Friday, August 8, 2008

Obama on HSR and "End the Age of Oil"

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

We've noted before that Barack Obama is a huge supporter of high speed rail. As our friends at Trains for America pointed out, Obama gave a strong case for HSR in Youngstown, Ohio earlier this week:

At one point, asked about his support for high-speed rail, Obama lapsed into what was almost a comedy routine. All he needed was a fake brick wall behind him and a two-drink minimum.

"If you think about the Midwest, think about right here, what we've got is all kind of towns that we could connect," Obama said. "All of these cities are, they basically take in the air about 45 minutes to an hour to fly."

"But by the time you get to the airport," Obama continued, "take off your shoes, get to the terminal, realize that your flight's been delayed two hours, go pay $10 for a cup of coffee, and a sandwich for another $10, come back, you get on the plane, you're sitting on the tarmac for another 25 minutes, you finally take off, you're circling above the city for another half hour, when you land they can't find your luggage, and then you get to where you're going -- by the time it's all done it's a five-hour trip! …So the time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation, connecting all these cities and think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America."

What I really like is how well Obama articulates high speed rail as not just a neato piece of tech, not just a solution to our climate and energy crisis, but as something that just plain works, and can give workaday people a better way to travel. High speed rail saves time and money. It's a populist and smart way to push back against the Republican lie that oil drilling is going to help solve the crisis.

Obama is showing that he understands quite well Van Jones's argument that we must move from opposition to proposition. It is not enough to fight against the idiotic drilling policy - you must also propose a better solution. High speed rail is one of those better solutions.

Of course, it would be great to pin Obama down on whether he will fight for federal money for the California high speed rail project, and how much he'd budget for it. The US budget deficit may be as high as $500 billion next year, and while the traditional media gives Bush and the Republicans a pass on this, they won't do the same for Obama and the Democrats. We're going to have to continue to fight to bring money to California for HSR.

But no money is going to come at all unless we pass Prop 1(A?) this November.


Matthew Melzer said...

HSR presents a fantastic opportunity for moderate Republicans (and oblivious Democrats) to be on the right side of history and show that they understand that this isn't a partisan issue: It's an issue of strengthening our economy and quality of life, providing choices to individuals that the traveling public demand, advancing freedom of mobility, and protecting the land that sustains our republic.

If John McCain and Barack Obama ever share a podium between now and November, it should be with Gov. Schwarzenegger to affirm their support of Prop 1.

McCain, for all his animosity towards Amtrak, has said that he supports corridor rail service in the places where it "makes sense" and where the private sector can be involved. California fits his criteria to a T.

Rafael said...

I recently had much the same experience traveling from LAX to SFO. Take-off was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes and we also had to circle over Monterey for an additional 20 minutes. All because there had been "low clouds" at SFO several hours earlier.

Flying has become a combination of overbooking, nickel-and-diming, onerous security procedures, unpredictable delays, missed connections, lost baggage etc. Jet-set lifestyle? Not so much.

Here is a segment from a Japanese documentary on the series 500 "Nozomi" shinkansen plying the 1000km (600mile) route from Hakata to Tokyo. Shot mostly from the driver's cab, its journey is generally less exciting than watching grass grow. But then, that's the whole point: roughly half-way through the journey, the train is 14 seconds late (ff to the 1:40 mark).

Such predictability is perfectly normal for HSR service and arguably even more important than raw travel time - though the latter does have to be competitive with other modes of transportation.

HSR makes even more sense once you consider that the only reason you have to switch your cellphone off has nothing to do with security. It's just that the networks of ground stations would have trouble tracking large numbers of phones six miles up and moving across the landscape at over 500MPH. Travel on the ground at less than half that speed and the technology can cope.

Moreover, passengers on TGV Est and Thalys services in Europe are already offered fast, reliable, wireless Internet access throughout their journey. However, most of the time this uses a satellite link, which makes it almost unusable for voice over IP calls, videoconferencing, online collaboration and online games. Expect low-latency terrestrial broadband wireless technology to evolve to a viable solution well before the California HSR system goes live.

In combination with end-to-end cell phone coverage - quite possibly via VoIP base stations installed in the trains - will make the time spent on a high speed train productive and/or entertaining in a way short-haul flights will find very hard to match.

HSR will mean time spent traveling will no longer be lost.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has their experiences.

I flew the other day from LA to San Jose on Southwest. Flight time of 49 minutes. That's 49 minutes. Even with the security etc. I made the whole trip from hotel to getting my luggage in 2:15.

I agree flying these days can be frustrating at times. But airplanes fly direct (no deviations to Palmdale or Riverside increasing distance) and they fly fast 600 MPH.

If and when HSR is ever operational, and that won't be for at least 15 years, the airlines will have gotten their security checks delays finished and HSR is going to have a tough time competing on a route like LA to SF.

HSR will do well on Fresno to LA, the airlines don't want that one, but their ridership projections will be 1/4 or less of what they predict,leading to huge and constant annual losses, that must be made up by taxes.

Quite frankly I tired of hearing about all the virtues of HSR, less greenhouse gas, better air quality. Why in the world isn't this project being developed to solve existing problems, urban traffic congestion.

All the deceptions the CHSRA has been up to to get the voters deceived must be exposed.

Deliberately under estimating construction costs is un-forgivable.

Spokker said...

"Iberia chairman Fernando Conte, who has called the competition posed by bullet trains "tremendous," said the carrier would push ahead with plans to reduce its capacity on domestic flights by 15 percent during the rest of 2008.

It plans to reduce capacity on its flights between Madrid and Barcelona, one of the world's busiest air routes, by up to 20 percent by using planes with smaller capacity but maintaining the number of daily flights on the route."

"Other carriers are also struggling to compete with the fast-speed trains.

Spanair, the second-biggest Spanish airline, has reduced the number of its flights between Madrid and Malaga while loss-making low-cost airline Vueling canceled its summer connection between the two cities."