High-Speed Rail Costs and Presentation

We have a database of high-speed rail construction costs up.

Separately, because of Noah Smith’s opinions about high-speed rail, today there is going to be an event featuring me and him in which we are going to discuss the issue in an American context, alongside a presentation of the database and what lessons can be drawn from it. You can register here; it’s at 13:00 Eastern US Time, or 19:00 Berlin time.

A few notes regarding our database, because I’m being asked on Twitter, and also because it’s relevant for our research:

This is a well-studied topic

Literature on comparative HSR costs already exists, and some of our internal cost references are to studies on the subject. This is not like subway costs, where the biggest databases I know of prior to ours are a Flyvbjerg paper and a Spanish analysis each with a number of items in the teens. This should not in a way be surprising: the costs and impact of megaprojects are analyzed more than those of smaller projects, and subways are megaprojects of greater size than surface transit or street reconstruction but HSR is of yet greater size. Thus, subways are significant enough that we have been able to find largely complete costs from trade and mass media and government reports, which task is far harder for bus lanes or bike lanes, whereas with HSR, not only is it possible to find complete costs, but also there is extensive public debate and analysis.

I believe our contribution to the discussion, then, is not the database itself, but two new points:

  • Contrary to the World Bank report on the subject (see here, starting printed page 39), China does not build HSR especially cheaply. Our findings are not too different from the World Bank’s for lines built up to the publication of the report measured in yuan per km, but we adjust for PPP and therefore the cost in dollars per km is higher, and, moreover, the more recent lines appear to be more expensive. In fact, Chinese costs are higher than European ones. The reason is that China builds its HSR almost entirely on viaduct, whereas in Europe, viaducts are rare, and segments that are not in tunnel are built at-grade or on earthworks.
  • There is positive correlation between a country’s HSR costs per km, net of tunnels, and its subway construction costs. This is not perfect correlation, but one can see Britain, the Netherlands, and Taiwan perform poorly in both areas. France and Germany are in the middle. Spain is very cheap. The exceptions are notable: Italy has cheap subways and expensive HSR, which Paolo Beria, author of one of our source papers, attributes to overbuilding and overdesign, with extensive tunnels and freight-friendly grades.

We only include under-construction or open lines

This contrasts with lines that are only in early design and may not yet have a cost – for example, Frankfurt-Mannheim will only publish its cost estimate next year, in a parliamentary budget setting in order to decide whether to proceed (for which the answer is certainly yes, as the benefits to the network are intensive). This also contrasts with canceled and indefinitely postponed lines, such as California High-Speed Rail and the Portuguese lines killed during the Great Recession’s austerity. Canceled lines are upward-biased: the state is likelier to cancel or choose not to build a line if it is more expensive than the average, as we can readily see with California, and therefore we do not wish to compare built with unbuilt lines.

The above analysis is equally true of our subway construction costs database – if a line is canceled, it is purged, even if design or even physical construction began. Gateway for example is under active design and engineering and is therefore included, even if they are still seeking funding, but if it is canceled it will be purged (but if it is rebooted, as I hope, then the sunk cost will be included, as with the Green Line Extension in Boston).

The difference is that our HSR cost database is more historic. It is close to complete for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Korea, and complete for single-line Taiwan and the Netherlands and for the UK. This is because it’s just easier to find historic data for HSR than for subways, where I wish I could get a complete historic series for big cities with big systems like Paris, Madrid, and Berlin, but can’t even find 1970s-80s costs for any of them. Conversely, ongoing projects make it surprisingly difficult at times to find tunnel and viaduct percentages, and the escape path of going on Google Earth and OpenStreetMaps and measuring is not available.

What is included?

As far as possible, costs are for civil infrastructure, systems, stations, and overheads, but not rolling stock or financing charges. Austria’s Koralmbahn has two sets of numbers, differing by a factor of 2, with one source claiming that it is about whether financing is included. It is my belief that, owing to the high profitability of HSR if cost of capital is ignored, it is best to think in terms of returns on investment and not try to incorporate debt or finance charges into the actual cost.

The importance of avoiding viaducts and tunnels

The Asian tendency to build on viaduct where the line is not in tunnel leads to high costs. Likewise, the use of shallow grades and low superelevation for mixed lines or even for some dedicated lines (the Shinkansen, without any track sharing, hews to 1.5% grads) raises construction costs.

Netting out tunnels is still useful when trying to figure out itemized costs and cost control that is not about what to build, for example about labor or procurement. It is also useful when comparing lines in the mountainous terrain of Austria, Japan, Korea, and Switzerland to the easier North European Plain. But at some point, it is necessary to treat the tunnel percentage as endogenous to the planning system. The viaduct percentage, moreover, is absolutely endogenous.

France in this context does well by keeping lines at grade as much as possible. The only country with less tunneling than France is Morocco, which builds its urban and high-speed trains as if it were France, and, thanks to France’s extensive presence in the Maghreb, French contractors are intimately familiar with the local situation and build cheaply. France and Germany have similar unit costs, but Germany tunnels a lot more, less because of the terrain and more because of either politics (that is, the Erfurt detour for Berlin-Munich, forcing the line to go through thicker mountains) or a misguided attempt at building mixed lines in the 1980s and 90s.

The United States’ high projected budgets for proposed lines that never go anywhere thanks to their extreme costs come from overbuilding more than high unit prices. For example, in Baltimore, a two-track tunnel project designed for exclusive electric passenger train usage turned into a four-track tunnel with enough room for double-stacked freight with mechanical ventilation for diesel locomotives. The scope creep raised the projected budget from $750 million in the late 2000s to $4 billion in the mid-2010s.


  1. Ernest Tufft

    Thank you for post on interesting topic. Besides cost of construction and maintenance, I’m interested in how public rail transit can reduce car culture. Can transit costs be covered by various taxation on motorists? I’m also interested in optimization of human bipedal aspect involved. How many miles walking or pedaling a bicycle can public rail boost, to reduce carbon footprint even farther. Various e-bike and scooter involve lithium battery pack, so I’d like to see this data separate, although obviously, these vehicles are potentially more energy and space saving than larger motorized EV and gasoline vehicles.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Ernest Tufft atufft@gmail.com

    The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King

    This is a confidential note not for redistribution without my permission.


    • Henry Miller

      > I’m interested in how public rail transit can reduce car culture. Can transit costs be covered by various taxation on motorists?

      These two questions contradict each other. Either there are not enough motorists to cover the needed taxation, or there is a large car culture and transit is a footnote. You cannot have both.

      There is also the political problem: the costs to build transit hard high enough that political motorists will rebel if you try to stick the costs to them. Either the costs are a footnote (and don’t amount to much transit), or you need to find some other source of funding that doesn’t hit people who believe they won’t benefit.

      This is why Alon keeps talking about costs. If you can build cheap, then you can build more for the limited money you have. More transit means more people use it meaning more non-tax income, and a larger base of people who politically care about the system.

      This line of reasoning needs to stop – it won’t work in the US (It might work elsewhere), so pick a battle you can win. Build a system for low costs that is useful and people will use it. You will discover though that a lot of what you thought was your political base for transit actually isn’t though. Biden seems to support transit (or so people tell me – I haven’t examined his position in detail), but most of the democrats in congress who are on the committee for transit don’t actually care about transit and will vote down many of the thing that make for useful transit while happily adding lots of things that make transit cost more and less useful. There are exceptions of course, but the reality is transit doesn’t have nearly as much political support as you think. Either improve the support, or accept the reality and make what few bones we are thrown useful.

      • Ernest Tufft

        It’s interesting that USA not only has highest rail costs, but highest interstate freeway costs. Let’s face it, car culture is a space hog that needs to diet. Any rail commuter can cheerfully explain the convenience of riding a train versus being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for hours, the hassle and expense of finding a parking spot. Urban areas are destroyed by cultural and economic “craters” created by multi-story parking lots. So, since space problem and carbon emissions continue even if every driver gets a compact EV, the best way to finance more space and energy efficient rail transit is to make motorists foot the bill. And, yes, America’s biggest pork barrel lobby will squeal, but there’s more than enough money from truck highway use taxes, motor vehicle sales and registrations, tolls, fuel taxes, parking lot surcharges, to pay for rail costs. Plus, if America can reduce clutter of unsightly vehicles within its inner cities, these places become more habitable by pedestrians, cyclists, and scooters, and therefore more valuable. Of course, those trying to maintain addiction of car culture by escape into suburban and rural areas need to pay same high price as urban dwellers because expansion of residential space is energy intensive and destructive to agriculture and wildlife habitat.

        • Henry Miller

          That I know how you should live your life tone you wrote that with ensures that you will turn off the majority of people and ensure your goals are never met. Pick a battle that can be won. In this case it means help figure out how to build a transit systems in the US that people will actually use.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Great Silent Majority will ensure death of the planet. There is a sense of urgency in Global Climate Change that resembles WWII, and making friends with mindless gas guzzling motorists won’t get energy transit system built. You might be surprised how fast people will jump on a bicycle and actually use transit if they can do so in safe and efficient manner. The Washington State and BC ferry systems already accommodate a bounty of cyclists daily. Bicycle Friday Critical Mass rides in cities across America are protests dedicated to tireless effort to make cyclists safe from road rage motorists. I can assure you that eventually, cyclists will win right to transit access in same way ADA did for the disabled.

      • Ernest Tufft

        Henry, you may well be right that like the Capitol Dome invasion and Trump Climate Change Deniers, stubborn political deadlock with gun owners who refuse to pay full cost of their recreation, America will go into a period of inevitable decline like fall of Roman Empire. Alon earlier article argued that giving pile of money to Amtrak was bad idea, and I agree with that. I do agree with you that reducing costs is extremely important, but USA infrastructure isn’t so cheap to build tracks across as is China’s. This rail business takes strong political will more than cheapskate construction.

    • Alon Levy

      Bike-transit interface is a big topic of study, but I’m not as familiar with it as I would like to be. I can fake knowing it well when it comes to bike-mainline rail interface, because there’s a clear hierarchy between the 15 km/h bike and the 60 km/h train, but bike-urban rail interface is dicier when urban rail averages 30 km/h.

      • Ernest Tufft

        If I understand your comment correctly, that when train service is slow and distances within range of cyclists ability, cyclists are less likely to take bike on train. I’m mostly thinking of HSR not metro, but from my observation I’ve seen many cyclists wanting to shorten their commute time by making last couple of miles plus pedaled, not on foot or waiting for a bus. Collecting data on this issue is really tough with current systems, but maybe comparing bicycle friendly rail systems with those having restrictions
        might help. For rail operations though extending service to those living or working farther from the train station is huge. Attracting and getting cyclists onto the bus or train is similar to what has been done to enable the disabled to ride public transit—just how to physically roll bike onto the train car and accommodate it aboard in an efficient manner. Because bicycles and pedestrians are both zero emission patrons, getting them onboard is certainly cheaper and of greater carbon offset than accommodating motorists who need a place to stash 2k of space wasting steel and rubber. Unfortunately, most trains and train stations have no dedicated cyclist access path, so cyclists must dismount and use elevators or the stairs, both of which reduces cycling efficiency and interferes with pedestrian commuters. The bike handler on an EU train cars also discourages cyclists, in worse way than a dangerous hotel parking valet with an expensive sport car. I think though that France and other places might finally be pushing more cycling at urban level, so this may gravitate to more practical application in HSR.

        • Henry Miller

          Bicycles take up a fair amount of space in a city. They aren’t as bad as cars, but they still take up a lot of space that could be used by humans. Thus transit systems don’t really work well with bikes. If a few people take their bike on the train it isn’t a problem, but if it becomes something most people do, then transit needs to charge as much for a bicycle ticket as for a human ticket – to account for the space they take up. This can either be a direct charge, or it can be a charge everyone pays and accepting the train isn’t nearly as full as it could be. Either way the price must be paid.

          Of course people will also take other packages/luggage on trains and this needs to be accounted for too. Bicycles can fit into some possible schemes.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Yes, your last sentence begins to get to my point. Transit needs to adapt to taking grocery carts of type my wife and I use in Girona, Spain, to facilitate getting errands done with motor vehicle. Cyclists wouldn’t be opposed to paying premium to get bike (or pet) aboard, which is what Spain does now. Eliminating staircases and escalator really simplifies access for all passengers, but at station entrances passengers with bicycles or pets could be routed with signage to different part of loading platform. Since bicycles are zero emission vehicles, carbon tax collected from fuel burning motorists could pay fare difference too. It this becomes wildly popular, declare success and add addition cars to the train.

        • Jason

          In places where bicycling is not a rounding error, the solution is bike parking and bike sharing. You might use your own bike to get from your own house to the train station, and then at your destination, perhaps a busy CBD, you use a bike share or you walk. There is not enough space on trains or buses for any substantial number of bikes.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Train cars can be added. My argument that seems to fall on deaf ears, excuse my exasperation, is that cars are toxic space wasters in the city. Bicycles definitely reduce space waste in cities, so much that major cities are taking lanes and parking away from motorists and giving it over to zero emission, quiet, space efficient bicycles and scooters. Trains can help get cyclists around, and motorists can pay for this too.

    • WL

      I don’t think traditional bikes and transit actually work as well as advocates think it does. The largest problem being that there is not enough space for many besides a couple to bring their bikes onto the train. This means usually you can only have bikes on one end of the last/mile trip, usually on the side traveling home.

      So it’d be home — bike –> train station — travel (no bike) –> train station — walk –> end destination. This works alright when your end destination is in a dense area, say a CBD where the walking distance is short but not in an area that requires biking distance. I do hope the new shared bikes become more ubiquitous as hopefully you don’t need to bring a bike on both ends of the trip.

      • Ernest Tufft

        You must not ride bicycle very often. Same can be said for dogs. Not convenient for other passengers is usual excuse used to exclude these large consumer groups. The advantage of bicycles is that train station extends its reach by factor of 10 or more. Somebody on foot might well walk 2 miles to arrive at train station, but they won’t walk 20 miles. Cyclists can easily pedal 20 miles. Same on departure side. If you think trains are poor match with bicycles, busses are much worse. So, the most efficient form of human locomotion is deleted from the transportation equation. If space is a problem, easiest thing to do is add an extra train car. Maybe drop the cafe car. The shared bicycle is less practical than e-scooter because sharing bicycles is like trying to share shoes—everyone’s fit is different. Folding bicycles are also a bad idea. In several cities, cyclists have protested transit restrictions. In SF Critical Mass protests caused turnaround in Muni train policy so that bicycles are now permitting on all trains even during commute hours.

        • Sassy

          > The advantage of bicycles is that train station extends its reach by factor of 10 or more. Somebody on foot might well walk 2 miles to arrive at train station, but they won’t walk 20 miles. Cyclists can easily pedal 20 miles.

          With pretty much the best bike infrastructure in the world, the typical Dutch bike trip is about 1 mile, and bikes are practically never chosen for a trip that is 20 miles. https://www.peopleforbikes.org/news/best-kept-secret-dutch-biking-dutch-hardly-bike I believe this holds pretty much anywhere that biking is popular. In Tokyo, about a mile is also typical.

          If you go by the chart and say that 2 miles is a maximum walking distance, then 12 miles would be a maximum biking distance, for about 6x range extension. Cyclists in The Netherlands get many privileges over pedestrians compared to many other countries, so 6x is probably the high end.

          > If space is a problem, easiest thing to do is add an extra train car. Maybe drop the cafe car.

          One more train car isn’t much space if a significant percent of people wish to bring a bike. Someone with a bike takes up the same space as a good 3-10 regular people, depending on crowding, ranging from comfy full to physically full, and I doubt cyclists would be acceptable by other passengers at anything beyond comfy full. Unless bikes on trains are only allowed at off peak times, if there’s very few people taking the train at all even at peak times, and/or if barely anyone bikes, it’s unworkable.

          > The shared bicycle is less practical than e-scooter because sharing bicycles is like trying to share shoes—everyone’s fit is different.

          I have used bike shares in both cities and big campuses, and found it to be perfectly fine. I’m trying to get from the office to the lab, not win the Tour de France. It’s like sharing a keyboard. There’s nothing wrong with a standard keyboard, even if it isn’t as nice as aftermarket keycaps on lubed 55g switches with silencer rings.

          > In SF Critical Mass protests caused turnaround in Muni train policy so that bicycles are now permitting on all trains even during commute hours

          In SF, cyclists are not a large consumer group of public transit. Not many people bike at all, and not that many people take public transit either for that matter.

          Amsterdam Metro requires a special ticket and off peak usage for bikes. Nearly all trains in Japan technically always “allow” bikes for free, but it is intended for traveling, not multi-modal-trips, so the bike has to be broken down, put in a bag, and brought on as a big piece of luggage, and if it’s really busy, you might have trouble physically getting on.

          • Ernest Tufft

            I agree that Amsterdam has achieved a lot for cyclists, but if it doesn’t allow bikes on trains during commute it’s status as “best bike infrastructure” will soon be challenged. It might surprise you, but even in mountainous SF, the birthplace of Strava and other bike tech companies, does in fact have a thriving commuter population of cyclists. BART, CalTrain, and ACE trains bring bicycle commuters into the city daily. Your estimate of 3 standing people is about correct, but 10 people space is not. The world’s passenger trains don’t need to be packed sardine cans to be effective because as said an extra car can be added, and paid for by the world’s fuel burning motor vehicles. As health awareness grows, cycling is definitely growing in popularity, and as infrastructure improves, as trains become permissive and inclusive of zero emission personal transport like bikes and scooters, trains infrastructure benefits by extending the reach of regional and HSR systems. I think Alon noted that for slower trains and/or shorter distances, cyclists skip the train, but this is macro economic model because cyclist commuter habit, site specific factors, and weather all impact what cyclists will do. For example, some cyclists exercise commute 3 days a week then ride train two days. Maybe cyclist pedals direct into work in the morning, but afternoon thunderstorm persuades cyclist to put bike on train for commute home. There are many variations, but this all extends the utility of the train system. Cyclists, like the disabled and pet owners, are not majority of passengers on trains, but like any other business, trains are wise to skip rules that satisfy the majority and do their best to find ways to accommodate all users in order to optimize revenue. Pedestrians walking and cycling are transport that even beat fully electrified train for reduced emissions, so trains can justify extra expense for cyclist infrastructure by making fuel burning motorists jammed in rush hour traffic pay for it.

          • Ernest Tufft

            I should add that requiring a folding bike or bike disassembled and put into a bag definitely discourages cyclists from using rail trains. I’m saying that if bikes are allowed to roll onto train for to designated onboard parking, train revenue will increase. Nominal extra charge is OK, but free is better for low income cyclists.

          • Sassy

            > The world’s passenger trains don’t need to be packed sardine cans to be effective because as said an extra car can be added

            It’s not “an” extra car, it’s several. If ~15% of people bring bikes on train, the train has to get 30% longer. For a 10 car train, that would be 3 extra cars, not accounting for any change in maximum tolerable crowdedness.

            Adding cars can be difficult. Infrastructure needs to be lengthened to support it, and big expansions of city center infrastructure is expensive even when it’s relatively cheap. Even a small percentage of people bringing bikes on require significantly longer trains, because it impacts the maximum crowdedness that can be tolerated, and bikes take up more space than people.

            A higher maximum crowdedness tolerated can also lower costs, because it means that accommodating rarer spikes in demand can be done by increasing crowdedness, instead of having to support that level of demand at lower crowdedness. For example, while they do try to provide seats for everyone, you can stand on the Shinkansen. People rarely do unless they are a regular Shinkansen commuter, but during peak travel seasons, the ability to stand means that more people can use the train instead of fly, without massive overbuilding to accommodate this rare scenario.

            > and paid for by the world’s fuel burning motor vehicles

            As Henry said “Either there are not enough motorists to cover the needed taxation, or there is a large car culture and transit is a footnote. You cannot have both.”

            > It might surprise you, but even in mountainous SF, the birthplace of Strava and other bike tech companies, does in fact have a thriving commuter population of cyclists.

            I wouldn’t call it thriving. It’s optimistically like 5% of commuters. It’s still fully the spandex/aero crowd instead of biking being a thing that normal people do.

            > Maybe cyclist pedals direct into work in the morning, but afternoon thunderstorm persuades cyclist to put bike on train for commute home

            Supporting such ultra peaky behavior is expensive. This also ties in to my earlier point about maximum crowdedness. A thunderstorm causing pedestrians to take the train just a stop or two instead of walking is easy to accommodate, but cyclists that lower maximum tolerable crowdedness, not so much.

            > trains are wise to skip rules that satisfy the majority and do their best to find ways to accommodate all users in order to optimize revenue

            I don’t think train operators accommodate disabled people to optimize revenue. They accommodate disabled people because society believes that helping disabled people lead more regular lives is the right thing to do, and sometimes there have to be laws to force otherwise uncooperative businesses to do the right thing.

            > Pedestrians walking and cycling are transport that even beat fully electrified train for reduced emissions, so trains can justify extra expense for cyclist infrastructure by making fuel burning motorists jammed in rush hour traffic pay for it.

            It’s better to just build cities for pedestrians instead of bicycles. That also avoids significant reductions in efficiency of trains by having to make them much longer.

            > I should add that requiring a folding bike or bike disassembled and put into a bag definitely discourages cyclists from using rail trains.

            I believe that is the entire point of the policy. It’s to enable people to bring their bike with them on trips (usually off peak), without having to deal with tons of bikes interfering with commuter services, without having to create explicit policies surrounding bikes.

          • adirondacker12800

            15% of people bring bikes on train
            It means the other 85 percent are wily enough to figure out how to get where they are going without bringing a bike along.

          • fjod

            The Amsterdam Metro doesn’t actually enforce those bike policies and despite having lived there for a couple of years I don’t know how you would go about buying a bike ticket. Sometimes the faregates bleep if they think you’re bringing a bike through; this is routinely ignored. The older rolling stock has dedicated bike spaces, and a fair number of people bring bikes on board (2 per train on average I’d say). That number is naturally limited by the fact that most of the city is within 40 mins cycle from most of the rest of it (meaning that there are relatively few trips for which bike-metro-bike is the most convenient option), and by the pretty extensive inner-city tram coverage which travels about the same speed as a bike and does not require you to push 10kg of metal around. It also helps that the metro is relatively lightly-used.

        • Jason

          For a cycling enthusiast, perhaps, which is a rounding error. I can easily bike 20 miles. I could probably run or walk 20 miles too. But I don’t want to for a random trip. Strava enthusiasts should keep in mind that most people aren’t like them.

          When I think of widespread biking, I think of people like my 60 year old aunt with diabetes riding an old bike with 2 bags of groceries at 10km/h. They’ll use bike share if it’s easy, like tapping a smart card they already have for riding trains, and they are willing to bike a mile to the train station if there’s bike parking, safe roads, and the terrain is flat and it’s not under the midday sun, but they definitely won’t be bothered to take a bike onto a bus or train.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Actually, using Strava database is good idea for Alon. Strava is dedicated to sport fitness, but they do collect commuter cycling data. The story about your aunt seems fictional, but I agree that bike share systems work for a sizeable fraction of all cyclists, but probably about the same fraction as car drivers who use Uber or rental car, as opposed to driving their own. I’ve used rental bikes and scooters, and I can definitely see occasion advantage to use one. But, if I had my own bike fitted to my body, I’ll feel more comfortable. I like seat and handlebars and such set up to my needs. Other people are cheapskates or poor and figure way to make Walmart junk or used bike fit their need better than shared bike. So, actually it’s easier to rent a car than rent a bike. My main point is get everyone on the train, and try to reduce motor vehicle use as much as possible.

          • Alon Levy

            Strava is great for tracking the bike use of people who use Strava, who are not genpop. Not everyone lives with American surveillance electronics; might as well count Amazon Echoes in lieu of census counts of households.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Strava is one of several companies, some being European who aggregate recreational and commuter cyclist data. Apple has some research along lines too. Just any database, it’s not representative of all cyclists to be sure, but it’s better than pure speculation by non cyclists, or worse slamming the door on another group likely to use regional public transit.

          • Eric2

            Pretty much everyone in Western countries has a smartphone, aka “surveillance electronics”. As do many people in developing countries.

        • anonymouse observer

          Are you seriously saying people can bike 20 miles easily in daily basis?

          Do you know how long it takes for regular (not very fit) people to bike 20 miles on a cheap bike sold at big-box stores like WalMart or Target (those are very heavy unlike your $1,000 road bike) through typical urban or suburban street grid with traffic lights once every mile or so? Do you think typical middle-class people has time to waste when they know they can make the same trip in just a half of time?

          How does someone dressed up for work (dress shirt, dress pants, jacket, and dress shoes) show up after 20-mile bike ride without any sweat, body odor, or piece of mud or dust sprayed by cars passing by? Remember, majority of office workers in North America don’t have an access to shower or even changing room at office, and younger people typically have higher metabolism (sweat more or more easily).

          Also, how would you deal with weather, particularly rains and heats? Do you expect people in Riverside, CA, Phoenix, AZ, or Dallas, TX to bike in summer for commute by bicycle with business attire and work productively?

          • Ernest Tufft

            In California, tech workers with six figure salaries often do pedal 20+ miles on high end bike, get on train, roll off train and bike to work (hopefully less than 20 miles), take off cycle gear, shower at company exercise facilities, put on Levis and T-shirt, and join their work group to design new equipment or solve technical problems on equipment you use everyday. 20 miles is not far actually for recreational cyclist who might leave city on empty train hoping to longer distances to ride in rural setting. Do they really need car culture for this? I’m not saying everyone does this, but a bicycle multiplies distance walking by factor of about 10. People won’t walk 20 miles. Doing a marathon before work isn’t practical even for the most fit. I can walk to my HSR station in 10 minutes, or cycle there in about two minutes. It would be convenient if when I get to train station I can roll bike onto train with same ease as pedestrian passenger. For me to drive car would take longer than 10 minutes because of parking hassles, and cost of parking. Now, some people live farther away. Eventually,this distance between work or home and the train station becomes impractical to walk and drag a suitcase to catch train. So, then person chooses between driving and wasting time finding and paying for parking spot, catching a bus that may or may not be on schedule, or riding a bike. Everyone has to get to work though. So, while walking 20 miles is impossible, car, bus, or bicycle are possible depending on fitness and mood of the person. Some days, the fit cyclist doesn’t want to ride in rain, or he just isn’t motivated to ride, so he catches a bus, taxi, etc. Hopefully though, he doesn’t drive a car to the station.

          • anonymouse observer

            Unfortunately, I need to wear the dress shirt, dress pants, dress shoes, a tie, and a jacket on for work, and I don’t have an access to shower or changing room. I imagine those people you are referring to is not majority. Have you seen the car salesman or bank tellers wearing t-shirts, jeans, and/or sandals at work everywhere? Maybe I just went to a wrong bank branch last week because everyone working at the bank branch office I went were in business formal attire.

            I need to shut myself off because I’m just tired of the argument like this assuming everyone in the developed world lives in the Bay Area and show up with whatever random crap they can wear (or naked). I need to feed my family by doing non-tech old school stuff because I have no tech skills and nowhere close to retirement or buying a second house in some random location where people can show up however many hours late and sweaty/smelly for an appointment. By the way, I need to show up at work exactly at the same time 5 days a week. I think I’m one of these people who some people consider a loser.

            Could you kindly wake me up when everyone works for the tech companies and dress up like those techies everywhere?

          • Sassy

            > In California, tech workers with six figure salaries often do pedal 20+ miles on high end bike, get on train, roll off train and bike to work (hopefully less than 20 miles), take off cycle gear, shower at company exercise facilities, put on Levis and T-shirt, and join their work group to design new equipment or solve technical problems on equipment you use everyday.

            This is a very rare thing for people to do. It’s people who have turned their daily commute into a sport, not a significant chunk of the commuter population. The only reason why they can even bring bikes on the train is that the SF Bay Area is so cycling and transit hostile, that accommodating inefficient uses of trains by a tiny fraction of train users is viable.

            For example, this is a bike storage room for a 43 story, 76k square meter, tech office tower: https://www.sarisinfrastructure.com/post/blog-bike-room-highlight-salesforce-west-in-san-francisco And I bet nearly all bikes there were from someone who lives in SF and biked the entire way, not the South/East Bay commuter crowd. And since cycling in the US is a rich people hobby, a non-tech office tower would probably have even fewer bikes.

            > 20 miles is not far actually for recreational cyclist who might leave city on empty train hoping to longer distances to ride in rural setting.

            It is extremely far for almost everyone though, since the cyclists you speak of are extremely rare. There’s nothing wrong with bikes on trains if it’s rare, but to have a big impact, it has to be not rare.

            > I’m not saying everyone does this, but a bicycle multiplies distance walking by factor of about 10.

            I believe I linked data that suggests that it’s optimistically a factor of 6 if you choose “equivalent to 2 miles walking”, and comparing median trips by trying to eyeball curve center of mass on the chart, I think it’s more realistically ~3x. And in any case, you get that area covered increase, with fewer problems, by having bike parking.

            > It would be convenient if when I get to train station I can roll bike onto train with same ease as pedestrian passenger.

            Yes, and if it was only you, it would be fine. However, it can’t be a solution to car usage because it must be unpopular to not cause problems.

      • Eric2

        In Europe, I think it’s unusual for a trip to need a bike on both ends. Office districts, shopping malls, cultural attractions, and so on have very good transit access. The only trips that would need bikes at both ends are house to house between distant parts of the city, but these are pretty rare.

        • borners

          If you’re thinking about international best practices on bike-transit interactions East Asia is essential. East Asian national bike mode share doesn’t top 30% like the Netherlands but its around 20-10%. None of them permit bikes on trains at peak time. Bicycle infrastructure is very low compared to NW Europe or even some American cities, but it doesn’t matter if you allow bikes on pedestrian pavements, or have lots of mixed use roads which force cars to very slow speeds. Bikes are complimentary to mass transit as feeders which take people to stations which take them to the CBD. If you are a built out mass-transit city, bikes in the centre don’t make as much sense because there are so many train line/bus nodes close to each other, while in the suburbs the stations are less dense as is the level of residential and commercial building. But I’m underselling how dense those suburbs are by N.American standards. The lowest hanging fruit is probably radical zoning reform to infill more density and allow mixed use in the residential areas most people live in. Put the supermarkets in cycling distance of people before you try putting city hall in cycling distance.

          Of Asia’s megacities it is Seoul that has the lowest bike share despite having the most bike-friendly train policies with subways allow bicycles on during off-peak times and weekends. PRC train security theatre alone makes it impossible in China. Meanwhile Japan only has regular bike services in low density rural lines private lines. Those might explain why Kagawa and Ehime have the highest cycle mode share in Japan (they each have a mini-rail conglomerate which permits bikes on their trains), but not why Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto do so well.

          • Alon Levy

            NL doesn’t do bikes on trains either. Bikes-on-trains is big in the US and Germany, but in the Netherlands they have bike parking instead, and if you need a bike at both ends you’re expected to buy two bikes and park appropriately.

            What’s special about Kagawa and Ehime? When I think of “small place with lots of bike usage” I think of university towns, here as in the US.

          • borners

            On Kochi and Ehime (I screwed up its those two although Kagawa isn’t so far behind), I can’t say I know. They are definitely not universities towns in the American (or British) sense of the word (although a recent attempt almost cost Abe job a few years back).

            Geography is part of it, they have narrow flat coastal plains unlike say Tohoku and the street layout is fairly gridy. So a high percentage of the population lives in a straight flat line or two away from major centres. Or poverty….
            That said the major cities of Shikoku Matsuyama (500,000), Takamatsu (400,000) and Kochi (300,000) are pretty similar to most NW Europeans cities.

          • anonymouse observer

            Alon is actually correct on the reason why bike share is high in Takamatsu (Kagawa Prefecture). It’s not a college town, but it has similar characteristics of typical American college towns in terms of land use pattern (flat, fairly compact town with density in the core, and the business districts and residential areas are located fairly close from each other). I guess the weather also helps; the annual precipitation of Takamatsu is one of the lowest of all prefectural capital cities in Japan (facing Seto-Naikai and moisture from monsoon being blocked by mountain ranges south and north). Matsuyama could be quite similar (definitely have the same sunnier weather pattern due to geographical location and relatively flat within CBD), but I don’t know well about the land use pattern.

            LIke Alon pointed out for NL’s case, Japanese solves the issue of “need bicycle on both first and last mile but cannot carry onto the trains” problems by having separate bicycle for the first-mile part and the last-mile part. This works thanks to bicycle parking facility at train stations and other transit nodes and having an access to affordable but reliable bicycles which are cheap enough to by multiple of them (like “mamachari”) and leave them where they needed. You can buy a brand-new bicycle with a bell, mudflaps, a light, and 3-speed gear for about 10,000 yen a piece. These 10k yen bicycles can last for years (even without proper maintenance) and good enough for short distance up to several kilometers. Several kilometers covers almost all of your daily needs in a typical Japanese cities and towns (they would drive or take mass transit).

            In fact, many high-school kids in Japanese mid-size cities keeps one bicycle between their home and the nearest train station from their home and another bicycle on their destination side (between the school and the nearest station from the school) if they “commute” by trains and public transit doesn’t work well as first-/last-mile access. They might make this choice financially, too; with brand-new bicycles sold for so cheap, it could be much cheaper to buy two bicycles than keep paying for the last-mile bus/tram fare in some cases, even with bicycle parking fees.

            Speaking of volume of bicycles: because of amount of bicycles parked in the CBD (modal share could be, low but population density is high), many cities in Japan restricts bicycle parking on the sidewalks within core business districts except for the designated bicycle parking zone or bike parking facilities because parked bicycles become safety hazards on sidewalks. Your bicycle could be “towed away” if you park and leave your bicycle in the random areas beyond a certain amount of time (it could be as short as 15 minutes). I guess this is one evidence for even bicycle doesn’t solve a space issue.

          • Sassy

            Buying a second bike to keep at a remote location sounds like an inefficiency, but after thinking about it, it kinda does make sense. If you rent a bike at the train station, then ride it to your kinda far from the station school, that bike probably isn’t getting used again until you rent it again to ride home anyways. It might be wasted on a weekend when someone else could be using it, but either (1) the station where you keep your bike is also a popular place on weekends and there is a decent chance you can use the bike or (2) the station where you keep your bike is not a popular place on weekends and no one really wants to rent them then anyways.

            That lead me to this study on bike shares in Shanghai: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966692320302623

            20% of bikes were ridden less than 10 times, and it seems like about half were ridden 20 times or less, and two thirds 40 times or less. The spatial distribution map of typical stop time also shows that even at the edge of Shanghai inner districts, the median bike is probably just station to work, work to lunch, lunch to work, work to station, and the utilization gets worse the further from the city center you get.

          • anonymouse observer

            Yes, it sounds inefficient, but there are a couple of things to consider:
            1) It’s much cheaper to buy your own bikes than using bike sharing. The price of a decent 3-speed mamachari is around 10,000 yen while monthly bikeshare membership cost around 2,000 yen a month. Monthly/quarterly parking pass for the paid bicycle parking structure could be cheaper than the bikeshare membership, so the second bicycles could be fully paid off within 3 years in high school;
            2) High schools are typically located outside of the city center: within residential areas or education districts. Even if kids converted to bikeshare, these bicycles used by kids for commuting wouldn’t be utilized by others;
            3) Someone running the bikeshare needs to make sure balancing the bicycles right (have bicycles at the transit stops in the morning but at the schools in the afternoon) or kids could be stranded, given the location of the high schools, it could be a problem, and;
            4) Japanese school kids in K-12 are not allowed to leave the school for lunch or in the intermission even high-schoolers. Once the bell time comes, they typically need to stay inside of the school property until the end of the last class of the day.

            With these things, I don’t think there will be a massive shift from ownership to sharing over there, especially among the high school kids.

    • Phake Nick

      I think bike and ebike and scooter, for the purpose of transit discussion, are just more environmentally friendly car and taxi, since they are still private mode of vehicles, and many people using them together would lead to a change in economic of scale to enhance the transit infrastructure significantly. It is great for last mile access in places like rural area, but I don’t think it can help reduce car culture and such

      • Ernest Tufft

        I own a car and bicycle. If I can commute by bicycle, I am reducing emissions and space waste of my car that remains parked in garage at home. If train service were a little better for cyclists, I might sell the car. Especially, if expenses imposed due to carbon tax make car wasteful to my wallet.

  2. Benjamin Turon

    WoW! That is a lot of cost escalation for the Baltimore tunnels, and you see the same for Gateway too. American planners and designers seem to know only how to gold plate. Perhaps Brightline West will be different, from what I’m gathering (listening to the US House HSR Hearing) they seem to be working with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to get a one seat ride Las Vegas-LA Union Station by just electrifying Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line. Its not ideal as its a single track line on a ROW which mostly can’t be widen for double track, however it is only a intern step till CHSRA builds into LA via Palmdale. Metro seems to be planning to build its High Desert HSR line that will then connect with Brightline at Victorville and then on Brightline tracks cross over the Cajon Pass to San Bernardino. On the northern end the High Desert Corridor connects with Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line in Palmdale. The Antelope Valley Line could also be electrified, and there seems to be ROW for double tracking. Making as much use of existing passenger rail infrastructure — even as a intern phase before building new high-speed track — makes sense.

    • Phake Nick

      Brightline West itself is planning to build a single track line using highway median (Switched from previous XpressWest’s plan of building double track along the highway), so the rail it connecting into is single track isn’t too much of a problem

    • Alon Levy

      Gateway is built as passenger-only. The overdesign is for the station, but lean versions without Penn South are circulating as value engineering. The real issue with grades is at the other end – with 4% grades it’s possible to build Alt G and connect Penn with Grand Central without disturbing older subways, but out of belief that all tunnels should be able to accommodate crap electric locomotives (cost to replace the entire NJT fleet with new EMUs: around $2 billion) the plans, even those of the RPA, involve 2% grades. But all of this is barely in the study phase, not in design unlike Gateway.

        • Car(e)-Free LA

          So does not building a bridge across Long Island Sound. Unlike that, however, this is useful.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s not particularly useful except for the very lucky few who would be withing a few blocks of Grand Central.
            Causeways are cheap compared to digging longer tunnels to White Plains Airport.

    • WL

      I’m also pretty puzzled why the HSR ratio in china is so high. I guess a combination of a bit too much money (though the central government has realized they’re spending a bit too much.) and desiring to avoid property impacts. Though after a cursory search can’t find a more detailed answer.

    • Sassy

      In the case of Japan, I suspect part of the reason is to avoid cutting up rural street networks, which tend to be fairly dense in Japan (streets every couple hundred meters). Due to the geography of Japan, there isn’t much empty flat land. Trains tend to run through mountains, farms, or built up areas. If you look at Shinkansen vs conventional:

      * Shinkansen tends to go straight over rural areas on viaducts, without interrupting the street network. Fields do get split, but the streets just go under every couple hundred meters. If you took away the tracks, you could join both sides seamlessly.

      * Conventional lines tend to cut rural areas into distinct sections on either side, with far fewer crossings. If you took away the track, you can still recognize where it once was, because the two sides are distinct and less connected to each other.

      I’m guessing this is the case because the conventional lines are older, and might have been built before people started using the land, or when destroying rural street networks was more viable.

      As for why viaducts are so common in China, or in Japan in unnecessary places, the easy answer would be that they just copied what works. If you looked at the Tokaido Shinkansen, you’d probably think that viaducts, tunnels, or trenches were the only appropriate places to build high speed rail, resulting in the Shinkansen network. And China learned the habit from Japan. That answer is a bit unsatisfying though.

    • Phake Nick

      Content farms from China claims that, it is due to
      1. gradient and turning radius requirement
      2. by building HSR track on pile foundations fixated deep down to rocky layer of the earth, it’s no longer necessary to wait for embankment settlement and can thus speed up the construction time
      3. saving land use and saving the land acquisition cost
      4. Reduced risk of foreign object intrusion, enhance safety and reduce maintenance cost, allow pedestrian crossing without interfering with railroad operation, reduce management cost

      • Phake Nick

        From this Japanese source https://diamond.jp/articles/-/247766?page=2 ,
        Initially after finishing the construction of Tokaido Shinkansen, due the embankment not being settled they have to run at slower speed during the first year of operation, and because of this problem they switched to slab track on bridge and thus doesn’t have to wait for settlement.

        On the other hand JRTT said that https://news.yahoo.co.jp/articles/79cbd7ba92a04451f832c92d6317eea8782697a1 if Shinkansen are to be constructed on surface, it would require making underpass/overpass for roads that it intersect, and thus would cost extra money and time for construction. In addition they also mentioned the lower risk of collision with pedestrian or cars when the tracks are elevated.

        • Sassy

          I think the sources you mentioned complement each other.

          Avoiding needing to build underpass/overpass for intersecting roads, and safety (perceived?), and the unusually strict gradient requirement, is why all Shinkansen tracks are built so high. This includes the Tokaido Shinkansen, which is mainly on very tall concrete lined embankments (which my mind just grouped with proper viaducts). And also why all Chinese HSR is elevated.

          After problems with the Tokaido Shinkansen style embankments, newer Shinkansen and all Chinese HSR lines get built on proper viaducts.

          • Sassy

            I think the complementary nature of the two linked articles is also a bit more clear from the comparisons made. The first one compares viaducts against embankments (answers the question of why not Tokaido Shinkansen style embankments), and the second one compares viaducts against surface (answers the question of why put them so high above the ground at all).

          • Phake Nick

            On the other hand, from the m.sohu.com article I linked in the other comment down below, it seems like when China built their Beijing-Shanghai HSR, they intended to lower the embankment height whenever they do use embankment

    • Alon Levy

      All of Asia does… I don’t know why. It’s monogenetic in democratic Asia – Korea, Taiwan, and India are imitating Japan on this. Maybe China is too, I’m not sure – its design has some Japanese features (viaducts, 1.5-2% grades even on passenger-dedicated lines) and some unique ones (giant-ass stations on the Moon rather than in city centers, security theater).

      • Phake Nick

        Well the Indian high speed line is made with Japanese help so it make sense it would be designed similarly to Japan’s line.
        For Taiwan, according to this essay on history of High Speed Rail in Taiwan and China: http://ir.lib.pccu.edu.tw/bitstream/987654321/27654/2/fb141008100843.pdf apparently the alignment was mainly decided under France’s Sofrerail’s advice, so it doesn’t seems to be the source of similarity with Japanese system?
        For Korea, According to https://namu.wiki/w/%EA%B2%BD%EB%B6%80%EA%B3%A0%EC%86%8D%EC%84%A0 this wiki article on Gyeongbu HSR, the reason why the line have high level of tunnel and viaduct usage is because it follow same spec as the French LGV system with a minimum curve radius of 7000m, but Korean terrain is more rugged than the flat France and thus requires more tunnels and bridges to achieve the same spec

  3. Ernest Tufft

    Viaducts are not only expensive but cause more noise pollution. The cost of tunneling can be reduced according to Elon Musk Boring Company, where entrails of mining are used immediately to furnish material to brick tunnel walls, thus reducing truckload removal of waste. Tunnels have terrific advantages to inner city development and reduce noise pollution even over below grade tracks and station of sort that Gilroy, CA was able to demand for its station on California’s high speed rail project.

    • WL

      The tunnels by the boring company are much smaller than those for light rail/high speed rail.

      I think you kinda missed a large point of Alon’s article, high speed rail becomes incredibly expensive partly because of the over reliance on tunnels. If you want affordable transit to be built within our lifetimes, it’ll need to be at-grade or viaducts at best. Those demands by Californian cities that you are celebrating are exactly why costs have ballooned to over 100 billion.

      • Ernest Tufft

        The last statement made isn’t true. What ballooned cost was battle with Central Valley farmers who basically forced HSR to build viaducts, some of which had additional unexplained engineering cost overruns. Yes, the $1.5B for San Francisco to tunnel a 1.7 mile Muni train with 4 stations is really expensive. However, this new extension will service the mostly densely populated part of the city, easing burden of the historic Cable Car system. https://www.sfmta.com/projects/central-subway-project
        Noise pollution is a serious concern for HSR, and like freeways, can devalue adjacent residential areas if station is not within walking distance. I moved from California to Girona, Spain because this smaller city is extremely cyclist friendly. But, the city center also has a unified station with a freight and local train tracks built in viaduct, and below ground is the HSR. The train runs along surface most of the way between Barcelona and Girona, but couple miles before entering Girona, tracks go under ground. These are expensive but since station system could last hundred years or more like system in NYC and London, it’s a good investment. https://www.catalannews.com/society-science/item/the-high-speed-train-linking-barcelona-and-girona-to-france-to-finally-start-running-in-april-2013

    • wiesmann

      Using the rocks carved out while digging the tunnel to build the concrete for the tunnel walls was used in the building of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, whose construction started in 1999.

      • Ernest Tufft

        I think Musk was trying a design a digging machine that would automate this task.

      • Henry Miller

        Only if you violate some laws of physics. Air compresses, but rock does not. Sure you can use the rock you dig to make concrete/brick – but only for the same volume of material as you dug out for the walls. The volume you dug out for the empty space still needs to go someplace.

        I would hope that anyone digging a tunnel is trying to sell whatever leftover rock they have. However make no mistake, this sale is competing with open pit gravel pit mines on price and so can never pay back the cost of digging it out. That is before we account for the fact that those mines are located where the rock they want is, not taking whatever rock happens to come out of the tunnel. (though I will admit most gravel pits haven’t done as much study before buying land as they should)

        • Alon Levy

          FWIW, one way the LGV Sud-Est cut costs was to design the vertical profile to balance cut with fill, using the earth cut up for nearby fill. But that’s for an exclusively at-grade line.

        • wiesmann

          Well, in the Swiss Alps, rocks are not exactly a rare commodity. The point was mostly to minimise the transport of the rocks to the disposal site, and minimise the transport of sand for the concrete to the construction site.

        • Phake Nick

          In some part of Japan, processing of soil dig out of tunnels have become a political issue because they contain naturally occurring radioactive elements

      • Onux

        Note that this only works for certain rock types. Far from being crude, modern concrete is a high performance product with careful selection of material for aggregate and sand, and carful ratios when mixing them with water, cement, and often other additives. Many locations require tunneling through dirt or even certain rock types when none of the excavated spoil can be reused for concrete and all must be hauled away (unless it can be used as fill, as Alon notes below.)

    • Alon Levy

      The use of below-grade tracks is even more expensive. HS2 has high costs even net of tunnels because of extensive use of trenches demanded by local toffs, same problem that Gilroy has.

    • Max Wyss

      Please don’t fall for the boring blurb… Attempting to show off with a third hand TBM used for sewers and running cars through it, is just embarassing…

      • Ernest Tufft

        You mine fall for it like Chicago, Washington DC, and Los Angeles? I agree that underground rail is more impressive than underground expressway, but it’s a great replacement for a freeway that can’t be widened. These projects were designed to get folks from downtown to the airport very quickly. It can be done in a tunnel or by battery powered helicopter.

        • Michael Noda

          Yes, fall for it exactly like them. If you’ve been here any length of time, you should know that an overriding theme of the research presented here is that American transportation officials, with some exceptions, don’t have the competence required to tell a good idea apart from a grift.

          • Ernest Tufft

            Michael, I don’t think Alon research falls into category of Trump’s personal ridicule or proposing elimination of the transportation cabinet officials. Please propose constructive ideas in you comments.

          • Henry Miller

            After listening to the congressional hearings on HSR recently, you cannot be too cynical about how incompetent American transportation officials are around transportation. Their job isn’t to make transport better, it it so funnel Pork to special interests: if viable transport comes out of anything they do it is a bad because then there is less places to spread the money.

            There are exceptions of course, a few people seem to get HSR can be a good thing done right. This is in both parties, but are a minority. The vast majority is Republicans trying to kill spending, and Democrats trying to get more spending to their buddies. (Republicans don’t have buddies in transit to waste money on – they have their own place to funnel money but it isn’t HSR)

  4. Jannos

    Why does it seem to be classifying CAHSR project as canceled or even postponed when its very much under construction? Obviously the construction timeline is protracted as the money becomes available but you can visit the sites tomorrow and see a very much developing line.

    • Alon Levy

      Bakersfield-Merced is under construction, yes. But that’s without electrification. And the other parts aren’t under construction, nor is the state making much effort to further fund this; the governor even said that calling Bako-Merced incomplete is offensive to Bako and Merced, which is not what one says when one plans to connect the line to LA or SF. So it should be put back on the drawing board until the project is restarted in earnest.

      • Jannos

        I would argue that LA-SF is indeed the project scope, but that does not negate that many projects have smaller initial operating segments. And per their latest business plan they have the money for electrification of said segment. Not to mention HSR is investing in projects it will be using outside of IOS (Caltrain corridor electrification, LA Union Station run-through tracking, grade separations).

        And even aside from that, lets say it never gets the money to expand to SF and LA…its still a high speed train from where it does go to and from. And one can measure the cost of that for comparison’s sake.

      • Onux

        Not only without electrification, they haven’t even issued the contract to install track or signal systems (everything built to date has been structures and earthworks), and there was even a proposal earlier this year (perhaps a disingenuous one designed to get money out of the expected federal infrastructure plan by crying poverty) to save money and install only a single track on the current segment.

        That said, I still wouldn’t call CAHSR cancelled or even indefinitely postponed. Construction is proceeding slowly and with great incompetence, but it is proceeding. Of course if the delays and problems mean that 250+kph trains never run on any segment, that is a different story.

        • David James

          I checked on the status of the Track Systems contracts for California’s high speed rail project. The California High Speed Rail web site indicates that they will have received the proposals for the electrified track systems by this July 2021.

      • David James

        I have heard a lot about California’s High-Speed Rail construction cost overruns. However, when I went through the 2018 California State auditors report, I found that the construction cost per mile was only $104 million per mile for the double-tracked 200 mph section of the high-speed rail system from Bakersfield to Merced. This is $64.5 million dollars per km.

        I understand that the section from Bakersfield to Palmdale, which includes extensive tunneling, has cost estimates informed by geological surveys, of $250 million per mile($155 million per km)

        Given that California’s high-speed rail project is actually under construction in the US, the construction costs of its different sections should be included in the survey, just as the different sections of Italy’s high-speed rail system are.

  5. Patrick Jensen

    “The viaduct percentage, moreover, is absolutely endogenous.”

    It might be worth checking viaduct (and tunnel) prevalence against measures of geomorphological heterogeneity, such as Terrain Ruggedness Index or Vector Ruggedness Measure. As can be seen here, China has extremely high TRI outside the North Chinese Plain, Hexi corridor and the Tarim basin. The Balkan peninsula is the only region in Europe that comes even close.

    Click to access Geomorpho90m.pdf

    • Alon Levy

      Okay, but Beijing-Shanghai crosses the North China Plain on viaduct, whereas more rugged lines in France are built at-grade.

      • Patrick Jensen

        Admittedly building massive viaducts across flat plains are a bit of a brute-force solution, likely originating from very ambitious schedules.

        You’re right in that it would probably be cheaper to do detailed surveys and alignment studies to route around meandering rivers and settlements and reorganize the road network that criss-crosses the plain, as well as doing farmland redistribution, but that takes time. A long time, in fact, and the Chinese government wanted lots of high speed rail now, so they just decided to fly over all obstacles rather than going around them.

        Still, the difference might not be as large as one might think, because paradoxically, very flat terrain is a problem too. My understanding is that the soils of the North Chinese plain are fairly soft and high-quality aggregate is difficult to obtain, as rocky outcrops are rare. You would need to build a large portion of the line on a piles anyway and a ballatless construction would make a lot of sense. So in the best of cases, you’d get cost down to Dutch levels.

        For at grade-construction you ideally want gently rolling hills, because they give you a balance of cut and fill, lots of natural sites for over- and underpasses and there’s always inclines for surface water runoff.

      • Onux

        “Okay, but Beijing-Shanghai crosses the North China Plain”

        Not only that, but generally the people (and the rail lines) are where the mountains are not, and China is clearly aware of and adjusts lines for geography (except for reaching the Sichuan basin, where there is no alternative to crossing mountains).

        For instance, the line from Shanghai to Guangzhou goes through Changsa, instead of taking the straight line along the coast and through the mountains of Fujian (the black spot in the SE). There are effectively no rail lines of any kind for about 1,200km west of Chengdu – the biggest black spot on that map – and the rail line to Lahsa (non-HSR) runs north to get around that rough terrain mountains rather than taking a direct route to Chengdu or Kunming.

        • Phake Nick

          They have another line from Shanghai to Guangzhou via the coast (Hangzhou – Fuzhou – Shenzhen Railway), and then a third line under construction that connect through mountainous area in inland Fujian area. (Beijing – Jiujiang – Kowloon/HongKong HSR) The under construction line should become a faster line connecting Shanghai to Guangzhou than the existing route via Beijing – Guangzhou HSR.
          The reason why the current Beijing – Guangzhou line is constructed much earlier, in addition to geography (=lower technical difficulty and cost less) as well as the line follow where cities are, it probably also have to do with the fact that Beijing is the country’s political center, and connecting it to other important Chinese cities are more important than let various other Chinese cities connecting themselves together.
          Also, China is now building a rail line directly from Chengdu to Lhasa across all that sort of terrain. The 1011-km long Ya’an to Linzhi section of the rail line is expected to have 95%, or about 958km, tunnels and viaducts. The longest tunnels in this section will be 42.486km long, and it will feature six other tunnels at or over 30km long, as well as ten other tunnels 20-30km long

      • Phake Nick

        Apparently when designing the Beijing-Shanghai HSR Line they found out that it would cross many good fertile agricultural field, and they make it a design principle that use of these land should be minimized, and use of farmland in general should be avoided as much as possible. This is possibly related to China’s emphasis on domestic food supply sufficiency and food supply security.

        • Alon Levy

          Holland made the same excuse for tunneling under farmland. But the land consumption of HSR is minimal, the real issue was NIMBYism.

          • Phake Nick

            The article claim farmland usage dropped from fifty something km^2 to forty something km^2 after two redesign extending bridge length from some 400 km to 1024 km.

          • Sassy

            I think saving about 10 square kilometers of farmland by building 600 kilometers of viaduct is further evidence that it’s more to do with politics than practical concern about food security.

          • Phake Nick

            When the government in China is forcing farmers into high-rise instead of living in their farming villages in order to gain more usable land, or when they are keeping extra farmland inside major cities like Shanghai and Beijing under the same slogan of food safety, I cannot really tell how much of it is political and how much of it is practical

          • Eric2

            I don’t really understand that. Surely they can vastly increase their farmland by irrigating more of Inner Mongolia, and surely they can get the water for that by reprocessing sewage or desalination. Per acre I would think that’s cheaper than elevating HSR and growing crops under it.

          • SB

            Northern China already have major water problems so having more irrigation isn’t viable

        • adirondacker12800

          Things don’t grow particularly well in the shade. Viaducts have a lot of shade under them.

  6. Phake Nick

    Alon, can you fix the first two column of the spreadsheet, such that when user scroll to the right, the line name will still be visible on the left?

  7. Phake Nick

    In the database, for the Shenzhen – Jiangmen line, according to the 163 link, the main line is 116 km long instead of 136 km? (Or is there branch being counted into the number?)
    And it also mentioned, while the project cost is expected to be 41.6 Billion CNY per environmental report (similar to figure in the database), the project is now expected to cost 51.3 Billion.
    And what exactly is the “Hefei-Xinqiao International Airport-Lu’an HSR” line mentioned in the spreadsheet?

    • keiour

      Looks like a HSR branded as intercity line, starting from Hefer South St., take a detour via Hefei airport to Lu’an, parallel to some existing HSRs. There should be a published environment reporting with detailed route planning available but I can’t find it anywhere.

      Work cited: https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_8765192

  8. BindingExport

    – or a misguided attempt at building mixed lines in the 1980s and 90s.
    Germany plans exclusively mixed lines.
    Frankfurt (Zeppelinheim)-Mannheim (Waldhof), Hannover-Hamburg and Gelnhausen-Fulda (Neuhof) are all legally required by the way their plan approval process works to close down for passenger trains at night to make room for diverted freight trains. Their noise emission profile is based on pure freight @160kph between 22pm and 5am. Noise pollution savings from legacy lines at night are calculated in their plan approval and are legally enforceable.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, but Stuttgart-Ulm has steeper grades and I think so does Berlin-Munich. And Frankfurt-Cologne has such grades it doesn’t even allow ICE1s and ICE2s.

      • BindingExport

        Nuremberg-Erfurt is built for mixed operations – there is just no demand. Cologne-Frankfurt would be planned differently today and Stuttgart-Ulm was planned that way because of the underground railway station it feeds into. German planners have gone back to mixed lines cause night time freight diversion is a huge factor in local buy-in.

    • df1982

      Why are they doing this? Surely the legacy lines (of which Germany has no shortage) can take this role, and HSR can be reserved for passenger services? The time savings from running freight on high-speed lines would be pretty negligible, and most freight isn’t all that time sensitive to begin with.

      • Matt da Silva

        Sounds like part of the political calculus for HSR in Germany is promising the towns and villages being bypassed that they’ll get the freight trains out of the middle of town. Long story short, NIMBYism.

      • Alon Levy

        So, when they built Hanover-Würzburg, there weren’t really good north-south mainlines. Prussia’s east-west layout meant that the legacy lines mostly went east-west, and the north-south lines crossed the Inner German Border. That turned into a general preference for blended lines.

  9. Matt da Silva

    “The United States’ high projected budgets for proposed lines that never go anywhere thanks to their extreme costs come from overbuilding more than high unit prices.”

    This seems like good news! It’s a lot easier to reform project design than it is to reform systems of labor or procurement. What part of the American process causes the scope creep that dooms projects here?

    • john

      Tl/Dr: A combination of: legitimate efforts/desires to mitigate/avoid environmental and social harms and corruption; noisy and litigious opponents coming at every big project; interest groups using opposition as leverage to get their own plans paid for; rent-seeking by consultants/contractors/some unions/miscellaneous grifters; politicians following the path-of-least-resistance to get votes, pet projects, or bribes/contracts; overly complex rules and systems designed piecemeal and (mostly) reactively to mollify all of the above.

      Full answer? Every big project attracts:
      1) Genuine opponents (most NIMBYs, for example), who project backers try to buy off whenever possible, with project-altering concessions or opponents’ often unrelated pet projects tacked on to the main project’s budget. Because buying off opposition is easier than winning a direct conflict. Good (old) example, the BART tunnel in Berkely, CA, where IIRC the city backed local NIMBYs opposed to above-ground construction, BART counteroffered “Pay the difference and we’ll tunnel it”, and the city accepted. Not always successful, especially nowadays as seemingly everything is fair game for getting sucked into the culture wars here.

      2) Interest groups who see an opportunity to get something (unrelated or tangentially related) that they want paid for by threatening opposition to the project and then backing off when their program is funded (think community-activist orgs that hold up development projects until they get something like an affordable-housing quota). Sometimes it’s little-guys groups (think community groups in poor neighborhoods, whose representativeness of their ‘hood varies widely) who have a hard time getting government or the private sector to meet locals’ needs without threatening something authorities actually want/care about. Sometimes its more powerful interests being opportunistic (see below).

      3) The parasite-industrial complex of consultants and contractors who milk the regulatory, planning and procurement systems to pack as many billable hours and excuses for fees as possible into every project (more studies, more subcontractors, more change orders, more design elements, more everything), and who happily side with #1 and #2 to lobby for more rules and veto-points and “stakeholders” b/c more complexity creates more opportunity to slide in more charges and fees. And in many state and local governments and federal agencies, there is so little in-house planning capacity, the consultants and their contractor allies have pretty much taken over the rule-writing and planning. (See military R&D and procurement. Google the Zumwalt, and despair)

      In Baltimore’s case, it’s mostly #2 and #3. Norfolk Southern RR has freight trackage rights on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, through the existing janky old tunnels, while rival CSX has a nearly as old, possibly even jankier tunnel of its own nearby. Both want new tunnels that accomodate double-stack freight trains, for their own profit, and would rather make feds/Amtrak/taxpayers pay for that than pay to build their own tunnels. Since nearly all Amtrak service east of the Mississippi River, other than the Northeast Corridor, runs on track owned by NS or CSX, they have the leverage to get their way. And the whole constellation of business and political interests around the Port of Baltimore backs them, b/c double-stack freight through the City would boost port business. All of which *is* good for the local economy (more high-paying jobs) and the environment (more freight on rail means less on trucks, means less GHG emissions), but shouldn’t be tacked onto a seperate project at such a high cost it’s likely to sink both projects.

      And of course, once the planning process got underway, the consultants got to work writing their own meal-ticket. Read the FRA Record of Decision, particularly the table at report pages 26 & 27 (pdf pages 32 & 33), lifted unchanged from the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement)

      Click to access BPT_Record-of-Decision_March2017_Signed.pdf

      1) Note that none of the categories are itemized or defined in any way. Even the assumptions on which the costs are based
      are not laid out in the table or any of the preceding paragraphs, let alone data to back up those assumptions. The only
      cost-related assumption listed is a project completion date of 2025 in the immediately preceding paragraph (report is
      from 2017, with costs in 2015 dollars)
      2) Note the repeated use of the acronym F/A, for “Force Account”, meaning there would be no prior agreement on cost, the
      client commits to paying workforce (meaning contractors) on actual day-of-work costs whatever they may be, a recipe
      for baked-in cost-escalation if there ever was one.
      3) Note the $820 million “Design Development/Risk” category, including $573 in “New Tunnel-Design Development” and
      $191 million in “New Tunnel-Risk Cost”.
      4) Note the $1,160 million “Escalation & Risk” category, basically guessing what the cost overruns will be and accepting that
      as inevitable, with no intent to even try to prevent or manage them. Literally a quarter of the projected cost is a guess
      at overruns that they are surrendering to before anything is done at all. It’s higher than the combined cost of all four
      actual tunnels (with trackage!), listed as $1,020 million.

      Now read the References sections of the
      DEIS Chapters 8-11: http://www.bptunnel.com/content/dam/bptunnel/pdfs/DEIS/ChaptersVII-VIII-IX-X-XI.pdf Pdf pages 21-24
      FEIS Chapters 9-12: http://www.bptunnel.com/content/dam/bptunnel/pdfs/NEPA/FEIS/Chapters9-10-11-12.pdf Pdf pages 13-18
      Record of Decision: http://www.bptunnel.com/content/dam/bptunnel/pdfs/ROD/BPT_Record-of-Decision_March2017_Signed.pdf Report page 66, pdf page 72

      [warning: there’s some dead links/linkrot, especially at EPA and U.S. Census Bureau websites]

      Can you find any references that would likely say anything about railroad or civil engineering project costs?

      And all of this fuels frustrated cynicism against the (perfectly legitimate) very ideas of public engagement and consideration for impacted people/communities/minorities, which are kind of important to democracy (and public buy-in for democracy) at the ground level. That feeds reactive calls for easy shortcuts (repeal NEPA! abolish local government!) that might speed projects up if implemented but, if not very carefully replaced, can just as easily play into the hands of authoritarians. Partly by potentially removing citizens’ tools to participate in democratic government (voting alone is insufficient, and online petitions and ranting are no substitute for direct personal involvement with neighbors, organized shared-interest groups, and agents/agencies of government, all of which are most accessible to most people at more or less local levels). Partly by potentially removing citizens’ tools to nonviolently hold authorities accountable (extracting information, compelling action, blocking action), as well as authorities’ incentive to listen to and inform citizens, especially citizens they dislike or disagree with. And indirectly, by fueling citizen frustration with authorities who do not listen to or inform them, or look out for their interests, and strengthening the appeal of populists and their poison promises. We may have overlearned the lessons of urban renewal and overempowered NIMBYs and rent seekers, but we also risk overlearning the lessons of today’s grift-and-gridlock dysfunctions and further empowering local notables and business interests to roll right over the rest of us even more easily in the short term, and harder authoritarians (including some of those notables/interests) to ride our frustrations to power over us in the (frighteningly not-so-long) longer term. It’s too hard to build necessary public things of good quality at reasonable cost, yet still too easy to harm people (dispossession, pollution, de facto segregation, isolation from jobs or services, etc.) without effective redress if the power imbalance between them and a project’s/policy’s promoters/beneficiaries is great enough, and efforts to make the former easier have to be carefully designed and implemented to avoid making the latter worse.

      Please pardon my rant, as I drift off-topic. Which I am ending now.

      • Ernest Tufft

        Sometimes tunnels can save operational costs. The Berkeley tunnel is one of those, and so would tunnels be good idea to get pass Altamont Pass and Pacheco Pass. Most of Berkeley BART is viaduct, seems to me, which is certainly better than grade level tracks cutting noisy path through middle of the city.

  10. anonymouse observer

    If you are still looking for the construction cost of the older Shinkansen lines as you mentioned in the web seminar, this paper includes the cost for older Shinkansen Line (but it doesn’t have breakdown of at-grade/aerial/tunnel length). It doesn’t have a source neither.


  11. Ernest Tufft

    Alon—the flat vs viaduct vs tunnel is maybe more complex price wise than your model shows. First of all price of land acquisition varies a lot, such as California vs Midwest realestate, and in urban area flat land acquisition can be impossible, or require to many expensive overpasses and underpasses for trucks, cars, and pedestrians. So, tunneling solves a lot of complex cost issues. Flat tracks for HSR also creates potential geographical division, separating unserviced communities from themselves, noise pollution, and as result of these drop in longer term property value and economic progress that offsets gain from reduced construction cost. Viaduct tries to bridge over problem, but like elevated freeways, the land below loses value, casts shade over adjacent property, and noise pollution problem is worse that flat track. In open countryside flat or elevated track provide scenery for passengers, whereas tunnels are like 24 hr night train ride. Just like with freeways, these projects tend to divide and destroy already economically impoverished neighborhoods that don’t have enough political clout to route the road or tracks elsewhere.

    • Benjamin Turon

      @Ernest Tufft — Elon Musk is with his Vegas Loop is driving electric cars at 30-mph through a concrete sewer, not exactly my idea of the transport of the future… 🙂 lol…

  12. Mark N.

    I don’t understand the large amount of tunneling in Germany as being a consequence of “a misguided attempt at building mixed lines in the 1980s and 90s.” Could you please explain?

  13. David James

    Last I checked the California High Speed Rail Project was still under construction
    Construction costs for the 119 mile Central Valley section are estimated to be a worst case cost of $12.4 billion dollars which includes a $2 billion dollar contingency fund. The $12.4 billion dollar cost estimate was by the California state auditor in 2018.

    $12.4 Billion dollars/119 miles = $104 Million/mile ($64.6 Million per km)

    This is a bargain compared to a lot of the High Speed rail projects you have in the data base.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s a 0% underground project. It’s slightly cheaper than some heavily tunneled projects and the HS2 disaster, but if you average out costs net of tunnels, California HSR has a 2-2.5x cost premium.

      • David James

        I think you are right, at $64Million per km, the first 119 miles of California’s High-Speed Rail is being constructed at a cost of about twice as much as it could have been with best practices. It is about the same cost per km as China’s Guangzhou-Macao HSR, so it is not a worst-case either.

          • David James

            Still, the initial 119 mile test segment is under construction and the quality of the construction cost data is high. Either the test segment cost or the initial operating segment costs should be in your database.

            This would further your goal of providing feedback to projects so that they can adopt the best practices for new construction. Toward this end, you might want to include the estimated costs for the California High Speed Rail segments from Bakersfield to Palmdale and Palmdale to Burbank.

            They have a well-documented mix of tunneling, elevated, and at-grade construction.

          • David James

            The 2020 California High Speed Rail business plan has the total cost for 159.3 miles of the initial operating segment, including stations, trains, and the second track at $19,356 million dollars. This is a fully operational electrified segment.

            $19,356/159.3 miles = $121.5 million per mile($75.3 million per km)

            This is pretty much on par for the construction costs of quite a few segments of China’s high speed rail segments, in the database. Of course, this Central Valley segment is across relatively flat terrain.

        • anonymouse observer

          Will $12.4 billion dollars for 119 miles get California a complete, revenue-service-ready true high-speed system? I thought that’s the estimated cost just to build the civil structures, and the tracks and systems are not included in your $12.4 billion figure unless I’m reading the 2021 CAHSR Business Plan wrong:

          Click to access 2020_Business_Plan_Capital_Cost_Basis_of_Estimate_Report.pdf

          Also, I thought the data put together by Alon and his partners are construction cost for the revenue-service-ready true high-speed system, and the unit cost he’s referring is based on route length, not track length.

          It sounds like you are comparing the cost of a 119-mile long levee against cost of revenue-service-ready true high-speed systems logged in the database.

          By the way, CAHSR is now proposing the initial segment will be single-track in the 2021 Business Plan:

          • Tonami Playman

            Single track HSR?, Good heavens. Frank Vaca claims it’s going to save $1 billion and still offer 18 trains a day. I doubt they’d be able to have any meaningful time savings taking all the schedule padding needed to accommodate meets. So he’s suggesting to gimp the system to save $1 billion so that they would spend 3X that to lay the missing tracks in the future. This is just insane.

          • David James

            The report shows that in the year 2021 dollars, the initial 119 test segment is $13,691 million with electrification and a single track. Two trainsets are $389 million more.

            $1,408 million/119 miles = $118 million per mile( $73 million per km) for this initial segment. Far from the most expensive high speed rail on the planet.

            While not the full Merced to Bakersfield IOS it is the segment with the best cost data.

            There is some interesting cost estimates for Bakerfield to Palmdale and Palmdale to Burbank in the report too.

          • David James

            Thanks for the link to the 2020 plan. The business plan has the total cost for 159.3 miles of the initial operating segment, including stations, trains, and the second track at $19,356 million dollars.

            $19,356/159.3 miles = $121.5 million per mile($75.3 million per km)

            This is not much more per mile than the first 119 miles of the test segment.

  14. Patrick Jensen

    In case anyone is interested in looking into the theme of viaduct and tunnel prevalence relative to terrain conditions, I produced a mashup of openrailwaymaps and opentopomaps. Since both rely on the openstreetmap project for data, the usual caveats about crowdsourced data apply.


  15. bruce hain

    Hi. I have not been able to get to the seminar yet so am commenting about the YouTube video: “Costs in the US vs. Europe” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_3D9WlP3IQ

    At about 2:10 in the video I was surprised with what you said which sent me on a screed, to wit:

    In all my optimum-oriented design I have NEVER found a place where it would be necessary to demolish 100 houses in order to achieve it! Far from it. More like one VERY RARE house. And concerning CAHSR by way of Altamont (with Modesto on the main line ((SP)) it would be far less intrusive as to built structures – far, far, less – than the current project.

    It seems to me if engineers really wanted to promote the advantages of getting the right alignment they would be very well situated to to that, and have the politicians pass the word on to the public. Because of the advantages including cost, lack of intrusiveness, and an alignment shorter and straighter by many miles (which affects operating cost hugely over time) it is an issue that can be understood BY EVERYONE. And it is a MORAL issue.

    So it seems to me that everyone familiar with these concepts regarding CAHSR has failed fatally to act, and that the only reason they would be willing to do that is that it benefits their bottom line, in spades – what with 25 years of dithering, etc., etc., etc. And I doubt that it’s a matter of stockholders at international engineering companies demanding the N’th dollar in operating ratio – the vast majority of them have no idea.

    While the Altamont vs. Gilroy issue is plenty egregious, the situation further south is worse. There is a law that says it must go through Palmdale – when in actuality IT MUST GO THROUGH SANTA CLARITA. Here you have a project the likes of which has rarely been undertaken: Twenty-eight bored tunnels many with problematic curves and grades vs. One Long Tunnel and and a four-track upgrade of an existing one. OPTIMISTICALLY it is a ten year project, and over ten miles longer:

    (Assumes San Fernando Tunnel Four-Track Upgrade)

    The current plan by way of Palmdale has twenty-eight bored tunnels involving 74 miles of tunneling, requiring repeatedly picking up and moving non-portable tunneling equipment and installing it in new locations to achieve as many as 56 separate bores. Operating a direct route would be cheaper because of the grades, and because several of the Tehachapi Route tunnels have relatively-high-speed curves that are difficult to maintain. It’s also shorter.

    DISTANCE (in miles)
    By way of Palmdale – 110
    By way of Santa Clarita – 84

    Bakersfield-Palmdale – 9 tunnels, five of them curved:
    66,485′ = 12.59mi.

    Palmdale-Burbank – 5 tunnels, four of them curved: 127,910′ = 24.23mi.

    36.82mi. x 2 – since they’re double-bore = 73.64mi.

    …Versus one single-bore 40-mi. tunnel.



    TEHACHAPI: (via Palmdale)
    Burbank 925; Tehachapi Summit: approx.4000; Bakersfield 410:

    3075 UP;
    3590 DN.

    Burbank 925; Santa Clarita Summit 1175; Bakersfield: 410:

    250 UP;
    765 DN.

    So the lower route would not only be cheaper to build
    but CONSIDERABLY cheaper to operate.
    And faster by like an hour.

  16. bruce hain

    CORRECTION (of the text above) It’s NOT 10 miles shorter – as is says in the text above the table/reckoning – but 25.

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