Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama's HSR Plan (Mostly) Lauded - But How To Pay For It?

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

Thursday's announcement by President Barack Obama of the HSR Strategic Plan got a lot of attention in the media and on the blogs - which is just what California's project needs at this time. Obama's high-profile leadership for HSR should help focus our state, especially those involved in the contentious debates over how to build the trains along the planned corridor, on the big picture and the need to move forward quickly and effectively in building the high speed trains that are so essential to our nation's future.

Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic offered this assessment of the plan:

But I think the report’s basic outlines of the kinds of projects the federal government wants to fund with rail money are demonstrative of the administration’s seriousness in undertaking this project. By arguing that high-speed rail is most applicable for corridors between 100 and 600 miles in areas of moderate to high density, we can be assured that the government won’t be funding just any project with the limited funds available for rail. It’s good to know, in other words, that a line between El Paso and Phoenix isn’t going to get money over the connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

He also noted that a new National Rail Plan will be prepared and published in October. That plan may revise the list of HSR corridors, last updated in 2001:



This map includes such outdated concepts as an HSR corridor along the Coast Route from San Jose to LA via Salinas and SLO (not that I'd personally mind such a corridor, but it was rejected in the CHSRA's 2002 plan and isn't being considered for anything other than some upgrades to enable the Coast Daylight to operate) or defining Dallas to Tulsa as a vital HSR corridor but not Dallas-Houston.

One of the most common responses to Obama's announcement was the all important question of "how will we pay for it?" That's the question the LA Times tackled in yesterday's editorial:

High-speed rail networks might very well be the "smart transportation system" of the 21st century, as President Obama declared Thursday. The trouble is, we're using a very 20th century method to pay for them....

"Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. ... It's been happening for decades. The problem is, it's been happening elsewhere, not here," Obama said, referring to countries such as France, Japan, Spain and China that have impressive bullet-train networks. But there was something he failed to mention: With the exception of China, whose government can spend any way it likes, all of these countries impose steep taxes on gasoline. The taxes have the dual purpose of providing the funding to build public transit and encouraging people to ride it because they make driving prohibitively expensive. Gas taxes in the United States are minuscule in comparison.

Instead of raising the money to pay for his vision, Obama proposes to fund it with debt. So does the state of California, where voters last November approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for the San Diego-to-Sacramento train Obama aims to support. That's all well and good, except that the California train alone is expected to cost in excess of $40 billion. Obama's $13 billion over five years won't go far in building a national network that would cost hundreds of billions. So where's the rest of the money going to come from?

The LA Times is basically calling for a higher gas tax to be part of the upcoming transportation bill, and to fund passenger rail - including HSR - through that mechanism.

I strongly support that concept. I don't oppose using debt to build trains - long-term infrastructure projects are the best use of debt there is, and it's hard to make a case against spending $50 billion or so on a national HSR network when over $1 trillion has been spent to bail out well-connected Wall Street bankers - but we DO need a higher gas tax, and it ought to be used solely for improving mass transit, with passenger rail at the center.

A higher gas tax would also help provide long-term stable funding for high speed rail, just as the federal gas tax provided the funds to build out the Interstate Highway System (which took nearly 40 years to complete), instead of making HSR projects dependent on a highly unstable annual funding appropriation from the Congress. The moment Republicans take control of Congress or the White House back from the Democrats, which is a distinct possibility over the next 10 years, HSR funding would be in serious jeopardy.

President Obama is likely to tread very carefully and cautiously here. Despite the cries of "socialist!" from his right-wing opponents, Obama is a moderate Democrat who has tried hard to avoid alienating swing voters. His tax policies are designed to cut taxes for the lower and middle-class while raising them for the upper class. That's the right move for income taxes, but the moment he proposes a gas tax increase, he risks the possibility of giving fuel to the right-wing attacks and pissing off swing voters.

A higher gas tax is a very smart and necessary policy for this country. But it's also a political decision that the president is going to weigh with an eye to the 2012 election. I'm far from convinced Obama will support it, but it's something he ought to do.

63 comments:

Cas said...

I like the idea of this plan but what worries me is that it's the same HSR map that's been around for years, recycled through a different graphics arts design.

I think this map first showed up 15 years or so ago, during the Clinton administration. Maps are great, but we need specific plans and money. It worries me that they didn't bother to make revisions to account for changes since, particularly in California. It's almost like they're not aware that anything's changed.

Rafael said...

Japan and European countries levy high gas taxes because they have little or no oil of their own. As long as the US still has significant domestic reserves, there will be fierce opposition to any tax on it or products derived from it.

When gas prices rose sharply between 2002 and 2008, most everybody wanted them to come back down again. There is an expectation that gas is supposed to be cheap because it is difficult for consumers to change their consumption patterns in the short term.

The compact, fuel-efficient cars preferred by Japanese and European consumers did not come about overnight, nor did the extensive - and expensive - mass transit systems in those countries. Fuel taxes do work and work well, but only on generational time scales.

They do have the advantage that most of their cities predate the motor car. The higher population density makes mass transit and networks of bike paths (cp. Holland, Denmark) more viable.

Obama is the first US president in a long time who appears willing to expend political capital on truly long-term investments in infrastructure that will lead to structural reductions in oil consumption per capita long after he leaves office. He also understands that his country is just at the beginning of this slow transformation. Perhaps having two young children makes him more willing to make near-term sacrifices on their behalf and demand that others do so as well.

If slowly rising gas taxes are combined with slowly falling general sales taxes, the result need not be regressive. The important thing is to take a very long view. Slapping a dollar on the price of gasoline right now would be counterproductive, both politically and economically.

Deciding to raise the cost of a gallon by e.g. an extra $0.02 each and every month for the next 10 years would give both industry and consumers time to plan ahead. Btw, the additional $2.40 per gallon at the end of that period would still leave US consumers with cheaper gas than their Japanese and European counterparts.

Rafael said...

@ Cas -

it takes an act of Congress to change that map. USDOT cannot do it on a whim.

Now that there is real money on the table, an amount that Obama has called a down payment, I fully expect Congress to do just that in the context of the next surface transportation bill.

YesonHSR said...

Something like the Kerry bill has to move forward to fund CAHSR its far to big and complex to depend on these unsure funding plans.

Rob Dawg said...

What is wrong with a per mile tax for HSR riders? That's how the IHS was funded.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Cas, as I said in the post, that map is likely to be changed this year or next. Obama's DOT did not have the authority to unilaterally rewrite it themselves.

Rafael said...

@ Rob Dawg -

no need for such a tax, they will pay distance-based fares anyhow. Assuming that California consumers will take to HSR like their counterparts in every other country that offers bullet train service, the proceeds will be used to cover operating expenses and there some.

Not enough to pay back the capital cost of the starter line, but enough to pay off loans/pay dividends to private investors and, to expand the network.

Rapid rail, though very much worth having for many reasons, but it's hard to turn an operating profit at top speeds under 125mph.

What is "IHS" short for?

jim said...

It think it is important for california to complete our system first and get up and running Only then will there be a successful example for other americans to see. Once they see what its all about they will clamor for their own. As long as the only examples that can be referenced are foreign ones, americans will snub their noses at them.

YesonHSR said...

Interstate Highway System..and the first phase of the interstate was payed for 100% by Washington DC..to the tune of 25billion dollars 1956 money..whats that now? 500 billion?

BruceMcF said...

Rob Dawg said...
"What is wrong with a per mile tax for HSR riders? That's how the IHS was funded."

The IHS is funded by a tax on all motorists, whether they use the IHS or not. Its a cross-subsidy from urban drivers to suburban and rural drivers, which is made good by paying for urban streets out of local sales and income taxes. And even if road construction was fully funded by gas taxes, gas taxes will still be:

(1) Below the costs imposed on others by drivers over and above road building costs; and

(2) Too low to bring crude oil imports to an economically sustainable level.

BruceMcF said...

jim said...
"It think it is important for california to complete our system first and get up and running Only then will there be a successful example for other americans to see. Once they see what its all about they will clamor for their own. As long as the only examples that can be referenced are foreign ones, americans will snub their noses at them."

Meanwhile, seeding (in the new lingo) "Regional HSR" corridors across the country prevents the CA-HSR project from getting segregated and attacked during the long build period, and ensures that later "Express HSR" corridors can be built a segment at a time, with new services launched, relying on a mix of "Express HSR" and "Regional HSR" corridor while the rest of the "Express HSR" segments for that corridor are under construction.

jim said...

There needs to be a reliable funding source. With amtrak we are subject to being a political football and and regularly treated like a transportation stepchild from year to year. What needs to happen is some equity in funding between all the forms of transit under DOT. Highways and Railroads should be funded in equal amounts. Public funding of freight railroad improvements should also be on the table just as we publicly fund highways for for the movement of freight and there should be a goal of high speed freight rail as well.

jim said...

just as everyone will pay a fare in addition to the public funding to ride trains, so should everyone pay a toll to use the publicly funded nterstate system. That brings about a more level playing field - equal tax dollar amounts and equal out of pocket user expense then folks can pick their poison.

Brian Tyler said...

The LA Times article is correct, to a degree: Europe doesn't have the freeway network that America has, they have chosen to expand one system over the other. Nearly $30 billion in the stimulus bill went to fixing our freeways and highways; there is money out there for HSR (even if it is debt). Also, there is a distinct difference in the approach Obama is taking compared to France, Spain and China in building HSR. Instead of building all new lines, we're simply upgrading our infrastructure in the process of reviving it from a dilapidated state.

Missing Link said...

High gas tax when daily local useful public transportation is forsaken for a luxury high speed rail line. You completely screw the 99% of mainstreet with that concept.

Rafael said...

@ Brian Tyler -

"Instead of building all new lines, we're simply upgrading our infrastructure in the process of reviving it from a dilapidated state."

Regional HSR as Obama calls it will get preferential treatment early on because there's a need to start turning dirt quickly.

However, his strategic plan very much called for corridor development and identified Express HSR as speeds above 150mph. He specifically mentioned the California network as an example of this second phase.

Admittedly, Congress hasn't allocated enough money to fund that yet, but Obama is probably counting on members representing California, Florida and the Acela corridor to bump up his $1 billion/year supplemental request in the context of the budget.

Btw, the French did plenty of upgrading of legacy track in addition to laying down brand-new high-speed lines. Much of the time, TGVs actually run on legacy track, e.g. south of Avignon.

Japan upgraded some portions of its legacy narrow-gauge network to standard gauge without straightening the alignments. They call these mini-shinkansen.

Rafael said...

@ Missing Link -

who said anything about forsaking commuter rail to pay for HSR?

Indeed, the idea in California and elsewhere is to to boost all types of mass transportation. Prop 1A explicitly includes $950 million for "HSR Feeder" services.

The idea is that getting HSR will give counties and cities a reason to invest in local transit, with help from the state and/or federal governments. On Nov 4, voters acted in just this way on measure R in LA county, measure B in Santa Clara county and measure Q in Marin/Sonoma counties.

It's not either/or, it's both local and medium-distance (i.e. high speed) rail.

Admittedly, Obama did concentrate the relatively small sum in the stimulus bill on HSR specifically because people get more excited about that. He's trying to get Congress to grow the pie for mass transportation nationwide and, advocating more frequent bus service would not achieve that.

Anonymous said...

Rafael writes:

"Indeed, the idea in California and elsewhere is to to boost all types of mass transportation. Prop 1A explicitly includes $950 million for "HSR Feeder" services."

While Rafael is right on what indeed is written, he is wrong on substance.

Anyone who has followed the process knows full well, the $950 million was a "buyout" or "bribe" or whatever you want to call it to keep competing rail agencies from opposing this project. Hell, even cable cars in SF were originally supposed to get part of these funds.

missing link said...

Rafael, who said anything about commuter rail? I'm talking about flexible transit that actually gets people where they need to go, like to the grocery store, to work, to their home (not 5,10,15 miles away from their destinations). That's busses, shuttle networks, personal alternative energy commute vehicles, or whatever gets people within a reasonable walking distance from their end point. Its an absolute farce to say that rails serve our transportation needs in any significant way - trains go in straight lines. Period.

Its also a farce to say 'its not either/or its both'. It NEEDS to be one (commuter transportation), its icing on the cake to have the long distance rail. We're going for the icing, but certainly not both. Its NOT both, because there is absolutely no funding or focus on the local mass transit issue.

What will happen is that billions will get dropped on rail (medium speed, slow speed, high speed - blah blah blah), nothing on actually helpful transit solutions, and 4-8 years from now they'll look around and say, hey look - no reduction in auto usage, probably likely an increase as new auto technologies gets adopted and the economy starts putting people back to work. Congestion will go up at the same time that we're building trains to Disneyland for the upper class. The real revolution in transportation solutions is gonig to have to come after we placate this rail farce (with billions and billions).

By the way, what happens if California voters revolt on the special election tax increases? Whats the implication for CHSR funding?

Alon Levy said...

I'm talking about flexible transit that actually gets people where they need to go, like to the grocery store, to work, to their home (not 5,10,15 miles away from their destinations).To me, that's walking plus the subway. Rail is surprisingly good at dumping you within 5 blocks of where you want to go.

Robert Cruickshank said...

missing link, I have in the past advocated for a higher gas tax in CA to restore the State Transportation Account funds that were unconscionably cut to zero in the recent budget deal, as well as to boost urban mass transit. I would hope a federal gas tax could assist that as well.

It is not possible or desirable to make transit as flexible as you propose. What we need to do is to build spines of high-capacity trains along the most important corridors (whether that's HSR, commuter rail, or metro rail), support that with light rail and streetcars on the next tier of busy corridors down, and then link buses to all of that.

As to the May 19 propositions, their passage will do nothing to boost mass transit in California. And if Prop 1A passes it will likely do further damage, as it will virtually guarantee budget deficits well into the future.

BruceMcF said...

missing link said...
"Rafael, who said anything about commuter rail? I'm talking about flexible transit that actually gets people where they need to go, like to the grocery store, to work, to their home (not 5,10,15 miles away from their destinations). That's buses, shuttle networks, personal alternative energy commute vehicles, or whatever gets people within a reasonable walking distance from their end point. Its an absolute farce to say that rails serve our transportation needs in any significant way - trains go in straight lines. Period."

"Missing link" indeed. After spending over half a century spending public money subsidizing sprawl, we have a lot of people living in places that it is hard to provide public transport for.

Here's an idea: stop doing that, and switch the subsidy away from sprawl to mixed use development focused around walkable neighborhoods.

If those neighborhoods are strung along dedicated transport corridors, there are all sorts of existing technologies that are options that get people around the local area ... conventional light rail, streetcars, trolley buses, an "Aerobus" type technology, cycleways, 35mph electric carts.

But one way car addiction works is by relying on cars as a one-size-fits-all transport mode, for local transport, regional transport, and inter-regional transport.

When you adopt a public transport corridor that is specialized to providing local services both effectively and efficiently, then you have covered a range of transport needs. But you have also have lots of missing links ... in regional and inter-regional transport needs that require filling.

Rail is quite effective and efficient at filling those needs, and in particular electric rail.

Posing the question as a fight between local and regional and inter-regional transport modes is a strategy for losing before we start. Because HSR is an effective and resource efficient way of accomplishing its task, it requires less money to provide inter-regional transport capacity than the same capacity of highway lanes and airport runways, gates and terminals.

So arguing against the funding of HSR is arguing for putting more money than we have to into inter-regional transport.

jim said...

Alon Levy said...
I'm talking about flexible transit that actually gets people where they need to go, like to the grocery store, to work, to their home (not 5,10,15 miles away from their destinations).To me, that's walking plus the subway. Rail is surprisingly good at dumping you within 5 blocks of where you want to go."

Exactly I do the same thing. Walk and subway. You know that places you can get to in california via amtrak, metrolink, and other rail services combined are very extensive. Most people have no idea.

jim said...

America was built on rail. rail brought the country through the most industrious time in our history and helped win wars. It worked then. It will work now. What has to happen is that a new generation of americans needs to take the reigns as the last two generations are the softest, weakest, most spoiled, whiny generation the country has ever seen. If we would have had to give up food and products during Iraq the way we did during ww2, the war would have ended immediately. Todays american for some reason can't accept any solution to any problem unless it includes putting some kind of pacifier in their mouths.

Spokker said...

"Exactly I do the same thing. Walk and subway. You know that places you can get to in california via amtrak, metrolink, and other rail services combined are very extensive."

Today I used Metrolink, Metro Rail, Metro Bus and Amtrak to get to and from work today. While there's some waiting around of course, it was very comfortable and pleasant (well, the rail portion of it anyway), and I was able to catch up on some reading I've been meaning to do.

So when I go to the polls or voice my opinion I say, I want me more of that rail!

Get REAL said...

Today I used Metrolink, Metro Rail, Metro Bus and Amtrak to get to and from work today

How convenient! You only needed to use 4 different methods?

Now add a briefcase, 3 kids, two schools, 5 bags of groceries, a bass clarinet and two baseball games.

C'mon, does anyone on this blog actually live in California? Or are we all a bunch of snot nose college kids here?

Spokker said...

"How convenient! You only needed to use 4 different methods?"

I never said it was convenient. I said it was comfortable. I greatly prefer it to driving.

"Now add a briefcase, 3 kids, two schools, 5 bags of groceries, a bass clarinet and two baseball games. "

A lot of kids take the city bus to school all the time. Live closer to the grocery store. Before sprawl there were much smaller stores that were more convenient instead of these super marts where shopping is a baffling ordeal. Personally, I walk to my grocery store and use a little cart to haul my crap home.

All these things are made more difficult for most people because of unmitigated, unsustainable sprawl. If you absolutely have to drive to get something to eat there's something wrong with your living arrangement and you have no clue how to plan your life.

Spokker said...

Regarding my specific commute, if the Los Angeles subway were originally built as planned, it would be must faster and easier and not require a transfer to bus. It's just another way that politics and fear mongering result in a discombobulated mass transit network. Luckily the "Subway to the Sea" is back on the drawing board, and although I will have probably changed jobs by the time it could benefit me, such a project would be a boon for those who live and/or work in West Los Angeles.

jim said...

@getreal C'mon, does anyone on this blog actually live in California? Or are we all a bunch of snot nose college kids here" Uh yeah well Ive been here 40 years and used public transit since I was a teen to get to school and work. not in college, not a kid, not rich or poor just an ordinary working person who has made choices that ensure I do not have to depend on driving everywhere. I live close to where I work and I live in a neighborhood that has everything I need within walking distance. I wouldn't consider having it any other way. If you ahve made other choices then you have to live with those consequences.

jim said...

and why are you driving your kids to school? Geez we had to walk like everyone else. no wonder kids are obese today.

jim said...

I don't have kids but if I did they would sure get a bus pass and learn how to read a map and schedule if they wanted to go anywhere.

Spokker said...

But Jim, what about... strangers?! Despite the fact that kids have a higher chance of being molested by someone they know, like a close family friend or a family member, we cannot at any time let our precious children ride the city bus to school! God forbid they learn some independence!

Wait a second, the brown looking kids in urban areas have been doing it for years. Their parents must not care about them!

jim said...

When I did drive and lived in the burbs - I hated it - everywhere I went I had to drag this 2ooo pound hunk of belching expensive metal and plastic everywhere I went someplace. I hated having to go tot he gas station all the time. hated having to get into that car every single time I needed anything. what a waste of resources, a waste of time. i gained more weight living in the suburbs too. I think that's why there are so many fat women in the grocery aisles now. In the city, I take my groceries in a granny cart and walk them 12 blocks home. same when I drop off the laundry. using public transit is very freeing. and it will get even better with more investment. Toll roads are a must.

jim said...

these kids run all over muni on their own. I rode the boston T with my friend when I was a kid too. when visiting back east. Rode the city bus to shcool in richmond california too. my parents tought me how to fend for myself, there was no way they - or any parents of any friends - were gonna chaffeur us anywhere. We weren't even allowed in the house most of the time.

Spokker said...

"In the city, I take my groceries in a granny cart and walk them 12 blocks home."

I've heard of people not doing this because it makes them feel "weird" or "stupid." Jesus Christ, some people really need to get over themselves. Nobody cares and the people that do are pricks anyway.

There's such a stigma surrounding mass transit but what gives me hope is all the young people I see on the bus, the subway or other trains. These are people who are utilizing a great resource today and will probably continue using it in the future. I'm not saying everybody should chuck their car into a river, but when it comes to choosing a place to live accessibility should be a priority.

Far too often people live in inaccessible places and expect their car to make up the difference. That era is slowly but surely dying.

jim said...

helpless. Just once I'd like to hand one of these college students a train schedule and have them be able to read it. 0% can do it. Including the cal poly students.

Spokker said...

The only thing I feel bad about when it comes to the death of suburbia is the end of big dog ownership. You can't really bring your big dog on the train nor do they do well in apartments and condos.

I wouldn't get a little dog though. That's too... well, you know. Might as well get a cat at that point.

jim said...

But to get back to funing... Toll roads. all state highways and intersates whould have tolls. The tolls raised on each road should not go into a general fund but should be lsated for that particular road only. So those roads with the most traffic generate the most money and get the most repairs. The I-5 money goes only to i-5. for instance. make the roads self sustaining as far as maintenance. The roads would be in much better shape. Then use the gas tax for transit.

jim said...

lots of pole in sf still have big dogs. and some folks will still in the mountains and rural areas. The problem with suburbs is that they turn into ghettos after 20 years.

jim said...

people

Spokker said...

Let me tell you about my Surfliner trip tonight. There was a beautiful sunset and as we departed Los Angeles toward the south the downtown skyline looked incredible. That's not something you can really appreciate when you're a solo driver. Some of the best sunsets I've ever seen were while I was on a train.

And all the while I'm listening to my MP3 player and hearing, Goin' up to the spirit in the sky
That's where I'm gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that's the best
Trains are the best. Fuck suburbia and fuck your kid's soccer practice.

jim said...

I like LA need to get down there more often. Can't wait to get the HSR trains running. I can go down for the day and be home by midnight.

Elliott said...

The new plan must include a maglev design that mirrors our existing Interstate Highway System. The whole continental U.S. must be linked by one uniform, lightning-fast network. If the new high-speed rail plan remains fragmented (and encompasses outdated, traditional high-speed technology), America will never realize the expected benefits of a new system. The investment will only pay off if the job is done right. See this blog:

http://obamaformaglev.blogspot.com/

Rafael said...

@ Elliott -

conventional steel wheels bullet trains aren't outdated at all. Countries all over the world are investing heavily in new track and rolling stock as we speak: California, Spain, China, France, Holland, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Vietnam, Israel, Argentina, Sweden and the UK (if the Conservatives get elected). And I probably forgot a few.

China, the only country with maglev in commercial operation, has decided against building more of it.

Japan's JR Central will now go ahead with building the $44 billion Chuo shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka, but 60% of the line will have to be underground in spite of the fact that maglev can climb 8% gradients. The only reason they can afford such a massive investment is because their conventional steel wheels HSR services are hugely profitable.

Conclusion: maglev only makes sense between very large cities that have lots of connecting transit and an established culture of traveling by rail. Because of the extremely high infrastructure cost (typically 2-3x that of steel wheels bullet trains), you need to run a boatload of trains at high capacity utilization.

In the US, maglev may one day be appropriate for the densely populated Acela corridor, e.g. on aerials in the freeway medians. That's about it.

The hard part is getting in and out of city centers, since maglev trains cannot leverage legacy steel wheels tracks already going there. It's possible the environmental issues of running maglev on aerials above city streets will prove manageable because the technology is quiet at moderate speeds.

Southern California had considered maglev for freight, with stable levitation based on Halbach arrays of permanent magnets, but it has since dropped the idea. Passenger maglev was also nixed as soon as voters approved steel wheels bullet trains.

Sen. Harry Reid still has maglev pipe dreams because he thinks the technology is more "Vegas" but I suspect Sin City will end up a new destination on the California corridor, which would mean a steel wheels spur off the steel wheels network, with trains running at max. 220mph through the desert.

BruceMcF said...

jim said...
"... Toll roads. all state highways and intersates whould have tolls. The tolls raised on each road should not go into a general fund but should be slated for that particular road only. So those roads with the most traffic generate the most money and get the most repairs. ... The roads would be in much better shape. Then use the gas tax for transit."

The roads would probably not be in better shape ... the loss of the massive cross subsidy from urban driving on city streets, in particular, would mean the tolls would have to be substantial, which would drive cars off the road, and then for much of the country there would be a lose-lose between tolls too low to pay for the damage cause by the traffic still on the Interstate or tolls too high to allow much traffic on the Interstate, generating too little revenue to keep up with weathering and other depreciation over time.

Establishing the Interstate Highway System based on cross-subsidies from urban driving implies building up a system beyond the point of being able to maintain itself, which is where we are already at. Add in oil price shocks, and we may see in some twenty or thirty years some HSR right of ways obtained by handing over Interstate Highway lanes that states can no longer afford to maintain ... especially for football field wide "outerbelts" around major Sundbelt cities.

The Way I see it said...

As the title of this thread say:

(Mostly) Lauded Now here is an article
High-speed train to Nowheresvillewhich really has it right.

Adirondacker said...

In the US, maglev may one day be appropriate for the densely populated Acela corridor, e.g. on aerials in the freeway medians. That's about it.I assume you are talking about the I95 Corridor. The median between New Haven and New Brunswick is mostly as wide as the Jersey Barrier that defines the median. Widens out here and there and there are places where there's plenty of space .... usually because the roadway is elevated high above the swamp. So you are talking about tearing down the elevated so you can make one that is strong enough to carry trains or digging a tunnel... from New Haven to New Brunswick. This is one of the easiest to understand from a Google street view, Jerome ave and the Cross Bronx Expressway The median is a Jersey Barrier. Difficult but not impossible to insert a elevated structure there. Can't do it one level up because Jerome Avenue is in the way. Can't do it two levels up because the Jerome Avenue El ( the 4 train ) is in the way. I guess you could have a HSR line teetering over the El but it's gonna be very very expensive.

Threading trains through the interchange for the Bruckner, Cross Bronx and the Hutchinson River Parkway - not to mention the river - would be interesting. Or over the underpasses and overpasses that occur every few blocks. Or the interchanges with the Deegan ( I87 ) and the Henry Hudson Parkway, E178st etc. That puts the maglev station on E178st, a bit far from Midtown. Same kind of problems around Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New Haven, New London, Providence and Boston.

Over or under the NEC might make more sense.

would mean the tolls would have to be substantial, which would drive cars off the road


Median toll on roads in the Northeast and Midwest is 5 cents a mile. Yes some people get on the US highway or the Interstate alternates to go places but the toll roads do a very brisk business. This is just my opinion but if have a choice between the toll road and the one maintained by the state DOT, I take the toll road. They are faster and better maintained.

jim said...

Most states in the midwest and east use toll roads. and the toll roads implemented recently in So Cal are very nice as well. If nothing else, 1-5 should be a toll road from border to border. 10 cents a mile. In Addition to that... all roads entering Cali from bordering states should charge 20 bucks per car to cross the border in to cali.

jim said...

@theway I sese it- that article and the responses are just a bunch of dinosaurs bemoaning their slow death. The old was of thinking was soundly defeated and a new generation is moving the country forward into the 21st century. Get on board or get out of the way.

Bianca said...

@ The Way I see it:

That editorial is cherry-picking its facts. Sure HSR is subsidized in Europe. Explain to me how subsidies for HSR are a bad thing. Then explain to me how subsidies for HSR are different than subsidies for highways and air travel. All transport systems are subsidized. So the Acela isn't as fast as it could be. True enough. But that doesn't mean that a) the Acela isn't enormously popular (it is) and b) we can't do HSR properly here in California (yes we can.)

The era of cheap petroleum is over. The alternative to not building HSR is not doing nothing. Grumbling about how expensive HSR is doesn't mean the alternatives are cheaper.

Alon Levy said...

Get Real: if your kids can't get to school on their own, then either you're a terrible parent, or you need to move out of whichever auto-only suburb you live in.

Rafael: curve radii on I-95 are way too tight for any kind of HSR - in some areas they're even tighter than the NEC's. It's much more useful to spend the money on constructing curve bypasses in Connecticut, essentially letting commuter and regional trains take the curves while the Acela can run on straight track and overtake them.

Jimmy Pittman said...

When gas jumped in price last year, several mass transit systems were forced to cut service- in a time of mass exodus to transit- because there was not enough gas tax revenue to support them! How ironic is this going to get! This makes transit depend on gasoline being sold, and cars driving around; this is an unsustainable and oxymoronic idea. Stable funding? I think not.

Adirondacker said...

It's much more useful to spend the money on constructing curve bypasses in Connecticut, essentially letting commuter and regional trains take the curves while the Acela can run on straight track and overtake them.


Alon, when you have an idle moment or two go look at the ROW for the Connecticut Turnpike between New London and New Haven and the NEC with all it's curvy bits that alternate with grade crossings and balky drawbridges. That's one place where putting the expresses along the ROW for I95 might make sense. The Turnpike and the NEC cross over each other just east of New Haven and again in New London. Not much of median to work with though.

Spokker said...

Jimmy, the whole thing is pretty retarded, but transit has to take what it can get.

Alon Levy said...

Adirondacker: I-95 is a feasible bypass alignment from New Haven to Old Saybrook, and maybe for a few more curves like Darien-Norwalk and Greenwich-Stamford, but by and large it's hardly better than the NEC. For example, it has a sharp curve between Old Saybrook and New London. In many cases, it's better to round the corner by running elevated over an arterial road, such as Route 156 for the curve east of Niantic.

Adirondacker said...

I-95 is a feasible bypass alignment from New Haven to Old Saybrook,. . . For example, it has a sharp curve between Old Saybrook and New London. In many cases, it's better to round the corner by running elevated over an arterial road, such as Route 156 for the curve east of Niantic. I haven't looked at it hard. Yes there is a sharp curve north of Old Saybrook - at the interchange with I395? The land is relatively undeveloped up there. They could either bypass the curve - which means an expensive bridge or tunnel crossing the Niantic estuary. Maybe they could swing out to the north and curve back in. Or since it's only a few miles from New London, go slower between Old Saybrook and New London. I don't see an El over 156, too suburban.

maybe for a few more curves like Darien-Norwalk and Greenwich-Stamford

West/South of New Haven much of the Turnpike is elevated already with nothing more than Jersey barrier between the opposing lanes. I didn't even consider it. In places it seems that you could reach out and touch the buildings across the shoulder. New Haven to New Brunswick it's not going to be politically feasible to do much. Probably not economically feasible either. For instance the new bridges over the Hackensack are possible because it's mostly swamp out there. Try to straighten the infamous curve south of Elizabeth ...there'd be a lot more to be done.

Alon Levy said...

South of New York, the catenary is a bigger problem than the track geometry - it limits the trains to 135 mph. In most of New Jersey the tracks are very straight, and even in Pennsylvania they're reasonable. The only sharp curve between Newark and Philadelphia is near Metuchen, where it's impossible to do anything without Chinese-style destruction of houses. Between Philly and Baltimore the ROW is only somewhat less straight, but a) it's straighter than I-95, and b) there's enough room for straightening most curves. Really the only section between New York and Washington where the tracks are a problem is near Baltimore, where the trains slow to 30 mph.

Anonymous said...

Laughing at jim (again and again)

"The old was of thinking was soundly defeated and a new generation is moving the country forward into the 21st century. Get on board or get out of the way."

Returning to a 19th century of travel isn't considered moving forward to the 21st. Laughing at you.

Alon Levy said...

If HSR is 19th century, then cars are prehistoric. Roads aren't a new invention.

Anonymous said...

Traveling on a fixed track is 19th century. HSR is the equivalent of injecting steroids in a horse to make a buggy and carriage go faster.

Alon Levy said...

Traveling on roads in your own vehicle is so prehistoric. The internal combustion engine is just a new way of powering a carriage.

jim said...

well aon im glad you are getting your jollies, but I hate to tell you - as a railroad employee, who sells train tickets to young people en masse everyday, they are on board with the whole shebang and will be leaving you in their dust. So believe what you want, but the numbers say other wise. They ahve a word for folks like you " dinosaur"

jim said...

@anon - laugh it you like but the tickets I sell en masse to young folks everyday tell a different story. They are so on board with this. they have a word for folks like you "dinosaur"