Who Learns from Who?

My interactions with Americans in the transit industry, especially mainline rail, repeatedly involve their telling me personally or in their reports that certain solutions are impossible when they in fact happen every day abroad, usually in countries that don’t speak English. When they do reference foreign examples, it’s often shallow or even wrong; the number of times I’ve heard American leftists attribute cost differences to universal health care abroad (in most of these countries, employers still have to pay health benefits) is too high to count. Within the US, New York stands head and shoulders above the rest in its incuriosity. This is part of a general pattern of who learns from who, in which the US’s central location in the global economy and culture makes it collectively stupid.

Symmetric learning

Some learning is symmetric. The Nordic countries learn from one another extensively. The Transit Costs Project’s Sweden case study has various references in the literature to such comparisons:

This goes beyond transportation. People in the four mainland Nordic states constantly benchmark their own national performance to that of the other three on matters like immigration, education, energy, corona, and labor. This appears in the academic literature to some extent and is unavoidable in popular culture, including media and even casual interactions that I had in two years of living in Sweden. Swedes who criticize their country’s poor handling of the corona crisis don’t compare it with Taiwan or South Korea but with Norway. Likewise, Swedes who think of a country with open hostility to immigration think of Denmark rather than, say, the United States, Italy, or Lithuania.

Other macro regions exist, too, with similar levels of symmetric learning. The German-speaking world features some of this as well: the advocacy group ProBahn has long championed learning from Switzerland and Austria, and the current Deutschlandtakt plan for intercity rail is heavily based on both Swiss practice and the advocacy of ProBahn and other technically adept activists. Switzerland, in turn, developed its intercity rail planning tradition in the 1980s and 1990s by adopting and refining German techniques, taking the two-hour clockface developed in 1970s Germany under the brand InterCity and turning it into a national investment strategy integrating infrastructure construction with the hourly timetable.

This, as in the Nordic countries, goes beyond transport. Where Swedes’ prototype for hostility to immigrants is Denmark, Germans’ is Austria with its much more socially acceptable extreme right.

Asymmetric learning

Most of the learning from others that we see is not symmetric but asymmetric: one place learns from another but not vice versa, in a core-periphery pattern. Countries and cities prefer to learn from countries that are bigger, wealthier, and culturally more dominant than they are. In our Istanbul case, we detail how the Turks built up internal expertise by bringing in consultants from Italy, Germany, and France and using those experiences to shape new internal practices.

In Europe, the biggest asymmetry is between Southern and Northern Europe. Few Spaniards, Italians, and Turks believe that their respective countries build higher-quality infrastructure than Germans – some readily believe that the costs are lower but assume it must be lower quality rather than higher efficiency. The experts know costs are low, but anything better from Northern Europe or France penetrates into Southern European planning with relative ease. It didn’t make it to the infrastructure-focused Italian case, but Marco Chitti documents how the German clockface schedule is now influencing Italian operations planning, for example here and here on Twitter. Spain’s high-speed rail infrastructure provides another example: it was deeply influenced by France in the 1990s, including the idea of building it, the technical standards and the (unfortunate) operating practices, but the signaling system is more influenced by Germany.

In contrast, in the other direction, there is little willingness to learn. Nordic capital planners and procurement experts cite other Northern European examples (in and out of Scandinavia) as cases to learn from but never Southern European or French ones. The same technically literate German rail activists who speak favorably of Swiss planning look down on French high-speed rail, and one American ESG investor even assumed Italy is falsifying its data. In the European core-periphery model, the North is the core and the South and East are the periphery, and the core will not learn from the periphery even where the periphery produces measurably better results.

Domestically, it’s often the case that smaller cities learn from larger ones in the same country. Former Istanbul Metropolitan staff members were hired by the state, and many staff and contractors went on to build urban rail projects in Bursa, İzmir, and Mersin. In France, RATP acts as consultant to smaller cities, which do not have in-house capacity for metro construction, and overall there is obvious Parisian influence on how such cities build their urban rail. In Italy, Metropolitana Milano has acted as consultant to other cities. This is the primary mechanism that makes construction costs so uniform within countries and within macro regions like Scandinavia.

In this core-periphery model, the Anglosphere is the global core, the United States views itself as its core (Britain disagrees but only to some extent), and New York is the core of the core. New Yorkers respond to any invocation of another city or country with “we are not [that country],” and expect that their audience will believe that New York is superior; occasionally they engage in negative exceptionalism, but as with positive exceptionalism, it exists to deflect from the possibility of learning.

This asymmetry may not be apparent in transportation – after all, Europe and Asia (correctly) feel like they have little to learn from the United States. But on matters where the United States is ahead, Europeans and Asians notice. For example, the US military is far stronger than European militaries, even taking different levels of spending into account – and Europeans backing an EU army constantly reference how the US is more successful due to scale (for examples, here, here, and here). Likewise, in rich Asia, corporations at least in theory are trying to make their salaryman systems more flexible on the Western model, while so little learning happens in the other direction that at no point did Europe or the US seriously attempt to imitate Taiwan’s corona fortress success or the partial successes of South Korea and Japan.

In this schema, it is not surprising that New York (and the United States more generally) has the highest construction costs in the world, and that London has among the highest outside the United States. Were New York and London more institutionally efficient than Italian cities, Italian elites would notice and adapt their practices, just as they have begun to adapt German practices for timetabling and intermodal integration.

Superficial learning

On the surface, Americans do learn from the periphery. There are immigrant planners at American transit agencies. There’s some peer learning, even in New York – for example, New York City Transit used RATP consultants to help develop the countdown clocks, which required some changes to how train control works. And yet, most of this is too shallow to matter.

What I mean by “shallow” is that the learning is more often at the level of a quip comment, with no followup: “[the solution we want] is being used in [a foreign case],” with little investigation into whether it worked or is viewed positively where it is used. Often, it’s part of a junket trip by executives who hoard (the appearance of) knowledge an refuse to let their underlings work. Two notable examples are ongoing in Boston and the Bay Area.

In Boston, the state is making a collective decision not to wire the commuter rail network. Instead, there are plans to electrify the network in small patches, using battery trains with partial wiring; see here and follow links for more background. Battery-electric trains (BEMUs) exist and are procured in European examples that the entire Boston region agrees are models for rail modernization, so in that sense, this represents learning. But it’s purely superficial, because nowhere with the urban area size of Boston or the intensity of its peak commuter rail traffic are BEMUs used. BEMUs trade off higher equipment cost and lower performance for lower infrastructure costs; they’re used in Germany on lines that run an hourly three-car train or so, whereas Massachusetts wants to foist this solution on lines where peak traffic is an eight-car train every 15 minutes.

And in San Jose, the plan for the subway is to use a large-diameter bore, wide enough for two tracks side-by-side as well as a platform in between, to avoid having to either mine station cavern or build cut-and-cover stations. This is an import from Barcelona Metro Lines 9 and 10, and agency planners and consultants did visit Barcelona to see how the method works. Unfortunately, what was missing in that idea is that L9 is by a large margin Spain’s most expensive subway per kilometer, and locally it is viewed as a failure. In Rome, the same method was studied and rejected as too risky to millennia-old monuments, so the most sensitive parts of Metro Line C use mined stations at very high costs by Italian standards. Barcelona’s use case – a subway built beneath a complex underground layer of older metro lines – does not apply to San Jose, which is building its first line and should build its stations cut-and-cover as is more usual.

No such superficiality is apparent in the core examples of both symmetric and asymmetric learning. Swedes, Danes, Finns, and Norwegians are acutely aware of the social problems of one another, and will not propose to adopt a system that is locally viewed as a failure. At most, they will propose an import that is locally controversial, with the same ideological load as at its home. In other words, if a Swede (or more generally a Western European) proposes to import a solution from another European country that is in its home strongly identified with a political party or movement, it’s because the Swede supports the movement at home. This can include privatization, cancellation of privatization, changes to environmental policy, changes to immigration policy, or tax shifts.

This includes more delicate cases. In general the US and UK are viewed as inegalitarian Thatcherite states in Sweden, so in most cases it’s the right that wants to Anglicize government practice. But when it comes to monetary policy, it was Stefan Löfven who tried to shift Riksbank policy toward a US-style dual mandate from the current single mandate for price stability, which the left views as too austerian and harsh toward workers; globally the dual mandate is viewed as more left-wing and so it was the Swedish left that tried to adopt it.

In contrast, in superficial learning, the political load may be the opposite of what it is in its origin country, because the person or movement who purport to want to import it are ignorant of and incurious about its local context. Thus, I’ve seen left-wing Americans proposing education reforms reinvent the German Gymnasium system in which the children of the working class are sent to vocational schools, a system that within Germany relies on the support of the middle-class right and is unpopular on the left.

Individual versus collective knowledge

Finally, I want to emphasize that the issue is less about individual knowledge and learning than about collective knowledge. Individual Americans are not stupid. Many are worldly, visit other countries regularly and know how things work there, and speak other languages as heritage learners or otherwise. But their knowledge is not transmitted collectively. Their peers view it at best as a really cool hobby rather than a key skill, at worst as a kind of weirdness.

For example, an American planner who speaks Spanish because they are a first- or second-generation Hispanic immigrant is not going to get a grant to visit Madrid, or for that matter Santo Domingo, and form horizontal ties with planners and engineers there to figure out how to build at low Spanish or Dominican costs. Their peers are not going to nudge them to tell them more about Hispanic engineering traditions and encourage them to develop their interests. American culture writ large does not treat them as benefiting from bicultural ties but instead treats them as deficient Americans who must forget the Spanish language to assimilate; it’s the less educated immigrants’ children who maintain the Spanish language. In this way, it’s not too different from how Germany treats Turks as a social problem rather than as valuable bicultural ambassadors to a country with four times Germany’s housing production and one third its metro construction costs.

Nor is experience abroad valued in planning or engineering, let alone in politics. A gap year is a fun experience. Five years of work abroad are the mark of a Luftmensch rather than valued experience on a CV, whereas an immigrant who comes with foreign work experience will almost universally find this experience devalued.

Even among the native-born, the standard pipelines through which one expresses interest in foreign ideas are not designed for this kind of learning. The United States most likely has the strongest academic programs in the world for Japanese studies, outside Japan itself. Those programs are designed to critique Japanese society, and Israeli military historian of Japanese imperialism Danny Orbach has complained that from reading much of the critical theory work on the country one is left to wonder how it could have ever developed. It goes without saying such programs do not prepare anyone to adapt the successes of the big Japanese cities in transportation and housing.

This, as usual, goes beyond transportation. I saw minimal curiosity among Americans in the late 2000s about universal health care abroad, while a debate about health care raged and “every rich country except the US has public universal health care” was a common and wrong line among liberals. Individual Americans and immigrants to the US might be able to talk about the French or Japanese or Israeli or Ghanaian health care system, but nobody would be interested to hear except their close friends; political groups they were involved with would shrug that off even while going off about the superiority of those countries’ health care (well, not Ghana’s, but all of the other three for sure, in ignorance of Israel’s deep problem with nosocomial infections, responsible for 9-14% of the national death rate).

The result is that while individual Americans can be smart, diligent, and curious, collectively the United States is stupid, lazy, and ignorant on every matter that other parts of the world do better. This is bad in public transportation and lethal in those aspects of it that use mainline rail, where the US is generations behind and doesn’t even know where to start learning, let alone how to learn. It’s part of a global core-periphery model in which Europe hardly shines when it comes to learning from poorer parts of Europe or from non-Western countries, but the US adds even more to that incuriosity. Within the US, the worst is New York, where even Chicago is too suspect to learn from. No wonder New York’s institutions drifted to the point that construction costs in the city are 10 times higher than they can be, and nearly 20 times as high as absolute best practice.


  1. James Green

    North Americans, and indeed the world, would benefit from a breakup of the United States into about 15 smaller countries. This would go a long way to breaking the core-periphery mode of thinking as there would be more competition of ideas.

    The biggest problem I see is not that the US keeps on with old, increasingly inefficient ideas, it’s that so much of the rest of the world so readily adopts them. Good ideas that have been developed locally are slowly chipped away at while fresh crises frequently result in the adoption of unsuitable US “solutions”.

    • Phake Nick

      While I agree with it, there are still many thing that would benefit from economic of scale. Military is one thing mentioned, another is common market, another is the way it can fund R&D and the large pool of people it can draw from which is not just domestically but also internationally from all over the world, something that wouldn’t be as attractive if US isn’t one single country.

    • spencepatrickj

      This strikes me as lacking a…broader perspective of tradeoffs. Not to mention that just…learning how to learn from the periphery is a somewhat more straightforward process than dissolving the United States.

      Some people online, man!

    • Raghuveer Parthasarathy

      Reading the post, and your comment, I kept thinking: shouldn’t the proper analogy for European countries comparing themselves to neighboring European countries be US states comparing themselves to other US states? New York has twice the population of Sweden, and could sensibly have a lot of comparators within the US of similar size. Of course, US states aren’t as different from each other as they perhaps should be, but the aim of relatively independent units trying different things was supposed to be one of the advantages of the “United States.”

      • Alon Levy

        The US is way too uniform for this. People move around the country a lot – around half of US residents were born outside the state they live in (~15% are immigrants, ~35% are interstate migrants), which figure is about the same as the foreign-born proportion in Luxembourg and much higher than the foreign-born proportion in any other European country other than sub-Luxembourg microstates. The school system is more or less the same in nearly all states. The health care system is mostly the same – Massachusetts had universal-ish health care early but it’s nothing like the difference among the NHS and the French system and the German system and Dutch privatization and Nordic single-payer. The media and political systems are national, so whereas in Europe parties adapt positioning so that nearly all countries are run by the right half the time and by the left the other half, in the US this is only true at the national level whereas a lot of states are single-party.

        • Matt

          You’re describing an America very different from the one I’ve lived for 50 years. I see profound diversity in American regions.

    • Alon Levy

      Here in Europe we’re broken into 27 countries plus a bunch that aren’t in the Union. It helps, but somehow nobody here saw fit to look at how South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Japan was dealing with corona in 2020 (let alone poorer corona fortresses like Vietnam and Thailand).

    • Spencer Dean

      Unifying a country has many other economic advantages beyond economies of scale in the provision of public goods and services. Competitive taxation regimes can lead to a race-to-the-bottom/tragedy of the commons dynamic, the result of which is simply lower tax revenues. It doesn’t benefit anyone to have companies bouncing from state to state (or country to country) depending upon which gives them tax concessions. Trevor Tombe at the University of Calgary has a good study of how the Canadian tax system is designed to deal with this problem.

      The other main benefit is elimination of barriers to trade and labour mobility. More productive firms can tap skilled and unskilled labour from across the United States and grow more quickly than might otherwise be the case. The decline of labour mobility is a critical factor behind the “secular stagnation” apparent in much of the west over the past several decades.

  2. Tunnelvision

    Yes, the US is socially incurious but then again the vast majority are kept that way thanks to Fox news and the lobbying industry which makes sure that any discussion on for example an alternative the the US Healthcare system is described as socialism. As a Brit living in the US trying to explain that the NHS does not have death panels and that the NHS in the UK is far from a good example of how to run a health service is uphill work. Having said that many Americans like the Affordable Care Act but not Obamacare.. which says it all really.

    And once again you repeat your ongoing nonsense about costs. New York is more expensive than other major US cities, except may LA and SF, thanks to salary rates and cost of living. Where are your specific examples of where designers over design in NY or the US compared to other places. Looking at other designs around the world most are very, very similar irrespective of owner, for example the recent tender design for LTA in Singapore for a single bore tunnel looks very similar to what was developed for BART to San Jose in Silicon Valley, main differences appear to be caused by roiling stock dynamic envelope and ventilation requirements.. NFPA 130 is used in many places that don’t have their own fire standards and is used as a basis for many local standards, so that cant be it. Rail systems are dominated by 2 or 3 manufacturers worldwide, track is track, rolling stock may well be a differentiator and Buy America causes some cost issues due to limited selection of some items. Concrete is concrete and is dictated by the local market as is rebar and structural steel but most design codes worldwide are very similar. Architectural finishes obviously can play a major difference depending on what a client wants. But otherwise the design criteria are very similar. Standardization can certainly help. When I was working in Istanbul, on the Melen water supply project, there was one metro line, a short section form Taksim to Gayretepe, the next section from Taksim across the Golden Horn was under construction and busily collapsing houses due to the incompetence of the management and contractors. Since then they have built a huge number of lines and have adopted some standardized design solutions, which certainly helps, but then you need a 20 year program of expansion with political patronage in place to enable that.

    As for the cost of creating the underground space, NY is more expensive than other parts of the US, but instead of looking at Transit costs take a look at CSO and other underground construction costs and you might find that the tunnel part is not the driver. All that the tunneling does is create new real estate in to whihc ia facility is installed. Segment/lining tolerances and design requirements are not much different for water, sewer, utility and highway tunnels than they are for rail, in fact sometimes they are tighter.

    • spencepatrickj

      Numeracy is important. Sure, New York can justify being marginally more expensive than most other cities on the basis of prevailing local salaries. But by what percentage premium? Surely not 10x over Paris. That’s absurd. Costs clearly matter.

      • Richard Mlynarik

        Numeracy is important …

        Just cringingly embarrassing, right?

        But this is how all of them think (that would be “in English”) and how they all operate, without exception, without embarrassment, without shame, without reflection. Things are just fine! Keep on with the program! State of Good Repair! Complex Unforseen Subsurface Conditions ahoy!

      • Alon Levy

        The proportion of labor costs in the construction of Turkish subways is around 20-25%.

        The proportion of labor costs in the construction of Citybanan was 23%; I do not know the figure for Nya Tunnelbanan.

        Efficient high-wage places figure out how to use fewer workers.

        • Matthew Hutton

          I think you’re expecting too much of the Americans to be honest. If wages in New York are say twice Stockholm’s then I’d expect the labour to cost twice as much. And frankly if they achieved that that would be a pretty good outcome.

          • spencepatrickj

            That would absolutely be a victory over the baseline. It would also be a massive reduction from present-day costs, implying the phrase “your ongoing nonsense about costs” is extremely dumb. It also implies that prevailing wages *do not* explain the full difference, as prevailing wages are not several orders of magnitude higher than those in other rich-world megacities.

          • Alon Levy

            But wages in New York aren’t twice what they are in Stockholm. I think the multiplier is 1.5 or even less and even that’s because the labor market in New York is more rigid – the sandhogs are all local or from Upstate, not domestic or international migrants. The big problem is that New York has Swedish wages and sub-Turkish labor productivity.

        • Tunnelvisiosn

          Labor levels are what costs the money in NY. There are typically 22 people on a TBM per shift, add on all the cling ons from the other Unions and you can easily reach 40 or 50 people per shift. on East Side Access at its height the Cavern contractor had around 1100 union staff across 3 shifts……

        • Tunnelvision

          Yes, but very few of these places have such tightly controlled labor markets as New York. Have you read the Local 147 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the General Contractors Association? Or any other CBA for the Operating Engineers, Laborer’s etc? Staffing levels are where NY’s high costs start. Projects are over manned. General Contractors supply the PM staff and salaried staff down to Superintendent level and then everything else comes out of the Union Hall. All labor is Unionized, and because of past agreements you end up with a myriad of unions on a tunnel project. For example Local 147, the sandhogs (miners) don’t actually operate the TBM or the drill jumbo’s, that’s the Local 14 Operating Engineers. And to that mix you can add in the Dockbuilders, Ironworkers and drill runners if you have a shaft to construct, the laborer’s 731 who do all the clean up work behind the other skilled trades, the Teamsters who drive the trucks. Each of these Unions has a business agent who negotiates with the General Contractor, then they have their own shop stewards, job demarcations etc. This all adds to the labor cost. But that can all be factored in as you resource and price the job.

          The difficult part comes when you win the job and you have to now staff the project. Well now you are at the mercy of the Union Hall as to the quality of what you get. As an example before the recent MTACC rash of tunnel projects there were only around 120 active sandhogs in NY. They were staffing NY DEP water and wastewater projects etc. so when ESA, 7 Line, 2nd Ave started up with 5 rock TBM’s needing 15 shifts of folk at 22 per shift, plus all the drill and blast work for caverns, shafts, crossovers etc. there was a massive problem. Skilled experienced sandhogs were in demand and as such got spread thin, leading to lost of “shapers” apprentices getting drafted in as well sa craft labor transferring from other Unions and buying a 147 book. So the experience of the labor was not great from any of the Unions, which inevitably led to productivity challenges. Its not that the hogs cant work, previous experience on projects in NY shows they are as productive as crews around the US but not with the crew mix they had on many of the MTACC projects. Inevitably there was pressure from on high and Local 147 relented and allowed “travellers” in to the Union for a fee. So there was an influx from Local 88 in Boston and I think Local 6 in Chicago. If my memory serves Local 147 swelled to over 1200 sandhogs from the 120 previously.

          There are other quirks which don’t help. You need to work a Saturday, that’s double time. And the most senior hogs get the pick of the work. So that means they can work Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat for 5 days pay. Monday and Tuesday now get overloaded with “shapers”, affecting productivity as the senior guys are playing golf and drinking. There is no shift rotation, night shift guys work night shift, for years. Shifts are 8 hours and there are no production bonuses unless everyone benefits. The Union has no incentive to get the work finished earlier as that could potentially reduce the dues paying union membership……..

          I’m not defending any of his, its the just the way it is in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philly etc. Changing this is not going to happen overnight. Weirdly its not a party specific issue, many of the Hogs are Republicans but benefit from a Union borne out of labor versus capital in the 1920’s.

          Compare and contrast that with how labor is sourced in other countries for tunnel projects. Major contractor wins project, smaller labor only specialist subs provide tunnel crews whose focus is to get the work done and be on to the next job, shorter learning curves and better productivity. The use of multinational crews comprised of seasoned and experienced staff is quite common, with crews travelling project to project, with little to no restrictions as mentioned above for the US. And if you look at the Nordic countries, welfare systems I would assume, help plug the gap between jobs if necessary and the unions (blue and white collar) provide training and reeducation, unlike the US. My experience is a little dated on tghis but on the Great Belt Project there was no previous tunnel experience in Denmark, so experienced miners were brought in from Channel Tunnel and other similar projects, Cairo Watewater etc. and the labor was supplied from the unions, we had taxi drivers, bakers, bank assistants among the folk who were sent to the project (at the time I recall unemployment was very high in Denmark, 16%? so the unemployed had little choice). Once that project was finished there was a company Dantunnel supplying staff to projects around Europe and the world…. NOt sure about sub contracting practices in mother places though, interesting to see how they vary and of similar practices happen.

          So labor, its complicated…….

    • Alon Levy

      Where are your specific examples of where designers over design in NY or the US compared to other places. Looking at other designs around the world most are very, very similar irrespective of owner, for example the recent tender design for LTA in Singapore for a single bore tunnel looks very similar to what was developed for BART to San Jose in Silicon Valley, main differences appear to be caused by roiling stock dynamic envelope and ventilation requirements.. NFPA 130 is used in many places that don’t have their own fire standards and is used as a basis for many local standards, so that cant be it.

      Our specific example: Second Avenue Subway’s two mined stations, 72nd and 86th, are about twice as long as a train, because of back-of-the-house space. 96th is three times as long, for geologically understandable and yet frustrating reasons. In Italy, France, and Sweden, stations (cut-and-cover or mined) are 5-20% longer than the platforms. That alone is a factor of three cost difference (each SAS station cost about the same, mined stations commanding a premium over cut-and-cover).

      Singapore has the worst construction costs of any non-US sovereign state, so “Singapore does it too” is just the Anglosphere learning worst practices from itself.

      And NFPA 130 is indeed common in other countries, like medium-cost China and low-cost Turkey; low-cost Spain uses a modified version. The overbuilding is not about fire safety; NFPA 130 in practice requires a mezzanine at busy stations in an ordinary street, but it doesn’t need to be full-length and the dig doesn’t need to be any longer than a train plus a few percent.

      Since then they have built a huge number of lines and have adopted some standardized design solutions, which certainly helps, but then you need a 20 year program of expansion with political patronage in place to enable that.

      This helps, but Turkey started out cheap and then the success of the early lines drove the current program. Cities don’t start expensive and then gradually become cheap through mass construction – they stay expensive, as we see in Taipei, unless there’s a concerted effort to change practices.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Jesus an underground station being 2-3x the length of the train.

        What are crossrails stations like on that measure?

      • Tunnelvision

        Well on 2nd Ave 96th St also has a diamond crossover south of the station, hence the length of the open cut station. Much easier in that ground to put the crossover in a box rather than a mined structure. 72nd Station cavern is 980ft long, a typical NYCT train is maybe 600ft in length. There are two additional caverns each end of the station for crossovers, these are 160ft in length. 86th St station cavern is 1100 ft. long, longer than perhaps it needs to be but most likely dictated to by property issues for entrances. East Side Access caverns were 1200ft long with the back of house approx. 150ft at each end of the caverns. For Crossrail Canary Wharf is 260m long box, with 200m long trains, Farringdon has 245 m long platform tunnels with two massive ticket hall excavations at each end housing the BoH stuff.

        As for your comment about mezzanines and NFPA 130, if your doing open cut your excavating the whole structure and if your deep enough you use the space above the tracks for as much back of the house as possible. If its a mined station then back of house goes at each end of the station. But not only do you have to comply with NFPA 130, in NY you also have to comply with the NY Building code, National Electrical Code etc. which to some degree dictate what you need and how much space it is required to occupy. Train length plus a few percent is rather naïve especially for mined stations, maybe open cut assuming its deep enough that you can fit the BoH above the platforms and below the street like in Copenhagen for example..

        No one in the so called Anglosphere that you bang on about uses Singapore as an example of costs, my point was the design is similar because design codes around the world are similar.

        What it costs to implement is a different matter and is hugely dependent on contracts, risk allocation, corruption, politics, labor, material and equipment costs.

        • Alon Levy

          At the end of the day, Capital Construction built 300 m of cavern for 86th and 400 m for 72nd where both should have been around 190. The crossovers at 72nd are not necessary for operations and are there because at one point there was a plan for a third track because of a kind of drunk service plan for phase 3, but the third track was descoped.

          Train length plus a few percent is exactly what was done for Citybanan’s Odenplan: 214 m trains, 250 m cavern. And this back of house space doesn’t exist for any of the older stations – it’s a nice-to-have that operations insisted is necessary but that they don’t have at their legacy stations.

          • Tunnelvision

            Id like to see your station floor plans and how you are going to meet FDNY, NYS Building Code and NEC requirements with said station lengths together with how you get passengers, air and utilities to surface, I wont hold my breath…..

            When you look at the widths of the island platforms, plus the widths for the two tracks the excavation becomes quote wide. The wider the excavation the higher it tends to be as you have to create an arching effect, simple rock mechanics, and different rock will give different results before you tell me that its different in Stockholm or somewhere, if you don’t want to have to install massive beams to support the width of a flat roof, or install lots of columns. MTACC made a decision to have column free stations. To do that the shape of the cavern you have to construct increases, leaving space above the platform. In this case MTACC decided to utilize that as a mezzanine for passenger flow. That was the clients decision. Could they have shaved length off the station caverns and still used the mezzanine, yes, were crossovers needed, well at some point they were so they were constructed, cos its actually easier to build now than realize you need to add them later and cause disruption to service. Whether they are ever needed I have no idea, but someone in NYCT ops decided they were, so they were built along with the step plate junctions to continue 2nd Ave south of 63rd S for future phases. But then to locate the entrances at intersections longer connecting tunnels would have been needed. Swings and roundabouts. The incremental costs of excavating additional cavern and installing a concrete lining is not that high as you have already sunk the capital cost of the equipment into the project, especially of the TBM has already mined through the cavern location.

            All of the recent MTACC projects suffer from similar delusions of grandeur though imposed by political and client requirements. ESA did not need to import stone from Turkey to match the existing GCT finishes in the new LIRR concourse area. But you can rest assured that if they had not, people would have bitched about the difference and not respecting the heritage even if it makes not a blind bit of difference to how the station functions or operates. Similarly 2nd Ave did not need the mezzanines, alternate arrangement could have been designed but its what the politics demanded. Look at most other subway systems around the world, stations are generally functional, but some politicians and agencies demand “statements”, hence Crossrail’s stations, or 2nd Avenues. Of course projects can be made cheaper but not to the extent you seem to believe they can be.

          • Alon Levy

            The station floor plans should be the same thing everyone else does. The laws of physics aren’t different in countries where the excess dig length is 5% and not 100%. If NYCT thinks they need crossovers, the correct response is “No you don’t”; nobody else uses them at this density. If different departments think they need thousands of square meters of back office space, the correct response is “No you don’t”; nobody else segregates them this way. At some point, someone needs to take responsibility and not blame politicians who don’t even know what a TBM is for the overbuilding.

          • adirondacker12800

            The time to point it out is during the planning phase not after it’s been built.

        • adirondacker12800

          The transit foamerz get offended that they fill the hole with air instead of hauling dirt back in.

          • Onux

            If “filling the hole with air” means building a full length mezzanine, then it is right to get offended, because the mezzanine costs much, much, much more than hauling dirt back in. Walls, flooring, ceilings, lights – they all have a cost per square foot, and if you build more square feet of station because you didn’t fill part of the hole with dirt, you have made your station more expensive.
            Even the Washington Metro solution (a big high open chamber, with small elevated mezzanines at each end) is better and more like “filling the station with air” than what NYC did, which was fill the station with an expensive building.

          • Alon Levy

            The main alternative isn’t hauling dirt in, it’s placing all the back of house space above the platforms on the intermediate level and only using the immediate exit areas as mezzanines.

          • adirondacker12800

            The dirt isn’t going to hover there weightlessly. It needs building to stop it from falling down onto the platform and tracks. Smoothing out the top of the concrete making the ceiling of the platforms and tracks and slapping some tile on the walls doesn’t cost a lot.

          • Matthew Hutton

            The cost of putting in a suspended floor in a bigger space is also pretty low. I mean floorboards and plasterboard (or even waterboard) aren’t expensive. Waterboard is like £6/sqm

        • Tunnelvision

          Law of physics. But we are not dealing with physics, we are dealing with rock mechanics and the way different rock behaves changes with the type of rock. What you can do in Stockholm you cant do in New York, the rock is different and behaves differently. Cavern shapes , spans and support requirements are defined by joint sets, prevailing stress direction, groundwater levels and a lot of other stuff. Virtually all designers in the world use FLAC, PLAXIS or similar 3D Finite Element modelling tools to develop ground loads that have to be accommodated. Linings are then designed top accommodate those loads. Q values used to specify ground conditions were developed by the Norwegian Geo Institute and are used on pretty much every underground project in rock around the world for rock support……… so no local padding or overdesign there.

          As for spaces, building and electrical codes are different around the world. What is allowed in one country may not be permissible in another, or may be able to be worked around in a different manner. Recent instances in NY has resulted in FDNY requiring stuff that may or may not be required elsewhere. So your comments about space requirements are the same for everyone is not exactly correct.

          Oh and 86th St length was driven by real estate issues on the surface. It would have cost more to resolve the easement issues than it would to build what was finally designed. But hey blame MTACC for being useless……. much easier right.

          • Alon Levy

            The real estate issues on the surface involved shoring up a building that has since been demolished for redevelopment.

            The space requirements are in practice the same everywhere. FDNY was not the driver behind the oversize stations; NYCT was with its demands for back of house space that the existing stations don’t even have and crossovers that are not necessary based on any reasonable service plan.

          • Tunnelvision

            Actually FDNY do have some additional requirements these days following Deutsche Bank and other incidents, and Building codes do vary around the world. As for the real estate, its privately owned, whether its been subsequently redeveloped is neither here nor there. I mean I can ask the lead structural engineer who signed and sealed all the drawings for the station if you want as I work with him, and he was involved in that process? If MTA could not negotiate with the owner and come to a sensible resolution the property becomes off limits. Condemnation takes 2 to 3 years as it winds through the courts and those owners had some pretty high powered lawyers. So what you appear to be saying is, MTA should just have seized the property and demolished it? Well that may work in some places, but its not going to work in NY. Property acquisition is one of the singles biggest issues for MTA, DEP and any other agency in NY. I assume your aware that of you so much as encroach beneath a building easement, say with a rock bolt for support, that you are required to negotiate a temporary easement and if there is in any permanent structure within the building footprint, even if its 100ft below the building you have to negotiate a permanent easement. I don’t remember the exact number but to locate the 48th St Elevator, required for ADA compliance, for the future LIRR concourse on ESA the easement required to site the elevator partially within a property was over $50m. Its not just the property value but the future opportunity costs to the building owners that has to be assessed and absent that agreement you cant build something and in this case that would have led to a non compliant design, and a lawsuit from disabled folk who had no alternate means of accessing a concourse without using an elevator. And before you tell me you should have found an alternate location, we looked very very hard at multiple alternates, this was the cheapest option. Was working with DEP recently on some feasibility studies for a couple of projects and their lawyers completely shut down the shortest most practical alignment as they did not want to have to negotiate around 1000 such easement agreements for every property that the tunnel would pass beneath. So we had to take a less favorable alignment passing as much as possible within the DOT limits for the streets and minimize the easement agreements. Got similar issues for a project in Cleveland, threading a 27ft CSO tunnel between properties and streets to minimize the easement costs and potential delays to the project as the easements have to be obtained before mining occurs beneath a property. But hey, I guess this is the engineers fault also who should insist that the shortest alignment is the only one that should be built and lawyers and politicians should just sort the other shit out right?

          • Matthew Hutton

            Land in Manhattan costs a maximum of what, $20k/sqm? Plus how many square metres do you need? Like 10?

          • Matthew Hutton

            I’ve just realised that $20k/sqm is too cheap and it means it’s $20/sqm/buildable floor. So given you need a floor below the lift, a floor above the life and three stories for the lift and the space above the train that’s what 20x5x10 or $1m?

            Paying $50m for an elevator is more of a rip off than paying a Moroccan carpet seller the first price they say while wearing a genuine designer suit.

          • Tiercelet

            @Matthew Hutton yeah, this whole thing just sounds like a long-form argument that NYC needs stronger eminent-domain law.

            Maybe there could be theoretical equity issues, but it’s not like wealthy NYC real-estate holders struggle to have their interests represented in our system. (And the law is already plenty strong when it comes to taking property from people who don’t have too much of it.)

  3. Martin Pagel

    Lack of abroad learnings not only applies to rail transit, but also to urban gondolas: While Mexico City, La Paz and many other places in South America, Africa, Asia, and increasingly Europe have built urban feeders to their rail networks, no city in the U.S. (besides Telluride, and the aerial trams in NYC and Portland) have adopted this technology.

    • Sascha Claus

      Ohhh, gondolas! I want one! The tail wagging the dog! While gondolas are certainly the right mode in La Paz and otherwise, “no city in the U.S. have adopted this technology” sounds like the wrong way round. Where in which US city would these be the best solution and hasn’t been built?

    • Bryan Anderson

      Gondolas make sense for those cities because of their extreme geography. Large numbers of people need to traverse a large vertical distance. I can’t think of many places in the US with this specific requirement. Even cities in mountainous areas, like Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, or Oakland, tend to stay in the lowlands (except maybe for some uber-pricy single-family homes).

    • Martin Pagel

      Los Angeles (https://www.laart.la/), Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle all have hills which justify gondolas but most projects have been started by private entities. Many cities are now building urban gondolas to cross rivers (Moscow) or other obstacles such as freeways or major rail lines (Paris). They are easier to build than elevated LR and a cheaper entry into automation than automated light metro systems.

      • Bryan Anderson

        I’m pretty skeptical of the practicality of these systems, mainly because of capacity. I’d be curious to find some hard numbers, but anecdotally, it seems to be only 2-3 dozen passengers per minute at best on the Doppelmayr system in Busan (which is fine because it’s a tourist attraction, and a fun one). Max 8 per car, with a car roughly every 15 seconds. So around 2,000 per hour, or one BART train at crush capacity. Probably the gondolas can be bigger and maybe more closely spaced. I’d be curious to learn more about the limits.

        Again, there could be a few geographical situations where nothing else would be better, but I don’t see how that’s the case for something like crossing a river. For West Seattle especially, this seems like the height of gadgetbahnery. Dodger Stadium also makes no sense. The wait times after a game, with the whole stadium leaving at once, would be absurd. (although Dodger fans do tend to trickle out starting in the 6th inning or so, so maybe it would be fine!)

        The Latin American cities that have embraced gondolas have much more extreme altitude changes than, say, San Diego. Cities like Medellin have extremely dense neighborhoods (informal settlements or areas that evolved from them) that go pretty far up the steep mountains that surround the core of the city. It isn’t really comparable to the heights above the San Diego River, which could be connected to the valley just fine with buses in BRT freeway lanes, or rubber-tired metro.

        And in Medellin, capacity is clearly a problem: wait times reportedly regularly exceed 45 minutes per Wikipedia. It’s just that maybe nothing else would be better. Funiculars are also low-capacity. Rack railways are slow, as are BRT/trains on switchbacks.

        • Bryan Anderson

          An unsatisfying answer to my capacity question: this gondola booster claims the Medellin and Caracas systems can handle 3,000 passengers per hour per direction, and that in theory gondola systems could handle 6-8,000. No work is shown, sadly.

          If accurate, this doesn’t compare super well to other grade-separated solutions. For BRT in a totally separated corridor I’ve seen estimates from 20,000-36,000, and obviously a metro can be far higher, up to around 120,000 for 200m trains at a two-minute headway (of course a few systems do even better).


          • Martin Pagel

            Yes, that matches manufacturer’s info such as: https://newsroom.doppelmayr.com/en/doppelmayr/press/doppelmayr-presents-new-ropeway-system/
            Total capacity is one thing, but construction and land acquisition cost is another. Many cities who have built urban gondolas do so due to density of the built environment. It’s often much easier to add a few gondola towers to a neighborhood than than to add another BRT lane. Even elevated trains usually require clearing of wide channel along the guiderails, construction requires a ton of concrete which increases the carbon footprint. Purchasing 200m trains may be prohibitively expensive for shorter feeder lines you might want to consider gondolas for.
            Operations is another aspect. U.S. transit operators have been struggling to increase bus capacity after the pandemic as the labor market has gotten tighter. A BRT system for 20,000 riders requires a ton of buses and drivers which need to be maintained and staffed. For electric buses you need a charging infrastructure, too, while a gondola system does not need nearly as much staff as systems are fully automated and fully electric.

          • Martin Pagel

            Mexico City is building its 5th line now, 3 in the city and 2 in the state. The 2nd line has 75,000 daily riders as the city reports:

        • Henry Miller

          I’m curious about cost. A gondola visually looks like a lot less material to build. If I can string one across suburban cul-de-sacs where I don’t really need capacity, but I do need high frequency service to places that don’t have long straight lines for a bus. If they are cheap this might be my answer for suburban transit. (there are a lot of questions here though: can I have stations along the way is the obvious one)

          If I need 20,000 passengers per hour I’ll build a metro system. However suburbs don’t have that many in general. Maybe I can do a metro to the local ballpark and high school, and of course I want an express train to downtown. however most suburban transit doesn’t need that capacity, and when you don’t need capacity cheap (but safe) needs to be the primary consideration.

          • Eric2

            Cable cars are really slow though, so not good for long distance travel.

          • Henry Miller

            @Eric2: the point is to get people from their cul-de-sac to the suburb train station/transfer. They could walk this in at most 25 minutes (if they can cut across yards), which puts the average at more like 12. The trips by this segment are not very long, but they extend the cachement area of the station by just enough that it has reasonable demand and so we can run faster trains to elsewhere (downtown and other suburbs), and of course TOD by the station makes it a place people want to go. I’m proposing to run these through people’s yard sort of like utilities do (these days utilities mostly go underground, but 50 years ago many backyards had a power line behind their house).

            If it wasn’t for the long cul-de-sacs I’d run a bus, but I can’t get reasonable bus speeds unless each cul-de-sac has a separate bus route and there just isn’t enough demand to pull that off and have frequent service. I’d still run bus service along the regular main roads for the people who live close to the main road, but too many people live down long cul-de-sacs that a bus route cannot reasonably go down.

            I’ve also been trying to figure out how to get e-bikes on a bus (minimum 20, not just the 2 the rack up front can hold), as that is the only other idea I have for how to run useful transit to suburbs without bulldozing most of the houses, or running deep-bore subways (would work, but cost way to much for the few riders we are talking about)

            Remember I’m thinking about low density suburbs here. Transit in the denser city has very different problems and has been well talked about by plenty of people. Trying to apply the above to a dense city is a bad idea. In the suburbs though I don’t need high capacity in general.

            In low density areas traffic isn’t a problem, and parking is free. To make transit work it has to be compelling despite not having those negatives of cars. thus I need frequent service. I need to be fast enough that the total trip is done in a reasonable time, but I can tolerate slow segments, so long as the whole trip is reasonable for enough people.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Bus speeds are always terrible in my experience unless they basically just drive up the motorway/main roads like the Inverness-Edinburgh/Glasgow buses.

        • MilesT

          There are some bigger detachable gondolas in the world, in the 12-30+ per person per cabin range on bicable or tricable systems.

          A long running example is the DMC in Alpe D’Huez which is one of the main mountain access lifts (although I can’t quickly find a ppphpd figure for it).

          Yes still not as many or as fast as a steel wheel on rail metro train, but useful.

  4. Borners

    Oh! We’re talking Japanese studies in the US (which dominates the Anglosphere and increasingly mainland European views). Orbach is right to some extent that a lot of Japanese studies get dystopian about Japan, most of the books about Japanese housing in English spend their time complaining about how its getting worse….with no statistics.

    The number of times you can read Anglophone studies of Japan where the author will disclaim “yes average statistics point to improvement and I don’t care because reasons”. Part of it is so much of American academia is about rage against their industry’s precarity and relative decline among the professions that they project it onto everything (the amount of books published on obscure struggling Japanese intellectuals is especially telling and I got into trouble as a student pointing this out). Also because Japan has so few students moving abroad they don’t have lots of natives coming in and doing the real work as they do in Chinese studies (Chinese studies is by far the best area studies field in the English language). Anglophone Area studies generally suffers from a bad pipeline of generating useful information for society in general, mostly because that’s hard and also American academics are gigantic elitists who think writing something that’d get into a Barnes & Noble or quoted in a policy briefing paper is dumbing down/selling out.

    That said Japanese academia isn’t always so helpful, there are very few good histories about Postwar land and railway development compared to pre-WW2, which is quite frustrating.

  5. Phake Nick

    Question about learning from others.
    Recently Japan is trying to impose some sort of “invoice system” due to their new VAT tax implementation
    They said this is needed to accurately record tax and point to other countries as example.
    But there are numerous opposition saying that such system would reveal the identity of anonymous online workers, or actors in entertainment industry.
    How do other countries with VAT deal with such problem?

    • Richard Gadsden

      Incorporation, if you’re talking about things like pseudonymous authors and actors using a stage name.

      Thomas Mapother creates Tom Cruise Inc and payments go to Tom Cruise Inc. Then it pays dividends to Thomas Mapother and that’s not VATable and requires no invoice.

  6. Patrick Jensen

    I took the OECD dataset International student matrix by country of origin and country of destination and calculated the ratio of inbound vs outbound international tertiary students. The ten OECD countries with the highest inbound/outbound ratios are:

    Australia 35.0
    United Kingdom 16.3
    United States 11.0
    New Zealand 9.1
    Japan 7.1
    Canada 6.8
    Denmark 5.5
    Netherlands 5.3
    Türkiye 4.6
    Czechia 3.9

    I suspect ratios significantly over 5:1 are associated with an elevated risk of insular thinking. I don’t think the Anglosphere and Japan stand out because they are particularly incurious though, but rather because the population of these countries are by and large monoglots. Language proficiency is a huge factor in deciding where people go for inspiration. Most inhabitants of the Anglosphere are only equipped with English.

    It’s hardly unique though, the most common places for French students to go study abroad are Canada, Belgium, the UK, Switzerland and Spain.

    If there’s any pattern between studies abroad and low rail construction costs, it seems low cost countries like Turkey, Korea or Italy have more language variety in the top destinations, while high-cost countries tend to stick with what they already know and English.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Yeah but the US and UK have huge numbers of international students studying at their universities.

      And the Anglosphere dominates the top x universities in the world lists.

      • Matthew Hutton

        It’s also difficult to accept the opinion that the French railways are well run when journeys by rail between UK and Spain by rail are so painful even when there are 18 million tourist trips from the UK to Spain every year.

        I mean if you got 10% of those 18 million trips to travel by rail that is ~35 full daytime trains a week or ~70 full night trains (I’m assuming you can get 500 people on a night train, if that is wrong adjust accordingly).

        In my view the primary issue is that a lot of the smart youngish people in the UK work in the private sector because the pay is better and the culture is better. And that public sector culture at least in the UK makes it difficult for smart people to think outside the box.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Also it’s only in terms of these public sector project spaces that I (and others) get to be right and the professionals involved aren’t correct.

        I mean if I go and chat to a teacher or a doctor or a designer they will know more about their job than I do. Perhaps 1 time in 10 or less I will have some insight – but mostly not.

        And yeah I’m probably more outspoken than most – but I’ve been in the room with working class people talking about infrastructure costs – and while they might not have the balls to speak out you can tell they think something is wrong. And they won’t have been educated abroad in any country.

      • Alon Levy

        University rankings are like city livability rankings: they are accepted based on whether the expected Anglosphere candidates are on top. Outside the Anglosphere they produce bizarre results – they don’t really get how French or German academia works and therefore the top French unis might be general University of Paris campuses rather than grandes écoles or important research institutes like IHES, and likewise the German unis omit institutes like Max Planck. The distribution of Fields Medals does not and has never supported any Anglo higher ed supremacy.

        [Edit: in a completely different field, my understanding is that Michelin star rates for restaurants are really weird outside French cuisine – Asian restaurants that are extremely highly regarded in their local areas by experienced food critics are skipped, because the Michelin raters are not familiar enough with those cuisines to discern.]

        • Matthew Hutton

          Ok fair. Still I’m not convinced that people not studying abroad is the problem here.

          • Patrick Jensen

            You’re just making this a lot more complicated than it really is. If you don’t know the language of a place:

            1. You won’t pick that as a place to go study.
            2. You won’t learn how to build good transit from there either, because you can’t understand the documents you should read and people you could talk to.

            There’s really no need to be any more obtuse than this. Anglos are homebodies because they are monoglots to whom the world happens to come in sufficient numbers that they see no point in venturing out into the world.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I agree that living somewhere different helps and it’s better than going as a tourist but it’s not a magic wand either.

            British people travel a lot as tourists for example – and London and New York are both super cosmopolitan cities with people living there who come from all over the world.

            And I mean the system in New York is clearly worse than the systems in London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul – even from just riding as a tourist.

          • Tiercelet

            @Patrick Jensen
            I think you do have to do add at least a few extra wrinkles to it. It’s not like Andy Byford was bringing lessons learned from some tiny society with a couple hundred native speakers. And New York is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world; overall linguistic diversity aside, the MTA employs *plenty* of people who speak Spanish proficiently. So language alone can’t be the barrier to learning from Spanish best practices.

            You are definitely right that the Anglosphere tends to be more insular in terms of its cultural contacts, but it’s not easy to disentangle that from the overall cultural prestige gradient–there’s a chicken-and-egg problem there. (Even within the US, a lot more people come to New York to study than go from New York to, say, Ann Arbor, and that isn’t down to the language barrier.)

          • Richard Mlynarik

            the MTA employs *plenty* of people who speak Spanish proficiently.

            The former executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, for whom we can assign blame as much or mor than for anybody else, for the limitlessly appalling $2bn-for-one-station years-late out-of-control-spending Central Subway catastrophe, is a native speaker of Spanish.

            Does this mean he was appointed to his position and held his position for over a decade because of his theortical ability to fluently read technical documents about the Madrid Metro?

            No, he was appointed to his position and held his position for over a decade because he was limitlessly corrupt, in a region of limitless public service corruption, and actively funnelled billions of public dollars into the pockets of specially chosen private pockets.

          • Patrick Jensen

            @Tiercelet and @Matthew Hutton, i suggest you review the sections under the titles Superficial learning and Individual versus collective knowledge, because your objections have been already been addressed in the original piece.

            Gawking at foreign stuff on vacations is great (I do it sometimes too) but there’s only so much you can learn as a tourist. Likewise, one handy Andy isn’t going to fix everything. You need a familiarity with foreign contexts that starts with knowing the language. Waiting for the outside world to come over to explain itself to you in English will never get you that.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I mean if I was in charge of HS2 I’d get the costs down a fair bit and I didn’t study abroad.

            If you’re doing a high speed rail project it makes sense to talk to and listen to the other players. I’m sure you’d need a French speaker to talk to the French and you might not get anything out of the Chinese but I’m sure you could do fine.

        • Eric2

          I don’t think that’s true. Look at a ranking of universities by Nobel prizes, and the usual Anglosphere suspects are on top. Several German universities are high up too, but it seems that nearly all there Nobels are from before WW2 and they no longer have research at the level they once did. The only non-Anglosphere institution to rank high is the University of Paris, which however seems to be an umbrella term for 13 different institutions, so perhaps not comparable.

  7. wiesmann

    Sometimes learning comes from the edges. The Annemasse rail-station, close to Geneva but in France is getting equipped with signals to have two different trains on different segments of a track.
    This is a standard operating procedure in Switzerland but not in France. So there will now be a one year test of this new practice.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Way off-topic, but … I don’t understand what you’re talking about here.

      https://vorgaben.sbb.ch/_file/9737/anhang-ceva-v1-2-10-08-2020-f.pdf shows how things are working, today, on a cross-border line that’s been open since 2019.

      Swiss electrification and Swiss signalling has extended into Germany and Italy and France (but not Austria as far as I know, though Max Wyss will tell us!) for years and years.


        • Richard Mlynarik

          Oh Matthias I see I misread your original message — not two different signal systems, but new signals for two trains on a single platform “deux trains sur la même voie”, sometimes called “double berthing” in English. My apologies. As an aside, the link there to the comparable larger-scale Rennes “2TMV” project is depressing because of “high” €12.7m price tag — nobody in the Anglosphere could even study adding new signals for $15m.

          This is indeed very common elsewhere in the world and ought to be more widely used, “electronics before concrete” and all.

          (I’ve been banging on for decades that Caltrain in California ought to be planning to operate 150m trains and double-berthing at the self-inflicted capacity critical station on 400m platforms with mid-platform scissors crosovers. But no. Americans don’t do “planning”, of any type, ever. Just “spending”! Because that’s what they learn from each other, and confirm by consultant “peer group comparisons”, and nothing’s ever going to change anything.)

          • Matthew Hutton

            Is it because they only change the timetable once a year?

            Or because if the test took more than a very short time that you couldn’t do it for the minor early June timetable change?

  8. Nathan Landau

    A gondola was proposed between Oakland and inner suburb Alameda to pass over the Oakland Estuary. This was to relieve congested automobile tunnels and connect to the last East Bay BART station before San Francisco. It would have passed over Port of Oakland land, and the Port demanded impossibly high heights for it. In the meantime the cities—especially Alameda— have been working on preferential bus access to the Tubes. Alameda wants to build a bike/ped bridge, the distances of trips would work for bikes.

    Now there is a completely absurd proposal for a gondola between the Downtown Oakland BART station and the Oakland A ‘s proposed stadium on the Oakland Estuary. The distance is less than a mile of flat ground, walkable for many. There will be dedicated bus lanes between the two. There’s a wide elevated freeway between them. Still, it’s in the Environmental Impact Report as a variant. Never underestimate Americans’, especially American politicians’, desire for cool transit.

  9. Pingback: Links and Snippets – Dan O'Huiginn

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