HSR

Sunday Train: What's in SUPERTRAINS for Small Town and Rural America?

{Reprinted from the Hillbilly Report.org, April 21, 2009.}
{ Except for updating images to correct for link rot, edits in braces and italics.}

This last weekend I wrote up a small diary, cross-posted to various places ... which even stumbled into being wrecklisted at Agent Orange ... about the High Speed Rail plan [http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/31 released by the Obama administration].

That diary focused on laying out the three "tiers" of HSR in the announced plan. "Express HSR" is one of the bullet train systems, like they are planning for California. But between that tier and conventional rail, are two more tiers:

  • "Regional HSR", with a top speed of around 125mph, able to provide trips at average speeds in the range of 100mph, operating in existing rail rights of way, but mostly on its own track, with upgraded signaling and substantial investment in grade separation and/or the top level of "hardened" level crossings, normally with electrified lines; and
  • "Emerging HSR", with a top speed of 110mph, able provide trips at average speed in excess of 80mph, operating on existing rail right of way with improved capacity, but sometimes sharing track with freight rail, the 110mph standard of quad gate, speed sensitive level crossings, and provided by either electric or diesel 110mph tilt-trains

The bullet trains are the show ponies ... but for small town and rural America, the genuine seat at the table for Emerging and Regional HSR is the real good news from the announcement.

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Sunday Train: The Ends of Amtrak

At the beginning of last month, Paul Druce of "Reason & Rail" discussed the possible impact of the pending upgrade of the Amtrak Acela route in Acela II is the path towards Amtrak operational self-sustainability:

The forthcoming Acela II isn’t just supposed to be significantly faster than the current Acela service, cutting 24 minutes from the scheduled time between Washington and New York and 38 minutes between Washington and Boston, but it will also represent a significant boost in capacity. ...

With an increase in seating capacity, Amtrak will be able to garner significantly more revenue, even if it lowers the price of Acela seating somewhat. This added revenue comes with no significant increase in operational cost and quite possibly a lowered cost, as there should be a higher rate of availability and lowered mechanical costs for what is essentially an off the shelf train, along with significantly lower energy consumption. With current averages for occupancy and passenger revenue unchanged, an Acela II train service could see $742 million in revenue, with $447 million in operational profit.

This will have an even larger effect upon Amtrak’s financial deficit than initially appears because starting in FY2014, the states bear a greater responsibility for the short distance train corridors. This had the affect of reducing Amtrak’s FY2014 budget request to only $373 million for the operating grant; 2013’s appropriation, by contrast, was $442 million.

Note that what Paul Druce refers to as "operational profit" is what I have been calling "operating surplus" in the Sunday Train, the surplus of revenues from operations over operating costs. This is nothing like an operational profit, at present, since a profit is a financial benefit from a difference between revenue and costs, and there is nothing in the current organization of the Acela services that make a surplus on their operations into a distinctive financial asset for any purpose ... whether public or private.

Whether or not all or part of this operating surplus should be made into an operational profit is a question that goes to the heart of what is the purpose of Amtrak. The way that this surplus is spent can be the means to service a range of ends ... but what are the ends that are a legitimate use of these means?

Since Amtrak was established, and exists, as a political compromise, this is not a question about what is the proper "End" for Amtrak activities, but what are the proper "Ends" for Amtrak activities.

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Sunday Train: Carolina High Speed Rail & The Piedmont Service

The Southeast HSR corridor can be divided between the "real" SEHSR corridor, where there is actual, ongoing work on improving the speed and, even more critically, the capacity of the corridor in support of services that will begin operating within the current decade, and the "notional" SEHSR corridor, the land of feasibility studies and preliminary planning, where even if a pedal to the metal intercity rail investment program were to commence in 2017, any new services entering into operation before the latter half of next decade would be subsidized conventional rail service.

And given the importance of state governments in the current bottom-up process of intercity rail development, it should be unsurprising that the boundary between the two part of the SEHSR runs quite close to a state boundary. As discussed two weeks ago, Georgia lies in the middle of "notional" SEHSR country, with Rapid Rail connections to Birmingham; Columbus, GA; Savanna; Charlotte, NC; and Chattanooga / Nashville / Louisville at various stages of being studied, but without active ongoing investment. By contrast, there is current active investment and planned roll-out of new service throughout Virginia and North Carolina, all the way through to Charlotte, NC.

One reason that Virginia and North Carolina are engaged in ongoing investment is that they are well positioned for incremental development of Rapid Rail passenger service, with a legacy of through Amtrak corridors providing a platform to build upon, urban development taking place along urban arcs in both states, and close enough to the growing major metropolitan center of Washington, DC to use Washington as an anchor for longer distance intercity transport.

The greatest current focus of investment in the "real SEHSR" is the Piedmont Corridor in North Carolina, which is the focus of this week's Sunday Train.

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Sunday Train: Taking That High Speed Train in Georgia

I saw this news back in early January (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 8 Jan 2014):

A high speed rail line between Columbus and Atlanta would cost between $1.3-$3.9 billion over the next 20 years to build, but once up and running would more than pay for its operations and maintenance, a consultant said today.

It could also have a huge economic impact, according to Kirsten Berry, project manager consulting firm HNTB Corp., which performed the $350,000 study of the economic feasibility study of high speed rail between Columbus and Atlanta. The study was funded with a $300,000 Georgia Department of Transportation grant and the rest in private donations, according to city Director of Planning Rick Jones.

Now, the actual feasibility study itself has not been released, although the overview presentation to the Columbus GA stakeholders has been released, and I was going to wait until that feasibility study was available to talk about this on the Sunday Train. But then this happened:

Atlanta (CNN) -- Empty streets, shuttered storefronts and abandoned vehicles littering the side of the road. That was the scene across much of metropolitan Atlanta on Wednesday as people hunkered down to wait out the aftermath of a snow and ice storm that brought the nation's ninth-largest metropolitan area to a screeching halt.

... and given the severe state of auto-dependency in the greater Atlanta area, I concluded that the state of plans for HSR in Georgia merits a closer look.

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Sunday Train: Will We Be Ready for the Great 2017 HSR Policy Unlock?

I've posed a question in the title of this week's Sunday Train that I have no intention of answering myself.

The first thing you may have noted is that the title presumes a "Great 2017 Policy Unlock" that is by no means certain. And assuming an event in a title as a lead-in to talking about the likelihood of that event is a long-standing internet link-bait practice.

The second thing, however, is that even that would be focusing on political fortune telling, and the Sunday Train is not normally about making guesses about what will happen. It is more often focused on policy in the sense of thinking about what should happen and, sometimes, what we can do to make it more likely to happen.

The foundation of the Sunday Train is the premise that on our current track, with our current transport and energy systems, we are driving the possibility of retaining a national, modern, industrial economy over a cliff. We are doing that in three ways:

  • Our Energy Production and our Transport Systems combined are responsible for a majority of our CO2 emissions, and even if we converted everything else in our economy to be 50% carbon negative ~ sequestering 50% as much CO2 as it present emits ~ our current Energy and Transport systems would be sufficient to drive the globe far enough into Climate Crisis to bring down our national industrial economy;
  • And the world has hit Peak Petroleum Production, as is clear from the variety of "scraping the bottom of the barrel" oil and oil-replacement exploitation efforts taking place today, and has started to slide down the other side of the peak, so that an economy as exposed as our own to oil price shocks is going to lose massive ground compared to competing economies that are already positioned to shelter themselves from the impact of oil price shocks
  • And we are heading toward the Energy Return on Investment cliff for the fossil fuels we produce ourselves that our current Energy and Transport systems relies upon, and as we slide down that cliff, the economic benefit of that domestic fossil fuel production will progressively decline, leaving us behind any national economies or continental economic systems that seriously pursue sustainable, renewable energy sources that are seeing growing Energy Return on Investment, due to technological progress.

Pick your poison, since any one of them is serious enough to either drive the US economy from the ranks of the core economies into the ranks of the semi-peripheral economies, or even to eliminate our ability to retain a national economy at all.

Given that premise, the "odds of success" in a political forecasting sense is not the focus of the Sunday Train. The focus is rather the prospect for improving those odds. Whether that is improving the odds from a 50% chance of success, or a 1% chance of success to a 2% chance of success, in either event it is worth the investment in effort to try ... whether the mere 1/5 improvement in the odds, or the more impressive doubling in the odds, what is won in the event of a win is such a jackpot that its worth the effort to simply improve the odds a little bit.

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Sunday Train: Rapid Rail and Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy (pt 2)

Last week, I considered the concept of Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policies: the kind of policies that we will now have to pursue if we become serious about Climate Change, because of the 16+ years we will have wasted since 2000 that would have given us the opportunity to pursue a more gradualist approach. At that time, there was a debate that could be characterized as an argument between "incrementalism" and "purism". However, at present, and therefore by the time the current administration will be completed, we have passed the point of asking "how fast should we go", and have passed into "how fast can we go" territory. Hence the Pedal to the Metal approach.

Last week, I did not rehash Micheal Hoexter's overview of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy, but rather looked at the leading edge of that policy package, what I dubbed "front-runner" policies, and looked the Steel Interstate as one example of a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy package. This week, I am going to turn from Rapid Freight Rail and consider what kind of Rapid Passenger Rail policy would qualify as a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy.

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Sunday Train: Breaking Free of the Population Density Myth (2)

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This is a repeat of a Sunday Train from The Hillbilly Report of 4 Oct, 2009 ... about an evergreen Liebertarian talking point

Today, the focus is on one lovely rhetorical ploy used by anti-rail advocates to try to put one over on people with limited experience with trains. This relies on the false framing that "trains is trains", and uses something that is true about a particular kind of local rail transport to mislead people about 110mph Emerging High Speed Rail in particular.

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Sunday Train: zOMG these aint REAL HSR trains!

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This is more or less the three year anniversary of the first Sunday Train ~ a bit less than more, since this is the 12th of August 2012 and I think that the first Sunday Train was 16th of August, 2009. It emerged from a variety of blogging I had been doing over the previous couple of years, with a notion that if I set down a target of blogging on Sunday, it would make it easier for people to track the Sunday Train down. It was originally posted at my midnight-populist blogspot, Burning the Midnight Oil, crossposted to Agent Orange, My Left Wing, Progressive Blue and Docudharma, but I was never really enthusiastic about building up my own blog, and nor about the constraints of blogspot, so over time I settled on writing the Sunday Train at a community blog, cross-posting it to other community blogs, and posting the summary to Burning the Midnight Oil, with cross-links to the blogs containing that week's full post.

The crosspost list also varied from time to time: of those original community blogs, I rarely visit My Left Wing or Docudharma much anymore, and the best of Progressive Blue has been folded into the broader coalition at Voices on the Square, which since its launch last month has been the new home base for Sunday Train. The Sunday Train still rolls into Agent Orange (aka "daily kos"), and has for some time also stopped at Hillbilly Report and the Stars Hollow Gazette, and occasionally at the European Tribune.

In celebration of the three year anniversary, more or less, I am reprinting the diary from the 16th August, 2009, "zOMG, these aint REAL HSR trains!"

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Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations . Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
...
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.

This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it.

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