Over time, most of the rest of the developed world has learned to coordinate different modes of public transportation better, to compete with cars. This usually occurred under nationalized mainline rail companies, but even when companies remained separate, as with the division between municipal subways (e.g. the Berlin U-Bahn) and national railways (e.g. the S-Bahn), or with the separate BLS system around and south of Bern, there has been integration. There is fare and schedule coordination in German cities across rail and bus operators, and even better coordination in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The US remains fixated on competition, and thus there is no fare integration, but rather relationships between different operators are adversarial. In Chicago, the mayor opposes integration between the municipal L and the regionally-owned Metra commuter rail system, since the city does not own Metra. Every time Amtrak has to share territory with a commuter railroad, one side is screwing the other out of something, whether it’s Amtrak overcharging on electricity or Metro-North arbitrarily slowing Amtrak down. In Boston, there is no integration between city-focused MBTA service, which includes commuter rail, and buses in outlying cities, called RTAs (regional transit authorities); the MBTA is simply uninterested in matching fares or schedules, and is not even integrating its own buses with its commuter trains.

Planning coordination

Switzerland has higher rail usage than every place I know of once one controls for city size. Zurich’s modal split may not be as favorable to public transportation as Paris or London’s, but is a world better than that of any French or British city of similar size. Switzerland got to this point through a stingy political process in which planners had to stretch every franc, substituting organizational capacity for money. Thus, construction in the 1990s used the following principles of value engineering:

  • Infrastructure, rolling stock, and the timetable should be planned together (the magic triangle), since decisions on each affect the other two.
  • Trains should run as fast as necessary for transfer windows, overtakes, meets on single track, etc. Infrastructure should likewise be only as expansive as necessary – if the timetable does not have trains on a given single track meeting, this segment does not need to be doubled.
  • Trains should have timed transfers at major cities, to enable everywhere-to-everywhere travel. Connecting buses should be timed with the regional trains at major suburban nodes.
  • Electronics before concrete: it’s cheaper to resignal a line to have short headways and high speeds than to add tracks and tunnels.

These principles do not exist in the United States. Worse, too many American activists, even ones who are pretty good on related issues, do not believe it’s even possible to implement them. “This isn’t Switzerland or Japan” is a common refrain. There’s growing understanding among American cycling advocates that 50 years ago the Netherlands wasn’t as bike-friendly as it is today; there sadly isn’t such understanding regarding the state of rail coordination in Switzerland until about the 1990s.

While Switzerland manages to build its Knot System at low cost, leading to sharp increases in rail usage in the 2000s and 2010s, Americans are unable to do the same. Activists propose massive spending, which the political system is unwilling to fund. Nor is the political system interested in adapting low-cost solutions for infrastructure coordination, since the sort of apparatchiks who governors like appointing to head state agencies can’t implement them; we all know what happened last time a foreigner got appointed to a major position and succeeded too much. The way forward is right there, and the entire American political system, from every governor down to most activists, either is ignorant of it or explicitly rejects it.

Technology

Amtrak runs slower than it used to on most lines. Trip times on the Northeast Corridor south of New York are if anything slightly slower than they were in the 1970s in the early days of the Metroliner. The corridor and long-distance service outside the Northeast are considerably slower. For example, the Super Chief took 39:45 between Chicago and Los Angeles, whereas its current Amtrak version, the Southwest Chief, takes 43:10. At shorter range, the Chicago-St. Louis trains take 5:20 today, compared with 4:55 in the 1930s. This has led too many Americans to assume that there has been technological regression and that the main focus should be on restoring midcentury service levels rather than on moving forward.

In reality, high speeds in the middle of the 20th century came from the facts that express passenger trains were highly profitable and used by important people and so had priority over all other traffic, and that superelevation was set high for these trains; both of these aspects collapsed as riders and high-value shippers decided driving and flying were better than taking 5-hour train rides, so the profit center shifted to low-value freight. Today, getting high passenger ridership is plausible at high-speed rail speeds, but that requires getting Chicago-St. Louis down to 2 hours, not 5 hours, and having excellent connections to local and regional public transportation at both ends.

Nor was midcentury rolling stock good by current standards. Electric locomotives in Europe weigh around 90 tons. American ones weigh a little more, still in compliance with superseded FRA regulations enacted just after WW2. But the locomotives from just before these regulations weighed far more: the Pennsylvania Railroad’s GG1 weighed 215 metric tons. Europe has achieved weight reductions over generations of innovation since, and Japan has achieved even more impressive reductions; 215 tons would get you 2/3 of the way to a 10-car EMU set in Tokyo.

Worse, even in the middle of the 20th century, the US was no longer at the technological forefront of rail service. The civil service formation following the German Revolution brought forth a new railway law and new technology, such as the tangential switch, since adopted throughout Continental Europe; the US mostly sticks with secant switches built to late-19th century specs. In the 1950s the differences between German and American rail technology weren’t huge, but they were there. Since then they’ve gradually widened – in the 1960s Germany came up with LZB signaling, while the US was at best stuck on 1930s signaling, federal regulations on the matter leading to lower top speeds than to the adoption of automatic train protection.

There seems to be general ignorance of the advances that the US has not been part of. Rail managers ask questions like “does Europe have positive train control?” (yes, ETCS is already a second-generation system, we just call this automatic train protection instead of positive train control) or say “Europe doesn’t have the ADA” (accessibility laws here are comparable to American ones and overall the public transportation networks here are on average more accessible). In technology as in organization, the MAGA mentality for trains refuses to admit that there are innovations abroad to learn from.

The way forward: imitate, don’t innovate

The United States can innovate in public transportation, but only if it imitates better countries first. It needs to learn what works in Japan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Singapore, Belgium, Norway, Taiwan, Finland, Austria. It needs to learn how to plan around cooperation between different agencies and operators, how to integrate infrastructure and technology, how to use 21st-century engineering.

There are great places where such imitation could work. I work a lot on Boston-related issues at TransitMatters; New England has high population density, a wealthy and growing urban core in Boston, ample legacy rail infrastructure, and town centers that work more like Central European suburban sprawl (albeit at lower density) than like structureless Californian or Texan sprawl. But it can’t move forward without rejecting MAGA fantasies and replacing them with a program of learning from what works here and in Japan. There are so many projects under discussion of limited or no value, and some even with negative value, like anything that interacts with the hobby freight railroad Pan Am.

Instead, the tendency in the United States is to do anything to avoid learning from outside North America. Plans for intercity rail improvement outside the Northeast and California are steeped with MAGA language about restoring midcentury rail. Plans in New York spend far too much time on midcentury expansion plans and far too little on understanding cost explosion factors dating to the 1920s. Regional rail plans vaguely nod to European S-Bahns, but are generally filtered through several layers, mainly Philadelphia’s implementation. Anything that touches freight invites kludges that European planners no longer use for cost or maintenance reasons.

This tendency has to end. Meiji Japan didn’t join the first world by closing itself to foreign inventions – quite the opposite. The US needs to understand that the path to a future with better American transportation lies not in America’s past, but in Europe and East Asia’s present. The history isn’t one of American decline and renaissance through rediscovery of ancient learning, but one of American insularity and stagnation, to which the solution is to adapt technologies that work elsewhere.

140 comments

  1. Reedman Bassoon

    California High Speed Rail was supposed to be clean-piece-of-paper, state-of-the-art transportation. The cost problem seems to be “the killer” and insurmountable. What should CAHSR/Sacramento have done differently? Does Texas have a better chance at success? Is Virgin Trains USA in Florida a rational approach (lower speed, lower cost)?

    • Alon Levy

      Let me list all the ways, some political, some technical.

      1. No board of local power brokers. Every part of government gets state immediacy, i.e. subject to the authority solely of the legislature or the governor, without intermediaries.
      2. Ballot prop must identify 100% of funding, not ask for 22% and magic-asterisk the rest.
      3. Altamont and Tejon, not Pacheco and Tehachapis.
      4. Coordinated planning with Caltrain for electrification, signaling, high platforms, overtakes, grade separations (using the guillotine clause in the trackage rights to kick out unprofitable freight).
      5. Same as 4, but with Metrolink.
      6. Civil infrastructure following best industry practices, not overbuilt crap.
      7. Early-action electrification of LA-San Diego with plans for through-service.

      • Benjamin Turon

        Hire better consultants; I think most of the ones hired by state DOTs fall within the MAGA-Trains mentality this post highlights. If I was to plan building a HSR between the Bay Area and the LA Basin, I would have hired JR Central, JR East, or Korail. California instead placed WSP (Parsons Brinckerhoff) in charge, and reaped what they sowed. MassDOT hired them for East-West Rail study, and that seems in planning to be as well thought out as the California project!

          • Nathanael

            Well, someone instructed MassDOT to do a phony study. The finger points at Governor Baker. It looks like no local government in the state will accept the phony study and he’s going to be forced to back down.

            It was SO blatantly phony that I don’t think he’ll get away with it.

        • adirondacker12800

          The consultants spit out whatever the DOT tells them to spit out and DOT tells them what the clueless politicians want.

        • Jon

          No idea what youre talking about. Trains WERE better back in the mid 20th Century. American Made and American run, with less interference from gvmt trying to play favorites and running it’s own, poorly run trains claiming rights to tracks it never built, and giving the middle finger to taxpayers for subsidies to the tune of over 1M a week. So…this whole article is wrong and ignorant.

        • Patrick Jensen

          Did the JRs or Korail even bid on either project? Consulting abroad is much harder than it would superficially seem (it’s just telling people what to do, right?). If you aren’t intimately familiar with the regulatory environment and decision-making process, you’re in for a bad time, especially in such a litigious market as the United States.

      • Mike

        #7 is interesting because it’s a great idea but electrification is such a low priority right now. They’re trying to work on double-tracking as much as they can in San Diego County to increase frequency and schedule reliability, followed by a solution to the single track on the bluffs at Del Mar that are crumbling.

        The other issue is that at least for the Pacific Surfliners, some run only to LA and some run through to Santa Barbara/Goleta/San Luis Obispo so any engines would have to be dual power for a while.

        • Alon Levy

          Demand to San Diego is much higher than to Santa Barbara, so it’s fine to make people change trains. And you never double-track as much as you can on a line where you’re probably only running a train every half hour, you double-track as much as you need. Nor do you build a tunnel under UCSD where an EMU could climb the hill along the same alignment as the Blue Line Extension.

          • Mike

            They’re discussing LA-SD on minimum half-hour frequencies here in 5-15 years plus NCTD is planning a major frequency upgrade for commuters SD-Oceanside. It’s the one time where SANDAG is trying to skate to where they expect the puck to be going instead of behind them because of how much single track there is plus they have to rebuild several stations anyway. NCTD also had at least one recent issue with engines going “pop” in single-track areas and completely blowing up the schedule.

            The UCSD segment isn’t where the Del Mar Bluffs problem is; SANDAG’s solution for UCSD is to double-track through Rose Canyon (how, I don’t know). The Del Mar Bluffs in question are in Del Mar, between the Sorrento Valley and Solana Beach stations. There are six stabilization projects (three or four are completed) and SANDAG hopes to have the issue “solved” until they can come up with a twin tunnel under Del Mar or equivalent.

            I can forward you info from SANDAG via email if you want.

          • adirondacker12800

            I’m assuming the trains from San Diego are going to be on the commuter tracks to Santa Barbara. Those are going to electrified aren’t they?

          • Mike

            I think Metrolink is interested in full electrification for their part. I imagine SANDAG is interested as well – but they’re prioritizing basic infrastructure upgrades on the LOSSAN rail such as replacing single-track wooden trestle bridges, double-tracking, stations that are double-tracked but can’t allow a train to move through in the opposite direction when another train is at the stop, and an eventual solution to the Del Mar Bluffs before they crumble and stop the only working main rail link into San Diego.

            The problem is that there are no funds for electrification and some lawmakers based in Southern California want to kill CASHR and grab the cash for Metrolink electrification.

          • Nilo

            I’d also point out you don’t need as much double tracking with electric trains as you do with diesels as the electrics need shorter passing sidings as I understand it.

      • Richard Mlynarik

        3.5: Greenfield alignment, not “shared transportation corridors” and “activating communities through Transit Oriented Development”.

        This bullshit greenwashing cant about “urban redevelopment” (in the Central Valley “cities”!!!!), promoted by the consultant mafiosi, and which the “transit activist” and “environmental” community bought into, completely, has got to be responsible for decades of delay and tens of billions of pure wasted pork-barrel spending.

        A successful, cost-effective, actually existing high-speed spine line “West of 99” (as the rapidly-eliminated, insufficiently-costly too-efficient alternatives were named) with or without “beetfield” stations could, over time — assuming that “downtowns” of places like Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, etc, ever have been more than wastelands bisected by freight tracks — have been incrementally linked up to lower-speed loop lines into and out of the “downtowns”, in a similar way to that in which numerous European high-speed lines (here’s one) link to the “classic” network while bypassing smaller cities on fast new routes.

        Instead the California “high speed rail” project is rebuilding Highway 99 and building endless viaducts over freight lines and freeways, while delivering … nothing, nothing at all, except to the consultants and contractors. (And even if they were ever to be done, and ever to run trains on their viaducts, the “reactivated” “urban cores” and “downtowns” will still be blasted landscapes bisected by at-grade heavy-traffic freight lines, because elevating HSR above an “existing corridor” has nothing at all to do with any other tracks anywhere nearby. Simply appalling! The lies, the waste, the opportunity cost, the fraud, the lies, the lies, the lies.)

        • Nilo

          Richard I’m curious for your opinion on this, is your thought that a city center station then should only go in cities that get all trains to stop then? I.E. You get a nice (near) city center station in Philadelphia, but a place like Trenton should be only served on the outskirts?

          • Richard Mlynarik

            I was only writing about California HSR, while providing one small example web link as illustration of this being “copy, don’t innovate”.

            I try not to express opinions about things I know nothing or little about or about which I have no novel observations, and rail alignments around Philadelphia are one of those things.

          • Alon Levy

            Trenton and Fresno are different in ways that aren’t obvious on a map:

            1. The Northeast Corridor is grade-separated already, so the cost of running trains through Trenton is zero.
            2. The Northeast has a lot more urban sprawl than the Central Valley because of its larger overall population, so carving new right-of-way to bypass towns is expensive.
            3. Trenton has something approximating useful connecting transit in commuter rail and River LINE.
            4. 25-ish minutes by HSR from Penn Station is a much more compelling site for TOD than 85-ish minutes from LA Union Station.

          • Nilo

            I guess I was just trying to get at more general abstract principles than that specific alignment, so I phrased the question poorly, though I thank you guys for the response.

            More generally the question could be phrased as, “When developing a new HSR line when should station placements be near the city center versus the outskirts?”

            Obviously factors besides city size like extant legacy lines, nearby development, and surrounding transportation links feed into that as I think you outlined, Alon.

          • adirondacker12800

            They are a bit screwy because those pesky Philadelphians went and built a city before there were railroads. They did more or less avoid letting the cows decide on a street plan. The railroads then decided they were all going to out compete each other. They’ve had THROOOOOUGhhhh! running since 1984 and it’s been a disappointment. Partly because the suburban stations that aren’t a patch of asphalt by the side of the tracks with decrepit bus shelter look like like they have been abandoned since 1952. All the tracks and platforms, where there is level boarding, can be used by all the trains. And always will be. Clueless people think it’s a good idea to burrow very expensive tunnels to a deep cavern on 15th Street for the intercity trains even though there is a perfectly acceptable glory of Art Deco station where they could go on 16th. And that people in Virginia and Connecticut have the urge to use Philadelphia International Airport.

          • adirondacker12800

            Trenton New Jersey is a New Urbanist’s wet dream. It’s a bit less densely populated as Chicago. Or Philadelphia. There is likely a lot of opportunity for lots of infill and re purposing but it’s already as dense as Chicago. Or Philadelphia. The state didn’t ask your opinion and they are building the TOD-y stuff out by the airport. The whole county isn’t very dense but that’s because there are still farms. On the West Trenton line not the NEC.

          • Alon Levy

            Re new urbanism: Trenton actually has a smaller CBD than Fresno, with around 20,000 vs. 35,000 jobs in around 8 km^2. (For the purposes of this comparison, the Fresno CBD is bounded by the highway triangle, and then in Trenton I looked for a blob of similar area.)

          • adirondacker12800

            Trenton is old urbanism. All sorts of interesting things were going on there before railroads.
            Wikipedia says the state has 20,000 employees working in Trenton. The State of New Jersey has slowly been assuming the roles the counties used to assume, I think courts and human services are now run by the state but Trenton is the county seat and then there are all the city employees. They all go out to lunch, need something at the store and the ones who drive in, buy gas. The people who live in Trenton need things like supermarkets and hospitals. The hospitals and schools might be outside the zone you are looking at. 20k sounds too low.

      • Nathanael

        I think you left out “Blacklist known bad actors in the contracting business, like Tutor Perini”. This is the single thing which has been most effective in cutting costs in Boston.

    • SB

      Virgin Trains USA has hourly frequency and uses diesel locos.
      Not the actually following industry practices

      • Herbert

        I’m pretty sure they’ll electrify eventually, because their los Angeles to las Vegas plans call for electric trains and it’s much easier to deal with only one type of rolling stock…

  2. Herbert

    A great example of incompetent pseudo value engineering caused by not thinking infrastructure and time table together is found on Nuremberg subway; the last stretch to the airport is single track. It takes roughly three minutes to traverse. For various reasons, the schedule had to be divisible by five minutes, so the line now has a ten minute headway… It being single track was done to “save money” but if they’d placed a crossing in the center or reduced the travel time to 150 seconds, they could’ve gone for a five minute headway instead…

    • electricangel

      You get a subway to a minor airport every 10 minutes and you’re complaining? We would KILL for that in New York.

          • Coridon Henshaw

            Single track termini are short sighted, but given that meaningful extensions run from the hundred of millions to the billions, are the added tens of millions to double track a terminus station an insurmountable obstacle to expansion?

            If the ROW was narrowed by development to the point that the line can’t be double-tracked at a reasonable cost, then that is definitely a problem.

          • Eric

            It’s in a tunnel, you need to build a new tunnel next to the existing one (without interrupting service), which is complicated and expensive. It would have been much cheaper to double track the tunnel from the beginning.

            I don’t see why it kills the idea of extending the line though – surely the same 10min frequency can operate with an extension too. Not that there is anywhere to continue to – past the airport there seem to be only farms and villages.

          • Herbert

            While “am Wegfeld” is indeed surrounded by farms, a mall that you need to own a business to buy at (Metro) and a (albeit busy) P&R lot, it’s a busy interchange for buses from surrounding villages and the tram. When line four was extended or there, ridership far exceeded expectations. And they want to continue the line on to Erlangen. The line to Erlangen is to be run with five minute headways and it seems… Ill thought out to have an interchange between a subway and a tram where the tram is the more frequent mode…

          • Herbert

            https://www.nuernberg.de/internet/verkehrsplanung/nahverkehrsentwicklungsplan.html There was a study done (don’t get confused by the year 2025, that was supposed to be the year by which all approved projects would be built) before the tram extension about extending the subway to “am Wegfeld” which was pretty clear on the benefit cost ratio being too low according to German law (which means it won’t get federal funding and cannot be built in practice) but that was before the tram extension and its high ridership figures…

            Depending on who wins the elections in Nuremberg in March (Nuremberg CSU are pro subway, Greens pro Tram, SPD somewhere in the middle) this discussion might come up again…

          • fjod

            I don’t see why it’s bad to have a frequent tram interchanging with a less-frequent subway. Amsterdam has loads of this kind of interchange and it works perfectly well; for example, the 5th-busiest metro station (Weesperplein) is served more frequently by trams than metros.

          • Herbert

            If your subway is not used where higher capacity is needed, why are you building the more expensive mode in the first place? What’s the usage case?

          • fjod

            I’m not sure I fully understand your question, but in the Nuremberg case, you might want to extend the tram northwards to Erlangen because it’s cheaper (or in lower demand) and extend the u-bahn to meet the tram for connections to the airport and north-east of the city. In this case, it’s cheaper to minimally extend the u-bahn and maximally extend the tram, especially because the corridor probably doesn’t warrant an u-bahn level of service.

            In the Amsterdam case, the metro at Weesperplein is slightly less frequent but much higher capacity because it’s heavy rail with longer, wider vehicles. I know of another location in Amsterdam, Lelylaan, where the metro used to come every 10 minutes (until about 6 months ago) while the trams came every 3⅓. This line was built as a metro because there was a rail right-of-way already present, and a desire for fast connection across the city – even though the trams probably had equal or higher capacity at this location.

          • Eric

            BTW, there is already a mainline train running from Nuremberg to Erlangen in just 15 minutes. Given that, it seems that a metro/tram extension to Erlangen is pretty superfluous. Better to increase the mainline train frequency, and buy a few electric buses for service within Erlangen.

      • adirondacker12800

        Nuremberg has one terminal and less passengers than at LaGuardia. Newark already has a mainline train station and that’s as good as is going to get because Airtrain keeps the parking lot shuttles and the hotel shuttles out of the terminals and wlll always be there. You don’t want to schlep on the A train to Howard Beach there are three ways to get to Jamaica and it will always be there. It’s good enough.

        • Herbert

          If you compare yourself to LaGuardia…

          The point is: the “value engineering” to build only a single track was dumb for many reasons, not least of which the problem it creates for the schedule on future extensions… Even if they wanted to save money by building only one track, they could have at least built a passing loop…

          • adirondacker12800

            Yes I’m going to compare it to LaGuardia. LaGuardia has three terminals and they need people mover to get the shuttle buses to parking, car rentals and hotels out of the terminals and Nuremberg doesn’t have that problem. If your delicate sensibilities are offended by taking a bus from Woodside maybe perhaps you would be better off at Newark or JFK. If you fly a lot you know where Newark and JFK are because, LaGuardia doesn’t have as many destinations and a few are far away.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaGuardia_Airport#Top_destinations

          • Herbert

            Which destinations for a subway exist beyond LaGuardia? There are some beyond Nuremberg Airport…

          • adirondacker12800

            Flushing? the people who are schlepping on a bus to Flushing and then changing buses to go to work in LaGuardia could take the train? The people west of Flushing and east of the airport. who are schlepping on a bus to the Flushing line so they can change to the Astoria line could schlep on bus the other way and just get on an Astoria line train?

  3. Herbert

    Is the four track north south long distance tunnel in Berlin overbuilt or an example for cheaply accommodating future growth and avoiding the headache of expanding this critical piece of infrastructure in the future?

    • Alon Levy

      It runs 6 trains per hour in each direction, no? So, overbuilt, unless Germany is planning on building an actual high-speed rail network rather than a few disjointed NBS bypasses.

      • adirondacker12800

        In what sort of alternate dystopian reality does Berlin become Tokyo and need more than two for intercity trains? Four between Rahway New Jersey and North Philadelphia is probably enough forever. Two for commuter trains and the Kodama between New Haven and Wilmington and two for intercity that go beyond.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s approach tracks, not mainline tracks. The mainlines are all two-track. But the station throat of Hauptbahnhof has two east-west tracks on the Stadtbahn (plus two captive to the S-Bahn, with different electrification) and four north-south tracks on the North-South Main Line. This isn’t that unusual – it’s six two-tailed mainline tracks, which are criminally underused right now; only way four north-south tracks are fully used is if my ICE crayon is built and then intercity trains fill two of the four tracks.

          Compare Philadelphia, which has four two-tailed approach tracks on Regional Rail, plus two on Amtrak (sort of), and a one-tailed two-track approach on the Keystone corridor. In Boston, all plans for the North-South Rail Link have called for four through-tracks going back to the 1910s for the same reason (and while you can quibble whether SEPTA RR is more S-Bahn or RegionalBahn, Boston regional rail plans are firmly RegionalBahn). New York has twelve one-tailed approach tracks: Harlem*4, East River*4, Hudson*2, Empire Connection*2; this is an artifact of wide rivers and as we know isn’t really enough given current regional traffic.

          In bigger cities on this side of the Pond, there are more than six two-tailed approach tracks or twelve one-tailed ones. Paris has four to eight approach tracks per terminal; excluding the RER but including Transilien, there are 32 one-tailed approach tracks in total. London has even more – not counting Watford DC, the Overground, upcoming Crossrail, or the Northern City Line, I get 42 one-tailed approach tracks (2*Paddington, 2*Marylebone, 4*Euston, 4*StP, 4*KX, 2*Liverpool Street, 2*Fenchurch Street, 8*London Bridge, 4*Blackfriars, 12*Clapham, 2*Victoria ex-Clapham); the mainlines mostly drop to two tracks outside the built-up area, but a few don’t, giving four WCML tracks as far north as Wigan.

          • Herbert

            Well at least they have the right instinct as to where growth will come from. Berlin doesn’t have all that many important east west relations, but many that head somewhat south… And VDE8 alone has had some handsome passenger growth already…

          • adirondacker12800

            Zoo and 30th Street Philadelphia makes my brain hurt. Conceptually it’s four North-South tracks and four East-West tracks. Two intercity in a delta shape and two commuter in a cross shape. Disregard the funky stuff that goes on in North Philadelphia. There is a connector between the East-West express tracks and the north side of the North-South express tracks on the west side of Zoo. And I’m sure if you had a diagram of the switches it’s also local-local but SEPTA isn’t going to do that. It’s all the same loading gauge, platform height etc, and the intercity trains can be on the local tracks and the commuter trains on the express tracks. SEPTA locals are going to terminate at Trenton because the market is for six cars of single levels and NJTransit locals at Trenton because the market is for ten and twelve car multilevels. There is a market for SEPTA to Manhattan but that is four car single levels on the Trenton line and four car single levels on the West Trenton line. There might be some finagling hiding in there. SEPTA to Princeton Junction and East West-Trenton or whatever they are going to call the station by the Trenton Airport whenever that eventually gets built. There are shuttle buses from the NEC to there now. Nah Princeton Junction would foul things up to no end. The SEPTA express to Manhattan can also stop at Princeton Junction.

            The bumpers in Grand Central are a bit north of where 43rd Street would be and that has all merged into four tracks by 59th. The portals for the North River Tunnels are bit east of Tenth Ave and the 32nd St. and 33rd Street tunnels have merged into two tracks west of Sixth.

            Some day far far in the future it might be nice to have four islands and 8 tracks for intercity in Manhattan. But it’s two tracks to New Jersey and two tracks to Long Island. And the Kodama can melt away into the commuter express tracks. Because I never see there being more than 8 commuter express trains south of Rahway. The North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley locals and expresses would be on the 5th and 6th tracks with some scheduling legerdemain. …. and the Kodama to Allentown… The Kodama to Scranton is going to behave like a Morris and Essex express. Wilmington to New Haven has enough demand to have three levels of intercity service and the rest of North America, in a few places, two. And most of that is on Northeast commuter tracks.

            And there is enough demand for New York by itself and Philadelphia by itself to have odd peculiar Kodama and HIkari hiding on the commuter express tracks. Or the West Trenton line. ….Split the Keystones into three. An express to New York, an express to Washington that only serves 30th Street and a train that goes through Suburban to Temple. It shifts people in Pennsylvania off the Boston-DC trains and the NY-DC trains. Philadelphia is probably the one place where that kind of thing will happen.

  4. Mikel

    Are you hopeful about Texas Central? Japanese capital and technology + Italian-Spanish construction seems like a good combo, but apparently the operations will be Spanish too, which could mean inflated fares, security theater and terrible frequencies.

  5. Nilo

    MAGA disease also seems worse in the places with large legacy systems: NYC, Boston, Chicago, than places with newer ones. Utah runs 2:1 peak to base ratios and wants to run its line at 15 minutes all day electrified. Metra’s busiest line in Chicago doesn’t even run once an hour off peak.

    • yuuka

      Is this really even an American thing? I’d chalk it up to legacy systems generally having people who’ve been around for decades and thus go thinking “that’s not how we do things here”.

      Even within Eurasia there’s a tendency to salivate over “new greenfield projects” because “upgrading legacy infrastructure” sounds like too much of a pain in the ass – and thus, politically unpopular. Of course, a reluctance to upgrade typically also can mean a reluctance to embrace new concepts that upgrading can bring.

      At least, until the status quo becomes the worse option.

      • Herbert

        Most legacy lines follow the contours of valleys. Most valleys are more densely populated than baseline. So adding a third or fourth track to the existing line is often impossible. In addition, the existing line is often curvy and therefore relatively slow.

        A greenfield line can follow whichever alignment it wants.

        And if by “upgrades” you mean to signaling or the quality of the track or electrification – on many legacy lines in Europe that had been pushed as far as reasonable. (What good does ETCS do on a line geometrically limited to 160 km/h even with tilting?) Plus every meaningful infrastructure upgrade requires updating all rolling stock on that line to make use of it fully.

        Britain of course tried to upgrade its existing lines rather than build new high speed lines. We all know the results…

      • Yom Sen

        I agree. I see this tendancy in France too, even if at a lower extent than in the US.
        On one hand, France had a tremendous success with its TGV network managed like by an airline company. So their was never pressure for SNCF to challenge its management even though TGV success is probably more a result of a few wise investments in the 70s/80s and favourable urban geography (with the limits pointed out by Alon in a recent article) than good management and operations. There is reluctance to invest/improve the part of the network that can’t be managed like TGV. You can see for example that SNCF refused for a long time to adopt clock face scheduling that was spreading across Europe and still maintain day time regular maintenance (so no traffic for 2 or 3 hours on some busy lines) that has disappeared in neighbouring countries.
        On the other hand, there is still strong nostalgia for trains which makes politically very difficult to close low traffic regional lines that almost nobody is using since they still provide the same service than a century ago with like 2 or 3 trains a day. But nobody says let’s see how Austrians manage this kind of railways and let’s do something similar.

        Strangely, French are proud of TGV, they are not at all about another French railways success: Paris’ RER. When we think about RER, we think about insecurity, breakdowns, delays, strikes and never about the massive improvement it was for francilian transportation. What could have been a model for smaller RER networks in Lyon, Marseille, etc. is still an isolated success.

        • Herbert

          Meanwhile S-Bahn has been such a success story in Berlin and Hamburg that the name is slapped on unrelated once an hour diesel trains…

  6. SB

    I was under the impression that American rail nostalgia was more about 19th century than 20th century.
    For example most heritage railway generally uses steam locos.

    • Luke

      I’d say the steam enthusiasm has its roots as much in the refusal to view trains as a contemporary mode of transportation–and the thereby convenient refusal to learn how modern rail transit works, as a system–as a much as it does in any particular mode of motive power (except perhaps along the loco-vs-multiple-unit axis). This viewpoint of trains-as-toys-not-transit definitely negatively effects the potential for modern rail service in this country; if all your train enthusiasts have their ideas about rail service coming from nearly a century ago–when American rail service certainly was among the best in the world–then there’s going to be a lot of trouble when you’re fighting them, too, for better rail service.

      That having been said, steam locos were still very common until, say, the early 1940’s. The American rail nostalgia is really for the interwar period, before long-distance road travel was viable, and (to my eyes, at least) still-quite-striking Art Deco streamliners–like the Burlington Zephyr, M-10000, the Green Diamond, and anything hauling the PRR or New York Central express trains–ran on lines at speeds mostly unsurpassed in the U.S. in the 80-90 year since.

      • Lukas

        Most heritage lines in Germany too prefer steam. Steam was used into the 1970s over here…
        Steam engines are visually more exiting than electric trains, so I get that.

          • Herbert

            There are no 500 series Shinkansen just lying around, waiting to be sold for barely above scrap value.

            And even if there were, enthusiasts couldn’t repair and maintain them in their spare time…

          • Jacob Manaker

            Much greater audiovisual effects, mainly. A Shinkansen just sort of slides along the track; you can stand near a steam locomotive and watch all the crankshafts moving and hear the boiling water.

        • Herbert

          The old Bundesbahn actually explicitly banned steam from its network when the last steam trains had run. That required some workarounds around their own rules for the 1985 anniversary celebrations…

          China is doing a similar thing in banning steam as “backwards”…

    • Nathanael

      Depends who the nostalgia is from. If you ask people over 65, they have nostalgia for steam trains. If you ask people under 45, they have nostalgia for electric trains (ask the volunteers at railway museums). Between 45 and 65 is the era of automobile nostalgics.

  7. Lee Ratner

    Americans usually have a hard time copying the best practices of other nations in just about everything. My guess is that we got this way by being number one for so long that we couldn’t possible imagine any nation doing anything better.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, that’s my guess too – the US is #1 at so many things (you guys have driers and air conditioners, FFS) that it’s developed an insular business culture, which makes it hard to adapt innovations from elsewhere in those areas where the US isn’t #1 or anywhere in the top 20.

      • Herbert

        And then there is the “founding fathers” mentality that Europe is bad because it is less free. Which was a case that could be made when Europe was mostly monarchies, but has become utterly ridiculous in the modern era. A Civil War era American might well have heard something like “you silly Americans, having amateurs run politics. Here in Europe we know you’ve got to be born to lead”…

        And then those “born leaders” (well, a nephew anyway) got got by Prussian railroad scheduling…

  8. adirondacker12800

    There was no coordination of operations between different railroads, no coordination with municipal public transportation systems, no attempt at seamless passenger experience.

    People back then were able to travel without a smartphone welded to their hand.

    You could go to any railroad station and buy a ticket to any other railroad station. They didn’t have computers and telecom meant sending telegrams but it could be done. Where you could book a sleeping car on railroads that coordinated it being the same car from from New York to Los Angeles. You could check bags and buy tickets at Hudson Terminal. There were suggestions in the etiquette manuals about how much to tip the porter who was accompanying you and your baggage between Pennsylvania Station New York to the Erie or the Delaware Lackwanna and Western. Purportedly there is still space reserved at Grand Central for the H&M and by the time they are planning the Sixth Avenue IND it’s all falling apart rapidly. And since the H&M was a railroad you likely could get the fare between the railroads as part of your ticket for New Haven to Scranton. And the fare media for the local transit was change. People back then actually knew how to handle cash. Including the operator of the bus or trolley. If there wasn’t a conductor.

    The Toonerville Trolley met every train. The low frequency lines, it there was more than one, out in the hinterlands arranged their schedules to meet the trains. What bus is going to be timed to meet what train at Penn Station Newark or Broad Street Newark? How much do you worry about the frequency of the A-train unless you are trying to catch the dead of night train that wanders the NEC? The C-Train schedule is easy. There isn’t any. If you are on the Concourse trying to do that, the A train doesn’t co-ordinate with the D-train at Columbus Circle because the important connection for the D is DeKalb Avenue and once that gets coordinated you can’t make the other ones work. And have any coordination on those other lines work. Like the R-train via Whitehall Street. It’s all very tidy when you have Blue trains and Red trains and Orange buses and Green buses but it all falls apart once you don’t.

    Maplewood New Jersey decided they didn’t want a parking garage obliterating their downtown so the decided to run shuttle buses out to the neighborhoods. It’s considered very successful. This is what the schedules look like.

    https://www.twp.maplewood.nj.us/sites/maplewoodnj/files/pages/all_jitney_schedules_0.pdf

    That’s what you get when the service is to Midtown Manhattan. It doesn’t coordinate well with trains to Hoboken and PATH to Wall Street because in this somewhat special case the bus to Penn Station Newark and PATH from there is more frequent. And it’s 18 hours a day, on lousy frequencies off peak but better than the off peak frequencies to Hoboken.

  9. Coridon Henshaw

    America (much like the rest of the Anglosphere) is no longer a forward-looking country. Cynically speaking, rail advocates might have more success if they appealed to nostalgia in their political pitches instead of pointing towards Asian and European best practices that politically-significant Americans will reflexively reject because they’re foreign ideas.

    Tell Americans whose views matter politically (otherwise known as exurban and rural bumpkins) to look forward to the way continental Europe does things and the response will be incoherent (and often racist) frothing at the mouth about how Europe is infested with socialists and ______ (insert religious or ethnic slur of choice). All thought will stop and you will have lost the argument permanently. Tell Americans whose views matter politically that you want to go back to the 1950s and you might, if you’re lucky, get them to stop vetoing funding for infrastructure development.

    • adirondacker12800

      Geography doesn’t vote and the rural yeomanry is a shrinking part of the population in absolute numbers and as a percentage. They are clueless. Someone asked Senator Hinterlands what he thought of the Electoral College and he replied that he thought the 49 percent ( the urban parts of the country ) shouldn’t tell the 51 percent what to do. ….no they shouldn’t….

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/07/12/in-about-20-years-half-the-population-will-live-in-eight-states/

      • Coridon Henshaw

        Declining rural population will not lead to declining rural power. The electoral college is not going away, nor is the senate seat allocation formula. Even as the rural population falls, rural people will still retain their stranglehold on American politics and the US will dive ever deeper into rural minority rule.

        America will never see federal pro-urban, pro-density, transport funding policies because the rural political class will not allow it.

        Emigration (to certain parts of the EU or certain parts of East Asia) is by far the best option for any American who wants to live in an society that values urbanization.

        • adirondacker12800

          The county Kansas City Kansas is in has shrunk since it’s peak population. It’s suburban county has grown 10 times faster than KS is shrinking. It all overwhelms the counties with few thousand people. Senators and governors get elected in statewide votes. If I did the arithmetic correctly 60 percent of the people in Kansas live in metro Kansas City, Wichita or Topeka. And they let Yankees move there.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_statistical_areas

          • Herbert

            Neither Kansas City has any rail service… Not even Light Rail…

          • adirondacker12800

            Light rail doesn’t vote either. It’s harder to make people in suburbs of larger cities afraid of immigrants and homosexuals because they actually know a few. I picked Kansas because the state gave “Cut taxes on rich people and we will all get rich” fable a whirl and things got so bad the Republicans in the state house raised taxes.

        • Nathanael

          The Senate is going to be abolished, reallocated, or stripped of its powers within my lifetime. California won’t tolerate Wyoming obstructionism much longer. I’m not sure how it’ll go, but “Pack The Union” has already been proposed by the _Harvard Law Review_, with careful citations.

      • Herbert

        Most of the earth is urban now. Will it be in time to limit climate change to only “catastrophic” and not “apocalyptic”?

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not about rural bumpkins. The most provincial Americans when it comes to best practices live in New York. The MAGA hats think Germany is socialist and Islamist, the techies think Germany is poor, the Occupy Wall Street people think Germany is evil for running budget surpluses, the civil rights activists think Germany is white supremacist. Insularity is a national culture in the United States and it’s worst in the rich parts of the country, each political or cultural faction just expresses it differently. The problem is not Democrats or Republicans. It’s America.

      • Coridon Henshaw

        I agree with your take on American culture, but the bumpkins are the greatest problem because they have the political power and their objections to modernity are too deeply integrated into their culture to negotiate with. The disproportionate representation given to places like Wyoming and Nebraska means that their cultural opposition to all public services becomes federal policy that hamstrings areas which have more modern values.

        OWS and the identity politics crowd have virtually no political power to speak of (federally; I don’t track US urban politics) nor do they have the level of visceral rejection of the concept of public services that would lead them to start frothing at the mouth about a liberalcommunistfascistmuslamatheisteurocucknazisocialist takeover if someone proposed building an S-Bahn somewhere. The identity politics left is much more likely to cause trouble over details, like fares, policing levels, and armed fare inspectors, rather than whether mass transit is a good idea or not.

        • Nilo

          I don’t think this is a super accurate take, because as rural areas decline in influence, its probably going to be less about ideology and more about what handouts they can get from the federal government, and a rural dominated senate will still have to deal with an urban dominated house, so deal cutting along that axis seems very possible.

          • Coridon Henshaw

            The dynamic to date has been one of the rural bloc telling the urban bloc what to do and the urban block, like an abused child, meekly giving the rural bloc what it wants so the rural bloc doesn’t hurt the urban bloc again. There isn’t much, if any, bargaining or negotiation. Some of this is due to the general fecklessness of urban bloc political elites, but fundamentally, it’s very hard to oppose a bloc that has absolute control over the senate and judiciary, a disproportionate advantage over the presidency, is willing to rig elections, and is willing to use existential blackmail (e.g. government shutdowns or blocking debt ceiling increases) to get what it wants.

            The rural bloc has shown no interest in compromising over improving American public services as they regard ensuring that American public services are underfunded and incompetently delivered (“small government”) as a foundational bulwark of their culture. The rural bloc’s political advantages places it in a very strong position to defend this cultural red line against the needs of the urban majority; this is unlikely to change.

          • Herbert

            Unjust systems unwilling to reform undergo revolution if the pressure reaches a certain point

          • Nilo

            Again I think your interpretation is basically built upon the weird transitional state the US finds itself in. The Republicans are transitioning from being the party of educated suburbanites to being that of rural people and ex-urbanites. As they move in that direction the small government message loses value as their constituents become more and more dependent on government services. The hardline they currently take though is a relatively recent innovation of the last decade. Up until midway through Obama’s tenure there were plenty of rural senators who were Democrats.

          • Herbert

            The Republicans somehow won the 2016 election by unlearning the lesson of their 2012 post-mortem (“Try to win over Latin@s”)… Will Democrats win 2020 by going against “conventional wisdom”?

          • adirondacker12800

            With a bit of help with very focused help from their friends overseas. Turn out was extraordinarily high in 2018 and there are almost as many people voting early in the few 2020 primaries that have been held as voted in 2016.

          • adirondacker12800

            I listen to the pre-pre-game show with half an ear while I’m doing something else. Listen to the cable talk channels it’s pre-game show. just swap “Super Bowl” or “World Series” for “New Hampshire Primary” or “Nevada Caucus”. The only talk about Republican primaries is short blurbs as states cancel them. And that people show up for the ones that have been held. Where in what you would expect for a poll for Dear Leader there is almost no dissent.
            There has been one primary and two caucuses so far. The polls in New Hampshire were off but that may be within margin of error. Iowa and Nevada were way off.
            https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/new-hampshire-democratic-primary-turnout-sets-new-record.html

            Big Super Tuesday is March 3 and Little Super Tuesday is March 10.

            https://www.270towin.com/2020-election-calendar/

          • Nathanael

            The rural bloc will die. And I mean that literally. The actual dynamic is the biggest generation gap in the history of polling; if everyone over 45 were prohibited from voting, the Democrats would be winning 65% majorities and higher. The exodus from the rural areas and into the urban areas also continues, as it has for 5000 years.

            The urban areas aren’t going to put up with this crap much longer.

            You can’t fight demographics, and the Republicans aren’t even trying; they’re digging in. They’ll be crushed by the demographics. A minority of senior citizens cannot rule over an angry majority of young city-dwellers; this has never worked.

            Remember that the Constitutional Convention was illegal. If the aged rural obstructionists keep trying to control the country, it’ll be revolution time. It’s guaranteed — history is quite clear about this. I’m not fond of violent revolutions, so I hope we have a peaceful one, but we’re gonna have some sort. The Senate will be abolished or reformed.

          • adirondacker12800

            The Republicans aren’t trying because the Wall Street/Country club Republicans began to wander off to spend more time with the family in the 80s and 90s and the Main Street Republicans more recently. The only ones left are the Dixiecrats.

        • SB

          The biggest problems with American transit operators is not the federal government not giving them money to build new lines but they are terribly run and have massive cost overruns in literally everything.
          Except for Amtrak and WMATA, federal government does not run transit agencies.

        • Henry Miller

          Those rural folks aren’t needed for most projects. If California could build for reasonable costs their could have their high speed rail operating for a few years already with no need to bring in a federal subsidy and it would be cheaper for California than current estimates (unless someone is finally talking reasons?).

          You can argue fair share and whatnot – as my parents would say you can be dead and right at the same time (mostly referring to crosswalk right of way).

      • Herbert

        And if you point out that Europe does certain things better they call you a supremacist and crypto nationalist…

  10. Paul Dyson

    LA San Diego needs four major projects. LAUS, San Clemente bypass, Delmar bypass, and Rose Canyon bypass (tunnel). These projects fall in three counties, each of which owns part of the RoW (actually two agencies in SanDiego County), plus BNSF. I don’t care what capacity analysis may yield as to hypothetical numbers of trains, the reality is that with shared track with BNSF plus commuter agencies dispatching the intercity trains you won’t run a commercially attractive railroad without these four investments.

    • Alon Levy

      Miramar doesn’t need a tunnel, EMUs can climb that hill along the same alignment as the Blue Line extension. Electronics before concrete.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s literally the freeway alignment, it’s pretty direct and it’s not slow at all (EMU starting tractive effort is 0.12 g and this is a 4-5% grade).

          • Paul Dyson

            Good luck with getting emus this century PD

            All the best Paul Dyson 818 371 9516

            >

          • Paul Dyson

            I’ve always been in favor of electrification. My first job was on BR (SR). The likelihood of it happening here is close to zero, HSR notwithstanding. Note also that there is still freight to San Diego, and I don’t see 4-5% grades working too well. I’m meeting some influential people in Sacramento Tuesday, I’ll let y’all know what thy are thinking. While there is some consensus in San Diego County about “doing something”, Orange County will be the issue. SIngle track through San Clemente torpedoes any chance of reliability or a competitive journey time.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Single track sections exist in Japan and Switzerland. You just have to run the trains to time.

          • Nilo

            Yeah just build passenger only bypasses and let freights keep the loopier lower grade tracks to themselves.

          • Paul Dyson

            But then you can’t get trade corridors money etc!!
            And you can be sure the beach communities don’t want the freights to stay.
            Politics Uber Transportation!

          • Alon Levy

            The Miramar Hills area isn’t even the beach… and if the communities are willing to put their own money for 5.5 km of tunnel + a station underneath UCSD, they’re welcome to. Otherwise, they can stuff it.

          • Mike

            Too many issues with that alignment; namely that you have to route through the Sorrento Valley station for NCTD and there isn’t a good way of getting out and up the canyon to connect to some other track that isn’t the new trolley extension to UCSD. Right now they’re planning 8-15 minute headways on the Blue Line to UCSD.

            SANDAG also wants HOV/HOT lanes all throughout the county to keep drivers happy and there are no carpool lanes on that section of I-5; any available median space is being eaten by carpool lanes unless SANDAG wants to incite a voter revolt from the coastal cities along with the aggravated East County/North County voters that already believe SANDAG is going against the TransNet tax initiative from 2004.

            Electrification won’t likely happen until the Del Mar bluffs single-track is put out of commission and replaced by twin tunnels under Del Mar or another suitable alignment. Too much red tape plus the homeowners along the bluffs have enough money to fund lawyers for a long time.

          • Alon Levy

            Sounds like the priorities are concrete before electronics before organization. No wonder nothing moves there.

          • Mike

            It’s complicated down here but they’re trying to make the best of it.

            The SD-LA main line is literally the only working rail line in and out of SD and it’s running 24/7 with a good amount of overnight freight to/from the Port of SD and other industrial customers. NCTD can’t do significant overnight maintenance.

            The Sorrento Valley station accounts for half of NCTD’s weekday boardings, and they’d have more if it was easier to use the train for everyone commuting from south of there – so NCTD can’t ignore it like Amtrak can, and NCTD owns the tracks. MTS commuters are already questioning why they couldn’t extend the trolley to Sorrento Valley, so it it’s likely that any ROW for a future extension would be under MTS control for light rail, not NCTD for heavy rail. Fortunately MTS and NCTD generally work well together when they need to but they don’t do a lot of schedule coordination for commuter/heavy rail riders.

            Transit riders are getting annoyed that for several weekends a year the entire line shuts down in San Diego County for track maintenance and improvements because it’s currently a lot of hundred-year-old single-track. If you’re on Amtrak you get bussed to Irvine or Oceanside depending on what they’re working on; you get nothing if you’re using NCTD Coaster or OCTA from Oceanside except the slow bus.

            Since tax initiatives require 2/3s majority in California, agencies are really focused on making taxpayers happy. Plus SANDAG has to deal with the Coastal Commission for anything within 1-5 miles of the coast (depending on various factors) – and they take their job very seriously when it comes to protecting beach access and property rights.

  11. R. W. Rynerson

    Actually, some Americans have always been aware of foreign innovations, but the problem is usually at the leadership level of new organizations and as cited above in legacy systems. When I was working in Edmonton (1976-85) I began to realize that we had a lot of leadership and technical people who had traveled to Europe, thanks to over-the-arctic cheap air travel that did not exist in the U.S. till later. So when we developed a timed-transfer-focal-point network (1963-1978), light rail integrated with the bus network (1978) and POP fare collection (1980) and switched from clunky Ohio Brass to smooth K&M trolley coach overhead in the mid-80’s we didn’t have to do a lot of explaining. Most resistance came from people who were from Ontario.

    In contrast, in Denver it took a lot of explaining. The most resistance came from people from Back East. The solution was usually to suggest that any innovation was copied from California. And sometimes it was. There always were people with good ideas, even from legacy systems, but sometimes they had to work around the ‘no men.’

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, there was this kind of dialogue in the 1970s, but as soon as examples proliferated domestically, people started only referencing American implementations. This is also true of commuter rail modernization – Vukan Vuchic was importing the S-Bahn concept and adapting it to Philadelphia, but subsequent American proposals for regional rail reference Philadelphia and not any of the better-working models here or in Japan and Korea. You can see this because people in the rest of the US look at SEPTA and give it a shrug, because ridership is pretty meh for specific causes including the strike, the low frequency, the lack of fare integration, the loopy routing, and Philadelphia’s unique-for-an-old-city extent of job sprawl. But then they think having what Munich has is impossible because Munich is not in the US and speaks a language other than English, which means the seat warmers in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California don’t care about it.

      • Herbert

        Munich is building its second inner city rail tunnel before Boston built its first…

    • fantomex9

      When I was working in Edmonton (1976-85) I began to realize that we had a lot of leadership and technical people who had traveled to Europe, thanks to over-the-arctic cheap air travel that did not exist in the U.S. till later. So when we developed a timed-transfer-focal-point network (1963-1978), light rail integrated with the bus network (1978) and POP fare collection (1980) and switched from clunky Ohio Brass to smooth K&M trolley coach overhead in the mid-80’s we didn’t have to do a lot of explaining. Most resistance came from people who were from Ontario.

      As a Torontonian/Ontarian now going through the sufferings of hell due to the neocon bullshit of both Ford brothers (Rob as mayor of Toronto destroying the Transit City LRT project intended for the inner suburbs of Toronto, with his successor John Tory continuing on building the stupid Ontario Line, and Doug also doing the same trying to build a useless three-stop extension to one of the major subway lines of Toronto in addition to supporting Tory on building the Ontario Line), that last bit fits so much, it’s not funny. What’s more and even worse, he (Doug) also destroyed the LRT project to be built for the city of Hamilton, because like his late brother, all that he knows about are ‘subways, subways, subways!’ (Toronto is like New York City, therefore, we can have only subway lines, even though the subway line built down Sheppard Avenue is too short, and one of the stations has nobody ever using it.)

      • Herbert

        Well they sound like CDU/CSU who have never seen a questionable subway idea they don’t like and will never admit that “Take a lane from cars, give it to a tram” can ever be good policy…

      • SB

        What is the problem with the Ontario Line besides the cost?
        Isn’t suppose to relieve the existing busy section of the subway?
        To be fair high cost is a big problem but you seem to claim that the project is unnecessary not just expensive.

      • Eric

        Subways in Toronto don’t seem stupid to me, given the area’s population and growth rate and existing downtown density. And building subways is not mutually exclusive with giving separate lanes to the existing tram lines.

      • Nilo

        I mean Toronto has exactly one subway line serving downtown, Chicago has two subway lines plus its Loop, Philadelphia has three sets of tracks heading downtown on its subways, in fact the closest North American comparison to Toronto in this respect is San Francisco, which also has a only a single subway line through downtown that is also packed to the gills.

  12. Steven H

    “Amtrak took over intercity operations and states took over commuter rail operations”

    I went to a passenger rail forum at USDOT a couple years back. According to the presenters, one (of many) problems with states running commuter rail operations is that the states are forced to pay high insurance premiums (relative to Amtrak), and have a hard time getting track access rights (again, relative to Amtrak).

    It’s really too bad that the Amtrak bailout in the ’70s didn’t also give state governments more power over the Class I’s, or at least give the federal government the ability to negotiate on states’ behalf when it comes to regional rail.

    • Alon Levy

      Well, in and around Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, commuter rail runs on entirely publicly-owned tracks, though it took some time for Boston to get there. The LIRR got taken over by the state, and Metro-North, NJ Transit, and SEPTA took over tracks from Conrail.

      The problem is more some lingering trackage rights agreements, like the one the MBTA has with the hobby railroad Pan Am. That said, even where escape clauses exist in these agreements, states sometimes don’t exercise them, e.g. when Caltrain gave away the right to kick UP off the Peninsula.

      • adirondacker12800

        Someone should petition the STB to wrestle freight out of PanAm’s hands to allow them to concentrate on whatever it is they do. No one is quite sure what PanAm does but it’s not railroading. I think Connecticut has.
        The states don’t own all the track. Moving freight out of the Port of New York and New Jersey on the Raritan Valley line is very valuable. There’s enough space for four tracks if it ever comes to that. The P&W keeps trucks off the Connecticut Turnpike and the Long Island Expressway. That’s so valuable the Port Authority is vaguely considering a tunnel between Jersey City and Brooklyn. You want to move whole carloads of gravel, cement, drywall, lumber, beer, canned goods and toilet paper to distribution centers on Long Island and in New England. Not try to figure out how to get pallets from ShopRite’s distribution centers in New Jersey to the Avenue I store in Brooklyn by subway. And move the garbage and sewage sludge out by rail. ….frozen.. the itty bitty retail level wholesaler near me in New Jersey would get carloads of frozen food along with all the other stuff. It’s a good thing the Tropicana is in Jersey City and not trucking stuff from Florida. Shipping refrigerated produce from California and Washington State to Rotterdam NY by unit train worked out so well that Union Pacific bought them out. And CSX and NS are busy trying to reproduce it. Whole carloads to Hunts Point and Brooklyn Terminal not FedEx package by the cartload on the subway or pallets to the Avenue I ShopRite.

      • Nathanael

        The shortline freight railroads aren’t really an obstacle; they’re invariably highly cooperative, and will happily move in scheduled slots between passenger trains — or streetcars! — using whatever motive power you want them to. The FRA, who insists on weird restrictions if you run ANY freight on your railroad, is much more of an obstacle. The Class I freight railroads are a *severe* obstacle.

  13. Herbert

    Is it telling that for years and years Germany’s most popular regularly scheduled railway t.v. Show has been a show called “Eisenbahn Romantik“ – railway romanticism…?

    • Max Wyss

      A show around one single individual, and that indidvidual’s ideas. It has changed a bit, but don’t expect critical discussions of modern projects.
      But still very interesting, and a joy to watch (most (if not all) of the shows are available from the TV station’s website)

  14. Paul Dyson

    You’re right about almost everything except the facts. There’s no mention of electrification in Metrolink planning. They can barely afford the SCORE projects and anyway how can they justify such an investment for 20,000 daily customers?
    As for the pols, they’ve woken up to the fact that HSR $$$s have mostly passed them by but have no clue what would be involved in electrification of the parts of Metrolink that happen to be in the HSR corridor. They’d like to divert it to Metro projects if they thought they could get away with it but they’ve tried before and failed. (vide Raymer Bernson d/t)

  15. Gok

    You’re dead on about the bunk nostalgia. The golden age of trains in North America was never that great. Another example frequently brought up by transit fanatics is the Pacific Electric Railway, which is falsely remembered as a world class transit system

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, and the history of Pacific Electric, which was cross-subsidized by property development, makes Americans think that all profitable urban rail networks are, which is completely false: Taipei, Singapore, and the Tokyo subway don’t do any property development, the Tokyo suburban railways make a profit on both trains and real estate and use the two businesses in synergy, and the MTR makes a profit on trains but receives hidden real estate subsidies.

      • Herbert

        Whoever cooked up the Brightline scheme was of the opinion that both rail and real estate could be profitable but they’d be especially profitable in tandem…

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, the idea of Brightline imitates Japan as it is, not Japan as Americans who think rail can’t turn a profit think it is. But I don’t know if they’ll succeed in making profits on rail – so far (within South Florida) ridership is disappointing.

          • adirondacker12800

            It doesn’t go to Orlando yet. Where people who parked their cars at airports in the Northeast and Midwest are with the kids and want to go visit Grandma on the coast. And who have seen passenger trains if not actually used them.

          • Seungho Bak

            No one flies to Orlando to go to Greater Miami They would fly to one of the three airports in Greater Miami.
            People fly to Orlando to go to places in Central Fl and Central FL is an very sprawl-ly area.
            Bulk of Brightline ridership should be travel within Greater Miami.

          • adirondacker12800

            People fly to Orlando, take the kids to the amusement parks and then visit Grandma in Boca. Or vice versa. Or visit his parents in Lakeland and her parents in Miami. And they can even do things where they fly into Orlando and fly out of West Palm Beach. Then there are the siblings who all didn’t decide on the Villages. Disney has packages where you stay in the park for a while and then take a cruise. All of it the warm loving embrace of the Happiest Place, which will likely always be a bus, but there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. By people who parked their car at a Midwestern or Northeastern airport.

          • rational plan

            People do holiday in both Miami and Orlando. Two centre holidays are quite common for people making transatlantic holidays to Florida. Orlando for the Parks, Miami or St Pete’s for the Beach. I did it as a kid 30 odd years ago. With a direct rail connection at Orlando airport and now Disney this has the potential to take a lot of trips.

          • Max Wyss

            @Seungho Bak: No, Brightline does indeed serve places along the coast, but those places are better served by Tri Rail (for a third of the price). So, whoever takes Brightline “regionally” does it for the novelty factor, or to show off.

            As others have stated, the main targeted customers for Brightline are tourists “doing” Orlando and the coast. And there will be a few business travellers, of course.

      • anonymouse observer

        The business model of running passenger rail and real estate in synergy are believed to be invented in North American interurbans and copied by Japanese railroads/railways (I believe this). Japanese railroads/railways stuck to the model and somehow made it to work even though several other factors helped them to stay in the passenger rail business (i.e. relatively late adoption of automobile and motorization).

        It is interesting that Japanese railroads/railways imitated the technology side of the electric railroad from North American interurbans and Europeans until they established their own technology, which happened relatively recently.

        • Andrew in Ezo

          Define “relatively recently”- in fact Japanese interurbans were already ahead of their American counterparts in terms of business expansion in the pre-WW2 era (American interurbans were already in terminal decline by the 1930s). Hankyu Electric Railway in Osaka established the world’s first terminal department store in 1929 (TOD defined). As far as railway technology, there was an explosion of domestic development in rolling stock starting in the late 1950s, with the gradual replacement of pre-war riveted steel rolling stock using heavy axle mounted nose hung traction motors (much like pre-war PRR or IC electric stock) with lightweight stock using flexible cardan shaft drives (the main catalyst being the introduction of the JNR 101/103 series EMU). TOD and station development continued unabated, with innovations such as the worlds first automated ticket gates installed at Hankyu (again) Kita Senri Station in 1967. When David P. Morgan, the late editor of Trains Magazine, visited Japan in 1959, he was unequivocal in saying that anyone who wanted to see the zenith of electric interurban transport should go to Japan.

          • R. W. Rynerson

            Discussion of the Japanese interurbans reminds me of my late friend, screen name George Winslow, a dedicated Pacific Electric fan whose Navy service took him to Japan. His letters home showed a marked improvement in morale when he saw what was possible as an extension of interurban technology and business strategies,..

            In 1973-74 I worked for a Japanese tour wholesaler in the U.S. A good customer of ours was the retail travel bureau of Kinki Nippon Railway. Another example of developing a related business.

            Andrew in Ezo: One question regarding automated ticket gates. I rode the IC Electric in September 1967 and they were using automated ticket gates (which were not very reliable). Did the Hankyu installation come earlier in that year?

          • anonymouse observer

            Hankyu Department Store is actually newer than Cleveland Union Terminal by a year or so. What Japanese did was to internalize operations of “related businesses” and made private passenger rail business as conglomerate. This allowed Japanese private railways to achieve true synergy.

            For technology, I meant 1960s as “relatively recently” based on two facts: 1) Tokyu Sharyo was building stainless steel rail cars and “Pioneer” truck designed under an license from Budd Car; and 2) “Minden-Deutschland” truck for 0 Series Shinkansen trainsets, which is designed by Sumitomo Metal under an license from KHD. For the stainless steel rail cars, I believe Tokyu Sharyo was the only Japanese manufacturer which can produce ones due to the licensing, and all stainless steel Tokyu Electric EMU built before the 13th batch of 8500 Series EMU are built under the Budd’s license.

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