Saturday, August 30, 2008

Taking the Coast Route

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

(This was supposed to auto-post at 3PM yesterday. Bloggered again...)

ABC News has a high speed rail story up on its site this morning, about the proliferation of HSR plans around the country. They quote some skeptics, including William Garrison, a retired civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley:

William Garrison says there is little national demand for high-speed rail. He says the push for high-speed rail is merely a new way of doing something old. "While the high-speed trains look nice, they're just polished-up, old, sterile technology," he says. "They're like I am. I am an old man with a new haircut."

It's conceivable that Garrison has not been to Europe or Japan anytime in the last 30 years to see the cutting-edge, extraordinarily popular high speed trains there. It's possible, I guess, that he hasn't even been to the western edge of his city to see the frequent, high-ridership Capitol Corridor trains. And it's more than possible, but quite likely, that he's just an old-school freeway builder who convinced himself in the 1960s that rail was dead and 40 years later cannot bring himself to admit new evidence and new realities.

Ironically Garrison himself coauthored a book attacking that kind of thinking:

Major themes of the book include the pervasiveness of conventional wisdom, its often unfortunate role in shaping policy, and the need to resist it. Another theme is historic path dependence, in which initial decisions when a technology is young lock systems into development paths out of inertia (as in the case, say, of railway gauges), so that they become historic artifacts rather than dynamic transport systems. The authors also address the maturity of our transportation system (and its possible senescence). That creates the danger that new ideas will be suffocated or starved, especially given the present preoccupation with polishing and fine-tuning obsolete systems, or tinkering around the edges, refining and optimizing in small increments what is already deployed.

Despite this undercurrent of dismay, the authors claim to be writing out of a sense of optimism. "We need to think harder. We need to do better," they write, with the implication that that is possible.

The book includes an attack on high speed rail, which is directly contradictory to its stated themes:

At the same time, the authors suggest that the passenger railroad is a dying technology, suitable for a select few settings, but extremely limited in its practical usefulness overall. They analyze the prospects for high-speed rail in the U.S. market and, contrary to some widely publicized views, conclude that it is not likely to succeed on its own merits. In the two places where high-speed rail has enjoyed some of its greatest success, Europe and Japan, other factors contributed to the outcome. Regulatory schemes artificially inflated airfares, so airlines could not compete for customers on price. And because Europe and Japan are more densely populated and have more severe congestion and capacity problems, high-speed rail has an easier time of matching the convenience of air, creating the high-volume, short-distance market for which high-speed rail is most suited.

So how do they explain the Acela's success?! European air travel has been revolutionized by low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair, but high speed rail has still beaten them. Matt Melzer destroyed the "more densely populated" argument here on the blog last month, showing that Spain has very similar conditions to us in California, and Spain's successes can be repeated here. Finally, the notion that air travel is "convenient" just doesn't seem true any longer - when American travelers are given a choice between flying and high speed rail, they're choosing the rails.

Garrison and his coauthors go on:

Finally, they argue, high-speed rail is too late: "In mature systems, the benefits of new infrastructure in an already well-served area are elusive." Tinkering with an older system will yield only minimal gains. "Whether high-speed rail is a new story, or simply the final chapter to the history of conventional passenger rail, waits to be seen," they conclude.

Of course, California is not a "well-served area." HSR isn't "tinkering with an older system" and his implicit notion that passenger rail is headed for some dustbin of transportation history is belied by the reality that surrounds us.

Ultimately Garrison's argument is really little more than libertarian anti-transit nonsense dressed up in academic speak. Their book purports to explain why "the math" doesn't work for transit, but this ignores the massive subsidies given to freeways - meaning "the math" doesn't work for them either. And nowhere in their book, published in 2006, do they discuss the impact of higher gas prices or global warming mitigation costs on transportation - both of which suggest that HSR will be effective from both a transportation and an economic point of view.

Garrison's arguments are the last gasp of a dying 20th century model. The 21st century model is one that emphasizes sustainability, in our case through modernized passenger rail. I love riding the Coast Starlight, but give me high speed rail and I'll choose that over Amtrak, driving, or flying any day.

43 comments:

Cal said...

You nailed it right on the head Robert..Garrison and the rest of the anti-HRS crowd are just what you said OLD SCHOOL..he even states it!! There in there late 60-70s and see only the past as the way to go. Funny they post on technology that was unheard of when they were young..and now want to deny cutting edge train travel for all the generations to come

Anonymous said...

How you Robert, with no expertise in transportation can have the gall to criticize an icon of that world --- ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.

You have gone way too far this time, Robert. Everyone should see you for what you are. An advocate, a zealot really, of a project, which to experts makes no sense. You are the outsider, they know what they are talking about.

Who should the voters listen to?

Everyone be sure to read Garrison's statement -- a statement from an expert in transportation, not from Robert, who in this world is just an advocate.



William Garrison says there is little national demand for high-speed rail. He says the push for high-speed rail is merely a new way of doing something old. "While the high-speed trains look nice, they're just polished-up, old, sterile technology," he says. "They're like I am. I am an old man with a new haircut."

Anonymous said...

So anonymous, you don't believe in free speech?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Garrison's name rings a bell. I'm not sure if it were him but there was a Berkeley transportation professor back in the 60s who thought BART was a bad idea and fought it till the end. I've been looking for his fingerprints on that but haven't found them.

To anonymous, Garrison is not an icon. In fact I had never even heard of him except in passing here where it triggered a possible memory. Just because some dinosaur from Berkeley writes HSR will not work are you going to believe him? Perhaps, and it is because you already have an idea formulated in your head, not because he revealed something you didn't know. Grow up and post with a name.

Anonymous said...

AN icon of the Freeway and oil lobby!!He thinks all public trasportation is worthless and overpriced in construction costs..
And freeways "free" everyone..read his Bio..So 12 lanes of concrete sloves all problems..right DOC?

Matt said...

I have read reviews of Garrison's book, not the book itself, but he criticizes all current transportation technology. He states that the world needs to stop focusing on improving existing transportation systems (of which rail is one) and start looking for great new technologies.

The basic premise seems to be, we've tapped the potential of the present system so lets find something new. Frankly, I don't think much of a transportation "expert" who says our current system is finished and we need to quit trying to improve it and move on to find a silver bullet. He has no idea as to what this new technology could look like, of course, just encourages radical thinking and "deep changes" to the system.

Sweet. While he gets started searching for this new technology, I'll keep hoping an efficient, high speed rail system will get started in this country.

Cal said...

Unless Dr Garrison has got George Jetsons "car" working we need more ways to get around on land! And no even if cars are solar powered that does nothing to solve what happens when there are 30 million cars on the roads

Spokker said...

"He says the push for high-speed rail is merely a new way of doing something old."

It's a new way (really fast trains) of doing something old (getting people where they need to go).

France, China, Taiwan, Germany, Japan, Great Britain (Well, Eurostar...), Belgium, Italy, South Korea, and Spain have all adopted this "outdated" technology.

Turkey is currently building high speed rail lines that will reach speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour.

Construction on a high speed rail line in Argentina is supposed to begin this year.

William Garrison is a blowhard.

Cal CE said...

As a civil engineering student at Cal, it concerns me that one opinion of a retired professor might paint all civil engineers in the same light. There is growing support for HSR in the younger generation regardless of academic major and I find it puzzling that they would interview a retired professor when there are many noteworthy professors currently on the faculty. He may be an icon in the field, but there is a reason why professors retire - to let the next generation lead and educate and perhaps advocate policies that differ from previous lines of thought. If he is so adamant about HSR being "old technology", then why is there a photo of HSR in the poster that greets visitors as they enter our department building?

Having just taken HSR in Taiwan, I was amazed that I was travelling at nearly 300 km/hr, making the Capitol Corridor seem like a snail in comparison. What was once a 4-hour train ride between Taipei and Tainan has now been reduced to a flat 105 minutes without the jerks and bumps of conventional rail. Once people experience HSR abroad, they will never settle for Amtrak again. I can only hope that my future professional career will include working on the CAHSR in some way.

political-i said...

Garrison is an anti-transit extremist and should not be listened to. The United States needs High Speed Rail for future needs to replace short-haul flights.

Rafael said...

Engineers have a tendency to prefer shiny new trinkets to old ones. If CHSRA had picked maglev technology instead, perhaps Garrison would be its biggest cheerleader, just because new is supposedly always better. Except that sometimes, it just isn't.

Infrastructure is extremely expensive to construct and therefore needs to last for a very long time. Therefore, you have to be conservative in choosing the technology. Something with a solid track record and interoperability with legacy systems is generally preferable to something without these features. You've got to manage the technology risk.

This is why I think steel wheels is the right choice for HSR, in spite of the inherent top speed limitations and rail-wheel noise issues. Relative to airlines and driving, HSR provides a superior mode of transportation over intermediate distances. On balance, I believe the ridership risk is lower than that of perpetuating the transportation sector's extreme dependence on oil.

Anonymous said...

Rafael writes:


"This is why I think steel wheels is the right choice for HSR, in spite of the inherent top speed limitations and rail-wheel noise issues. Relative to airlines and driving, HSR provides a superior mode of transportation over intermediate distances. On balance, I believe the ridership risk is lower than that of perpetuating the transportation sector's extreme dependence on oil."


Rafael's brings to the table here a whole lot to chew on.

By the time this project will ever be completed, other major factors will have changed the balance in the equation of complete dependence of oil on transportation.

I don't think anyone seriously doubts that by 2020, electric vehicles and hybrids with fuel efficiencies on average twice that of the market today will be on the highways.

This blog keeps on preaching a theme, "California is doomed" if this project is not built. Poppycock.

Autos will be different and much more fuel efficient. This project has been so influenced by political interests, that it will never achieve a really useful result. It is extremely expensive and will drain funds from other much more flexible transportation needs.

Rail is what it is. The tracks once laid cannot be moved. If the tracks don't take travelers to where they want to go, they won't be used.

The leadership of the project has been so incompetent, that only in a governmental environment in which it currently exists, could they not have been fired. How many times are Kopp and Diridon going to build projects that fail to even come close to their predicted goals.

Hopefully the voters will see through this sham of a project and reject it.

California can do much much better.

Kevin Gong said...

@anon 7:26

Fuel efficiency and more roads alone do not make a solid and robust transportation system.

What California needs is a diversified and integrated system using all sorts of different technologies to ensure that California's future is secure.

If you think that just relying on new cars on more freeways to move us around the state will secure our state's future, I have to seriously question if you've been on the same freeways as everyone else I know.

Instead of simply denying that CAHSR will provide a valid alternative to more gridlock and frustrating travel, what do you propose? Even bigger freeways? No thanks, I'd much rather have a highspeed rail line running by my yard than a noisy and polluting motorway. Bigger airports? Where are you going to put them?

Spaniard said...

HSR is as fast as plain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFolBua64A8

Brandon in San Diego said...

^^^ Good stuff. Very applicable to California.

Time

I'd like to know the door-to-door time doing the same via an airplane. The person talking left their Barcelona home at 6:15am and got to the center of Madrid at 10am. Going to an airport requires cmpartmentalizing all your stuff, getting their, parking, check-in, security lines, waiting for boarding on the front end, and getting out of the other end, finding transportation, getting to your destination, and parking.... much more labor intensive and stressfull.

Comfort

The HSR train appeared much more comfortable and free flowing than any airplane ever would. There is no comparison between the two.

David said...

It might be worth reading the book The Transportation Experience to see what Garrison and Levinson (i.e. me) actually think.

(And in contrast to the blog-author's assertion, both gas prices and global warming are addressed as issues, with possible solutions considered).

HSR rail is ultimately gussied up rail technology, which has its niche in high density areas with available Right-of-Way (and no intervening mountain ranges). The book, and another book by Garrison, do describe other technologies that hold some promise, but this book is primarily about understanding the historical process of transportation development, and why it creates the problems we have.

The blog author here is clearly imposing his imagined assumption of conventional opposition onto Prof. Garrison, who is a very out-of-the-box thinker, who does not fall into the traps that swallow either of the ends on the conventional axis (pro-auto, pro-rail) .

There are several other issues here
Certainly $4/gallon gas is more expensive than $3/gallon gas, but we are not talking about a project (California HSR) that is even marginally cost-effective.

The cost (and energy used) in construction will be enormous.

The rail, as all transportation projects, will promote sprawled development in the Central Valley which will now be in commuting range of the Bay Area or metropolitan LA.

The question is not whether this is a project which is beneficial (which it is not), but whether it is the best use of scarce funds (which it most certainly is not). If you had $40 Billion to spend on transportation in California, what would you do, what would serve the most people the best.

Granted air travel is not terribly convenient, but once the same security apparatus is imposed on HSR (and it will be), HSR will not be the simple urban transit-like (or even Amtrak-like) experience fans would wish for.

Anonymous said...

@ Blogger Brandon in San Diego

I keep seeing your posts and I keep wondering, if you really live in San Diego, why you would favor the project?

Don't you understand, that San Diego is being "hosed" by this project. Don't you understand that San Deigo will be waiting at least 20 years before it could ever reach there?

The planned route to San Diego is nothing more than a round about elongated trip, that only land speculators and developers would want?

San Diego is one area in the State that is going to soundly vote no to this project. Good old Kopp going to appear to try and boost a dying effort there.

Doesn't everyone understand that this project as planned is ignoring the needs of San Diego, Oakland and Sacramento? Of course, Gilroy is more important.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Gee, how does someone respond to something like that? If you have really been reading my posts you would have the answers you seek. And, I ask you in return, why do you post as an anon if you've really been coming to this site?

I am not going to respond to your question and instead I'll suggest you do some more research about the project and pay attention to the benefits. I am not going to turn your question into a discussion about San Diego... the project is much bigger and important and not shuttled to another time because of parachioal thinking or hyper sensativities because it's not in the first phase.

Anonymous said...

@ Rafael or others:

I just ran across this presentation:

http://www.pentapublishing.com/online.html

It is a power point presentation and I wonder what you would have to say about what would seem to me to be how the project should have been designed.

Brandon in San Diego said...

The Penta thing is irrelevant. It looks like a hobbyist or student pulled it together.

I'd give it a:
C+ for presentation
B- for thought effort
D for relevancy

Anonymous said...

Anno..YOU are going to vote No ..The bond issue is well ahead in the polls ..and no its not going to "soundly lose" in San Diego. The people in San Diego also want HSR. About the only county it might loose in are the far north ones..and voter wise there very small in numbers.

Cal said...

David...Ok so for 40 billion dollars what would you do ??? and no I am not going to buy your book.
So do you guys have the anti-gravity cars ready yet?

Teenager from Sacramento said...

I am 15, this is my future. Think about it.

Spokker said...

"If the tracks don't take travelers to where they want to go, they won't be used."

The tracks are going to San Francisco and Los Angeles and I heard no one goes there.

Spokker said...

"The planned route to San Diego is nothing more than a round about elongated trip, that only land speculators and developers would want?"

It would still only take 1 hour from LA to San Diego, faster than current rail or driving.

The inland route was chosen because the coast route could not support a high speed rail line. NIMBYs would oppose catenary wires on the beach and there isn't really enough room to build new tracks there.

What's wrong with developing land? I keep seeing people talk about it like it's some evil in the world. Land should be developed around train stations with access to a variety of transit connections.

I'm not sure how high speed rail would induce sprawl any more than a bunch of electric cars buzzing around would.

Anonymous said...

@spokker

writes:

"I'm not sure how high speed rail would induce sprawl any more than a bunch of electric cars buzzing around would.

You obviously know nothing about land development.

But I want to go to Oakland and Sacramento and San Diego.

Eric said...

David,

WOW!! I bet you are a person who thinks energy efficient cars like the Prius is cutting huge amounts of emissions? But in reality, it creates way more by manufacturing the batteries for them. You have your head stuck in the sand and thank god you are not in charge of the future of this country. Backward thinking like yours is pathetic.

HSR is a far better alternative than building more freeways lanes and airports!! We can't keep waiting for some technology that "might have some promise", as you state, before acting. Besides, how much money do you think goes into R&D of new technology? Billions. HSR is here and now with little to no R&D because other countries have done tons already. Again, wake up!

Oh, and by the way, Japan does have mountain ranges that HSR goes through/under/around with no problems (i.e. tunneling, bridges, areal tramways). Do some more research.

This rail project is needed for our future so we are not to be continually passed by the rest of the world. Our country/state is falling too far behind because of backward thinking which only leads to too much talk and no forward progress to show for it.

Spokker said...

"But I want to go to Oakland and Sacramento and San Diego."

San Diego is part of the CAHSR system. Sacramento is as well. Altamont pass isn't precluded from being upgraded just because CAHSR exists. I would like to see a high speed connection from Oakland to Sacramento through Altamont.

Spokker said...

"You obviously know nothing about land development."

Enlighten me.

Robert Cruickshank said...

david, your claims don't hold water. *of course* HSR is advanced rail technology. That's the point. And how can that be seen as a bad thing? HSR systems are very successful around the world, as this site has repeatedly demonstrated. They are all profitable "above the rail" - i.e. they have more than 100% farebox recovery. As I have consistently argued, HSR does not alone produce sprawl, and instead promotes sustainable urban development in existing city centers.

The notion that HSR isn't high on the state's transportation needs is belied by the airline crisis, which you seem to have missed.

As to security, we can look at Europe for solutions. Europe has faced terrorism for much longer than we have, and their infrastructure has been attacked much more often than ours. The March 2004 Atocha bombings in Madrid occurred near the hub of the Spanish HSR system (but not on or within the AVE system), yet Spain's HSR functions effectively today even with added security procedures in place.

Even if TSA-style security theater measures are put in place for our HSR it is not likely that the delays will be as long as at airports. The reason is you're dealing with fewer passengers all headed for a single point, instead of a huge crush of people going to numerous different gates.

Of course, we can look to the Acela to see how this works - they have had added security measures in place since September 2001 (especially important because the Acela connects the two cities hit by the terrorist attack on 9/11) and it has not caused problems for travelers and hasn't hurt the Acela, which continues to set ridership records and has just under half the market on the Northeast Corridor.

Robert Cruickshank said...

spokker's got the right idea in responding to anon's latest nonsense. HSR is a spine. It will connect to and enhance existing rail infrastructure. If you want to go from San Diego to Oakland you take the Surfliner to Anaheim, HSR to San José, and the Capitols to Oakland. Total travel time would be around 5-6 hours, faster than driving and with more amenities and comforts than flying.

Same for SD to Sac - Surfliner to Anaheim, HSR to Merced, San Joaquins to Sac.

HSR is a rising tide that lifts all passenger rail boats.

Spokker said...

And in the short term, that's what people will do. However, what I was getting at, if the "spine" is successful, and I think it will be, the system will be expanded to San Diego, Sacramento, etc.

It might even spur the development of high speed rail lines in other states. It might even spur a high speed rail line through the Altamont Corridor after all.

But before all that happens, the backbone has to be built.

Matt said...

It is amazing that people opposing HSR claim that it will not have anyone riding it, but also generate urban sprawl. If you have a significant amount of people using this to commute to work, how is it lacking in ridership? It's almost like the Yogism: "No one goes to that restaurant anymore; it's too crowded!"

This is people opposing it for other reasons, or just being afraid of anything new.

Spokker said...

Sprawl is going to happen no matter what. California's population is growing rapidly. People are coming from other states, other countries, and vaginas (ah, the miracle of birth). You need places to put these new people.

Originally, towns sprung up around rail stations. It was the automobile that allowed people to roam and move to the suburbs.

So again, I don't know how HSR creates more sprawl than cars, electric or otherwise.

It seems like giving people the choice of living in high or medium density housing near transit is a good option.

Spokker said...

My mistake, people are actually leaving California to OTHER states. Corrected! I guess it's all illegals then who are allergic to trains.

無名 - wu ming said...

anyone speaking of sprawl in the central valley as a conditional future state of existence has never driven down 99 (and, i suspect, is crying crocodile tears about the valley from a safe distance on the coast). several decades late on that one, the sprawl's already there, driven by cheap oil, anti-density urban planning, and the ubiquity of automobiles.

what would change that pattern would be a way of getting out of the valley other than driving, as the current rail network does not connect fresno to LA save by way of the bay area [!!!], and the only airport is way up in sacramento.

build a dedicated, high speed spine connecting the downtowns of existing (sprawled out) cities, and then every city can focus on working out adequate feeder systems into that spine. for the sprawled out, polluted, endemically underemployed central valley, this thing will be an absolute godsend.

one other advantage of this thing is that it reverses the 19th century mistake of letting private robber barons build critical public infrastructure. if our rail system had been built and maintained like we did and do our highway systems, this country would have turned out rather differently. never too late to stop digging ourselves into a hole.

njh said...

Here's an analysis of the theoretical limits to high speed rail (I've put this on my blog too). Corrections and thoughts welcome:

As high speed rail takes over from short hop air travel there will be demand for increased performance. MagLev technology may be useful for this, but how fast can steel wheels on steel rails go?

The TGV has been taken up to almost 580km/hour. The AGV will almost certainly be able to go faster. This is the same as the top maglev speed (I wonder if this means that power output is the limiting factor?).

There is no technical reason why railed vehicles can't go faster than planes (For example, the land speed record is 10000km/hour by a railed rocket sled, and the highest speeds measured have all been in evacuated guideways on magnetic levitation).

The main requirements are:

a) The ROW is suitably straight . At 27000km/hour the tangential acceleration from the earth's curvature alone is sufficient to lift the train off the track. Far below that tilting trains become necessary for passenger comfort on corners. Spain's Talgo passive, damped tilt trains already demonstrate a practical cornering at high speed on sharp corners. You can scale tilt and speed quadratically - quadruple the radius and you can double the speed for a given tilt, but adhesion improves dramatically with superelevation, allowing passive tilt trains to operate on cant excess and dramatically increase their top speed.

b) Sufficient power. The short contact time of pantographs allows a maximum current of about 2000A, which means that a 12MW train needs at least 6kV to operate. In practice a lower current (say 500A) and higher voltage is beneficial to reduce erosion and transmission losses. The practical voltage of a conventional pantograph is probably about 100kV (beyond which the diameter of the conductor to minimise dielectric breakdown becomes an issue), allowing a maximum power output of say 50MW (roughly the forwards power output of a 747). Planes on the other hand are fundamentally limited by something akin to the rocket equation - as their speed increases the fuel increases dramatically and it gets hard to carry enough without fundamental improvements to aerodynamics or energy storage. Planes can go higher to reduce some drag, but doing so increases the energy cost of climbing, which (discounting incredible improvements in energy storage) is lost on landing.

c) Aerodynamics. Even at just 350km/hour great care is taken to minimise drag and provide good adhesion and prevent ballast damage. This can be solved with evacuated tubes, which given the tunneling efforts in Europe, may be practical today (once you can build a tunnel, it is easy to line it and evacuate it - the difference in structural loading is negligible. The Large Hardon Collider is an example of such a design). Any improvement in plane aerodynamics can be transferred to trains, and without problems of induced drag and weight tradeoff. Ground effect may become useful for further improvements.

d) Braking. The current state of the art is inductive eddy braking, which works by turning the rail into a shorted motor. The rail heats up from this. Consider a 1000tonne 600km/hour (166m/s) train slowing at 0.3g in an emergency (brakes are never used in normal operation, much better to use regenerative braking). This generates an instantaneous power of

dE/dt = 1/2 m v*dv/dt = mva = 1000t * 166m/s * 0.3m/ss = 0.5GW

this sounds a lot, but consider that it is dissipating into 100kg/m rails at 166m/s. That means that the energy per metre of rail heats the rail by 0.5GW / ((166m/s * 100kg/m) * (0.45 J/g K)) = 67K ( = 67C)

e) Travelling waves in the catenary. A significant issue for high speed travel is the fact that as the pantograph pushes against the wire it lifts it slightly. As long as the wave generated moves away from the pantograph faster than the train is moving the wire doesn't move much. But just like a shockwave in the air, once the transverse wave is travelling at the same speed the wire will lift up until something gives (the wire snaps for example, or the train loses power and slows down). The speed of the traverse wave is proportional to the mass, tension, and stiffness of the wire, which is in turn proportional to the young's modulus and the bending area (second moment). We can thus increase the maximum operating speed of the wire by increasing the diameter, or the wire tension. These give a limit of about 700km/hour with copper clad steel. Another strategy is use a stiffer material such as glass fiber, or perhaps in the near future, carbon nanotubes (which can also be superconducting). Carbon nanotubes have 4 times the stiffness of steel and 7 times less dense too, allowing for perhaps 20 times the maximum velocity. Another intriguing idea, which I haven't confirmed with a suitable engineer, is to realise that just like with air, the problem only occurs very near the speed of wave propagation. Once you are traveling faster than the wave, you leave the bump behind. Unlike in air, we can change the speed of wave quite easily in the overhead wire simply by changing the tension. Thus, a train might accelerate to 600km/hour on low speed catenary, then cross onto 'high speed wire' tensioned to a speed of say 500 km/hour allowing it to accelerate to 1000km/hour. The pantograph might be retracted in the case that the train is about to drop below 500km/hour.

I suspect that given sufficient demand existing HSR routes can be brought up to 400mph average, which is about the same speed as a plane over the LA SF route. At that point it is basically game over for intracontinental and especially short haul planes.

Spokker said...

Haha, a 400 MPH train. Bring it on.

Cal said...

Prop 1 is going to win ..60-65 percent...Derail/northcoastfreedom/eastbay..Your are not going to like the daybreak on 11-5-08

Eric said...

A steel wheel on rail train can go just as fast as a maglev and their limits on top speed are close to the same (at sea level). This is because there is a lot of air resistance at sea level, something planes avoid by flying high. The way around this is to encapsulate the entire track and remove the air, but at huge costs. So right now, off the shelf HSR is a far better investment than maglev, which is a whole lot cheaper too and is capable of being integrated on to existing right of way at slower speeds (with the addition of catenary).

Rafael said...

@njh -

you're completely missing the point. HSR isn't about going as fast as technically possible, it's about going as fast as economically sensible. SNCF had to replace the overhead catenary after its latest speed record run, at a cost of around EUR 30 million. It was a publicity stunt and, not at all relevant to regular service.

The general consensus is that traditional steel wheels technology can be scaled up to around 250mph, beyond that the cost/benefit ratio goes out of the window. Still, that's plenty fast enough, especially now that uninterrupted broadband internet access is feasible (ok, still mostly via satellite but pure terrestrial won't be far behind).

Maglev can go even faster but as Jeremy "Car Nut" Clarkson's TV series "Speed" articulated so well, our demand for extreme speed is actually declining.

njh said...

eric: yes, I addressed that issue.

rafael: faster trains mean longer routes are viable, and shorter routes can induce more demand. There is plenty of interest in increasing top (and more importantly, average) speed worldwide, and the Chinese just announced intention to go to 235mph in a few years. I shall watch "Speed" and see what Jeremy Clarkson says.

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