Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Science Monitor Endorses Prop 1A

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

Normally I might not give this its own post, but the editorial from the Christian Science Monitor on Prop 1A has some really good points that deserve a wider airing:

Yearly ridership is predicted at 88 million to 117 million passengers by 2030.

How can that be if last year only 26 million people rode the national rail network, Amtrak? Part of the answer lies in the state's expected population boom. But also, travelers gravitate to high-quality, affordable transport. Last year, ridership jumped 20 percent for the Acela, Amtrak's only fast train (but not as fast as trains around the world).

Opponents also say the north-south ride will take more like 3-1/2 hours, because no bullet trains operate at the plan's projected speed of up to 220 m.p.h. But Japan and France are testing prototypes capable of such speeds. And so what if the estimate is off? Downtown-to-downtown transport that's also independent of much bad weather and gate delays has its advantages.

Excellent points, all. Projected ridership can be easily attained and the claims about speed and timing don't hold water - or even if they did don't undermine the value and attractiveness of the system.

Finally, naysayers warn the construction price will nearly double, and that the trains will operate on a regular deficit. True, research shows rail projects around the world bust construction budgets by an average 45 percent. But the rail authority's plan spreads the build-out expense and risk between the state, federal government, and private investors. And while governments do subsidize rail systems the world over, bullet trains are proven moneymakers...

This is not a credit-card shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. It is an investment in reduced greenhouse gases, in less foreign oil, in less congestion, and in more jobs – for commerce is built on transport.

Couldn't agree more.


Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

~90 million trips per year may be possible in 2030, but it won't be easy. It took SNCF 25 years to reach that passenger volume on its TGVs, in a country whose motorways are almost all toll roads.

CHSRA wants to get there in half the time. I think that's an ambitious goal even if the project is executed very well. Achieving ridership that high will require a return to high oil prices plus high costs related to climate change and/or efforts to curtail it.

Think of this as the double-whammy scenario. IMHO, it is not just possible but indeed, likely to occur well before 2030. Given the long lead times involved in infrastructure projects, I hope voters will have the wisdom to invest in HSR now instead of waiting yet another decade. By then, the project may not even be feasible any longer, due to the rising cost of acquiring the right of way.

Anonymous said...

from the article:

Yearly ridership is predicted at 88 million to 117 million passengers by 2030.

How can that be if last year only 26 million people rode the national rail network

The fact of the matter is it can't be that, not nearly that. If you won't believe the Due Diligence report, get the one from the FRA or from the Berkeley institute.

It is nonsense.

Of course coming from a publication which resides in the City of the Big Dig, it probably should be no big surprise.

Anonymous said...

It looks like the deniers have been messing with the Prop 1a ballotpedia page recently...they even have a "no on 1a" graphic!
what's up with that?

Anonymous said...

Using "prototype" for the 220mph French AGV isn't quite fair - it's sufficently developed that Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori have ordered a bunch. By the time California's system gets built, the AGV will be established, bordering on old.

Rafael said...

@ tom west -

in addition to the brand-new Alstom AGV (to be deployed in Italy), there's the Siemens Velaro (Germany, Spain, China), Talgo 350 (Spain) and Kawasaki/Hitachi 700T (Taiwan). All of these are certified to operate at top speeds of 350-360kph (217-224mph) in commercial service on suitable tracks.

Actual top operating speeds are 300-330kph in Europe and 300-350kph in Taiwan and China. Today, not in 2018. The notion that 220mph is technologically infeasible is wrong, because it assumes that FRA will deny CHSRA the opportunity to leverage decades of engineering that has gone into HSR in Europe and Japan. So far, every country that has implemented HSR has changed its rules to make that possible.

The issues keeping operators from exploiting the full capabilities of the technology they already own are equipment cost, electricity consumption and preventive maintenance overheads. Power demand at high speeds is proportional to the cube of velocity, so you want to run at the speed that delivers the highest profits.

SNCF now offers reliable broadband internet access on its Thalys and TGV Est routes and, is upgrading its older routes and rolling stock to expand this popular service. WiFi turns the train into a rolling office or living room, so it's a superior customer experience for trips up to 4 hours (~600 miles).

Anonymous said...

Just remember that higher speeds mean much high consumption of energy. It goes as the cube. So a train going 200 MPH as opposed as one going 100 MPH will consume 8 times the energy.

For a project that is trying to cloak itself in "green", trying to get even more speed is at the a major expense in "green"

Brandon in California said...

On the other hand, higher speeds and shorter travel times attracts more riders.

More riders mean fewer people driving or flying, which are much more energy ineffecient.

See the graph povided by Robert in posts below.

Anonymous said...

I know that Robert won't be convinced of anything other than the Due Diligence report being fantasy, but other reader might be interested in the author of that report own comments on the project.

Spokker said...

Something Awful is endorsing high speed rail.

lol maybe we could do without their endorsement...

Tony D. said...

Hey Robert,
What's up with stating that Prop. 1A is in trouble due to California's financial crisis and the Metrolink train accident of September? They even cite Morshed as stating private polls show declining support for the Proposition. This is probably "good news" for the Morris Brown's of the world, but it would be a travesty for all of us if their politics of fear are influencing California voters. Again, I know of no one personally who's voted against Prop. 1A, and all those I've talked to support high-speed rail. I'm also finally getting mailers and hearing radio commercials in favor of 1A. I just don't see how any of these naysayers can gain traction with the majority of California voters.

Spokker said...

The budget crisis angle has legs. If people think it's too expensive, I don't know how I can fault them for that. All I can say is that I think the project would be good for California despite our financial difficulties. I would say that our budget process requires reform beyond voting down any good bond measure that comes by.

But the Metrolink crash angle is the epitome of fear mongering. It's shameful. Metrolink and CAHSR will be so different from each other that any comparison between the two doesn't make any sense.

JP said...

After riding the rails in Europe, I really look forward to HSR coming to California. I don't care if it takes 2.5 or 3.5 hours to get to San Francisco -- either way, rail is a much more comfortable and efficient way to travel when compared to driving or flying.

njh said...

rafael, earl.g:

The power goes as the cube, but the travel time as the reciprocal, so in fact the energy per trip only goes as the square. And aeroplanes go a lot faster and have induced drag as a fixed cost. So you're ahead there too.

Politics of fear pretty much define American voting these days.

Rafael said...

@ njh -

power demand is relevant because it determines the size of the equipment needed: electric motors, power electronics, pantograph-catenary interfaces, sub-stations, snubber circuits etc. The incremental depreciation cost of the beefier infrastructure required to support extremely high speeds is non-trivial. It's worth it only if the speed differential attracts enough additional passengers to increase profits.

JP's point is well taken, leisure travelers probably don't care all that much if their train journey takes 2.5 or 3 hours. However, business travelers generally do.

The pressure to minimize line haul times should be reduced if passengers can be productive in transit. These days, that means securing reliable cell phone and broadband internet connectivity.

Iff this assumptions holds true, CHSRA would have two options: limit top speeds to e.g. 186 mph to cut operating costs or, run fewer express and more semi-express trains to increase ridership.