Consensus and Costs

I’m in the middle of an online symposium at Eno about construction costs; I talked on Tuesday and I think there will be a recording made available later. The conference is good by a lot of standards, including the “do they tell me things I don’t know about costs” standard. But for now, I want to address one point made repeatedly in interviews re some low-cost cities: the argument from consensus. It’s wrong, and leads to very wrong conclusions.

What is the argument from consensus?

In Eno’s lowest-cost comparison cities, like Madrid, there’s political consensus in favor of building more subways. Repeated panels gave this example of how in the 1990s and 2000s, PP and PSOE both supported subway construction and promised to build more in their election campaigns for the Community of Madrid. PSOE in fact attacked PP saying its proposals were unrealistically ambitious, but then the Madrid Metro expansion opened as planned. In such a political environment, no wonder planners had leeway to build the system without much interference.

Why is this wrong?

Britain has bipartisan political consensus in favor of both Crossrail and High Speed 2, both of which are explicitly supported in both parties’ manifestos. Its construction costs are still Europe’s highest.

More to the point, the United States is not uniformly an environment where public transportation is a partisan flashpoint, because in most of the cities that build subways, the Republican Party does not exist. The closest thing to a Republican Party in New York is the Manhattan Institute, which criticizes unions incessantly but does not call for ending public support for the subway and refrains from making the anti-transit arguments made by national Republican outfits like Reason and Cato. The last Republican mayor, Rudy Giuliani [sic], tried to expand the subway to LaGuardia. I’ve met New Yorkers who view Giuliani as a savior and who are ant-immigration climate denialists and thy too think the city and state should make the subway better – if anything they treat its poor state as evidence that the Democrats can’t govern.

This consensus does not lead to low costs. Why would it? There is no respect for planners or engineers. The consensus in New York means every governor installs their political cronies at the head of the agencies involved. None of the mechanisms that make Madrid Metro work is present.

The consequences

Just having more political support for subway construction is not going to by itself make things better. American states where investment is safe from cancellation do not do better than ones where one election could spell doom for the investment program. Sea changes are required, not just more public support.


    • thecityneverbleeps

      Did any Cuomo challenger in a primary or general election ever attack Cuomo for supporting the SAS? I don’t know the answer myself, but I would be surprised if they did.

    • Alon Levy

      What do you mean? There was NIMBYism about specific aspects, but never about the project writ large, which was unanimously supported citywide.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Ok fair enough.

        To be honest I think the same was true about crossrail apart from the additional complexity of building a railway around a lot of existing tunnels and through a 2000 year old city.

        • Herbert

          Outside the “square mile” London isn’t two thousand years old.

          Very, very few cities are actually older than 200 years outside a pretty small core… In Europe I can only think of Rome, Istanbul and to a lesser extent Paris, Athens, Thessaloniki, Cologne…

          And then their “older than 200 years” parts are mostly of archeological relevance and depending on the level of Brusselization and boorishness, politicians are wont to ignore stuff like that…

          Didn’t Erdoğan say something dismissive about “ancient crap nobody needs” when they discovered East Roman artifacts of immense archeological value during the digging for Marmaray?

  1. df1982

    The situation in Britain is more complicated, though. Crossrail is consensus in London but in the north there are complaints of London swallowing up so much transport funding. The real bunfight is HS2, though. Sure both the big parties officially support the project, but there is significant opposition on both left and right to it. On the right due to home counties NIMBYs (a pretty large part of the Conservative Party, particularly as far as membership is concerned), and on the left misguided concerns about environmental harm and/or funding going to trains for rich people. This has an effect on how much political capital either major party is willing to devote to the project. The Tories in particular constantly look tempted to just cancel the thing and be done with it.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Yeah but that should be an incentive to keep costs on *crossrail* down as much as possible. It’s different from HS2 which is largely unpopular outside London – although aside from Buckinghamshire I think a lot of the unpopularity is about the very high costs.

      • Matthew Hutton

        I doubt at this stage any would cancel HS2. Too much money has already been spent.

        Whether it will be cancelled beyond phase 2a to Crewe who can say. That wouldn’t surprise me to be honest.

        • Borners

          If we follow Alon’s research the problem with both Crossrail and HS2 is that there isn’t anybody on the project that has incentive to make do cost control and if they did they don’t have the technical expertise to do it. I’ll wager the last competent construction project was the western part of the Jubilee line which was the last bit of the Tube built by expertise inherited from the original London Underground companies they were fired in the 1980’s. Since then its been all ad hoc committees and quasi-public corporations overseen by unskilled DfT and Treasury civil servants. And the new Great British Railways seems determined to keep it that way.

          I agree the costs are the thing that’s making it unpopular. But there is a wider issue that a lot of communities the North and the Midlands are distinctly uninteresting in having better connections to each other let alone London. Its telling with the cancellation of 2b the local authorities in the East Midlands/Yorkshire didn’t use this as a stick to extract electrification from the government. Leeds and Sheffield are still addicted to dorky tram ideas.

          That said I do wonder how much this Johnson’s very London perspective on big rail projects is shared by his potential successors.

          • Herbert

            Britain didn’t build a new mainline railway for most of the twentieth century…

            It’s hard to acquire domestic expertise for something you haven’t done in a long lifetime if you at the same time fail to admit that other countries have far more expertise at it…

          • Borners

            True enough. But the expertise in electrification, infill and frequent service that the Metropolitan Railway and Southern Railways developed before the war was thrown away long before Thatcher came on the scene. And before the war Southern England was the most-auto-oriented society outside the US. They knew what they were doing although the 1947 Town and Country planning act probably made those strategies impossible (the spacing between station in Surrey/Kent/Sussex/Hampshire is a lot smaller than the northern Home counties).

            The failure to complete electrification of mainlines and urban lines is probably the biggest failure of postwar rail policy, without it s-bahn style services are impossible for most UK cities. A point of continuity between BNR and Privatisation era.

          • Herbert

            The Anglophone opposition to electrification is both based in no fact whatsoever and true throughout the Anglosphere…

          • Eric2

            Is there opposition to electrification, or just ignorance and neglect on the part of those in position to electrify?

          • Matthew Hutton

            I expect the opposition to electrification is mostly opposition to high costs.

            That and poor selling to the community. I believe some people objected to the electrification of the great western line who didn’t realise the electric trains would be quieter.

          • Herbert

            The costs of electrifying a line are recouped within a few years by the better performance of electric trains…

          • Sascha Claus

            Maybe be because they are dorky? Sheffield uses short 30m trams and has a stop distance more appropriate for a subway. The “artists impression” of Leeds’ cars looks like 20m, but Railway Technology says the take 200 passengers, which sounds more like 30m.
            Both are astonishingly short trains for a network built anew from scratch, cf. all they new networks on the south side of the Channel.
            But maybe some people consider all tramways dorky. I’d consider a underground lines through the SFH outskirts of Sheffield and Leeds (where the trams go / were supposed to go) dorky.

          • Borners

            I don’t consider all trams dorky. I have a lot of time for various continental systems. I think Nottingham and Croydon tram systems are fine and Manchester is making the best of a hard job (trunk tunnels and city-centre loops are expensive)
            Sascha is quite right about the shortness. But the core problem is incompetant thinking of what trams/light rail strengths and weaknesses are in a British context. The problem of British cities is urban cores with narrow streets which can’t do usual two lanes for cars/two lanes for transit mix*. You need to be very careful about street-running sections, so don’t have too many stations, not too many turning points etc. If that means not going straight-through city centre so be it. Nottingham does this well, sliding along the eastern end of the very pedestrian friendly urban core after crossing over the main station. Sheffield does not do this nor does Birmingham.

            The bigger problem is the sacrifice of viable heavy lines for limited capacity trams. This something Sheffield, Edinburgh and Birmingham all do. For cities of their size trams are not a substitute for lacking heavy rail services, heavy rail is the bones, light rail the cartilage and sinew. This is stupidest in Edinburgh which really just needs some extra platforms in the eastern Suburbs and signaling upgrades to have a proper s-bahn system given its already electrified. Manchester is different because they are cannibalising lines that aren’t intercity for the most part, ditto Nottingham.

            And don’t get me started on how dum Sheffield, it has the trunk and spines of a first class rail system, it just needs electrification and infill and the lines connecting it to Leeds/Nottingham/Birmingham/Derby have what 6 million people? and about 80 Tory mp’s to pressure. But no the city plan just talks HS2 and EV’s. Yes Anglosphere cost disease is a problem, but its cheaper than HS2 2b and probably has similar cost per km to trams.

            *Yes Europe has narrow streets too, but more cities have a grid layout/boulevards which make things easier. Outlawing cars from places would be nice, but you again need to be strategic about it….UK cities aren’t.

          • fjod

            Yep, the whole of south/west Yorkshire could have a truly world-class s-bahn with a bit of electrification, infill and some targeted improvements (a couple of new/reopened lines and a very small amount of four-tracking). I crayoned this once…

          • Borners

            Leeds is a bit more tricky because the difference in the number of lines coming from the Southwest versus the Northwest. But you don’t need to build any tunnels, but some short branches e.g south of Neville Depot would give you the capacity (instead they are planning more platforms in Leeds station because they are stupid).

          • Sascha Claus

            The problem of British cities is urban cores with narrow streets which can’t do usual two lanes for cars/two lanes for transit mix.

            You can do one lane for trams (one direction) and one lane for trams and local access car traffic (other direction), see Mulhouse for example. Obviously won’t fly on a major thoroughfare.

            Manchester is different because they are cannibalising lines that aren’t intercity for the most part, ditto Nottingham.

            Manchester is cannibalising lines that ought to be used for S-Bahn- or U-Bahn-like service instead. Given the size of the metro area, these railway rights of way should be able to fill at least a 100m train every 10min, unless you have really louse mode share. But then you can’t get these trains street running through the city centre, so you’d need a tunnel.

          • Sascha Claus

            Leeds is a bit more tricky because the difference in the number of lines coming from the Southwest versus the Northwest.

            *takesoutmap* … *digsoutpre-groupingatlas* Huuiii, they really messed this up from the beginning.

            Everything leads into Leeds from the west, only one line from the east. Basically a dead-end station. (see also the RJD)

            But you don’t need to build any tunnels, but some short branches e.g south of Neville Depot would give you the capacity.

            Were would that go? I don’t see any possible railway ROW there, only tram-train-suitable roads. And going underground seems somewhat displaced in such SFH-land.

            I see obvious possibilities in the old line from Cross Gates northward towards Wetherby (partially built over), a new line branching from said line and hugging the edge of the built-up area; the old line from Garforth soutward to Castleford via Great Preston/Kippax and a new line branching from said line (again!) via Swillington to Woodlesford.

          • Herbert

            Whatever the “arguments” against trams may be, the fact of the matter is that most major British cities had extensive tram networks before car centric urban planning…

          • Borners

            “Whatever the “arguments” against trams may be, the fact of the matter is that most major British cities had extensive tram networks before car centric urban planning…”
            And we can’t go back there. The expansion of city population and extent makes the limitations of on-street trams worse. We’re not going to abolish cars. There are places where you can get

            “Manchester is cannibalising lines that ought to be used for S-Bahn- or U-Bahn-like service instead.”
            I don’t disagree, but I was making a positive comparison of Manchester with other UK cities. Which is comparing the not very good with the bad.

            “You can do one lane for trams (one direction) and one lane for trams and local access car traffic (other direction), see Mulhouse for example”
            Nottingham does do this a bit! But its still hard to do!

            A note on my Leeds comments I said Northwest rather Northeast of Leeds station. Stupid brain.

            “Were would that go? I don’t see any possible railway ROW there, only tram-train-suitable roads. And going underground seems somewhat displaced in such SFH-land.”
            I just wanted to build some extra terminal platforms while adding some infill stations. In the very-long-run you could el-it by smashing through the brownfield/golf course to the southeast. Returning to the mainline then have branches to Whinmoor and Castleford. Max out that 4-track.

          • Borners

            1. Battery technology is removing the main objection to the car’s existence. And yes I know battery cars are still much more environmentally costly than an EMU.
            2. For freight there is no last mile answer than something with its own engine that can go on roads.
            3. Mass transit has too high minimum efficient scales.
            4. Bus/tram/train systems not matter how good will always have service gaps in time and space that cars can serve.
            5. There is constituency that likes private vehicles. Pissing them off too much undermines more important goals. Selling improved rail service to the marginal voters among guys means promising it’ll improve their experience.

            And don’t say Paris.

          • Eric2

            I’m really not sure what the main objection to cars is. CO2, local air pollution, road deaths, inequality/expense, and obesity are five different kinds of massive impact, and battery cars remove only the first two of those.

          • Borners

            Hey I spend time here specifically because I think having the mode share of Tokyo/Prague is a massive improvement in human welfare. But energy and transport politics requires negotiating obstacles of car users demographic and political weight. Anti-car measures are only possible in spaces where you have already achieved a high non-car modal split (Paris). You need to get public transit right before you launch a war on the car.
            Seriously anglophone anti-car radicalism has nothing to show for itself. A politics that improves transit modal split has to win marginal voters who are car users. This is normal see politics of alcohol or drugs.

          • Herbert

            You forgot the negative impact of motorcars on land use and that rubber dust, road wear and braking dust are also health hazards which arise even from battery electric cars (tho, to be fair, they are also an issue in other wheeled vehicles if much less per pax-km)

    • Herbert

      Maybe the consensus is actually the problem?

      If all political parties of relevance are for something, what other than lawsuits and referenda do those still opposed have to make their voices heard?

      Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think those trollish lawsuits or referenda based on lies are a good thing. But they are a thing. And lawsuits often have two main consequences: delay and cost increase even if (as is common) they cannot actually stop the project…

      In Germany alone there were tram projects in Aachen, Wiesbaden, Tübingen (in that case “only” the inner city portion of a wider tram train system) which were rejected in referenda full of lies and special pleading (“city xyz has a tram and it’s working great” – “but we aren’t city xyz”). The project has a more complicated electoral record (and to my knowledge the most “successful” electoral record of any postwar tram project in Germany). The Landkreis Erlangen-Höchstadt voted “no” (if you look at the border gore monstrosity that it is, you might get an idea as to why) whereas individual places within it – such as Herzogenaurach (which will be served by the tram and has big local employers vocally in favor) – voted “yes” by large margins. In the city of Erlangen, a referendum brought forth by opponents with the confusing question “are you in favour of [The project] not being built?” Lost 60-40 signaling he go-ahead… But there’s another referendum to be held in Erlangen which could stop the project and the Landkreis also wants back in which might require another referendum, too…

  2. Charlie

    Welcome to Detroit, where some suburban politicians (mostly Republicans) do not want any form of fixed-route public transit to exist whatsoever. Very little support at the state level from both parties.

  3. Alex B.

    I haven’t been listening to the symposium, but hope to catch some recordings later if available.

    Are people arguing that political consensus lowers costs, or that such consensus is a present in some places that have lower costs? As a descriptive matter, it seems true. What about the converse – are the examples of places that lack consensus about the key projects, but still have low costs?

    Likewise, I’m not sure the relevance of NYC’s political consensus on projects, given the heavy role of state and federal funding in financing those projects. It would sure seem like the political consensus (or lack thereof) at those levels matters.

  4. Herbert

    The U.S. has a pretty broad consensus in favor of highway construction – certainly broader than Germany, where the A100 and the A49 are only the most federally noted controversial highway expansion plans, but there are also protests against other highway expansion projects and the utterly atavistic plans regarding A73 (incidentally built in part on the old Ludwig-Donau-Main-Kanal) in Nuremberg have been divisive locally for decades. Irony of ironies the CSU now tries to “sell” A73 expansion by saying “look, if we widen that road and turn it from an urban stroad with traffic lights into a ‘proper’ highway, we can put a lid over it and have green space and cycling lanes on the lid…”

    Instead of, yaknow, turning the whole sorry mess that is A73 into a bicycle highway…

    But despite U.S. Consensus in favor of highways (and let’s be real, in the current political climate, there is little consensus on any issue commonly brought up on CNN/MSNBC/FoxNews – issues such as “capitalism v socialism” meanwhile are never brought up so that people don’t realize there’s an alternative to the “consensus”) the construction costs of American highways are to my knowledge on the high, not the low end of the global scale…

    • Eric2

      There may be a consensus in favor of highways in general, but particular projects are often subject to opposition and even cancellation – whether due to eminent domain, or general NIMBYism, or (in some places) environmental concerns…

      • Herbert

        There are always NIMBYs. And the only way to avoid ecological concerns (and even then not fully) is to go brownfield which has its own issues…

  5. Sassy

    I think that is missing from the discussion of consensus is the difference between bipartisan support and an actual lack of meaningful opposition. A lot of issues still have strong opposition, even in the face of bipartisan support or when the other party is irrelevant.

    What constitutes a meaningful opposition is hard to define though, since a small opposition can be meaningful if they have strong tools to abuse (common in a lot of developed countries), and a large opposition can be non-meaningful if they lack any way of affecting things (common in a lot of developing countries).

    The easy way to define meaningful opposition is to just look if anyone was successful in getting in the way of the project and incurring massive cost. However this is circular, so questionably useful.

  6. Borners

    The UK has made continual if irregular progress on electrification over time so its different from the rest of the Anglosphere. The industry itself is always lobbying for it. The main problem isn’t opposition but lack of proper direction from the top Electrification is a mature technology, so its not sexy, particularly for newer governments. I suspect top civil servants don’t quite get how essential it is. Also we don’t know how to make best use of the technology. The recently finished Great Western electrification didn’t come with a single new infill station despite being a wealthy and busy corridor. There are lot a railway garden-city/suburbs that could be easily built there and on the East Coast Mainline/Thameslink corridor particularly growing places like Peterborough. Moving north there is awareness of electrification making trains better, but I don’t think they realise how much better electrified systems are particularly for local services. A lot of these Redwall towns have the population to justify extra stations once you get EMU performance, build overtaking platforms and learn what S-bahn style through-operations/timetabling are*. UK has a lot of low-hanging fruit. Only Manchester and London need through-running tunnels to have good urban-rail systems.

    *Seriously why do UK rail operators/advocates/nerds keep demanding more city center platforms instead of getting more out of city platforms for local services? Okay Manchester/London I understand, but with elsewhere. Looking at you Newcastle.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s incredibly hard for railfans to think outside their immediate community, which is typically national. German railfans make up excuses why Germany can’t have high-speed rail like France, French ones why Paris must spend twice as much money as anyone else on rolling stock, British ones why London can’t automate the Tube. It’s related to the fact that the industry doesn’t work in English but in local languages – there’s a ton of cool technical stuff available here but it’s exclusively in German and often not put online.

      • Borners

        You’re slowly convincing me to learn German. The original Manchester metrolink proposal is very much derivative of German tram-trains, but its successors in Sheffield and Edinburgh studied Manchester without going back to the original source material in detail. Though Nottingham’s actually has pretty good ridership I suspect by accident. There is no real understanding that the S-bahn exists.

        Which is has interesting reflection in Japan where recently they have become a lot more interested in adapting European light rail to local circumstances; to the point of calling new light rail….light rail/LRT. Through-running local services for 3rd-4th tier cities (Sendai/Hiroshima)?….no. Japanese books on European railways focus on trams, HSR and sometimes freight. I own one where there are more pages on RER Park-and-rides than S-bahn in total!

        The interesting thing is the William’s review of that produced Great British trains shows that somebody in Dft did a reasonable job studying Swiss/Dutch/German/Japanese models of railway organisation, but didn’t have time/backing//expertise/wherewithall to adapt it to UK circumstances. Instead they just copied the franchising system Tfl uses for the Overground because they understood it and it hasn’t been a disaster.

        • Andrew in Ezo

          Hiroshima does have an S-bahn system (JR-W’s “Hiroshima City Network”) with through local running, up to 10 tph (peak) going through Hiroshima Station on the Sanyo Line, and 4 tph off-peak. But Sendai yes, nothing.

          • Borners

            Service along the Sanyo line is fine. But they are not even discussing through-running the Kabe-Geibi. Geibi has infamously poor ridership because it doesn’t go anywhere, but its urban section would be perfectly viable if they bothered electrify it then connect it to the well used Kabe line (onus on Hiroshima here more than JR). And there are bunch of other places in Japan with similar missed opportunities to take a leaf out of the Germanic playbook of electrifying urban sections of underutilized legacy lines, through-running them through a trunk to enable more everywhere-to-everywhere connections. The normal tendency is view rail operations as linear (Meitetsu’s system being the great exception), which means a lot of missed opportunities in places like Oita, Kagoshima, Okayama etc which do not match Central European cities level of rail usage.

          • Frederick

            Call me conspiracy-theorist, but I think Geibi Line is intentionally badly operated, and the goal is to get the line axed. If Geibi line were to be electrified, the local government probably would have to bear 100% of the cost.

            On the other hand, the Hiroshima government definitely supports public transport. Recently, the Geibi line suffers from landslides in a yearly basis but the fix has been quick and the service resumed only after a month’s downtime (which is quite fast); the government pressured JR West and forked up money for this.

      • Herbert

        I don’t think Germany should have high speed rail “like France” i.e. Non-Takt, ending at a grab bag of different dead end stations and with no connections between secondary cities.But then nobody is proposing that

        What I think both countries would need is a main station in the capital with easy connections in all directions (like Berlin Hbf) no relevant domestic flights (something both France and Germany have yet to achieve) four hour or better travel times between all cities of half a million or more with hourly departures or better (Hamburg-Munich will probably be the toughest one of those for Germany) and high speed lines that stay at speed for more than “strategic bypass” distance…

        But here’s a question: other than China, which high speed rail network is both extensive and polycentric? France and Spain are both pretty monocentric whereas Japan and South Korea are only slightly less so (but then Tokyo and Seoul are even more dominant within their countries than Paris and Madrid). Italy much like Japan is a pretty narrow country…

        Interestingly enough even German hsr is mostly North-South like the post-war trend of German traffic – as opposed to the east-west of old Prussia…

          • Herbert

            Polycentricity is not an excuse not to build hsr. But it is a good reason not to build a monocentric network.

            And at any rate one of the big problems with France’s network is that the “single center” isn’t – instead of one interchange point in Paris, you got numerous weakly linked dead end stations…

            The fact that three major European capitals and former imperial core cities have started projects in the 21st century to allow long distance trains to all run thru the same central station should tell you something… Vienna, Berlin and Madrid seem to know something that London and Paris refuse to acknowledge…

          • Alon Levy

            Sure, but it matters that Germany refuses to adopt what France does better than us – vaccine passports, construction without NIMBY lawsuits, high-speed rail, etc. Instead, various people here insist that it’s not possible to do Hanover-Bielefeld in 30 minutes or that getting Berlin-Frankfurt down to 2 hours is either impossible or undesirable because of polycentricity.

          • Herbert

            I think Munich-Hamburg below four hours is more desirable than Berlin-Frankfurt below two hours. If one has to choose…

            Because knowing Lufthansa, they’ll keep flying feeder flights to BER even if it takes less than 2h30 by rail to FRA… And while there certainly is travel demand between the two cities (as opposed to the two airports), the share of that is much more tilted in favor of city to city demand in the case of Hamburg-Munich. Plus, speeding that up almost inevitably speeds up the vast majority of trips on German hsr whereas speeding up the NE/SW oriented BER-FRA is awkward even for BER-Ruhr trips and of not all that much use for BER-AMS or BER-PAR (tho to be fair, FRA-PAR is already decent on the French side and FRA is pretty close to the grand circle route from Berlin to Paris… Now if only the Frankfurt rail node wasn’t so delay prone…)

            I think there should also be more future proofing of big projects. Like…. Leipzig City tunnel is probably going to have a capacity crunch soon with S-Bahn alone and there aren’t even tentative ideas for an (eminently desirable) thru running long distance tunnel that serves central Leipzig… The only 21st century rail project in Germany that was built with anything approaching proper capacity for growth that I can think of is Berlin main station…

          • Sascha Claus

            Vienna had the advantage of two dead-end stations right across each other, so that they simply had to demolish them and fill in the few hundred metres. No tunnels involved.
            In France, one wonders about the famed monocentrity when looking at the autoroute network and asks oneself which of the centres is supposed to be the one? Certainly the autoroute planners didn’t get the memo about being in a monocentric country. Maybe the planners of the legacy rail network got multiple memos instead. >:->
            For Leipzig, there are some ideas for an east-west S-/U-Bahn tunnel, but none for a long distance one, partly for a lack of routes to use it.

          • Herbert

            There is no convincing case for an U-Bahn in Leipzig. Either one built entirely de novo like Nuremberg did in the seventies or one built by “burying” trams like many west German cities did…

            Now more S-Bahn tunnels are an entirely different and possibly worthwhile thing…

          • Sascha Claus

            “more S-Bahn tunnels” … oh, more than one new tunnel? So that every rail line gets its own tunnel? 😉 The existing tunnel did swallow up almost rail lines and didn’t find enough to swallow in a southerly direction. Additional tunnels would need new rail lines, significant frequency bumps on the existing lines or would end at the city limits, making them in effect U-Bahn tunnels, only paid from state coffers instead of city money.

            Only the Halle lines with the airport (maintenance workers) and DHL traffic might fill their own tunnel if allowed to unleash their potential.

          • Herbert

            You could re-route existing rail lines which approach Leipzig from directions other than North or South (such as the line to Dresden) via a new East-West tunnel. I am not an expert on the layout of the rail node and therefore do not know how useful or feasible that would be…

            As for “who pays” under the GVFG 90% can now be covered by the feds. but the precondition for both GVFG money and construction of rail lines by the federal government is a benefit-cost quotient greater 1.0

        • Nilo

          “Spain is monocentric.”

          You trying to give Catalonia an aneurysm? And in fairness to them they’d have a point. Barcelona is smaller, but of comparable size to Madrid.

          • Herbert

            The decisions of what to do in terms of infrastructure aren’t taken in Barcelona but in Madrid. That’s precisely Catalonia’s gripe…

            I mean all highways in Spain are (traditionally at least) numbered from a single point in Madrid, after all…

          • Reedman Bassoon

            One observation about Spain:
            Madrid had 195 people die and 2000 injured in its 2004 train bombings (if you are in Madrid, I recommend visiting the memorial outside the Atocha station). I think if this happened in the US, there would be “security theater” implemented in a big way, but Spain seems to have taken a low key approach. What can the US learn from Spain’s example here?

          • adirondacker12800

            This is an incomplete list. It only covers the five boroughs of New York City. We haven’t instituted security theater other than at airports and perhaps things like metal detectors at courthouses.

            Jersey City isn’t even in New York State.
            Garden City is east of the city line.

          • Herbert

            The absurd thing is that while Cercanias at Atocha has ticket gates (as does Madrid metro) it does not have any type of “security” check. There’s never been an attack on Spanish high speed rail, yet it gets saddled with the theater…

            But Spain also had this: to “combat terrorism” (and maintain strict Madrid dominance in old bourbon tradition…)

          • Mikel

            @Nilo and @Herbert

            You trying to give Catalonia an aneurysm? And in fairness to them they’d have a point. Barcelona is smaller, but of comparable size to Madrid.

            Ha, what a can of worms. Politically, there’s a sort of fractal monocentricity where people complain about the Madrid-centrism of the national administration (which manages ~30% of non-pension public spending); in turn, people in the regions (~50% of non-pension public spending) complain about centralization of the regional administration: Málaga and Granada complain about Sevilla-centrism, Alicante complains about Valencia-centrism, Tarragona and Girona about Barcelona-centrism… they’re all relevant to specific rail projects but also to many other perceived grievances. OTOH, from an economic point of view, if you look at indicators like GDP per capita and internal migration flows it’s a clearly bicentric country with Madrid and Barcelona acting as roughly co-equal economic and cultural centers. In fact the “Madrid takes unfair advantage Catalonia” is something you’ll only hear from Catalan nationalists; in the rest of the country you’ll hear “Madrid and Catalonia (and the Basque Country and Navarre) are taking unfair advantage of everybody else”. And of course, there’s also the growing rhetoric in the rightwing sectors of the Madrid region that “everybody else is taking unfair advantage of Madrid”.

            Transportation-wise, both the road and rail network have historically been very Madrid-centric, although a little less so in recent decades, with plenty of orbital highways having been built. The reason for this is in part the 1714-1979 political centralism but also the fact that Madrid sits right in the middle of mainland Spain and is therefore a very convenient hub for province-to-province and coast-to-coast travel. Barcelona, in contrast, has worse rail connections due to a geographical position that became somewhat awkward after losing its Mediterranean empire: it’s by far the largest metro area in the Spanish Mediterranean arc, but it sits almost at its northern end. And this orbital corridor that goes all the way from the Atlantic coast to the French border is very important — it contains some 40% of the country’s entire population, and its highway is labeled A-7 (with A-1 to A-6 being the radials from Madrid to the coast.). In particular, the València-Barcelona high-speed line will be the only non-radial line in the HSR network once the only remaining section, between València and Castelló, is completed.

            Re: security theater, I’m not sure about its exact origins, but I think it was initially an airline mimicry of sorts back when planes were still considered fancy, as part of the premium branding imposed on the AVE since its beginnings. Later on, after the 11-M bombings but also other attacks throughout Europe in the 2010s which did target high speed trains, it (allegedly) became not a commercial choice of Renfe or Adif but a mandate from CNPIC, an exceedingly obscure agency within the Interior Ministry (this is its website, not kidding). The security theater is not even applied in a consistent way, apparently oblivious to the fact that many trains call at both high-speed and conventional stations — for instance, if you travel Madrid Chamartín-Bilbao you’ll probably have to go through a luggage check in addition to one or two(!) ticket checks, but on a Bilbao-Madrid train it’s just the ticket check(s).

          • Herbert

            Yes, to be fair to Spain as monocentric networks go, one focused on Madrid is of more use to the rest of the country than one focused on Paris or London by simple virtue of location…

            That said, the fact that up till now all northern Spanish AVE lines end in the nowhere of Chamartin station makes this a bit awkward, but thankfully there are plans to fix that. Thru running in Madrid would be a boon for the network. Unfortunately the east-west axis thru Madrid is probably still too weak for a four way intersection station (which would almost certainly require tunnels). There’s just the Pyrenees in the way in the East and the problem of Portugal bailing out of the joint project for MAD-LIS in the last financial crisis hampering westward development…

            But one can still hope that the sole standard gauge link to France (Perpignan-Figueres) gets brethren in Irun/Hendaye and mayhaps even a Base Tunnel in the central Pyrenees… Either as an alternative to or in addition to rebuilding the old Canfranc line…

          • Mikel

            Yep, the Chamartín-Atocha link should open soon (it’s been imminent for 2 years already…) but the current transfer is not that bad compared to Paris, since there’s a direct Cercanías link that is fare-integrated with long-distance trains. However the underground platforms at Atocha have not been built yet so trains from the north will just call at Chamartín and then go onwards to Valencia and Alicante. There’s no need for an east-west tunnel because trains from the northeast hace their own dedicated pair of tracks into Atocha and those from the west (Extremadura and Portugal) will use the Toledo branch of the Andalusian HSL. Even though the original Madrid-Lisboa HSL was shelved, there’s a lot of work going on on that axis:
            -Toledo-Plasencia is in an intermediate stage of planning, with a few sections almost shovel-ready.
            -In Spain, Plasencia-Badajoz is being upgraded to 200 km/h, partly on a new alignment and partly reusing the existing one.
            -In Portugal, Évora-Elvas is getting a new 250 km/h line.
            -The section between Évora and the south bank of the Tejo is also in the design phase.
            With that done, the only missing sections are the Badajoz-Elvas international section and a new crossing over or under the Tejo into Lisboa, since the 25 the Abril bridge tracks are already at capacity.

            In the Irun/Hendaye route, there will be standard gauge between Hendaye and San Sebastian in 2024, and all the way to Madrid in the late 2020s (though with three different vendors already making gauge-changing trains, it’s not a big problem). France is now apparently willing to build a LGV from Bordeaux to Dax (as a branch of the new line to Tolouse) but there are no official plans for further south. IMO they should spend the money in speeding up the slow Dax-Hendaye section and S-Bahnizing the existing line, since the current Bordeaux-Dax line through the Landes is very straight and should be cheap to upgrade without building an entirely new ROW.

          • Herbert

            Routing trains that “want to” go East-West via a North-South route always adds extra mileage and extra strain on the route. As those are usually urban approach tracks (which are usually both slower and more heavily used) this is not ideal. It may not be a number one priority, but still. As an example of the downsides of this, refer to the pre Hauptbahnhof post unification days in Berlin when all trains had tobe routed via the Stadtbahn even if that wasn’t where they “wanted” to go… Leading to delays and “city tours” of trains… It’s still somewhat the case with Dresden bound trains spending way too much time on the Außenring because the Dresden railway is S-Bahn only thanks to NIMBYs and will be for much of this decade…

            As for gauge changing trains… Given that Spain was among the first innovators in that field I believe the decision by Spain to build hsr to standard gauge instead had good reasons and the fact that the “premium” brand is exclusively standard gauge (as opposed to gauge changing) is telling, too. But maybe I’m wrong and Spain made a dumb decision, idk…

            As for crossing the Pyrenees, I think there is a case to be made to have the Canfranc line converted to standard gauge all the way to Zaragoza where an existing standard gauge line to Madrid connects. There really isn’t any need for broad gauge trains between Canfranc and Zaragoza and if/when a cross border link is restored local trains to France (which should definitely be part of the project) will have to be capable of running on standard gauge anyway…

          • Mikel

            The coexistence of both track gauges is a headache in many ways but it does have the advantage that it forced the construction of 4 dedicated approaches to Madrid, and therefore high-speed trains are fully segregated from local traffic, unlike in many German cities. The line to Barcelona takes a small detour by following the M-50 instead of the R-3, but come to think of it, it’s thoughtfully designed: the ROW as built in the early 2000s takes the shortest possible route to get out of the built-up area, and then it’s uninterrupted 350 km/h track all the way to Zaragoza.

            The only reason for building the Madrid-Sevilla line in standard gauge is that neither Alstom nor Siemens would commit to having 300 km/h Iberian gauge rolling stock by 1992 and so Renfe had to buy almost off-the-shelf TGV Atlantiques. After that, the early 1990s recession caused the plans for a network-wide gauge migration to be shelved indefinitely, and it’s been improvisation upon improvisation ever since then. Fortunately, Adif recently commissioned a diverse group of experts (proffesionals, activists and amateurs) to devise a long-term gauge strategy.

            As for the Canfranc line, Adif aims to have the network fully decarbonized by 2030 and therefore has plans to electrify that line with 25kV AC and standard gauge. However the priority of that plan depends on whether the Nouvelle-Aquitaine regional government succeeds at lobbying the French government to fund electrification on their side of the border, which is essential for freight traffic given the steep grades on that section of the line. Once that’s done, there’s also the open possibility of re-gauging the Zaragoza-Valencia line via Teruel to increase the possibilities for cross-border freight by connecting the south of France to the port of Valencia and the Mediterranean agricultural regions, bypassing the capacity bottlenceks around Barcelona and Perpignan.

          • Herbert

            Berlin main station has two sets of double track approaches for long distance trains, too. Yes there is the issue of different S-Bahn electrification somewhat forcing the issue (tho in Hamburg there are S-Bahn units that have both third rail and catenary equipment), but they could’ve just muddled along with Zoo as some West-Berlin nostalgics would’ve preferred….

            And unlike Madrid which forces east-west traffic onto a north-south axis, Berlin has approaches from all four cardinal directions and lines feeding into the two rings from even more directions…

          • Mikel

            I’m not very familiar with Berlin but I have the impression that the way both conventional and high-speed lines approach the city is much more isotropic? Whereas even if you built underground platforms at Atocha (or somewhere along the proposed Eje Transversal, which would be major scope creep) with an east-west orientation and connected them to the Barcelona line, there would be nowhere to through-run them to the west!

            However, there’s a case to be made for a reverse-branch of the Barcelona line to enter Madrid from the north via the airport, which would enable through-running Barcelona-south/southeast/southwest trains via MAD-Chamartín-Atocha and therefore allow for an outright ban on most peninsular flights in and out of MAD — that would make both the environment and the airlines happy. IIRC this was the originally proposed alignment, which was struck down in environmental review for reasons that seem a little flimsy today: the protected Jarama Valley natural area (not that it mattered for exurban sprawl and runway expansions) and electromagnetic interference with the airport’s radiobeacons (sounds like a “just throw a few million euros at it” kind of problem).

          • Herbert

   yes and no.

            Prior to reunification (the partition related downgrades as well as war damages are conveniently ignored here) there was the Stadtbahn with four tracks, two of them S-Bahn only and two of them later electrified for long distance use. And the two track North-South tunnel, which is and was S-Bahn only, has a 150 m radius curve, and has such heavy traffic that there is a project to build an entirely new North-South S-Bahn tunnel..

            The current North-South long distance spine thru Berlin was opened together with Hauptbahnhof and was part of the concept.

            The only HSLs to reach roughly to Berlin are VDE8 (which is only upgraded lines north of Leipzig/Halle) and the Berlin-Hamburg line which was upgraded to 230 km/h. There are as of yet no fully new-built HSLs into Berlin. Unlike Madrid Berlin sits way off-center and while it was in the center of Prussia for east-west purposes, the Oder-Neiße line has markedly decreased traffic ever since, even tho Poles are either Germany’s biggest or second biggest minority and East-West lines at the height of Berlin would make sense for Polish domestic traffic, too. Of course north of Berlin is so little (barring construction of a Rostock-Gedser bridge) that trains often don’t even reach 160 km/h….

            So while there is future demand for access to Berlin from all cardinal directions, current traffic is pretty lopsided towards the West and South…

      • Herbert

        Part of the issue of railfanning being pretty “national” is that the stuff is virtually only ever written in the local language. Be it legal texts, official publications by railways or specialist press. English language stuff by non English language railroads is usually limited to very surface press clippings…

        That’s of course different in aviation…

    • Herbert

      To my knowledge Scotland has no electrification whatsoever and Ireland none outside the Dublin area. If those were Swiss colonies, they’d have been 100% electric since 1957-ish…

      • Borners

        Scotland’s lowland urbanised lines were electrified in the 1980’s under the hated Mrs T. As a result Edinburgh and Glasgow outperform their weight class in English cities (Sheffield/Bristol) mode share wise. And they have done sod all to improve it since devolution. They don’t through run local-urban services through Edinburgh Waverly at all, and that tram-that-should-be-a-branch-line to the airport has been underperforming. Built with Anglosphere costs too. For all their talk of being true Europeans its yet to prove anything of the sort, play acting a progessive bastion is all very well when you’re the least diverse nation in Western Europe and 5% of your GDP is tax revenue from another nation.

        Seriously an Edin-bahn would be relatively cheap and closest thing to it is a proposed Glasgow North-South Crossrail which is a good idea but kinda suggests a certain lack of…intellectual independence.

      • fjod

        Scotland has loads of rail electrification (the whole Glasgow suburban network, both routes to England, and all lines between Glasgow and Edinburgh) for a comparably dense European country (e.g. Greece, Ireland, Serbia) – it is a third the density of Switzerland. And Ireland has not been part of the UK for 100 years now! You know google is free yeah? You don’t have to comment things that are verifiably wrong.

        (and, may I add to Borners, Scotland electrifies cheaper than England, and has built two whole new lines – one electric, one not – since devolution, and electrified quite a few more!)

    • Richard Mlynarik

      The main problem isn’t opposition but lack of proper direction from the top Electrification is a mature technology, so its not sexy, particularly for newer governments. I suspect top civil servants don’t quite get how essential it is. Also we don’t know how to make best use of the technology.

      The main main problem is Anglosphere cost disease.

      Somebody seems to “get” that electification is some sort of good idea in some way, but then the usual hangers-on and clowns blow out budgets so badly that what is built is hopelessly over-budget, delayed and cut back, meanwhile entire other projects are sacrified to cover those blow-outs.

      Click to access Investigation-into-the-Department-for-Transports-decision-to-cancel-three-rail-electrification-projects.pdf

      Lots of stuff like this to read:
      Billions squandered on botched GWR electrification “We’re all scarred by the project from hell”

      Also, two minutes of Googling delivered this:

    • Alon Levy

      Italy and Sweden both have very strict rules like this – in Italy the protection of monuments is given paramount importance, and in Sweden IIRC no building settlement is allowed at all.

    • SB

      Isn’t JCP using water leakage issues as part of reasons why Chuo Shinkansen should be canceled?

      • Phake Nick

        Yes, but not just JCP. The local non-affiliated governor of Shizuoka have also stand strongly against Chuo Shinkansen, saying water leakage is “first of dozens of problem that need to be resolved” before they can issue project permit to JR Central, say even if all the water can be restored including even during the engineering process they need to guarantee the water quality won’t be affected either and that how it might affect wildlifes living in the mountain range that they’re boring tunnels under or how it might affect underground water level downstream the water, and the governor have won against candidate from the ruling LDP party in its recent election with Chuo Shinkansen being one of the issue at hand. JR Central also tried to meet with leader of local villages and towns along the river directly, but that didn’t turn out well also, the only words made by JR Central after the meeting was “the scope of concern are beyond our expectation”.

    • Frederick

      JR Central is too arrogant. They think the central government will deal with any political pressure for them. In hindsight, they should just plan the route around Shizuoka; that would cost more, but have significantly less political risk, especially when Shizuoka itself isn’t satisfied with JR Central’s train service there.

      • Phake Nick

        Routing around Shizuoka completely defeat the purpose of constructing Chuo Shinkansen in the first place. It is not just the issue of construction cost, but also the operation cost, the travel time, and the fare, as well as its attractiveness against alternative modes of travel.

        Fearing “political risk” due to NIMBYism and making detours is why many rail projects end up doomed, expensive, and useless.
        If a railway company expecting to be able to build a railroad according to their business calculator after compling with all the necessary regulation is something that can be deemed as “too arrogant”, then it can be said that the place isn’t open to investment, and any foreign investors wishing to invest in such place will need to think twice before deciding whether they should put their money into such country, because the “political pressure” is going to affect any projects they might be planning with their money.

        • Borners

          We’ve had this debate before. Tokaido Shinkansen is so profitable that JR Central can afford to be less competent than JR Kyushu/West/East. I mean have you seen how tacking its Bell Mart branding is? I agree that the Shizuoka route is the right one, but JR Central missed a trick by not building a better relationship with Shizuoka’s political class particularly the urban belt representatives. I mean wouldn’t an hourly conventional express between Hamamatsu and Shizuoka city be cheaper than the delays this is causing? This is not just arrogance but incompetence, improved urban-Shizuoka services could easily be profitable unlike the stuff the other JRs have to do with their rural networks.

          • Phake Nick

            It would certainly help but that is not what Shizuoka is looking at the situation now. They see themselves as marginalized rural area. And they see stopping the expansion of metropolitan area as key to revitalize the rurals. And Linear Shinkansen will connect those metropolitan area together bringing more growth to Kanto, Kansai, and area around Nagoya, disadvantaging making them feel those are growth that will be taken away from countryside of the nation. That is why they’re strongly opined to stop it.

            Both the mayor of Hanamatsu City and the mayor of Shizuoka City are in support of the Linear Shinkansen project. But they aren’t relevant in this political rivalry between Shizuoka prefecture and JR Central, which involve the prefectural governor and rural communities along the river.
   Hamamatsu City
   Shizuoka City

            The Shizuoka Fuji Airport Station on Tokaido Shinkansen might be the best option to appease Shizuoka prefecture. It isn’t going to materially help the prefecture, but it will help the prefecture feel that they’re not being left out from metro area as a rural area. They can maybe arrange two trains a day stopping at the station after it’s finished, and by then the Linear Shinkansen project should already be completed and thus there’ll be nothing left for Shizuoka to complain against.

          • Borners

            They may end up doing what you say. But my point was institutional malpractice. Shizuoka is an urbanised prefecture, you needed to cultivate allies and favours years in advance in the prefectural assembly so that Governor and his NIMBY farmers in central Shizuoka are outgunned. JR Central didn’t do that, so its paying the price. And there are lot of other options, a through-running relationship with Oikawa Railways being another obvious one given it follows the watershed of the very river at the center of the dispute.

            The point is that HSR dominant operators tend to neglect local services in a self-destructive away. If you make JR Central’s profits you can get away with it until you can’t.

          • Phake Nick


            Click to access wp09j04.pdf

            Even as of 2005, Shizuoka was less than 60% urbanized. Below national average and about the same as Sendai’s Miyagi, except in Shizuoka’s case it doesn’t have a strong center like Sendai and is instead spread across different cores as per its older subdivision and geography.
            As for Oikawa Railways, weren’t they until recently part of Meitetsu? And such through running still won’t change the rural nature of those places.

          • Phake Nick

            Also, Shizuoka being sandwiched between Tokyo and Nagoya, have no other rural area to drain from in order to grow its cities larger. Anyone from anywhere beyond Shizuoka itself could simply head to Tokyo or Nagoya for all their needs. Hence there aren’t much prospect for these cities to grow.

          • Borners

            I’d disagree with those urbanisation statistics, using the statistic bureau’s Toshiken interpretation of Shizuoka-Hamamatsu as a unit you get 77% urban, and Miyagi is nearly 90%.

            Yes total population is going down. But modal split is under 20% so there is lot a market share to be taken. Especially along the Tokaido line whose new stations since privatization have been all very successful with 3000-6000 passengers per day. And this is Japan here, people are mobile and housing is always being redeveloped, so a more train aligned settlement pattern would emerge if services improve.

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