Thursday, August 13, 2009

Edward Glaeser Continues His Assault on HSR

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

Part 3 of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser's series on HSR costs and benefits is up at the New York Times' Economix Blog. This week's entry focuses on the environmental impact of trains, and "other social benefits" that are rather nebulously defined. Parts of his entry are less objectionable than in the past, but overall Glaeser's approach to HSR, based on an arbitrarily limited set of factors, continues to produce anti-HSR conclusions that lead me to wonder if that was his goal all along.

Before getting into the meat of his analysis, Glaeser took a moment to defend himself against criticism, including from this blog, about his choice of a Dallas-Houston HSR route:

As in the previous two posts, I focus on a mythical 240-mile-line between Houston and Dallas, which was chosen to avoid giving the impression that this back-of-the-envelope calculation represents a complete evaluation of any actual proposed route. (The Texas route will be certainly far less attractive than high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor, but it is not inherently less reasonable than the proposed high-speed rail routes across Missouri or between Dallas and Oklahoma City.)

This is a totally misleading comparison. It's not Texas vs. the NEC, or even Missouri vs. the NEC. Although the blog post is headed with an image of a California high speed train, Glaeser never once mentions the California route. Nor does he mention the other federal HSR corridors, many of which connect cities with denser populations than the Sunbelt cities he insists on examining. Glaeser's entire argument is basically an examination of Texas HSR, and not of the actual national HSR plan. So his entire exercise is somewhat suspect in my mind.

Glaeser's focus is on carbon emissions, and here he isn't quite wrong:

If I assume, relatively arbitrarily, that one-half of the rail riders used to take cars and one-half used to take planes, and that there is no extra travel generated by the rail line, then each 240-mile train trip eliminates 113 pounds of carbon dioxide for each passenger in our atmosphere. These estimates suggest that trains are green, which differs from the studies, which include the emissions from building the rail system, cited by Eric Morris at Freakonomics.

Which confirms some of what we have been saying on this blog for quite some time. The CHSRA's own studies have predicted that 12 billion pounds of carbon emissions per year would be eliminated. Obviously one can and should debate those numbers, but that's pretty compelling stuff, and it's good that Gleaser understands the role HSR can play in reducing emissions.

Glaeser doesn't stop here. I think it is a sound concept to try and place the reduced emissions in a broader context. But Glaeser hasn't really done this in an effective way:

Combining reduced carbon emissions, reduced congestion and reduced traffic mortality provides an extra $21.63 million worth of benefits a year from the rail line, which increases the $102 million benefit minus operating costs figure from last week to $124 million, which is still far less than the $648 million estimated cost per year of building and maintaining the infrastructure.

The environmental and mortality benefits of rail are real, but the magnitude of the social benefits from switching modes seems is quite small relative to the cost of the system.


I'll let someone else check the numbers here. What bugs me is that yet again Glaeser assesses this on its own. What of the cost of doing nothing? How much savings would the trains be over the costs of building new roads and airports to handle any increased demand?

Also left unstated are the other economic benefits of rail. What of the jobs it creates? And the tax revenues those jobs create? What of the green dividend - the new economic activity created by freeing people from congestion and oil dependence?

Once again Glaeser fails on this. He uses an unrepresentative HSR line and assesses it outside the full context, without discussing the true costs and the true benefits.

Note: I am currently in Pittsburgh, PA for the Netroots Nation meeting of progressive bloggers. My posting may be a bit sporadic, but I hope to keep up with the one-a-day ideal.

Yesterday was a travel day for most attendees, as it was for me, and thunderstorms caused major delays at airports here in the northeastern US. Some were stuck on their landed planes, sitting at the gate, unable to deplane because of the possibility of lightning striking the metal jetway. Friends of mine who came to Pittsburgh from nearby eastern cities frequently remarked how much easier this would have been had there been a high speed train available - one that can operate in a thunderstorm.

60 comments:

Rafael said...

For obvious reasons, any evaluation of indirect CO2 emissions related to riding in an electric vehicle must include how that electricity is produced.

CHSRA has decided it will run its trains on 100% renewable electricity, i.e. for every MWh the HSR system consumes over e.g. a year, one MWh of wind/solar/geothermal/biomass electricity will be produced that otherwise would not have been. It's silly to insist on renewable production for every second of every day, because CO2 isn't a toxic substance - the issue is climate change, which happens on much longer time scales.

HSR in China runs on electricity from coal-fired power plants, typically based on inefficient and dirty combustion technology. Ergo, CO2 emissions per train-mile are higher in China than they will be in California. Whether that is also true per passenger-mile depends on the seat capacity utilizations.

Prior to the decision to switch to renewable electricity, CHSRA's numbers suggested that CO2 emissions related to the construction of the network would be on the order of 16 months of operations at full capacity. Considering that the new alignment will be in use for many decades, that is a secondary consideration.

For reference, manufacturing a conventional car contributes 12-15% of its life cycle CO2 emissions. However, its life expectancy is just 10-15 years, depending on annual mileage. I haven't seen any corresponding numbers for hybrids, nor for plug-in hybrids or pure EVs.

jim said...

if we allow Diablo Canyon to add the additional reactors is was already designed for it would power the whole system with plenty left over.

Rafael said...

Another thing: in France, HSR runs almost exclusively on nuclear power. Obviously, that doesn't involve any CO2 emissions.

However, radioactive waste is a real headache - even in small quantities - because absolutely no-one is prepared to permit its storage in their back yard: the Obama administration recently canceled plans for a long-term repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That means the civilian nuclear industry in the US is now officially back to square one.

Decommissioning nuclear reactors that have reached the end of their safe lifespan is another huge unsolved problem, as is transporting radioactive material. The issues aren't so much technological as political, but that doesn't mean they can be brushed aside. Until and unless a bona fide long-term solution for legacy nuclear waste is actually in commercial operation, it is highly unlikely IMHO that any new civilian reactors at all will be commissioned in the US.

On a related note: global reserves of primary uranium are quite limited but civilian reactors only use about 5% of the energy contained in their fuel rods. Reprocessing can stretch supplies for centuries, though it does create dangerous byproducts, e.g. plutonium. Ergo, reprocessing is not something you'd want the North Koreas and Irans of the world to get into.

Every method of electricity generation, including renewables, has environmental downsides. An assessment based on CO2 emissions alone would be severely biased.

Anonymous said...

Nutroots Nation?

mike said...

FWIW, Glaeser's ridership numbers are way too low. There are currently ~4.4 million seats flown between Houston and Dallas every year, which should mean at least 3.7 million passengers at current load factors. (Incidentally this is around 1/4th the SF-LA air corridor traffic.)

Since Houston-Dallas is a straight shot of less than 240 miles on flat land, I'd expect HSR to complete the run in 1 hr 40 mins or less. With those timings, it will very easily take 80-90% of the entire air corridor traffic (cf. Paris-Lyon), so expect over 3 million passengers diverted from air alone. Add in some diverted car trips and induced demand, and you should get at least 6 million trips, probably more.

Interestingly, at those numbers, the cost-benefit calculation that Glaeser is applying starts to turn in HSR's favor, despite the fact that Dallas-Houston is probably not the most attractive route for HSR in the US.

BruceMcF said...

Note further that if ridership was 1.5m, at 240miles, the route is well within reach of a Regional HSR system. And, indeed, Glaeser lies om comparing his hypothetical HSR corridor to real world Emerging HSR corridors, since he bases his capital cost per mile on the GAO report figures for Express HSR project proposals.

Based on the Emerging HSR project proposals from the same report, he is inflating the capital cost by anywhere from three time to TEN TIMES.

He is either deflating ridership or inflating capital cost.

mike said...

Incidentally, I don't know if I'd characterize Glaeser (or at least his exercise) as being anti-HSR in a global sense.

Applying his net-benefit-per-rider numbers to California implies that if the system costs $40 billion to build, then the break-even point from a cost-benefit analysis is attracting 20 million riders or more (which should be easy). If the system costs $80 billion (as the anti-HSR folks are predicting), then the break-even point from a cost-benefit analysis is 40 million riders or more (also quite attainable for the full system).

Of course, that's only if you don't take into account the fact that the Feds are contributing. Once you factor that in, the break-even point from the perspective of California voters is less than 10 million riders at $40 billion and less than 20 million riders at $80 billion.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

ah yes, Diablo Canyon / Abalone Alliance saga: the reactor built just 2 miles from the offshore Hosgri fault with seismic supports in the wrong place, oodles of lost documentation, the co-opted NRC and Sierra Club organizations looking the other way and a lawyer ending up dead in his car after filing a complaint related to seismic risk.

Given the nuclear industry's track record, I'd rather utilities build some large diameter wind turbines in the Tehachapis, thermal solar plants in the desert and/or biomass plants in the Central Valley to provide the additional ~480MW generating capacity required to support the completed HSR network at full capacity.

Geothermal output is harder to increase because only the Geysers field in Mendocino county produces dry steam. It is constrained by the amount of available water. Other locations include Inyo and Imperial county, but those fields produce wet steam with large amounts of dissolved minerals. The field south of the Salton Sea could be supplied with additional water from the Colorado river, but they are smack on the San Andreas fault. There's also the issue of how to deliver the electricity to consumers in e.g. San Diego.

For reference: California already has ~50GW total generating capacity. I reckon no new generating capacity at all would be needed for HSR if California simply banned sales of incandescent light bulbs and cheap, inefficient models of home A/C units.

AndyDuncan said...

California's current "renewable" power portfolio was 10.6% in 2008.

If you add in large hydro and nuclear to that it was more like 36.5%. CA passed a law requiring a minimum 20% renewable by 2020, which (assuming they get that 10% from coal and natural gas rather than closing nuclear plants), would put CA at around 47% non-carbon generating power.

Calculations regarding the CO2 output of HSR need to take into account the expected mix of renewable power not just now, but what that mix will be when service starts, as well as what that mix is expected to be over the lifetime of the project.

Quite frankly I think the CO2 emissions reductions are secondary, but they will certainly swing the calculations in favor of HSR if/when we get a carbon tax or a cap/trade system.

mike said...

To followup on Bruce's point, even with "Emerging HSR" you could get timings under 3 hrs from Dallas to Houston. At which point the timings would be close to an Acela Express run from WAS to NYP and faster than a NE Regional run from WAS to NYP. Amtrak has over 50% market share on that run, so there is no reason to think that Emerging HSR wouldn't capture ~2 million of the 3.7 million air passengers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Emerging HSR could hit 3 million+ passengers at a capital cost of $2-3 billion.

In other words, double Glaeser's ridership at one-fifth Glaeser's costs. Looks like things are one order of magnitude better than he predicted!

Amusingly, he also got his air corridor passenger numbers wrong. He claims that his 1.5 million riders number is "about as popular as all airplane flights between the two cities are today." But the link he provides reports total Dallas-Houston air corridor passengers to be 4.3 million per year! It looks like he neglected to read that the 2.15 million number in the table was for each direction - he forgot to multiply by two! Well, he was famous for desk rejecting papers from the Quarterly Journal of Economics in less than 15 minutes...

AndyDuncan said...

@Rafael Given the nuclear industry's track record, I'd rather utilities build some large diameter wind turbines in the Tehachapis, thermal solar plants in the desert and/or biomass plants in the Central Valley to provide the additional ~480MW generating capacity required to support the completed HSR network at full capacity.

We still need some sort of base-load power generation though. Nuclear is an imperfect, but pretty good option for that.

Graham said...

Isn't it great! Glaeser's numbers end up telling us what we already know: you need high ridership (up around 6-8 million a year) to justify building an Express HSR line. It's just that he doesn't believe that Express HSR will generate such ridership between Dallas and Houston - he estimates 1.5 million riders a year, where most HSR advocates (see above) would say 6 million. This is a reasonable disagreement - its just that the professionals who do this kind of thing for a living (and every bit of experience with revenue-service new high speed rail) is on the advocates side, and not Glaeser's. Wouldn't it be great if he concluded his series by acknowledging this (along BruceMcF's point about cheaper alternatives).

Rafael said...

@ AndyDuncan -

first off, nuclear is by definition not renewable over the lifetime of the planet. Uranium atoms don't re-assemble after they are split in a reactor. They just don't.

Hydro power is renewable, though it also has major downsides and there are essentially no rivers left to dam in Califoria. However, casually lumping nuclear together with hydro really is greenwashing of the very worst kind. The nuclear industry would surely applaud your efforts at totally misleading the general public.

As for the tired old saw that "we must have nuclear for base load": the Germans are figuring out how to phase out both coal and nuclear at the same time. Expensive? Yes. But also doable, especially if consumers have an incentive to conserve electricity.

And please don't tell me nuclear power is cheap, that's a canard. For example, the aforementioned Diablo Canyon plant was supposed to cost $300 million, the final tab was $5.8 billion plus $7.5 billion in financing charges. Construction wouldn't have been completed at all if Pres. Reagan hadn't forced EPA - freakin' EPA - to extend a soft $2.5 billion loan to PG&E.

Add to that the fact that we're simply foistering the undefined but sure to be massive bills for long-term waste storage and the decommissioning of hundreds of civilian reactors at the end of their useful life onto future generations. You can't kick that can down the road forever.

Rafael said...

Quick shout out to some other bloggers out there debunking Ed Glaeser's latest installment on HSR:

- Ed Glaeser's Rail Fail by Ryan Avent

- Ed Glaeser just plain lies about High Speed Rail by BruceMcF

BruceMcF said...

mike said...
"Amtrak has over 50% market share on that run, so there is no reason to think that Emerging HSR wouldn't capture ~2 million of the 3.7 million air passengers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Emerging HSR could hit 3 million+ passengers at a capital cost of $2-3 billion."

And note the point that Ryan Avent makes (Ed Glaeser's rail fail), that Ed Glaeser's analysis does not include congestion effects, even though existing intercity transport infrastructure is heavily congested.

At an annualized capital cost of around $80m-$90m, 1m passengers would need a net transport benefit per passenger of $80-$90 to hit a B/C ratio of 1.0 ... at 3m passengers, only $30 or less.

That's likely from direct transport benefit alone and a dead lock in a heavily congested intercity corridor ... at which point the environmental benefits are all gravy.

Anonymous said...

As predicted in the previous thread, the rail experts, have now become economic experts.

I wonder what the ratio of readers of this blog, or all the blogs that pick this up, is to the NY Times.

Might I suggest 1:10000 for a start.

AndyDuncan said...

@Rafael: well I said "non carbon generating" didn't I? And claiming that nuclear power isn't renewable because we'll run out of fissionable stuff in a couple million years sort of misses the point. We have hundreds of years worth of Uranium and Thorium, and likely much more.

I also never said that nuclear was cheap, so you can stop complaining I did. It's really expensive, I agree with that, but so is trying to provide base-load with renewables.

As for decommissioning and waste handling, the french (while we're pointing fingers at europe) do a pretty good job reprocessing their fuel and minimizing that problem. Also the aforementioned thorium cycle is both a good way to break down existing waste stockpiles and a much better long term generation prospect.

Anywhoo. Nuclear's not great, but it's not the boogeyman either.

Rafael said...

@ AndyDuncan -

putting quotes around the word renewable doesn't make nuclear any greener. Whatever co-opted politicians may think, carbon emissions aren't the only metric worth looking at.

AndyDuncan said...

@Rafael, the quotes around renewable in my comment were referring the the 10.6% that california calls renewable, and it doesn't include nuclear or large hydro (which you seem to think should be included, even if it can't be expanded).

And the reason I was only looking at carbon output, rather than going into a cost-benefit and environmental analysis of nuclear power (or coal, or oil, or gas, or solar, or wind, or tidal) is because carbon output per mile was what the original article was talking about.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:51pm -

not everyone who reads the NYT reads the Economix blog or Ed Glaeser's posts on it. Even so, the number of people who read a blog post is unrelated to whether or not the argument it advances holds water.

Besides, if you don't think anyone you care about reads our little blog here, why are you bothering to comment?

Rafael said...

@ AndyDuncan -

"[...] carbon output per mile was what the original article was talking about [...]"

And there's the problem in a nutshell.

AndyDuncan said...

@Rafael And there's the problem in a nutshell.

Well, then next time I'll make sure to point out ALL the problems with a particular article instead of just one, for fear I might be labelled an accomplice :-)

BruceMcF said...

Anonymous said...
"As predicted in the previous thread, the rail experts, have now become economic experts."

{buzz} Sorry, your prediction was that legal experts would become economic experts.

And, no, I don't see the lawyer or law students who were here or at Clem's blog talking about "standing to sue" and all that mumbo jumbo all of a sudden talking about benefit/cost ratios.

So what you are actually saying is you don't have the analytical chops to argue the merits of the analysis, and are limited to guessing which is right based on the academic credentials of the participants?

Ed Glaeser is certainly by far the highest status, most prominent economist of the three of us cited in this blog posting and comment thread. That, however, is no protection against reaching the wrong conclusion as a result of a flawed analysis.

Peter said...

Thank you, BruceMcF, nicely stated.

mike said...

As predicted in the previous thread, the rail experts, have now become economic experts.

I am actually an economic expert by profession and a rail "expert" only by hobby (in fact, I wouldn't really describe myself as an expert in the latter case, only the former).

Anonymous said...

Rafael writes:

For example, the aforementioned Diablo Canyon plant was supposed to cost $300 million, the final tab was $5.8 billion plus $7.5 billion in financing charges.


Bay bridge started near $1 billion. Now approaching 7 billion plus financing.

High speed rail supposed to cost $35 billion in the first phase. It will cost $100 billion minimum plus financing.

Get the picture? When are we ever going to learn not to believe the promoters on cost projections?

Alon Levy said...

My heartfelt condolences on Yearly Kos, Robert. I went in 2006, and some of the imagery there came straight out of Triumph of the Will. The event's highlight was Maryscott O'Connor getting a standing ovation when she said that health care, education, and Iraq were the only political issues worth discussing for Democrats.

Anyway, Glaeser isn't anti-HSR. He's anti-investment in the Heartland. The other posts he writes on his blog betray Northeastern superiority, not Cox-style highway boosterism.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

FWIW, Glaeser's ridership numbers are way too low. There are currently ~4.4 million seats flown between Houston and Dallas every year, which should mean at least 3.7 million passengers at current load factors.

Er, the Department of Transportation, which actually measures these things, reports that the annual number of air passengers between Dallas and Houston is just over 1.5 million. Less than half the made-up number you state above.

Anonymous said...

Rafael,

CHSRA has decided it will run its trains on 100% renewable electricity, i.e. for every MWh the HSR system consumes over e.g. a year, one MWh of wind/solar/geothermal/biomass electricity will be produced that otherwise would not have been.

Huh? How can CHSRA make this commitment? Or is it also going into the electric utility business?

Anonymous said...

High speed rail supposed to cost $35 billion in the first phase. It will cost $100 billion minimum plus financing.

Thanks for all those statistics you cited to back up your claim.

Oh, wait.

Anonymous said...

Er, the Department of Transportation, which actually measures these things, reports that the annual number of air passengers between Dallas and Houston is just over 1.5 million. Less than half the made-up number you state above.

Perhaps you're not looking at both airports in Houston and both airports in Dallas, as the DOT numbers that I'm seeing match Mike's, not your made up lowball numbers above.

BruceMcF said...

Rafael: "CHSRA has decided it will run its trains on 100% renewable electricity ..."

Mousey asked: "Huh? How can CHSRA make this commitment? Or is it also going into the electric utility business?"

With a contract, Dear Mousey, Dear Mousey, Dear Mousey, with a contract, Dear Mousey, a contract.

Its this thing you use to agree with someone who has the capacity to do what you want done, where they make an enforceable promise to do what you want done. Normally in return for some form of renumeration.

Anonymous said...

What contract Dear Brucie, Dear Brucie, Dear Brucie?

Has PG&E, or whatever utility the CHSRA will be buying its power from, agreed to do this? At what price?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you're not looking at both airports in Houston and both airports in Dallas,

I am looking at all flights between the two cities.

as the DOT numbers that I'm seeing match Mike's, not your made up lowball numbers above.

What DOT numbers are you seeing? Give us a link to your numbers. The DOT numbers I am seeing are the ones Glaeser links to in his post.

Anonymous said...

Off topic for this post - but who else here is hoping for complete private sector management of operating the trains after today's announcement of BART workers going on strike?

Public sector unions are out of control, out of touch, and really, an obsolete concept prone to corruption of the worst kind.

Go management! Fire the workers! Hire all new ones! Hold the line on costs!

Anonymous said...

Halloooo? Anonymous, are you there? Still waiting for that link to DOT numbers that match Mike's made-up number of 3.7 million air passengers a year.

Bill said...

Anonymous, why are you talking to yourself?

mike said...

Seat capacity numbers come straight out of the flight schedules. DOT's numbers are definitely wrong (or are measuring something else than total passengers traveling between IAH/HOU and DFW/DAL). Unless you're telling me that somehow the load factor between Houston and Dallas is only 34% at a time when average load factors are approaching 90%. If that's true, then the airlines will be super eager to abandon those money-losing routes as soon as they can!

Brandon in San Diego said...

Put two economists in a room, give them some data to chew on... and ask them to provide an opinion.

What do you get?

More than two opinions.

The economist crunch numbers and provide an opinion. They are no more correct about providing an opinion on something than asking your neighbor about whom is the best driver on the block, or which cat is the most friendly.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Someone tell me... is it possible to do a Google search for California High Speed Rail (news) and exclude articles published by extremely low circulation weekly's and daily's.... such as the rags from Menlo Park, Atherton, etc?

-rhetorical

Fred Martin said...

The Air Transport Association (ATA) report linked by Glaeser in one of his pieces has daily passengers between Dallas/Fort Worth--Houston is 2147 passengers each way in 2007. The footnote to the chart on page 30 notes that this figure includes Dallas Love(DAL), DFW, Houston Hobby (HOU), and Houston Intercontinental (IAH): all the main airports involved. That comes to a rough annual passenger load of 1.57 million passengers.

http://www.airlines.org/NR/rdonlyres/770B5715-5C6F-44AA-AA8C-DC9AEB4E7E12/0/2008AnnualReport.pdf

Airmeasure.com's latest data has the average number of daily passengers just between Dallas Love and Houston Hobby (both ways) is 3,288 air passengers (roughly 1.2 million annual passengers). The connection between Dallas Love and Houston Hobby is the main air link between the urban areas, because these two airports a closer to their respective downtowns. The number of flights between DFW and IAH is quite limited, but airmeasure.com's adjusted figures mesh with ATA's figures.

Now, Mike, where exactly are you getting your numbers? 3.7 million annual passengers is way off and far-fetched.

jim said...

the reason nuclear power costs go up is tdue to the oppostion. I am not afraid of living next to a nuclear plant whatsever and would support replacing the existing fossil plant in right here in san francisco with a nuclear plant to power the city exclusively.
nuclear "waste" is something dreamed up by environmentalists. actually what they call "waste" is pent rods, rods that can be recycled and used again but the wackos passed a law to forbid the recycling of the rods to ensure that so called waste -would" remain an issue. so instead. we burn a zillion tons of coal which pumps tons and tons of radioactivity into the air, in addition to warming gasses, and which leaves tons of leftover sludge in big piles. how bout that waste? as opposed to the shoebox sized amount that is left over form using nuclear, from a family of four for a year after rod recycling.

something else to keep in mind and watch is the push for using these solar plants that use steam - for one , the big utilities want to push this because it means a type of generation that requires a large utility company to manage and supply customers( it also uses water - in short supply in the desert) versus the photo panels that gereate electricty directly and are much simpler to install and operate for small companies and even individuals. Don't yo wonder why we don't already have solar panels all over the place in small and medium sized uses? Can't have that - you cut out edison and pg and e.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

"I am not afraid of living next to a nuclear plant"

In that case, you're a member of a very small group.

Btw, some solar thermal plants use molten salts instead of water, precisely because the latter is scarce in desert environments.

Also, there's no reason why utilities like PG&E would have to be cut out of the loop by people installing solar panels on their roof. After all, someone has to manage that two-way connection to the grid. California utilities already have incentives to avoid building large new power plants in the state.

The real reason home PV is not happening on any significant scale is simpler: they are expensive per Watt of generating capacity and/or difficult to attach to legacy roof constructions. They also need to be kept clean.

Morris Brown said...

Of interest might be the latest from Quentin Kopp:

http://www.insidebayarea.com/opinion/sanmateo/ci_13038190?source=rss

In the article titled

My Word: Correcting the record over high-speed rail in California

he states:


The alternative route, over Altamont Pass, would bypass San Jose and San Francisco entirely.


Always nice to read what Judge Kopp writes --- it is so factual.

BTW, the CHSRA adopted a set of rules on which the Board members are supposed to adhere.


The last rule is:


Each board member is to make sure that any statement of fact or policy made on behalf of
The Authority is consistent with published facts and adopted policies.

BruceMcF said...

Rafael said...
"Btw, some solar thermal plants use molten salts instead of water, precisely because the latter is scarce in desert environments."

Also, Stirling engine solar thermal plants use a closed cycle coolant, so the only water they'd use would be what you need to keep the maintenance worker hydrated.

Anonymous said...

Jim, we can't build a nuclear plant in San Francisco because that would be something new and might bring a new person or two to do the construction. You hate everything new and anybody who isn't here already, remember?

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

for once, I have to agree with you, albeit on a narrow point: Kopp's assertion that Altamont alignments would pass by both SF and SJ is indeed patent nonsense.

Perhaps at the time he was thinking of one particular Altamont option (Union Cith - Oakland only), but he makes no mention of that. In any case, it is now a moot point because AB3034 explicitly requires service to the San Francisco Transbay Terminal Center in Phase 1.

However, since the design of the new east span of the Bay Bridge (also a Q.Kopp project) was changed to preclude rail tracks of any kind, any new transbay tube between Oakland and SF would indeed add billions to the total cost of the HSR project.

Kopp also states - incorrectly - that splitting the starter line would reduce its ultimate capacity: HSR trains on dedicated tracks run on time and trainsets can be coupled and uncoupled in a matter of seconds if required. Even that would be many years away, though, because the trunk section of the line could handle 20+ trains per hour (regardless of length).

What is true, however, is that constructing dedicated HSR tracks between Altamont Pass and Redwood City would be much more difficult than proponents are willing to admit.

The original idea for Altamont was to add two dedicated tracks to UPRR's right of way between Niles and Newark and then cross the Bay via a new rail bridge at Dumbarton (replacing the old one). This was always a dicey proposition, if only because UPRR is absolutely not interested in selling any part of that section of its ROW. An aerial is not possible because of the BART line. Add to that rampant NIMBYism in Fremont plus Pleasanton plus Livermore, not to mention wildlife enthusiasts.

Technically, it should be possible to dig a tunnel under DeCoto road in Union City with a station next to BART, run tracks in the hwy 84 median and, to build a new, tall Dumbarton rail bridge hugging the existing road bridge, which is not part of the wildlife refuge. However, at the very least, this solution would cost and arm and a leg. Securing environmental approval would also be extremely difficult, not least because of the wildlife refuge is still nearby and the Bay mud still polluted with methyl mercury.

Even more problematic is that getting down to San Jose via Milpitas is also extremely difficult now that Santa Clara county voters have yet again endorsed the project to extend BART to Santa Clara. The early HSR planning work on Altamont called for tracks in the I-880 median, which I gather has been asphalted over in the meantime. That means my personal favorite, Altamont-via-Santa-Clara (bypassing SJ Diridon) is also no longer feasible, even in pure engineering terms.

Theoretically, a starter line via Altamont and Dumbarton could be split in the marshes east of East Palo Alto, with a causeway down to Alviso and tunnels under Lafayette St. in Santa Clara to reach SJ Diridon. In practice, the split would almost certainly be at the existing Redwood City wye instead. The radius of the southbound curve is just ~600', which implies very low speed and possible wheel squeal.

The upshot is HSR tracks would still have to be constructed through the north Silicon Valley burgs of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto - the very outcome many Altamont proponents desperately want to avoid.

And before you say "what about 101?", consider that the median is gone there, too. Unless Caltrans and USDOT agree to sacrifice the carpool lanes, HSR is for all intents and purposes not constructable there: any aerial would have to fly over the existing freeway overpasses and a covered trench would bisect numerous gravity-drained outflows into the bay. HSR tracks down 101 would also do nothing to grade-separate Caltrain.

Graham said...

On ridership: any REAL Express HSR system in Texas would connect Austin and San Antonio to Dallas and Houston (see the 400 mile Texas T-Bone) because of the network multiplier effect (in short: same tracks used for many different point to point trips). Air traffic reported by http://www.transtats.bts.gov/airports.asp among all six central Texas airports is about 4.5 million annually. (Auto traffic is something like ten times that, see http://www.bts.gov/programs/national_household_travel_survey/).

jim said...

Anonymous said...
Jim, we can't build a nuclear plant in San Francisco because that would be something new and might bring a new person or two to do the construction. You hate everything new and anybody who isn't here already, remember?

no because it would be on the same site where another plant is being removed which also happens to be on the eastern waterfront where the last of new develpment in the pipeline will be. and a power plant is not a condo.


@rafael 7:48 am wow that does sum it all up. altamont will open up a whole new can of worms. Unless they do the altamont oakland thing and drop san jose and sf al together. I could live with that, but I don't think anyone else will.

jim said...

@morrisbrown "The last rule is:


Each board member is to make sure that any statement of fact or policy made on behalf of
The Authority is consistent with published facts and adopted policies.


yes and? that pretty much makes sense. don't go around quoting policy that isn't really policy. whats your point.

mike said...

The number of flights between DFW and IAH is quite limited

Incorrect. There are 64 flights daily between IAH-DFW, IAH-DAL, and HOU-DFW. There are only 54 flights daily between HOU-DAL. Total seat capacity on all flights combined is ~13,000 per day or ~4.7 million per year.

Again, this is straight off of the airline flight schedules. You cannot beat this data for timeliness, fidelity, or transparency. If you don't believe me, please feel free to check my numbers (which are 28 flights IAH-DFW, 18 flights IAH-DAL, 18 flights HOU-DFW, and 54 flights HOU-DAL). I can't claim to know exactly what the DOT numbers are measuring, but I certainly know what they're not measuring, which is total air passengers transported between IAH/HOU and DFW/DAL.

Incidentally, the 118 flights per day Houston-Dallas approaches the 140 flights per day between Madrid and Barcelona (pre-AVE), though total seat capacity between MAD-BCN was definitely higher (the average aircraft on MAD-BCN has a capacity of ~150 while the average aircraft on Houston-Dallas has a capacity closer to 100).

lyqwyd said...

Although neclear waste generated by nuclear power is a political problem, it is not a technical one. It's actually one of the easier waste streams to deal with, as it is very concentrated and stays on site.

By contrast, coal power production in the US currently releases more radioactive waste directly into the environment than the entire amount of waste produced by the nuclear industry. Coal contains uranium and other radioactive materials, and when burnt it goes directly into the air. Coal mining tailings also contain radioactive materials, and those materials are leached into the soil and water system once it's brought to the surface during mining operations.

jim said...

@lyqwyd
exaclty. thank you. common sense.

Fred Martin said...

Mike, I think I see where you are getting your estimation of passengers wrong between Dallas and Houston.
1) Two distinct types of air service are being run between Dallas and Houston. Southwest is running a high-capacity, frequent shuttle, getting most of the local/regional travelers between Dallas and Houston, while American and Continental are running a low-capacity but still frequent service to feed their respective hubs for longer-distance connecting flights. The locals use Southwest and in significantly higher numbers, while American and Continental are trying to feed passengers into their larger national and international networks.

2) The load factors are likely lower than you are assuming. Not only does connecting feeder service generally have lower load factors, the sheer frequency of service between Dallas and Houston by all these carriers is likely resulting in low load factors.

Southwest Airlines moves the most air passengers by far between the Dallas and Houston areas, and Southwest doesn't serve DFW or IAH. Most Dallas-Houston air passengers go between Dallas Love and Houston Hobby airports on Southwest.

DFW is the flagship airport hub of American Airlines, and IAH is the flagship airport hub of Continental Airlines. These airports are the heart of their respective systems.

American doesn't operate at Dallas Love, and Continental doesn't operate at Houston Hobby. The primary reason American and Continental fly between Dallas and Houston is to feed their hubs at DFW or IAH respectively.

There are 64 flights daily between IAH-DFW, IAH-DAL, and HOU-DFW. There are only 54 flights daily between HOU-DAL. Total seat capacity on all flights combined is ~13,000 per day or ~4.7 million per year.

But these 54 flights between HOU-DAL are all on Southwest 737s, each moving 150-160 seats with higher load factors. While about 24 flights fly between IAH-DFW on 737s or MD-80s (half American, half Continental, the other 40 flights are a combination of HOU-DFW (American Eagle) and IAH-DAL (Continental Express), all on small commuter jets with 50-70 seats with lower load factors due to the nature of high-frequency feeder service. Even the IAH-DFW flights are likely to have lower load factors than the Southwest flights, because American and Continental are using them as feeders into their connecting hubs.

Essentially, you are missing the fact that all the HOU-DFW and IAH-DAL flights are on small commuter jets feeding into major hubs.

Furthermore, you are assuming that all this very frequent service has a higher load factor than it actually attains. Feeder service typically has lower load factors than trunk-line service, but even this every-half-hour Southwest service is going to have lower load factors than the Southwest average due to the sheer frequency.

I can't claim to know exactly what the DOT numbers are measuring, but I certainly know what they're not measuring, which is total air passengers transported between IAH/HOU and DFW/DAL.

No, you have not actually measuring anything. The DOT and ATA numbers are more accurate due to actual measured observations, while you are extrapolating passenger numbers by making erroneous assumptions about service types and load factors on highly frequent service between Dallas and Houston.

Fred Martin said...

Having said this, I think Texas HSR could significantly bite into Southwest's Dallas-Houston market. Southwest certainly felt threatened by the Texas Triangle proposal in the early 1990s and lobbied very hard to kill it. The point is that these air markets don't add up to that many passengers. Even if Texas HSR captured the entire current Dallas-Houston air market, that's only 1.6 million annual riders.

While HSR could be successful against Southwest over these 250-mile routes, I am not so sure Texas HSR would be successful against these Continental and American hub-feeder services. Even with direct HSR stops at DFW and IAH and the fact that these low-load-factor feeder segments are not profitable for the airlines, the airlines want to keep their passengers happy by keeping tight connection schedules and having checked baggage at the start of the trip. HSR is capable of this, but can the HSR operator actually step up and deliver?

BruceMcF said...

Fred Martin said...
"Mike, I think I see where you are getting your estimation of passengers wrong between Dallas and Houston."

Does this change the fact that Ed Glaeser read one way traffic as two way traffic and so got deflated the number in his data source by 50%? Or that in part 2 he ignored mode shift from the considerable motor vehicle traffic ... where given the considerable intercity traffic, even a single digit mode shift would have a big impact on his numbers? Or that he pretends that his hypothetical route is a comparison to the planned 90mph Missouri extension of the 110mph Chicago/St. Louis corridor, yet adopts capital cost figures from 220mph Express HSR projects?

Alon Levy said...

Even if Texas HSR captured the entire current Dallas-Houston air market, that's only 1.6 million annual riders.

First, there's induced demand. Eurostar gets more than twice the passenger numbers that the London-Paris air corridor had in 1994.

Second, there's demand diverted from cars. Even with the Temple detour, Houston-Dallas HSR would take about 2 hours, which is competitive with I-45's 3:40 in clear traffic. The distance between Houston and Dallas is slightly too short to be ideal for HSR, but it can still capture a significant share of the market.

And third, American and Continental are hoping to use the line as a feeder for their airline hubs. Why they support a routing that detours through Temple and Waco I'm not sure, but they're still listed as supporters of the T-Bone.

mike said...

you are assuming that all this very frequent service has a higher load factor than it actually attains.

Incorrect. I'm assuming that these flights have load factor that's substantially lower than average load factors.

Essentially, you are missing the fact that all the HOU-DFW and IAH-DAL flights are on small commuter jets feeding into major hubs.

I'm not missing that at all. Of course some of the air passengers are catching connecting flights. But that fact doesn't mean you can ignore them. How else do you think the airlines manage to even maintain 10-20% market share on sub-2 hr HSR routes? (e.g. Paris-Lyon or Madrid-Seville) When we say that TGV/AVE have 80-90% market share on those routes, we're including the air passengers catching connecting flights. If you want to omit those passengers, then you will need to revise upwards the predicted market share of the HSR route.

Bottom line: the DOT numbers are incorrect for the discussion at hand. The air-rail market share numbers we're talking about include connecting passengers, so if you want to calculate Houston-Dallas air passenger numbers for comparison, you need to include those connecting passengers. If you want to have a parallel discussion where you omit transfer passengers and crank up the rail market share, go ahead, but the laws of mathematics stipulate that you will ultimately get the same answer.

For fun, let's benchmark our two models to see how well we do at predicting known figures. My model implies (Total Seats)*(Average Load Factor*0.89). Your model implies (Total Seats)*(Average Load Factor*0.47). In 2007, one year before the AVE line opened, the MAD-BCN corridor carried 4.9 million passengers on 970 flights/wk (i.e, 50,000 flights per year). At 150 seats per aircraft (MAD-BCN aircraft are a mix of MD-80, 717, 737, and A320), that implies total seat capacity of 7.5 million seats per year. Load factors for Spanair, Vueling, and Iberia were around 80% in 2007 (see here,here and here).

My prediction: (7.5 million seats)*(0.80 load factor*0.89) = 5.3 million passengers.

Your prediction: (7.5 million seats)*(0.80 load factor*0.47) = 2.8 million passengers.

So the true number is 8% lower than my estimate 75% higher than your estimate. Personally I'm comfortable with that...if you want to claim 3.4 million Houston-Dallas air passengers instead of 3.7 million, that is fine with me. Doesn't change the ultimate conclusions.

mike said...

But these 54 flights between HOU-DAL are all on Southwest 737s

Incidentally, you're confusing flights and passengers. Your original discussion was about flights and my response was about flights. No idea why you're suddenly switching to passengers...my figures have always implied that HOU-DAL has the majority of passengers and minority of flights.

Does this change the fact that Ed Glaeser read one way traffic as two way traffic and so got deflated the number in his data source by 50%?

In fairness to Glaeser, the table he cites does actually imply ~1.5 million passengers per year (turns out it was in one-way passengers per day rather than thousands of one-way passengers per year). But, as both Fred and I point out, the number is incomplete, most likely because it ignores connecting passengers. The air-rail market share estimates that I applied in my original posts include both terminating and connecting passengers.

Anonymous said...

Folks,

You are missing an important part of the Dallas / Houston rail equation. It is almost certain that you will need a car when you arrive in either city. Unless that rail hub includes very large (and convenient) car rental facilities, usage will be limited. Worse, many of the likely destinations are not in either downtown. Nor are the starting points. Hobby and Love field are just more accessible than either downtown.