32 thoughts on “The Low Spark Of High-Speed Rail”

  1. Like the SLS, it keeps lumbering along, doing the bare minimum to keep the funding coming. They’re not even trying to look good in the public eye. With SLS, there’s a number of politicians who kept the money rolling. Who’s still protecting this beast in California?

    1. Unions. California is Illinois west in terms of Democrat machine politics corruption. I also remember the “worst case” estimates that the project would end up coating 100 billion. Looks like that’s just the baseline now.

  2. Last year I ran some numbers that indicated California would be better off shuttling people from LA to San Francisco on Douglas DC-3’s. Lower up-front costs, lower operating costs, less personnel required, faster service.

    1. For $100 billion, California could have built two airports the size of Denver International, one at LA, one at San Fran, bought 100 brand new 747-8s, and provided round-trip transport for 287,000 people a day for 16 years at no charge to the passengers.

      But knowing California, they’d find a way to f*** that up, too.

      1. The 747’s would be all-electric and make the trip as a series of 40 mile hops, with layovers at each stop to swap out the batteries.

      2. Except that there already are two rather large airports at those locations, so the cost of your service is even cheaper once you’ve eliminated the need to build them. Hell, for that kind of money, even Concord service would be financially viable.

  3. I already knew the land acquisition was going to be a chore. But this is even more pathetic than I expected.
    How can you plan and build when you don’t even know where the track’s going to be because you haven’t acquired the land?
    That’s why they started building it in the middle of nowhere. Because that’s where the land acquisition was expected to be easiest. But even in the middle of nowhere it seems they’re having trouble.

    In China the state simply repossesses the land and pays the owner the registered value and that’s it.

    1. Wonder what it’d cost to hire Elon’s The Boring Company to dig a tunnel under the Pacific west off the coast between LA and SF? One big subway. Well if we’re burning piles of $100 bills all other things being equal?

  4. In China the state simply repossesses the land and pays the owner the registered value and that’s it.

    I understand there’s a lot of envy in places like California concerning the power that the Chinese government wields and abuses (for example, how close does the “registered value” of land match the actual value of land?). The catch is that it’d be some of the most useless and incompetent people in California who would be abusing that power. I think we’d get a lot more negative value projects like the high speed rail thing, if California voters were stupid enough to give them this kind of power.

    And we’ll see how beneficial all this Chinese infrastructure building is in a couple of decades. I still hear of new “ghost cities” construction, for a glaring example.

  5. People, you are missing the best part.

    Generally, a high-volume passenger line is built at least 2 tracks, one track for each direction of travel. Think of the DC Metro — 2 tracks.

    The continent-spanning freight lines are largely down to a single track. Yes, they have sidings (loop tracks to our friends Across the Pond), but it is a slow, ponderous system where one train has to divert to the siding track and then wait there to let the train coming up from the opposite direction to go by.

    A two-track railroad line is actually quite capable, especially if it has CTC (centralized traffic control) and crossover tracks. This system can let a faster train pass on the other track, much like a car passing slower traffic on a 2-lane highway where passing is allowed. This system is probably safer because reverse running on the other track is carefully monitored and controlled by the dispatcher.

    A single track with passing sidings, however, assumes that there is a small number of very long trains, where the sidings are long enough for these trains to fit, and the schedules have enough padding for the “meets” where there is a siding.

    Are you ready for this? One of the cost-saving proposals for the CA HSR is to build it single track.


    1. I vote for one track and the trains go head to head with the one with the most locomotive force winning and pushing the other back until the big guy diverts onto a destination platform siding. Like the old days when Ethernet used a shared medium w/o switches. Collision detect with backoff and variable latency. 🙂

      1. You know that the train in the leftward direction will get Media backing to have priority over the other train.

        1. So if you’re a left coast media you prioritize travel to SF while right coast media seek priority to LA? Sounds about right. 🙂

    2. I looked at some high-speed rail numbers from Japan, based on 170 mph trains. 7 km stopping and starting distance, at about 0.42 m/sec^2. Sidings for passenger trains in the US have a 30 mph speed limit entering and leaving sidings.

      So I got 131 seconds to slow from 170 mph to 30. For an 18-car train that’s about 500 meters long, 37 seconds to get onto the siding at 30 mph, and then 32 seconds to come to a complete stop. And then it has to accelerate out, with pretty much the same time delays. The whole process eats up 7 to 8 minutes, but of course that’s if the oncoming train is perfectly timed, which it won’t be. In my experience, when you end up on a siding, you’re going to be sitting there for a while waiting for the other train to show up.

      1. The single-track cost-saving measure came from the LA times, so it cannot be Fake News?

        Single track operation is Nelson Muntz ha-ha level ridicule worthy.

        As is 220 MPH for a first go at HSR. As is the SF-LA travel time projection that the trains will cruise at 220 MPH without taking into account acceleration and braking time, intermediate stops, slower running in the SF, LA and other metro areas.

        As is that promo animation with the “Fly California” trains with spinning windmills in the background. An electric train with the projected high traffic levels and claimed on-time performance is a mismatch to variable sources of electric power.

        As is getting anything built in CA requiring that much land.

        Wishful thinking from the beginning.

  6. Yes, and not only has it changed to single track, but when a suggestion was made to use existing equipment, it’s turned out that the infrastructure cannot even support standard equipment weights.

    1. Not doubting you in the least, but do you have a link or a cite for that?

      I am interested in seeing what that is all about.

  7. I will never understand the appeal of 19th Century tech to people that live in the 21st century.

    Trains are slow. Trains don’t go where you want them to. Trains are really, really, really expensive. Trains use up large sections of land (where are the Greens? They should be appalled).

    People can’t seem to judge good from bad

    1. Calling trains 19th Century tech isn’t persuasive to people who “believe in trains.” A 220 MPH train is definitely 21st Century technology in terms of stability of the vehicle at that speed, the use of high-tech semiconductors in the motor controller and so on.

      The level of the technology is not the problem with it — the SST was high-tech, but it was not a viable transportation option in the absence of massive government subsidy.

      There are two problems with trains. One of them is that they are a “batch” mode that depends on a lot of people wanting to go to the same place at the same time. The other is that, yes, they take up land, but so do highways. The problem, assuming it is the goal to have this mode of transportation, that it wasn’t built in the 60’s when California was able to lay down its major freeways and interstates. This could have been done because Japan was doing it and demonstrating the tech, it is just that California back then was much more sparsely populated.

      One of the advantages claimed for trains over airplanes is that the trains can go city-center-to-city-center. One question is that is there that much demand for that? The other question is, how high-speed is this train going to be going into the city center for a variety of social, political and technical reasons?

      The other advantage of a train is that it can make stops along the way. Yes, there is air service to many communities in California, but planes work better when they operate non-stop — even hub-and-spokes is a big waste of passenger time and airline jet fuel. But then you don’t have the number of passengers for frequent service.

      The train could be a means to promote development in the Inland Empire over the train route, and I think that was part of the vision. But with CA’s turbocharged NIMBYism, good luck seeing this in your lifetime.

      1. I looked up some numbers on the flights between LAX and SFO, the busiest corridor in the US. 6 million people and 30,000 flights per year, which implies 3 million and 15,000 flights going one way, and the same returning, with an average of 200 people per flight. Ideally, that is what the HSR is intended to replace.

        Japanese bullet trains can hold 1,300 people, so I’ll assume an average ridership of 1,000 per train. Per day, the airlines are hauling about 8,000 people in each direction per day, so that would be eight trains leaving each city per day. Assuming a morning surge and an evening (return) surge, that’s four trains leaving each city in the morning, and then four more for the evening.

        I-5 connects the two in 380 miles, so I’ll assume the train route is similar. Assuming a morning run and an evening run, you have a problem in the middle section where each train has to pass four trains coming the other direction on the single track. If that requires four individual siding stops, that eats up a minimum of 30 minutes (dictated by physics). More likely, it will waste an hour. And of course if the ridership, and thus the number of trains, were to increase, the problem gets worse and worse.

        From a network perspective, assuming the system is designed around the morning and evening surge model, it’s the center part of the route that needs to be double track, so the north and south bound surges can pass each other unhindered in the middle. It’s the tail ends of the route that could be single track, because they’ll either being having four arrivals or four departures, depending on the time of day. And such a system should cost less because it would be more expensive to use two-tracks in the built-up urban sections than the remote areas in the middle.

        The single-track in the middle idea seems to answer the question “How can we save now so that, in thee end, we’ve spent the most money for the worst service?” It’s a bad decision even in the set of fantasy-world rules they’re using to justify the project.

      2. trains running at 220 MPH (which the Cali SLS will never get even close to) is 300 MPH slower than a plane (or really, 400 MPH slower at the real train speed). It’s inherently a slow transport that is unsuited to the size of the USA except for a few niche transportation corridors

        High speed trains are dangerous, as a defect in the track will produce a horribly fatal accident.

        Investment in our highway system (and the personal, high speed, and soon to be autonomous automobiles) is cheaper and inherently more flexible.

        Think of the ecosystem destruction from this construction

  8. I figured it out, it only costs a fraction of what is proposed and doesn’t require ANY new infrastructure!

    FREE POT on the existing train run between SF and LA.l!!! It runs in the same amount of time but if you spend the trip in the stoner car you won’t notice the time it took! Dudes!

    1. The Coast Starlight between LA and SF and on to Seattle only runs 3 days a week currently.

      You are going to have to supply a lot of drugs to make that one worthwhile.

      1. Californiums & Seattleites will undoubtedly be impressed with the soft science behind a time warping rail car that can reach its destination in far less perceived time than the rest of the train. Also tapping into a growers market that can replace cannabis for less eco friendly pecan crops in the Central Valley.

        I’d propose a name change from the Starlight to the HighLighter. You might find you need to add cars and trains.

        It’s all a matter of being willing to think outside the blunt!

        1. For those with lung conditions there are alternative cars that will be made available that replace the seats with shower stalls. All to the same effect. A karaoke option is available for the price of a ticket upgrade.

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