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As the U.S. fantasizes, the rest of the world builds new transport system (2017) (thetransportpolitic.com)
92 points by martey 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments

Let me summarize the argumemts here for convenience:

- HSR is dumb because it's too expensive to build a HSR from coast to coast

- HSR is dumb because it's slower than flying

- HSR is dumb because self-driving cars do everything HSR does, but better

- HSR is dumb because electric scooters are much better for getting around town

I am wondering what this mythical HSR is, that electric scooters and coast-to-coast flights are somehow both the nails in its coffin. Straw men doesn't even begin to describe it!

HSR is of course complementary to all of the technologies above. Heaven forfend, though, that we pursue a future transit system in more than one mode at a time...

High speed rail is a circuit switched network. Air is packet switched. Surface roads are in between. Generally high local redundancy, occasionally bottle necked by geography.

There's nothing wrong with circuit switched networks. POTS has great voice quality. ISDN tends not to drop packets. But we all carry cell phones because packet switching is more flexible in more places.

The article might focus on the US but Canada shouldn't be overlooked for its own neglect of high-speed rail. The Toronto-Montreal corridor is a clear candidate for such a service which has been promised onwards of decades now.

Intercity travel in Canada is pretty dismal. I just took the train from Vancouver to Winnipeg for the first time, and from Fresno to Vancouver. Both were great experiences, with the Canada line being more social and more interesting, but with old trains and low priority on the tracks. Amtrak was fine, but like VIA took 30+ hours. Anyone taking the train is doing so because they prefer the experience. Typically the fares are not competitive with airline costs but it's a much more relaxing experience. Amtrak was far more affordable, and both trains allow more baggage if you have it.

BTW, the 1991 WNET film "The Last Train Across Canada"[0] featured a journalist taking one of the last transcontinental Via Rail (Canada's national railway system) trips, including a side trip up to Churchill (on Hudson Bay), before the system was broken up and segments privatized.

[0] https://www.worldcat.org/title/last-train-across-canada/oclc...

Currently, Toronto-Montreal isn't even bring considered for high speed rail. If anything, the Toronto-London corridor is what's being evaluated.

Canada's size, terrain, and population density make it a special case. Ottawa-toronto might work, but vancouver-calgary would be insanely expensive if even possible. Linking across the country ... we might as well not bother charging for tickets and just call it a government project never intended to break even.

And in the north, spaceX rockets might be cheaper.

I don't think anyone is seriously considering a cross Canada high speed train connection. The emphasis has always been, as it is in many other regions, on short hops lasting up to 3-4 hours over highly trafficked routes. Portions of the Quebec City to Windsor corridor are ideal candidates for high-speed connections.

Isn't it interesting to think about though? If you could built a coast to coast—or even half way—high speed transit option that isn't a bus or car, what would it look like? If you could use existing infrastructure with perhaps minor changes, what could you build or think of? It's really a domain that presents insane constraints to work in/on. Infrastructure currently costs tremendous amounts to build and maintain, the distance is extremely vast, the terrain is rugged, the climate varies wildly, the population is low and spread out. What sort of impact could it have on future urban development?

Seems like Canada could realistically cover almost 75% of the population: https://i.redd.it/sjbijiqb0u211.png

Similar maps work for the us. East and west coasts are dense, so too the boarder with canada (the great lakes cities). Every developed country has population centers around ports. There just arent any ports in the north. (That may one day change.)


There is actually a little known port called Hudson Bay Port in the town of Churchill Manitoba. The town has an airport and a rail line, though unfortunately the rail line has fallen into disrepair in recent years, as the private company that owns it has chosen not to maintain it. I'm not sure on the current status, but I recall it being big news because it's lack of running cut off services to many northern communities, as well as rail service in general.

As an American that live in France for several years, the high-speed trains were great for certain trips, but they wouldn't work in the U.S. because they are not as efficient. By efficiency I mean cost over time. For instance, to go from Paris to Bordeaux by car is about 8 hours, the price of gas is $5/gal and all the freeways are toll roads. Total trip would be about the same to fly. To Fly is about $500 for one-hour flight. The train is about 8 hours and $100.

In America, gas is $3-4/gal, the flight from LA to SF (about 1 hour) is $200. Also, don't forget European cities were designed for pedestrians, while in the US, they were built for cars.

I would say the most efficient way to travel in France is by train, while in the US, it is by plane.

I don't think this impacts your argument but I don't think your numbers are a good illustration of price/time.

- Paris to Bordeaux by plane is $430 (380EUR) right now, 2 days before Christmas but if you look at a less interesting time of year, like February, most days you're looking at $71 (62EUR) (per ITA Matrix with prices in EUR and Paris as sales city).

- The flight itself is only 75 minutes but right now, it takes 45 minutes to get from Paris to CDG and 25 minutes from BOD to Bordeaux, for a total of 145 minutes travel time. Add at least say half an hour to get through security and get to your gate and you're at 175 minutes total trip time.

- Paris to Bordeaux by train is $126 (111EUR) right now but like air, is much cheaper at a less interesting time of year. Most of January is only $18 (16 EUR) (per oui.sncf).

- It takes 153 minutes from the center of Paris to the center of Bordeaux by train (metro to Gare Montparnasse, then TGV to Bordeaux).

So right now, you're looking at $126 + 153 minutes for train or $430 + 175 minutes by plane. Later, you're looking at $18 + 153 minutes by train or $71 + 175 minutes by plane.

For this particular trip, I think the train is clearly a winner.

> The train is about 8 hours and $100.

Small correction: It's 2 hours from Paris to Bordeaux.

That's true, I should have used Nice as my example.

Nah, that's basically just a knock-down argument that high-speed rail really works: it takes one fourth of the time by train as it does by car, and is less expensive.

Yeah, and you should have included the time to get to the airport. The need to arrive early, trains make a few stops between destinations, etc

That plane leaving SFO isn’t stopping in Fresno.

I suppose when you’re contriving an example, you’re hoping that people aren’t really paying attention.

Yes, i’ve been hearing it won’t work for about 40 years. You’re wrong, of course.

Unfortunately, now it’s incredibly expensive to build HSR.

China, the same size as the US, will have 25,000 miles of HSR within a few years.

Your calculus is wrong but let’s just check back in 2025. At some point, we’ll realize the advantage that all that HSR gives China.

Here's a good video summarizing what China has done with high speed rail in a little over a decade:


The difference is population density. It make sense for china because popution center need to pipe huge amounts of people around. That doesn't exist in the US where cars are more efficient.

How’s the population density in Spain? They have more HSR than the US.

Spain has 3 times the population density of the US. The US would need 900 million people to have the same density.

I guess we’re lying with statistics.

The population density of Kansas and Montana is quite low. America is quite large.

However, Los Angeles and New York, San Francisco, etc are much more densely populated than Spain.

In 1869, Oakland and Council Bluffs Iowa were joined with a golden spike, completing the Pacific Railroad. From Oakland, it runs Sacramento, Truckee, Reno, Ogden, Cheyenne, Lincoln, and finally Omaha across the Missouri from Council Bluffs. I80 follows the same route today. Not because of travel demand between Oakland and Cheyenne, Wyoming (population 60k).

Because of geography.

The article asserts France has about 3000km of high speed rail. That will connect Oakland and Council Bluffs, with just enough left over to cross the bay to San Francisco. But not from SF to San Jose.

From Council Bluffs to New York, it's another 2000km. That's all the high speed rail in Germany plus all the high speed rail in Italy (as asserted in the article). In European terms, it's like building a high speed rail line from Paris to Moscow. But if the Urals were in between.

The US doesn't have a national high speed rail network because a national high speed rail network doesn't make sense. Between the Canadian and Mexican borders, there are three geographically reasonable rail routes to the Pacific.

To the north of the I80 route, there's the I90/Great Northern route through North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. South of I80 is the I10/ATSF route across West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It is the only all-weather route to the Pacific in the US. The US obtained it via the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. The three routes alone would require the US to build the second largest high speed rail network.

Using the US Interstate system as a first approximation, a US network would have about 77,000 km of high speed rail line. 77 Germanies or 26 Frances or 3 Europes. On completion, it would be larger than all currently existing and planned high speed rail.[1]

There are places in the US where high speed rail makes some sense. Again, it's about geography. Maybe the article's DC to Charlotte is one of them...Dallas to San Marcos (population 44,000) probably not.

The US is vast. Even at 3x the speed of high speed rail in optimum conditions, most of it is experienced as fly-over states.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_high-speed_railway_lin...

Why doesn't the US have a good regional high speed rail network?

The US does not have political subdivision at the regional level (except as might be reflected at the state level of political subdivision). For example, New England is not a political subdivision while California might be considered one incidentally.

At the state level, a high speed rail will never benefit most residents. For example, a "northeast corridor" line is great for Philadelphia, Manhattan, and Boston. doesn't do anything for the citizens of Pittsburgh, Albany, and Springfield.

I don't think it can be as simple as that because the US did have a good passenger rail system up to the 1950s, with both express limited service and local lines, without formal regional governments.

Not that there needs to be a formal regional government. The US has interstate compacts for situations like this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_compact even comments "these agreements create a new governmental agency which is responsible for administering or improving some shared resource such as ... public transportation infrastructure".

It helpfully links to https://www.csg.org/NCIC/MidwestInterstatePassengerRailCompa... - "the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact brings together state leaders from across the region to advocate for passenger rail improvements. Formed by compact agreement in 2000, the compact's current members are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin."

and http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/rail/major-initiatives/va-nc-hi... "The Virginia-North Carolina High Speed Rail Compact was authorized by the Congress and established through legislation enacted by the Virginia and North Carolina General Assemblies. The purpose of the Compact is to examine and discuss strategies to advance multi-state high speed rail initiatives."

+ Relative to the current state of US passenger rail service, there is a plausible argument that the 1950's were better. Relative to the current state and common imaginary future states, 1950's rail is less plausibly a good model for transportation infrastructure today. The economics make a fine grained network with an acceptable level of service untenable...heck facts on the ground suggest the economics make a course grained network with an acceptable level of service generally untenable. A course grained passenger rail network with tenable economics is the exception.

+ A fine grained passenger rail network still requires about all the roads we have now. The local restaurant needs a pallet of french fries not a boxcar's worth.

+ Neither of the example compacts has executive authority over the participating states. Advocacy and study, only. They only allow states to coordinate efforts with respect to federal programs. MIRPC can lobby for continued Amtrack support [1]. It can't obtain right of way and lay track.

[1]: http://miprc.org/News/miprc-to-congress-fra-amtrak-sustain-t...

My intent with "a good passenger rail system" was to respond to your earlier statement "a high speed rail will never benefit most residents", and not focus on "better".

An express limited service in the 1940s did not benefit most residents, compared to a local service, in a similar way to high speed service now.

My example of those two compacts was to show that supra-state organizations can exist with transport goals in mind. As examples of more effective compacts, the Great Lakes Compact.

There is no need for executive authority over participating states. International agreements occur between different countries even without an organization with executive authority over those countries.

Case in point: the Basel tram network provides international service, which started in 1900 with service to the German Empire. Wilhelm II didn't have executive authority over Basel, nor Switzerland over then-Sankt-Ludwig.

+ My opinion about the utility of compacts is that there is no evidence on the ground that they will lead to interstate high speed rail networks. Beyond evidence on the ground, the political requirements for interstate high speed rail is sustained political support for the network in each state in the network. Assigning a probability (p) of sustained political support to each state (S) in an interstate network (IN), we have:

  pIN = pS(1) x pS(2)...pS(n)
I consider intrastate high speed rail an optimistic proxy for sustained political support for interstate high speed rail. In general, that means pS(i) approximates zero for all 1 <= i <= n. This is based on S from the set {TX, FL, CA} where the best conditions for intrastate high speed rail obtain.

+ The Great Lakes Compact is legally binding. It required approval by each state's legislature. To me, the politics are radically different. The compact prevents states from damage by other states. It exists to avoid a tragedy of the commons where people may die. Rail networks don't have that.

+ I considered diving into the differences between the 1940's and today as they relate to passenger rail networks in my previous comment.

Local passenger rail isn't viable because most rural communities have much lower populations today than in the first half of the 20th century and because transportation alternatives are much better in rural areas. Hopefully, we agree on the second point.

The demographic shift in rural areas has a strong labor component related to mechanization of agriculture. In the midwest, a farm family in 1920 could work about a quarter section of corn (160 acres). Today a family can work about two sections (1280 acres). A small town rail station in 1930 might have served a township with 3000 residents. Now it might serve 1000.

In the South's cotton country, the demographics are even more substantial. In 1940 a share cropper family could work about 20 acres. Mechanization moved major cotton production to large fields in places like Texas. The twenty acre fields were mostly converted to timber and the share cropper shacks left to decay. Small towns that once were the center for several thousand locals are now empty buildings with a few hundred locals nearby.

Local rail in rural areas is economically untenable. The express trains of 1950 worked because there were finer grained networks feeding it. Today, the fine grained network for rail is the same as for air and automobile. It's the automobile.

That's why intrastate high speed rail isn't being built. The proposed Orlando-Tampa route still required a car to get from Azalea Park to the Orlando station and another car to get from the Tampa station to Clearwater Beach.

+ One of the major tradeoffs between rail and auto transportation is scheduling. Scheduling trains efficiently is a job-shop problem and is NP-hard. Adding efficient public transit at each end of the Orlando-Tampa line to avoid the need for an automobile adds terms to an already exponential scheduling problem.

The way to mitigate latency in scheduling problems is not cleverness. It's adding substantial surplus capacity to smooth out peaks. It's making the system generally inefficient. Amtrack's poor level of service is a natural result of focusing on efficiency. High speed rail systems designed around efficiency will not beat the mathematics. Nobody is making a high speed rail case around high availability because it's politically infeasible.

It's probably economically infeasible as well. Rail is a circuit switched network. If it is designed to handle 1000 passengers per hour, handling 1001 passengers takes two hours not 1.001 hours.

Your response affirms my earlier statement that "I don't think it can be as simple as [a lack of 'political subdivision at the regional level']". I thank you for your more detailed response now, which I do not object to.

Also worth noting: where Europe designed their rail system to reduce fatalities by improving control of trains on the track, the US chose to make trains tougher to withstand the completely avoidable accidents.

As a result no European train can run on US rails (technical compatibility aside) because trains like HSV are lightweight and do not meet US design rules.

Wendover had a good video about China's rail network a while ago. [1]

Major points are:

1. China is willing to build loves that aren't self sustainable - whereas the USA isn't (and the US doesn't factor in the social benefits)

2. China's airspace is mostly military - leading to only small flight corridors and therefore significant delays for flights - making trains more reliable

3. China is willing to make train lines that make no sense beyond connecting areas that are not as friendly to the government to areas that are in the hope of increasing government support in those areas

[1] https://youtu.be/0JDoll8OEFE

And, in general, where the government of China says a rail link goes is where it goes, with minimal planning and outside input from citizens and residents. In the U.S. and other Western-style governments, that's simply a non-starter.

Maybe US should rethink a little bit why it takes until 2029 to build a railway in between SF and LA, maybe the due diligence is exaggerated and wear the whole process down?

  it takes until 2029 to build a railway in between SF and LA
SF to LA has had rail service for over 140 years.

The failure of HSR in CA has nothing to do with "the US" and everything to do with graft internal to CA.

Texas Central is another interesting private initiative: https://www.texascentral.com/

I've never got the importance of HSR for the US. It's to sparsely populated. While europe can have trains going from big cities like Berlin to France you'd have to go from NYC to Chicago, NYC to LA, LA to SF, Chicago to Houston. The routes would be huge. It makes no sense.

One thing high speed rail, or any rail for that matter, requires is dense walkable cities.

If the rail link requires driving to the station and renting a car at the destination it's not going to be comparable with one where you can walk or take the tram/subway to move within the endpoints, and there it loses the appeal of convenience.

The best thing that trains offer is direct connection from one city centre to another city centre. These centres need to be such that they have places to go to, reachable by at most public transit and a bit of walking. If they aren't then your single train trip effectively becomes three separate trips.

We have $2/gallon gas, from massive domestic production (and similar or lower prices for Jet-A). There are traffic congestion reasons for mass transit in cities, but we're pretty sorted for inter-city.

The article talks about a train that can go 200mph. That makes having people drive between cities seem a rather slow option. Plus you can get work done on a train. On a car it is not possible as a driver (other than phone calls) and pretty hard as a passenger.

I take your point about planes, but it's good to have more than one option and trains are good for middling distances, as there isn't all the need to check in, and they can start and stop closer to where you want to depart from and arrive.

Not to mention global warming :-)

Why just 200mph

As you increase speed, you need to take turns at larger and larger curves to reduce g-forces on passengers, and the curve radius increases exponentially vs speed. The bigger the curve, the more land you need to buy, and depending on which country you're in property rights extend above and below the land so the cost is unavoidable. (If you can avoid it by going underground or overground, the cost of tunneling and bridges is expensive.) It becomes increasingly costly to increase speed, and on top of that you get diminishing returns with travel time (speeding up from 80 to 120MPH is worth a lot more than going from 200MPH to 240MPH). And above a certain point you spend too much time accelerating and decelerating from top speed, and not enough time actually at the top speed to make it all worthwhile.

Regardless of motive technology, curve-radius will always be a relevant problem, because one of the major advantages of the train is that you can walk around and about. We could design trains with sharper corners and harder acceleration/deceleration, but no one wants to be strapped into a vomit comet for three hours.

> and the curve radius increases exponentially vs speed.

It's merely quadratic if I recall correctly

Oops, I misspoke. But yeah, it's a non-linear increase in costs that results in increasingly marginal time savings.

Because it's here today. It's easy with simple investment, it's got huge benefits over the joke that is the current U.S train service.

There are plenty of passenger trains in service around the world that go faster than 200mp/h, today.

Those are all in China. Wikipedia tells me that max achievable speed in regular service in every country except China is 320km/h. China does 350km/h, but you need to be traveling at quite a long distance for a measly 30km/h increase in speed to be worth it, and China runs much longer high speed rail services than other countries (Beijing to Hong Kong is 9 hours).

Besides, the more important thing is average speed. Acela's top speed is respectable for legacy rail, but it achieves this top speed for a total of 33 miles over a 457 mile route.

> Those are all in China

You're probably right. America shouldn't aim to achieve speeds of high speed rail in ~2025 that China achieved in ~2015. That's aiming too high.

Best to aim lower so we don't disappoint anyone.

The most painful part of high-speed-rail, particularly at higher speeds, is the land acquisition costs; minimum curve radius grows exponentially as speed rises, so costs escalate as speed gets higher. China cares far less about compensating property owners for fair value, which is why they can engineer such high speed lines in the first place.

We are talking about the difference between 217MPH and 200MPH. The total travel time saved between Boston and Washington by an additional 17MPH is a whopping six minutes with the generous assumption that you start right off the bat at top speed and maintain it the entire trip. If saving six minutes will cost billions or tens of billions of dollars, why bother with such a marginal improvement, when you could spend those billions on literally anything else from housing to healthcare to upgrading the power grid?

And China pretty much stopped running train at 350km/h.

Steel-on-steel rail is realistically limited to top service speed of 320km/h, maybe 360 at most. The maintenance is just too high when you increase speed beyond that. Newer Japanese Shinkansen line only operate at 260km/h, for example.

Yes, but the US just needs a taste to get going. They don't need to aim too high, they should concentrate on delivering something.

Instead of trains we're working on self driving cars. They better serve last mile and are better suited for private investment and innovation than huge infrastructure projects.

The self driving car can't go 200MPH.

You also can't fit as many people in self driving cars, simply because having the requisite fuel storage and engine per 2-4 seater car is quite a lot of space when you can spread that around 200 people per train car. And this is before we consider that average car occupancy is something like 1.5.

Can you work in them without getting sick?

When driving your car inter-city do you never think ‘if only I could be working, relaxing or sleeping with this time’ like in a train?

My commute is under 15 minutes each way and this is the only thing I think about during that time. I hate every minute of attention sucking driving.

Part of my day is a 20 minute train ride. I tend to enjoy it (except, of course, when it's late).

Not really because it takes me a fraction of the time. I can do those things far more comfortably when I get there.

Self driving will solve that; self driving is absolutely there already technically if we restricted it to special lanes/highways/etc, and probably could be 100% of interstates already too.

There are some city center to nearby city center where rail would be nice, I agree.

Most of the time when I'm going intercity it is by plane.

If you think you see general solution for "self driving" in next 20 years, i have a bridge to sell you

In a restricted lane (dedicated to only self driving vehicles), we have had this capability for at least 15 years.

That might be fair but that's a chicken-egg problem.

We don't have any such lanes because only the self-driving car companies have dual mode vehicles.

Nobody's going to market vehicles designed to drive in lanes that don't exist. And building out the lanes and the infrastructure to enter and exit them, probably will boost congestion in the short term.

I hope no one is working or sleeping in those lanes.

Come on, the train is already semi-self-driving.

Self driving car will never match the safety, speed, comfort, and social interactions of a train.

Traffic congestion is a pretty big issue for intercity too in some regions. Dallas-Houston is a mere 240 miles but often takes 5 hours to drive. Even in "light" traffic, 4 or so is common.

You can do a lot better than that with even decently upgraded "legacy" rail, never mind a Shinkansen/TGV type system. For example, London-Manchester is 210 miles, and trains take only 2 hours.

> London-Manchester is 210 miles, and trains take only 2 hours

Yes and to further emphasise, this is not a high speed train (though it does use leaning trains making it faster than other lines, and has few stops. Also it's 2 hours 15 mins to be precise).

The proposed high speed train promises London-Manchester in ~1 hour.

It's only 2hrs 15mins if you go the longer way via Crewe, the more direct services via Stoke with fewer stops are around 2hrs 5mins. It also depends on your definition of high speed train, the original definition is 125mph, which the Pendolino definitely is (and is actually the max speed of the British train called the High Speed Train). We keep redefining what High means... HS2 with a max speed of 186mph will be 67minutes.

Good points. By the way just for interest - I take this service regularly and for me it seems to take 2:15, going via Stoke. Furthermore I've actually never seen it go via Crewe, I didn't even know it did. This might depend on the time of day though - I always take it at the busiest times and/or weekends which might increase the journey time a bit.

Is there a solution to the last mile problem? It's every difficult to get to the final destination in sprawled suburban cities even if there's a direct center-center high speed rail line.

Build dense cities.

For example the Tokio-Osaka Shinkansen averages 130 mph over the whole route with 15 stops in between the end stations. You could get from midtown Manhattan to downtown Boston in 1h40min. Make that 1h15min, if the train didn't have stops between NYC and Boston.

So visiting Boston could be almost as fast as visiting the far end of Queens, from Manhattan.

Manchester has a great central tram network. London has the underground.

Driving in London is mainly an exercise in stress and pointlessness.

You hop in an Uber.

The danger when drawing comparisons between England and the US is scale. England is slightly smaller than Alabama.

Overall yeah, but that's why I focused on similar-scale regions. For long distances, like SF-NYC, I think the current US solution of planes is basically the practical one and am not expecting a coast-to-coast bullet train. What's slow and could be improved in the US is regional-scale travel, the 150-400 mile range. I was disagreeing with the person who started this thread who argued that that kind of intercity travel in the US is already solved by autos. It is sort of, but only if you don't mind slow and tedious travel...

For inter-city travel high speed trains will outpace any car even under ideal traffic conditions.

Paris - Stuttgart Car: >6h; TGV: ~3h

What about climate change?

Since cars have a 10-20 year lifespan, and electric is becoming superior, that will probably solve itself over the next 10-20 years (maybe they'll be EV powered by natural gas for a while, but that's still a win, and then the grid might get greener.)

Aviation fuel is the highest and best use of hydrocarbons (along with some chemical production), so we can deal with that last, after lots of power generation, demand reduction/efficiency, etc

Airliners have gotten far more efficient over the last 40 years, starting with the 757/767. (The 757 design got its start from more efficient engines and a new wing shape.) In fact, efficiency improvements are the primary factor driving new airliner models and sales. At the time of the 757 launch, fuel was 40% of the operating cost of air travel.

A huge improvement (for the biggest planes) is going to twins and ETOPS (not just fuel, also maintenance cost, but also fuel). Not as relevant to domestic routes, though.

Not sure your math checks out. EVs are < 1% of fleet and < 2% of sales in the USA. As you say, cars last 10-20 years and this number is rapidly getting longer. Vehicles older than 16 years are the most-rapidly-growing segment of the US vehicle fleet. The average age of US light passenger vehicles hit 12 years in 2016. In 2020 there will still be 80 million cars on the road that were built 1995 or earlier, none of which were electric or even hybrids. Virtually all of the cars sold this year will still be on the road in 2030, and 98% of them will be combustion powered.

What matters is miles driven, not number of vehicles. For someone with a 1-2h each way commute (sigh), replacing a 2010 truck with a 5-year-old 2025 EV in 2030 will make sense on a 2 year cash return basis. For someone who drives 1-2k miles/year, it probably isn't worth upgrading.

Yeah but EVs make up a far smaller proportion of miles driven than they do the fleet by units. For obvious reasons: many EVs are short-range vehicles and the people who buy them are self-selecting as people who are both environmentally conscious and able to live with the range problems. People with long commutes who can't afford a Tesla are obligated to burn gas.

It is reasonable to assume that a 5 year old EV will be as cheap in 2030 (2025 model) as a 5 year old EV is today (2014 model), while becoming more capable at roughly the rate we've seen so far. A 5 year old Leaf is $6-10k now, and would be a ~250 mile range car by 2025.

Plant a lot of trees using the rail money?

If you have, have access to, are able, or want to drive a car, then at best it's reasonable option for places outside of denser areas, albeit far more expensive than the cost of gas. While cars are certainly good in some ways at getting people around to places that don't make sense to service with more significant options, they shouldn't be considered first when thinking about new development imo.

> at best it's reasonable option for places outside of denser areas

AKA 99% of North America.

Places yes, not population though.

A non-new, efficient car (say, a 3 year old Prius) is about $0.15/mi to operate.

Perhaps, though I don't know where that number comes from. If it's purely gas mileage, then it doesn't account for cost of insurance, cost of the car, risk of an accident, cost of storing the car, cost of general maintenance, and, while sort of ancillary, cost the urban area if everyone relies on driving. If it's not pure gas mileage, I'd be curious how that formula works out, but there remain problems with that as a solution to anything.

That's all-in cost, including depreciation and fuel and insurance and maintenance. This is why UberX sort of works for some drivers.

The rate for a new car is much closer to the federal reimbursement rate ($0.545/mi), mostly depreciation. Obviously driving a new lambo at 100mph will be more like $4/mi.

I'm really not finding how this can work out to $0.15. Could you clarify about what the federal reimbursement rate is? Again, if that number were true—which it may be but so far it seems unlikely—the remaining issues are important. AAA, CAA, and other news sources, it takes a very generous amount of miles to get there.

How is that number calculated?

AAA and others have good data (usually for new cars, though, so depreciation makes it $0.30-0.40/mi total).

https://therideshareguy.com/is-a-toyota-prius-the-best-car-f... has a 2011 and 2016 Prius.

I haven't gotten a chance to read through that yet, but even if a Prius is the best ridesharing car, i doubt the best car for an Uber driver and the best car for someone driving 10 miles to and from work five days a week are going to be the same. You'd have to drive a real lot to have the increase in gas mileage cancel out the higher purchase price and higher insurance costs vs a basic econocar.

Thanks to subsidized exploration, and a federal highway tax that is 30 years behind, and no accounting for negative externalities.

I would like to preemptively suggest that the author is focusing on dense areas of the country. He is suggesting high speed rail between Portland-Seattle, Dallas-Houston, NYC-DC, etc. Not Los Angeles-Chicago or DC-Seattle.

Portland-Seattle is already a terrible candidate. I use to travel between the two once a month for a year. The Amtrak was empty as hell. If Amtrak didn't get as much in subsidies as it did to keep that going, it would have shut that shit down long ago. I never road the ORCA for Seattle-Tacoma, but that station near the amtrak always looks pretty busy during commute times.

Build small parts of the network first Larger portions later

Exactly, start with linking neighbor cities where the density supports it. Once the infrastructure and expertise is in place, then it starts to make sense to link the existing lines together into a bigger network.

USA uses fleets of 737s and A320s. The mean distances are right.


Tunnels in cities and trains between cities are not at odds with each other. Let’s not be zealots about that. The tunnels seem fine to me within cities, but I am all for trains between cities.

As it happens, tunnels in cities are not some hitherto unheard of great invention. They form a fairly well known and efficient means of mass transportation systems across the world.

I'm pro-transit (I vote for it whenever it is on the ballot, and take it frequently). I'm also skeptical of Musk at times, especially the promises about "full self driving" in Teslas.

That said, I find the urbanist/transitphile community's response to Musk's tunnel ambitions off-putting. Most of the criticisms I've seen seem to presume that a person who has revolutionized space travel and electric cars can't perform basic math about passenger throughput. Excuse me if I have more faith in Musk than the naysayers.

"Hyperloop all the problems of space travel (vacuum, high speed, expensive) on the earth's surface!"

Please don't post unsubstantive flamebait to HN.

This is at least as bad as what you're scorning.

Perhaps he realizes that politically fail is impossible in the US? Not defending the guy, and I would much prefer HSR, but at this point acknowledging that automobiles rule and must be a part of the solution is worth trying.

Seriously? Author plots kilometers built absolute numbers for China and Italy onto the same graph?

Could someone politely inform said author that China is a little bit bigger than Italy.

The part about the US needing to wake up rings true though.

That's a good point, but I think the point the author was going for is that the U.S is comparable and much smaller countries in physical size are far surpassing them in absolute numbers.

High speed rail is a non-starter in the US, except for in certain regions.

It's 2000 miles from Chicago to LA. Optimistically, if you had a train that averaged 200 miles an hour, it would still take 10 hours. That's just not competitive.

Who is suggesting building high speed rail from Chicago to LA? Why would you pick that particular example? It takes even longer to drive, and yet we have built multiple highway routes that connect LA and Chicago.

Instead of picking dumb examples to discredit the idea, how about looking at obviously good places: The entire East coast from Boston to Miami would be a good corridor to build in. Or start in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and build links to cities between 200 and 500 miles away, where taking a high-speed train would be faster than either driving or flying, and extend from there. Eventually you will have a network that can take you from Chicago to LA, even if that's not the sweet spot for the type of transport. And honestly, a 10 hour train ride will take only 3-4 hours longer than the equivalent flight, once you factor in the huge overhead of time involved in flying.

It's actually a helpful example to support the conclusion. Why would the author provide a "better" example that supports his/her idea less? LA to Chicago may not be a commonly travelled route nor one that would lend itself to train travel best, but the author's point still stands, which is in the US on average distances between major cities are much longer than any individual country in Europe, hence the immense cost required to build infrastructure for trains. We might have bit the bullet and done it with highways back in the day for whatever reason, today the reasoning for doing the same thing may not apply and the cost unjustified.

> in the US on average distances between major cities are much longer than any individual country in Europe

Have you done the math ? Split US into west coast and east coast populuous regions, and nope, not the case.

Also, don't let yourself be fooled by the Mercator projection:


> We might have bit the bullet and done it with highways back in the day for whatever reason, today the reasoning for doing the same thing may not apply and the cost unjustified.

So the rational, cost-effective solution would have been not to have any connection at all?

I'm leaning towards a yes but then again I wasn't there at the time.

(edit) How would people travel between those cities then?

The author’s point does not stand.

No one is saying build high-speed rail between cities that are extremely far apart.

Find the handful of places where it does make sense then build there. If it only makes sense in 4 locations then build there. You can safely ignore the other 20 locations.

Then there is the argument why should the rest of the country pay for something that will only be used in the coasts or densely populated areas?

1. Who said they would?

2. Also, it appears that many states already get a lot more than they contribute. That subsidy probably isn’t going in the direction you think it is.


> 1. Who said they would?

That's my question.

> 2. Also, it appears that many states already get a lot more than they contribute. That subsidy probably isn’t going in the direction you think it is.

Sure, I'm not arguing that the distribution of federal money is 100% fair.

“Then there is the argument why should the rest of the country pay for something that will only be used in the coasts or densely populated areas?”

This isn’t a real question. You’re making up a reason that you haven’t proven exists.

There is no funded HSR outside of California.

What part of it is not a "real" question? Are you saying there are assumptions in the question? Of course, the entire argument is hypothetical since currently there isn't a train system as described above in the US. The point of the comment was to seek predictive reasons in favor and against a hypothetical scenario. This has nothing to do with existing funding inside or outside CA. You seem confused.

You mean cost contribution should be calculated strictly by area, independent of how many people live in the area? How would that be fair?

Britain is tiny in comparison, with a nationally embarrassing rail service compared to our European neighbours. It's been deprived of adequate investment for decades.

Yet the sleeper services to Scotland are still going as a daily service. Even though the rolling stock must be some of the oldest on our railways. New rolling stock due next year.

10 hours HSR service to LA is the perfect time for a good night's sleep and a good full breakfast in the restaurant car. Arrive in LA fully refreshed ready for a full day.

How can that not be competitive and appealing? I'd take that over a 4hr(?) cattle class early morning flight, with an hour or so in airports each end, every single time. Your size is a point in favour of HSR not against. There must be countless viable HSR routes in the US.


So make it regional. There’s no high speed rail from Paris to Moscow either.

The economics still don't work. It becomes a "public work" project instead of a self-sustained business. If the car ended up being much more expensive to purchase and operate, like it is in countries mentioned that are doing so well in rail, then more Americans would ride them. Once you have a sufficient amount of usage, then it would lead to more high speed rails being developed.

I wrote this up a few days ago for another HN post about the economics between Colorado Springs and Denver (I use to live in both, the springs for longer). It's about 21% of springs residents work in Denver. It's a ~60mile commute. There was the choice between widening the interstate by an extra lane ($350 mil) or make a rail for however many billions. Going by that second line they gave a price tag on, €3.4 billion for 182km, that's about $3.8 billion for 113 miles. About $30million a mile. That's a $1.8 billion price tag for one USA area that could theoretically use it. If you go just the shortest distance between the springs and Denver considered the "city limits" of either. Not center to center. Just the closest outskirts.

So you tell me, what would a politician prefer to convince people on a tax hike? $350mil for more roads that a majority of the people would more than likely use? Or $1.8bil for something that SOME people MAY use.

Let's ignore worker costs to operate the trains, rails, ticketing, security, etc. Also, let's ignore fuel/electricity costs. Also, let's ignore insurance. Oh, and preventive maintenance, upkeep and the sort. What sort of prices do they have to charge for about 57,000 to use the commuter to make it economically viable for the city(s)? Let's take $10 a day. 57k x $10 x 20work days a month(avg) x 12 = $136.8mil. It'd take 10+ years for it to break even. If everyone volunteers to work there and fuel was free. And no accidents. And no need to fix things. No paid janitors either. Or flushing toilets. All that costs more money.

If you price it $10 or more a day, why would anyone logically change over from their car already? It costs $8-$12 in fuel a day to make a round trip in a car anyways. Plus you don't have to wake up any sooner to catch the right time train to get to work at a decent time. Plus, a majority of the vehicles heading north to Denver (I use to make this trip relatively often by the way) is filled with plumbers, carpenters, electrical workers, landscapers and the sort. They have their own trucks and vans to carry tools and materials. None of which you can take on a train for a practical expense or in practical effort.

The economics for a high speed rail doesn't make sense with the cost in the USA. Fantastic they work well elsewhere. Great for them and their not car dependent society. They don't work out well here. It's time to mature and grow up to the fact that not all solutions solve all problems.

And yes, the government should spend money to help society. I get that. But there are limits. Too many of these and the defense sector would no longer be the bad guy in government spending.

And don't use the relaxing/reading argument. Obviously, you've never had to actually commute on a regular basis on public transit. I used to use a commuter in Portland for a few years. Your quality of reading comprehension sucks and you spend the first hour just trying to fully wake up because you wake up damn early to make your line jumps. It's not like "Oh, the commuter train takes me exactly where I want to go". Nope, now you have to jump onto buses or other lines to get to where you work. Because the stations are never where you need them. And god damn, when it snows and you're waiting outside. Fuck. Oh, and you have to work late that day? Guess what, the commuter only runs at peak hour work days. You don't get to hang out in the city. If you do, call a friend with a car. Oh, and you owe them gas money now too.

> Obviously, you've never had to actually commute on a regular basis on public transit.

I lived and commuted in NYC, SF, and Chicago. I haven't owned a car in 6 years. I'm intimately familiar with commuting via public transit.

There's too much in your post to reply line item by line item... but I'll just say that a defeatist attitude toward rail or breaking the USA's car dependency will get us just that - defeat.

I'd take a 10 hour train trip from Chicago to LA in a heartbeat.

Security lines are shorter, and the beginning and end of a train trip both happen at a literal train station, so it's usually easier to get into and out of the city center.

Security lines are shorter than airports now because public is not relying on trains in the US for travel as much as airplanes yet, if that happens what makes you think there won't be TSA all over train stations making you take your shoes off before boarding?

Exactly. The TSA will do that, if rail ever becomes popular.

First thing the TSA started doing when BART was extended to the SF Airport was to start running drug dogs on BART trains and busting people for pot.

Absolutely vital that California keeps the TSA off of it's HSR

Security lines are shorter because you can’t fly a train full of jet fuel into a pair of skyscrapers.

You can't do that anymore with commercial aircraft either, since they started looking the cockpit door, yet we still act like every passenger is likely to try it.

Sure you can't do that exact thing but who would have thought of flying planes into skyscrapers before 9/11 except a few crazies anyway? We didn't exactly have a pandemic of people flying planes into skyscrapers for decades prior.

Sure you can't do that exact thing but who would have thought of flying planes into skyscrapers before 9/11 except a few crazies anyway?

Tom Clancy? In ‘Debt of Honor’ it’s a major plot-point after all. The issue here is not that making a train into a cruise missile is hard to imagine, it’s actually impossible. You can attack the train, or use the train to attack a station or something close to the tracks, and that’s it. It’s also a purely kinetic event, rather than adding the complexity of so much fuel.

Make it an overnight train with a real bed and the train sounds more appealing to me. Do a days work in Chicago, go to sleep, wake up, do a days work in LA.

Most people would rather take a 4.5hr flight

Add 2-3 hours for airport time wasted on both ends. But regardless of the time, I would much rather take a 10 hour train ride in comfortable, roomy seats, with all my luggage within reach, than crammed for five hours into an airplane seat literally as small as it can possibly be and that I can't get out of for half the time, especially if it's cheaper, which it probably would be.

Have you ever ridden on a cross country train?

Because it sounds like you haven't. I think you're confusing Harry Potter with reality. The I-5 Amtrak is great and all between Seattle and Portland, but it sucks after the first hour. Now, do 10 for long distance. I'd rather have the same suck for 4 hours instead of 10.

Plus, trains especially don't really do straight shots for long distance. Lot's of connecting trains. Just as bad as plane connections.

The only benefit is the food car. But it's just as expensive as a plane.

And no, the ticket is not cheaper. The big price difference, you don't save all that much between buying a ticket a month ahead of time and day of. The price is the price. Planes reward you for being able to plan ahead. Trains don't.

Sign me up for another vote in favor of a train ride... healthier and more comfortable, I can work, and I don’t have to deal with the TSA? Oh please god yes.

I agree with you on the long runs. However there are a handful of densely populated runs where I think it makes sense.

For example:

1. Detroit - Chicago

2. New York - Philadelphia - Washington DC

3. Tampa - Orlando - Miami

4. Atlanta - Nashville

5. San Antonio - Austin - Dallas

6. Portland - Seattle

7. Los Angeles - Las Vegas

8. Cleveland - Columbus - Cincinnati

All of these are 70-90 minute journeys at 200 mph. Faster than driving and if you include everything in the journey also faster than flying.

Now that it's legal for us to use European train cars perhaps the French (or the Chinese) can build it for us :<)

Because people only ever fly cross country. Also ignore the carbon footprint. Also ignore the time to and from airports.

I don't think that this is necessarily true. In Europe we have night trains running between countries which of course also take 8 or 10 hours or more and they are more or less profitable.

However an average speed of 200 miles (320 km) per hour is still a lot. Especially because you will have stops in between which of course means that the v_max must be even higher.

100% spot on. Many don't realize just how large the us is.

Going from SF to ATL is longer distance than Portugal to Belarus.

China is the same size as US. Somehow, they have HSR

They have a lot of HSR.

About 15,000 miles at the moment, with another 10,000 on the way.

China spent a lot of money over the last ten years on HSR.

The US spent a lot of money on war.

Why do you pick San Francisco to Atlanta of all pairs of cities? How about Atlanta and Charlotte? Atlanta and Nashville? Dallas and Oklahoma City? Dallas and Houston? Dallas and Memphis? Memphis and Nashville? Nashville and Louisville? Louisville and Cincinnati? Cincinnati and Cleveland? Cleveland and Chicago? Chicago and St Louis? Chicago and Milwaukee? St Louis and Kansas City? Boston and New York? New York and DC? DC and Philadelphia? Philadelphia and Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh and Cleveland? These pairs are all in the sweet spot of where high speed rail makes an incredible amount of sense. And lots of the people driving or flying between them regularly would much rather take a comfortable train.

Canadians do. I dont know how you get along so well given how crammed together you all are. Pretty much every state can be driven across in under a day.

China is the same size as the US.

China is a pretty big place too, they didn't just give up. I have been on a fair bit of the train from Chicago out to LA, the flat bit through cornfields where you go to sleep and wake up a few hours later to the same view.

On that train I was shocked that it was six hours late. It got even later so I didn't get to see anything of Chicago, my day seeing the sights was not going to happen, the next train I was to catch - to Boston was waiting at the station.

What I was absolutely not prepared for was the reality that this rail link was just the one lot of tracks. In Europe you can expect four lines of tracks for fast and slow rains each way or just the two lines of tracks in rural areas, if there is just the one track you can expect that to be seriously rural, but even then you can expect a train every hour, even if the service is run down.

I was pretty much at starvation point waiting for the train to Chicago, since there was no useful information and no concessions at the platform I could not leave for that six hour wait as the train could arrive 'at any moment'. Then the speed of the thing was glacial, sometimes stopped for an eternity to let a more important freight train through.

Trains are competitive with planes although this is not believed in America. That 'two hour flight' never is, there are airports to get to, check in to be done, being divorced from one's luggage and a whole host of practical concerns that are not a problem when you have a rail network that has city/town centre stations rather than middle of nowhere airports.

Building a railway across China is not made magically easier because of some 'authoritarian government'. The railway still has to go across mountain ranges and houses have to be demolished with lots of complicated land rights issues every inch of the way. Putting two tracks through all those cornfields of middle America is a walk in the park by comparison. Two tracks are also cheaper to maintain, the wear is halved compared to the single track that you get in America.

Admittedly the Rocky Mountains do require a bit of route planning to get over, but compared to the terrain of China the grades are easy. Then there is Japan, on the Ring of Fire and requiring even more engineering.

The automobile may have benefits but having to hold that wheel thing and keep an eyeball on the road ahead is a bit silly. Trains just make more sense, the rails do the steering bit, plus passengers don't have to total approximately four.

Planes are a bit silly too, sure they have their place crossing from the edge of an ocean to another edge of an ocean, but planes can't stop off en-route to let passengers off and on with no more than a five minute pause per stop.

Often the US interstate highways have a median down the middle that is a hundred or more metres wide, perfect for putting some tracks down without having any land rights tussles.

For generations Americans have been electing the interests of Wall Street and The Pentagon into office, knowing full too well that the Democrats and the Republicans are fundamentally the same, receiving political contributions from the same military-industrial-complex. When the rare thing happens that a Ralph Nader comes along the Democrats double down on voting Democrat and berate the Ralph Nader candidate for splitting the 'liberal' vote to let the Republicans in, blaming all their woes on him instead of the interests of international capital that print money to keep everyone in debt.

Rail need not be absent from the US forever, high speed lines in interstate medians could cover the country in ten years, with huge benefits for 'making America great again'. But with 700+ billion spent on defence and a similar sum spent on paying interest on 22 trillion dollars of debt there is no money for the American government to invest a cent in anything that could be instrumental in the prosperity of the US. It was industrial capital under a different dollar that made 'America great', since WW2 America has been coasting, with everyone working harder and harder, under this new regime of 'international finance capitalism'. The 'free market' actually means freedom from this pernicious vulture capitalism that has sucked the industrial lifeblood out of America.

If times change and the American people take up their 'amendment rights' to see to the people that control their currency then America could join the rest of the world and have nice things like a modern rail network in a lot less time than what it took China to get theirs.

Sorry, but an "Authoritarian Government" absolutely makes it FAR easier because it can chase any kind of developmental boondoggles it wants to. See China's ghost cities. It has stupid cheap labor supply and can relocate hundreds of thousands of people in the snap of a bureaucrat's finger because they have no rights to fight the state.

They also have cities with 30 million people in them, and dominate the cities with populations > 1M on the planet besides India and other parts of SE Asia. Rail just makes more sense there in a way the US can't even compare. It has nothing to do with country size and everything to do with density and cost.

Even if you could plan HSR in the most rail-friendly parts of the east coast, you're going to have to eminent domain tons of property for immense cost, or disrupt the shit out of the exiting rail line which the region actually depends on for things like commuting.

The conspiracy about interests wanting to kill rail make little sense. Its struggled because other modes of transit have proven better. Amtrak is heavily subsidized and terribly unpopular for travel because planes are just better here.

California's eternal dream is HSR between LA and SF and it is turning into a ludicrous cost-overrun disaster. Construction of rail costs 7x in NYC what it costs in France due to labor, environmental and other land use regulatory burdens -- let alone how much cheaper it is for China (who has a looming debt problem but is also mostly internal IIRC, and doesn't have to worry about efficiency because it is not a business)

Rail doesn't happen en masse in the US because other modes are more cost effective given the population density realities. Atmospheric CO2 scrubbing tech is coming a long way in a short amount of time, so rather than chasing rail that will never be faster than flying (not to mention the fact that you can change flight paths with ease as demand to go from place to place changes because there's no physical infrastructure limiting you) we should focus on the rest of the green energy in our grid to make a dent in carbon.

I lament USA's car driving culture as much as anyone. I live in a dense and transit friendly city and wish more parts of the USA were like that, but HSR is part pipe dream, part white whale, and part hammer that politicians want everything to be a political nail for. One can't just assume that just because something works in one place, it will work everywhere. The realities in the US are different, and next-generation transit here has to face those realities.

There's probably room for more rail here as cities become revitalized and between things like airports and said cities, but you will have to change the entire face of the majority of suburbia and rural America to make trains become the most useful mode of transit here and as someone who wants to go live in Europe for a bit for many of the same quality of life dreams you probably share, I wish you good luck with that.

You’re right, it is a political hammer. The thing is, it never survives feasibility studies. The Tampa Orlando hsr has been a talking point for at least 20 years that I know of. There just isn’t enough people who even say that they MIGHT use it. But politicians love promising it and fancy 3D renders. Hsr in the states is exactly like that bridge to nowhere in Alaska everyone got on Palin back during Mcain v Obama. If they applied the exact same logic, not enough people will be using it to justify cost, we wouldn’t be having these discussions.

I just don’t see the appeal. First off, I’ve done long distance trains. They suck just as much as planes and they’re slower. The tickets won’t be that much cheaper than puddle jump flights. And since it’s a longer trip, a negative, it has to be cheaper than plane. There are still checked bags on a train. Still a 20 min on boarding process from entering station to train. That’ll get worse as more people use it.

I just mostly want to understand how trains are an indicator of a country’s tech prowess now. Or whatever fantasy they think comes with them. Trains are literally the symbol of old school social elite and unbridled capitalism and social control. God damn Vanderbilt? The car was the turning point of democratic maneuverability. People could go where ever they wanted and when. Well, that’s mostly true for Jeep owners at least. The hell happened?

Part of me thinks the word "fantasize" in the title is referring to the efforts by Elon Musk with the Boring company, Hyperloop, SpaceX intra-earth travel thus I'd like to see arguments for why that is when in fact Boring company is making non-stop progress given how busy Musk is and SpaceX constantly advancing the edge of what is possible with space tech, fantasy? Not one bit.

"Musk" was not mentioned or even alluded to in the piece, so maybe it's not a good idea to try to shoehorn the man into every situation.

Also, wrt both Boring Company and Hyperloop, "fantasy" is exactly the word to describe them. Outlandish projects, with a lot of buzz and PR but no sense or reason and many real problems, some fatal.

He's been in the news almost constantly talking about both those projects and just announced a milestone with the Boring company, so I don't think it is completely out there to believe the author might have been referring to Musk's efforts. After all you think both those projects by Musk are outlandish and would use the word "fantasy" to describe them maybe so did the author, but forgot to mention Musk specifically or chose not to for whatever reason. Suffice it to say I don't think they are fantasies at all and not sure why people keep characterizing such Herculean efforts that require so much will and drive as such and are so keen to so easily dismiss them instead of admiring them.

I would prefer to live in the US than any of these countries funding HSR. Electric cars and electric scooters are enough to get around the city and around the state, with flights for anything much longer than that. Autonomous vehicles available via subscription will make that even better.

The problem is that flights are not sustainable much longer. Flying uses an astounding amount of subsidized fossil fuels, requires infrastructure that takes up quite a large amount of space, and is increasingly both inconvenient and intrusive. They're also a separate matter from the last-mile problem that bicycles, scooters, and autonomous vehicles aim to solve (assuming we can structure AV use in a way that, during the transition period towards full subscription use, doesn't increase traffic like so-called ridesharing taxis do now).

The United States can be one of these countries funding HSR. Countries that are quite pleasant to live in--and some that aren't, depending on your outlook--are already funding HSR and already have expansive rail networks. There's no reason we can't, too.

Commercial air travel is more efficient in fuel usage than driving, per passenger mile.

Fossil fuel powered driving will also not be sustainable long-term.

Is there any reason why a country can't have both?

The US has optimised its rail network for freight.

By modal share, the US ships 44% of its freight by rail.

France, the subject of this article, ships only 15%

I would argue that rail is better optimised for freight than passengers. Building rail to send huge amounts of heavy freight at relatively slow speeds is very cheap, and removes a lot of trucks. Building HSR is very expensive, and the network would need to be duplicated since none of the existing tracks could be used.

People who comment on these articles base their opinion on ideals, rather than facts. I'd suggest that few people have even travelled in Europe by rail, where actually most passengers will go on slower trains which are less expensive.


Hub-to-hub transport is dying out. Airlines have recognised this, Uber has recognised this, Escooters have recognised this. Spending billions on HSR is a waste of money. Better to invest in autonomous busses and cars, so that for the same number of vehicles on our roads, we can carry 2x the number of passengers, immediately solving congestion with minimal additional infrastructure spend.

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