# Construction Costs are National

I’m about to send a thinktank a draft of a table of subway construction costs, and I’d like to preview one of the most important findings from the data. This is based on 125 distinct items, totaling 2,297 kilometers – some complete, some under construction, a handful proposed. I’ve alluded to this here before, for example when writing about national traditions (US, Soviet, UK) or about Russian and Nordic costs. But the basic observation is that construction costs are not really a feature of an individual metro line, but of a city, and usually an entire country.

What this means is that if one line in Madrid is cheap, then we can expect other lines in Madrid to be cheap, as well as in the rest of Spain; if one line in London is expensive, then we can expect other lines in London to be expensive, as well as in the rest of the UK. In fact, in both countries the construction costs of metro systems in the capitals also accord with the construction costs of intercity high-speed rail: cheap in Spain, expensive in Britain, with Germany somewhere between Spain and Britain and France somewhere between Spain and Germany.

Some examples

The examples in this section are somewhat cherrypicked to be the ones with narrower ranges, but there are very few examples with truly large ranges over a similar period of time (i.e. not secular increases as in Canada). I am specifically excluding regional rail, as it tends to be more expensive per kilometer than subways.

Panama: Line 1 cost around PPP$260 million per kilometer for 53% underground construction, and Line 2 is cheaper, around$150 million, but is entirely above-ground. This is consistent with a factor-of-2.5 underground premium over elevated lines, well in line with the literature.

Greece: Athens Line 4 is €104 million per km, with construction having started recently. Thessaloniki has two lines in the database, the main line due to open next year and an extension to Kalamata due to open in 2021, and Athens is also about to wrap up an extension of Line 3 to Piraeus. All cost figures may be found here on PDF-p. 9. The two Thessaloniki projects are respectively €135 million/km and €118 million/km, the former at least including rolling stock and I believe the latter too; the Athens Line 3 extension, without rolling stock and with somewhat wider stop spacing, is much cheaper, €61 million/km, but this rises to €82 million/km with rolling stock.

Sweden: the Stockholm Metro extensions under construction all cost pretty much the same per kilometer. Three extensions are under construction at once, in three different directions; per this source, the costs per kilometer (in kronor) are 1 billion, 1.25 billion, and 1.15 billion, with the most expensive of the three involving brief underwater tunneling.

In the other direction, visionaries may think they’re being bold by making up a high number, usually a catch round  figure like $1 trillion for US-wide infrastructure. The numerology here operates on a different level from the relatively small band of just under a limit vs. just over a limit: here the main problem is that the cost figure is arbitrary, and then the list of projects to be funded is chosen to match it. If there aren’t enough good projects, agencies will either bloat the budgets of projects by lading them with semi-related spending, for example bundling a light rail line with street reconstruction and tree planting, or go forward with weak proposals that would otherwise not be funded. # How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be Part 3 In the third and last installment of my series posting sample commuter rail schedules for New York (part 1, part 2), let’s look at trains in New Jersey. This is going to be a longer post, covering six different lines, namely all New Jersey Transit lines that can go to Penn Station, including one that currently does not (Raritan Valley) but could using dual-mode locomotives. As on Metro-North and the LIRR, very large improvements can be made over current schedules, generally reducing trip times by 30-43%, without straightening a single curve. However, electrification is required, as is entirely new rolling stock, as the electric locomotives used by NJ Transit are ill-fit for a fast schedule with many stops. Moreover, all low platforms must be raised to provide level boarding and some must be lengthened to avoid overuse of selective door opening, which may require a few new grade separations on the North Jersey Coast Line. As a first-order estimate, 50-something trainsets are required, each with 8-12 cars. This is not quite free, but the cost is low single-digit billions: about$1.5 billion for trains, maybe $400 million for 160 km of electrification, and around$700 million for what I believe is 70 low- or short-platform stations.

The timetables

Here is a spreadsheet detailing speed zones for all New Jersey Transit lines passing through Newark. In support of previous posts, here are other similar spreadsheets:

• New Haven Line (express schedule, add stop penalties as appropriate for locals) – the spreadsheet is about a minute too fast, missing some slowdowns in the terminal, and the version in my post (part 1) corrects for that
• Harlem Line
• Hudson Line locals and expresses
• LIRR Main Line (including Port Jefferson, not covered in my posts)

Line by line schedules

The New Jersey Transit timetables are less consistent than the east-of-Hudson ones; I attempted to look at local midday off-peak outbound trains whenever possible.

Northeast Corridor

 Station Current time Future time New York 0:00 0:00 Secaucus 0:09 0:06 Newark Penn 0:18 0:10 Newark South Street — 0:12 Newark Airport 0:24 0:15 North Elizabeth 0:27 0:17 Elizabeth 0:30 0:19 Linden 0:35 0:23 Rahway 0:39 0:25 Metropark 0:45 0:29 Metuchen 0:49 0:32 Edison 0:54 0:36 New Brunswick 0:59 0:39 Jersey Avenue 1:03 0:41 Monmouth Junction — 0:47 Princeton Junction 1:16 0:53 Hamilton 1:23 0:58 Trenton 1:35 1:01

This fastest rush hour express trains do the trip in 1:12-1:13, and Amtrak’s Regionals range between 0:55 and 1:04, with trains making all nominal Amtrak stops (including rarely-served New Brunswick and Princeton Junction) taking 1:15.

North Jersey Coast Line

 Station Current time Future time New York 0:00 0:00 Secaucus 0:09 0:06 Newark Penn 0:19 0:10 Newark South Street — 0:12 Newark Airport 0:24 0:15 North Elizabeth — 0:17 Elizabeth 0:29 0:19 Linden 0:35 0:23 Rahway 0:39 0:25 Avenel 0:45 0:29 Woodbridge 0:48 0:31 Perth Amboy 0:55 0:34 South Amboy 1:00 0:37 Aberdeen 1:08 0:42 Hazlet 1:12 0:45 Middletown 1:19 0:49 Red Bank 1:25 0:53 Little Silver 1:29 0:56 Monmouth Park — 0:59 Long Branch 1:39-1:42 1:01 Elberon 1:46 1:04 Allenhurst 1:50 1:07 Asbury Park 1:54 1:09 Bradley Beach 1:57 1:11 Belmar 2:01 1:14 Spring Lake 2:05 1:16 Manasquan 2:09 1:19 Point Pleasant Beach 2:15 1:22 Bay Head 2:24 1:23

In electric territory, that is up to Long Branch, my schedule cuts 38% from the trip time, but in diesel territory the impact of electrification nearly halves the trip time, cutting 48%.

Raritan Valley Line

 Station Current time Future time New York (0:00) 0:00 Secaucus (0:09) 0:06 Newark Penn (0:18) 0:10 Newark South Street — 0:12 Union 0:27 0:17 Roselle Park 0:30 0:19 Cranford 0:35 0:22 Garwood 0:38 0:24 Westfield 0:41 0:25 Fanwood 0:46 0:28 Netherfields 0:49 0:30 Plainfield 0:53 0:32 Dunellen 0:58 0:35 Bound Brook 1:03 0:39 Bridgewater 1:06 0:41 Somerville 1:12 0:44 Raritan 1:15 0:47 North Branch 1:21 0:50 Whitehouse 1:28 0:54 Lebanon 1:34 0:58 Annandale 1:39 1:01 High Bridge 1:52 1:04

The Raritan Valley Line does not run through to Manhattan but rather terminates at Newark Penn because of capacity constraints on the mainline, so the New York-Newark trip times are imputed from Northeast Corridor trains. So really the trip time difference is 1:34 versus 0:54, a reduction of 42% in the trip time thanks to electrification.

Morristown Line

 Station Current time Future time New York 0:00 0:00 Secaucus 0:10 0:06 Newark Broad Street 0:19 0:11 Newark 1st Street — 0:13 East Orange — 0:15 Brick Church 0:25 0:17 Orange 0:28 0:19 Highland Avenue — 0:21 Mountain — 0:23 South Orange 0:33 0:25 Maplewood 0:38 0:27 Millburn 0:42 0:29 Short Hills 0:45 0:31 Summit 0:49-0:50 0:34 Chatham 0:55 0:39 Madison 0:59 0:41 Convent 1:03 0:44 Morristown 1:07 0:47 Morris Plains 1:11 0:50 Mount Tabor 1:18 0:54 Denville 1:21 0:56 Dover 1:32 1:00 Mount Arlington 1:40 1:06 Lake Hopatcong 1:45 1:09 Netcong 1:53 1:12 Mount Olive 1:58 1:15 Hackettstown 2:14 1:22

This timetable is cobbled from two different train runs, as electric wires only run as far out as Dover, so trains from New York only go as far as Dover, and trains to Hackettstown serve Hoboken instead. Observe the 35% reduction in trip time in electric territory despite making a few more stops, and the 48% reduction in trip time in diesel territory.

 Station Current time Future time New York (0:00) 0:00 Secaucus (0:10) 0:06 Newark Broad Street (0:19) 0:11 Newark 1st Street — 0:13 East Orange 0:24 0:15 Brick Church 0:26 0:17 Orange 0:29 0:19 Highland Avenue 0:31 0:21 Mountain 0:33 0:23 South Orange 0:36 0:25 Maplewood 0:39 0:27 Millburn 0:42 0:29 Short Hills 0:45 0:31 Summit 0:50 0:34 New Providence 0:55 0:37 Murray Hill 0:58 0:40 Berkeley Heights 1:02 0:43 Gillette 1:05 0:46 Stirling 1:08 0:48 Millington 1:11 0:50 Lyons 1:14 0:53 Basking Ridge 1:17 0:56 Bernardsville 1:20 0:57 Far Hills 1:26 1:02 Peapack 1:30 1:06 Gladstone 1:37 1:08

As the line is entirely electrified, the time saving is only 30%. Note that Gladstone Branch trains do not run through to Penn Station except at rush hour, so I’m imputing New York-Newark Broad trip times using the Morristown Line.

Montclair-Boonton Line

 Station Current time Future time New York (0:00) 0:00 Secaucus (0:09) 0:06 Newark Broad Street (0:20) 0:11 Newark 1st Street — 0:13 Newark Park Street — 0:15 Watsessing Avenue 0:26 0:18 Bloomfield 0:28 0:19 Glen Ridge 0:31 0:21 Bay Street 0:34 0:23 Walnut Street 0:37 0:24 Watchung Avenue 0:40 0:26 Upper Montclair 0:43 0:28 Mountain Avenue 0:45 0:30 Montclair Heights 0:47 0:31 Montclair State U 0:50 0:33 Little Falls 0:56 0:37 Wayne-Route 23 1:00 0:40 Mountain View-Wayne 1:02 0:43 Lincoln Park 1:07 0:46 Towaco 1:11 0:49 Boonton 1:18 0:53 Mountain Lakes 1:22 0:56 Denville 1:27 0:59 Dover 1:34 1:04

Beyond Dover, a handful of evening trains continue to Hackettstown. Interestingly, the saving from electrification is only 32% – and the train I drew the current schedule from is a Hoboken diesel train. Electric trains run from New York to Montclair State University, but are for some reason actually slightly slower today than the Hoboken diesels on the shared Newark-MSU segment. I suspect that like the LIRR, NJ Transit does not timetable electric trains to be any faster than diesels on shared segments even though their performance is better.

Discussion

There are specific patterns to where my schedule outperforms the existing one by the largest margin and where it does so by the smallest margin.

Terminal zone

Between New York and Newark, I am proposing that trains take 10-11 minutes, down from 18-20 today, cutting 45% from the trip time. This comes from several factors. The first is avoiding unnecessary slowdowns in terminal zones: Penn Station should be good for about 50 km/h, ideally even more if there are consistent enough platform assignments that the turnouts can be upgraded to be faster; Newark should not impose any speed limit whatsoever beyond that of right-of-way geometry.

The second is increasing superelevation and cant deficiency. The worst curve is the turn from Harrison to Newark; its radius is just shy of 500 meters, good for around 110 km/h at normal cant and cant deficiency (150 mm each), or even 120 km/h if the cant is raised to 200 mm in support of higher-speed intercity service. But the current speed limit is a blanket 45 mph, even on Amtrak, whose cant deficiency is fine. The Newark approach is then even slower, 35 mph, for no reason. It’s telling that on my schedule, the Secaucus-Newark speedup is even greater than the New York-Secaucus speedup, despite the Penn Station interlocking morass.

The third is reducing schedule padding. The schedules appear extremely padded for what NJ Transit thinks is a capacity problem but is not really a problem in the midday off-peak period. Between 9 am and noon, 18 trains depart Penn Station going west, 10 on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast and 8 on the Morris and Essex Lines and the Montclair Line.

Unelectrified lines

On lines without electrification, the time savings from electrification are considerable, with the exception of the Boonton Line. This is especially notable on the tails of the North Jersey Coast and Morristown Lines, both of which allow for 48% reductions in trip time, nearly doubling the average speed.

This is related to the issue of low platforms. These tails have low platforms, whereas the inner segment of the Raritan Valley Line (up to Westfield), which already has mostly high platforms, does not exhibit the same potential speed doubling. Outer segments may also not be well-maintained, leading to non-geometric speed limits. Between Long Branch and Bay Head the tracks are fairly straight, but the existing speed limits are very low, at most 60 mph with most segments limited to 40 or even 25 or less.

In contrast with the enormous slowdowns between New York and Newark and on unelectrified tails, the workhorse inner segments (including the entire Northeast Corridor Line) radiating out of Newark are only about 1.5 times as slow as they can be, rather than twice as slow. The Gladstone Branch, which runs EMUs rather than electric locomotive-hauled trains, manages to be only about 1.37 times as slow, in large part courtesy of low platforms.

Of course, 1.5 times as slow is still pretty bad. This is because no line on NJ Transit is truly modern, that is running all EMUs serving high platforms. But the electric lines manage to be less bad than the diesel lines, and the suburbs less bad than the New York-Newark segment with its excessive timetable padding and terminal zone slowdowns.

How to get there from here

NJ Transit has a problem: perhaps unaware of the new FRA regulations, it just ordered bilevel EMUs compliant with the old rather than new regulations. If it can cancel the order, it should do so, and instead procure standard European EMUs stretched to the larger clearances of the American (or Nordic) railway network.

Simultaneously, it should complete electrification of the entire Penn Station-feeding system, including the Raritan Valley Line even though right now it does not run through to New York. This includes some outer branches with low traffic, not enough to justify electrification on their own; that is fine, since the 31 km of wire between Dover and Hackettstown, 25 km between Long Branch and Bay Head, 27 between Raritan (where semi-frequent service ends) and High Bridge, and 30 between MSU and Denville permit a uniform or mostly uniform fleet with no diesel under catenary. EMUs are far more reliable than anything that runs on diesel, and if NJ Transit retires diesels and only runs EMUs on the most congested segment of the network, it will be able to get away with far less schedule padding.

In Boston, at Transit Matters we’ve likewise recommended full systemwide electrification, but with priority to lines that connect to already-electric infrastructure, that is the Stoughton branch of the Providence Line, the Fairmount Line (which is short enough to use Northeast Corridor substations), and subsequently the entire South Station-feeding system. By the same token, it is more important to electrify the outer edges of the Morristown and North Jersey Coast Lines and the entire Raritan Valley Line than to electrify the Erie lines not analyzed in this post, since the Erie lines’ infrastructure points exclusively toward Hoboken and not New York.

In addition to electrification, NJ Transit must replace all low platforms with high platforms. This should generally be doable with ramp access rather than elevators to save money, in which case a double-track station should be doable for about $10 million, if Boston and Philadelphia costs are any indication. In addition to speeding up general boarding, high platforms permit wheelchair users to board trains without the aid of an attendant or conductor. All of this costs money – the infrastructure should cost somewhat more than$1 billion, and new rolling stock should cost about $1.5 billion at European costs, or somewhat more if there’s an American premium for canceling the in-progress contract for inferior equipment. But none of this costs a lot of money. New Jersey is ready to sink$2.75 billion of state money as part of an 11 billion Gateway tunnel that would do nothing for capacity (since it four-tracks the tunnel but not the surface segments to Newark); it should be ready to spend about the amount of money on a program that is certain to cut 25-50% off of people’s travel time and perhaps halve operating costs. # How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be Part 2 In my last post about New York regional rail schedules, I covered the New Haven and Harlem Lines of Metro-North and the Main Line and Hempstead Branch of the LIRR. I was hoping to cover more lines tonight, but due to time constraints only the Hudson Line is available. This post should be viewed as considerably more accurate than the previous one, because I’ve obtained a Metro-North track chart with exact curve radii. I had to use measuring tools in the previous posts, and although the results were generally accurate, they were not completely so, and a few short, sharp curves cost a few more seconds than depicted. I do not believe the total slowdown between New York and either New Haven or Southeast to be worse than one minute relative to the track chart, but it is a slight slowdown, more than countermanding my tendency to round all fractional seconds up in speed zones. Capital expenses One key difference with my last post is that the Hudson Line is not entirely electrified. It is only electrified south of Croton-Harmon; farther north, trains run with diesel locomotives, changing to electric mode only in Manhattan. My timetable assumes electrification. This is a project Metro-North should be pursuing anyway, since the outer Hudson Line is one of the busiest diesel lines in New York, alongside the outer Port Jefferson Branch and the Raritan Valley Line. This lack of electrification extends to part of the express tracks south of Croton-Harmon as well. As a result, this schedule, while relying on cheap investments, is not quite the near-zero cost improvement on the express line. On the local line it is, since the trains are electrified. As before, I am not assuming any curve is straightened, merely that track geometry trains fix the tracks to have higher superelevation (150 mm) and that trains run at 150 mm cant deficiency rather than today’s 3″. In metric units, this means acceleration in the horizontal plane is 2 m/s^2, so curves obey the formula $\mbox{speed} = \sqrt{2\times\mbox{curve radius}}.$ One big-ticket item that Metro-North should look into, in addition to completing electrification, is grade-separating the interlocking at CP 5, between the Hudson and Harlem Lines. The flat junction is extremely busy – it may plausibly have higher peak throughput than the flat junctions that plague South London’s commuter rail network – and hinders a simple 2-tracks-in, 2-tracks-out operation. This is not strictly speaking a speedup, but I would be more comfortable writing aggressive, high-frequency timetables if trains did not conflict at-grade. Local schedule Local trains run up to Croton-Harmon, making all stops.  Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 Harlem-125th 0:10 0:06 0:06 Yankees-153rd 0:15 0:09 0:09 Morris Heights 0:18 0:12 0:12 University Heights 0:20 0:14 0:14 Marble Hill 0:22 0:16 0:16 Spuyten Duyvil 0:24 0:18 0:17 Riverdale 0:28 0:21 0:20 Ludlow 0:30 0:24 0:23 Yonkers 0:33 0:26 0:25 Glenwood 0:35 0:28 0:27 Greystone 0:38 0:31 0:29 Hastings-on-Hudson 0:42 0:34 0:31 Dobbs Ferry 0:45 0:36 0:33 Ardsley-on-Hudson 0:47 0:39 0:36 Irvington 0:49 0:41 0:38 Tarrytown 0:53 0:44 0:41 Sleepy Hollow 0:55 0:47 0:43 Scarborough 0:59 0:50 0:46 Ossining 1:02 0:53 0:48 Croton-Harmon 1:11 0:56 0:52 The 9-minute interstation between Ossining and Croton-Harmon represents end-of-line schedule padding – in the southbound direction, trains are scheduled to take only 4 minutes. Observe that the travel time difference is smaller than on the other lines presented in my previous post. Current equipment could shave 21% off the travel time, which is considerable but a far cry from the 33-40% elsewhere in the system. The reason is that the Hudson Line is maintained to higher standards, with cruise speeds of 80 mph on much of the line; I am assuming a speedup to 160 km/h, but the stop spacing along the Hudson is so short that trains can’t even hit 160 km/h while accelerating. The curves are still insufficiently superelevated – the Spuyten Duyvil curve where the fatal derailment happened has only 2.5″ of superelevation – and trains are only rated for low cant deficiency. However, the other aspects of the speedup on other lines are less conspicuous. I also suspect that there is less schedule padding on the Hudson Line than on the other lines. Its frequency is lower, the line is four-track for most of its length, and the one significant flat junction equally affects the other two Metro-North mainlines. So the schedule may already be stable enough that padding, while considerable, is less outrageous than on the LIRR. Express schedule Express trains on the Hudson Line run a variety of stopping patterns, especially at rush hour. The line’s infrastructure is set up for intermediate express stops at Harlem, Marble Hill, Yonkers, Tarrytown, Ossining, and Croton-Harmon, but the standard off-peak pattern makes slightly fewer stops. My assumption is that all the above stations will receive express service.  Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 Harlem-125th 0:11 0:06 0:06 Marble Hill — 0:13 0:13 Yonkers — 0:18 0:18 Tarrytown 0:39 0:27 0:26 Ossining 0:47 0:32 0:31 Croton-Harmon 0:53 0:35 0:34 Cortlandt 1:01 0:41 0:39 Peekskill 1:06 0:44 0:42 Manitou — 0:50 0:48 Garrison 1:17 0:54 0:51 Cold Spring 1:21 0:57 0:55 Breakneck Ridge — 1:00 0:58 Beacon 1:30 1:05 1:02 New Hamburg 1:38 1:10 1:07 Poughkeepsie 1:55 1:15 1:12 This is a 35-38% reduction in travel time while making four more stops, two on the inner part of the line and two on the outer part that currently only see occasional seasonal use for hiking trails. The explanation for this is simple: the rolling stock used today is not M-7 EMUs but diesel locomotives. Rush hour trains running nonstop between Manhattan and Beacon connect Grand Central with Poughkeepsie in 1:36-1:37, a stop penalty of about 2.5 minutes, twice as high as what a European regional EMU can achieve at a top speed of 160 km/h. Moreover, the 80-90 mph speed limit, which is dead letter on local trains for most of the way because they stop so frequently, consumes a few minutes relative to 160 km/h when trains run nonstop for long stretches. Thus, an increase in top speed is necessary in addition to an increase in curve superelevation and cant deficiency. What about Grand Central? My schedules consistently depict 6-minute trip times between Grand Central and Harlem, compared with current timetables that have them do it in 10-11 minutes. On most of the line, the top speed is the same – 60 mph, against 100 km/h in my timetable. The difference is entirely in the last mile out of Grand Central, where the limit today is 10 mph for no good reason. The constrained environment of Grand Central does not leave room for high-speed switches. Nonetheless, the existing switches, called #8 switches, have a curve radius of about 140 meters, which is good enough for 40 km/h with no superelevation and a cant deficiency of 150 mm. American switches are generally rated for twice their number in miles per hour, assuming no superelevation and a 2″ cant deficiency; but higher cant deficiency is possible, and is really important as the difference between 25 and 40 km/h for a few hundred meters is considerable. Moreover, 40 km/h is only the governing speed for a very short distance, about half a kilometer. Farther out, trains can always take the straight direction on turnouts, with one exception, turnout number 309B on the southbound local track (track 4), which is a triangular switch, i.e. one without a straight direction. Fixing the switch to have a straight direction from track 4 to track J, the westernmost approach track to the lower level of the station, should be a priority, plausibly saving 3 minutes for all trains using this track. With trains taking the straight direction wherever possible, the central express tracks in the Park Avenue Tunnel (tracks 1 and 2) should exclusively feed the upper level, and the outer local tracks should exclusively feed the lower level; this way, there would not be any conflict. The station was originally designed for local trains to use the lower level and express trains to use the upper level, so this is nothing new, just a more rigid way of running service than today. Each of the two levels has ladder tracks permitting access to about 10 platform tracks, which is more enough for a train every 2 minutes; for reference, the 4 platform tracks of Haussmann-Saint Lazare on the RER E turn 16 trains per hour at the peak today, and were constructed with the ability to turn 18. The upshot is that very little station reconstruction is needed at this stage. Some reconstruction is required for through-running, as it would require all approach tracks to go to the lower level, but even that would be much cheaper than the through-running tunnels. But with terminating service, only one switch needs to be changed. This is not expensive; the limiting resource is imagination to do better than today’s slow service. # How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be A few years ago, when I started writing timetables for proposed regional rail lines, I realized how much faster they were than current schedules. This goes beyond the usual issues in Boston with electrification, which can cut the Boston-Providence trip from the current 1:10 or so to around 45 minutes. In New York the trains are already electrified, but trip times are slow, due to a combination of weak rolling stock, low platforms in New Jersey, poor maintenance in Connecticut, and obscene schedule padding in Long Island. This post collects a few before-and-after comparisons of how fast regional rail in New York could be. Due to time constraints, not all lines are included in this post; by popular demand I can complete this and make it a two-part post. In this post I am going to focus on the New Haven and Harlem Lines and the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma and Hempstead Branches. The LIRR and Metro-North both have reasonable if conservative equipment. Thus, it is valuable to look at the trip times that current equipment could achieve, that is the M-8s on the New Haven Line and the M-7s on the other lines. Future equipment should be higher-performance, and in particular both railroads should procure modular platforms based on proven European regional rail designs, rather than stick with overweight, overpriced equipment as in the upcoming capital plan. Thus the following tables include trip times with both current equipment and a notional regional electric multiple unit (EMU) with the specs of a Talent 2, FLIRT, Coradia Continental, DBAG Class 425, or similar train. As a note of caution, these trip times are not achievable at zero cost, only at low cost. No curve needs to be straightened, but some curves need to be superelevated, and in some areas, particularly Connecticut, additional track work is required. All of this is quite cheap based on European maintenance regimes, though perhaps not based on American ones, but it is not literally a day one timetable – figure a few months’ worth of work systemwide. Schedules would also need to be simpler, with fewer creative express patterns, to facilitate low schedule padding, 7% as in Switzerland rather than the LIRR’s current 30% pad. Much of this work comes from this post about the LIRR and this one about the New Haven Line, but here I’m covering the Harlem and Hudson Lines as well, and using more recent computations for acceleration. New Haven Line Locals to Stamford:  Station Current time Future M-8 time Future Euro time Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 Harlem-125th 0:10 0:06 0:06 Fordham 0:18 0:12 0:11 Mount Vernon East 0:27 0:18 0:16 Pelham 0:30 0:20 0:18 New Rochelle 0:33 0:23 0:21 Larchmont 0:37 0:26 0:24 Mamaroneck 0:40 0:29 0:27 Harrison 0:43 0:32 0:29 Rye 0:48 0:35 0:31 Port Chester 0:51 0:37 0:33 Greenwich 0:55 0:40 0:36 Cos Cob 0:59 0:43 0:39 Riverside 1:02 0:45 0:41 Old Greenwich 1:04 0:47 0:42 Stamford 1:15 0:50 0:45 Some of the numbers are interpolated, but the end-to-end times as well as those to New Rochelle, Port Chester, and Riverside are exact. No curve is straightened, but all non-geometric speed limits, including those on the Cos Cob Bridge, are removed; the Cos Cob Bridge is not straight enough for high-speed rail, but a regional train could squeeze 150 km/h out of it, or 160 if it is replaced. Expresses to New Haven are faster, as detailed in my older post on the subject:  Station Current time Future M-8 time Future Euro time Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 Harlem-125th 0:10 0:06 0:06 New Rochelle — 0:18 0:17 Stamford 0:51 0:31 0:30 Noroton Heights 0:56 0:35 0:34 Darien 1:00 0:38 0:36 Rowayton 1:03 0:40 0:38 South Norwalk 1:07 0:43 0:41 East Norwalk 1:10 0:46 0:43 Westport 1:14 0:49 0:46 Greens Farms 1:18 0:53 0:49 Southport 1:23 0:56 0:52 Fairfield 1:26 0:58 0:54 Fairfield Metro 1:30 1:01 0:57 Bridgeport 1:38 1:05 1:00 Stratford 1:45 1:10 1:04 Milford 1:52 1:14 1:08 West Haven 1:59 1:20 1:14 New Haven 2:09 1:24 1:18 Numbers differ from my older post by a minute to allow for slightly slower approaches to the Grand Central stub-end, at 50 km/h rather than 100 km/h as with any future through-running. This is still several minutes faster than the current 10 mph speed limit out to a mile out of the station. It doesn’t matter too much; at the end of the day, this is a difference of 1:18 vs. 2:09, with one extra station. I repeat: better track maintenance, less conservative terminal approach speeds, higher superelevation on curves, modern schedule padding, and (on the margin) higher-performance equipment could reduce trip times from 2:09 to 1:18, a cut of 40% in trip time, without straightening a single curve. Harlem Line The Harlem Line today runs local and express trains, but this involves a long stretch from north of Mount Vernon West to North White Plains with three and two rather than four tracks; trains just don’t run frequently enough today that it’s a problem, but in the future they will need to. Therefore, my timetable below is all-local. Nonetheless, trip times to White Plains on the local train are comparable to those of today’s express trains.  Station Current time (local) Current time (express) Future M-7 time Future Euro time Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00 Harlem-125th 0:10 0:10 0:06 0:06 Melrose 0:14 — 0:09 0:09 Tremont 0:17 — 0:12 0:11 Fordham 0:20 — 0:14 0:13 Botanical Gardens 0:22 — 0:16 0:15 Williams Bridge 0:25 — 0:18 0:17 Woodlawn 0:28 — 0:21 0:19 Wakefield 0:30 — 0:23 0:21 Mount Vernon West 0:32 — 0:24 0:23 Fleetwood 0:35 — 0:27 0:25 Bronxville 0:37 — 0:29 0:27 Tuckahoe 0:39 — 0:31 0:28 Crestwood 0:42 — 0:33 0:30 Scarsdale 0:46 — 0:36 0:33 Hartsdale 0:49 — 0:38 0:35 White Plains 0:53 0:36 0:41 0:38 North White Plains 1:01 0:41 0:44 0:40 Valhalla 0:45 0:47 0:43 Hawthorne 0:49 0:50 0:46 Pleasantville 0:53 0:53 0:49 Chappaqua 0:56 0:56 0:52 Mount Kisco 1:02 1:00 0:55 Bedford Hills 1:06 1:04 0:59 Katonah 1:09 1:07 1:01 Goldens Bridge 1:13 1:10 1:04 Purdy’s 1:17 1:13 1:08 Croton Falls 1:20 1:16 1:10 Brewster 1:26 1:20 1:15 Southeast 1:37 1:22 1:16 Observe that the current schedule has very long trip times before the end station – 8 minutes from White Plains to North White Plains on the local, 11 from Brewster to Southeast on the express. Southbound, both segments are timetabled to take only 4 minutes each. This is additional padding used to artificially inflate on-time performance, in lieu of the better practice of spacing out the pad throughout the schedule, at 1 minute per 15 minutes. LIRR Main Line The LIRR has a highly-branched system, and I’m only going to portray the Main Line to Ronkonkoma among the long express lines. This is because in the long term, the South Side lines shouldn’t be going to Penn Station but to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. The Port Jefferson Branch could benefit from a side-by-side comparison of trip times, but that is partly a matter of electrifying the outer part of the line, a project that is perennially on the LIRR’s wishlist.  Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time Penn Station 0:00 0:00 0:00 Sunnyside Junction — 0:05 0:05 Woodside 0:10 — — Jamaica 0:20 0:12 0:12 Floral Park — 0:17 0:17 New Hyde Park — 0:20 0:19 Merillon Avenue — 0:22 0:21 Mineola 0:37 0:24 0:23 Carle Place — 0:28 0:26 Westbury — 0:30 0:28 Hicksville 0:45 0:33 0:31 Bethpage 0:51 0:37 0:34 Farmingdale 0:55 0:40 0:37 Pinelawn 1:00 0:43 0:40 Wyandanch 1:02 0:46 0:43 Deer Park 1:06 0:50 0:47 Brentwood 1:11 0:54 0:50 Central Islip 1:15 0:57 0:53 Ronkonkoma 1:22 1:01 0:57 The fastest Main Line train of the day runs between Penn Station and Ronkonkoma stopping only at Hicksville, Brentwood, and Central Islip, not even stopping at Jamaica; it does the trip in 1:08, a few minutes worse than the M7 could with less schedule padding and small speedups at terminal zones (Penn Station throat slowdowns add 1-2 minutes, it’s not the mile-long slog of Grand Central). Hempstead Branch Finally, for local service supplementing the rapid Main Line, we can look at the Hempstead Branch, which under my regional rail maps should keep serving Penn Station along today’s alignment, continuing north along the Empire Connection to the Hudson Line. Today, only a handful of peak trains run between Penn Station and Hempstead – off-peak, Hempstead diverts to Atlantic Terminal. Here are side-by-side schedules, using the fastest peak train as a comparison:  Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time Penn Station 0:00 0:00 0:00 Sunnyside Junction — 0:05 0:05 Woodside 0:11 0:08 0:07 Forest Hills — 0:12 0:11 Kew Gardens — 0:14 0:13 Jamaica 0:20 0:16 0:15 Hollis 0:28 0:19 0:18 Bellerose 0:31 0:22 0:20 Queens Village 0:33 0:24 0:22 Floral Park 0:35 0:26 0:24 Stewart Manor 0:38 0:28 0:26 Nassau Boulevard 0:41 0:30 0:28 Garden City 0:43 0:32 0:30 Country Life Press 0:47 0:34 0:32 Hempstead 0:51 0:36 0:33 Conclusion Across the four lines examined – New Haven, Harlem, Main, Hempstead – trains could run about 50-66% faster, i.e. taking 33-40% less time. This is despite the fact that the rolling stock today is already EMUs: the vast majority of the speedup does not come from upgrading to higher-end trains, but rather from running faster on curves as all EMUs can, avoiding unnecessary slowdowns in station throats, and reducing schedule padding through more regular timetables. The speedup is so great that the Harlem Line could achieve the same trip times of present-day nonstop trains on locals making 14 more stops between Manhattan and North White Plains, a distance of 38 km, and the LIRR could achieve substantially faster trip times than today’s nonstops on semi-rapid trains. In fact, the LIRR could even make additional local stops on the Main Line like Forest Hills and Hollis and roughly match the fastest peak trains, but expected traffic volumes are such that it’s best to leave the locals to the Hempstead Branch and put the Main Line on the express tracks. Good transit activists in and around New York should insist that the managers prioritize such speedups. If locals can match today’s express trip times, there is no need to run creative express stopping patterns that force trains into complex patterns of overtakes. Just run frequent local service, using the maxim that a line deserves express service if and only if it has four tracks, as the New Haven Line and shared Main Line-Hempstead Branch segment do. With the slowest speed zones sped up, curve speeds raised to the capabilities of modern EMUs (including the conservative M-7s and M-8s), and schedule padding shrunk to where it should be, the suburbs could be so much closer to Manhattan at rush hour as well as off-peak, stimulating tighter metropolitan connections. # High-Speed Rail in Small, Dense Countries Four years ago I brought up the concept of the small, dense country to argue in favor of full electrification in Israel, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Right now I am going to dredge up this concept again, in the context of intercity trains. In a geographically small country, the value of very high speed is low, since trains do not have stretches of hundreds of kilometers over which 300 km/h has a big advantage over 200 km/h; if this country is dense, then furthermore there are likely to be significant cities are regular intervals, and stopping at them would eliminate whatever advantage high-speed rail had left. Nonetheless, unlike with electrification, with high-speed rail there is a significant difference between Israel and the Low Countries. Israel does not have economic ties with its neighbors, even ones with which it does have diplomatic relationships, that are strong enough to justify international high-speed rail. Belgium and the Netherlands do – the high-speed rail they do have is already internationally-oriented – and their problem is that they have not quite completed their systems, leading to low average speeds. The situation in Israel Israel is a country of 20,000 square kilometers, with about 9 million people. Both figures exclude the entirety of the Territories, which are not served by intercity trains anyway, and have such geography that not even the most ardent annexationists propose to build any. The country is long and narrow, and the maximum north-south distance is almost 500 km, but the cities at the ends are very small, and the population density in the South is exceptionally low. Eilat, at the southern tip of the country, is a city of 52,000, and is 170 km from the nearest Israeli city, Dimona. A low-speed line for freight may be appropriate for this geography, offering an alternative to the Suez Canal, but there is no real point in investing in high passenger rail speed. For purposes of fast intercity trains, the southern end of Israel is Beer Sheva, less than 100 km from Tel Aviv. In the Galilee the situation is not quite as stark. The main barrier to intercity rail development is not low population density – on the contrary, the Galilee averages around 400 people per km^2, not counting the Golan Heights. Rather, the physical and urban geographies are formidable barriers: the mountainous topography forces all railroads that want to average reasonable speed to tunnel, and the cities are not aligned on linear corridors, nor are there very large agglomerations except Nazareth, which is about 100 km north of Tel Aviv. A low-speed rail network would be valuable, tunneling only under mountainous cities like Nazareth and Safed, but even 200 km/h in this region is a stretch, let alone 300. Thus, just as the southern limit of any fast intercity rail planning in Israel should be Beer Sheva, the northern limits should be Haifa and Nazareth. The box formed by Haifa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Beer Sheva, less than 200 km on its long side, is not appropriate geography for high-speed rail. It is, however, perfect for medium-speed rail, topping at 160 or 200 km/h. The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line, built because the legacy line is so curvy that it is substantially slower than a bus, only runs at 160 km/h for this reason – the distance along the railway between the two cities is 57 km and there’s an intermediate airport stop, so the incremental benefit of running faster is small. The Tel Aviv-Haifa line, built in stages in the 1930s and 50s, runs in the Coastal Plain and is largely straight, capable of 160 km/h or even faster. The Tel Aviv-Beer Sheva line is slower, but it too can be upgraded. In all of these cases, the target average speed is about 120 km/h or perhaps a little faster. A high-speed train would do better, but reducing trip times from 40 minutes to 30 just isn’t worth the expense of a new line. Nazareth is the odd one out among the major cities, lacking a rail connection. This is for both geographical and sociopolitical reasons: it is on a hill, and it is Arab. Reaching Nazareth from the south is eminently possible, on a line branching from the Coastal Railway in the vicinity of Pardes Hanna, continuing northeast along Route 65 through Kafr Qara and Umm al-Fahm, and entering the city via Afula. Modern EMUs can climb the grades around Umm al-Fahm with little trouble, and only about 4 km of tunnel are required to reach Nazareth, including a mined underground station for the city. Continuing onward requires perhaps 8 km of tunnel. However, so far Israel Railways has been reticent to enter city centers on tunnels or els. Instead, it serves cities on the periphery of their built-up areas or in freeway medians. It would require little tunneling to enter the center of Netanya or Rishon LeTsiyon, and none to enter that of Ashdod or Ashkelon. This is the result of incompetence, as well as some NIMBYism in the case of Rishon. Nonetheless, such short tunnels are the right choice for regional and intercity rail in those cities as well as in Nazareth, which poor as it is remains the center of Israel’s fourth largest urban agglomeration. What if there is peace? In Belgium and the Netherlands, there is 300 km/h high-speed rail, justified by international connections to France and Germany. What if Israel reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians that thaws its relationships with the rest of the Arab world, justifying international connections to present-day enemy states like Syria and Lebanon as well as to cold friends like Jordan and Egypt? The answer is that the Levant writ large, too, is a relatively small, dense area. The Palestinian Territories have even higher population density than Israel, as does Lebanon. Jordan and Syria, on the desert side of the mountains, are less dense, but if one drops their low-density areas just as one would drop Israel south of Beer Sheva, the box within which to build intercity trains is not particularly large either. Amman is 72 km from Jerusalem; it’s an attractive target for a continuation of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway at 160-200 km/h, the main difficulty being the grades down to and up from the Jordan Valley. Beirut and Damascus are both about 240 km from Tel Aviv on the most likely rail routes, via the coast up to Beirut and via Nazareth and Safed up to Damascus. The only connection at a truly compelling distance for 300 km/h rail is to Aleppo, which is not large enough and is unlikely to generate enough ridership across the language and political barrier to be worth it. Egypt presents a more attractive case. Cairo is enormous, and there is a whole lot of nothing between it and the Gaza Strip, a perfect situation for high-speed rail. However, this is firmly in “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” territory, as none of the required construction really affects present-day Israeli intercity rail planning. It’s not like the Levantine Arab capitals, all of which lie along extensions of important domestic Israeli routes. Integrated timed transfers The Netherlands and Switzerland both have national rail networks based on the idea of an integrated timed transfer, in which trains from many destinations are designed to reach major nodes all at the same time, so that people can connect easily. In Switzerland, trains arrive at every major city just before :00 and :30 every hour and depart just after, and rail infrastructure construction is designed to enable trains to connect cities in integer multiples of half hours. For example, since trains connected Zurich and Basel with Bern in more than an hour, SBB built a 200 km/h line from Olten to Bern, shortening the trip time to just less than an hour to facilitate connections. Every half hour this line carries a burst of four trains in seven minutes in each direction, to ensure trains from many different destinations can connect at Bern at the right time. I have argued against this approach in the context of Germany, proposing highspeed rail instead specifically on the grounds that Germany is a large country with many pairs of large cities 500 km apart. In the context of the Netherlands, the integrated timed transfer approach is far superior, which is why it is adopting this approach and refining it in ways that go beyond Switzerland’s decentralized planning. Belgium, too, had better adapt the Swiss and Dutch planning approach. What about Israel? In Israel, timed transfers are essential to any intercity rail build-out. However, a fully integrated approach is more difficult, for three geographical and historical reasons. First, most intercity traffic flows through one two-track mainline, the Coastal Railway. Using advanced rail signaling to permit many trains to enter Tel Aviv at once is fine, but it would not be the everywhere-to-everywhere system of more polycentric countries like Switzerland. Second, Israeli metro areas are really a mixture of the mostly-monocentric contiguous sprawl of France and the Anglosphere and the polycentric regions of distinct cities of the Netherlands and the German-speaking world. Jerusalem’s agglomeration is entirely Anglo-French in this typology, without significant independent cores, and Tel Aviv and Haifa both have substantial Anglo-French cores ringed by far less important secondary centers. The significant secondary centers around Tel Aviv and Haifa are edge cities within the built-up area that may be near a rail line, like Herzliya Pituah and the Kiryon, but are never independent town centers like the various Randstad and Rhine-Ruhr cities. And third, Israel completely lacks the large railway terminals of Western countries that built their mainlines in the 19th century. Integrated pulses require one station track per branch coming out of the station, since the point of such timetables is to have trains from all branches arrive at the station at once. Within Germany there is criticism of the Stuttgart 21 project on the grounds that the new underground Stuttgart station will only have eight tracks, whereas there are about 14 planned branches coming out of the city. So does this mean timed transfers are a bad idea? Absolutely not. Israel Railways must plan around timed transfers at junction stations like Lod, the closest thing the Tel Aviv region has to a German-style secondary core, as well as at future branch points. Entering secondary city centers like Netanya and Ashdod would involve tunnels and els, but more significantly to the national network, these would all be branches, and adding more branches to the mainline would require planning better transfers at the branch points and in the center. Moreover, Israel still has significant intercity bus service, and most likely always will. Timed connections between buses and trains at outlying terminals like Ashdod are a must, and nationwide coordination of bus schedules to enable such connections is a must as well. Intercity rail for a small, dense country The situation in Israel – as in Belgium and the Netherlands – favors a different kind of rail development from that of larger countries like France and Japan. Short distances between major urban areas, frequent stops for intermediate cities, and cities that are not really located along easy lines call for the following design principles: 1. The maximum speed should be 160-200 km/h – lines should not be designed for higher speed if that requires more tunneling or bypassing existing mainlines, unless there is a compelling international link. 2. All trains should be electric, and run electric multiple units (EMUs) rather than locomotives, making use of EMUs’ fast acceleration to serve many stops. 3. Significant cities that do not have rail links or have circuitous links should get new lines, using short tunnels or viaducts if necessary to reach their centers. 4. Transfers at junction stations should be timed, as should transfers between buses and trains in cities with significant travel volumes to areas not served by the railway. 5. The state should coordinate timetables and fares at the national level and engage in nationwide integrated planning, since a change in one city can propagate on the schedule 100-200 km away. In Israel, public transportation planners understand some of these points but not others. Rail planning is based on medium rather than high speed; there are some calls for a high-speed train to Eilat, but so far what I’ve seen is at least partly about freight rather than passengers. The state is electrifying most (though not all) of its rail network – but it’s buying electric locomotives as well as EMUs. New rail lines go in freeway medians and on tangents to built-up areas, as if they were 300 km/h lines, rather than low-speed regional lines for which if people have to drive 5 km they may as well drive the remaining 50 to their destination. Schedule coordination is a mess, especially when buses are involved. Going forward, Israel should aim to have what the Netherlands has, and even more, since the Netherlands has not fully electrified its network, unlike Switzerland. Israel should aim for very high traffic density, connecting the major cities at a top speed of 160-200 km/h and average speed of about 120 km/h, with easy transfers to slightly slower regional lines and to buses. Its cities may not be Tokyo or Paris, but they’re large enough to generate heavy intercity traffic by public transportation, provided the rail network is there. # The Hazards of Federal Subsidies for Operations There’s an interesting discussion on Twitter, courtesy of Adam Batlan, about federal subsidies for capital funding versus operations. It’s become a popular reform proposal among American public transport advocates, who are frustrated with the status quo of federal funding for capital but not for operations. Unfortunately, the proposed change to the status quo – federal funding of operations and maintenance – is even worse than the status quo. The hazards of outside funding sources for operations are considerable and unavoidable, whereas those of outside funding for capital expansion can be mitigated by defining expansion appropriately, to the exclusion of ongoing maintenance. Why federal funding should only go to expansion Public transportation has ongoing operating expenses, and capital funding. Ongoing expenses can only change gradually – rail service in particular is dominated by fixed costs, like maintenance, and service changes have little effect on operating costs. This argues in favor of steady funding for operations. Can federal funding be this steady? The answer is no. The federal government is where politics is. People with serious differences in opinion over issues including the overall size of federal spending, spending priorities, and how sensitive spending should be to economic conditions contest elections, and if one side has a majority, that side will get its legislative way. Nor is this some artifact of two-party majoritarianism. In consensus democracies the salience of a majority is if anything higher – there are big differences in policy, including transportation policy, between the various parties of Switzerland or the Netherlands, as the parties have to deliver results to attract voters rather than relying on polarization and partisan identity. This kind of politics is very good when it comes to debating one-time capital projects. A center-right government committed to austerity with little attention to climate change, for example Germany since 2005, will not spend much money on rail expansion, and railroads will formulate their plans accordingly. The key here is that planning around maintaining current operations without expansion is not difficult, whereas planning around sudden cuts in operating funding is. The issue of ongoing capital expenses Current US policy is for the federal government to fund capital expenses, but not necessarily expansion. Normal replacement of equipment and long-term maintenance both receive federal funding. This is bad policy, because the way agencies respond to changes in funding levels is to defer maintenance when the federal government is stingy and then cry poverty when the federal government is generous. The most extreme case of this is the state of good repair (SOGR) scam. The origins of SOGR are honest: New York City Transit deferred maintenance for decades, until the system collapsed in the 1970s, leading to a shift in priorities away from expansion and toward SOGR in the 1980s and 90s. There were tangible improvements in the last era, raising the mean distance between failures on the subway from about 10,000 km in 1980 to 250,000 in the 2000s. But this process led to a trend in which agencies would deliberately defer maintenance, knowing they could ask for SOGR funding letting them spend money without having anything to show for it. By the 21st century, New York’s SOGR program turned into such a scam. The MTA capital plans keep having line items for achieving SOGR, but there are no improvements, nor does the backlog appear to shrink. If anything, throughout the 2010s service deteriorated due to slowdowns, until Andy Byford began the Saving Precious Seconds campaign. The same scam appears elsewhere, too: Amtrak deferred maintenance in the 2000s under political pressure to look profitable for privatization, a Bush administration priority, and when Obama was elected and announced the stimulus, Bush-installed CEO Joe Boardman began to talk about SOGR on the Northeast Corridor as a way of hogging billions of dollars without having to show increases in speed. The forward solution to this problem is to credibly commit not to fund maintenance, ever. The fix-it-first maxim is for local governments only. The maxim for outside funding should be that any request for funding for maintenance or replacement is a tacit admission the agency cannot govern itself and requires an outside takeover as well. The issue of frequency The problem the thread linked to at the beginning of this post sets to solve is that some cities get money to build a light rail line but then only run it every 20 minutes. This, however, is a problem of incompetence rather than one inherent to the incentives. A long-term revenue-maximizing agency, confronted with an urban rail line that runs every 20 minutes, will increase its frequency to at worst every 10 minutes, secure in the knowledge that the long run elasticity of ridership with respect to frequency in this range is high enough that it will make more money this way. This remains true even for a dishonest agency, which has no trouble maximizing long-term revenue by deferring maintenance and then asking for SOGR money when funding is available. This fact regarding frequency is doubly true if the trains already run frequently at rush hour and only drop to 20-minute frequency off-peak. Fleet costs are determined by the peak, and large peak-to-base service ratios require expensive split shifts for crews. Therefore, a bump in off-peak frequency, especially from such a low base as 20 minutes, will increase ridership for very little increase in operating cost. The thread does not mention the issue of connecting bus service much – I got yelled at for proposing half-hourly local buses timed with commuter trains – but there, too, the rule of only subsidizing expansion rather than maintenance or operation leads to good enough incentives. In Seattle, light rail expansion has led to bus service changes designed to feed the trains, increasing bus ridership even as rail service replaces the most crowded corridors. The bus cuts of (for example) San Mateo County in response to rail expansion should then be put in the same basket of pure incompetence with the light rail line that runs every 20 minutes off-peak. The incentives line up in one direction, but due to such factors as unfamiliarity with best practices and managers who do not ride the trains they run, management goes in the other direction. The forward solution here is to stick to funding by expected ridership. If the service plan involves low frequency, this should show up in the ridership screen and penalize the project in question, while urban rail lines that run every 5 minutes get funded. # How Come Carbon Taxes are Good for the Economy? Two of the cities I have lived in are in areas with a carbon tax regime: Vancouver and Stockholm. British Columbia implemented a carbon tax starting in 2008, at a level reaching C30 per metric ton of CO2, under the right-wing BC Liberals, who favored the carbon tax as a market-friendlier approach than the left-wing NDP’s proposal for cap-and-trade. The tax was revenue-neutral, offsetting other taxes, and is seen as a success; the NDP has since won power and announced a hike in the tax to C$50/t by 2021. Sweden’s carbon tax is higher and older. It was implemented by the Social Democrats in 1991, at a rate of 24/t for home use, such as fuel, and 6/t for industrial use; it has been subsequently hiked multiple times, reaching 88/t for home use by 2004, and Löfven’s coalition of Social Democrats and Greens has increased it to 114/t for both home and industrial use. Our World in Data cites it as a success too, linking it to high levels of political trust and low corruption levels in Sweden as well as in other European countries with carbon taxes, such as Switzerland. The question of interest is, how come these carbon taxes are good not just for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also for the economy? British Columbia’s economy has grown somewhat faster than that of the rest of Canada. Sweden has had high economic growth since the 1990s as well – see for example World Bank data from 1990 to 2018, in which Sweden’s growth in GDP per capita only behind that of Norway and the Netherlands, both by very small margins. What gives? How come this is apparently good for raw economic growth, when it’s supposed to be an economic distortion that reduces living standards if one ignores long-term environmental benefits? Negative carbon taxes There is an array of policies that act as negative carbon taxes – that is, taxes on green activity, or subsidies to polluting activity. The construction of highways is one example – the negative effects of cars include not just climate change but also local air pollution, noise, and car accidents. There are various policies counteracting these effects, such as fuel taxes and mandatory insurance, but they are not enough. For example, in British Columbia the minimum insurance requirement is$200,000 in personal injury plus \$300,000 in medical expenses and smaller sums for related torts like funeral costs, but the insurance value of human life is measured in the millions.

To the extent non-carbon taxes on cars are too low, the addition of a carbon tax should move the tax level closer to the true level of the negative externality even ignoring long-term climate change. Carbon taxes should not by themselves improve economic growth on a 30-year horizon, let alone a 10-year one, but lower levels of air pollution, fewer car crashes, and less traffic congestion would.

Another aspect is development. Various zoning laws, such as single-family residential zones in much of Vancouver and restrictions on high-rises in Central Stockholm, encourage people to live and work in lower-density areas. This is simultaneously a negative carbon tax of a sort and a drag on economic productivity. A carbon tax is no substitute for reforms making it easier to add housing – and thankfully, both Stockholm and Vancouver already have fast housing construction, unlike (say) New York – but it does help countermand the subsidies to suburbanization implicit in restrictive zoning.

Climate science vs. arbitrary rule

The economic reasoning behind why special fees on various activities are inferior to broad taxes on income, property, and consumption has to do with incentives and rule of law. Taxing a specific activity incentivizes people and corporations to find creative ways to shift apparent activity elsewhere, creating economic distortions. It also sends everyone a message, “spend more money on lobbying politicians to keep your sector’s taxes lower than those of other sectors.” Broad-based taxes don’t do that, first because the only way to avoid an income tax is to be poorer, and second because there are fewer moving parts to an income or sales tax.

However, carbon taxes are not your run-of-the-mill tax on an activity some politician does not like. Yes, there is a definitive political movement calling for restraining greenhouse gas emissions, but the reasoning behind it is telegraphed years and even decades in advance, and is based on a scientific consensus. Lobbyists can try to fight for exemptions, as they can from income taxes, but the tax itself is based on a process that is transparent to informed economic actors.

In green democracy as in social democracy, the role of the state is not to side with the interest groups that voted for the party in power, unlike in populism. Social democracy holds that the state has an expansive role to play in the economy, but this role is not based on arbitrary exceptions but rather on budgetary and regulatory priorities that have been largely stable for generations: income compression, labor unions, health care, education, child care, infrastructure, housing. It’s not a coincidence that the part of the world with the strongest social-democratic institutions, the Nordic countries, also has more or less the lowest corruption levels.

Green democracy has a different set of priorities from social democracy, but they too are well-known, especially when it comes to the transition away from greenhouse gases. There’s a lot of lobbying concerning specific spending priorities, but the point of a carbon tax is that it adjudicates how to prioritize different aspects of the transition apolitically.

Carbon taxes and good government

The World in Data’s praise of Sweden’s carbon tax regime talks about the necessity for low corruption and high trust levels for a carbon tax to work. But does the causation really run in that direction? What if the causation is different? It’s likely that a carbon tax could politically work in a wide variety of countries, but only in states with high levels of political transparency do politicians prefer it to opaque schemes that reward cronies and favored interest groups.

In other words, once British Columbia enacted its carbon tax the results were positive even without unusually low corruption for a rich country. But for the most part, governments without much transparency or rule of law such as much of the United States do not like the simplicity of a carbon tax. Politicians who call themselves green prefer schemes that either directly subsidize favored groups or at least politically empower them (“Green New Deal”), and that specifically ream difficulties on groups they do not favor (real estate developers, the nuclear industry, etc.).

But that American politicians do not like carbon taxation does not mean carbon taxation could not work in an American context. It does in a Canadian one, without any of the negative economic effects that people who take perverse joy in environmental destruction predicted. The private economy can and does adapt to changes in relative prices, as fuel becomes much more expensive and other products become cheaper to compensate – and judging by the experience of Sweden in particular, even a fairly high tax is compatible with fast economic growth for a mature economy. All it takes is someone willing to spend short-term political capital on the long-term green transition.