One huge hurdle to successful passenger rail are the rails. They are "owned" by the two or three massive freight companies. So using them with a passenger service gives the passenger service second billing. If we could convince the US to build the National Interstate Rail system (as we did for the highway system) and used taxes to build and maintain the rails, and then allowed anyone to use them with just the investment in the train equipment, it would change the market hugely. And taxing the trains like we do with highways (more weight means higher tax), would create an entirely different situation.
But to do that, we have to dislodge the Rail industry lobby which is literally over a hundred years entrenched.
The US's freight rail industry is generally praised throughout the world in terms of its capabilities to move lots of freight--countries like Germany want to bring their freight rail up to US standards. Trying to reconfigure the system to be up to European standards in passenger movement is going to come largely at the expense of freight movement, and the geography of the US is such that said transition is going to be a net negative.
In fact, it's so bad in Canada that we can't even get our commuter rail story together, much less long distance passenger rail. The Waterloo-Toronto tech corridor has just a handful of packed trains each way (on weekdays only) because a short segment of the track is also CN's major link to the US, and talks to get more access to it have been deadlocked for over a decade. The recently-elected Conservative government just canceled a long-planned freight rail bypass as "too expensive", loudly claiming that they'll have all day service rolled out in the next 18 months without it, sigh.
The real problem is in the US rail travel doesn't make sense. Other than trips up the coasts we are too spread out. Flying from city to city is a better use of human time.
It's better just to build more capacity and reserve it for passenger.
The real problem is the lack of demand for passenger traffic. HSR ridership falls off a cliff around 2-3 hours; in practice, you're limited to looking at city pairs within around 500-700mi max, ideally all in a nice line, and outside the NEC, there's just too few of these pairs.
Some city pairs are kind of isolated (St Louis, Kansas City).
Some have decently sized cities that you can connect in a linear fashion (Chicago > Indianapolis > Louisville > Nashville)
And some you can serve in a somewhat roundabout fashion while still being time competitive (Chicago > Indianapolis > Cincinnati > Columbus > Pittsburgh).
I think it would be far less expensive to have a neutral 3rd party of engineers, economists, and finance folks figure out a way to compute the cost of demoting freight to 2nd billing. And then by law require passenger service to have priority, and to pay for it, while having safeguards for either party to game the system, with on-going audits.
This might be a kind of taking of private property for public use, which is allowed by the fifth amendment so long as there's just compensation. Whether sections are leased or bought can be a point of the negotiation. But using existing infrastructure is inherently more efficient so long as there aren't already congestion problems. And where there are congestion problems it makes sense to mitigate those locations.
US rail infrastructure is so old, curvy and degraded that after accounting for the work so you could run passenger rail at a respectable speed (~110MPH) you'd probably spend the same amount of money as just buying new.
When someone runs shitty trains that breakdown and block the whole track though...
Australia had a similar problem when the rail infrastructure part was split off into ARTC. Some dodgy operators started up with clapped out old locomotives that often broke down. Those operators didn’t last long when they had to pay fines for blocking the track.
sounds like a chance to ticket that company just like we ticket people riding a bicycle on the highway.
It happened to myself and my family last year, and although I'm planning to take Amtrak again this coming week (as there is no other rail option), it's scary to enter that environment again.
Wish us luck and safety.
I have done nearly the entire system and only been subjected to this treatment this one time.
Now, was it luck? I'm not sure. I did find out from an Amtrak employee that the only people searched by the DEA on my trip were myself and a colleague (seven cars behind me). We work at a blockchain startup, and in both cases, this was our first Amtrak trip since starting this job. The same employee told me that she believed that people "involved in bitcoin" were targeted. Furthermore, the agents questioned my colleague about his hardware wallet and took several photos of it (and, according to him, seemed uninterested in anything else).
(Side note: the Amtrak employee also told me that Amtrak folks are terrified of the DEA agents and wished they'd just be gone. She told me that they had made unwanted advances to her and other female Amtrak staff.)
So I don't know if it was luck or targeting, but yes, most of my Amtrak experience has been quite pleasant by comparison.
It's still far less worse than airports, isn't it? I mean, there is a risk that you are being searched but not everyone is. Compare that to airplanes where everyone is being searched and you and can't even take a bottle of water with you.
However, as I found out the hard way, actually having your compartment raided by the DEA is much worse than going through the TSA line.
You're in your little (previously cozy) compartment with the door blocked by DEA agents. It's just you and your family. They're barking orders and demanding to search things. They're saying that you can be removed from the train if you don't comply. They're smacking your camera out of your hands and telling you to stop recording. They're telling you that if you don't submit to a complete search, they'll bring a dog who might bite your child.
To be clear: they literally did all of those things in my case.
What do you do?
In my case, I held firm and told them that I wasn't going to answer any questions or consent to any searches, and after an absolutely terrifying 10 minutes, during which they repeatedly threatened violence against myself and my partner while our 3.5-year old wailed in terror, they finally went away.
I suspect that if I had consented to a search, they'd have stolen cash from my wallet (as has been reported by several other passengers, as you can see from the links below) or worse, planted drugs in an effort to increase their numbers and justify seizing other items.
Refusing to consent to a search is the obvious best thing to do in this scenario.
But it's not easy, and definitely far worse than any TSA experience I've had, which includes being singled out for "enhanced" pat-down and questioning.
I mean, it's the fucking DEA. Even the modicum of professionalism that you have with the TSA is gone.
> can't even take a bottle of water with you.
I typically bring an empty mason jar through security and then fill it at a water fountain.
Police officers shouldn't even get close to planting drugs or stealing money. They are there to enforce the law and not to break it. Hopefully body-cams will get some of them discharged/behind bars and the others to stop doing this.
Do they have the right to bring a dog into your compartment without a warrant? For that matter, do they have the right to enter your compartment without a warrant?
Even if they don't steal or plant anything, it's a huge invasion of privacy and, if you have any delicate items, a risk that they'll be damaged.
I don't think there's any substitute for (a) being polite ("Yes, sir. No, sir.") and (b) being aware of the context. Obviously you should never consent to a search or even give the impression that you're consenting. But literally not talking to the police is not really possible, so there's no avoiding keeping your wits about you so you can act in the most appropriate way possible.
Pulling out your camera is a pretty ballsy move that could escalate things, but I wasn't there so can't judge. But if there were witnesses watching such as other passengers or, especially, a conductor, I wouldn't risk it. I'd just ask for the witnesses' contact information afterward. An irate cop could always snatch your phone away; it's much harder to intimidate a witness, and anyone inclined to do that probably wouldn't think twice about taking your phone or doing something worse later, anyhow. Ultimately you're pretty much helpless, so you have to optimize for the [more likely case] of the cops being mostly honest. They're unfortunately trained to intimidate (we've militarized our civilian police forces), so just because they're acting like assholes doesn't mean they're actually assholes.
Am I missing something?
I don’t know what the right answer is, it seems like a tough call. I’m skeptical of people who confidently say “consenting is never the right answer”.
Mandatory viewing IMHO.
In any case, airports generally concentrate the scary security stuff in one specific area. Once you're through that, you can pretty much expect not to be hassled. Especially, say, mid-journey when you're fast asleep.
Edit: Changed “one” to “wind”. Thanks for pointing that out!
On topic: Are there stories about how Branson/Virgin has screwed up industries and companies in the UK? Have they already given him control over some rail systems that were mismanaged? Would be interested to hear about the source of Branson's poor reputation in his home country. As far as I know he has a decent reputation here in the US.
One place to read the horror stories would be:
A typical “whoopsie” on the fares here:
Part of the problem is that the railway tracks were sold off as a unit, the trains/rolling stock that ran on them as several other units, and then a bunch of franchise operations were set up to operate the trains.
Branson has turned Virgin into a branding exercise in recent decades and slapped his logo on a couple of different operator franchises. But he never owned the track and never owned the vehicles, so ...
The the passenger service are sold off as franchises, which are are bid for by various companies.
It looks like the first leg will connect Miami and West Palm Beach. However, the existing Tri-Rail system already does that http://www.tri-rail.com/ . I don't see how another rail system would be viable.
The Miami to Orlando connection does look interesting, but from the article it seems it would be the second phase.
So...yeah. I'm not entirely sure why they aren't targeting a market that isn't served adequately by an existing option, like Miami or Tampa to Orlando.
This is all in stark contrast to my experiences on Amtrak, full of half-caring staff and dirty cars on a train that would be hours behind. I get it, they don't have ROW since they don't own the tracks, but if the long distance trains left stations nearly on time, then they would be able to meet most of the scheduled sidings and pass with ease.
"Be suspicious of privately owned or funded 'public transportation' projects" is at 23:20
The recent DOT change that allows Euro-style trains  makes privatization-driven rail expansion even more exciting....the potential rolling stock just got WAY faster, cheaper, and more energy efficient.
In the northeast there's infrastructure baggage, in the southwest there's unforgiving geography, and in the Midwest there's not a co-linear arrangement of multi-million-population metros, and in the Piedmont there's not a fortunate right-of-way for truly high-speed rail. Texas is the only other place to make this work, and they're trying too.
But the problem is always that construction costs for these kinds of projects are way too high. In Europe, EU-wide transportation funds pay for renovating and building EU-designated corridors. Individual countries subsidize it too -- much like you'd expect with roads. This structural subsidy would be absent here, and US construction costs (including materials and wages) are high as well. This is a significant financial hurdle that neither road-based transport nor air transport has to contend with.
Not even talking about Prussia/pre-WWI Germany in which the most powerful people were a non elected incredibly poor class of generals and civil servants.
Power manifests itself in many forms, whether it be through money or persuasion or charm or tactical prowess. The point remains, decisions are made by the few for the many. And simply being good as something, does not make you a benevolent force.
That now, we decide the criterion is money as opposed to honor or holiness, is of little importance. They can all be perverted as soon as their utility is obvious.
Tautology is tautological.
Those with power in France in 1798, 1808 and 1818 were using completely different systems of merit. You could not have predicted Napoleon using the old system of power, nor could you have predicted the Bourbon Restoration using the revolutionary system of power.
That hierarchy is used by and large in all organizations is due to the fact we're limited by technology, not an inherit law of nature. The original Soviets (not the USSR) and Catalonian anarchists, had they survived, would have been examples of the many deciding for the many. Depending on how much you believe the literary canon classical Athens was a successful example of that for close to a century.
I believe you had a point with this, but it eluded me. Can you explain (at the risk of destroying the joke?)
> The original Soviets (not the USSR) and Catalonian anarchists, had they survived, would have been examples of the many deciding for the many.
But they didn't, and the fact that they did not pushes the balance towards the possibility that this might not be such a practical idea.
I think that hierarchy is not necessarily a law of nature, but is so common one might be excused for thinking it so. If there is some alternative, I can not conceive it in my mind - not at least in a realistic form - and I would be very pleased to have it explained to me.
I think there is some sort of a circular reasoning regarding this, in my mind. I think that in order to have a more egalitarian and self-directed society you need self-directed individuals. And yet,(according to my mental model) these individuals are the result of the society that produces them.
I do not think power being concentrated has anything to do with human nature, just the difficulty in taking action as a group. If you've even been in a meeting with a dozen people roughly of the same standing it takes a long while to decide anything. If this was a revolutionary situation you'd have the authoritarians already taking over the tv and radio stations before you've read the minutes from the last collectivist group meeting.
Even Athens and Rome realized this and would elect or appoint people with extraordinary power in a crisis.
When direct brain communication is invented I doubt we will see single individuals rise to power again.
But they were, though not in a good way. One of the easiest-to-spot dynamics in a chaotic "revolution" is extreme violence as huge mobs of "common" folks fight for power and influence, striving to become the new "big men" and "drivers" of the revolution itself. Nobody is being fooled or tricked, other than by perhaps fooling or tricking themselves; there are winners and losers to the struggle, but these are only evident after the fact.
In addition to https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, you might find these links helpful for getting an idea of the spirit of this site: