Post Queue

This is a list of articles I’m intending to write. Some of them have been in my queue for a while; some have not. The queue is (largely) unordered; if there’s popular demand for some posts, I’ll do them first. Posts may also drop off the queue entirely in some cases, for example if someone else says what I wanted to say.

– A mathematical model of anchoring, which I allude to here and here. (Done.)

– A more detailed proposal for Northeast Corridor high-speed rail, including proposed speed zones and discussions of various alignment choices (which curves to ease, how much eminent domain to tolerate, and so on). Update 2017/8/6: I’ve worked on this a little, and it looks like a 20 hours a week for several months kind of project.

– “Why Costs Matter,” about the primacy of reducing construction costs in a US context. I’m currently planning to time it to right after the Vancouver transit referendum, which according to polls will fail. Vancouver with the failed referendum is still producing more transit ridership than American cities with equivalent taxes to fund transit. (Done, 7 months behind schedule.)

– A list of recent urban rail projects by cost per rider, as opposed to cost per kilometer. There’s complete data for the US thanks to The Transport Politic, but not in the rest of the world.

– An explanation for why the socialist model of rent control and public housing won’t produce much new housing in developed countries today (short version: it’s the fertility rates). (Done, on New York YIMBY.)

– Historical explanation for why cities shouldn’t push assimilation on minorities. My main example is not immigrants or involuntary minorities, but regional minority language users: the Catalans today, and historically the Occitans.

– Discussion of competing emphases on peak-hour transit and all-day transit, and the misleading cost metrics that lead people to favor the former.

– A list of various advances in fare payment and mobile service technology in Europe and East Asia, apropos of American agencies that crow about third-party smartphone apps and credit card-based payment. (Done, on Metro Report.)

– Arguments for why the MBTA should electrify. (Done.)



  1. adirondacker12800

    A more detailed proposal for Northeast Corridor high-speed rail,

    You have define the shape of it first. Detroit, Ohio and Pittsburgh are nearly 18 million people and they are with range of New York. They are gonna be clogging the tracks between Philadelphia and Manhattan. New Jersey, if was one MSA would be the fifth largest in the country.

  2. Agostino Rancatore

    Do you ever write about operating costs? How much do train drivers make in different cities?

  3. Agostino Rancatore

    I like the post about how ignorant American transit managers are. i would expand that to the entire political class including the “better people” of places like Mass. Isn’t our terrible system the result of successive governors like Dukakis, Weld, Romney, Patrick and now Baker?

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, although I kind of want to exclude Dukakis from this, because the privatization of the state began under Weld and his budget director Baker.

  4. Herbert

    Any plan to do a post about citizen-input and – for lack of a better term – “NIMBY prevention”? I think in general it is a bad idea to try it on big trans-regional projects (like the Rhine Valley line or the HH-H-HB line in Germany) because the benefits are vague to most citizens and the harms (if any) don’t accrue where the benefits accrue. I think citizen input on bus redesigns streetcar and subway projects have more justifiability. After all, it is citizens that will ultimately ride the thing one is planning and there are NIMBY as well as YIMBY factors. An interesting case study in my mind is which has been doing A LOT of citizen involvement (down to taking citizen initiatives into account when drawing the route) but they still couldn’t prevent a NIMBY Bürgerinitiative from forming which is opposed to the place the new bridge across the river Regnitz is to be built (they put a greenwashing label on it, but mostly they’re plain NIMBYs). In Berlin there are – to my knowledge – also attempts to involve citizens when it comes to new tram lines, which seems to run into a brick wall in West Berlin, because most West-Berliners don’t really know trams… It seems to work better in East Berlin…

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know :(. In the US one helpful factor is making decisions at a higher level, like the state rather than the locality. But Germany doesn’t have the same extent of local empowerment as the US, and instead a big problem is that every environmental organization is empowered to sue, even if (say) it’s a Bavarian AfD-affiliated organization suing over a Tesla gigafactory in Berlin that the Berlin and Brandenburg environmental groups collectively decided not to oppose because electric cars are good for the environment. In general, non-judicial means of conflict resolution – ombudsmen, tripartite agreements, a stronger regulatory state – are better for this than American adversarial legalism or Germany’s partly-adversarial system.

      • adirondacker12800

        In the U.S. almost anybody has the ability to sue and the courts don’t have the spine to tell them it’s not a gross error that they are trying to sue over. Too bad, bad you should have objected during the comment period. For instance, the people in the apartment building, the ones living in the 50 year old apartment building that was built on speculation that the Second Avenue subway was coming real soon, sued, after the FEIS and ROD, that the subway would result in more, quell horror, in the east 80s near Second Avenue, pedestrians ! ! ! !
        And the Archbishop woke up one morning to discover that they were thinking about actually building East Side Access that has been discussed since he was going through puberty and objected…
        Westway sounded like a good idea but was stopped because it threatened striped bass. Which were threatened or endangered, I forget which. Which wouldn’t have been endangered if New York City had built the sewer plants they had been promising to build, real soon, for decades. Sometimes it makes good sense. It should have been stopped because it was a stupid idea, to be basic, on the level of “where are they going park once they get downtown?”. The fish did it…

  5. Brian Stanke

    FRA issued the final rule of particular applicability and record of decision for Texas Central Railroad High-Speed Rail Safety Standards.

    It looks like a wholesale transposition of the Central Japan Railway Company standards and practices. What do you see as the implications/possibilities from this? How could other HSR projects best use/leverage this precedent?

  6. Phake Nick

    After reading a number of posts you have written, many of them have taken experience from Asia to provide suggestion on transportation in Europe or Americas, have you thought about writing about the reverse, aka commenting on Asian transit system using experience from Europe or Americas? For example, plan for night transportation service in Japanese cities, future of Mini Shinkansen, how to build regional commuter train service in China that people actually use, and such, seems to be great topics where Asian cities can take experience from outside the region.

  7. Phake Nick

    I have read some comments suggesting that, just like Shinkansen trains at 200km/h revolutionalized travel fompares to the then max speed 110km/h with nearly double speed, Maglev with 500km/h speef have potential to do the same over the current ~250-300km/h high speed rail, and thus it might be inaccurate to conceptionalize fast maglev demamd using formula for existing HSR in the same way that it wouldn’t make sense to conceptualize HSR demand using conventional railway. Any idea on this?

    • Sham

      I think some research on metrorail and subway riderships – by system, line, per km etc and ways they are being reported – based on entry/exit or by individual lines or station entries would be timely as classifying different systems based on ridership is usually widely off the mark as different systems use different methods.

  8. Alex Cat3

    I would like you to talk more about how to design an integrated fare system. For example, how would you design an integrated fare system for the NY area, merging all NJTransit and MTA rail and bus services, that can produce appropriately priced fares for the following three rides:

    A short (less than 1 mile) bus ride in a far out secondary city like Trenton, New Haven, or Poughkeepsie, in New Jersey currently $1.50 per ride or $54 per month.

    A trip between the ends of two far out secondary cities like Trenton and Poughkeepsie, currently $42.50 one way at peak or $1001 per month.

    A direct (ridiculously slow) bus trip between Asbury Park, NJ and Philadelphia PA, currently $22.40 one way

    • Eric2

      Similar to this Bay Area proposal. Divide the region into cells. A trip through 1 or 2 cells has minimum fare (1 cell should be the same price as 2 cells to be fair to people living next to cell boundaries). Any longer number of cells has a fare corresponding to the number of cells.

      A question is how to count cells – 1) the number of cells physically traveled through, or 2) the minimum number of cells between origin and destination stations. #1 lets you encourage certain journeys – for example London’s “cells” are rings so in theory you could travel all around the outside of the city on a circumferential route for the lowest fare, rather than congesting the radial routes and incurring a higher fare. #2 lets passengers always plan their trips based on efficiency rather than price (which seems more human-friendly in general), and may be easier to implement (fewer fare gates).

  9. Phake Nick

    Is there any figures on, like Tohoku Shinkansen when they only terminate at Omiya, vs finally open till Ueno/Tokyo, that can reflect importance of extending HSR station into city?

  10. Phake Nick
    JR Freight claim, in modern Japan, freight railway cannot survive unless being subordinate to passenger railways, amid re-discussion of freight railways’ fair share payment to track owner, discussion on fate of future of railways in Hokkaido especially the Hakodate Main Line, and JR Freight’s target to maintain sustained profit and achieve full privatization.

    That does not sound reasonable at all?

  11. Robert

    Hi! I am from Warsaw and I read your very interesting posts about transportation system in Berlin, Paris and New York. Now in Warsaw there is a huge discussion about planned third metro line. The main concern is the route which is very curvy. I would say that contrary to Paris or London Warsaw has a very large tram network which plays a more or less similar role than metro in Western Europe and our 1 and 2 metro line is more like RER in Paris. So the discussion is now: shouldn’t the current proposition of M3 be replaced by tram and there M3 should have a more straight line?

    Do you have an opinion is it ok or we should go more into grid or Russian triangle?

  12. Phake Nick

    I have noticed that the term “light metro” seems to have become popular in the US now, with buses being unattractive and light rails being reduced to tourist attraction, some are proposing such sort of system as basic tool to shift cities to transit, yet it just feel wrong use of money to construct totally grade separated fully automatic transit system at places where there can’t even support and draw people into bus service?

    • xh

      It’s called medium capacity metro elsewhere. They have a niche market, especially in the form of elevated rubber-tired metro or monorails, where BRTs and tramways provide limited capacities or low travel speeds* while full metro costs are not justified. Especially, elevated rubber-tired metros have been frequently used as a solution to stong local NIMBY-ism.

      I think “light rails being reduced to tourist attraction” is quite an east asian thing. In the US, old trams gave way for road vehicles, while today the name “light rail” is used to build anything, from low-capacity, conventional trams to tram-trains to medium capacity metros or commuter rails.

      * I also think sensitivity to travel speeds in big city centers is quite a non east asian thing. I’ve even read lots of comments complaining lines averaging ~ 60 km/h (e.g. LA Green line) being too slow. Most metros in big Chinese cities are extremely slow. Average speeds are usually between 20 km/h and 40 km/h while max is 80. The schedules are heavily padded, so that ATO can let non-peak trains slide though most of their trips, saving significaiont energy without causing a delay. But whereever you build them, people will alway ride – even with lots of complaints.

  13. Phake Nick

    Governor of locality along Rumoi Line in Hokkaido, which have sparse ridership, propose enhancing/stabilizing railway ridership/revenue by implementing an annual pass system, for ~90USD residents can freely ride all trains in the Hokkaido, to rescue the prefecture’s railway from its current difficulty of continue financial losses and thus have to close down low ridership lines.
    Can this really provide sufficient ridership and income necessary for the railway to continue existing?

  14. Phake Nick

    New electric bus charging technology in France. “Conductive ground-based static charging system”. No need for any catenaries that might obscure view and no risk of cables being blow off by typhoon, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake. Wirelessly recharge from ground in stations, no need for addition charging station facilities that might take up extra space in depot, and no need for buses to be equipped with extra large batteries sufficient for all-day operation range. This is apparently based on Alstom’s matured wireless tram technology which have already been implemented in a number of tram systems across the globe.

  15. Phake Nick

    Is it true that current train automation technology isn’t suitable for systems with high crush load as the vehicle door closing require staff monitor of passenger flow to minimize delays? If not then what’s the solution?

    • xh

      Technically, driverless trains can be attended (DTO or GoA3) and unattended (UTO or GoA4). Train automation is just like assembly line automation, with passengers being “processed” with fix-scheduled trains. It requires, and will always require staffs for emergency response. The difference between DTO and UTO is that under DTO, the staffs are on the train, usually in the cab, while under UTO, the staffs are at stations and the control center.

      In practice, DTO is ATO (GoA2) plus, with minimal additional functionalities and costs: automatic departure, automatic turnback, yard automation and nothing else. With DTO, high reliability can already be achieved. But UTO is a different beast. It has tons of redundancy, and much costlier. Say, if any malfunction occurs while there’s no staff on the train, the train must be remotely controlled by staffs at the control center via some redundant communication channels, getting moved to the following station, where another staff evacuate the train, doing repairments or manually operating it to the yard. The redundancy is implemented both on the trains and the signal systems. So, while you can retrofit a train for DTO operation, you can never do it for UTO operation. You can only replace old trains with UTO-capable new trains.

      There’re a few examples of UTO lines without that much redundancy, like the SkyTrain which doesn’t even have platform doors. But these are just like early railroads without signalling: they used to exist, but aren’t allowed anymore.

      So back to your question: definitely yes. The train can never know how many passengers are waiting for it. Also, if some passengers get stuck in the doors, the train itself can never provide essential help. Under UTO, a staff on the platform will have some controls that can delay the train from departure, manually reopen and close each of the train doors and the PSDs. They can also be used to override some safety mechanism under the authorization of the control center.

      There was a tragedy on Shanghai Line 15 earlier this year, when the victim got stuck by both the train doors and platform doors. As doors were not properly closed and infrared detected an obstacle, the train was automatically put to a halt, but still in automatic mode. The staff at the platform tried to cut out the affected platform door. As the platform door being cut out, the train got a clear signal, crushing the victim to death.

      • xh

        “The vehicle door closing require staff monitor of passenger flow to minimize delays” – Yes, and UTO operation requires staffed stations.

        “Is it true that current train automation technology isn’t suitable for systems with high crush load?” – No, just get stations staffed. UTO might have some advantage if and only if it’s costlier to staff trains than stations and control centers.

        • Alon Levy

          Stations in Vancouver are unstaffed. Parisian stations are staffed, but platform staff work is a sinecure for former train drivers who’d otherwise be laid off.

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