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High-speed rail in California was a disaster, but there’s a better way (slate.com)
65 points by ryan_j_naughton 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

Good, damning, summary of the amazing decisions made during the construction of this project (bullet points are quotes):

• A meandering route through the Central Valley devised to win support at the ballot box, locking planners into a scheme that took the route away from its goal of connecting the state’s biggest cities.

• A mad rush to begin construction without knowing the route, acquiring the right of way, studying the geology, or securing the funding.

• An irresponsible partner in the federal government that rushed California to get going and encouraged the state to proceed with half-baked plans.

• A balkanized planning process teeming with eager private-sector beavers who were afraid to report how flawed the enterprise was, a system that Naik called “no consultant left behind.”

• The determination not to engage French and Chinese engineers who offered to just build the damn thing for us. “The equivalent of Bangladesh saying they’d go to the moon with indigenous technology” is how Perl describes the general attitude. “We excluded all the learning and tech that happened elsewhere.”

But after all that, the thing that wasn't said was "by how this was done, one would deduce that no one really cared whether the project succeeded or not."

Which is to say that if another project of this sort is attempted, creating an institutional imperative to succeed from the start is crucial.

And as far as popular support goes, it seems reasonable to make it clear to the voters that the project didn't die by accident but that it was killed. Of course, with all parties conveniently culpable, it's hard to say what a concerned citizen is to do.

Sadly, corruption tends to be a part of any large scale infrastructure project. The trick is creating a situation where the forces involved have incentive not to eat the golden goose. And this incentive basically has to come from the top. Obviously, it didn't this time.

Excellent summary.

Part of the reason he interstate got built / was such a success was that there was enough goodwill and cohesion in society to see the whole thing through. JFK served in his unit alongside guys who hadn’t finished the 9th grade. People trusted each other more than they do today.

Even the moon landing and the work of NASA was part of this cohesive society. That being said cohesion requires conformity which has a ton of drawbacks as well, and this eventually fell apart after a Vietnam. Maybe it had to happen but societies move in cycles and some other highly cohesive event will occur, making stuff like this possible again.

That is a way things get built. But even third world countries occasionally achieve success in infrastructure when the powers-that-be realize success will make them far more money than failure.

The problem with public transit in the US generally is the process of destroying infrastructure and soaking up money has become standard because freeways and automobile were always an adequate alternative when public transit failed (and it's failed and failed).

Now, we have a situation where a lot things dying in the waste of the automobile but the habit of soaking up every bit of transit dollars is very well established. And America's ruling class now resemble a slumlord class - running the entire operation into the ground for maximum profits. Yet confused where to go when things fall to pieces.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 has a lot more to do with the current cohesiveness of American society than Vietnam.

"project didn't die by accident but that it was killed"

I rather think it was still-born. Original ballot was a bunch of lies which could never work without additional huge billions and lack of profits.

In times like these, just after failure is recognized, the skeptics that have been arguing all these points and more for years should be given some recognition. The libertarians, for example, correctly claimed these points ahead of time because that's how human nature within a bureaucracy works. Instead of realizing the core of the problem, which is incompatibility of the train with American society and governance, articles like this blame a poorly designed route, not getting help from the Chinese, or another banality.

If that’s how human nature works, then why do so many other countries have high speed rail?

Culture can control for human nature. Have you ever been to Japan? I was in Ginza a few months ago. In places they have crosswalks for pedestrians every few blocks instead of very block. People will dutifully walk down the street, cross, and walk back up the street. Nobody jaywalks, including small children. Can you imagine that happening in New York or San Francisco? It’s not surprising they can build magnificent infrastructure. In Japan even the corruption—and there is probably more there than here—operates within a structured system of social norms.

The US has many strengths. I’m not sure restraint and political discipline is one of them.

People and countries are different. They spend money on high speed rail and therefore don't spend money on something else. That something else can be a billion different things. I don't miss high speed rail, but I do like owning a car much larger than a Japanese person with my income can afford. I can also fill it up and go anywhere I want to go whenever I want to go there, without regard for train schedules, train seating availability, train passengers that like to eat curry on the train, train passengers that talk a lot, etc... I'm not sure simply comparing countries on whether they have high speed trains or not really answers anything at all. I think the only thing I can kind of gather is that the Japanese like high speed trains and American are ambivalent to them.

I was referring to American culture, not human culture in general. North Korea, for example, has the largest sport stadium and their human displays at that stadium are hundreds of years ahead of American ones. But that's North Korea and the culture that is there. You can have fantastic stadium displays, but building a road and a car to go onto it is impossible.

Even in Japan it's cheaper to fly between Osaka and Tokyo than take the train. The train is a lot more convenient, though.

There are only a few corridors where high speed rail makes sense. Northeast US. Texas Central Railway is even trying to build a line between Houston and Dallas.

Building out everywhere though is a surefire way to rack up debt. Look at Japan, which is touted as a high-speed rail success story. Although the Osaka-Tokyo route is profitable (and very beneficial to their economy), the rest of their high-speed rail network essentially bankrupted JR Rail. JR Rail ended up being privatized, with most of the debt being funneled into a holding company owned by the government. JR East/Central are operating off of a high-speed network they essentially got for free.

Sitting on a train from Jilin to Beijing, I noted the below from Wikipedia:

> In another study conducted about Japan's High-speed rail service, they found a "4-hour wall" in high-speed rail's market share, which if the high speed rail journey time exceeded 4 hours, then people would likely choose planes over high-speed rail. For instance, from Tokyo to Osaka, a 2h22m-journey by Shinkansen, high-speed rail has an 85% market share whereas planes have 15%. From Tokyo to Hiroshima, a 3h44m-journey by Shinkansen, high-speed rail has a 67% market share whereas planes have 33%. The situation is the reverse on the Tokyo to Fukuoka route where high-speed rail takes 4h47m and rail only has 10% market share and planes 90%. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail

The journey is a bit more than 4 hours. The above "4-hour wall" seemed to make a lot of sense. Passenger ridership end-to-end was not very high, but intermediate station pickup and putdown, consisting of quite large cities by European or North American standards, was high. Taking a plane would be slightly faster and sometimes a little cheaper, I prefer the train because of time in laptop/connectivity, good seat size/leg room/decline, ability to have a snooze.

Without the intermediate cities, the train would have be mainly empty. What the train brought/brings was a relief of bus/coach traffic, and a substantial increase in facilitating movement between 'smaller' (though not small) cities that mainly don't have airports.

Does the US have this layout or need?

I'd say it does - if you look at Amtraks long distance trains, the number of people traveling end to end, is usually small, its the intermediary stops that provide the bulk of the passengers.

Just to give you the price, a return fare Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Hakata (Fukuoka) costs almost exactly $400 (44660 JPY). I did a random search for air fares for next week and the lowest ones were $250 return (was looking at an English site, so it only gave me USD). The Shinkansen takes nearly 5 hours, while the flight takes 2. Even when you account for the crazy amount of time ahead you need to arrive for a flight, it will end up being both nearly half the price and half the amount of time. Especially for business travel, there is no way for the Shinkansen to compete. I've actually done that ride once and really enjoyed it, but you have to be a train fan :-)

half the amount of time

Hmm, many US airports recommend showing up a minimum of 2 hours early, and it takes me 1 hour to get to the airport...

Japanese airports are ridiculously efficient. I've gone through both Narita and Haneda a numerous times and it's never taken me more than 15 minutes to get through, even with an international flight. I can't quite remember how long they recommend for domestic flights, but I think it's 1 hour (i.e. 30 minutes before boarding).

Narita is right out for time to get there (like your scenario, it will take more than an hour to take a train there and make it to the check in desk). However, Haneda is only 19 minutes from Tokyo station by monorail. If you live in the more populated areas of Tokyo, it's probably not any more or less convenient than taking the Shinkansen.

Coincidentally, Fukuoka airport is only 3 km away from Hakata station (though you have to take a shuttle bus Edit: It's actually 2 stations away on the metro -- I didn't know this!). So in this example, it's really 6 of one half a dozen of the other. You end up in practically the same spot. I think this is one of the reasons why people fly to Fukuoka. In the other direction, I would probably fly to Sapporo if I needed to get there quickly, but would take the train if I was going anywhere in the Tohoku region (NE region of the main island). The main reason is that the Shinkansen stops at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and then you have to take a different train to Sapporo. When they finally have a line going all the way to Sapporo, I think it will be competitive because it takes an hour to get from Chitose airport to Sapporo station.

Those recommendations are ridiculous. It depends on the airport but for my home airport I only budget 45 minutes and usually only need 15.

The fundamental problem with trains vs planes is that a 2 hour flight only requires 2 hours of wages compared to 5 hours of wages for the train. Owner driven cars obviously don't suffer from this problem so it can still be cheaper to take the car.

no - you dont factor in the sheer number of people that are travelling the routes on any given day, or extranalaties of the systems.. its a one-dimensional choice, by marketshare, in your example

Japan also has a privatized and almost fully-tolled highway network. A high-speed rail ticket for me to Fukuoka costs 9,000 yen; to drive a car instead the tolls alone cost 6,200 yen, add gas to that and the longer time it takes to drive, unless you're loading your family into the car the high cost of driving makes taking the train highly attractive. The US would never tolerate highway tolls like Japan has.

It’s not as expensive per mile as Japan, but US highways do often have tools, and if you’re on the East coast it can add up. Just crossing the GW bridge in New York costs about the equivalent of 1,400 yen. If you want to compare a similar distance something like the I-95 corridor from Massachusetts to North Carolina is a good choice. All told it would be in the range of about 3,500 yen in tolls depending on your route and stop-offs.

Remembering that Americans on average drive much larger cars that use more gas than Japanese people, and I’m not sure thst your point holds up.

The OP actually has to live pretty close to Fukuoka for those prices (probably you were thinking they lived in Tokyo). The distance they are talking about is less than 200 km (maybe 150 miles) -- so about 15% of the distance you are talking about. Tolls roads are very expensive in Japan. Trains are also surprisingly expensive, though very well run.

Jesus. I stand corrected and a little impressed, and they’re right, Americans would literally riot over those prices.

Correct, I'm in Kagoshima, so it's 285 km / about 3 hours. I should have put that in my post. The train only takes half the time (1h30m)

Taking on debt to finance a public good like high speed rail is perfectly reasonable. Privatization isn't a natural outcome of a public corporation running a deficit--it's the result of a political decision to disinvest in that project.

Agree. Government debt is a good thing - just ask fiscal conservative Ronald Reagan, who was the first president since World War II to increase the national debt relative to the GDP. Government is not a company, and judging it by the standards of a company is a mistake. (If anything, it is the dual of a company.)

Ronald Reagan lowered government revenues with a round of tax cuts and sharply raised government spending. The debt was entirely from increasing the military budget without having taxes to pay for it. I would not describe his presidency as fiscally conservative.

Even with parking for a couple days priced in, it's still considerably cheaper to rent a car and drive from DC to NYC than to take the train (and takes about the same amount of time). I much prefer train travel but unless it's heavily subsidized the way highway travel is, I don't think it will ever be competitive or widely popular.

Or just unsubsidize highway travel. It is bound to happen eventually as public investment can’t keep up with road infrastructure needs.

Japan also doesn't have street parking. Another way pretty much every other country is subsidizing cars.

Flying is quick, but the time at both ends kills it for shorter trips. I'd rather take the train. I love riding the rails in Europe. It's a very pleasant way to travel.

shinkansen stations are sometimes a bit put there, though not as bad as the airports. Chinese HSR stations are usually way out there, adding to lots of endpoint time, though still not as much as Chinese airports. Europe is pretty ideal, though I’ve had to transfer train stations in Paris before coming off a TGV. Not fun.

Where are Shinkansen stations "out there"? I've only taken it for a variety of stops between Tokyo and Okayama. All those stations were very central.

For many of the smaller cities along the route; eg Gifu, it doesn’t make sense to route the train into the city.

Shin-Yokohama, Shin-Osaka, Shin-Hakodate are the typical examples. Going from Tokyo to Yokohama center is usually faster on a conventional train.

Osaka is an example, the Shinkansen does not stop in central Osaka but stops at ‘Shin Osaka’ station (literally ‘New Osaka’ station).

Though to be fair, shin Osaka is pretty built up and only 4 Minutes away by subway from central Osaka station.

Wow. Just wow.

JNR ("JP Rail") is in debt because underperforming local lines and inability to increase fare. During privatisation, the Shinkansen is only leased to the newly formed companies as it's making money hand over fist. JR East/Central/West have since bought the line, though.

And flying is cheaper precisely because people like Shinkansen more, though it's not always cheaper.

Once you add up the externalities to air travel though pricing is going to be different...

Carbon pricing may change this cost-benefit ratio though - planes are grossly carbon-ineffecient. With a respectable carbon price, will electric HSR become economical?

America actually does have a world-leading rail system...for freight. In fact passenger trains usually travel on freight tracks (yes, even Caltrain from SF to SJ) and have to give way to freight which is prioritized.

As far as HSR goes, the article is actually unfair when it talks about the Line running through the Central Valley. It's a lot cheaper to run the line there than any straight line between SF and LA. More importantly, tying Bakersfield, Merced and Fresno into the Bay Area and LA regional economies would be great for all three.

> In fact passenger trains usually travel on freight tracks

But the idea of ‘freight tracks’ vs ‘passenger tracks’ isn’t a thing in most other places.

In most of the world they’re the same thing and they prioritise using a schedule. This is another artificial problem that Americans see as an inherent one.

> But the idea of ‘freight tracks’ vs ‘passenger tracks’ isn’t a thing in most other places.

Actually Shinkansen/TGV/ICE run on special tracks. Passenger-only local service (e.g. BART, nyc subway) has proprietary track systems.

In the US, apart from municipal systems, essentially all the rail roads are owned by private freight companies; passenger rolling stock runs on those roads at second priority. This is true in Australia as well.

In Europe freight on, say, SNCF roads has second priority to passenger service.

Majority of Australian railways are government owned. What makes you think passenger trains there are deprioritised?

I took the Overland a few months ago and discussed it with the train crew...after having to wait for a freight train.

When I was a kid we used to take the sleeper trains on that route but these days it's pretty much entirely freight. Most of the country stations have been shut.

It's not a thing here either honestly - and we have freight trains, and amtrak is now mostly ontime - but still slow - and it would remain slow - even with high speed rail.

Is “here” Hawaii? (Looking at your user name). Because it is definitely the case in the USA. Amtrak owns rolling stock but no rail infrastructure.

(here is indeed the USA)

Amtrak does actually own its own infrastructure.

From wikipedia: "Amtrak owns approximately 623 miles of this track and operates an additional 132 miles of track."

From the top of my head, this is the NEC (North East Corridor), some track in Michigan, and some track in New Mexico.

I sit corrected! Though it’s a tiny amount.

I live on the cascade corridor, amtrak is always delayed between Portland and Seattle because of priority freight traffic.

There is a distinct lack of capacity between Seattle and Portland particularly anytime there are capacity issues over the cascades on Stampede/Stevens Pass due to accident, track work, or weather - then things get routed down to Portland and east thru the Columbia River Gorge.

Ironically, their used to be a third rail line over the cascades, with was flatter and honestly, better engineered - but it was ripped up in 1978-1982 era - that is the former Milwaukee Road route thru Snoqualamie pass

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but a major problem I see with many train systems is relatively low utilization of land. Most of the time, train tracks are empty, awaiting an incoming train. Roads, in comparison are far more utilized. For any given foot of train track or road, a car will be passing over that road far more often than a train.

In popular US corridors where real estate is at a premium, that can be significant.

In our current economy, I simply don’t see how building new trains can be economical or even efficient (frok a traveler usage of real estate perspective).

Rail Roads called roads for a reason. Some paved roads are heavily used and some are not. Same for rail. But you are right that $/mi rail roads are more expensive than paved roads.

Also the right of ways are used for all sorts of things e.g. the SPRINT phone company was originally the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Network Telecommunications

Most of the world transports a much smaller proportion of their freight by rail than the US. I mean, I guess it's an "artificial problem" in the sense that if the US killed their rail freight industry and displaced all that freight to other modes it'd go away, but I'm not convinced that's a step forward.

How many places you are comparing have USA’s size and GDP or amount of goods moved around?

Well, the European rail networks are pretty dense and interconnect dense regions comparable to the US east coast at least from Boston to Virginia and west into Pennsylvania. Somehow they also work in less densely populated regions like France and Spain, so extend the comparison westward to Chicago and south down to Florida and Texas.

> More importantly, tying Bakersfield, Merced and Fresno into the Bay Area and LA regional economies would be great for all three.

One the one hand, that's true. On the other hand, the more stops you add to your high-speed train, the less high-speed it becomes. One of the great things about the Paris-Lyon TGV mentioned in the article is that it was very purposefully built to bypass all other settlements. Slowing down, stopping, letting passengers disembark and board, and starting up again would really eat into the time budget.

Not every train has to stop at every station.

True, but just passing through stations often means slowing down to less-than-blazing speeds. Also, you must account for the possibility of the faster trains needing some way to pass slower ones. This might mean more track infrastructure to allow the slower ones to pass to a side track. It might also mean that the slow train's having to wait slows it down further, making running them on high-speed infrastructure a questionable idea.

I trust that the French made the right decision. Germany has fast trains that stop at more places than the French, and in my experience they don't have the theoretical fast trains that just pass through almost all stations with very few stops. Presumably because it's hard to make it work.

The general antipathy towards rail seems to be an American cultural thing, mostly. And a relatively recent (2nd half of 20th century?) at that.

What I find especially amusing is when US size is brought up as a counter-point. It had the same size back in the day when it had the most vibrant railway industry in the world.

Seems more likely Americans prefer the fastest way to get from point A to B regardless of the technology.

But they seem to prefer slow driving over the idea of trains, for shorter distances?

How so? I can drive to NYC from Boston, that's a little slower then the acela, but then I am not bound to the train schedule. It's more convenient to me.

I'd like to see high speed trains, but it's never going to happen in the US without massive investments. Too many special interests.

But that’s what I said. You prefer the slow driving option. You said Americans prefer the fastest option then contradicted yourself and said you take the slower one. You said it yourself. Why are you asking me ‘how so?’

> You prefer the slow driving option

Trains are the slowest option for 99% of routes in America. It’s a diffuse population that built diffuse cities. By the time rail makes sense here, I suspect we’ll have leapfrogged to regional electric air travel.

Sure, but they could be the fastest. In terms of speed, I-80's got nothing on a 200mph TGV. So "trains are slow" doesn't seem to explain antipathy towards new rail projects.

> they could be the fastest. In terms of speed, I-80's got nothing on a 200mph TGV

From station to station, sure. From door to door, it's more complicated.

Driving in that case is only slower if the train schedule matches more or less perfectly with your trip AND your destination is very close to a train station.

That's not the reality of train travel. You often wait for pretty long lengths of time for the train to arrive and then have to deal with transit on the other end.

The in-transit time for a train (just like a plane) must be MUCH faster than driving for it to ever really be worth it from an efficiency point of view. That's why we prefer planes to go long distances and trains in cities where driving times are very high (like NYC).

There are a lot of issues with cars (traffic, sprawl, environmental concerns, etc..) but Americans don't prefer cars in general because Americans are stupid, cars solve the last mile in a way that trains/planes just can't.

It's like 10-20 minutes slower. That's not even including travelling to the station.

I get that it’s slower. You said people pick the faster option rather than the slower less convenient option, then you said actually you pick the slower more convenient option. You contradicted yourself.

> but then I am not bound to the train schedule

Trains from Tokyo to Osaka leave about every 10 mins. You can generally find a seat on a train if you just show up to the station 30 mins before the departure. And if that train is full, just wait 10 minutes more. It's just so much better.

You're also not price-gouged by making last minute travel arrangements as happens with airlines.

The US has a great freight rail network that is highly used.


The US still has one of the most vibrant freight rail networks in the world.

Sure, but we're talking about passenger transportation. That was thriving in US as well, but it doesn't anymore.

Bit off-topic: is this why Tesla is building a Giga-factory in the middle of a desert? I've always wondered how that is possible. No one in Europe would ever build a factory so far from a sea or navigable river.

I guess Americans are simply used to the idea of transporting everything over rail?

They're building it there because they got a great deal from the Nevada government, and because Nevada is basically empty desert so there's no real impediments to building a giant factory.

Americans prefer the most convenient transportation method available to them, sometimes that's a train, sometimes it's not - and the US has a very vibrant rail system, one of the most efficient in the world.

In the 1st half of the 20th century flying was a lot less safe and much more expensive than it became in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

I could be wrong but I believe even at the height of rail, for the most part, it served industry to transport raw materials or finished goods from where they were made or extracted to where they were needed or sold.

There's always more goods to move around than people, so if a transportation method is cheap enough, goods will dominate tonnage.

Almost always when Americans say "too big" they have a point. However, the point usually is lack of density and not size.

It’s not just a “cultural thing” that high-speed rail projects have a tendency to be overbudget boondoggle failures.

The article actually makes the opposite point: That exactly this really is a US cultural thing. And that overseas experts who know how to do it properly could be asked to handle the project for you.

The country is the same size, but a lot of new tech has been invented, like airplanes and cars.

That tech is not US-exclusive. The attitude towards passenger rail seems to be, though.

You don't even have to look to regional rail to see the complaints here - even in discussions like "should we expand subways or heavy commuter rail from the suburbs?" the loudest voices are often those of someone who has arthritis and doesn't think they could walk from a train to their office, or someone who has kids and doesn't think they want to deal with the hassles of a train, or, or, or...

...and yet somehow none of these people seem to be able to internalize the idea that better mass transit systems (and transit options in general) means less traffic for them to drive in, should they choose for whatever combination of personal or professional reasons to continue driving a personal vehicle on routes served by transit.

One side argues in favor of options to expand access and efficiency for society at large, the other side argues against options because they don't think the new options would benefit them personally. Even when you're talking about trains or bike lanes, classic American political problems are omnipresent.

As a progressive from far away from California, I can't help but be frustrated that a) California seems to be all people talk about when it comes to progressive reforms and that b) California consistently sets such a toxic example when it comes to progressive reforms.

I think you hit the nail on the head and we already know what is going to happen when the elections start coming up. This high speed rail project is going be every talking point by the republicans as a shining example of progressive projects/reforms gone disaster. I hate to say it but they'll be right.

The whole HSR project from the very beginning was a complete disaster. We should have known better but progressive arrogance got the best of us. At least newsome was smart enough to kill it off before we dug the hole deeper.

>We should have known better but progressive arrogance got the best of us.

This is an interesting take. Are you arguing that we should've known that high speed rail was never going to work? Or that we should've seen the warning signs of a bad plan and not have pushed a bad plan ahead in lieu of a good plan?

So other than the high speed rail debacle, what progressive reforms has California pushed through that are so "toxic?"

I think you misunderstand me (I may have worded my point badly). It's not that the reforms are toxic, or even anything to do with the reforms themselves. It's that the political landscape in California is often toxic when it bleeds over to the country as a whole. I don't mean this in the "California is just too liberal for middle America" sense (as many Californians seem to). I mean "California seems to have a level of corruption that makes successful reform nigh-impossible".

You can see this "toxicity" in, for example, the singular influence California (and Texas on the other side) have on K12 textbooks, and the synergistic relationship between huge California ag businesses and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Housing, water management, and a few other things come to mind.

Housing in the valley (and elsewhere in CA) is a problem and it has nothing to do with land shortage and everything to do with local politics preventing the use of that land. Housing prices are insane. This is not helped in any way by property taxes which are also very high. So you have an economy that is basically bottle necked on housing. A lot of venture capital goes straight to paying the rent instead of more innovative uses.

In the same way, it's kind of surprising that e.g. desalination plants are not already fully solving water shortages in LA and elsewhere in the state. Instead they seem to continue to insist on providing water from depleted sources for essentially close to free to their citizens while simultaneously struggling to keep the agriculture sector going. Agriculture is a big economic sector in CA and it's being held back by water availability. Water shortages are a huge problem throughout California and most of its population pretty much lives within miles of the Pacific. Yet, people install toilets in their home that flush gallons of drinking water from depleted sources into the sewer..

Roads are notoriously bad (maintenance issues, decades of neglect). Public transport in the Valley is a joke and subways are only a recent novelty in LA. Both cities are notorious for the level of difficulty of actually getting into them or around them by car.

There's a unifying theme here where a policy actively prevents meaningful progress on what are fundamentally not very challenging technical problems (providing housing, getting from A to B, having enough water, etc.). This is odd because tech is basically a core business of that state.

High speed rail around the valley could cut commute times to reasonable levels, get cars off the congested streets, and would allow people to commute in from way beyond the currently practical range. It solves a lot of real problems. But getting it done requires policy changes that are entirely reasonable but yet seemingly impossible. The total investment needed is substantial but comparatively small compared to the money made by unicorns across the valley. Why would you take a plane to LA when you can get there by rail in the time it takes to get to the airport, through security, etc. There's no good reason for not being able to get from downtown SFO to downtown LA in under 2 hours by rail. A few billion investment doesn't sound like it should be particularly hard in the VC epicenter of this planet. Money is not the issue. Policy is.

I think he means the big disconnect between the progressive rhetoric that Californians talk about, versus the policies that are actually enacted. The anti-transit, anti-development mindset that makes urban California unaffordable for most people.

As long as I can fly from LAX to SFO for ~$100 RT it's going to be difficult justifying high speed rail, unless it can be offered at competitive prices. When I was living in the Northeast an Amtrak train from Boston-NYC could easily soar above $100 one-way...

It's also a 9 to 12 hours train ride from SF to LA. Which is mind boggling long! I tried to do a business trip via train, but it's just not worth the time.

Yeah, it's called private development. Just look at Brightline. Or privatized railroads in Japan. Most of the profit comes from owning real estate (usually the railway stations) redeveloped into business and shopping centers, which thrive because of easy access to transportation. This real estate pays for itself, subsidizing the train operations which might be unprofitable by themselves.

I agree that private development like Japan is the way to go, but outside of the Brightline, it seems like nobody in the US is doing this. The only real estate that the HSR line in Texas seems to buy is land for the tracks, but not any real estate around the station.

The property prices are crazy expensive when you start getting into the populated areas of Southern California. I don't know it could ever be done without spending huge amounts of money. I do think it would be great to link the Bakersfield and Fresno areas with both SF and the Los Angeles area.

It would have never been built simply because the uber rich property owners would never let it be built. They would just stall it out long enough to prevent it from ever being built.

I wonder what the rail-laying tech looks like, and if it's made any big advancements in the past 50 years. I would imagine some big advancements in rail construction would tip the scales of cost/benefit.

Let's invest in self-replicating rail construction!

Practically none of the cost goes into laying down rail. Almost all the cost goes into acquiring land, building grade separation in municipalities, and tunneling if needed.

Railway track laying machines.

I don't know if there's something to prepare the foundation, most videos show replacing a line rather than laying a new one.



This is the one used in Chinese HSR construction, for elevated viaducts.


Always important to remember that a lot of the people slamming this stuff have no counter-plan because they either don't believe in climate change or just don't care about it. May an ill fate befall them.

I always thought the obvious route is to replace a couple lanes of interstate with rail.

high speed rail is a beautiful thing.

who’s gonna be the guy who eminent domains all the existing developed property to unkink the existing lines so they can support fast trains?

>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Bait topic, cant we just talk about new tech and how that makes rail better?

Why can't the government just declare that the rail should be built for the greater good and take control of all the land they need via eminent domain for a nominal fee?

They can and often do. But the lawsuits can take tens of years to conclude and cost significant amounts of money even if they win.

The problem California has is that they're trying to take long from rich people, which means protracted fights. You see Eniment Domain working against the poor all the time, just offer slightly above market and twist a little.

zaroth 33 days ago [flagged]

Ah yes, the good old “men with guns show up to steal your land” approach. This Green New Deal is really shaping up!



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Absolutely horrible idea. Ethically bankrupt to say the least.

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