Inanities of High Speed Rail
Barry O, prime minister of the world, is now going to solve our traffic jams with high speed rail. The brilliance of the guy just doesn’t stop. Here it is, the solution, heretofore hidden from the rest of us lesser mortals, until his superior intellect hits on the idea and makes it clear to rest of us. But, somewhere along the way Obama missed why the railroads got out of the passenger business–and unloaded Amtrak on us. And, why intraurban mass transit it a horrible money loser propped up only by tax subsidies.
Let’s start with the logistics. Mass transit, of any type, depends on a lot of people going to and from the same destination at about the same time. This requires densely populated corridors or two terminuses that have a lot of like minded people–like minded in that they want to travel to and from these two terminuses.
Moreover, one must account for the fact that you don’t just travel from train station to train station (or airport to airport for that matter), but you must come from your home or place of business and ultimately arrive at another such destination such as a hotel or another place of business. So, you step off your high speed train and you still may be miles from your ultimate destination.
From my own experience, if I can reach a particular destination in four hours by car, it’s probably faster to do that than take the train or plane. Simply because the time spent getting to, through and out of an airport more than makes up for the time saved by the actual flying. Also, once you get to your destination, you’re going to need a car anyway. If you drove, you have one. If you flew, that’s even more time waiting for the car rental bus to transport you to the far reaches of the airport to get said rental.
Interurban high speed rail has the same limitations at either terminus. But, even at 150 miles per hour, said train is going to be about half as fast as the plane.
Which gets us to speed. You’re going to have to build trackage parallel to the existing trackage. The existing trackage is completely saturated with freight traffic. More importantly, the current trackage cannot support rail trackage if excess of about 80 miles per hour; about what you can do on the interstate highway system. The high speed trains that run in Europe and Japan run on special trackage that will actually support train speeds well in excess of 100 miles per hour. In sum, Obama’s high speed rail will need a parallel rail system solely dedicated to these high speed trains.
By the way, the cost of materials is about $100 per foot of track. Then there’s the cost of labor and cost of the underlying right-of-way. Here as of 2003. One rail is going to run you about $20 per foot. A standard 200 foot wide right of way works out to about 24 acres of land per mile.
The next limitation is that European rail solutions will not work here. Naturally, Obama and his bi-coastal elites think anything European is naturally superior. But, on the practical side, Europe is generally crowded and densely populated. Therefore, you are going to have a lot of people filling the criteria of a lot of people going to the same places at the same time. Moreover, Europe is smaller making distances traveled shorter. The overall effect is shorter, more heavily travelled corridors making such high speed rail a consideration. And, there are such corridors in the United States; the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington being the best example. By some mysterious coincidence train service exists there. With the Acela Express leading the was with an average speed of 80 mph; it being impossible to get the money or past the NIMBY’s to construct trackage for exclusive use by the Acela. So kiss 150 mph speed good bye.
Here’s the map from the White House web site showing the rest of the high speed corridors “envisioned” for the future. You find a lot of the trackage is going to go over a lot of empty land. Take a look at the Houston/New Orleans route; a lot of that goes over swamp just like the current Interstate 10. Then there’s the Texarkana/Little Rock corridor. Wow, must be lots of folks who need to get to the Bill Clinton Library. Oh, and there’s that Tulsa/Oklahoma City corridor.
The fact of the matter is that the US has an overall population density of less than 100 persons per square mile. Far less than the population densities of Europe or Japan that have hundreds if not over a thousand persons per square mile. Our transportation system is reliant on the car for that simple reason–population densities are too low to make mass transit viable except in some select urban corridors. Highways are cheaper to construct and maintain. Highways allow people to travel at will, thereby eliminating the need to try to schedule or run train schedules that would result in very expensive conveyances with only one or two passengers. For the really long haul, it’s far cheaper to pave two miles of concrete at each end of the trip; they’re call runways.
Our transport system is the reflection of the efforts of thousands of civil engineers and tens of millions of the traveling public who already worked through all of the above. Yet, in their supreme arrogance, Obama and his toadies seems to think they have hit on a solution that has somehow eluded the rest of us since the invention of the wheel.
The really sad thing is that all of the above is already apparent to Obama. But, all Obama cares about is coming up with any excuse to stiff our great-grandchildren as much spending as that quick little mind between those big ears can gin up.