The United States Needs to Learn How to Learn

I just saw an announcement from November of 2020 in which the Federal Transit Administration proposes to study international best practices… in on-demand public transit.

It goes without saying that the international best practice in on-demand micromobility is “don’t.” The strongest urban public transport networks that I know of range from not making any use of it to only doing so peripherally, like Berlin. In fact, both France and Germany have rules on taxis that forbid Uber from pricing itself below the regulated rates; Japan, too, banned Uber from operating after it tried to engage in the usual adversarial games with the state that it is so familiar with from the US.

And yet, here we see an FTA program attempting to learn from other countries not how to write a rail timetable, or how to modernize regional rail, or how to design a coordinated infrastructure plan, or how to integrate fares, or how to do intermodal service planning, or how to build subways affordably. It’s perhaps not even aware of those and other concepts that make the difference between the 40% modal split of so many big and medium-size European cities and the 10-15% modal splits that non-New York American cities top at.

Instead, the FTA is asking about a peripheral technology that markets itself very aggressively to shareholders and VCs so that it can ask for more money to fund its losses.

Earlier today I saw a new announcement of congressional hearings about high-speed rail. There are 12 witnesses on the list, of whom none has any experience with actual high-speed rail. They’re American politicians plus people who either run low-speed trains (Amtrak, Brightline) or promise new vaporware technology (Hyperloop*2, Northeast Maglev). American politicians and their staffers are not that stupid, and know that there are strong HSR programs in various European and Asian countries, and yet, in the age of Zoom, they did not think to bring in executives from JR East, DB, SNCF, SBB, etc., or historians of these systems, to discuss their challenges and recommendations.

I bring up these two different examples from the FTA and Congress because the US has trouble with learning from other places. It’s not just that it barely recognizes it needs to do so; it’s that, having not done so in the past, it does not know how to. It does not know how to form an exchange program, or what questions to ask, or what implementation details to focus on. Hearing of a problem with a public agency, its first instinct is to privatize the state to a consultancy staffed by the agency’s retirees, who have the same groupthink of the current publicly-employed managers but collect a higher paycheck for worse advice.

Worse, this is a nationwide problem. Amtrak can and should fully replace its senior management with people who know how to run a modern intercity railroads, who are not Americans. But then middle management will still think it knows better and refuse to learn what a tropical algebra is or how it is significant for rail schedule planning. They do not know how to learn, and they do not recognize that it’s a problem. This percolates down to planners and line workers, and I don’t think Americans are ready for a conversation about full workforce replacement at underperforming agencies.

This will not improve as long as the United States does not reduce its level of pride to that typical of Southern Europe or Turkey. When you’re this far behind, you cannot be proud. It’s hard with American wages being this high – the useless managers even in the public sector earn more than their Northern European counterparts and therefore will not naturally find Northern Europe to have any soft power over them. Wearing sackcloth and ashes comes more naturally with Italian or Spanish wages. But it’s necessary given how far behind the US is, and bringing in people who are an American’s ideal of what a manager ought to be rather than people who know how to run a high-speed passenger railroad is a step backward.


  1. Ernest Tufft

    In all big American infrastructure projects contracted experts and engineering burn up huge sums of cash on ill-conceived ideas that eventually get trashed. Whole constituencies, like cyclists and pet owners, will simply be locked out of planning, then if project gets built, an expensive retrofit engineering solution is required.

  2. Benjamin Turon

    Great post, and good point about the Congressional HSR hearing lacking Europeans, Asians, or now Africans who actually have planned, built, and run high speed railways.

    I do disagree about Brightline, it’s a pretty European-style intercity rail service with Japanese-style station development thrown in for good measure. Yes, its not “HSR” but in the American context a service with an hourly clockface frequency of trains with a top speed of 125-mph and average of 80-mph places it far above Amtrak corridors with at best a dozen daily trains averaging 40-mph – I’m looking at you Pacific Surfliner!

    Brightline is also planning out an actual 200-mph high speed rail service between Las Vegas and the LA Basin, which will in all likelihood be completed and running before the CHSRA runs its first train in the Central Valley. There is also the Texas Central Railway too, which is depending on Japanese and Spanish expertise for its Houston-Dallas line. And Northeast Maglev is Japanese too, and arguably not the vaporware that is Hyperloop.

    But yeah, a high-speed rail hearing without the Europeans or Asians sees pretty ridiculous.

    • Alon Levy

      Brightline is okay for legacy intercity rail, sure, but they’re not yet a commercial success, and they have no HSR experience.

      • Benjamin Turon

        I do agree, that is why you should also bring JR East, Korail, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation, SNCF, DB, SBB, OBB, etc…

        • Herbert

          DB even has – controversial in Germany, but it is what they do – experience in building and running railroads of all kinds in places with no or little previous rail expertise or infrastructure

      • df1982

        They’re not a commercial success yet because they’ve only run trains to West Palm Beach, and also a pandemic broke out right after they started operations. When the extension to Orlando opens that will be the actual test of Brightline’s viability (although extensions to Tampa and Jacksonville are also straightforward and in early planning). Sure, 3h between Miami and Orlando isn’t at the cutting edge of HSR, but it’s probably quick enough to be a superior choice to flying or driving.

        • Herbert

          Will they then electrify to allow orders of a single type of fleet for their “western” and “eastern” operations?

    • Luke

      Brightline may be good by American standards, but better is not best, and I’m sure the Brightline people weren’t at the hearing pro-bono. And so, the American tradition of paying more for less because “we’re the best” continues. I think Alon’s main point holds: Americans, by and large, need to take themselves down a peg or two (or ten), realize that we aren’t different from the rest of the world, and figure out what and how everyone else is doing so many things better than we are.

      I have to imagine, to that the gerontocracy we’ve got going on here–wherein so much of our leadership at so many levels of governance grew up when one could plausibly call America best-in-the-world at some things ergo why listen to other people–is at least a part of the problem. Then again, I know many, many people in my 30-something cohort who are just as oblivious.

      • Benjamin Turon

        Yeah, the “OK Boomer” problem of passenger rail in America. Even most rail advocates care more about onboard food service than speed or frequency. Enthusiasm for HSR seems to run higher in the younger generation of rail fans and advocates who don’t have memories of the Santa Fe, Penn Central, and the “Rainbow Era” of Amtrak.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s an industry-wide problem. The GIs and Silents transmit their resentment of the Interstate system to the Boomers, who now transmit the same resentment to the millennials and zoomers. This way, people who are not boomers by age end up being boomers by institutional culture, complaining about things that happened in the 1950s while the world has passed them by.

          I should maybe blog about this in the NYCT context, because if you look, you can see it in its expansion plans. The 7 extension is non-boomer, but the idea of doing phases 3 and 4 of SAS is all about romanticism for the city of the 1930s, and if you ask Yonah Freemark (but not me!) then so is Utica.

        • Herbert

          Half the proposed Berlin U-Bahn extensions are dusty plans from the 1970s West Berlin (or even the 1950s) which have been rotting away in some filing cabinet for ages… And as it is campaign season, even the “U10” from Weißensee to Alexanderplatz is dusted off despite Trams being a far better solution (and where they aren’t, there is the S-Bahn)

          • Alon Levy

            I should blog about this, but they’re building a tramway along the U10 corridor, offering a second route from Potsdamer Platz to Steglitz, which is closely parallel to S1 and a lot slower. This is probably the technologically MAGAiest bit of the rail plan, complete with the part where they say it’s all for benefiting the entire city but spend more money on the rich than on the poor.

          • Herbert

            For a lot of trips, trams are actually faster than subways because their stops are faster to get to…

          • df1982

            Why is it either/or? Berlin needs a few extra U-Bahn lines or extensions but not many (Wittenbergplatz-Weißensee, Wittenau-Märkisches Viertel, Kurfürstendamm-Halensee and Rüdow-BER probably exhausts the list), it needs to do the S-Bahn line that Alon proposed, AND it needs to build a ton of tram lines in the old West to increase capacity for local trips. A city can do all three in a phased expansion plan.

          • Alon Levy

            It can, but left-wing transit advocates think that U- and S-Bahn extensions are a pro-car conspiracy and therefore concentrate only on tramways, even in places where they don’t make sense (i.e. parallel to S1).

          • df1982

            Who actually thinks this, though? I’ve never encountered it first-hand. At best it would be an absolute fringe belief. Some may have a preference for trams over U-Bahns in the Berlin context because they are as little as one-tenth the cost per km, and the need for wide-scale expansion there is more palpable (virtually all of West Berlin needs to be covered), whereas with the U-Bahn after the U5 it’s just a few minor extensions here and there.

            And I don’t think there is anybody in Germany who believes S-Bahn extensions are a “pro-car conspiracy”. These are almost universally viewed positively by transit activists, unless they end up being a money pit like Stuttgart 21.

          • Alon Levy

            How about every Berlin transit activist who thinks building a tramway right next to U- and S-Bahn lines in West Berlin is a better use of money than providing any rail service to MV? Or industry orgs who, when I told them about subway construction cost differences, asked me why bother with subways and not just build tramways because it’s cheaper?

          • df1982

            I’m not sure what your problem with the Potsdamer Platz-Steglitz line is. That alignment is one of the busiest bus corridors in Berlin (with 2 Metrobus and 2 regular bus lines), so evidently there is the need for local transit as well as the S-Bahn for longer-distance journeys (since the S-Bahn in this area has stations that are 1km+ apart), and it is generally 250-300m from the S-Bahn line anyway, so extends the public transport catchment area significantly. It’s not some kind of insidious attempt to undermine the existing S-Bahn network. The two can play a complementary role, much as the currently over-burdened bus corridor already does. Since you normally consider busy bus corridors as prime candidates for new tram/subway lines, I would have thought you would recognise its value.

          • Alon Levy

            My problem is that this close to the S-Bahn, it’s not a big investment priority, whereas providing service to high-density places that are not 250-300 m from the train but more like 1-1.5 km is. I don’t think it’s insidious, I just think the Berlin left took old plans for the U-Bahn designed without regard for thee S-Bahn and turned them into streetcars.

          • df1982

            Considering how cheaply Berlin is able to build tram lines, it’s not really that much of an investment, and the line makes sense in the context of their overall expansion plans (and makes way more sense than running an U-Bahn on that particular corridor, the U10 is best off heading to Wittenbergplatz and taking over the Uhlandstraße branch). I agree U-Bahn to Märkisches Viertel needs more recognition than it’s getting, but given that Berlin opened significant U-Bahn and S-Bahn extensions within the last six months you can hardly say the city isn’t doing anything with these modes.

          • wiesmann

            The Léman Express in Geneva is a basically the implementation of a treaty signed between Switzerland and France in 1912. The large loop over La Praille is due to the fact the sorting yard was built there to be close to a fluvial harbour that never materialised.

      • Herbert

        It’s an old problem of Empire.

        When they’re young and hungry, they absorb the best from around their known world (often through immigration and/or slavery). But when they’re an established power they turn increasingly insular, xenophobic and unwilling to learn from anyone outside the imperial core. It’s this xenophobia that ruined the Roman Empire in 376 CE (sic!) And similar things happened to China or Britain. China’s recent rise can indeed be attributed in no small part to its intense learning from others – to the extent that those they learned from complain about “theft”. Japan’s meteoric rise in the late 19th century had similar roots…

      • Herbert

        Where did this idiotic idea of a single track high speed line come from?

        You’re barely saving any money and you’re ruining capacity… To say nothing of safety and perceived safety… Or redundancy…

        • Benjamin Turon

          Likely its a intern step, same as Cocoa-Orlando which is graded for double-track with tunnels too, but will be single-track for a intern period of time. Actually this as been common in railroading since the Victorians, purchase right-of-way and grade for double-track, but put down a single-track till traffic justifies a second track.

          • df1982

            45min frequencies are weird though. They would only need a single additional passing loop (and two extra trainsets) to achieve a much more useful 30min frequency.

          • Alon Levy

            Was it ever a thing in Victorian England? The British main lines were generally double-track from day one, including the first railroad. The US liked single-tracking and other design compromises due to very high costs of capital in a demographically fast-growing country, but those growth rates are long gone.

          • Herbert

            There should be a comment here in the post queue, Alon can you look if it’s in the spam folder somehow?

          • Phake Nick

            They will be mostly using highway median. Is there enough space in-between highway for potential double track in the future?

          • Herbert

            Highway median is another dumb 🇺🇸 idea – highways have narrower curves and steeper grades than high speed railways and wherever you need to diverge from the highway, you need expensive crossing buildings – where European countries build rail lines near highways, they build them next to them to allow easier diversion where the need arises

        • Phake Nick

          In Japan there are also some single track high speed line proposal popping up in recent years
          I guess that’s the consequences when there are limited demand and uncertain source of funding that make a line hard to justify yet they still want to build such a line regardless and hence trying to cut corners everywhere in order to make the investment appears justifiable?

        • Henry Miller

          45 minutes puts the passing track around Baker, CA (pop 735). May as well put in a station there for the 1 person/week who wants to get off – a station that you always stop at is a lot cheaper than the amount of double track you need to pass at full speed with reasonable margin for safety. I’m guessing that by chance someone high up has family in that town (or possibly political connections to the town?). The only sane reason to do such weird frequencies is find an excuse for a stop right there.

          Seriously, anyone thinking about single track to save money needs to plan where they will pass. Then reward the nearest insignificant town with a station they don’t otherwise deserve. The passing track will cost a bit over $100 million with good cost control (that is cost above what you already are spending on single track). You should be able to build a station for a lot less than that. If you can use the Swiss as fast as necessary model to adjust the station to someplace a little more deserving so much the better (doesn’t seem like there is anything else in the area in this case).

          Do not read the above as me thinking this is a good idea. I don’t think it is completely insane, but it is only a step removed. I think you need 20 minute headways to make even single track HSR worthwhile, there are too many fixed costs that you need riders to pay for. If you are marginal enough to barely be able to make 20 minute headways work, then yeah single track the whole thing – it won’t be the best possible investment but sometimes your other investments are even worse for some reason so you take what you can get and at least you can make some money.

          Come to think of it, even if the models showed 45 minute headways I’d run shorter trains on 20 minute headways because the convenience for potential customers will attract a small bumb in riders.

          • Phake Nick

            When you can run 3 trains / hour, wouldn’t this already be too much high speed train for a single track system to handle?

          • Henry Miller

            @Phake Nick

            No, but it does require great operations planning. You have to know where your passing places are upfront, and be willing to forever lock into them, as you cannot change – even if you buy better trains your speed is locked in. You daily schedule is set up front before the first track is installed because the schedule is dictated by where the trains need to be in order to pass each other.

            I haven’t seen official guidance, but at 300kmh I calculate you need 25km of dual track to allow time for the train coming the other way to clear the switch and the switch to complete the switch so you can continue at speed, while still allowing enough space for an emergency stop if anything goes wrong. This 25 km is very much open for someone else to fact check! Faster trains need more distance of course.

            The cost to go from single to dual track seems to be about $5 million/km. So about $125 million to put in these dual track. Or you can just come to a complete stop, open the doors at some town along the way – much less dual track is needed this way (no safety buffer in case the other train isn’t on time – you just stay stopped longer) so you can pay for a station wherever this happens to be.

            Note that this about is about exactly 3TPH. While the math allows for others numbers, you shouldn’t do that. I believe 3 TPH is a sweet spot, where you need this much cost control. Even then is should be 3 TPH with no foreseeable future of needing more, as you have no room to change service levels without dual tracking the whole thing.

            At 4 TPH the flexibility of operations will more than make up the cost of dual track: you need only one special event that could use more service to make it all work, not to mention there will always be times that some train is late and dual track the whole way gives you opportunity to make up lost time. Plus you don’t save as much anyway since you are running more dual track in total.

            At 2 TPH you don’t have enough ROI to pay for even single track. There are a few exceptions here, but they are getting full enough to consider running 3 TPH at peak times so just run 3 TPH all day and have better service for everyone.

            You can of course disagree. The real world is messy, and so you will discover something doesn’t quite fit neatly into the numbers I gave. This will force different results for you. And of course you might decide one of the numbers I used above is wrong and that changes everything.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Spain to open first single-track high-speed line: THE Spanish Ministry of Public Works and Transport confirmed this week that the 162.7km Valladolid – Palencia – León high-speed line will be officially inaugurated on September 29.
            Sep 25, 2015 Written by Fernando Puente

            This will be the first of several high-speed lines in Spain which will open with only a single track installed – despite being designed and built for double track – in a bid to minimise construction and maintenance costs on those routes in where demand will be well below capacity. The line is double track between Valladolid, Venta de Baños and the outskirts of Palencia, but around half of the 110km stretch from Palencia to León will be single track.

            International Railway Journal

          • Herbert

            Spain already has the second longest hsr system in the world despite being a country of only sixty million. What they are currently building is – for domestic travel at least – quite marginal and often “political”.

            As for the passing loops… Are there any workable switches that can be run through at 300 km/h on the diverging path?

          • Benjamin Turon

            The planned TGV line in Argentina was to be single track, with a section of double track at the midpoint for trains to pass. There is also the Bothnia Line in Sweden which is 125-mph (250 km/hr designed speed) but single track.

            Buenos Aires–Rosario–Córdoba high-speed railway

            Bothnia Line

            I’m a bit surprise that no one remembers these examples, and during Victorian times I do recall “some” lines were built single track around the world, but with most of the grading, bridges, and tunnels built for future double track as it was expected it would be needed in a few years, but initially single track would do, and that delayed some costs till later, which for private enterprise is a useful thing. Reading about the the rail lines that would become the New York Central, a few lines like the Schenectady and Utica and parts of the Hudson River Railroad were graded for double track but initially only a single track was laid, with a second track coming shortly after as traffic grew. It’s unsurprising that private HSR projects are doing the same.

          • df1982

            @HenryMiller: Baker, CA does have the Tallest Thermometer in the World, so there’s that as an attraction for people stopping in the town. But seriously, since they’re doing the engineering for double-track line, installing the second track can be done as soon as frequencies ramp up to 3 or 4tph. So they’re not as locked into it as much as you describe. I still think it’s a pretty dumb idea though.

          • Henry Miller

            @Herbert –

            Do the switches exist that can do 300 km/h is a great question that I don’t know.

            They might need to be designed at additional cost. I allowed 1 full minute for the switch to complete the entire operation of detecting the other train is past, switching tracks, doing verification, and then signaling the other train all is okay. I think existing switches can do this in just a few seconds, though I’ve seen mono-rail switches that need in the tens of seconds for the operation. Thus I think that it is reasonable to say we can make the switches even if nobody does – though that additional cost pushes us away from actually doing it on an already marginal line.

            Of course you can just slow the train down for the switch – the slower you go the less passing track is needed which save money at the expense of time. The ultimate of this is come to a complete stop where you only need as much length as one train – and again you may as well build a station right there to let people on/off while you are stopped.

            With 3 TPH line we are not looking at crowded conditions where you might want to trade less doors for more seats so this stop should only at a couple minutes to total travel time, and if you have to slow down anyway it is adding even less.

          • Herbert

            Wouldn’t the switch be longer the faster the speed? And wouldn’t a longer switch be harder and slower to move?

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          The idiotic idea of a single-track high-speed line comes from an accountant, financier or a spreadsheet.

          The capitalization of infrastructure is done at a unit cost level. For financial planning purposes, it would be a track mile. So would depreciation, amortization and maintenance of way.

          The Brightline project of L.A. to Las Vegas via the Antelope and Victor Valleys would be in the ballpark of 300 miles for the right of way itself. Now guideways, on the other hand, would be 600 miles (300 miles x 2 tracks).

          Maintenance would be an operations cost because we can reasonably expect it to recur and maintenance is unavoidable. Depreciation and amortization refer to definite costs (i.e., a timeline we can know and plan for with a beginning and end). Depreciation is life cycle of the physical assets. Amortization is life cycle of the financial instruments to pay for everything.

          Maintenance costs are not necessarily double, because some maintenance costs are fixed (you’ll probably need the same amount of signals, crossing arms and right of way fencing if you have one track or two) while the track is variable and corresponds to how much is used.

          Depreciation and amortization, on the other hand, are more than double. Money has a time value that’s embedded in interest rates, which compound. The Rule of 72 gives a crude but accurate guide to how long it takes an investment to double. If the train were financed with a 2% bond, it would take roughly 36 years before interest matched the principal, thereby doubling the investment. Public works projects like these are usually financed on 30- to 40-year timelines.

          If the train operators don’t foresee intense ridership that requires such high frequencies to justify constant use of tracks, then they take on less financial risk by opting for single track operation, with some strategically placed second tracks to allow for passings or overtakes.

    • barbarian2000

      The Northeast Maglev is technically viable, but also a terrible idea to build

        • Eric2

          Because a HSR route already exists. With affordable optimizations (as detailed on this site), this HSR route can achieve ~3:15 from DC-Boston and half that from NYC to either end – very attractive numbers. In contrast, maglev would require building an entire route from scratch, including all the city center stations (underground!) and all the underwater tunnels. The expense would be 10-100 times higher, and the gains in travel time unimpressive.

          • Phake Nick

            Isn’t capacity also a problem? Is there enough capacity on improved existing line to run, say, 10x extra high speed trains/hr/direction, in addition to all the regional trains on the line?
            And I believe a vast majority of proposed section of NE Maglev project will be underground – at least in the first section between DC and Baltimore it will only have a short stretch near highway that’s not underground, everything else will be underground, but they’re considering an elevated station near the edge of urban area of Baltimore

          • Onux

            There is an argument to be made for a Maglev line heading from NYC south to DC. From there the speed advantage of Maglev makes it viable to continue to Florida/Atlanta/Chicago/etc. (via different routes) and actually capture passengers from air. Even excluding the far west, the US has intercity distances that generally don’t exist in Europe or Japan. They’re too far for HSR but Maglev could do it.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            Onux, maglev might be a hard sell because it is facing the Concorde problem. Too fast for its own good.

            Speed was the paramount problem for the European engineers who conceived of the Concorde, but it came with so many trade-offs that it ended up being limited in its routing (only over the Atlantic ocean because the sonic booms it generated effectively pre-empted overland flying) and its use-case limited it to the Davos set.

            The economic problem comes in switching costs: The use of proprietary magnetic levitation guideway vs. steel rail guideways, which is public domain knowledge and ingenious in its simplicity, as well as allowing vehicles of a compatible gauge to use it. Magnetic levitation would need to get underneath the costs of a track-mile or track-kilometer, either from day one or eventually (see the cost curve of solar power vs. coal), or it would need to produce an even-greater savings in some other routine cost (operations or maintenance) to make it financially worthwhile to switch.

            Maglev doesn’t appear to have any of those payback advantages over conventional rail. A proprietary technology like maglev gives its owners incentives to make prices go up, rather than down. Energy costs are going to be comparably high for maglev and high-speed rail, since a lot of energy is going to be required for the speed of moving heavy objects and the matter within them. Maglev would have to be substantially energy efficient to justify its cost premium. Maintenance? Specialized technology commands a price premium for wages. Operations? Unions are still dominant in the transportation realm, and effectively their collective bargaining agreements set the price for wages and work rules — regardless of whether workers belong to a union. Customers will also expect some level of human-provided service, be it a conductor, station agent, red cap, security guard, etc.

          • Phake Nick

            @Bobson Dugnutt According to news from multiple years ago the problem of speciality/proprietary technology is actually a big factor why JR Central want to build a maglev in NEC, because they want commonality with their own system in Japan in order to build up the economic of scale, so they’re giving the technology to the NE maglev project for free
            Also, Concorde’s problem isn’t because it is “too fast for its own good”, instead it is because it is breaking sonic barrier, and thus requiring excessive fuel and maintenance that make it uneconomical for mass market, making it only be able to sell itself to premium travellers, combined with sonic boom issue mean it’s only sellable to premium trans-ocean barrier, and that is the reason why it have a very limited market and ended up in failure.
            JR Central’s maglev, according to their own words, is supposedly have lower operational cost than conventional maglev, mainly due to no high speed wheel moving on track and thus reduced wearing

          • Henry Miller

            The problem with maglev is the limits of HSR are not wheels, but wind resistance, and the pantrograph to get power. At least some maglevs trains are still using a pantrograph. It has been suggested that maglev is lower maintenance. If it allows running longer hours this might be worth the additional cost. If that isn’t true though, maglev just doesn’t really have anything.

            Now if the vaccum train takes off then things change. You need maglev to get the speeds vacuum trains seem to offer. However vacuum trains are so far an interesting idea that isn’t quite ready for the real world. This could change, I’m making no predictions on if they become ready this year or need another 500 years of development.

          • adirondacker12800

            People in the real world come up with “it’s a bad idea to be operating things at 600mph/1000kph that close to a steel tube strong enough to resist a partial vacuum.” And it costs a lot of money to maintain the partial vacuum.

        • jcranmer

          There’s an existing ROW which is mostly sufficient for HSR; outside of Connecticut, it’s good enough that you mostly need to focus on adjusting a curve here and there or rebuilding track beds and infrastructure to higher standards. With the possible exception of Baltimore, all of the major cities are already covered with city-center stations that are well-connected with the local transit networks. You don’t need to carve expensive routes (whether by condemning urban lands or making long tunnels underneath everything) on a greenfield route.

          Capacity issues on the NEC aren’t all that much of an issue. In practice, most of the seeming capacity issues are actually poor operational practices. We probably need more tunnels under the Hudson (but not nowhere near as imminently as Amtrak wants).

          The other issue is that there’s a lot of NEC-adjacent corridors that are improved by through-running onto the NEC anyways (e.g., present-day Virginia routes, proposed SE HSR); making there be a forced transfer weakens those routes.

          • adirondacker12800

            They needed more tunnels under the Hudson in the late 90s.

    • Mark N.

      The Japanese involvement in Texas Central doesn’t seem to me to have brought any real planning smarts to the project. After my initial excitement about it (especially since I’ve traveled the I-45 route between Dallas and Houston countless times, both by car and by plane), once I learned the details my enthusiasm dropped significantly.

      It’s a great disappointment, and I think failure, that the project doesn’t utilize existing infrastructure at the terminal destinations. Dallas’ Union Station is already an Amtrak stop and serves as the hub for DART as well as the rail connections to DFW Airport and Fort Worth. The station planned by Texas Central is at least near downtown and has a DART stop fairly close, but it will still needlessly add to the inconvenience of making connections. In Houston the situation is far worse, with the station being built far out on Loop 610, miles from downtown and any existing Metro line. Sure, the current downtown Amtrak station is piddly, but it’s a missed opportunity to not create a new downtown station to accommodate both Amtrak and the new HSR line.

      The chosen route is also a great mystery to me, having a single, intermediary stop in the boondocks a half-hour drive away from the nearest city. It’s obvious the planners are wanting to split the difference and serve both Huntsville and College Station/Bryan equally, but why? The latter is over five times bigger in population than the former and boasts the second-largest university in the US. For that matter, why not take the line from College Station to Waco before proceeding on to Dallas? It would add a little time to the overall journey, but would not only provide many more route possibilities, but also the first leg of a future line running down the I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio.

      Given these grave mistakes, I’ll be surprised if this project doesn’t go bust.

      • Herbert

        Downtown real estate is expensive. Getting there with a rail line even more so…

        • Mark N.

          Expensive because of the high demand for the location due to its great utility. For a work of essential infrastructure which will (hopefully) be used for a century or more, an expense worth paying for.

          • Benjamin Turon

            If your trying to make a profit as a private enterprise, then expenses not just subtract from profit, it can doom the entire endeavor. Of course it would be great for the government to partner with the private project to fund improvement that while broadly beneficial can’t be funded by the for-profit company, you see Brightline doing these public-private partnerships in Florida. For Dallas I do see the issue with Union Station. Also how will Texas Central interface with the Dallas-Arlington-Ft Worth HSR project? Could a elevated and climate control walkway be built? Or a people mover? That would seem to benefit everyone.

      • Phake Nick

        The Japanese project cannot comply with US safety standard, because the Shinkansen train is built around being able to avoid collision and being light weight and save energy and all that. To be able to comply with American railway safety standard it would require designing a whole new set of train specifically for use in Texas which the Japanese companies is not interested in. Instead, they tried to import the Japanese ruleset into America, and succeeded in doing so, as they showed that Shinkansen’s operation in Japan is safe enough that it should be safe enough to use the Japanese rule instead of American railroad safety rule for such Shinkansen system. They have succeeded, but the consequence is that such Shinkansen system can only run its dedicated train on its dedicated track and no through-running is possible. The Japanese companies don’t think it is a big problem because that’s what they have always been doing in Japan barring a few Mini Shinkansen.
        As for building into existing terminals, according to my memory of what I have read from Texas Central document, other than the big extra cost of doing so, another problem is that there will be no extra space for development opportunity.
        As for Amtrak, isn’t there only a few daily long distance vanity train operated by Amtrak out of either cities? I don’t think that can add any meaningful number to the proposed HSR system ridership that can make the extra cost of doing so worthwhile.
        As for intermediate stops, I would have guess the route alignment is decided based on identifying the main market being between Dallas and Houston, and that a detour would not just increase the construction cost and operational cost due to it being physically longer, but also that ridership potentially can be gained from these smaller cities are not large enough to make such cost worthwhile, and thus they add an intermediate station nearby to symbolically serve anyone who eagerly want to take the train from those places

        • Benjamin Turon

          The Texas Central is limited by being a private project, so it can’t speed billions on urban tunnels or demolition, following instead existing utility, highway, and railroad right-of-ways to avoid high costs. Some of the “Shin” stations on the Shinkansen in Japan are also located pretty far from city centers and existing rail stations, and the same is true of the Taiwan Shinkansen. Both Japan and Taiwan however have more passenger rail infrastructure to link up with than Texas. Some of these better connections and stations would in Dallas and Houston need public grant money to make happen.

          • Alon Levy

            At the big cities, nearly all Japanese stations are in city centers. The major exception is Shin-Osaka, which is a few km from Umeda, not on the Moon like the Houston station.

          • Phake Nick

            I guess they’re trying to gather demand from the vast sea of suburban by locating the station next to the highway loop
            JR Central is doing the same to smaller local stations on their upcoming Chuo Shinkansen line in Japan, most notably their station at Yamanashi, which have become a political topic and their local government have did a reassessment on the station location. The reassessment from local government on the location of Chuo Shinkansen station in Yamanashi found that 60% passengers anticipated to use the station will visit the station by using automobiles, and thus it’s more convenient to more people by placing the station next to highway interchange exit instead of near conventional rail line.
            The rationale for the location of the Houston station is probably similar?
            And the Houston station location is still within single digit km straight line distance from downtown Houston?

          • Benjamin Turon

            According to Google its 14 mins (7.4 miles) from the Texas Central Station to Downtown Houston, so closer than the George Bush Int. Airport which 21 minutes (20 miles) from downtown and Hobby Airport which is 20 mins (11 miles). The station is on the site of a dead mall, providing a big space lacking along the railroad ROW in downtown near the Amtrak station. A station is doable there, but would require more money than Texas Central can spend, and Houston is so sprawling auto-centric city that it matters a bit less anyways, and they will pretty much trigger the creation of a “edge city” like Century City in LA or Tysons Corner outside DC.

          • Benjamin Turon

            I don’t think the Houston station location is “on the Moon”, its got good expressway access and is closer to the CBD than the airports are, a lot of big employers and attractions are scattered about the city, including the Teaxs Medical Center, NRG Park, The Galleria, and the NASA Johnson Space Center. Its not ideal not having a downtown station in Houston, but it likely comes down to money.

            Geographic areas of Houston

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, that’s where the privatization of planning really hurts. There’s easy right-of-way, it just requires the barest of coordination with legacy rail.

          • Benjamin Turon

            My guess is that given the large about of land on the station site and Houston’s fast growth, there are plans to developed all the land around the station pretty quickly with high-rise towers and such, like the Uptown district to the south. And if built, the city will likely move to build a rapid transit connection… eventually…

            Houston Station Site Plan

            Station Site Google Maps

          • Herbert

            The federal railroad administration no longer requires “buff strength”

          • adirondacker12800

            Yeah, that’s where the privatization of planning really hurts.
            Or maybe they realize it’s Houston not Manhattan and where they build the enormous parking lots doesn’t really matter much. Perhaps even that putting them someplace where the traffic isn’t quite as bad is “better”.

          • Alon Levy

            The problem is that even in Houston, there’s a concentration of destinations in city center – actually somewhat more than in Dallas, which is getting a much better-located station.

          • Phake Nick

            On Texas Central webpage they explain the station location at Houston by saying “Studies show the center of the population base in Houston is north and west of the Central Business District.”, and then also cited “roadway access” and “connect seamlessly with other forms of transportation, whether that be automobile/taxis/ride share or the bus system” as rationale

          • Eric2

            Yes it is good that Houston is getting a station in the Uptown/Galleria area, near the population center and a secondary business center. And yes the best place to put a station in Houston is downtown.

            Those are not contradictory. It will always be possible to extend the line a few more km to downtown, once the original line has proven itself. In fact, once that happens, there may be momentum and funding for a high-quality underground station right in the middle of downtown (at the light rail junction), whereas right now that’s completely unrealistic and the best we could have gotten would be a station at the edge of downtown.

          • Mark N.

            According to Google its 14 mins (7.4 miles) from the Texas Central Station to Downtown Houston, so closer than the George Bush Int. Airport which 21 minutes (20 miles) from downtown and Hobby Airport which is 20 mins (11 miles).

            This represents only a very slight time difference for a project which is spending billions to compete with the air options and even according to TC, will cost about the same. I don’t know how familiar you are with traffic in Houston, but Loop 610 and Katy Freeway both repeatedly rank among the worst highways in and around Houston for traffic jams (usually much worse than connections between downtown and Hobby). And since no Metro lines run anywhere near the planned station, anyone arriving or departing during rush hour will just be SOTL. I would hope that the legacy track near the site could be used utilized as a light-rail connector into downtown — that would at least be an improvement.

          • Phake Nick

            Click to access Last-Mile-Analysis.pdf

            P.53-54 in the report is their analysis to the currently selected station site in Houston. P.55-57 is for if it is to be extended to Union Station.
            The cost would be about 6% higher out of the overall cost of extension into Houston, but they think extending to downtown can only further boost ridership by about 2% over the selected station site

          • Mark N.

            @Phake_Nick, well I’ve thumbed through a number of their studies upon which they base their projections, and there’s frankly a bunch of overblown BS in them. They’re actually anticipating ridership to attain a full 35% of all travel between DFW and Houston — not just of current air travel. That’s simply crazy beans. They base all this on comparisons of travel between Asian and European urban centers, which are not only far more densely populated than either DFW or Houston, but also already provide extensive local transportation systems which connect with intercity rail. Depending upon the time of day, a pretty large part of the DFW metroplex residents will need an hour or more just to get to the HSR station. The situation is even worse in Houston since the planned location isn’t served by any public transit at all.

            Of course it’s still another question why anyone in College Station would bother driving the half hour to Roans Prairie to hop on a train when they could only drive a half hour more and reach the outskirts of Houston.

          • adirondacker12800

            ……. Loop 610 and Katy Freeway both repeatedly rank among the worst highways in and around Houston for traffic jams ……drive a half hour more and reach the outskirts of Houston….
            All of you have to get together and decide whether or not traffic is awful or traffic isn’t a problem.

          • Phake Nick

            @Mark N. Like many stations serving area that are not large cities in Japan, it is not surprising for such a station to be in the middle of nowhere. This is a result of deciding that traffic between major cities is the most important market and secondary markets doesn’t worth extra cost to properly serve with the added detour. One can argue is this the most beneficial thing to the place it is serving but it is most likely a good thing to the balance sheet

          • Phake Nick

            @Mark N.
            Sorry my previous reply was not intended for your latest reply in this comment chain. Although it still answer the question about College Station, which is I don’t think they actually expect much to use it.
            As for able to capture 35% of all travel – I think that is probably taken into account the weaker demand already? Since if it’s in Europe or East Asia, the share of train rider will most likely be much more than 35% on this distance, and the proposed service level by Texas Central on the route is also lower than that suggested by Alon’s model which was based on passenger movement between European and East Asian cities.
            In addition, smaller local Japanese cities are also quite car-centric as some other comments have pointed out

        • Mark N.

          Currently Amtrak trains run infrequently, but things we build now should be done so to anticipate what might be reality in the future. If HSR ends up being in Amtrak’s future, then it would make the most sense now to expand upon and coordinate with any existing infrastructure. Perhaps at some point there could even be a high-speed East-West tangent through Dallas (roughly following I-20) to Fort Worth (and onwards) in one direction and Shreveport in the other. Perhaps a line northwards from Dallas to Oklahoma City might at some point be considered. How would the Texas Central station coordinate with such potential projects? What becomes of Union Station (in the heart of downtown Dallas) then?

          And leaving the pie-in-the-sky stuff aside for the moment, the closest DART stop will still be about a 4-block walk from the planned station. That to me is a clear lost opportunity to integrate the project into Dallas’ public-transportation system, which will very likely affect ridership negatively. Especially now that everyone has in their hands technology which easily compares travel options, such inconveniences and delays will result in this travel option frequently landing on the bad end of the comparison.

          Of course I can only speculate about the reasons why Texas Central has decided against utilizing existing infrastructure (which, I argue, would be in the long-term interest of the cities they serve), but I strongly suspect that a significant part of their financial calculations are based upon the stations serving as profit centers. Any agreement involving compromises and maybe some sort of leasing arrangement with existing facility owners would diminish the ability of TC to retrieve revenue from the stations. If this is indeed the case, that represents a fundamental weakness of strictly privately financed projects of this type.

          • Benjamin Turon

            @Mark N. Yup, the downside of a private project. However it would help if Texas and the local city governments would do what you see in Florida, with the state highway authority, Orlando airport authority, and several municipalities partnering with Brightline. Texas could built the section of necessary elevated high-speed line from the current Texas Central station to downtown Houston and then lease it long-term to the railway (you know how Japan builds it Shinkansen lines) solving the problem of service the CBD. Honestly Houston is better off with two stations than one, so its a win-win for everyone. Likely once it opens Texas Central will be popular and the state will want more HSR, but to build them (like in France after the TGV Sud-Est) public financing will be necessary, indeed Texas Central is target low-interest long-term federal loans for the Houston-Dallas line.

          • Phake Nick

            According to my understanding, the Dallas station site selection is specially selected with a potential extension to Fort Worth in mind. Any extension of high speed rail service in Texas will likely be an extension to the Texas Central system instead of extension on Amtrak track.
            > How would the Texas Central station coordinate with such potential projects? What becomes of Union Station (in the heart of downtown Dallas) then?
            Of course their new station will become the new hub for passenger transportation if it happens
            > I strongly suspect that a significant part of their financial calculations are based upon the stations serving as profit centers
            Obviously this is the case, similar to how JR Central decided to serve Shinagwa instead of Tokyo station with their Chuo Shinkansen, but one need to think about possible alternatives if they didn’t decide to put in private money into the project then who will put their money in? Given that the local government there most likely won’t fund such project, the alternative to private investment would probably be no investment and thus no rail would be built

          • Mark N.

            @Phake_Nick, if the Dallas TC station were to become the central hub of a future HSR network,* it’s being built nearly a mile from the central hub of Dallas’ mass transit system and nearly a quarter mile from the nearest light-rail stop would exemplify the subject of Alon’s post.

            * Due to the many problems I’ve listed, I believe Texas Central won’t attain the ridership upon which its financial projections depend and is therefore doomed to fail.

          • Phake Nick

            If the project is successful then it will turn itself into a new transit hub overtaking the status of existing hub

          • Mark N.

            @Phake_Nick, I don’t know, it seems like an unnecessary and expensive ask to me to have DART expand its system in order to better integrate TC’s station into the network when the HSR line could just be extended less than a mile and avoid all that while getting people to the heart of downtown.

            I wonder if you’ve looked at the location of the Brazos Valley Station. Does this really look like a likely stop for a billion-dollar rail project to you?


          • Phake Nick

            @Mark N.
            If the city see the need of paying for local transit network expansion then it’ll obviously paid by the city instead of the intercity railway company, you can say it is part of a consequence of cities not paying for the train route and terminal and thus losing the power in deciding how the station should match existing infrastructure, and end up having to pay for the cost of integration themselves later.
            As for the middle station, it isn’t really special for middle station of high speed lines around the world, especially when the purpose is not to serve the local demand but is instead to provide a station for nearby residents such that they don’t feel being left out

  3. Phake Nick

    Isn’t Northeast Maglev getting JR Central’s backing and will run the exact same type of train as Chuo Shinkansen?

    As for mobility on demand, doesn’t it have its place in area which are so rural that cannot even support a few bus departure each day? Although I am not sure what the FTA is trying to achieve here

      • adirondacker12800

        I want to know why they think going to the airport is important. Any of them.

        • Benjamin Turon

          The space shuttle ends where the subway begins
          Praise the lord theres a train leavin soon
          From dusk until dawn they have searched all day long
          But theres too many clues in this room

          — Gordon Lightfoot

          Too Many Clues in This Room

        • Alon Levy

          Because that’s the only time they might ride a train? Paris has the same problem, the modal split might be 43% regionwide but the wealthiest people drive and think the RER is dirty and full of people with the wrong skin color.

          • Phake Nick

            Both the Chuo Shinkansen in Japan as well as the NE Maglev project in the US seems to prioritize proximity to highway when they select station site, even more than transfer ability to other modes of rail transit…

          • Sassy

            @Phake Nick

            For the Chuo Shinkansen, I’m guessing they don’t care about stations other than in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, and maybe Sagamihara. The rest of the stations are positioned to prioritize ease of construction and not deviating from the optimal route, as an offering to the prefectural governments in exchange for being allowed to build the thing. I’ll laugh so hard if they add a truly middle of nowhere station in a corner of Shizuoka. A maglev hikyo eki would be a sight to see.

          • Phake Nick

            Like I said in another reply, in Yamanashi’s case, while prioritizing ease of construction they also have an alternative option to move the station somewhere near a station on the local rail line Minobu Line. But they still gave up that and selected a station location closer to highway interchange instead.

        • Phake Nick

          One of the key part of Chuo Shinkansen project is to eliminate airlines competitor on the same route. For the NEC, if they want to do the same, it would also need to bring people who connect to flight via other airports in the region into the train instead of on connecting flights, which I guess that is how the airport station at BWI and EWR can be useful. And for the first segment between Baltimore and DC, it is not going to have huge ridership due to only serving two stations and a projected fare of US$1/mile, thus also serving the airport can both attract more passengers and have more chance to demonstrate the project until the rest of the project is completed.

          • adirondacker12800

            If I’m flying from someplace that won’t have a maglev station to someplace that won’t have a maglev station why do I care if there is a maglev station at the hub airport? That is very unlikely to be at my gate and would involve a bus or people mover?

          • Phake Nick

            According to official document, the proposed maglev will tunnel right underneath the Baltmore BWI airport, with platform located right underneath the terminals, and the station building will replace the airport parking lot that’s currently surrounded by terminals.
            And the thing here is not whether individual care or not, but if this option provide enough convenience for enough people (i.e. passengers heading to downtown station, take the maglev to the hub airport, then fly to destination [compares to riding other transportation to local airport then get a connection flight to destination]), the number of people taking the transfer flight of let say DCA-EWR-BRU will decrease to an extent that airlines will no longer find operating flights like DCA-EWR profitable, and as a result would have a potential of maglev winning the monopoly status on the route, forcing anyone who don’t wish to drive/bus between any two cities along the line to take either the maglev or other rail instead

          • Benjamin Turon

            Long-term BWI is a good location for park n ride, as you now see at the nearby Amtrak/MARC station at BWI. Overall I think we don’t need maglev BosWash when we can just rebuild and expand the NEC. Maybe they should go to Atlanta or Chicago instead, the very high speed would fit well for distance covered, and we can build a West Virginia station for Sen. Joe Manchin 🙂 lol…

          • Herbert

            Airports make a large share of their revenue with parking. It’s the only parking that comes even close to charging market rates…

          • adirondacker12800

            If I’m starting out in metro Baltimore and I want to get to Brussels why does the train station have to be at the airport? At this moment, things can change rapidly, why would I fly out of Newark when there is a non-stop out of Dulles?

          • Phake Nick

            @adirondacker12800 What about destinations that don’t? Not to mention sometimes airlines from different airports also offer different schedule to try to draw different passengers. Connecting flights is the main way for airlines to draw such type of passengers, and since those flights would also take local passengers, they would compete against high speed railway. By connecting the railway directly to hub airports, it can save an additional transfer, making not just passengers have fewer reason to pick a connecting flight but also for airlines to have fewer reason to operate as much connecting flight against high speed railway. And when airlines offer fewer frequency or they might even cancel their service due to ability of high speed railway serving connection passengers, local point to point passengers will also no longer able to catch such a flight since they will no longer be offered, thus these intercity passengers will be forced to switch to other modes including high speed railway with those flights no longer operated for connecting passengers.

          • Phake Nick

            @adirondacker12800 As you said, it is dynamic as airlines change their route network every so often. Brussels is being given as a random European city example, whether it is a unique destination in real life at the current moment or in the future is not my concern. but it is simply to reflect one reason that passengers would use short haul flight to connect to another hub airport in the region, despite their destination is not in the region.

          • adirondacker12800

            You don’t seem to understand the question: Why do they have to go to the airport to not-get on an airplane? They can not-get on a airplane in many many many places not-the-airport.

          • Herbert

            Airfare in Europe tends to be cheaper than in the U.S. because pax have more options. If you don’t like the deal you are getting for FRA-LIN, you can easily take a train to some other airport and fly to BGY instead…

          • Henry Miller

            @ adirondacker12800

            I think the thinking is backwards. It isn’t locals who need to go to the airport. It is those far away. Lets take an airport that is a major hub: those who live in that city can get the HSR anywhere, and so they would prefer a station that is better located . Those arriving at the airport from a different continent (ie any other place where flying is the only option) won’t need HSR in the first place, just local transport. The people left are different though.

            There are people who live in a small city close enough to the hub airport that HSR is viable. Those that want to go to the city want a central location close to their destination (but note some will drive anyway so they have a car when they get there). However some of these people are going to the big city to get on an airplane, and so HSR at the airport is the useful destination. Likewise, some of the people traveling through the hub airport want to get to one of those other small cities, and they too would find a airport station useful.

            The Metcalfe’s law predicts about 900 people a day between Chicago and Moline. I know from flying that route (final destination India) that about 200-300 people are flying it every day, and I doubt many of those people are trying to get to Chicago – they would just drive (or take a bus I didn’t check how many do that). On the other hand, I also know from experience that security is so much faster in Moline than Chicago that if I’m flying nationally I’m going to fly from Moline as the total trip time is a lot faster. Flying international through Chicago means a different terminal and so you go through security again, so HSR is faster. Unless of course the plane is sold out, so there are also some last minute travelers who can get from the hub to where ever, but not to the hub.

            The above analysis repeats for every station along the way, some people are going to the city for the hub airport, and some for the rest of the city. If it is easy to get from HSR to the airport some people will split the trip that way.

            There is potential for the HSR station and the airport, but only if it is on the way anyway. Chicago to Milwaukee should look at a route that stops by O’Hare (it isn’t very out of the way, but still not on the way – thus rejecting it is sane but it needs to be considered), but the Moline route should get a timed transfer to something as O’Hare isn’t as on the way (or maybe not – we can argue that out latter once there is enough HSR to think about this marginal route)

          • Phake Nick

            @adirondacker12800 They still need an airplane to destinations outside the corridor, but they can skip the connecting flight part

          • adirondacker12800

            Northeast maglev isn’t going to be serving places in the Midwest. Newark Airport and Baltimore-Washington International already have Amtrak service. Acela trains don’t stop at either of them. NJTransit express trains don’t stop at Newark Airport. They don’t stop at a lot of places which makes them express trains. Newark Airport is a peculiar train station, the only way for passengers to get to or from there is to use the airport’s people mover.

            Baltimore, Philadelphia and Newark are major hubs. People in Virginia can fly out of IAD or DCA. People in Maryland can fly out them too in addition to BWI. Even people in Virginia can fly out of BWI. If I can take MARC to BWI why do I want to fly out of EWR or PHL when I can just fly to wherever it is I’m going from BWI? If I have the peculiar urge to fly from EWR why does the train station need to be at the air terminals at BWI? If I can use NJTransit to get to EWR why would I even consider that PHL or BWI exist? Or SEPTA to PHL?

          • Phake Nick

            @adirondacker12800 You have to ask people who do take the connection air flights along the NEC corridor to destinations outside the corridor such question. My post wasn’t about why people would use such a route, but that there are people using such a route and part of these trips’ mode can be changed

          • adirondacker12800

            You are assuming people are too stupid to use the hub airport they are at.

          • adirondacker12800

            They are major hub airports. What “better” options are there?

          • Phake Nick

            Being a hub airport doesn’t mean they have flights to every airport across the world on airlines from all aviation alliance in every hour around the clock

          • Eric2

            “If I can use NJTransit to get to EWR why would I even consider that PHL or BWI exist?”

            Having the option of multiple airports increases competition and reduces prices. This is a big effect, when I lived on the East Coast I would often go one airport away for cheaper prices.

          • adirondacker12800

            to every airport across the world on airlines from all aviation alliance in every hour around the clock
            That’s too bad isn’t it? If you aren’t lucky enough to have direct service to East Coast airports you can change planes someplace not the Northeast.
            I would often go one airport away for cheaper prices.
            I can’t use my one zone NJTransit bus card to get to PHL. Anytime I’ve checked prices it doesn’t save any money because I have to go to the remote airport. A train to the airport isn’t going to be free.

    • Sassy

      Texas Central is also JR Central and Renfe. I don’t think either of the witnesses really represent their foreign backers though.

    • Herbert

      “Mobility on demand” in many parts of Germany means “there’s a schedule, but the bus will only come if you call ahead and it may be a cab for the bus fare”

      That’s not particularly innovative and it is either “service on Sundays” kinda stuff or baseline service for the poor, desperate, elderly etc.

      • Max Wyss

        In very low-density area, this is the preferred solution.

        I know of a place in France, where a valley, about 25 km long has a few villages, with a combined population of maybe 500. The regional bus operator has an on-demand service, with (if I remember correctly) a reaction time of approximately one hour. They are using a minibus/van for that service, and connect to the kind of regular other services.

        So, do not diss on-demand services per se.

  4. Gok

    I feel like you’re reading a lot into a clause in a sentence on a web page. The entire reference to on-demand is

    “Increase our understanding of promising practices in transit innovation by studying international experiences and participating in strategic conferences – especially in the areas of automation and mobility on demand”

    Automation is in fact something the FTA should be looking into in particular, and surely in general you agree they should be studying international experiences and participating in conferences.

    As to congress…Texas Central and NE Maglev essentially are JR Central projects. The executives testifying to congress were installed precisely to do things like testify to congress in words congresspeople understand and want to hear.

    • Herbert

      How does Congress decide whom to call as a witness? Can a single member of Congress call a witness?

      • Nilo

        A committee chair extends an invite to someone to testify, or in case where they are unwilling issues a subpoena.

        • Henry Miller

          Problem is the people we need to testify are not in the US, and at best have English as a second language. Getting them to testify is hard, and a subpoena might be possible, but it would be an international incident at least.

          • Phake Nick

            But what are those people going to be testifying? I don’t think it would be detailed technical explanation on what is the best way to actually build high speed rail, given the track record of how past testimony of famous companies in US Congress have went, and thus technical knowledge and best practice might not be the necessary focus here

          • Henry Miller

            Well the title is “The Benefits and Challenges of High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies”, so people that have actually seen benefits and real challenges are a lot more able to comment on what those really are. Even where there are unique American challenges I have to believe that they are not that unique and so other countries have at least a little experience in solving them.

            Then again, titles and what the hearing is really about may not be very related.

  5. Robert Jackel

    How does this factor in companies like Keolis, who manage the MBTA’s trains, and also a bunch of other systems worldwide. Presumably they could import managers who know how to run things? Would a more viable option to getting international expertise in the US just come from outsourcing functions to companies like that?

    • Herbert

      To my knowledge, Keolis doesn’t set timetables and has no expertise in that field

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      Keolis (as well as Transdev, First Transit and now RATP) is a temp agency. The objective is to win a tender and do what the contract tells them to, and not more. One of these companies has developed a kind of expertise of fastone-pulling.

      Anything they can do can be done in-house and they draw from the same employment pool. It comes down to whether the workers are put on the public ledger or the private ledger.

    • Alon Levy

      As far as I can tell, Keolis is doing an okay job with modernizing, stymied by a lot of local bullshit. The 45-minute Fairmount frequency is, I believe, a fiat from domestic managers who think working-class people don’t ride commuter trains for reasons other than “service sucks.”

  6. Benjamin Turon

    America also publishes the worse books on HSR/Modern Rail, mostly liberal puff pieces or conservative hit jobs with little substance. Most of my really good books on the subject come from Britain, with a few (in English) from France and Japan. I also took up a subscription to ‘Modern Railways’ so I could see some modern railways 🙂 lol…

  7. adirondacker12800

    And yet, here we see an FTA program attempting to learn from other countries ……
    The FTA is tasked with serving all residents everywhere. That includes people living in places you don’t like. Nor do they set their own budget. Those pesky representatives set off the whole process and they like to hear from lots of different kinds of people. Not just the ones you like. About a lot of different things.Not just the ones you like.

    • Alon Levy

      Sure? And over here, rural areas have the modal split of LA, small metro areas that in the US would self-define as not-urban have the modal split of Chicago, and large cities have modal splits better than that of New York – all without on-demand anything.

      • Phake Nick

        From Japan experience there are area even running like 3 or 5 buses a day couldn’t attract more than 1 or 2 passengers on average per bus, an on demand service would at least be meaningfully able to provide some sort of mobility who don’t want to rely on their car without wasting resources running empty buses.

  8. PeakVT

    I bring up these two different examples from the FTA and Congress because the US has trouble with learning from other places.

    Or learning from America’s own mistakes at this point. Clearly the country has a problem doing any kind of megaproject well – projects as diverse as the F-35, the Vogtle and Summer nuclear power plants, CAHSR, and SAS have all been either way over budget or complete failures. And very obviously, the country’s COVID pandemic response continues to vary widely from state-to-state, with several cycles of “opening” followed by increased infections and deaths apparently having little impact on either the populace or politicians. So I think the inability to learn is a more general problem, though learning from others has always been a weak spot due to the country’s size and isolation from most peer countries.

      • Herbert

        The only parts of NASA that work are the ones only nerds care about (robotic missions). Everything else, the Chinese are eating NASA’s lunch.

        Heck, China even beat NASA to the back side of the moon. Soon the 🇺🇸 will place second in a race they didn’t even know was on…

        • Benjamin Turon

          Actually the American space program is doing very well, and is very much ahead of China, although we mostly have Space X to thank for that, but it is being done with NASA and Pentagon money, in addition to private satellite contracts Elon Musk’s personnel fortune. It looks very much like Artemis Program will land an American woman of color on the Moon by 2025, although the tiny Orion (Crew Module + European Service Module) mothership docked to enormous Lunar Starship lander will look pretty silly.

          • Herbert

            I believe that when I see it. Meanwhile the Chinese have landed something softly on the remote side of the moon and kept it in communication with earth. And they’re building the only workable super heavy launch vehicle (long march 9)

          • Benjamin Turon

            @Herbert Actually the SLS will most likely launch a Orion capsule around the moon this year. ULA will be sending their new Vulcan heavy lift rocket into space in a few months. The JPL landed another big rover on Mars and flew a mini-helicopter. There are several US/UK/European lunar missions coming up. And then of course there is Space X…

          • Herbert

            China landed on the remote side of the moon and nobody even noticed.

          • Benjamin Turon

            @Herbert China landing on the farside of the Moon was pretty extensively covered from what I saw by the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, NHK World, The New York Times, and The Economist — plus several YouTube channels I watch like NASA Spaceflight, Scott Manley, and the Angry Astronaut.

            @ARC Good point and analogy. Yet you could also just say failure at NASA usually today involves Boeing, its the prime contractor for both SLS and the Starliner. The CaHSRA was handed over to be run by the Boeings of consultant world.


        • ARC

          You’ve said something very wise with “the only parts of NASA that work well are the parts only nerds care about”. JPL works well. Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply work well. The X-Plane programs and general aerodynamic research work well.The SLS program doesn’t. SLS is a flaming dumpster fire.

          I would assert that NASA’s successful programs are more tolerant of failure, more redundant, smaller scale, more iterative, more rapid, and less publicized. They have fewer stakeholders and are less directly tied to politics. When the program eventually succeeds or fails, the people and facilities that supported the program are reused, not disposed of.

          With SLS, NASA is attempting to go zero-to-hero on a single huge program with tons of stakeholders. Each stakeholder is dependent and no stakeholder is responsible. Like the space shuttle, even a successful SLS will inevitably be cancelled for cost reasons.

          With robotics, there are few stakeholders and many small programs. To make people happy, JPL just has to keep running successful robot missions.

          I’m not sure how to generalize this to trains, but I have ideas.

          CAHSR id a big, famous, expensive project. Some of the impractical design requirements were set by the public and politicians. It wasn’t the product of an institution that built it out continuously with periodic successes. I may be overstretching this analogy.

          • Peak VT

            I’m not sure how to generalize this to trains, but I have ideas.

            Well, it’s kind of obvious – we need to have a long-term program to build transit and intercity trains, with projects and sub-projects being put out for on a regular basis. I read somewhere that one of the reasons the Summer and Vogtle nuclear power plants went way over cost is that the contractors didn’t see any future work in the pipeline so had incentive to milk the existing contracts for all the charges possible and to implement as many change orders as possible. A contractor who has to bid more often has different incentives, especially if past performance is weighted appropriately in the scoring process.

    • Herbert

      19th century America was very willing and eager to learn from other places. It’s no coincidence so many of the most innovative people of that era were immigrants.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, but the lack of any good example of recent rail expansion in the US means that it’s less important to do a domestic comparison of supposed successes and failures and more important to look at what’s common to low-cost countries and how they differ from the US in the aggregate.

      • Robert S.

        This one is sort of sneaky, but the long overdue unjamming of the Chicago area (link below) is a series of upgrades and small expansions that will benefit the entire U.S. The obvious problems are the number of railroads involved and funding. Hopefully, the Biden administration will throw a few billion dollars their way.
        Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program
        P.S. I’m a railfan living in San Francisco, CA with no connection to Chicago, IL. It’s all the neat bits of track that they’ve built, are building, or are planning to build that fascinate me.

  9. Joe Wong

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here. The US needed to re-invent themselves and to set a good example for the rest of the world to follow. They had that great opportunity back in 1989 when the Soviet Empire and Communism collapsed. Instead of learning from 1989 experience, the USA started these “Endless wars” in the Middle East which we are still fighting in 2021 with no end in sight. Also, the collapse of Capitalism in 2008 should have taught the USA a good lesson that capitalism has also had major faults as well. THIW’s.

    • Phake Nick

      Financial crisis, especially as a correction to bubble, always happens in market, saying that is a “collapse of capitalism” is a great mischaracterization.
      And “to set a good example for the rest of the world to follow” is the exact attitude that push the US *against* learning anything from others.

      • Joe Wong

        American Capitalism has been living on the US Taxpayers dime since the Collapse of Capitalism back on September 16, 2008 when 4 of America’s biggest Investment Banks on Wall Street went BANKRUPT overnight due to gambling on SUBPRIME mortgages. TARP was established the following day to bail-out and gave 770 billion in bailout (WELFARE) money to the Wall Street Banksters and Gamblers, and those Americans that were cheated out of their life savings were told to go and phuck themselves. THIW’s. Bail out the banks first, and ask questions later. Then in 2009 Obama started the QE or Quantitative Easing Problem to continue this bailout (welfare) for Wall Street, and Trump continued same in 2017 under the Repro-Market with the same program of Welfare for Wall Street banksters., and everyone else were told to go and fly a kite. Remember the “Global Economic & Financial Crisis” of September 16, 2008??? After that date CAPITALISM IS DEAD !!! COMMUNISM DIED back in November 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall Collapsed, and the death of the USSR commenced rather quickly. PLEASE – STUDY YOUR HISTORY EVERYBODY, and I think Mr. Alan Levy will agree with me on this one.

        • Alon Levy

          First, I’m neither Mr. nor Alan.

          Second, TARP made $700 billion available in capital but the federal government recouped that investment; the actual net subsidy was more like $30 billion and half of that went to the automakers and the rest to AIG, which were both separate bailouts from TARP.

          Third, QE is a way to generate negative interest rates, reducing the return on capital and improving the real economy. There’s a reason you see VCs waste money on nonprofits like Uber and Lyft – the real economy has nowhere for them to earn 5% without working, so instead they chase dreams and meanwhile make negative returns.

  10. Raj Venkat

    Democracies don’t learn.They are run by pride of ethnic congregation and vote banks for money.In India there is more pride than pragmatic performance.

    • Alon Levy

      Huh? India constantly learns. It if anything overlearns, e.g. building a turnkey Shinkansen at high costs instead of having nough confidence in IR to execute an indigenous project the way it does with electrification. I have some links in this post to the literature on isomorphic mimicry if you’re interested.

      • Herbert

        A working democracy should be good at elite replacement or at least elite cycling (replacing one elite faction with another) that should at least in theory encourage learning…

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, and India is better at that than it gives itself credit for. However, a) India has a lot of cultural cringe, leading to a lot of isomorphic mimicry and putdowns of domestic successes, and b) the Indian right secretly and not-so-secretly wishes Modi had the absolute power Xi has and used it in the same way Xi has.

          • Herbert

            Well to be fair, India started from a better point and has fallen behind China, so a “be more like China” attitude is understandable…

          • Alon Levy

            Not necessarily, regional rail in India for example is a lot better than in China. The problem is that in the same way center-right politicians and managers here and in France wish they were in the UK and US, where they’d benefit from the higher inequality, the elite in India wishes its commuter trains and cities were not so packed with poor people being visibly poor.

          • Herbert

            Well that’s nice, but on overall prosperity and intercity rail, China is clearly superior

          • Phake Nick

            China started economic liberalization in 1978 and India in 1990. That’s the gap that India need to close due to time more than anything else

          • Herbert

            If “economic liberalization” were the key to prosperity, the Washington consensus wouldn’t be hated wherever it has been implemented.

            China’s rapid rise is precisely because the state is still very much in control – especially in strategic fields and infrastructure.

            And unlike the US where billionaires can make governments they don’t like disappear, in China it’s the other way round

          • borners

            Its also a misleading comparison. India has less history of transregional governance than Europe let alone China or MENA. Mughals controlled the Ganges and Indus basins for a century but struggled to sustainably hold the South. In 1750 (before the British) India was not only divided but lacked print culture and nationalist ideologues whereas Japan, China and much of Europe had both. And if you look Mughal governance which was the sustained transregional Empire in India’s history up to that point it was very weak on the ground compared to tightly governed W.Europe /Korea/Japan or the exam-culture autocracy of China. They were starting from way behind even before you get into the British Raj, indeed it probably explains why there was a British Raj. Looking at it that way its actually an achievement to get this far (see Pakistan). You couldn’t build a developmental dictatorship in India it would break-up without the pluralism (see Pakistan). And Modi’s centralization of power has seen deterioration if anything because he’s just a bigot who’s good at mobilizing Hindu nativism.

            And remember the PRC has industrialised at a slightly slower pace than Taiwan/SK, with sky-high inequality, less livable cities and a lot more atrocities. One might also add Spain too here. Interesting how that lines up with railway building.

          • Phake Nick

            @Herbert Well history of both China and India disagree. It doesn’t necessary mean an all-rounded total opening up to the world market without any rule or guidance but increase in contact and trade is the key to their growth in recent decades.
            @borners In China’s history of growth and development from 1980s-2000s it worked best when it was in the hand of individual local government to plan how to boost their local economy instead of centralized planning, although there are quite significant shortcomings that came with it.
            On the other hand, indeed the cultural-economical background matter but if you look at China or Japan back in 1860s as a whole not just the few privileged group the entire population wasn’t much better than what you describe for India. I am not knowledgeable enough in the history of India to be able to tell what makes the different of it against countries in the East Asia in the following 150 years but that would be where the real differences laid and that is not really a very long period of time.

          • Herbert

            Economically, the most “Laissez Faire” periods of Indian history were company rule and the Raj. They were also periods of immense economic decline and 100 million famine deaths

          • Alon Levy

            Not really? There was a lot of labor agitation under the Raj, and the British didn’t give a crap because the agitation was against Indian capitalists, not British ones. The pseudonymous economic historian Pseudoerasmus has a long post about this with references to the situation of Indian labor in the early 20th century.

          • Herbert

            Can a country be more capitalist than literally being owned by a corporation?

          • Phake Nick

            That is why “capitalist” isn’t a good word and is a word only suitable for propaganda purpose.
            For colonial company in the old era, they stepped across the line into governance and rule-making. It merged governance for public goods and rule-making with private for-profit operation. Ultimately such mixture cannot be tell apart from government step into the territory of market which is also trying to mix private operation into public governance.

    • Eric2

      Reminds me of a certain other transportation project in Berlin… Maybe this problem is specific to Berlin somehow? (As in, not all of Germany)

      • Herbert

        They say the same thing about Cologne (notably: corruption). Let’s just say: when Berlin tunneled under the oldest part of the city, it didn’t accidentally murder people or destroy a priceless archive…

  11. Eric2

    “This will not improve as long as the United States does not reduce its level of pride to that typical of Southern Europe or Turkey. When you’re this far behind, you cannot be proud… Wearing sackcloth and ashes comes more naturally with Italian or Spanish wages. But it’s necessary given how far behind the US is,”

    It’s basic psychology that you don’t motivate people by calling them bad, but rather by pointing out where they are valued and how they can build on that value. You try to do the opposite and it is destined to fail.

    I think a more promising approach is to not treat “the US” as a single being with a collective attitude, but to look for individuals within the US who have a somewhat more open mind and a willingness to gain from reform, and feed them information and encouragement. These individuals might include entrepreneurial liberals like Andrew Yang, or conservatives who want to score a point about the bad governance of liberal cities – I’m sure there are other possibilities I have not thought of.

    • Herbert

      The system overrepresents empty land to an extent that rural conservatives don’t have to actually know anything about cities (in fact the knowledge they do have, they do their best to hide) and run on nothing but rural resentment…

      • Eric2

        But the rural resentment voters are not always enough to win elections (see: 2020 national elections, and many more state and local elections). Republicans have won elections even in places like NYC (Bloomberg) and California (Schwarzenegger) recently by appealing to issues other than rural resentment. If they can cast Democrats as incompetent for excess spending on bad transit projects (without opposing transit in principle), it could help them compete for office in urban locations. This in turn would give an incentive for Democratic politicians to approve better transit projects, an incentive currently lacking.

        • Herbert

          Or the Republicans could continue with their tried and tested strategy of making sure that only the right people vote.

          They got six henchmen (one of them being a henchwoman, but still) on SCOTUS and many state legislatures they “won” by having them gerrymandered to hell and back. And they are very good at this game by now…

          • Eric2

            If Texas flips blue, as it is likely to do in the next decade, that will be the end of Republicans’ aspirations for minority rule. Democrats will have a lock on the presidency, and they will use the lock as necessary. For example, by declaring that judicial review is a power of the executive branch rather than the Supreme Court (the Constitution doesn’t say either way).

        • Herbert

          People were writing obituaries for the all hwite republican coalition during the Obama era…

  12. Herbert

    If you don’t have enough traffic for two tracks, you don’t have a business case for high speed rail. This isn’t Victorian times when people’s options were canal barges, carriages or walking and you had to be an idiot of epic proportions to run a railroad operationally in the red

  13. borners

    Not just the US, I’ve spent the last week obsessively walking through the reality that Japan doesn’t do S-bahn where it definitely should. Obviously it doesn’t matter so much in Tokyo and Osaka where its unnecessary because of high-capacity cross city JR lines with a central loop, plus subway through-running legacy private rail/new build commuter lines.
    Then there’s Nagoya which has a huge trunk node in Nagoya station….4 km from the centre of the CBD and they didn’t use through-running subways to create a secondary trunk because….reasons. But at least has 1.

    Then you get to the third tier cities and its by Central European standards its bad. Take Sendai, it has 4 conventional lines to its north and 4 conventional lines to its south all electrified and narrow guage and go through Sendai station. And there are no through-running services (though one of the lines has a weird underground stub) at all.

    Or take Toyama on the west coast. It has Chitetsu an electrified private operator with 4 branch line managed 2-3 frequency per hour which parallels the Hokuriku mainline into Toyama station, that mainline was taken away from JR west after the Shinkansen opened so its a semi-private company where the main shareholders are local governments and…..Chitetsu. Have they done through-running with mainline to get 1 seat journeys to Kanazawa and Takaoka? Nooo. But everyone’s very proud of connecting two legacy trams with a through-running station in the heavy main station and using the word LRT over and over again. Some activists are aware of the possibility but they don’t realise that if S-bahn city through-running works for Salzburg which an eight the size of Toyama metro. They don’t even a blumming tunnel.

    And its weird because Japanese local government, urbanist academics and transport activists are very into looking at foreign transport systems below heavy rail…including on demand bus services. No s-bahn. Japan neglected light rail postwar, but now I fear that outside the megacities the opposite is true. Probably something to do with the high costs and disappointments of 1980-2000 new builds. But that doesn’t explain why Utsunomiya is trying to solve its traffic problems with an LRT before its bullied/bribed JR east into through-running Tohoku-Karasuyama lines into the Nikko line with infill stations including a connection to the Tobu Utsunomiya line. I guess the lesson is you don’t necessarily know what you should learn.

    • anonymouse observer

      Most of things you mentioned does not make sense for operators over there, which are mostly for-profit corporation with their stocks publicly traded (they need to pay dividends and other stockholder benefits). Through running would also affect revenue from auxiliary businesses, which tend to be concentrated at the railroad’s flagship big-city terminal. Any through running bypassing the railroad’s flagship terminal would reduce traffic going through the flagship terminal, typically built with department store and a high-end hotel. You should take a close look at what Sotetsu has been doing to their rail service and the developments/businesses at Yokohama Station in recent years to preparing devastating trip pattern change after Sotetsu-JR/Tokyu through running opens. Also, this is one of the main reasons why Entetsu is not really on board with building a new concourse directly connecting to JR Hamamatsu Station as you commented to Alon’s another post (majority of Entetsu’s profit is coming from their retail business, including Entetsu Department Store at Shin-Hamamatsu Station, and such concourse would divert foot traffic away from the Department Store).

      – Through running in Japan triggers revenue loss the operator for the surface portion. Odakyu refused to the original plan for Chiyoda Line subway alignment (all the way to Kitami) and made the plan changed to through-running and quad-tracking west of Yoyogi-Uehara because Odakyu would lose so much revenue by having a parallel line which is more convenient (goes beyond Shinjuku to the “Toshin”, trains not carrying longer-distance passengers from further west of Setagaya Ward) . The same thing would happen in Nagoya or anywhere if they establish more through running (they still regrets consolidating the station in Kanayama, which significantly reduced passenger boardings at Shin-Nagoya);

      – There were ample capacity in conventional rail system in Nagoya region until 1980s, when majority of the large-scale transportation planning in the region was completed. Average length of the trains going through Shin-Nagoya Station in the morning peak hour was 3 to 4 cars throughout the 1960s and early 1970s; other operators in Tokyo and Osaka were aggressively lengthening trains from 4 to 6 car long to 10, 12, or 15 car long around the same time. The through running between Meitetsu Inuyama Line and Subway Tsurumai Line relieved the congestion through Shin-Nagoya to the level where they don’t need to build another through running;

      – Almost all of them you mentioned require new infrastructure in order to accommodate through-running. In Nagoya, Higashiyama and Meijo (original) Lines uses the third rail, and Higashiyama Line is built using the Eidan Ginza Line standard based on the projected demand in late 1940s, which requires vehicle to be very narrow and short. In Sendai, all JR East conventional rail lines are AC electrified whereas Senseki Line and the Subway Namboku Line are DC electrified (Senseki Line was electrified way before other lines are electrified). Subway Tozai Line is the LIM subway system to reduce the construction cost. Toyama is the same way; JR Lines are either AC electrified or diesel while the Chitetsu is DC electrified. I do not think cost-benefit and the revenue potential can justify investment even for the dual-current trains, which are more expensive to build and maintain, in smaller cities where there is not a lot of demand (even JR East or West decided to run diesel trains under the wire where they need dual-current trains due to the cost-benefit issue);

      – There might not be enough passenger volume traveling through those big-city terminal stations you mentioned to offset downside of the through running (i.e. reliability and ease of recovery from service disruption). One of the side effect of the through-running makes operators more difficult to manage operations and recover from service disruptions. With Shonan-Shinjuku Line and Ueno-Tokyo Line, JR East service in Greater Tokyo Area became more prone to delays and cancellations because incidents near Hiratsuka could now affect service in Utsunomiya (Tokaido, Yokosuka, Sobu Rapid, Uchibo, Sotobo, Narita, Saikyo, Tohoku, and Joetsu Lines are all interconnected through through-running now). In Sendai, it would be very challenging to maintain the on-time performance because of the single-track Senzan Line and its relatively high service level for single-track Line;

      – Japanese has been operating Light Rail-ish service way before the Light Rail was invented, such as Shizutetsu Line, Chikuho Electric, Hiroshima Electric, “Randen” in Kyoto, and Tokyu’s “Tamaden”, and Japanese are catching up by following some successes in the “West”. They are making a small progress like Hiroshima Electric’s recent effort to modernize their service, conversion of Toyamako Line to Toyama Light Rail (another example of sole DC-electrified line in mostly AC-electrified territory because the line was electrified way before the mainline railroad are electrified), a new system under construction in Utsunomiya, and proposal by JR West to convert some underperforming lines near smaller cities to Light Rail.

      Lastly, please do not forget that Nagoya has already have S-bahn-ish system operated by Meitetsu since 1940s after catenary voltage of the Western/Meigi Line is raised to 1500 volt. They have 3 mainlines with lots of branches feeding trains into the sole trunk between Jingu-Mae and Biwajima Junction through Nagoya.

      • borners

        I should have been clearer both JR Tokai and even more so Meitetsu operate S-bahn style branching services. It would have been better if the Meijo and maybe Sakuradori lines had been through running via Sakae to the Komaki/Seto lines but that opportunity was lost. Meitetsu was right to be angry…though not for the reasons they were. A lot of what I said is “should have done” not “must do”. But I see the success of those two branching trunk system proof of concept that it would be profitable to do it elsewhere.

        Also its the government and civil society that do need to take the lead here as it usually has. JR companies are focused on the megacity commuter and shinkansen lines and see rural lines as problems, 3rd tier cities get left behind. And government in Japan has core responsibility for financing improvements in infrastructure in co-operation with maintaining railway company operational profits. Its been decades of grinding hard work, but its paid off. They should keep doing it. That Odakyu story is one of negotiation and everyone benefited from that.
        In these 3rd and 4th urban areas that probably means local governments paying for platform upgrades, various forms of electrification perhaps even buying and leasing rolling stock (reverse of the “Local line” track and line separation that everyones talking about). There will be places where social profit and private profit do align well, but that’s why government exists.

        First on Utsunomiya, I wouldn’t dare touch the Utsunomiya/Tohoku main line south of Utsunomiya that thing is full. But the Nikko line is not, and you could easily through-run in the first stage using the 4 train Kuroiso or Karasuyama sites, see if works then add connecting/passing loop station with the Tobu line Utsunomiya line, maybe sometimes ending commuter services at Kanuma while keeping those cute tourist trains for straight to Nikko lines. It would certainly be cheaper for Tochigi than the LRT (which they should still do). Organisation first, electronics basically already (yeah I know Karasuyama is BEMU) there, and maybe concrete. In a wealthy city with bad congestion problems, high motorization rates mean market share can be stolen back.

        With Sendai, yep don’t interline the subways at all. Too expensive now. Yes there are capacity constraints, so just run Senzan line trains through to Yamashita or Watari on the Joban line. Intergrate the Senseki-Tohoku rapid and the Fukushima-Sendai rapid services together, get rid of the transfer penalty, reduce idle wait times etc, heck freeing up platform space in Sendai station with branching might even give space for an extra Senzan train per hour. And for JR East, you control the central node, improving connections via the central node is how you win customers for everything. Cars and Aeon malls are the competition. And you can get the government to help you! Yeah Sotetsu’s retail division has horrible tradeoffs but the company still contributing some investment cash and flash new rolling stock. Japanese Megacity railways is a strange mix intense competition and intense co-operation both betwixt and between the conglomerates and the governments.

        But for most of s-bahn viable 3rd tier cities all or most of the train capacity is JR anyway. And JR is still different from legacy private rail, especially JR East and JR Tokai which have profits that actually shield them from always being efficient as they could outside the big cities/shinkansen network where they face competition.

        JR West is better especially on the Sanyo mainline especially “City network” plan. Local government helped get new rolling stock, infill stations and signaling, its doing pretty well bafflingly doesn’t through run (okay Geibi is not electrified but still).

        As for Toyama. High motorization in a prefecture with a relatively tight settlement corridor between Takaoka-Toyama and relatively high congestion means you’ve done something wrong. Part of that is Toyama’s relatively successful industrial sector. But Toyama prefecture controls its section of the Hokuriku mainline, it can choose to buy BEMU’s to interline with the Takayama line or AC/DC compatible trains to interline with Chitetsu. If it wants “compact city to work” it should do that. And if you don’t believe these strategies have juice I give you the Kuzuryu line versus the Echizen Tetsudo in Fukui, notice nobody lives on the former. This is bad urbanism, they should have had through running to create a TOD corridor, instead development moved west based on cars.,136.2750092,9645m/data=!3m1!1e3

        On light rail, I said “neglect” not forget or dispose of. A lot of megacity trams turned into heavy rail/subways anyway. And there are plenty of places it will work to adopt a light-rail strategy. But my point is that Japanese railway companies and policymakers ignorance of Central Europe intra-urban high frequency heavy rail for mid-size or small cities has lot to teach Japan. As much South Korea and Spain have to teach about building things cheaper. My fear is instead more gadgetbahn rather than just doing more of the basics of signals, electrics, timetables and platforms. I think its a key to the mystery as to why Japanese public transit mode share declines so rapidly below the megacity/intercity levels.

        @Sassy yeah I don’t think there is much the Netherlands could teach them? Rural trains being permissive with bikes? Dutch certainly have lots to learn. Maybe Switzerland or Austria would have been better. But they are not islands.
        As for planners, there’s a political economy issues. Within each prefecture the LDP is weakest in the major city and strongest in rural areas, so in numbers and especially in seniority power is focused on rural lines and shinkansen connections to put people on those rural lines. Megacities are large enough to have big staff and the clout to implement policy. So policy entrepreneurs focus their efforts there. You can see how in NHK’s Japan Railway Journal which is basically “Japanese railways as explained by the establishment” (I mean that in a good way), is basically just megacity rail/shinkansen/rural line gimmicks.
        Of course the joke is that the battle to save “regional Japan” was fought and lost in the regional cities which the LDP has always neglected. Conventional railway policy reflects.

        • anonymouse observer

          You must be kidding on your take by Odakyu’s case. Odakyu users needed to wait for 5 decades for the quad-tracking through Setagaya because lack of financing scheme (needed to wait until 特定都市鉄道整備促進特別措置法 goes in effect) and NIMBYs blocking the continuous grade separation.

          Meijo Line was the same deal with the Odakyu-Chiyoda Line conflict. Meitetsu simply rejected the through-running because they had a plan to extend Meitetsu Seto Line to Sakae, and Meijo Line ended up with being built in a modified Higashiyama Line standard (third-rail, low-voltage DC). You need to realize that the potential revenue loss concerns among rail operators in Japan is real and really big deal.

          You are also ignoring several facts and technical challenges:
          – By 地方財政再建促進特別措置法第24条第2項, local governments are prohibited from subsidizing the loss from operations or directly fund the infrastructure/rolling stock improvement for anything operated by JR companies. Some local govenments gets away with this using the third-sector scheme (Yamagata Shinkansen, mainlines in Hokkaido, etc.) or providing funding as a form of no interest loan. By the way, Hiroshima Prefecture didn’t give any dime to JR West for Hiroshima City Network establishment;
          – Local governments are broke. They need to rely on grants from the national government to fund transportation projects. With so many capital projects ongoing or in pipeline in large cities, it’s very difficult to allocate funds to less populated areas;
          – For operators in rural area, rolling stock is expensive, even cookie-cutter DC trainsets. Otherwise, you can’t explain why Shinano Railway relied on crowdfunding to cover a part of the rolling stock purchase, and almost all of third-sector railways relies on distribution from 宝くじ for the rolling stock purchase in these days;
          – AC-DC dual current EMUs are about 70 percent more expensive than DC-only EMUs based on the price difference between JR West Series 223 and Series 521;
          – Reliability/on-time performance is really a big deal in the operations over there even though you seems like ignoring it completely. Even Wikipedia mentioned it as one of the reasons why JR East eliminated through running from/to Senzan Line:

          – Based on the track layout near Sendai, through running from/to Senzan Line would create a conflict (trains need to cross the Tohoku Main Line main track in order to get from/to Tohoku Main Line platform): another issue in achieving very high reliability.
          – Any time you have through-running between different operators, you need to dual-equip ATS/ATC on-board processor, and the on-board processor is not that cheap, either.

          It seems like you don’t like it at all, but you should really take a look at what シティ電車 practice have done to rail line in mid-sized cities throughout the country in the 80s and the 90s. What you see is the result, and it is still way better than what it was before シティ電車 is implemented.

        • Sassy


          In day to day operations, and focusing on intercity rail, there isn’t much for JR Kyushu to learn, however urban rail in Kyushu could be better. For example, Fukuoka-Kitakyushu has much less transit use and moderately more car use, compared to Randstad. I’m not sure what the direct improvements are, but I can’t imagine there are none.

    • Sassy

      I wonder if it’s also a perception thing. Sendai see itself as a small town, but it’s bigger than many major Central European cities. I don’t think that many people realize how tiny Central European cities are.

      I certainly didn’t realize how small cities could get until I went to Europe. I lived in Bangkok, which set my standards for what a medium sized city should be, maybe comparable to London, but definitely much smaller than big cities like Tokyo or Shanghai. Then I lived in Toronto, which I thought was a small city, but I guess Canadians are just so spread out that they think any old cluster of tall buildings is a big city. Then I go to Germany and am like “I thought Frankfurt was supposed to be a big city wtf”.

      Small Japanese cities should probably be learning from Central Europe, but the typical person is probably under the impression that those famous foreign cities are much, much, much bigger than they really are. Planners should probably know better though, but sometimes I wonder.

      JR Kyushu at least understands that it’s serving an area that’s comparable to The Netherlands, though I think NS benefited more from their partnership than JR Kyushu did.

    • Andrew in Ezo

      Re. Toyama’s case, as Anonymouse observer mentioned, these type of smaller cities just don’t have the demand to run s-bahn services (or what JR West calls an “Urban Network”). Toyama modal share numbers for weekday commutes is 84% private automobile and only 3% rail and 1.7% bus. Car ownership is 1.73 vehicles/household, which is second highest in the nation (#1 is Fukui Prefecture, in the same region). This is a not uncommon situation outside the big urban agglomerations.

        • Andrew in Ezo

          The modal share is for the Toyama/Takaoka metropolitan area, while the car ownership figure is for the whole prefecture. The reference is the slide numbered 6 for this presentation from 2009 detailing efforts to make a “compact” city:

          Click to access s1.pdf

        • anonymouse observer

          If you are looking for the data for other prefectures, this has modal share for commuting (work and school) broken down by each prefecture (table on the 3rd page) though it’s in Japanese and somewhat old (from 2010):

          Click to access 01-11_5.pdf

          • Sassy

            The grouping of motorcycles/mopeds with pedalbikes instead of cars strikes me as very Japanese. I guess it makes sense because they have similar parking requirements and operate pretty similarly on Japanese side streets. Spandex, steroids, and aero cyclists can even get close to the (lower than US) Japanese gentsuki speed limit on flat ground.

            I wonder if the ebike trend in the west will lead to all machine-powered cycles being grouped with pedalbikes in the future around the world as well.

          • Ernest Tufft

            E-bikes aren’t grouped with pedal bikes by US Dept of Interior on public lands because e-bikes are restricted from bike trails in National Forests and Parks. E-bikes and scooters are also often restricted by cities from shared pedestrian/bicycle paths.

  14. BindingExport

    An interesting example of the usefulness from learning from abroad are the Tramway systems in France. Because the only surviving legacy system used a vehicle width of just 2.30 meters – all new system were planned accordingly. The exception was Montpellier whose officials did a study tour to Karlsruhe and were surprised that the vehicles had a quite comfortable 2X2 seating arrangement with a wide passageway in the middle. This lead to the adaption of 2.65 meter wide vehicles first in Montpellier and later in Nice and Mulhouse.

  15. anonymouse observer

    If the cost efficiency is an issue to tackle, I am surprised to see that FTA is still looking for on-demand transit instead of cases for the Postbus or something equivalent, which carries passengers with small parcels and mails on the same vehicle. I guess if it’s done right, Postbus-ish service can kill 2+ birds with one stone (providing and improving both passenger transportation and logistics network at the same time in areas where doing so separately does not really make sense financially due to low density, especially in times when USPS is in such a bad shape).

    • Herbert

      The postal service is seen as an annoyance to the likes of FedEx and UPS who own several members of Congress…

      • Ernest Tufft

        This is true, nevertheless, the institution that Ben Franklin founded remains well represented in Congress.

  16. Pingback: Not Everything is Like Rail Transport | Pedestrian Observations
  17. Pingback: News roundup: part 1 of 2 – Seattle Transit Blog
  18. Phake Nick

    Speak of which, I have recently read that, the Commuter Shinkansen concept, which evolved into (New Town) Development Lines and resulted in the construction of Tsukuba Express Line in Tokyo, actually referenced and tried to learn from BART quite a lot in the early days

        • anonymouse observer

          Thanks for sharing the source. I almost forgot about Commuter Shinkansen concept and did not know that Ryohei Kakumoto referring BART a lot. I think interesting that both BART and Tsukuba Express suffered peak-hour overcrowding before the pandemic even though both were designed as the “new generation” of commuter rail with more comfortable riding experience.

          • Phake Nick

            I think a reason for it is that, given these lines advertise express access to center of metropolitan area, and new residential towns around stations are also developed with the emphasis on advertising such quick, direct access, they are certainly going to attract many residents who are commuters into downtown, a lot more than what regular city districts would be. Such commuter-focused draw of residents mean the crowd is much more focused in peak hours and would be much less off-peak. And thus it would overcrowd in peak hours with demand beyond conventional estimation.

          • borners

            The reason its so much more overcrowded than say Saitama Kosoku is that it has Tsukuba on the other end. Tsukuba thanks to the University and research labs is the largest employment center in Ibaraki with quite a wide car commuter belt. The post-Otakanomori stations have extensive park-ride facilities and it intersects usefully with Kanto, Tobu Urban park and Musashino lines. Its actually not that much faster than taking a Tobu or JR conventional express from Kuki, the speed is for those 5-6km gaps between the post-Kashiwa station (equivalent to Bart’s ability to pick up speed under the bay).

            Cost overruns during the Tsukuba Express meant they cut down capacity. They also for some reason apparently reduced their estimates for passengers mid-building to justify it….and then they blew through them. They probably are going to extend to eight cars at some point (some of the stations are already built for that), but 2 platforms only 4 overtaking platforms put real limits on what they can cram.

            Its interesting comparing it to the Keisei-Hokusou-Sky Access line, which includes bits of the never finished Narita Shinkansen. The problem there isn’t so much commuters but having enough headway space to run the Skyliner (which is past Shin-Kamagaya the fastest non-shinkansen service I think) and sharing the Oshiage-Asakusa subway connection with the Keisei mainline. Off-peak on the Hokusou sections is 3tph local and 1tph normal express. That’s bad, but adding another set of platforms at Keisei-Takasago or Higashi-Matsudo would be a pain not building wise but politically since the beneficiaries live in Chiba but Keisei-Takasago is in Tokyo. That lack of frequency, high fare cost and weaker direct connection to Tokyo have led to disappointment and acrimony and debt overhangs. Even though the Narita connection means the line makes a reasonable return. One could do a whole book on Chiba’s newer commuter lines 1980-2000 its was building or contributing to what 5 plus monorail and upgrades to Tobu Noda line? Maybe explains why they are so reluctant to get involved again.

          • Phake Nick

            TX have already officially announced the start of construction work for use of 8-car trains, but estimated time of finishing is early next decade.
            For the Keisei line, should the lack of new residents in Chiba New Town be said as cause or effect of this?

          • anonymouse observer

            Besides failure of Chiba New Town development (likely due to two big recessions after 1960s?), I thought Hokuso’s underperformance is not the service by itself, but due to very high fare and mediocre effective discount rate given to (or unreasonably high multiplier set for) the monthly/seasonal pass (results in very expensive monthly pass). Also, for someone traveling from/to Toei Asakusa Line stations in “Toshin” via Hokuso Line, that passenger needs to pay fare not only for the expensive Hokuso fare from/to Keisei Takasago Station but also the fare for Keisei Oshiage Line portion and Toei Asakusa Line, and Toei fare is very expensive, too (most of the locals I know avoid using Toei Line because of this). Service from Hokuso Line in the morning peak hour looks reasonable at least in 2010; there are more trains from Hokuso Line (1 Limited Express and 1 Local in each 15- minute cycle) than ones from Keisei Main Line (2 Commuter Limited Express per 15-minute cycle) on Keisei Oshiage Line.

            Hokuso Line fare is so expensive that Daily Portal Z made an article out of this with a photo of the fare table from Chiba New Town Chuo Station and adult 6-month pass table:
            I am not sure which station is from, but I read an adult 6-month pass to Shinagawa is almost 300,000 yen (more than 3-month Shinkansen “Flex” pass between Tokyo and Mishima).

            By the way, having overtaking track would not help in overcrowding commuter rail that much unless the service level hits 25 trains per hour (then it becomes handy because can use the siding track to reduce the headway while allowing trains to stay at the station longer to absorb extended dwell time needed to handle large volume of passengers boarding and/or alighting like they do at JR Chuo Rapid Line or Keio Line during morning peak period). Because overtake makes express trains more popular than slower trains, operators typically avoid overtakes during the peak periods so that they can load passengers evenly across all trains. If you take a look at the morning peak service on non-JR private railway lines in Tokyo, you typically see fewer overtakes and/or more local trains running end-to-end without being overtaken. Also, this is the reason why Tokyu converted all Express trains on Den-en-Toshi Line during the morning peak periods to Semi-Express (making all stops between Futako-Tamagawa and Shibuya) so that they can eliminate overtake at Sakura-Shimmachi (whichever train departing first at Mizonoguchi arrives Shibuya first).

          • Phake Nick

            @Tonami Playman Couldn’t they make the last train end earlier and first train start later, while offering replacement bus service for those time slot, in order to gain more time to work at night? In addition to possibly occasional Sunday service suspension

  19. Henry Miller

    My notes from listening (Alon, feel free to lift this to elsewhere). I tuned in about 10 minutes after it started so I missed the opening. Also I was working, so sometime I did have to tune out to deal with work issues. This might be useful to you, or might be a waste of time. You might want to find the official minutes for a better record. I tried to record the parts that I think readers of this blog would care about – but I’m very biases.

    The Honorable John Porcari, Ms. Rachel Smith, Mr. Phillip Washington didn’t really say anything new. They are for, but didn’t really state anything interesting. [Porcari later said things indicating he knows something useful, but I didn’t think his opening testimony indicated any knowledge of transport]

    Ms. Danielle Eckert was more interested in creating a lot of jobs than anything useful. She would probably prefer to have NYC construction costs as more money goes to unions.

    “Trey” Duhon III is against. He references a lot of bureaucracy related barriers without making the connection that government should ease those. He talked a lot about competitive transport investment, but never says what they are, or how they compare in cost effectiveness. They can’t use eminent domain, but again doesn’t make the connection that this barriers is one reason they are having issues.

    Kunz did mention reducing the barriers of doing things – hopeful. His testimony indicates he is at least somewhat aware that the regulation environment in the US. I didn’t quite catch everything, but his testimony worth listening to.

    Mr Payne: (chair of committee) wants all American access – in particular rural areas. [This seems like something we need to shut down, or at least recognize that it isn’t cost effective]. Response [don’t recall who] is rural areas can get to cities – but nothing about how the rural areas get to HSR which is mostly between cities.

    Mr Crawford: asked about impacts of Tx Central on land. Duhon: the FRA is not working with their group. Don’t use the same process as for TX central as the communities are ignored.

    Mr Crawford: will this need public funding. Duhon: response that most HSR is subsidized worldwide, and this won’t change. Thinks ridership is overstated [I think we agree here]. Thinks people won’t quit driving in Texas.

    DeFazio: about HSR instead of 95 expansion. Has highway or airport (not seen as possible) expansion been compared? Porcari: environmental issues, also needs cooperation between states, by contrast NEC has that cooperation.

    DeFazio Subsidies worldwide? Porcari: airports are public, airlines make profit. Likewise trucks use highway, and make money. So subsidizing tracks makes sense.

    DeFazio right of way issues? Washington: have some, working on more

    DeFazio wants US jobs. Specifically against China. Washington: We have assembly plants in the US, proposing ground up (forging steel). Wants to build locomotives in their park. [not sure why – locomotives are not common]

    Davis: reality: how are we building them – without investing in new technologies. Communities are cut off by multiple rail lines running through. How can we encourage new technologies to grant better access? Porcari: federal programs that exist something [My internet died for a minute]

    Davis: rant about paperwork processes that take years. How does regulatory processes slow down our ability to achieve goals? Porcari: front loads the process. CA is more streamlined than previous processes because assigned to state level. Model for future. Force all the environmental reviews at the same time.

    Davis: looks forward to good policy.

    Malnowsky [I’m not sure if his name as an i or not]: Trains are the same speed as 100 years ago. Highway doesn’t live on a free market. Without the US would look different. Trains 96 million investment since 1949, compare to China, UK. UK is now doing more than the sum total of all ours. Notes that Acella is pathetic speeds compared to Europe. Why can’t we have nice things – can we surmount them? Porcari: We have old tunnels and such – but will is the real problem. We haven’t made rail a priority. We can do it with the will

    Malnowsky: wants more freedom to live anywhere where.

    Steel: Price tag of CA HSR – was supposed to be 33 billion, now over 100, and going up with no deadline. Tax payer money. We don’t have the commitment – but 100 billion isn’t? she sees HSR as a money pit (at current prices I agree). Says not opposed to HSR, but CA failed, and TX seems like it will. How do we know it won’t have these cost overruns? Likes HSR in Japan, where it is affordable. Duhon: where does it work – drop a line between two cities and everyone will go – this is not true. Where you put in HSR matters. Japanese don’t own cars. 2-3000 people per day. (missed some for personal reasons) A family won’t pay $1000 for a ticket when a car is $50 in gas. NEC makes sense, not TX.

    Moulton: We have investing a lot into highway subsidies. 60 billion/year even if you don’t own a car. What are the costs of widening Texas highways? Duhon: yes but TX central was private investment. (interrupted) Moulton: but HSR does sometimes operated at a profit, highways never do. HSR is half as much as adding a lane (Microsoft study in Seattle) 80MPH on a highway is a far cry from 150MPH+ on HSR. You can live in many more places and still get downtown (I wonder how this works – stations that close together limit speed). How much do you need to expand highways to do a HSR? Porcari: 6 lanes, and 6 (?) runways at airports.

    Burchett: HSR done right – but project has already more than doubled in cost and 2 years late – how is this done right? Washington: We can improve the lives of people in our county. [I didn’t catch his list, but it was at least a start in the right direction]

    Burchett: trust fund like highway – how to generate it? Porcari: all transportation should be on level funding. Let locals decide what the right mix is.

    Burchett: HSR favors urban over rural. How to benefit everyone? Duhon: wants locals as meaningful partners. How does it impact us? Can routes be adjusted? FRA doesn’t engage with us. FRA telling states not to meet with local groups.

    Newman: Big gaps where commuter lines don’t connect. Wants Higher speed rail (not HSR) for 20 mile stretches. Shift workers often don’t have a good connection. How expensive is it on the environment to NOT do this? Has the impact of not doing HSR been studied? Procari: some places are. Very project specific. Long term growth is clear. Washington: in lives lost on highways. Lightrail in LA get a lot of people working at the airport to work. Transportation is bigger emitter of pollution. Measure that in lives. Kunz: cost of people’s time – stuck in traffic. 7 billion per year (time is money).

    Newman: for the record, we should stop talking about should or should not be done. We need to ask how not why. There is no better reason than to create opportunity and save lives.

    Carson: need for federal government investment – compared to other industrialized nations. We fall behind others. Opponents argue for private investment. How do you respond? Porcari: not irreconcilable. There are private rails – PPP is established model. Needs public funding to happen. Washington: need to build and rebuild is so great that we need all 3, federal, local, and private investment. Need 3 legged stool. Private sector wants to invest and is strong. Local – 70% success on local investments. federal is wobbly.

    Wilson: how do we generate jobs? Eckert: 30% should make 32-42,000 per year. (some small number) should be those who have barriers to normal work.

    Wilson: What do others get as a result of their investment? Kunz: jobs, economic development to depress areas, time, affordable housing, be with families.

    Strickland: from environmental perspective, how is Seattle uniquely poised to take advantage? Smith: have a partnerships to get done. PPP, local funding, fare box recovery. Can put funding together. Good labor relations. Community made a commitment to transit. [no mention that this line is still marginal rideship]

    Strickland: congestion is bad on interstate. what is cost of adding a lane to I5 vs HSR? Smith: there is no way to meet capacity – rail is exponentially more people [I bet should doesn’t know what exponential is – the functions are linear, just a much better factor]. [My internet died so I don’t know if she answered the question, but I’m suspecting not]

    Neopolitano [I can’t find a spelling of her name]. [I Didn’t understand question] Washignton: most deadly crossing. Union station will be the hub of HSR when it comes, already has metrolink and Amtrac. 423 million dollars to develop fly over. – stub in station have to back out, a run through track (and elsewhere) make it efficient for trains to not have to idle. Will save lives and be more efficient.

    Neopolitano: how can we ensure low-income can afford tickets to HSR? Porcari: fare structure that recognizes employer contributions. Affordability is a concern. Should be part of contract if there is a private operator. Kunnz: France has a second no-frills system, much cheaper. Very efficient, high capacity, not expensive to operate. Neopolitano: government in Europe owns land – no eminent domain issues there. Doesn’t seem fair for taxpayers to fund and not get benefit.

    Titus: Likes Brightline west (LA-Los Vegas). Estimated ridership 10 million people. How are we coordinating inter-modal connections? [great question!] Washington: Detailed specifics about LA getting to union station. [losts more good discussion but if you don’t know LA/Los Vegas it won’t make sense]

    Huffman: Under investment in rail compared to highways and aviation – even with trust fund we are stretched to build more. How can we ensure HSR compliments instead of competes with other service? Porcari: HSR is over longer lengths with fewer stops. States need to make tradeoffs.

    Huffman: Where is thismanufacturingg hub – what would we get? Washington: Industrial park with suppliers on site, and test track on site. Climate chamber…. Build everything on one site. in North LA county where these is plenty of space.

    Auchincloss: If you were investing in HSR what would you need guaranteed – part of charter to build on time and under budget? Porcari: consistency and predictability. Downfall of PPP is everything is bespoke – no templates. No way to price political risk. Where those are used they (ie outside of US) have an end point. Kunz: we need substantial funding. Focus on key projects and get to completion. Prioritize projects so people can ride. Auchuncloss: Reduce political risk and get to work. Eckert: make sure covered by federal railroad unions.

    Johnson: hesitancy – concern about lack of capital. What about those who think the network is too expensive – and thus not worthwhile? Kunz: need to look at what these systems do. Struggle with energy and other problems draging us down. Big vision, bold funding can see these transformations. This is proven around the world. [perfect opportunity to bring up Spanish costs was ignored!] Johnson: before highways had rails.

    [missed question – my lunch time] Kunz: HSR opens up and makes the nation and each country more efficient. Keep up with China or they lead us in the Dust.

    Johnson: much of nation has been left out. How can we help rural areas? Kunz: beauty of HSR, in a corridor: HSR connects all cities in between. Not all trains stop at all stations, but some will so people have access. And access brings companies to those towns

    Garcia: what type of rail isn’t a rail carrier (something about unions): Eckert: railroad retirement act. No wage stagnation because of high union density. Garcia: what are obstacles to make HSR a reality? Porcari: need to think big. Need to fully load cost – environmental and safety impacts. Kunz: [specifically asked, didn’t respond]

    Panel 2:

    Carlos Aguilar: tx central is a safety project. saving 800 lives.

    William Flynn: Amtrak is a HSR operator. Shouldn’t made a few rails that take years, instead a large network.

    Mr. Josh Giegel: 500 tests of Hyperloop to date. Claims to be ready – where will it happen first?

    Mr. Andres de Leon: Claims Hperloop is ready. $54 million/mile – less than HSR. [maybe in US, not Spain – I wonder if they can really do that]

    Mr. Michael Reininger: Allow more investment via programs that are maxed out. They could do more with more funding. Low interest loans would be better than larger grants, and reduce public investment while getting more HSR.

    Mr. Wayne Rogers: Maglev

    Payne: how do you keep project equal for minority. Aguilar: targets. 34% inclusion for construction.

    Crawford: will new routes to small towns make money? Flynn: these routes are opened in consultation with state and city. This will ensure there is a level of ridership. Crawford: do not know if it is self sustaining. Flynn: no. We think it will need support, but that will come from states. States need to sign up for that.

    Crawford: How do you connect to rural communities? Giegel: Can get around smaller cities. Little rock to Memphis in 15 minutes

    Moulton: What is timeline? Andres de Leon needs funding. Then in 3 years ready to move people.

    Moulton: What is the speeds you got? Giegel: 120MPH. Need more length to build that out. Takes a couple more years.

    Moulton: While Japanese technology over hyperloop? Aguliar: Proven, predictable and safe. Want to be first.

    Moulton: what is top speed of Acella? Flynn 135 MPH. Operating at lower speed on schedule basis. Up to 150, but only runs that speed for 34 miles. Moulton: 8-10 minutes over 7 hour trip. Are you really HSR? Flynn: yes. Moulton: HSR is 160MPH elsewhere should we accept that lower speed? Flynn: on existing track. There is top speed and scheduled speed. Moulton: America revised down our definition of HSR down – why not aspire to be best in the world? Flynn: in 2012 we called for higher speed. We are lacking funding.

    Davis: Any interst in connecting Illinois? Reininger: We need to go back to the map of Springfield [why not Chicago] and see if there is anything that makes sense within 200 miles. Davis: How can we spur more private sector investment? Reininger: funding. Make us eligible for grant funding when in partnership with public. More bond allocations. (that alone is enough, not liquid enough) RIFT loans – more of these.

    Davis: What changes to ensure success? Giegel: be eligible for the same pots as the rest. Creating the ability to compete in a friendly way.

    Davis: short shunt issue [I’m not sure what this is] Flynn: working on that issue. Davis: can’t talk about HSR without reliability on the lines. Lets get that fixed.

    [I was working and missed a few questions. Mostly related to labor/unions not HSR]

    Titus: what else to increase funding? Reininger: revamp grant and loan programs. Curtail discretion in process – they turn into time delays and more costs.

    Westerman: hyperloop claims costs of $54million/mile, compared to 150-200 million/mile for others. State says interstate is 9.7 million/mile. 11.45 in mountains. What do you mean by only 54, compared to others? Andres de Leon: depends on country. Cannot have a real cost until you do analyses territory and real costs. These number make sense. Westerman: what is experience on cost for high speed rail? Reininger: 16 million/mile in Fl, expected to be 31 in CA.

    Westerman: hyperloop has a lot of advantages, but not as proven. Outside of that, why looking at hyperloop first? Carlos Aguilar: short term needs/solution. Market is congested and needs solutions to be operated. $62 million/mile – 50% viaduct to reduce impact on land owners. Flynn: different technology, be we have other trains on our rail today. Wants to work on existing infrastructure with just some upgrades over next decade

    Garcia: concerned about Chicago. will amtrak invest more? Flynn: yes. Have plan for new and expanded services. Madison, Milwaukee, to Minneapolis. St Louis. Detroit. Garcia: existing funding won’t make a dent in exiting HSR – does HSR need dedicated funding? Flynn: needs certainly of funding, and projects will take longer. One policy action: create trust fund for intercity transit. Garcia: any other places for electrification? Flynn: others lend themselves. Key density and population centers. Intercity train sets are dual mode. These are interim steps.

    LaMalfa: TX is having difficultly with ability to streamline. How can CA do it at 50% higher prices and a negative regulatory climate? This is environmental project and still can’t get very far. [asked a question, but I didn’t figure out what]

    [didn’t catch her name]: Dallas is interested in downtown terminal. Aguilar: started talking to city last month, will connect to DART.

    • Henry Miller

      Neopolitano is really Grace F. Napolitano. If anyone comes in contact with her, can you explain how to change her screen name from “iPad” to something that tells us who she is (Her’s might have been “Grace’s iPad”, but when taking notes I don’t have time to look up names even if I catch them. there are a couple others who had the similar problems, but I think I was able to get their name right.

  20. Pingback: Amtrak’s Continued Ignorance | Pedestrian Observations
  21. Nathanael

    It’s not just rail.

    This is part of why the US military is a worthless Potemkin military but keeps sucking down billions of dollars.

  22. Mikel

    what a tropical algebra is or how it is significant for rail schedule planning

    What should I be reading on this topic? Is there an overview/introductory paper somewhere? A quick search in the arXiv didn’t turn up anything very specific…

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