How to Build High-Speed Rail with Money the United States Has

The bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF) just passed the Senate by a large margin, with money for both roads and public transportation. Unlike the 2009 Obama stimulus, the BIF has plenty of money for high-speed rail – not just $8 billion as in the 2009 bill, but a total of $66 billion to be spent on mainline rail. The Northeast Corridor program gets $24 billion out of this $66 billion in a dedicated program and another $6 billion out of another program within this bucket dedicated to Amtrak. This is $30 billion, which should be more than enough for high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor. Together with other buckets for other parts of the US, it can even build some non-Northeastern lines, for example serving Chicago or Los Angeles.

I say should because the current plans are to waste the money. But better things are possible, so at the Transit Costs Project, we’re planning to embark on a project to write a report on how to do this better. The construction cost report will be done in early 2022, but we can overlap to some extent. A one-year program, to debut in early 2023, will include a Northeast Corridor proposal; a two-year one will also include tie-ins and starter lines elsewhere, such as Chicago-Cleveland/Detroit or Los Angeles-San Diego.

But for this, we need funding. We’re a good deal of the way there, I think around two-thirds for the two-year option – and this isn’t quite enough for the one-year option, some of the money needs to be matched. This is not the same as my Patreon in either scale (the difference is more than an order of magnitude) or scope (my Patreon funds the blog and vlog, which are way more general); if you know grants for such projects, please let us know, we can send a fuller proposal.

What’s the project’s scope?

Lots and lots of analysis, for one, like what we’re doing for subways. Intriguingly, high-cost countries for high-speed rail tend to also have high subway costs and vice versa, and this remains true even as it is easier to explain high-speed rail costs in terms of unnecessary scope and leakage. But this is not the dominant part of the project – rather, we are going to be synthetic and make a proposal. We’re not committing to an investment figure; my guess is that in 2021 dollars it should be around $15 billion to cut Northeast Corridor trip times to about 1:45 on each of New York-Boston and New York-Washington, but some variation is possible in either direction.

If there’s $30 billion for the Northeast Corridor, and high-speed rail is doable for half that, then the other half should be spent on tie-ins, for example improving regional rail in all four major metropolitan areas. Naturally, this should only include useful spending for rail operations and connections, but the Northeast doesn’t lack for those; New York can spend $17 billion on new tunnels and that’s at the per-km cost of Citybanan, one of the cheaper city center regional rail projects in our database.

72 comments

  1. michaelrjames

    Good luck, and you’ll probably need it. Big money programs like this tend to bypass anyone and anything not in the Big League.
    My only tiny lame suggestion is from being reminded of Anthony Flint’s piece in Bloomberg earlier this year which you will have seen (with my choice of an extract):

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-17/the-big-dreams-of-a-nyc-to-boston-bullet-train
    Is This High-Speed Train the First Megaproject of the Biden Era?
    The president promised to go big on infrastructure. The $105 billion North Atlantic Rail plan between Boston and New York City definitely fits the bill.
    By Anthony Flint, 18 Feb 2021.

    Part of the reason North Atlantic Rail is estimated to cost $105 billion is the engineering feats that will have to be accomplished in a densely developed area: a new tunnel from Pennsylvania Station under the East River, more tunneling and cut-and-cover construction through Queens and Long Island, and then a 16-mile tunnel bored beneath the Long Island Sound. The project makes use of existing rights-of-way from the New Haven area to Hartford, but then requires yet another tunnel under Hartford, new tracks through environmentally sensitive areas in eastern Connecticut, and still another tunnel — the North-South Rail Link — under the “Big Dig” in Boston, to connect to modernized tracks heading to Boston’s northern suburbs, New Hampshire and Maine. Other branches of the network will require track modifications, straightening and electrification.

    Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and I just clicked thru to the Institute which turns out to have nothing to do with famous dead presidents but has a substantial endowment from a wealthy inventor. I have no real idea if they are considered progressive (looks a bit that way) but private institutes like that usually do have the ability and willingness and discretion to make small grants quickly without the usual fuss (6-12 months of application & review etc). Of course they have their own people like Flint but he seems entrapped by the high-cost paradigm so your alternative pitch could either appeal via contrariness or be instantly scrunched into the trash … Sometimes in that kind of situation (relatively small private foundation) preliminary contact via telephone can be more productive … if you can get thru to anyone. In other words, find someone who knows someone …

    Along the same lines, have you considered the big equipment companies? Alstom US certainly will have such discretionary funds too and the money involved is peanuts to them and can appeal because it looks good in their annual report. My lab used to get a $30k grant every second year, completely free of strings (but of course we always acknowledged their contribution in one or more papers), from one of the giant brewers in Oz to support our genetic studies on addiction, ADH + dopamine receptor stuff etc.

    • Matthew Hutton

      I mean there’s a LOT of people who care about saving $80 billion. For a start that’s lower taxes for the rich to pay for it which powerful people not in the construction industry would care about.

      • Eric2

        Not really. The taxes are being paid by OTHER PEOPLE (taxpayers nationwide) but the benefits only go to a specific area, so there is little incentive not to waste.

        For this reason I sort of want all federal infrastructure funding to end and for states decide on their own what to build from their own taxes.

        • wiesmann

          The way this is solved in Switzerland (at a smaller scale of course), is that the central government only puts a fraction (I think 50%) of the cost on the table, the rest comes from local government.

          • Eric2

            Surely 0% would be even better though, and Switzerland would be the easiest place to pull that off…

            (In the US I believe it’s 90% or 100% depending on program – feel free to correct me)

          • michaelrjames

            @Eric2

            Isn’t that what actually happens? CASHR is the only one actually under construction, and the second may be Texas. Even though the clearest case for a genuine HSR is the NEC, across about 7 states–all blues states?–and about 60m people, yet decades or pass and it remains a sorry compromise of fast passenger rail.
            You are merely admitting that the USA is more like the dysU-SA, a barely functioning unified entity. Dog help the rest of us.

          • Eric2

            Ideally if a bad project is proposed in the US, it should be rejected on the grounds that a better project can then be proposed instead. However, federal funding is “use it or lose it” – voters would rather have an expensive flawed project than no project at all, and those making the proposals know this. Thus bad proposals get proposed, approved, and then agreed to.

            (I think this is true even for transit projects in a single city or CAHSR in a single state, not just for the NEC which [rather uniquely] needs the agreement of many states.)

            I don’t know how funding works in other developed countries. I think the US is unlike other countries in having a 200+ year legal tradition of “liberty”, AKA various absolute vetos by individuals and small groups of various things they don’t like. In other countries, there is no absolute veto, so the only way small groups can have any influence is to engage in dialogue with the majority and try to reach a compromise. If the majority is too stubborn then public opinion will punish them for their oppressiveness, if the minority is too stubborn then public opinion will punish them for their arrogance. But in the US rights/vetos are absolute and cannot be infringed upon by public opinion, so opposing parties have no incentive to talk – they just exercise what vetos they have and that’s the end of the story. That leads to dysfunctional results and possibly dysfunctional culture as well.

          • Alon Levy

            Usually the way funding works is that the decision is made only after there’s detailed design. When the decision is made beforehand (“early commitment”, as in the US or the Netherlands, it’s easier for local actors to extract surplus, since the political cost of saying no is higher on an already-committed project. Of note, in Switzerland, which is incredibly localist much like the US, decisions are made by referendum at a more advanced stage of planning. The Swiss incentives go the other way from American or Dutch ones: the design is more finalized and therefore there are fewer people who can extract surplus, while on the other hand the requirement that all funding be subject to referendum increases the political cost of cost overruns.

          • df1982

            Would the best funding model be dollar-for-dollar between the federal government and the states, with a minimum cost-benefit ratio needed for federal involvement? That way the states are incentivised to propose (and fund) more projects, but it’s not just other people’s money on the table. This would especially to get multi-state projects along the line, as the states have the incentive of automatic 50% fed funding if they can get their act together. And if the states start proposing too many projects, then just increase the minimum CBR.

            The main issue here is how reliable CBRs are, particularly when they incorporate wider economic benefits (which they should, but it’s a very dubious science). Also, there might need to be some kind of project-switching penalty, since otherwise the states would be prone to switching between projects every time there’s a change of office.

          • Paul

            @Eric2 I can see arguments both ways on this subject. For some projects, the promise of federal funds seems to drag out the timeline. No state wants to leave “free money” on the table and pay for a big project themselves, even if they could justify the cost and get it done sooner. The Hudson River Tunnel, for example, is probably useful enough to New Jersey and New York that they would do it even in a scenario with 0% federal funds. The states might even find a way to do it for less than $12 billion if they had to go it alone.

            On the other hand, the original justification for 90% federal funds on the interstate system was to ensure states built out the national network, even if some of the corridors weren’t all that useful at the state level. The classic example is Interstate 80 through Pennsylvania. Nationally, it’s a useful corridor that links New York City to the Midwest, but it doesn’t go through any major cities in PA. If all decisions had been made at the state level, I-80 might not have been built because Pennsylvania’s priority is the turnpike (I-76) that connects Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

          • Herbert

            It’s better not to have to reinvent the wheel every time. Have an expert panel at the highest feasible level that scores projects on their merits and can make recommendations for improvements and awards money

          • Eric2

            @Herbert
            The current “panel” is Congress. If the US were to appoint an expert panel that wasn’t nakedly partisan, I suspect the process of appointing its membership and defining its goals would become as political as Supreme Court appointments currently are.

          • michaelrjames

            @weismann: “The way this is solved in Switzerland (at a smaller scale of course), is that the central government only puts a fraction (I think 50%) of the cost on the table, the rest comes from local government.”

            Isn’t that largely due to the very different tax revenue distribution, whereby federal income is half that of the cantons?
            I don’t know the tax history of Switzerland but in many countries the federal or central governments imposed taxes in time of war (often when the first income tax was imposed) and then kept the privilege forever after. Swiss neutrality perhaps meant this tax grab never happened?
            But then, isn’t the Swiss national rail network funded by central government which I reckon shows the logic of such an arrangement. Australia is an awful lesson in the opposite. Even though it federated 120 years ago, it still has 7 different mainline rail gauges! A consequence of a huge country lightly populated and an unwillingness to plan for the future. Of course this pattern was set before federation–despite plenty of experts warning politicians of the idiocy–but state parochialism and refusal to think beyond their own borders won. It’s rather odd to think that the US seems to be reverse evolving along those lines!

        • Martin

          That’s a rationale that could be used cut all funding. Why spend social security money from Montana in people in Arkansas? Why have any federal money at all if states can just fund everything themselves?

  2. plaws0

    I’ve been trying to not follow the day-to-day about transportation funding and don’t actually know where the process is in the Senate (the only thing that currently matters given the non-insane party’s better control of the House) but I will say that until the authorization for spending the money, especially if it includes a new program, has to be passed in both houses then signed into law by the executive. Then an appropriations bill has to be written, agreed to, and signed into law. They can and do combine all this sometimes, but the insane party is *really* pissed that their coup failed and will do everything in their power to stop anything from happening regardless of what they might say on any given day.

    The House anti-science caucus (unvaxxed plague rats) even went on a tour of the Senate (who are mostly vaccinated) in hopes of infecting some of the elderly (and they are far too old) senators in the non-insane party in order to shift the balance of power.

      • adirondacker12800

        The second iteration of the Second Avenue Subway was supposed to open in 1980 around the same time we’d be flitting between New York City and Washington D.C. in under two hours. Plans come, plans go. They get filed away with all the other plans.

  3. Alex B.

    With a title of “How to Build…” will this project result in actual actionable recommendations on how to reduce costs? Or just call out how much you feel it should cost and what should be built?

    • Alon Levy

      The former; give us some credit. This will include recommendations regarding both unit costs for e.g. track maintenance and what the scope should be in the first place, for example where multi-tracking projects are required and where they are not.

      • Henry Miller

        That part is easy. The real question is can you get anyone to listen and make changes?

        I often ask the above question and get depressed. I hope you can do better.

  4. borners

    Speaking of National government’ thinking about cost control, Japanese-train-policy-youtube recently had one on last year’s Ministry of Land Report on Shinkansen construction methods. The one from last year is probably in part of the ministry reading a reform to existing railways laws in response to both burnout from the Hokuriku shinkansen’s delays and cost burdens, the need to build a connecting shinkansen line in Saga with the failure of JR Kyushu gauge changing trains and demands from Yamagata and Akita for new Shinkansen tunnels.

    On pages 2-3 main costs-saving measure they seem to be pushing is moving to single track shinkansen with additional upgraded legacy lines like the two-mini-shinkansen. The interesting thing is that moving to single-track by their calculations doesn’t get more than a 15% cost reduction. It also has a break down of the single-track cost reduction construction types; bridge, viaduct, earthworks and tunnels. In the process also show MLIT’s estimates of how much more expensive the other types compared to earthwork alignments. Nothing on international comparisons though.

    Click to access 001412108.pdf


    (Also on page 5 it has a nice graph of inter-city model splits on various differences. HSR kills the competition on 500-700km. )

    • Matthew A da Silva

      The single track approach, as you said, doesn’t save that much money and probably only makes sense for marginal branch lines that have zero long term growth prospects but are important to serve for political/equity/last mile connectivity reasons. I think converting more of the legacy narrow gauge network to standard gauge is the approach Japan needs to take here for last mile connectivity.

    • anonymouse observer

      Gauge-changing train development wasn’t a JR Kyushu’s project or JR Kyushu’s failure. It was led by MLIT and JRTT (JR Kyushu just let JRTT to use their tracks for tests), and JR Kyushu just jumped onto it for potential application to Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, but development didn’t go well. JR Kyushu’s reason of not using gauge-changing train was not only safety concern but also high O&M cost:
      https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASK7T5CR6K7TTIPE035.html

    • anonymouse observer

      Shinkansen’s quicker recovery from the weather-triggered natural disasters as stated on Page 9 could be something which should be looked at more seriously (Sanyo Shinkansen resumed operations in 2 days vs. 3 months for Sanyo Main Line after the rain; almost no disruptions on Hokuriku Shinkansen whereas conventional rail and highways are shut down from heavy snow). It would give high-speed rail an competitive edge (much higher reliability) over other modes if HSR is built right. If HSR can reliably operate under more extreme weather condition (heavy rain, heavy snow, etc.), it could shift take time-sensitive travelers (i.e. business travelers, if business traveling returns) away from the flights.

      This could answer why Shinkansen are built with extensive tunneling and elevated tracks (the other reason would be terrain) even though it’s expensive to build and maintain.

      It’s also interesting to see MLIT revisiting mid-speed passenger rail (~200 km/h) years after “Super Tokkyū” became nobody’s favorite during Seibi Shinkansen extension era (everyone wanted real Shinkansen) as stated on Page 4 (“Super Tokkyū”‘s target maximum speed was 200 km/h).

      • Tonami Playman

        Regarding Shinkansen’s quicker recovery from disasters, could it be that its due to the higher standards of the track civil works compared to the legacy network. The legacy network was laid down as cheaply as possible along the coastal floodplains while the Shinkansen tracks had heavy duty civil works even at-grade portions of the Tokaido Shinkansen sits on heavily engineered berms.

        • anonymouse observer

          I believe it’s one of the biggest reasons. Also, intense use of tunnels in mountainous areas helps Shinkansen lines to avoid areas prone to mudslides, flooding, and other weather/soil/water-related natural disasters. Having newer bridge with longer spans (or fewer columns) over the river might also help it quicker recovery or higher resistance against natural disasters.

          One thing this doesn’t say is that Shinkansen tends to recover from natural disasters quickly compared to the conventional rail but not always the case after the big earthquakes based on aftermath of big earthquakes in recent years. I guess this is due to Shinkansen requiring higher standards of track geometry and other elements for safety reasons (rail needs to be flat and straight; no debris or intrusions because high-speed trains cannot stop quickly enough to avoid it).

    • Sassy

      Kinda surprising that viaducts are more expensive than tunnels. Why not just put everything in a tunnel then?

      • borners

        @Sassy They are! Look at the Hokuriku, Chuo and Hokkaido Shinkansen! All mostly tunnel!

        @anonymouse Its not all JR Kyushu’s fault for sure and the main obstacle to a full on Shinkansen alignment is Saga’s unwillingness to back it given the current law on funding burdens. The diagrams on page 5 suggest MLIT’s plans are to cannibalise the legacy approaches in and out of Saga city while building the usual mix of tunnels and viaducts for the rest.
        As for Tokkyu services? I wonder where they are thinking of doing it? I mean they could just complete electrification of Sanin Main line and the Chizu Express to get a lot of that. But I’m guessing the Hakubi line’s alignment is definitely bad for speed so they could go there.

        @Matthew A da Silva The existing mini-shinkansen definitely fit that bill already and have been quite successful. Though I wish they weren’t so against dual gauge track. There are a bunch of places where JR East could increase its market/modal split with station reform, better timetabling, a bit more frequency and some s-bahny style ideas with places.

        • anonymouse observer

          Super Tokkyu is not a service. It is a type of new higher narrow-gauge rail line designed based on higher (Shinkansen equivalent) standards for 200 km/h maximum speed:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Tokky%C5%AB

          A part of Hokuriku, Kyushu, and Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen were originally built as narrow-gauge Super Tokkyu lines with future upgrade to real standard-gauge Shinkansen, but all of them are upgraded to standard-gauge Seibi Shinkansen in the middle of the construction and finished as standard-gauge Shinkansen lines.

          By the way, Chizu Express was built non-electrified because electrification wasn’t really worth it. Cost difference between 130 km/h MAS non-electrified scenario and 130 km/h electrified was big (4 billion yen) while the additional time saving from the electrification would be just 1 minute:
          https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%99%BA%E9%A0%AD%E6%80%A5%E8%A1%8C%E6%99%BA%E9%A0%AD%E7%B7%9A#%E6%AD%B4%E5%8F%B2

          Also, someone would need to electrify a part of JR West’s non-electrified Imbi Line and maintain as an isolated electrified territory in order to run electric train from Osaka even if they electrify Chizu Express Line (unlike Sanyo Main Line near Matsue, it would be isolated even though it is touching Chizu Express Line). Given JR West’s financial condition being pretty bad right after the privatization, do you think if Tottori Prefecture (the smallest of all prefectures in terms of population and rapidly de-populating) could afford the cost of Imbi Line improvement on top of Chizu Express Line construction?

          • borners

            Hey I’m not challenging the priorities 30 years ago, they did great work salvaging a lot of good from what seemed a JNR-era overreach. But circumstances have changed, interest rates are rock bottom, there is a climate crisis and Japan has become a big tourist destination for foreigners. Not to mention battery-power trains create new service pattern possibilities for branch lines/stubs. Anyway Chizu Kyuko’s success is actually proof of the basic concept of Super-Tokkyu. Also 4 billion yenn today would be what 36 million dollars? This is rural Japan where gimmicks and pork are a dime a dozen in the name “rural revitalization”. Electrifying Chizu and then all the JR lines to the Yonago-Matsue-Izumo belt would get quite a bit juice for less cost. Though I’m sure JR West and Okayama would rather it happen via the Hakubi line. What you do you think the best option is for improving the Sanin region’s transport access?

          • anonymouse observer

            There are two Limited Express service from Okayama to San-in Region. Yakumo goes to Izumo via Yonago and Matsue through Hakubi Line; Super Inaba goes to Tottori via Chizu Express. I’m not sure what the focus at Okayama Prefecture, but it makes sense to keep it that way due to distance between Yonago and Tottori (~ 100 km).

            —–

            The biggest issue in San-in region are rapid de-population, little to no trip demand or interactions in east-west direction crossing prefectural line except for Tottori-Yonago-Matsue and Kyoto-Hyogo, relatively long distance between key populated areas (100 km between Yonago and Tottori) and geographical isolation due to mountain ranges and topography. De-population and lack of east-west demand potential are big deal when someone need to maintain service and infrastructure after it is built with no demand and revenue potential (some segments of the north-south lines built by JRCC in Chugoku Region were closed due to no demand and potential). Lack of east-west interaction along the corridor has been happening within Tottori Prefecture for so many years; distribution of government offices and other key business between Tottori and Yonago looks like as if there are two prefectural capital cities in Tottori Prefecture even though the prefectural population is just around 500k. Yonago also stronger ties to Matsue than it has with Tottori.

            Also, the fact that the whole Chugoku Region is prone to flood and mud/landslides due to geologic condition compared to other parts of the country. This slide deck from MLIT summarizes de-population and natural disaster matters fairly well:

            Click to access 01siryou4.pdf

            The best option for the region in terms of rail would be overall status quo with patches of improvements to segments where it makes sense like Kyoto-Fukuchiyama (there’s an ongoing planning of double-tracking west of Sonobe) and Tottori-Izumo, but should focus on speed and capacity improvements without electrification. The speed could be achieved by strengthening rail and structures for higher maximum speed (but not beyond conventional rail speed), potential expansion of tilting runs outside of the current limits, replacing old DMUs with the newer models with better accelerations and higher maximum speed (also lower maintenance cost), and improving the track layout at stations and sidings so that non-diverging trains can remain at higher speed. Maybe short extension of sidings to make patches of short double-track section where it make sense from capacity standpoint might also help building national-level goods movement redundancy (backup freight service in case when Sanyo Main Line gets hit heavily by natural disaster, which happened once recently).

            I don’t think electrification might not be an answer because of long-term cost-benefit with maintenance and future replacements taken into account (DC electrification requires lots of substations; AC-powered trains are expensive and need dual-current trains in order to run direct trains from Sanyo Corridor; dual current trains are even more expensive to the point where JR West hesitated to replace regional dual-current EMUs until fairly recently).

            Other improvement efforts should go to 4 existing main corridors connecting Sanyo and Sanin Main Lines (Fukuchiyama Line, Chizu-Imbi Line, Hakubi Line, and Yamaguchi Line) because this approach has been proven in last 50 years for so, at least to the demand from/to the regions along the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. However, Shinkansen doesn’t go anywhere and cannot cover beyond certain distance with competitive trip time because of the geographical isolation. So, the approach for drawing more traffic from/to outside of the region might have to be multi-modal; with airports near nearly all key cities along San-in corridor (there are two commercial airports in Tottori!), someone should seriously focus on attracting non-Tokyo bound domestic flights (only domestic flights offered are from/to Haneda at almost all of these San-in area airports, even before this pandemic) using smaller aircrafts like Fuji Dream Airlines does for higher seat occupancy and lower cost.

            Having non-Tokyo-bound flights could be a win-win for other airports as lots of airports in Japan has an issue retaining commercial flights because of over-focusing on Tokyo-bound flights when capacity at Haneda Airport and air area above the entire Kanto region is very limited (due to U.S. Air Force bases in Kanto region).

        • Tonami Playman

          I think also the fact that urban tunnels have to account for stations at relatively short intervals whereas a mountain tunnel is most likely going to be just tunnels.

    • Frederick

      The (white) elephant in the house seems to be Hokkaido Shinkansen.

      JR Hokkaido’s fiscal situation is pretty dismal and they are betting their whole fortune on Hokkaido Shinkansen. If the Sapporo section fails, JR Hokkaido will certainly go bankrupt and require intervention from the central government.

      Even if Hokkaido Shinkansen becomes a success, the conventional lines (transferred to 3rd sector by then) will make the local governments bleed a ton of money.

      • Phake Nick

        It’s not just JR Hokkaido betting on it. The local and national government are also. They don’t have any plan on how to support HR Hokkaido after 2031 if at that time JR Hokkaido still need support. If that become the case, maybe they will decide passenger rail in Hokkaido isn’t worth keeling afterall and abandon everything ojtside Sapporo or Shinkansen.

        As for JR Hokkaido going bankrupt, even before coronavirus it’s said that JR Hokkaido could go bankrupt around 2021-2022 if without government intervention. Currently the government have provided short term year-to-year support, but they demand JR Hokkaido to restore passenger level to the level a few years back, amid ongoing pandemic, continued aging population, and extending expressway. Which I thus think is a pretty impossible target to meet. With such in mind, it’s not even sure how much support JR Hokkaido can get to maintain itself till the opening of Shinkansen to Sapporo.

        As for 3rd sector conventional main line, with latest published figires and estimation the consensus from local government appears to be, we have absolutely no way to be capable of paying for this thing. Unless the regional and national government intervent, the only option is to shut down the rail lassenger service. Tjen freight is something the national and regional.government need to deal with themselves, and are not the problem of those local governments along the line. In fact, even the fiscal burden of an alternative bus servive would still be rather high to local municipalities, and even just for more populated section like the cost of keeping the line inside the City of Hakodate is still quite high, even those might not able to survive in the end.

      • borners

        Its not a white elephant, Tokyo-Sapporo is one of the busiest airport connections in the world. Heck if Japan copies the kind of anti-plane-when-there-is-a-good-rail-connection JR Hokkaido (and JR East) could make a killing. JR Hokkaido had a horrible network to inherit, but we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them, Sapporo is sizable, rich and relatively healthy demographically which means Hokkaido is actually quite well off as prefectures go. And yes the subway kind of busted them, but there are bunch of lower hanging fruit they’ve missed, like through-running the gakuen-toshi and Hakodate-main line north of Sapporo, or doing infill on the urbanised section that same north-of-Sapporo section. Oh and screwed Asahikawa up.
        JR Shikoku is the worst though. Trust fund babies are bad, the worst of both worlds.

        • Tonami Playman

          @borners Yeah a fraction of those 9 million annual passengers between Tokyo and Sapporo would be a huge money maker for JR Hokkaido. Though like you stated, it will require some anti-plane legislation to make it work. Currently it’s only about 3.5hrs – 4hrs door to door going from Tokyo to Sapporo by air and costs about the same 27,000 yen as the Tohoku Shinkansen-Hokuto Express combo which currently takes 8.5hrs. Hokkaido Shinkansen to Sapporo would bring this down to about 5hrs. So still at a 1hr deficit to flying plus the less restricted airplane boarding practices in Japan and it would be another case of Fukuoka air-rail market share of 70:30.

          But 30% of 9million is about 72.9 billion yen in annual revenue. Don’t know if that would be enough to put JR Hokkaido in the black considering it’s 2020 losses came in at 42.6 billion yen. It would need more than 30% market share to become profitable which might only be possible if there’s a government mandate penalizing domestic air travel.

          As for JR Shikoku, The Shikoku Shinkansen boosters in the region are clamoring for an Osaka bay tunnel alignment so they can get to Kansai airport faster instead of the more cost friendly Sanyo Shinkansen branch from Okayama Station over the Seto Ohashi bridge. With the level of depopulation taking place in Shikoku, I would love to see current road traffic data over the Akashi Kaikyo and Seto Ohashi bridges if there’s any reduction compare to prior years.

          • Sassy

            > Hokkaido Shinkansen to Sapporo would bring this down to about 5hrs.

            Isn’t that why there is the Tohoku Shinkansen 360km/h speed up program, to get it down closer to 4 hours? Still for Japan, 4 hours is probably not quite fast enough.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Post-pandemic my plan is to take the train rather than flying if you can do the journey in less than a day. Tokyo-Sapporo meets that comfortably.

            Now sure the Japanese haven’t done that historically, but maybe it will change like Europe has.

          • borners

            They are aiming for 4, remember Tokyo-Fukuoka is stuck at 5 hours due to the slow speed of the Tokaido Shinkansen and faces an airport that’s on the Fukuoka subway. Sapporo main airport is 44 minutes from central Sapporo on a rapid train, add in transfer penalties at both ends from Tokyo to Sapporo I’ll wager that they could easily beat the current 70:30 share even without anti-plane legislation. That said I wonder if JR Hokkaido should consider changes to the usual Shinkansen playbook, the much lower population density of Tohoku and Southern Hokkaido combined with the focus of demand at the extreme ends of the line makes things different. Shinkansen sleepers? If demand is high enough have the most express services be double decker like the E4? Extend opening hours in Sapporo station?

            My actual complaints with JR Shikoku aren’t about the shinkansen, they have screwed up the Northern urban corridor of Shikoku up badly. Urban local services usually 1-2tph off peak while Iyotetsu and Kotoden’s services usually are 2-4 and they are for-profit-companies owned by shareholders not the government, with no trust funds. Not only that JR Shikoku sees those private operators as rivals which is ridiculous in low rail-mode share environment when they don’t have as large a network as they do in Honshu. Cars and buses are the competition and rail needs to maximize nodality to compete so they should build station on the rail intersections!

            That said Shikoku’s lack of Shinkansen has screwed them, the alignment trade-off are made in hell, gravity equation/route length pushes East west, but ease of building pushes Seto-Ohashi. In hindsight they should of built railways into the Awaji connecting bridges, it would have cost a bob but Hyogo would have been more enthusiastic about it and then you could have had a Shikoku shinkansen able to thread alone the northern coastal belt which still would have been a pain because Takamatsu is sprawly. But that’s water under the bridge, they should just get Shinkansen connect via Seto-ohashi and get the government to sweeten the deal for Okayama (Oka-bahn!). I can’t say I know whether building a full shinkansen or a mini-shinkansen is worth it. Shikoku is closer to Osaka than Yamagata/Akita are to Tokyo. But you have to divide to get services to Matsuyama and Takamatsu. Mini-shinkansen seems ideal for the latter…but the rest I don’t know.

          • yuuka

            Maybe the Tokyo NIMBYs were right for once and should have stopped those new flight paths from Haneda. That would probably be the quickest way to put in some anti-plane policy but you still can’t stop the Narita LCCs.

            Wishful thinking, but what if JAL took a stake in JR Hokkaido much like it did for Hokkaido Air System? Air-rail ticketing is a joke in Japan, but maybe it could be changed by allowing people to fly internationally to Haneda, a quick train ride to Tokyo Station, and then the direct Shinkansen, in an arrangement where both the airline and railway company make money. My inner OpenTTD player further argues that HAS could even replace some of the crappier/low demand JR Hokkaido limited expresses with flights, perhaps allowing the railway to be abandoned and reducing JR Hokkaido’s infrastructure upkeep costs?

          • yuuka

            This video does the math, though it’s in Japanese:

            In short, 4 hours is doable but quite a squeeze, based on current plans. Too many things need to go right – I don’t question their ability to speed up the mainline to 360kph, but the Seikan Tunnel is still an issue. Though depopulation might give them an excuse to skip Hakodate and Morioka on the fastest trains. That might be a mitigating factor to go below 4h more comfortably, or if they can’t speed up the Seikan Tunnel.

            4 hours from downtown to downtown on a single seat ride? No hauling around at Narita (where the LCC terminal is a bus ride away from the train station) and New Chitose? Sign me up.

          • Tonami Playman

            @Yuuka, its a bummer that the Seikan tunnel was designed as a single tube, but that cannot be reversed. I think just living with the current 160km/h speed limit is the best option. The complicated “train-on-train” concept has for all intent and purpose been abandoned. The other option is restricting freight traffic to night time only which creates new a new issue of capacity underutilization. The Tokyo-Sapporo service will need no more than 4tph which means there is available slots for freight trains to run in between on the 53.8km Seikan tunnel section. Moving that to night time only will reduce freight capacity and mean displacing some freight to polluting ferries. And building a separate freight tunnel is out of the question due to depopulation and cost.

            Speeding up the Seikan tunnel from 160km/h to 240km/h saves about 7 minutes, which is not insignificant, but considering the headaches and cost to achieve that, living with an 8 minute slower trip time is not a deal breaker. Other sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen can and should be sped up to 320km/h and 360km/h.

          • anonymouse observer

            Not all revenue from Hokkaido Shinkansen ride between Tokyo and Sapporo would go to JR Hokkaido unlike the way things work in other parts of the world. JR East gets a portion of fare paid by passengers on traveling on Hokkaido Shinkansen passengers continuing from/to points south of Shin-Aomori (territorial limit between JR Hokkaido and JR East) for the distance traveled within JR East territory because it is a through service between JR East and JR Hokkaido (crew change occurs at Shin-Aomori just like Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen through running or through running subway service).

            Assuming the distribution is done based on the distance, JR Hokkaido would get ~1/3 of the Tokyo-Sapporo fare from each passenger traveling that segment and need to win 90 percent of Tokyo-Sapporo passengers to cover the loss solely from Tokyo-Sapporo Shinkansen passengers.

          • Tonami Playman

            @anonymouse observer, thanks I did not consider the revenue sharing for the line. It looks even bleaker taking that into consideration. Definitely only anti-air travel policy can save it. Though JR Hokkaido’s losses were only about 18 billion yen in 2019 before ballooning to 42 billion in 2020, its still a huge hurdle. Jettisoning low traffic lines to 3rd sector will also reduce the financial burden.

          • borners

            We’re underselling the potential market a bit here. Tokyo area-Sapporo will be a majority of the passenger load, but we’re forgetting that there are significant populations along the route itself especially Sendai. I’m pretty sure they could could get 10-15% of the Chubu market for instance and maybe 5% of the Keihanshin market too even without anti-airplane legislation. The JR operators should definitely start wining and dining Finance ministry officials about environmental taxes.

            And remember Japanese travel periods are super peaky so adding extra capacity is filling latent demand. Not to mention new holiday patterns will emerge if you bind Tohoku and Hokkaido closer together especially for foreign tourists whose railpasses encourage long Shinkansen trips. Pity JR EAST Haneda access line plan doesn’t reach the international terminal.

          • Phake Nick

            My understanding is they’re now aiming for 4.5 hours from Tokyo to Sapporo, not 4.
            They hope the line can defeat the 4 hour rule by having the train directly entering Sapporo City Center, while all the flights from Tokyo to Sapporo can only land on New Chitose and require a non-trivial distance of travelling to get into Sapporo
            Recall the 4 hour rule was made based on performance of Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hiroshima and Hakata in the first place , and the central location of Hakata’s airport obviously blended the battle against HSR. And thus the 4 hour rule might not be objective.
            So, with train travel time on Tokyo-Sapporo shorter than Tokyo-Hakata, and airplane access less convenient than Tokyo-Hakata, it is likely that Tokyo-Sapporo Shinkansen will earn higher market share than Tokyo-Hakata
            But the variable here is, Tokyo-Sapporo Shinkansen have high ticket price, compares to flight, and the frequency is expected to be low, like about 20 trains a day

            As for significant population in-between, Sapporo-Hakodate is another market they want to aim for. But with the train not going into Sapporo City, and even the connecting train might cease to be operational due to Hakodate City expecting to shrink fast in the upcoming decades and thus the financial estimation of preserving the train line after Shinkansen opening is catastrophic, and thus will rely on bus or park and ride connection, it is not certain how much traffic they can capture against the bus which is slower but offer 1-seat ride, or the plane which have an airport closer to Hakodate city center than the Shinkansen station, and can use commuter aircraft to fly into Sapporo’s inner city airfield.

            As for Sapporo-Tohoku, in previous Alon’s blog post on sanity checking his HSR ridership formula, it is discovered that his formula severely overestimate traffic between smaller cities across different regions. This can either indicate the fault of his formula, or that such type of demand in Japan is lower than norm. And thus it is not certain how much they can bankroll from it. And both Sendai as well as the entire Hokkaido are extremely car-oriented also.

          • Phake Nick

            @yuuka
            1. As part of the new flight path, they’re also cutting domestic flight frequency at Haneda for international flight, so that’s that. But Tokyo-Haneda being a premium route, would be one of the last route for airlines to give up even if they’re forced to cut domestic flight out of Haneda, and Tokyo’s distance from Sapporo also mean tons of other flights should be cut first before flight to Hokkaido.
            And then don’t forget when the Shinkansen open, there will be other capacity expansion measures done already, including possibly the completing of Narita’s new runway which offer significant more capacity. (Or it may open a bit later depends on schedule of either projects but should be around that same timeframe)
            And there are also the constant argument that lack of airport capacity for airports around Tokyo compares to other major cities around the world like London, Paris, NYC are hindering the city, and thus the nation, ‘s link with outside world, with Japan-US flight price significantly higher than Korea/China-US being an exampling result of such lack of capacity, and thus hurting the national economy

            2. Problem with international-air-to-intercity-rail connection is, the passenger volume is so low for trains that it almost always doesn’t worth making physical infrastructure change or projects to accommodate for such passengers, or sometimes even if the infrastructure is there, the demand still cannot support running a train on it.

            Korea tried through running of KTX into Incheon but ultimately have to be scrapped

            Hong Kong studied a dedicated airport link with Shenzhen airport, with Shenzhen being one of the China’s most major city, with an airport that connect extensively to all major Chinese cities but minimal international link at the time of the study, whereas Hong Kong house one of the world’s busiest airport yet don’t have much flights to many parts of China Mainland due to airport capacity constraint as well as limited historical ties, a direct rail link between the two can offer unbeatable China-to-the-World connectivity option, and then such link will further cover a tech park in Shenzhen and a planned development area in HK, but still the demand is only forecasted to be a few thousand every days, and thus the project have been frozen until at least after 2047. (Not sure whether they’re reconsidering the project now given their calendar have already hit 2047)

          • Sassy

            > Tokyo-Sapporo Shinkansen have high ticket price, compares to flight

            Shinkansen nearly always has a high price compared to the flight though. Tokyo-Hakata Shinkansen is more expensive than JAL/ANA HND-FUK booked in advance, and like 3-5x of LCC NRT-FUK. In addition, Japanese domestic travel has rather weak price sensitivity, considering JAL/ANA manage to operate premium-heavy 3-class configured aircraft on domestic routes.

            > And then don’t forget when the Shinkansen open, there will be other capacity expansion measures done already, including possibly the completing of Narita’s new runway which offer significant more capacity. (Or it may open a bit later depends on schedule of either projects but should be around that same timeframe)

            Narita is way out in the sticks. Even with the massive cost advantage of LCCs, NRT-CTS is a small fraction of HND-CTS, and pushing Tokyo as a world class city means getting as many international flights in to HND as possible.

            Looking towards the future, it’s less important that Tokyo serve as a hub for international-domestic connections, as the 787/A350, and even more so the A321XLR will open up direct international flights to more and more cities. The next generation of planes will probably cut into the importance of Transpacific-Asia Regional hubs as well.

            > Tokyo’s distance from Sapporo also mean tons of other flights should be cut first before flight to Hokkaido.

            Assuming Sapporo Extension and 360km/h speed up, Sapporo would be closer than Fukuoka, along with all of Kyushu, and a large part of Shikoku and the Sea of Japan side of Western Honshu. There are a lot of flights that would get cut before Sapporo, however there’s no shortage of flights that would get cut after.

          • yuuka

            >4 hour rule

            My understanding is that MLIT did their own sums and came up with the 4 hour rule separately. Continental Europe has the same issue, so it’s really not worth trying to cheat fate and should only be a fallback. CRH’s G17/22 is 4:18 only stopping in Nanjing anyway, but Japan may not have have the same critical mass as communist China for this to be considered acceptable.

            And speaking of CRH Beijing-Shanghai, looks like they only operate 30 plus G trains a day. For Japan with significantly lower population and catchment, 20 trains a day might be enough.

            >airport capacity

            So Narita third runway is to solve a different problem. Anti-air policy, which by its nature shouldn’t care about “premium” flights, would still be necessary to shift domestic travel to the Shinkansen and free up capacity for international flights. See Madrid-Barcelona or some of the German domestic routes.

            >shinkansen ticket pricing

            Really can’t help but wonder if airline-at-flight-level-zero demand based pricing would help for the Tohoku Shinkansen. Advance purchase tickets help holidaymakers and leisure travel but not much else.

            > air rail integration

            KTX failed because it was getting stuck behind slow AREX trains and Incheon is basically Narita in terms of distance. Air-rail ticketing out of Haneda would work better given the closer distances and JR’s proposed Haneda Link, even if we’re not running Shinkansen trains to the airport terminal a la Frankfurt and Paris-CDG.

          • SB

            Is Narita Airport 3rd runway even going to be built?
            Considering that construction of the airport lead to massive farmer-student activists protests, the expansion of the airport could be very controversial

          • Tonami Playman

            I truly don’t think a 3rd Runway is needed at Narita especially once Hokkaido Shinkansen is operational. According to flightradar24

            https://www.flightradar24.com/data/airports/cts and
            https://www.flightradar24.com/data/airports/hnd

            Top routes from CTS – (Sapporo)
            #1 HND – 444 flights/week – (Tokyo)
            #2 SDJ – 127 flights/week – (Sendai)
            #3 NGO – 125 flights/week – (Nagoya)
            #4 NRT – 111 flights/week – (Tokyo)
            #5 KIX – 86 flights/week – (Osaka)
            #6 ITM – 76 flights/week – (Osaka)
            #7 UKB – 56 flights/week – (Kobe)
            #8 MMB – 42 flights/week – (Memanbetsu)
            #9 FUK – 35 flights/week – (Fukuoka)
            #10 AOJ – 28 flights/week – (Aomori)

            Top routes from HND – (Tokyo)
            #1 CTS – 445 flights/week – (Sapporo)
            #2 FUK – 412 flights/week – (Fukuoka)
            #3 OKA – 277 flights/week – (Okinawa)
            #4 ITM – 191 flights/week – (Osaka)
            #5 KOJ – 166 flights/week – (Kagoshima)
            #6 KMI – 144 flights/week – (Miyazaki)
            #7 KKJ – 141 flights/week – (Kitakyushu)
            #8 KMJ – 139 flights/week – (Kumamoto)
            #9 NGS – 135 flights/week – (Nagasaki)
            #10 OIT – 113 flights/week – (Oita)

            Considering these are pandemic numbers, that’s an average of 63 flights/day between Haneda and Chitose airports. The route averaged 108 flights/day in 2019. Thats enough to accommodate 22% of the international flight slots at Narita if we consider the peak international passenger aircraft movement of 498 flights/day from 2019.

            Reducing flights between Haneda and Fukuoka/Itami will be more challenging due to capacity constraints on the Tokaido Shinkansen until the Chuo Shinkansen reaches Osaka.

          • Phake Nick

            @yuuka
            – From the formula from Europe at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail#Market_shares , a 4-hour journey time would yield 42% market share for HSR and 4.5-hour would yield 30%. The 4-hour yielding 42% market share is lower than some 4-hour routes in Japan.
            – For CRH, with the number of flights and trains between Beijing and Shanghai, merely comparing the fastest single train is not helpful in analyzing the full picture of market share. And didn’t Beijing-Shanghai’s train still maintained something like half the market share even after the slowing down following 2011 accident?
            – Further expansion at Haneda will also be expected, with another new runway at Haneda also being suggested although I don’t think there’re concrete plan yet

            Click to access haneda_faq_6_2.pdf


            – The document also worry about cutting back flight to local cities from Haneda will accelerate local cities decline
            – I am not sure about what you mean by “anti air policy by nature shouldn’t care about premium routes”, does that mean choice should be reserved for people who can pay?
            – Various JR companies already have quite a number of advanced ticket purchasing discount offer, but due to the difficulty of using them in addition to a number of other factors, their usage rate are very low according to my understanding.
            – TGV’s service at CDG isn’t seeing that much number of travellers each days either. Or how many passengers at Shanghai Hongqiao do you think are air-rail interconnection? Guangzhou North?
            ——
            @SB The third runway for Narita they’re building now will be in different direction from the original plane as they think a crosswind runway isn’t as necessary given record of modern aircraft in airports in Tokyo and readily available alternatives. And thus they’re building it in a different place that doesn’t involve those lands they previously failed to acquire.
            ——
            @Tonami Playman 444 flights per weeks in both ways, is only about 46 thousand flights per year.
            Per the document I linked above, they think that with New York and London handling ~1.2 million flights each year, but Tokyo airports only handling 0.75 million each year. The different is 500 thousand. So even if all Sapporo flights are to be eliminated, it can only make up 10% the differences. Not to mention airlines tend to downgauge their aircraft in order to keep the frequency, and running wide body aircraft on domestic route is not really efficient. Thus, if air travel keep 50% traffic, they can simply replace all 787 with A321 and cut the number of frequency by 0%. Running large narrow body aircraft instead of widebody are both more economical and ecological in term of carbon footprint per passengers according to my understanding so this is definitely beneficial.
            With the different in number of flights handled in mind, despite the smaller different in total passenger volume, it is perceived as putting Tokyo at a disadvantage. This disparity indicate higher number of passengers per each flights out of Tokyo, in other words it is more difficult to operate low demand regional flights, which are commonly seen in London and New York, and expanded their aviation network much further, unlike Tokyo where it’s difficult to arrange anything smaller than a 737 into the them. The direct consequence of this is the relatively lower number of directly connected cities.
            For example, a new airlines at Niigata is trying to establish route from Sado Island directly to Tokyo, using ATR42, according to my memory, and deploying such small sized aircraft into Haneda/Narita would be an inefficient use of slot, given the size of other aircrafts that could have been using the slot. All the flights from Izu Islands also landed at Chou Airfield instead because of such. IIRC that was also a reason why US didn’t allocate one of the Haneda’s new slot to Guam, which would be using a narrow body instead of wide body aircraft according to the service proposal. And in airlines proposal according to my memory there were also airlines that proposed servicing Haneda from Las Vegas, Orlando, Hawaii Big Island, which were rejected, and wouldn’t be started for Narita instead, as the economics is different.
            It is true that, in the future, there will be more point to point from secondary cities, flying bypassing hubs. But in such case, what it mean for large hubs like Tokyo, is that flights currently flown by B777 will be flown by B787 instead, while many other smaller cities, like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Calgary, Edmonton, might get additional service to Tokyo using smaller aircrafts, including like Boeing’s planned MoM or A321XLR, when we focus on the trans-pacific market. Even with these “Hub-bypassing point to point routes”, which allow those smaller North American cities bypassing the closest hubs to them, what they want to connect the most to will still be other hub cities round the world, instead of for instance “Las Vegas to Fukuoka”. And even if there are really ultimately enough demand for second tier to second tier cities “Las Vegas to Osaka/Fukuoka/Nagoya/Sendai” routes, it is also hard to envision Tokyo wouldn’t be the most major route among these other routes.
            Thus, increased P2P flying wouldn’t cut back frequency at hub, but would instead lead to downgauging. The situation might be different at places like New York, where there are tons of flights already on CRJ and cannot be further downgauged economically, however in Tokyo tons of flights even the shorter ones are on widebody and have much room for service rationalization. The ability to use smaller narrowbody can also open up direct service to smaller international destinations, which only have demand to justify the use of smaller aircrafts like CS100. Bilateral between countries can also be relaxed as a result to stimulate more services.
            Another thing to note about is airports in Tokyo currently barely have any extra rooms for private jets to use. Ecologically it’s probably a good thing but economically it’s probably not

    • Phake Nick

      In.addition to MLIT’s estimate, it might also be worthwhile to look into Uetsu-Ou area local politicians study on how to lower the cost of Shinkansen building to make it worthwhile to build full-spec Shinkansen into the area.

  5. Kristofer Bartelle

    I think if you did a business case study of CAHSR and compared it to Spain, (Semi Federal Democracy). You would see the differences immediately in how these projects and managed and the lack of power the agencies have to actually do anything. Amtrak doesn’t own its tracks and this creates a major problem coordinating how a project will affect fiber carriers and Class 1 freights. These projects usually only consider the cost of their project, not the improvements they will have to supply to move the utilities into suitable locations for their owners. That information is usually unwanted to be heard during 30% development and is usually left as a blackhole because the agency project manager doesn’t want to tell the politicians the budget is going to go up. By the time the project reaches construction the costs are known and everyone is in a panic and the project is delayed. The contractor starts collecting money on the delays making the costs go up more. Just preparing agreements with 3rd parties to agree can take longer than design or construction. These agencies are also run by appointed government officials that at the end of the day have little to no understanding of a major construction project and really want to democratize all decision making to stakeholders. Good leadership is the exception not the norm. Their more concerned listening to their community outreach person than the manager of a multibillion dollar project, and by the time they get the money they don’t care how cost effective they are at spending it because the grant came from another agency. The FRA, FTA don’t actually build anything in this country they just grant money and create rules for people that do. They have never prioritized granting money on making things cheaper or better, leaving it to the local agencies to tell them why things are always more expensive.
    The grant funding and procurement process is fundamentally broken from top to bottom as well, to many carve outs for special interests, too many rules that nobody knows about, any one of them can delay a project years. I’ve seen millions of dollars of steel removed because a few plates were made in Indonesia.
    We should be ashamed looking around the world and comparing our practices to them. From top to bottom the agencies need a cleaning of rules and bureaucrats that act as gatekeepers to these projects. Technical people to make things great exist, we have a political problems not a technical one.

  6. Tom M

    So I had a thought on what an achievable Washington – New York City – Boston time should be based on currently operating/planned HST lines in operation. My result was WAS-NYC 92 min and NYC-BOS 85 min. The results are ~10 to 15 min faster than Alon’s previous estimates of 100 min for both WAS-NYC and NYC-BOS (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/02/10/high-speed-rail-for-the-eastern-united-states/). Assuming a higher performance level in-line with that planned for HS2 (actual/theoretical ratio of 120% instead of 140%) gives a trip estimate of WAS-NYC 79 min and NYC-BOS of 73 min. Given the colossal amounts Amtrak etc. is wanting to spend, they of course should be aiming to achieve even faster times….

    My approach was define a simplified theoretical minimum time (see approach below), then compare to actual timetabled times, then use the actual/theoretical ratio to define a WAS-NYC-BOS achievable time. Obviously this is a highly simplified approach using a extraordinarily limited data set. However, the aim was to provide a very simplified heuristic to estimate route times.

    Approach
    1. Calculate great circle distance between the two points
    2. Assume train performance of constant acceleration at 0.3 m/s^2, max speed 320 km/h, then decelerate at 0.5 m/s^2 ref: http://www.railway-technical.com/books-papers–articles/high-speed-railway-capacity.pdf)
    3. Gives theoretical minimum time (e.g. WAS-NYC 66 min and NYC-BOS 61 min)
    4. Find actual point-to-point times (used HS2 Euston-Birmingham Curzon, Euston-Manchester Piccadilly, Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Lyon, Paris-Strasbourg, Tokyo-Shin Aomori).
    5. Calculate actual/theoretical time % (ranged from 115% for Euston-Manchester, to 158% for Tokyo-Shin Aomori)
    6. Eyeball an average (used 140%)
    7. Use 6. x 3. for the WAS-NYC-BOS pairs, giving WAS-NYC 92 min and NYC-BOS 85 min

    • Alon Levy

      The problem with this is that different lines have different extents of terminal zone slowdowns. You vaguely take care of it in step 5, but not really, because HS2 is an extraordinarily expensive system, and among existing systems, Japan and France have much lower percentages than other first-world HSR systems like Italy, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan. China has an even lower percentage but only by running nonstop for hundreds of km at a time; France, ditto.

      • Tom M

        Yeah I realised what I’ve effectively done is calculate the great circle average speed. It is a hash up of ideas as well, combining a theoretical straight line constructed with an infinite budget but bounded by the limits of today’s rolling stock performance. The spark of the idea is from manufacturing capacity planning, where you calculate the theoretical capacity of the system ignoring scheduling and other day-to-day complexities. Once you have the theoretical capacity, then you can start identifying and prioritising improvements based on a best bang-for-buck payoff….which in the HST construction world would be prioritizing by lowest $/min time saved. I’m curious if a speed zone map for the NEC is publicly available, and if not, has anyone tried a FOI request to obtain it?

        • Alon Levy

          A speed zone map from the 2000s circulates around transit advocates. Employee maps with exact curve radii also circulate; the speed zones are consistently well below what can be squeezed from current curve, but the latter speed, while higher than today, is not HSR.

          • adirondacker12800

            And there are long stretches, especially in Maryland, where the geometry would allow much higher speeds. No one has come up with the money to upgrade the catenary. If the wires aren’t going to support higher speeds, no reason to maintain the tracks for higher speeds either.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, but the limits in Metro-North territory (and not in east-of-NH Connecticut) are a lot lower than catenary limit.

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