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China unveils 600 kph maglev train (reuters.com)
229 points by awiesenhofer 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 432 comments






Incredible.

I would love to have a good high-speed intercity train network in the United States connecting the major cities in each State.

I just looked up an Amtrak from Atlanta to Dallas: 3 legs around 64 hours. Cries in American. (there's no connection in New Orleans, so the trip planner routes to Chicago)


I have made my peace with the fact that Car and Airline Lobby will not let this happen. I mean we are the richest frikin country in the world and we cannot build a decent high speed train network. Only reason is that some strong forces do not want this to happen. I hope I am wrong.

I also hear funny arguments (in my opinion) about why high speed Rails are a bad idea. Oh it's too expensive. Oh it is ok for countries like China because they have lot of people etc etc. Excuses. I thought we like choices as Americans. Right now, if I don't want to drive, my only option is to fly mostly in a shitty plane cramped up with strangers on a 4 hour flight. I would gladly trade that with a train even if that takes say an additional hour or so. Are Amtraks the best we can do America ?


It's a Western problem. China just moves people out of the way. In the West, you have go around, under, or over. Labour costs are low. The CCP answers to itself. Can I build this? Of course you can!

In the UK, there's archaeological surveys, bio-diversity/green considerations, carbon impact, political lobbying. The list just goes on and on and on.

The US, at least, is largely an empty continent. You can probably draw a line between cities and not hit many things. Plus the US love-affair with cars means you could, if you wanted to, build terminals outside major cities and rent a car to drive the last part and still conceivably run a profitable service.

In the UK, we must have our terminals in the city centres which adds so much more to the cost as we have to tunnel under and into the cities.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Speed_1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Speed_2


Even in the US the government needs to buy/take land from every individual in the way. In my experience that maybe wouldn’t be a problem but they try to get it for a ridiculously low amount, so then people (understandably) fight. That leads to delays and more costs until that’s finally settled. When the county replaced a road that ran next to my parent’s property, they wanted to move it up, taking half of their 60 acres. They did this because they wanted to expand the county park (for RVers) that’s across the road.

They offered $500 an acre. That land is easily worth $10,000 an acre, and that would have also reduced the value of the rest of their land and house. Their house is on a hill and the view is wonderful, and the county also tried to put a water tower up right in front of their house.

Long story short after a long fight a man with some pull got involved on my parents behalf, and the county ended up with some extra land (sold at a reasonable price) and the water tower was put behind a woods (from their perspective) instead, all of a few hundred feet away. It was years of stress for my parents.


> It's a Western problem

It's more accurately a common law problem. European states with Napoleonic law appear to avoid the cost spiral.

> You can probably draw a line between cities and not hit many things

The empty parts are away from cities. The California and Capitol corridors are (a) prime rail routes and (b) almost contiguous megalopolises.


> It's more accurately a common law problem. European states with Napoleonic law appear to avoid the cost spiral.

Germany alone has like 3 major extremely over-budget infrastructure projects I can think of.


> Germany alone has like 3 major extremely over-budget infrastructure projects I can think of

I'm going off cost per mile to build rail and road. Even when European projects go over budget, they still clock in below the U.K.–on average–which clocks in way below the U.S. (The latter gap is best explained by institutional ineptitude.)


Corruption also plays a big part in rising the cost.

> European states with Napoleonic law appear to avoid the cost spiral.

At least not in France. The "SNCF" had to be rescued by the French state three times since it was created in 1937. And it was created because the private companies it replaced were bankrupt. [0] (in French)

Each year the French state gives ~16 Billion Euros to the company [1] (in French)

[0] https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2018/03/19/cinq...

[1] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soci%C3%A9t%C3%A9_nationale_de...


Each and every country loves to complain about their railway services. I bet you're selling the French railways short here. I'd assume you're doing better than UK, and definitely an order of magnitude better than US.

I did not complained, I replied to:

"European states with Napoleonic law appear to avoid the cost spiral."

Do you have any hint of other European states with Napoleonic law that avoided cost spiral?


Right, I misunderstood your comment. I agree that costs have increased in continental Europe too, don't have any numbers.

> It's more accurately a common law problem. European states with Napoleonic law appear to avoid the cost spiral.

Asking out of genuine interest - do you have any ideas as to why this might be?


Could also be that first past the post systems leading to less competent administrations than proportional representation and coalitions. Common law and first past the post seems to go hand in hand.

Technically speaking, the US has eminent domain laws which allow it to force people out of the way (generally by paying fair market price for the land).

The problem isn't legal, but entirely one of political will.


It’s not that simple, people can and will legally fight it. Even if they’re given fair market price for the land (big if), the rest of their land’s/home’s value will be reduced. Nobody wants a train going right next to their house for nuisance and danger reasons, it might split their land, etc.

Some people will have an emotional attachment to their land/homes as well. The only way for something like this to work is to spend so far above market rate that people come out ahead.


> the rest of their land’s/home’s value will be reduced.

That's part of giving them fair value. It's not just the number of square inches you take, but what you did to the value of what they have left.

That's just calculating money. The real problem is time. They can tie you up in court for, probably, a decade. (IANAL, but I think a determined individual who was willing to spend money on lawyers could do something around that long.)


Maybe unpopular view, but another way is to just have stronger eminent domain. I don't think market price should be paid when land is assigned to infrastructure. I also think cities should use eminent domain (with nominal compensation) to acquire land before all zoning to be able to fund the urban infrastructure and control housing prices.

So you want to get something for less than it is worth, at the expense of the owner? You can just nationalize their property, why bother paying something? Viva la revolucion, comrade Che.

Yep, that's what eminent domain basically is about. Land ownership comes with different strings attached compared to other kinds of wealth. No need to evoke communist imagery -- this is common practice in western countries, some pay the market price and some do not.

So you'd be more than happy if the government showed up at your home and offered you pennies on the dollar for the latest pet project?

I don't see non-zoned land the same way as other property. It's more like spectrum, a limited resource.

This just seems cruel. If someone bought a home for 500k and has a 400k loan, then the city forces them out and gives them 100k, then that person has a 300k loan and no home.

Eminent domain should be used for non-zoned land. I'm fine with full market price compensation for zoned land. It's a long term planning failure if it ever comes to that.

I live on non-zoned land. So do my parents and at least 2 of my friends. You're basically saying that nobody should live in rural areas or risk having their life's work wiped out (or worse) at the whim of the government.

We have compulsory purchase orders in the UK that are often used on large infrastructure projects such as high speed rail to clear the route, but they’re politically unpopular and not used as often as they perhaps should be. And politicians are nothing if not about self interest and popularity.

IOW high speed rail is not popular.

The UK's HS2 is really about freeing up more commuter capacity on the existing lines into London - currently both the express and stopping services use the same line requiring large gaps. By separating the fast and slow trains they'll be able to schedule more trains. If you're going to build a new line might as well make it high speed.

If you've ever been on a London commuter service you'll see they're pretty packed.


If the system requires a charismatic politician vocal about high speed rail he/she either doesn't exist or not enough people care for it?

I don't think people particularly care about high speed rail in Britain since the vast majority of the population live within 200 miles of London and our existing trains go up to 125mph on the mainlines so get you to London in a couple of hours or so.

Edinburgh or Glasgow to London is a similar distance as LA to SF. Those trains take about 4 hours right now versus 8 hours on Amtrak, about the same as the 8 1/2 hours the Flying Scotsman took from Edinburgh to London in 1888.


The stretch of California high speed rail currently under construction includes a costly grade separation roughly every one and two thirds miles. The result should be safe and robust, but the expense is evidence of something more than a largely empty continent. And that is in a largely wide open mostly agricultural area of the US.

I assume you're referring to the Caltrain upgrade. It was completely wild to me that a railway line through a major metropolitan area would have level crossings. They're usually a rural thing in other countries.

No, I'm talking about the current round of work in the Central Valley that just started. Currently all the big HSR works are going on there. I can't currently find the report with the oddly high grade separation count and it is possible that my read of that was mistaken, but I am pretty sure that if you look at the recent documents they just moved on from CP1 and started on either CP2 or CP4 in the south end of the Central Valley and it includes a very large number of grade separations. That report was posted somewhere on either https://hsr.ca.gov/ or https://www.buildhsr.com a month or two ago.

Fortunately these Central Valley grade separations are merely expensive while the CalTrain corridor work on the peninsula is experiencing explosive growth of costs from the the complexity of grade separations because of the very tricky maze of rights of way especially in and around Redwood City: https://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2021/05/the-exploding-cost...


Everyone says that the party can just build infrastructure anywhere but then why are nail houses so common in China?

Not common at all. News reports give you false impression.

There shouldn't be any if the party has such absolute power and no concern for the people in the way of a project.

I don't see what's stopping the US from building elevated rail over interstate highways. They already own the rights of way, and the radii of curvature are already pretty large. As a conservative lower bound, they should at least be able to match automobile speeds.

Additionally, those highways typically enter cities, so stations could be built over them, often right in the city center. That does leave details about how those stations are accessed, but this seems minor since everything else has already been dealt with.

I wonder if an executive order could make it happen.


Wouldn't it also be much, much more expensive than building the line on the ground?

I'm not American, but I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't much appetite for building transport infrastructure above existing transport after the Oakland viaduct collapse in the 1989 SF earthquake. I'm old enough to remember it, and watching from abroad, it was pretty horrific.

The cost of building something like that is likely to be prohibitive because you'll need to dig support pylons by the road and each and every pylon would need a ground survey for existing utilities, and so on. It adds up really quickly, even with a concrete factory on site manufacturing identical parts (which they do for tunnel building for example).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Loma_Prieta_earthquake#Oa...


I don't know the cost in US, but in my country Euro prices are: highway at 6 million/km, rail at 10 million, viaducts over 15 and tunnels over 20 million. The elevated rail would be at least 50% more expensive, probably more than double because in case of viaducts there is no restriction on what is below the construction and you can put pylons anywhere, if it is above and existing highway there are many limitations.

So it is doable, maybe a good idea if you have the money, but I heard California is burning money like there is no tomorrow and there are no funds for such a project (maybe not true, it's just what I heard).


> carbon impact

I must be missing something here. Surely trains have a much lower carbon impact than cars and planes do, right?


Lower yes, but not zero. Concrete and steel for construction of the railways produces a lot of emissions. Even if the trains are electric, a lot of the U.S. grid is powered by fossil fuels (mainly coal plus some natural gas).

Even in a state like California where the population is pro-rail and mass transit, the sheer cost of building high speed rail means the project won't come to fruition any time soon. The automobile and airline lobby is powerful, yes, but the sheer cost of public works projects in the US seems to be the biggest limiting factor.

In the PRC, if the government wants to build a high speed rail line, it's getting built and F-U if you want to stop it. In the US the process is 'democratized' and every little busybody comes out to protest the construction, drag the process out, or get some variance approved for some hitherto unexpected concern.


I hear you but it is weird to see America falling behind in these things while the rest of the world catches up. Americans built a World Class Highway System in the 50s and I am sure we had the same argument back then on how it is so expensive or democratized that we cannot take away people's land etc etc. Yes it is tougher in democratized countries and there are good reasons for it but do we really give up ? I cannot imagine that.

Some of the current US backlash on eminent domain is a direct result of neighborhoods destroyed by the Eisenhower highway system... often poor black neighborhoods which nobody cared about in the 50s. The Voting Rights Act was passed 9 years later.

I know this is going to come across as an apologia for building highways through poor neighborhoods, but I see that as a natural consequence of the land simply being cheaper to acquire. I'm not denying that there was possibly some racial malice in the planning. It just seems obvious to me a government with limited funding is going to put the infrastructure through the cheapest path it can find. It was still a terrible thing to do to those neighborhoods, however.

The key argument against this is that many of the planned highways were also supposed to go through richer neighborhoods, but never got constructed because the residents of those neighborhoods were able to successfully fight against them.

(For one example, check out the incomplete stub at the eastern terminus of I-70 -- I don't believe the cost of the land was a major factor in that case)


I did not know that. I will have to look up more about I-70.

Exactly -- you can't build big projects without stepping on someone's toes. What we really need is equal-opportunity toe-stepping.

The discussions on you can't take away land didn't start until the 1960s, and costs went way up as a result.

US built first a large railway network, then a highway system, then stagnated. While there is room for debate on why this happened, the reasons are fairly obvious but writing about it here would bomb the writer to oblivion.

The difference is that the interstate highway system was not simply built for mass civilian transit, but as part of a post-WW2 initiative, functioning as emergency landing strips and providing easier access between airports, seaports, rail terminals, and military bases (which tend to reside near interstate highways).

the whole “emergency landing-strip” thing is a myth btw

In the US that’s true (according to Wikipedia), but in a lot of places around the world, landing strips on the highway used to be (or still are) a thing. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_strip

yeah, i would think that, generally (maybe even universally), the interstate roads in the us are neither wide nor thick enough to support aircraft. i didn’t realise that there are countries that actually did this though; that’s pretty neat.

There are some depression-era eminent domain laws that the federal government can use if they really want to. Literally the proper filings are made and the bulldozers can roll the next day.

The reason we don't have nice things like China does is just political will, not any legal barriers.


I’d be curious to know what these laws say. Isn’t eminent domain primarily governed by the Constitution (5A)?

The federal power for eminent domain that allows for 'seize the land and deploy the bulldozers the next day, deal with the court stuff later' comes from the Taking Act[1].

States have their own eminent domain powers which vary, however in general they're easy to sandbag in the courts for years, preventing the state from doing anything while the landowners argue over the money.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Declaration_of_Taking_...


It's complicated, but my understanding is that the government can take things, as long as it actually has plans to use the stuff it takes to help the public. E.g. building dams, highways, etc are the common use cases.

Importantly those highways don't need to be free to use. The government can take land and build a for-profit railway, in conjunction with a private corporation if they want, as long as it was to benefit the public.


It was found in 2005 that they can take your property and give it to another private party simply by making the claim that its for the public good. This has been used to take homes from people so they can be bulldozed and replaced with new construction, the idea being that the larger tax base is for the public good. This makes the power in effect limitless as you can claim almost anything is for the public good.

A major problem I have with this is appraisal prices often don't jive with reality. For example in San Fransisco houses almost always sell above asking, if the government were to step in and give the land away to a private person at asking they would be in effect getting a discount. Similarly my own home has had a lot of work put into it that doesn't effect it's appraisal price meaningfully, if forced to sell at that price I'd lose money.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London


The Supreme Court recently ruled that this is pretty general. Specifically they ruled that Chicago could take land (with payment) in order to give it to a chocolate factory that wanted to expand:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-02/supreme-c...


America simply has an issue with construction costs, look at say the big dig in terms of millions per mile. HSR along reasonably flat terrain like most of the US isn’t that expensive. The real issue is it’s very easy to cut from budgets. Unlike highways you don’t connect every city let alone town which makes it extremely unpopular at the state level.

I think the Texas high speed rail is running into issues with eminent domain along its proposed route and they're trying to use some 1800's era law to get around the lawsuits from the landowners looking to cash in.

Now seems like a good time to bring up Considerations on Cost Disease!

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost...


What incenses me is that here in Wisconsin, they can declare farms that have been in our families for over a hundred years "blighted", and take them for a non-existent Foxconn plant with nary a peep. But if they need land for a high speed rail they can't do the same? If the people against high speed rail want to lie, OK, I get it. But why not come up with something consistent with the reality that the people are observing?

At this point, they don't even pretend to respect the intelligence of the people.


The Foxconn boondoggle (and wisconsin state level politics in general) always fires me up.

Just to correct, in PRC if your property is in the road planning area, you would be very happy because the compensation is very good compare to what you have. Of course, in developed countries, things are more expensive, and maybe people already have nice houses so they don't want to move to a new building.

The way environmental legislation works in the U.S, if some environmental non-profit wants to start throwing spaghetti at the wall to stop infrastructure construction, they can stop it basically forever by tying it up in court for decades.

You're getting downvoted, but it's true -- CEQA is a great example of how well-intentioned environmental legislation can be abused by basically anyone to stonewall any project for any reason.

A common-sense change might be requiring minimum quantities of local signatures to limit the potential impact of a small opposition.


Yeah CEQA is why the high speed rail project will never get built. It grants godlike powers to NIMBYs in California. Every single mile of the high speed rail project has the potential to get stuck in CEQA hell.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Environmental_Quali...

"In one case, anti-abortion activists filed a CEQA lawsuit to try to block a new tenant (Planned Parenthood) from using an already constructed office building in South San Francisco. They cited the noise caused by their own protests as the environmental impact requiring mitigation. This lawsuit delayed the new tenancy by at least 18 months."

"Governor Jerry Brown, in an interview with UCLA's Blueprint magazine, commented on the use of CEQA for other than environmental reasons: "But it’s easier to build in Texas. It is. And maybe we could change that. But you know what? The trouble is the political climate, that's just kind of where we are. Very hard to — you can’t change CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act]. BP: Why not? JB: The unions won’t let you because they use it as a hammer to get project labor agreements." "


> Right now, if I don't want to drive, my only option is to fly mostly in a shitty plane cramped up with strangers on a 4 hour flight.

Would high speed rail be that different? Not being snarky, I really don't know. I just figure that if it's very fast and/or expensive, it's probably not going to be very roomy on the inside. That Chinese train looks like it's about the same width or less than most airliners.


As someone who travels frequently with both plane and trains, (Modern) trains are much more pleasant to ride than planes.

- More space (including the Chinese ones). While it might not be wider than a plane, it's order of magnitudes longer. So, each row has less seats, and rows are much farther from each other than on a plane.

- More room for bags and suitcases as well. There's usually no need to check your luggage, unless you have an excessive amount of them.

- No turbulence

- You can stand, walk, eat, drink, open the table, work with electronics, etc. at any time.

- No long-ass waiting time before and after. For a 8:00 train, all you need is to be able to walk onto it at 7:59. Whereas for a plane, they won't let you on unless you are present at the gate before 7:45 (the exact time depends on the airport). And not to mention the security checks.

- Quietness

- Air is better


This is how it is today, but imagine you need to do pre-boarding to trains by TSA one hour in advance, increased density for seating so that premium-economy can be sold at a higher margin, baggage limitations and payment per kilogram, restrictions to wear a belt at all times (no moving around allowed).

These restrictions were added to flying one by one, boiling the frog. It can and it may be implemented for trains also.


We don't see such things happening though and trains have been around for far longer than airplanes.

As someone who has taken the Shinkansen in Japan, the seats and legroom are vastly bigger and more comfortable than on airplanes. Moreover, the view is nice and normal air pressure is nice too.

In theory I agree, although in practice the experience is a lot different due to 1. less security theater (even in China, HSR security isn't as bad as American flights), 2. The vehicle itself is generally pleasant to ride on, as opposed to the turbulence, the takeoff/landing, and the air pressure that a passenger on a flight experiences, 3. It generally feels more scenic / touristy in the train because you can see the mountains and villages go by.

Chinese surveillance allows them to operate the equivalent of TSA PreCheck without having to do a background check on people.

With all the public and private surveillance, the US can do something similar.

On most air routes severe turbulence is rare. Take off and landing only take a few minutes.

That's a really good question, and I think is better than a plane in this ways:

- No need to wait in any way to out your bags or suitcases. Maybe a fast X-ray scanner where you put them in a side and pick them in the others in about 10 seconds.

- You know and can select where you want to sit precisely during the ticket purchase, unlike AmTrack.

- Due to the previous detail, you can show up to the train door even a minute before leaving without Any problem.

- All trains have a previously programmed leaving and arrival time, so there's no need to wait for traffic control in normal conditions.

With all of this, even with a train and a plane having the same travel duration, in a plane you will have to wait for a lot more of "bureaucracy" than in a train.

All of this is based in personal experiences using mid-distance trains in Spain, and the fast long-distance ones are even better and more comfortable.


I’ve ridden the Acela on the Northeast Corridor. It’s about as roomy as first class on a jet.

Perhaps not but it is very tough to do anything normal like even a laptop/reading unless there is no turbulence which is never guaranteed.

We can argue all we want and present other points of view and narratives, but it seems the basic fact is just that the Chinese system is better...at least for these kind of big projects. Somehow America can't get it's act together for projects with some public good. we need to ease off the military shit for a while!

Their system just hasn't been around long enough to accrue enough legal debt - pesky thing like "property rights", "environmental regulations", "labor laws", and "due process" that people start demanding as they go up Maslow's hierarchy.

The enshrinement of property rights in America has led to such wonderful things as ridiculous housing prices, rampant income inequality, endemic homelessness, the absurdity of Prop 13, etc. and yet we still trumpet it. When do we start reexamining these foundations?

We can always find something to justify putting on airs of superiority, but the fact remains that our infrastructure stagnates while the rest of the world manages to modernize. Forget the China comparisons if they are so triggering. Europe still manages public works. Individual rights have to give at some point for the good of society.


> When do we start reexamining these foundations?

Start? The entire labor movement, the public accommodation portion of the civil rights movement, and the rest of the transition from gilded age capitalism to the modern mixed economy has been a process of reexamination of and evolutionary progress from the classic capitalist conception of properry rights. Just as, for that matter, the several centuries of evolution from feudalism and other pre-capitalist economic systems through Enlightenment liberalism to the peak of gilded age capitalism was such a reexamination of pre-capitalist ideas of property rights. And while you can conceptualize them roughly as successive and mobotonic, both of those are oversimplifications; elements of pre-capitalist patronage-oriented systems were still around past the peak of capitalism, and isolated points of reversions from capitalism to them or to purer capitalist models from their replacements occurred throughout the process and still do.

But the idea that society is sitting on some static foundation of property rights that is waiting for a beginning of a reexamination is...not remotely tenable.


Well touche, I'm fine with saying I'm wrong and that we've started. But it sure seems like a glacial pace. Whether we have already been reexamining property rights or not is IMO the least important part of my stance

Fundamental reorganization of society tends to take place in one of two ways:

(1) painfully slowly, or

(2) catastrophically, with massive bloodshed.

And while #2 often produces more rapid change considered over a short term, it also tends to be less secure change subject to equally rapid and equally bloody reversal.

It's frustrating, but I’m not convinced its solvable.


Chines public rail projects tend to come with an interpretation of property law (that you have none) that would not fly in the west.

CPC: Here's some money to move out, take it or leave it. You're still moving out though.

the fact that Car and Airline Lobby will not let this happen

I think another factor here in the US is the government bidding process that results in driving up costs, time, etc.


The bigger problem is the US "environmental review" process. That's its name — it is only minimally environment-oriented. It allows anyone who comments to sue and delay the project by months or years, which means that every big project is a big shakedown, paying off and appeasing groups who would otherwise threaten to sue. This is the primary reason why the nation hasn't really brought big new infrastructure projects to the table since the 1970s. Some places like California and San Francisco add their own layers, which exacerbate local crises in housing.

what is this? only -2 points? surely with such corruption in our world you could downvote me further!!

The best explanation I've heard is that the interstate system killed the need for trains here. We're the only country in the world with anything like it. (Fun fact: It's the world's largest infrastructure project.)

Because of highways, we're already connected in ways that wouldn't even be possible with trains. It's just faster and more practical to drive the entire way, or drive to an airport and from an airport to your destination, than to add a train station into the mix. In France, you can walk from your apartment to the metro, change to the regional train, and even go international without getting in a car. This will never be possible in the US because we build cities and suburbs around the highway system.


German drivers on the autobahn with no speed limits still drive about the same speed as US drivers on the interstate. Trains around the world regularly go much faster. That is before we get into how much safer trains are than even the best drivers (sorry humans, you all suck as drivers, it isn't "just the other guy"), or other environmental issues.

There is plenty of room for more rail in the US because I want to get "there" faster and planes are not faster for many trips.


What makes the interstate system globally unique?

Well, it's the only thing like it in the world! We are the only country that has a highway network (as in, multilane, graded, exits, safety areas, services, etc.) that runs "from sea to shining sea" and top-to-bottom as well. Literally every city in America can be reached from it and, paramount in its construction, every military base. A design requirement was that military airplanes be able to land on major highways if necessary for military maneuvers.

The interstate helped make America what it is. It created a massive westward expansion even greater than the railroads. It turned San Jose from prune and peach trees into Silicon Valley. It turned Florida from a useless swamp into Miami. It enabled the escape from Detroit that led to that city's bankruptcy. It wiped out countless communities (especially communities of color and rural farm communities) when it skipped over them in its development, or put a pylon right through a local neighborhood.

I think the history of the interstate and what it's become is fascinating. This fab promo video from the construction era shows some of the PR they used to sell it to the public: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnrqUHF5bH8


> Well, it's the only thing like it in the world! We are the only country that has a highway network (as in, multilane, graded, exits, safety areas, services, etc.) that runs "from sea to shining sea" and top-to-bottom as well. Literally every city in America can be reached from it

No offense, but that sounds so violently American. Do you realize that most of Europe is covered by a network of standardized, multilane highways with exits and services that is much denser than the IHS?


It wasn't meant to be violent but definitely American. Specifically, the fact that we developed this early in our history and instead of an expanded passenger rail network, while Europe went the other way. It simply is not true that other countries have both the same road systems as we have in the US and functionally-equivalent passenger rail systems. Every country has one or the other. We are the country that first committed to total car-ization (with many unintended, unforeseen, and unfortunate consequences) and we took roads to a whole 'nother level of utilization and commercialization. I don't think that's in doubt. Is it?

> not true that other countries have both the same road systems as we have in the US and functionally-equivalent passenger rail systems. Every country has one or the other.

Germany, France


Eastern part of EU bursting in tears. Former soviet republics cry in agony. Me watching the permanent queue (tens of kilometers of stationery cars) on the Bucharest ring, a 2.5 million capital of an EU country.

I'm not saying things couldn't be even better, but looking at Google Maps, I could still reach Bucharest from my ex-eastern block country capital (Prague) via highways with just a short stretch of non-highway road in Romania (I'm actually considering the trip, I've never been to Romania).

You're right about the former soviet republics though, the trip to Riga and especially Tallinn doesn't look very comfortable.


Just for info, after you enter Romania via Arad you have another 350km of highway, then a 170km break (mountains, bad traffic) and another 100km before Bucharest. 600km that you can drive in 4.5 hours on highway takes over 8 hours. If you enter via Oradea, it takes even longer. 15 km in Bucharest at rush hour takes 2 hours. If you want to come, you are welcome, there are some nice places.

> It turned Florida from a useless swamp into Miami.

...I love poking at fun at the state of Florida as much as the next guy, but come on, "a useless swamp"? You really are asking for downvotes with that one lmao

https://forest-monitor.com/en/Everglades-Is-Not-Swamp/


I lived in Florida for 17 years so I say this with some authority.

The true history of Florida is that it was abandoned by everyone from the Spanish to the US military because it is basically uninhabitable without mosquito repellent and air conditioning. Lacking those inventions, there were no investments or population in Florida of any size. It was a useless swamp.

When oil tycoon Henry Flagler was gifted a friend's property on what is now Biscayne Blvd in return for his promise to build a hotel there for the wealthy patron and her friends, Miami was born. It did not develop much further than the railroads, however, until Flagler's railroad was lost at sea during the Galveston Hurricane and never recovered financially. It's now known that if the Florida Overseas Railroad had operated for 100 years, it still wouldn't reach profitability. Transportation to and from Florida (other than by boat) was a fantasy propped up by oil money. There was still no serious business development. Key West was the capital of Florida for 100 years, if that tells you anything, because it's a port city with better access to the rest of the world than anywhere else in Florida.

What changed all of this was the interstate system. For the first time, Americans had both cars and somewhere to take them. Jackie Gleason famously semi-retired to Miami only to wind up ruthlessly promoting it on a weekly TV show where he encouraged Pennsylvanians and New Jerseyites to leave their snow-covered driveways behind and come down to sunny Florida. Even Disney World's location was selected by Walt because of its easy access to the interstate, meaning guests would come from many states to visit.

Without the failure of the railroad (and its subsequent rebuilding as a freeway) and the connecting interstate to bring people to Florida, along with the charm and influence of Jackie Gleason, Miami would not have become The Magic City -- a name it gets from being the only city in the US which went to "City" status in one step, without ever being a town or settlement or any other geographic designation prior to that. There would be no Disney World. And Miami would not have become the Latam capital that it is. It is, after all, part of US 1, the very first (most important?) of the interstates. To this day, all three of the major north-south routes in the Miami area parallel the original US 1, which still exists in many places, places occupied by about 5 million people. All of that happened because of the interstate.


Huh, cool history, but I was mostly just poking fun at the idea of calling the Everglades "just a swamp" which is a great way to upset Everglades-enthusiasts hahah

It's a pretty cool swamp. In fact, I think the PBS documentary and the book about it are called just that. What the sugar industry has done there is terrible and had consequences for the water table all throughout Florida.

It's quite something to see an alligator from your car, I can tell you that!


Wasn't it basically modelled after the Autobahn?

Exactly. And scaled massively. And overdone in the usual US style, with US-style repercussions.

More like after the propaganda of the Nazis about what the Autobahn was.

Ehm, just so you every european country has such a system. Since you have to compare europe as whole to the US for size comparison. You can drive anywhere in europe through a system of highways and interstates. You can also fly to each city, but we still have a rail system.... That goes everywhere. You can drive from the northern most point in finland down south to the most southern point in italy. Same from west to east. You could even drive to moscow, china, korea and japan.

Tldr the americans interstate system is nothing more than a copy of the german autobahn... And was never something unique.


>You could even drive to moscow, china, korea and japan

Japan eh?


Reminds me of the good ol' days when google would tell me to kayak across the Pacific Ocean

What's unique about the US system is its scale. It's 48,000 miles of graded, standardized highways with safety features, exits, services, etc. There's just nothing like that anywhere and it helped our country develop in the unique way that it did.

The idea definitely germinated in the Autobahn. The proof is in the pudding. (I just love that expression.) The US used its scaled interstate system to achieve a range of product and population distribution that was unprecedented. It also clobbered passenger rail in the process. Conversely, Europe, not having a well developed interstate (would need to be inter-country to even scale to a few US states), did not develop or extend its road system in the way the US has. Instead, it built trains.

It's not a matter of one is better than the other. Each one is better for the countries involved because of their size and geography.


This link[0] says that Europe had 77000km = 47845 miles of motorway in 2018. It's probably not quite as standardised as the US system, but it seems broadly comparable. See the second link[1] for a picture.

[0]: https://www.statista.com/statistics/449781/europe-eu-28-time...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_E-road_network#/...


You're comparing all European motorways to the largest category of motorways in the US. Not all motorways in the US are classified as part of the Interstate Highway System, even though they're connected to them. The US also has many motorways that are part of State Highway systems[0], and the Federal Numbered Highway system[1].

If we're talking about all motorway style roads, there's some additional roads in the US that qualify: 67,353 miles or 108,394km[2].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbered_highways_in_the_Unite...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Numbered_Highway...

[2]: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2017/h...


What makes you think that European highways don’t connect between countries? You can cross the continent without leaving a motorway.

It’s even standardized: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_E-road_network


> The roads should preferably be motorways or express roads (unless traffic density is low so that there is no congestion on an ordinary road).

That sounds more similar to the US Numbered Highway system than it is to the Interstate Highway System: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Numbered_Highway...

The Interstate Highway System is a different system - entirely controlled-access motorways, with a minimum of 4 lanes, divided, and no at-grade crossings.


I don't think the parent is saying the whole E-road network is the equivalent; just that it provides examples of moving country to country without leaving motorways.

Trans-Canada Highway has entered the chat

> multilane, graded, exits, safety areas, services, etc.)

As someone who actually just finished a month trip from eastern Canada to the Yukon and back, and drove almost the entirety of the trans Canada highway, it’s laughable compared to the US road infrastructure.

There are large sections that are 2 way single lane highway.

There are parts of this “highway” that slow to 40km/hr as you drive through a small town.

I mean I’m glad it’s there, but I’ve also taken long road trips through states and found the interstates highways to be a big step up in quality.


The Florida Turnpike system is the most amazing road I've ever been on. It's 309 miles with incredible Service Plazas that contain separate areas for trucks and cars, a gas station, sparkling restrooms with attendants (and sponsorships), branded restaurants, convenience stores, etc. All of this is open 24 hours, patrolled by lots of cops, road assistance services, etc.

While not part of the Interstate system, it's of course connected. The road is quite expensive and the tolls make so much money for the State of Florida that they don't need to charge income tax or corporate tax. Pretty amazing.


Trans Canada Highway is on par with the major US federal highways, e.g. US2. It is not comparable to something like I90.

hehe, I know it's nothing compared to the interstate system I just wanted to give it a shout for connecting across a good chunk of an equally large country etc

I love our Interstate Highways and wouldn't trade it for anything BUT why does it have to be 1 or the other. Why not both ? America can do it. I know we can.

Great comment. It's just not practical to have two systems. Too expensive. Too hard to get anyone to sign off on both. Both take a lot of public money and it's hard to get people to duplicate spending when the other thing is "working." Worse is better, to use software speak!

I wouldn't trade our Interstate for anything, either and anyone who says that the roads outside of Paris are anything like US interstates just hasn't been on the latter. Anyway, I also love European trains and have spent lots of time on those. The benefits of going from Métro in France for a day trip to Belgium, then back to Paris in time for dinner is just fabulous. No car. No luggage. That is simply not happening in the US.


This is next-level American exceptionalism.

Here's a random bit of French motorway, not radiating from Paris, and a random bit of interstate.

I don't see any difference.

A89 https://maps.app.goo.gl/DfPWAMrsm4J4R3QQ8

I70 https://maps.app.goo.gl/r34MPasPfxn6XTUg6


I accept that accusation with exceptional American pride. I think everyone should be proud of the unique features of his or her country and how they led to its history.

I love your definitely non-random town selection in the US. Excellent. My comment was aimed at the overall level of standardization and features of the American interstate, as well as its early and pivotal development in our country's history. That's all. It was not a slight at anyone else's roadways, however exceptional.


Desirable land is finite. Tax dollars are finite. Time is finite. Americans have spent generations and trillions of dollars building highways, roads, and parking to make driving really convenient. Every acre used for highways and parking is an acre that can’t be used for train stations, apartments, and fully grade separated bike roads.

Any discussion on reallocating some land or dollars to alternative transportation is immediately rejected by the car dependent majority. “Why should a portion of gasoline tax go toward public transportation?” “Bike lines increase traffic!” “The new development would change the neighborhood character!” “Add more lanes!”


> In France, you can walk from your apartment to the metro, change to the regional train, and even go international without getting in a car.

This is absolutely possible to do in the USA. When I worked with an engineering team in Copenhagen I did it several times a year. I don’t even live in NYC.

Even domestically I can take the train from my West Coast city to the airport, fly and then take the train to my family in the Virginia suburbs.


Yes, I was speaking of country-scale. Specifically, countries the size of the US, which are few and far between. This is not possible at country scale in the US.

> Oh it's too expensive.

The Chinese probably have some funky calculation that shows it makes the country that much more efficient.

For reference, it takes 4.5 hours to travel from one end of the Netherlands to the other by train. China is 231X larger.

https://www.mylifeelsewhere.com/country-size-comparison/neth...


It's the rail line's issue too -- they only care about shipping freight and passenger traffic is a second class citizen. They also are pushing back against Positive Train Control because they don't want to spend the money (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_train_control) (sorry no citation on pushback because lazy).

We could do much more with our existing rail lines if the will was there. I maintain that we should "nationalize" the rail lines (the literal rails and whatnot) and invest in making it safer and faster. Not maglev, but at least have passenger trains run at a decent clip and not have to be sidelined for freight.


You spend it on warfare and throw the rest after some billionaires.

Why do you make a comment like this when the US federal budget breakdown is clearly available online. Most goes to social services benefits, welfare, and socialized healthcare.

https://media.nationalpriorities.org/uploads/mandatory_spend...


I'd like to see that overlaid with military spending at the same scale. Probably wouldn't mean that much anymore, then.

Ah, well, not overlaid, not to scale, but nonetheless:

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/guides/tipsheet-pentagon-...

tl;dr

Military & Security Spending

In fiscal year 2015, Pentagon and related spending will total $598 billion, accounting for 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending. That's roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined.

Peanuts!


China can do this because their technocrats have no issue demolishing the homes of half a million rural folks to help the urban elites. There are trade offs in a democracy, it is designed to be slow because as a feature everyone has a voice.

We don’t get shiny trains, but we might have a more stable form of government?


I don't understand the nuances of Chinese property law, but I doubt you would see things like this if Chinese authorities could run people off their land for any old reason:

https://abcnews.go.com/International/slideshow/stubborn-nail...


They can just demolish it, because it is their property. It's just the local authorities are stubborn in upholding the illusion of there being a choice in the matter. The media then got involved and it no longer became worth it demolishing it since it sets a good example for public opinion, and the owner will move out eventually anyways.

No, your country is bankrupt

That would imply that the US can't pay it's debts, but it can by printing more money

It's too late now. It would take 20+ years; by then we'll probably have level 5 autonomous driving systems, making rail obsolete.

200 cars traveling between L.A. and Phoenix vs. one train traveling at 350 MPH? Why would we ever want that?

I'm imagining that L5 vehicles will be able to travel at vastly higher speeds than human drivers, on a dedicated high-speed autonomous highway network, which could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of rail infrastructure. We would want that because it would eliminate the last mile problem.

Feels like a last mile inconvenience to me.

The reasons why we wont have a high-speed train network any time soon, in priority order (my opinion):

1. Eminent domain and generally-high construction costs make the initial time and money outlays exorbitantly high, resulting in projects never getting off the ground or having to compensate with much-too-expensive tickets

2. Even if you get to the middle of another city, having to rent a car to get to where you need is a pain. It's easier to drive from Dallas to Houston in a car, because you have a car at the end of the trip. Only some cities have fast public transport; the rest are so big it's hard not rent a car or Uber everywhere, both options are expensive and time-consuming.

3. Trains likely take more time than flights for the mid-to-long distance journeys planes are good for.

4. A cultural lack of interest in passenger rail. It's just not a part of the culture, and is seen as weird/enthusiast thing to do, unlike in Europe, India, or China.


3 is underappreciated and incredibly important (it should be #1) for the simple reason than labor cost. You have to pay flight attendants/rail attendants and that starts adding up.

Moreover a rail attendant/engineer for a long haul trip cannot be back at home to family at the end of the day, for a transcontinental flight attendant or pilot it's possible, so the labor pool is meaningfully different, and supply and demand is a thing.


> Moreover a rail attendant/engineer for a long haul trip cannot be back at home to family at the end of the day,

That would be problematic for some long distance train connections in germany as well (north-south connections), but they just schedule around that: attendants change mid-journey as needed.


That is all false.

You don't need attendants on rail at all - what is there for them to do? For flight you need them to oversee preparing for a crash trains should get this failure mode should be designed out - which does imply doing the regular maintenance and using good safety systems. Just give a small discount to anyone with current first aid/CPR and you can be sure there are more than enough regular riders to take care of the remaining issues.

Even if you do decide you want attendants for some reason, train should stop not less than once an hour, which means the crews can get off the train after 4 hours and staff the one back home. (I don't believe freight rail shouldn't do the same, but they have different operations from passenger rail such that more than an hour between stops might be reasonable)

Note that if the train really is going through the middle of nowhere at one hour you just pick a random dot on the map and grant it a station just to get your stops. The cost to stopping a train is less than 5 minutes for the full trip (this adds up if you stop every few km, but when it is once an hour it isn't a big deal)


>You don't need attendants on rail at all

Not true. You need people manning the cafeteria car, cleaning the bathrooms, checking tickets, etc.

>train should stop not less than once an hour

The Southwest Chief goes from San Bernardino, CA to Albuquerque, NM in 14 hours. It makes 8 stops along the way, inclusive of the endpoints. Your point here still largely stands, but these long haul trains most certainly do not stop at least once an hour.


> You need people manning the cafeteria car

Best practice is to not have them.

> cleaning the bathrooms

Do it at the end of the line when the train is stopped.

> The Southwest Chief

Amtrak is a bad example for anything. They are running tourist trains, and should follow the practices of cruise ships not modern railroads.


> Best practice is to not have them.

So no food options on a 14 hour train? The train's losing a lot of captured audiences there and people like to... eat. In that time the average US person eats at least three meals, you simply can't pack that much, especially for a family.

> Do it at the end of the line when the train is stopped.

Ever been to a music festival and looked at the toilets at the end of the day? Now imagine you're in a semi-airtight tube with that for 14 hours.

> Amtrak is a bad example for anything. They are running tourist trains, and should follow the practices of cruise ships not modern railroads

Have you ever taken one on the East Coast? They are not tourist trains, they're commuters and travelers.


Train trips of more than 5 hours run on cruise line principals and are not about getting to a destination. Any train for those trips is a tourist attraction and should pay for itself and all crew needed. Boston to NYC isn't 14 hours, and should not stick to steam train principles.

As for food, get off at any station and eat.

Yes bathrooms beed to be cleaned. However that is one person who cleans them between 2 stations and then nobody for the next station, and someone the station after. (This is an example, the real way to handle it might be different )


> You don't need attendants on rail at all - what is there for them to do?

* Check passenger tickets

* Observe the cars & make sure people aren't breaking rules, etc

* Serve food/drink if applicable (e.g. for business class)

And so forth. This is how the KTX and Shinkansen work, and they know what they're doing.


All things that are not needed.

Checking tickets can be done by not allowing anyone on the platform. Or world best practice is random checks and large fines if you are caught without a ticket.

Breaking rules is tricky. There is some need for that, though there are options, though in the end I will grant you this.

Trains should never serve food or drink. Passengers can get off the train at a station when they need that, and get on the next train. Space used for the food and drink is space that could be used for more seats. There is a reason all railroads have been trying to do away with food and drink service. It is considered bad practice everywhere.


> All things that are not needed.

> There is some need for that.

I see.

> Trains should never serve food or drink. Passengers can get off the train at a station.

There aren't going to be stations all across Nebraska or what have you. And even if there were, stopping repeatedly would defeat the purpose of high-speed rail. All that time speeding up and slowing down starts to add up very quickly.


There won't be trains across Nebraska at all, no city pair has the population to support it. (maybe Kansas city to Omaha, but that isn't very far)

It doesn't take long to unload and reload a modern train. France and the US do bad, but there are better examples where it can be done in a minute.


Here is a proposed high-speed rail system with a route across Nebraska: https://www.vox.com/2021/3/10/22303355/gen-z-high-speed-rail...

Don't forget it would massively extend every stop. At least an hour+ at each station if you expect every passenger to detrain (with their luggage, because they're not leaving it on the train), wait in line, probably dawdle and then reboard.

1 minute per station is perfectly doable if you dont have bad equipment and stations.

Everyone would love a high speed train going where they travel.

They will never, for good reason, be built for most routes.

Because they're very expensive, both to build and operate, so they're only sustainable between large cities at a mediums distances apart.

China, with maybe 10x the population density of the US, has a huge number of such routes. The US does not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_China_by_pop...


If we had a rail system instead of an interstate road system, the same thing would be said about highways.

In fact, the cost of building & maintaining the highway system is quite astronomic.


Highways are far more useful than HSR. They can connect much more than hub-to-hub, they can be used 24/7, they can be used by a wide variety of vehicles supporting a wide variety of industries. HSR is just for passengers.

If we were designing the interstate system today, that's actually a fun thought experiment. What would we change? I would probably focus more on throughput -- cars can be half as wide and still seat tons of people, 5 lane highways today could easy be 8 lanes of narrower cars.


Narrow vehicles are unstablea. A narrow vehicle capable of carrying 7 people would be ridiculously long, and impossible to park.

There have been several studies that more lanes tend to lead to more traffic, not less. Here's a wiki article about the phenomenon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

That really depends on what you mean by more traffic. I think there are very few examples of extra capacity increasing travel time.

As you point out, several studies have shown that over time, travel time converges to the same value, despite additional capacity.

However, I think it is important to note that more lanes means more people are still getting from point A to B.


That's the point. More traffic more throughput. Nobody's saying the user experience is going to improve.

Peak hours are always going to cause congestion.


Wrong. More lanes doesn't lead to more traffic unless there are way too few lanes in the first place. I know of plenty of places where adding more lanes would not add more demand - North Dakota is full of them for example.

The only problem is we can't afford to build enough lanes. There is a limit to how wide you can go, and up or down is vastly more expensive than at grade. We could do it if we wanted to spend the money - but most such places find that a better bus and (not or!) train network is a better investment.


That's not necessarily a bad thing by itself. It means more people get to go where they want to go. But of course that can cause some negative externalities.

Creating more throughput instead of a quicker route isn't the same as saying "more lanes do nothing." So maybe your new highway lanes didn't cure congestion, but they did help alleviate housing demand some by letting more people commute with the same (albeit bad) commute time.

Yes, exactly. They said they're focusing on more throughput.

> If we were designing the interstate system today, that's actually a fun thought experiment. What would we change? I would probably focus more on throughput -- cars can be half as wide and still seat tons of people, 5 lane highways today could easy be 8 lanes of narrower cars.

Why would you go narrower? That makes problems worse for trucks and other cargo conveyance; note that in general, newer highway standards tends to increase lane width, not decrease them compared to older standards.

(I guess you can see the same effect with railroads--the UK railroads have smaller loading gauges than newer networks like the US, Germany, or Sweden).


In this thought experiment, we'd be able to redesign the whole road infrastructure. I'd say mandating smaller cars would be a huge savings in general.

I'm now imagining higher power Renault Twizys everywhere

Which is why these developments (faster rail and maglev) are so exciting. They change the economics of the travel decisions, potentially putting more connections into the "economically feasible" category. Of course, that's also dependent on construction & maintenance costs. I'd be interested to see where / if there are chances for economies of scale for maglev that are simply not there yet due to the tech's non-prevalence.

If it takes only marginally more, or even less time to travel by train than by plane, I'm taking the train any day.


A Shinkansen going from Boston to DC would be massively profitable.

And I'm talking above 120mph. None of this 70mph "high speed" slow stuff.


High speed railways are not that expensive. I'm not talking about 700km/h but around 300km/h.

Spain has plenty of them, according to Wikipedia only China has more. And if I'm not wrong, Spain is building them in other countries too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVE

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/blueprintamerica/video/web-exclusiv...


I seriously question "massively profitable", especially if you do it as a private company. You'd have to buy the right-of-way, and then pay taxes on it every year. That's some pretty expensive real estate. Then, the maintenance requirements on high-speed rail are pretty stringent. That costs, too. It's not just the cost of the train crews and the electricity (or fuel) that you have to think about.

If you've got real numbers, I'd like to see them.


I was thinking a retrofit of existing rails as well as an eminent-domain type acquisition of the land.

Eminent-domain doesn't solve the cost problem. You still have to pay for extremely valuable land.

Most of the existing tracks aren't straight enough for high speed rail.

The Acela is already above 120mph where it can. The biggest problem area is actually in Connecticut, and half of that issue is Metro North's fault, not Amtrak. (The other half is that the line is legitimately too curvy to support 120mph speed in large places, but Metro North is why it struggles to hit 70mph at times).

Which makes me wonder ...

How do you secure a railway?

If trains go 600 kph, do we get a TSA circus along the length of all railtracks? Is this even feasible?


You just don't, it's not really needed.

Never underestimate the poder of idiots in large amounts.

"hundreds occupied high-speed railway tracks for around 3 hours, blocking services linking Figueres, Girona and Barcelona,"

https://www.thelocal.es/20181001/pro-independence-protesters...


A thick log or dead deer across the tracks of a high speed train could lead to catastrophe.

I once rode the Eurostar from London to Paris and as I recall all the high speed sections were enclosed in very high, barbed wire fence. So some security is definitely needed. Collision energy goes up with the square of velocity.


The US doesn't build high speed rail between large cities that are a medium distance apart either.

True.

I see that mostly as part of the larger problem that the US doesn't build much of anything these days.


The US might have a low population density if you just take the population divided by the territory but it's obviously all in the geography and clusters and averaging is not helpful.

The US has several population clusters[1] and for example the Northeast corridor in particular with 50 million inhabitants is a reasonably good target for a high speed rail network.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_megalopolis#/media/F...


How about: Boston - New York - Philadelphia - Washington - Chicago?

Only Disney can do this, it seems, and the mexicans will pay for riding it

Same. I think China's investment in infrastructure is going to give them a large economic advantage over the US in the years to come.

I'm not as bullish on rail. I love taking trains -- it's by far my favorite way of getting around -- but it's so expensive to set up and maintain. every inch of track for hundreds of miles needs to be completely spotless to keep trains running at 200 mph+. Prior to the pandemic, the trend was on cheaper, lighter, quieter aircraft, with more point-to-point routes connecting smaller metro areas, like Hartford airport or Providence airport growing with more and more routes, cheaper parking, etc. As airplanes continue to develop (electric is probably the future) flying will get cheaper and cheaper. Rail may be the luxurious way to get around, but might not be worth the trillions of upfront investment, when you consider that even small metros can afford to build an airport.

As a counterpoint, I think Japan's investment in rail networks has paid off considerably. I suspect that country would be far worse off today if they didn't have the transportation networks they do (both HSR and normal rail).

Not only does it result in fast, convenient, walk-on travel between cities, it also results in a lot less gridlock meaning less commute time wasted, and more affordable, walkable real estate.


It’s a sample size of 1. Japan is doing great with HSR but also the economy has stagnated for years. Perhaps HSR creates wealth but the lack of flexibility is a long term liabaility?

It's amazing what a country can accomplish when they invest in themselves first and foremost. After rooting for the US in the last 2 years, I'm of the opinion that the US is too corrupted to ever regain its stature.

I disagree. Once we have electric airplanes with lots of point to point connection, it will be both faster and cheaper. These should be coming on in the next 2 decades and that the minimum time it would take to build such a system.

Its a gigantic investment to do high-speed train and almost always is a burning money pit that needs to be constantly subsidies.

You already have an existing road network that with increasingly self driving EV (at least on highways) can be used.


It could, but their investment in government of insiders is in my opinion more than enough to overcome their economic advantages. They could do well, but their government of the elites is more likely to crack down on development.

Here in Russia trains are rather popular. There are "high-speed" trains between Moscow and St Petersburg, they go around 200 km/h but they still take around 4 hours. Oh and they're made by Siemens, and they're capable of going faster, except their speed is limited by shitty tracks. Like you can't even walk in a straight line inside this thing while it's doing 200, so I imagine it'd shake itself apart if it tried accelerating any further. That's probably better than Amtrak, but Russian railways could still use a lot of improvement.

A triangle linking Dallas -> Houston -> San Antonio -> Austin -> Dallas would be economically revolutionary for Texas, even with non-maglev high-speed rail.

It's coming! We will have the first true high speed rail in the US. It's Shinkansen hardware because the Japanese investors in the project insisted... and good for them and us that they did! It's also all new rail as Amtraks own the passenger rights to all existing rail in the US. It's also 100% grade separated (like TGV) so it doesn't cross traffic or people. (This is the #1 factor in making trains safer and faster than cars.)

While I'm "not bullish on trains" in the US, as another poster put it, I do think it will work here. Houston is already America's 3rd largest city with 8M people and the route to Dallas (Hwy 45) is horrible, unsafe, and extremely busy, all the time.


That’s currently being built!

https://www.texascentral.com/


How would it be a revolution? I used to fly between some of those cities easily when necessary, and the drive is pretty doable too. A train would be an interesting alternative to flying, depending on route and total times and stop locations, but I just don't see it enabling much truly "new."

Consider that the air route between Madrid and Barcelona, two cities that are about 620 km (~385 miles) apart, used to be the busiest air traffic route in the World by frequency of flights until 2007. And that was the case even though these cities were already well connected by motorways as well as by conventional train services.

Now, since the high-speed rail link opened in 2008, the Madrid-Barcelona air route doesn't even make the top 20 of busiest routes worldwide. That is the case even though the flight is less than 1h 30m, both cities' airports are well connected to and close to the city centres, and high-speed train tickets have always been more expensive than flying on average. The killer feature of the high-speed train, particularly for business users, is to be able to get from one city centre to the other in at most 3h 20m —if it is a stopping train— or 2h 30m —if it is direct. No need to travel to and from each airport, or deal with airport security, queues, delays, etc. No need to disconnect your phone during the trip. No need to switch off laptops on departure or arrival.

And this example is for only two cities which are farther apart than each of Houston, Dallas, or San Antonio are from each other. Imagine if it were possible to get between each of their downtowns in 1h 30m or 2h at most, or from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio in 30m. The synergistic effects on the economy are hard to predict, but they would be huge.


It is a shame, but it's expected, right? How many edges would a well connected graph of the US have (or rather need if we use nodes as passthrough), how much would this cost to build and operate, and how much would these be used compared to planes? I want to say that I would love better train infrastructure as well, and spending some time in New England has shown me what a fraction of a good one could be and I love it. That said, I don't see how it can be done financially possible, with extremely rough overviews in my head.

I'm very ignorant on the topic, so please enlighten me if I'm missing some stuff, which is very possible. I'd honestly love to know.


The viable HSR network for the US looks roughly like this:

* Existing NEC (DC to Boston via Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Hartford/Springfield/Worcester or Providence)

* NYC to Montreal and Boston to Toronto, with an interchange at Albany

* Midwest star shape, centered at Chicago, with prongs to Minneapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Louisville or Cincinnati. The southern Midwest region is kind of hard for me to crayon a network.

* (Not part of the US strictly speaking) Detroit to Quebec via Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. Basically all of Canada's population on one rail line, with easy access to the US via interchanges at three separate points.

* Hooking up the Midwest to the NEC, although I'm somewhat dubious of the viability here.

* Texas Triangle (Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio)

* California: SF, San Jose, Sacramento, LA, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix.

* Maybe viable: Portland-Seattle-Vancouver

* Maybe viable: SEHSR, from Miami to Atlanta, and thence to Midwest (via Nashville) or NEC (via North Carolina's Research Triangle and Richmond).

(Citation: this is largely based on Alon Levy's crayoning, found here: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2021/03/22/high-speed-rai...)


> Existing NEC (DC to Boston via Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Hartford/Springfield/Worcester or Providence)

This is the problem. The real route is Boston - New York - D.C. The others are lower population, lower GDP and not in line with the other three. But if you build the core route and exclude Philadelphia, you'll have an uproar in the Senate.


I was on the train a week ago. Of the three of us sitting at the table who got on at Boston, one was going to Philadelphia, one was going to Wilmington, and one was going to Baltimore.

One of the chief advantages of trains is that you do not have to cater only to point-to-point routes; you can instead serve a combinatorial explosion in routes for comparatively little time: a stop adds only ~5 minutes to a HSR train, and that's the worst-case scenario.

There is no advantage to bypassing Philadelphia: the amount of money it costs to bypass the city is going to be quite large, and you will miss out on all the potential revenue from stopping at the city itself. From my practical experience riding the train, the biggest factor in existing slow trains in Connecticut isn't all the stops it makes in Connecticut, but the incompetence of Metro North's dispatching that keeps a high-speed train plodding along below highway speeds between stations.

(Also, side note: Philly's MSA is larger than Boston's, and Philly provides more Amtrak riders than Boston's 4 stations combined--and one of those isn't even on the NEC!).


> a stop adds only ~5 minutes to a HSR train, and that's the worst-case scenario.

Is that accurate? When I road HSR in Japan, I remember the speed in-city being much lower than in the countryside, so bypassing cities seemed key to maintaining the high speed part.


So the penalty I'm calculating is the stop penalty of slowing from a cruising speed to a dead stop, waiting at the station, and then speeding back up to cruising speed versus maintaining cruising speed the entire distance; you can think of this as the time penalty that the Route 128 stop generates (being on a nice straight track that allows very high speed).

What you're talking about instead is the penalties imposed by a more constrained right-of-way in urban environments. Except when we're talking about Philadelphia (or most of the Northeast in general), you can't really escape from a constrained right-of-way anyways--a quick crayoning suggests you're adding about 20 miles of railway route which, even at 200mph, adds more time than you're saving by itself.

Consider again the cost of bypassing to save time. How many millions of dollars are you willing to save a minute of travel time? It is far cheaper to put that money into straightening the worst curves of legacy inner city track than to spend it bypassing the city altogether, not even accounting for the loss of revenue by not serving what are objectively large cities.


Is there anything existing that avoids having to stop the whole train at each stop? For drop-offs, just detach the back train car at a stop. Everyone who wants to get off just moves to the back train car at each stop. For pick-ups, some relatively high-ish speed coupling to add a car at the front of the train. In this way, the train loses one car and gains one car per stop. And as the train progresses, it also slowly turns around, ready for the return trip. Sidings at each stop can allow the boarding and un-boarding process to happen without tying up the track for through-traffic. Seems like something like this must have been tried at some point. Why is this not a thing?

It would remove all flexibility in capacity between different towns, and require most people to move to a different carriage at least once after boarding — which is especially inconvenient with bags. Even if you couple the carriages at high speed, how do you connect the doors between them sufficiently safely to allow people to move along the train?

The coupling of modern high-speed trains is also a significant part of their crash safety. Keeping the train connected if it derails means there's less chance of a loose vehicle punching through another. (See how e.g. [1] has most of the vehicles pretty much intact.)

I think in most cases, running an express train followed by a stopping train is good enough.

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/547c9037ed915...


Old HSR, yes. Maglev? No.

The issue is that steel wheels on steel tracks doesn't provide enough grip to accelerate, so the train takes a lot of the time to get up to speed.

Maglev, meanwhile, uses a linear motor, so you can accelerate very fast if you want to.


I think the bigger constraint would be noise. Wikipedia talks about a 70dba noise limit in residential areas after protests and such, but doesn't say what speed exactly they're running at to meet that.

70dba is rather a lot, though, I imagine you'd end up with a lower limit in the US since I don't think most people are going to be easily convinced that another inter-city transit method is going to be worth the noise to them.


> no advantage to bypassing Philadelphia

Trains spend a lot of time speeding up and slowing down. A single stop adds much more than five minutes to total transit time. [EDIT: Apparently this doesn't apply to maglev. This could be a game changer for HSR in the American political landscape.]


> A single stop adds much more than five minutes to total transit time. [EDIT: Apparently this doesn't apply to maglev. This could be a game changer for HSR in the American political landscape.]

That is false even for non mag-lev. Do the math as I did: at .7 m/s/s (which is what shinkansen does) it takes less than 90 seconds to get to 300 km/h. That leaves far more time than is needed at the station (1 minute is plenty if the train is designed right). You don't count stop time at all because it averages out with the acceleration.


Maglev trains can start and stop much, much faster than regular trains.

Conventional trains' acceleration profiles are already limited by passenger comfort rather than engineering difficulties. Being able to start and stop much faster isn't helpful if it's already outside maximum operating guidelines.

I was under the impression this wasn't the case. Passenger planes accelerate at around 3.5m/s/s. That's 100km/h every six seconds.

And when planes take off, all the passengers and crew are seated in seats with fastened belts, all luggage is stowed, and tray tables are closed.

By contrast, when a train departs a station, there are frequently passengers who are still roaming the aisle with their luggage. And I might have a cup of coffee or something sitting on the table in front of me (or behind me, from the perspective of the train's direction of acceleration).


Of course, you shouldn't have people roam in the aisle if you want to accelerate faster. If you're seriously considering rail as an alternative to airtravel, and at 600km/h you are, then having people stow their luggage and sit down is not a serious issue.

For the sake of comparison - a Toyota Corolla will do 100km/h/6s. You don't need to fully stow your cargo, you just need not to have drinks on the table. Even standing you would be fine, though there is some danger you'd trip.

Beyond that, buses see accelerations on the order of ~0.2G often, and that's with people standing up, in an unpredictable fashion.


The root context of this discussion is basically whether or not it makes sense to add in intermediary stops on a rail line. If you're insisting that people have to be seated and have no drinks out for every intermediate stop, that rather sharply raises the discomfort level of stops. Another unpredictable element of train acceleration is the need to slow down to negotiate a curve, which isn't necessarily the case only in the immediate vicinity of a station.

FWIW, the numbers I generally see bandied about for acceleration on (decent) trains is about 1 m/s^2.


The "intermediate stop" being mentioned was Philadelphia. I don't think asking people to be seated for 45 seconds before and after each stop adds that much discomfort.

0.1g is the acceptable lateral acceleration when standing up without bracing. (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40864-015-0012-y)

If you get caught standing up, even 3.5 m/s/s is not dangerous. It is uncomfortable, but in a high speed train you are expected to be sitting down.

Also you wouldn't need to put drinks away. As I said, that's the acceleration of a Toyota Corolla. You would need the drinks to be covered though.

The limiting factor in longitudinal acceleration in trains is that we expect people to be standing up for the whole trip. This isn't the case in a high speed train.

As for curves - the solution is not to go through any sharp curves unless you are already close to a stop and would have to slow down anyways.


There's not much point accelerating faster if it means waiting longer so everyone can find a seat.

Perhaps this would be interesting to you, "Passenger Stability Within Moving Railway Vehicles: Limits on Maximum Longitudinal Acceleration".

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40864-015-0012-y


I have actually read the study and linked to it in another comment.

You don't need to wait for everyone to be seated. You're not going to fall over at 0.2G or 0.3G, it will just be uncomfortable. But you should plan for everyone to be able to find a seat.


> Maglev trains can start and stop much, much faster than regular trains

Ah, wasn't aware of that. Thank you.


Speaking only from my own experience, HSR stops take a lot longer than that. It takes the TGV five minutes to slow down and approach the station! The TGVs I've ridden also do not do fast turnaround at stations. They sit there, like airplanes, while people board for the (obviously longer) trip. Yes, it's faster than an airplane to turnaround (less TSA nonsense, etc.), but not 5 minutes and not like a local or regional train, in my experience.

The whole reason the Houston to Dallas route is workable is that it does not stop at all in between.


I've had this idea of feeder trains that rendezvous with the primary train by pulling along side, matching speed. Then a brief and orderly movement of passengers between feeder & primary train occurs. When complete, the feeder train disengages, slows back down — the primary train continues to its next destination.

Feeder trains bring new passengers on board the primary train. They leave the station a little ahead of the incoming primary train in order to accelerate up to its speed just at the rendezvous point.

Another empty feeder had already rendezvoused with the primary before the station and passengers disembarking were offloaded onto it.

In short, the feeders can be small. The primary train need not stop at all the points in between.

I would love to model this graphically.


TVG is a badly designed system and so it uses far more time to both at the stop and in acceleration. Try looking at shinkansen for an example of what is should be.

One thing to consider is that these routes, if they get proper use, do tend to bring the population density and GDP along with them.

The US has world-class train service for freight. The lower population density of the US than Europe and East Asia makes planes a better investment in the US. Less rail to lay per person server makes a big difference.

The midwest of the US has similar population density to France. The western half of the US with few people (not to mention Alaska) really skew the population density.

By way of Alon Levy's blog (although original credit goes to a Twitter user), here's the TGV overlaid on the Midwest: https://twitter.com/Artifact_Scott/status/137770286794400973...

The major Midwestern cities are remarkably close in distance from Chicago as major French cities are from Paris, and in terms of population counts, the US has consistently larger cities.


Sure, but the problem is what do you do once you get there?

In France, the cities are dense with decent to great transit.

In the US, you have low, flat, sprawling cities with no real transit to speak of. You have to drive.


> "...what do you do once you get there?"

car rental, ridehailing, metro bus/train, taxi, friends/family pickup, etc., just as with air travel.


This is why looking at the current number of aviation passengers on these routes that's often the most valuable thing. It shows where people think the time savings justify hiring a car/taking taxis.

Clearly not having overheads of airport security will probably reduce the minimum distance required for this, but as a first pass it's good data source.


I have long said that we need to work on local transit before we work on HSR, but in truth the two do compliment each other. All cities of any size at all have at least a small amount of useful local transit. Expand the local system and make it useful would be a great investment and HSR will make it more useful.

Most local transit systems are run by people who drive though, and it shows in how bad the majority of the system is.


Same thing with planes except you start way outside the city.

It's interesting that Amazon (who spends a fortune on trucking) has created their own cargo airline and starting buying metal because it works out better for them than paying a trucking company. They make money on fast turnaround and big distribution warehouses close to population centers, then they truck the last mile with their own vans.

Historically, the cheapest ways to ship anything are by sea, by rail, and by truck, in that order. Airplanes are still inordinately more expensive but folks are willing to pay for that quick delivery that trucks and rail simply can't do.


Our only hope is that, at some point, the US can reap the advantages of tech advances elsewhere and go straight to really great trains, rather than having a bunch of meh passenger rail we can't justify replacing.

Kind of like how, supposedly, 4G networks were more widespread in pockets of Africa you'd never expect before they were widespread in the US, because those parts of Africa didn't have 2G/3G infrastructure to depreciate and customers to migrate off before 4G could be deployed.


The problem is everyone is looking to the next advance and so nothing gets built. Eventually you have to commit to something and build it.

Right not politicians are looking at things like hyperloop which maybe can be useful in the future, but right now are power point slides and other hype. Instead we could go with something that works - there is plenty of things much better than we have.


Your comment reminded me of this video illustrating the travelling salesman algorithm on a US map (I love the music):

https://youtu.be/SC5CX8drAtU


Spirit has Atlanta to Dallas round trip for $61 on an 8am flight according to Google. That’s not much more than I paid on a last minute booking in Germany. To drive it would be an 800+ (~1300km) mile trip my my house North of Atlanta to Dallas and take 12 hours no stops.

What trips in Europe are 1300km and how long is that train ride?

I would love an Atlanta to Raleigh or Atlanta to Savannah train but I think your comparison is kinda extreme. A better comparison would be Atlanta to Athens/Columbus/Chattanooga.


Any investment in US infrastructure is government excess and waste.

Now spending a trillion dollars to invade and try to remake a country in the Middle East... that's not waste. Neither is bailing out financial institutions so they can go back to the casino.

If we don't get our priorities realigned, China will absolutely dominate the 21st century and we have no right to complain. We did this to ourselves.


Trains aren't that great of an idea for long-haul intercity transit in the US. The distances in the US are pretty big outside of a few pockets of European or Japanese style population density. Airplanes are just better at a certain distance.

This is why you don't build HSR across all of the continental US, just where the population density justifies it.

I mean, you could have had this for a long time already if there were political will. This newly unveiled Chinese train is based on decades old German tech. They tricked Siemens into building them a "test track" in Shanghai ages ago, with the promise of giving them a contract for longer routes. Now they have the tech and plan to build it themselves.

Btw, other countries determined the maglev tech to be uneconomical. I think India and Saudi Arabia and some other places were interested but ultimately nothing became of it.


I was talking generally about HSR, rather than specifically about maglev.

Maglev is complex because:

* it guarantees you can't run services beyond the limit of the new-built track,

* the extra speed comes with higher operational costs (because drag, so you need the time saving to increase modal shift), and

* higher construction costs (to get the higher speeds, you need to build it with very large radii corners, which limits your ability to choose one's route to minimise significant structures; and if you want city-centre stations, you have no choice but to build a new line all the way in, and it turns out that acquiring land in cities is expensive).

I wouldn't _totally_ write off maglev, but there are relatively few corridors which align to make all of this worthwhile.


Maglev at high speeds is cheaper operating costs than normal rail. (normal rail - in tests - has gone just as fast as existing maglev (not this future advance, what is running in production service) The limit to normal rail is actually the power supply (overhead wires) and not the wheels on steel rails. However as you go faster maglev operating costs are cheaper than normal rail at the same speed (more than slower speed normal rail). Also maglev needs less track maintenance which is a large advantage in operating costs.

I mean the record speeds for maglev and steel wheel trains aren't far apart — 603 km/h v. 574 km/h. My understanding is the limits on steel wheel trains in practice are managing airflow on ballasted track (as the airflow can pick up lose ballast and propel it into the train or anything else nearby) along with pantograph-catenary contact as you mention.

My understanding about maglev operational costs is that the energy consumption of each service is higher (due to the need to maintain the electromagnets, which end up consuming more energy than is used to overcome the rolling resistance of steel-on-steel), though the overall operating costs are hard to judge (especially when the only operational line is both short and there is little in the way of public data about its costs).


I wonder if you could beam power to an airplane instead, or maybe even have a low-flying airplane touch electrical wires. An airplane with no battery -- solves a lot of the Maglev problems.

Touching electrical wires is the limit to existing HSR - you can only go so fast before you run into problems. I don't know if they can be engineered out.

I don't know if beaming power is practical. Tesla was working on it long before we were born.


Even at 600 km/h Atlanta to Dallas is too far for a train when you could fly instead.

There is a lot of potential for rail in the US, but Atlanta to Dallas isn't it.


That's 2 hours at 600 km/h. A flight would take longer, because of security check, getting to-from airport, waiting for luggage, etc. Also, being on a plane sucks, in my personal opinion. If a train ride was 6 hours, and a plane ride 4, I'd take the train. If it were ~8 and 4, that's where I'd start considering taking a plane.

I'd love overnight trains to come back to Europe.


> I'd love overnight trains to come back to Europe.

Are they gone? I've gone backpacking in Europe a couple times with a rail pass or tickets in the last ten years, and regularly used overnight trains.


They are in general going away. There are three problems: first, what do you do with the train during the day when nobody wants a bed (regular trains park at a station overnight and are ready to go the next morning). Second, they only are useful when the entire trip is about the length of a nights sleep - which limits the city pairs they work with (and note no changing trains in the middle of the night!). Third, how will you maintain the track if there are trains running on it.

The last is the biggest. You need to close track regularly to maintain it, and closing all tracks for 8 hours at night is the easiest for people to figure out.


If anything, they're coming back.

> first, what do you do with the train during the day when nobody wants a bed (regular trains park at a station overnight and are ready to go the next morning).

Most trains are taken (empty) to a depot for cleaning and maintenance — the schedule is generally planned around this. It's also where the drivers turn up for work, and it's easier to cope with illness etc this way.

A few trains will be left near a station to run the first train(s) towards the depot in the morning.

Nevertheless, I imagine there are places where costs have been cut to the bone, and there aren't spare sidings for a night train.

> Third, how will you maintain the track if there are trains running on it

You plan the night train with sufficient slack in the schedule to take an alternative route. This can also help with the second point.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25420455 from 7 months ago, etc.


What routes did you take an overnight train on?

http://www.night-trains.com/ has maps, the Europe map is pretty decent (fits my experience of what exists).

> A flight would take longer, because of security check, getting to-from airport, waiting for luggage, etc.

Which is a plain idiocity. A train derailment, even of a non-high speed train, will make for a many times bigger bodycount than an even A380 crash.


No it won't. A few years ago, we had an Amtrak passenger train come off a bridge over I-5 between Olympia and Seattle at 78mph, ending up on the freeway.

Three fatalities. Seventy-two people transported to hospital.

Fun fact: I was on the first fire engine that arrived on that accident.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Washington_train_derailme...


Wow. I've heard firefighters are typically excited to get a call as opposed to being bored at the station, but how did you feel going into that? At the time, you can't imagine what you're about to see or what you're going to have to do...

It really was a challenge. While oftentimes the dispatch information we get can be vague or inconsistent with reality (the number of times we go on structure fire calls that are really burn barrels, or a roof steaming in the sun, or a sunset reflecting in a window...), but with something like this, 911 is getting hundreds of calls and you know it's "real".

There's a lot of adrenaline. I think even the most seasoned, salty veteran would be lying if they said they responded to that call all cool, calm and collected.

But you go back to training. Which is instilled into you as "don't train until you get it right, train until you can't get it wrong".

Scene safety. For yourself, crew, bystanders, the involved.

Resource needs. More ambulances? Cranes?

Then setting up for a mass casualty incident - usually broken down into triage, treatment, and transport - assigning resources to those.

You're right though, it's hard - you want to not be bored, to have something to do, but you don't want someone to have a horrible day. There's a mental balancing act going on.

I remember one of my EMT students, on her first ride along, was for a bad trauma (felled tree bounced and hit someone in the back, causing significant spinal damage and chest injuries). We rendezvoused with a helicopter, intubated, did needle decompressions of the chest, and off they went. My student was a little 'off' afterwards. I asked if she was okay. "I feel so guilty!". I completely misread her, told her nothing was her fault, and said it was okay that she didn't participate as much as possible in patient care versus assisting. "No, I feel so guilty because that guy is so sick, but that was f-ing awesome to see!"

So yeah...


Those are really cool stories.

That's not true. Most derailments are minor and kill less than some 10% of passengers. Even one of the worst accidents in recent years in a western country[0] had 79 deaths out of 222 people on board (plus it was preventable like many rail accidents and would be impossible today as automated speed controls were put in place).

On the other hand, an aircraft crashing into a populated area will definitely kill everyone on board plus all the unlucky folks on the ground who happen to get hit by it.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela_derailm...


Well, none of that was a deliberate sabotage.

A subversionist can easily sabotage the railway over a bridge, on a slope, or time it to have a collision with another train.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschede_derailment

This is pretty much the worst-case kind of derailment: the train derailed mid-switch, causing half the train to go down one track and the other half to go the other track. The sideways car then crashed into the immediately adjacent road pillar, destroying the car and the road on top of it. The rest of the train then plowed into the carnage and folded up like an accordion.

Total death count: 101, of 286 passengers.

An A380 will carry more passengers (500-600, I think), and a typical plane crash will have a much higher death train.


You may want to look at the Japanese train 'bodycount'. They've arguably the most elaborate rail system and I believe it's still safer than air.

There is no excuse for a train to derail. Do your maintenance and operations right.

I think people misunderstood my point. I was telling that a deliberate sabotage on a railway can be many times more deadly, not an accident from "natural" causes.

Otherwise, yes, trains are almost as safe as air travel, if not even safer.


It would be wayyyy faster than a plane Atlanta to Dallas. It would be a 2h30 minute journey from getting into the train station to leaving the train station. Compare that to the 3-4 hours it would take from getting into the airport to leaving the airport (with 2h10 flight).

At that speed planes are better only for very, very long distances.

Trains also are electric which is a plus.

You can get to the station 2 min before it leaves and jump in.


In China for inter-city trains you have security checks and you wait in front of a gate. Experience is identical to an airport.

In China, you need to show your passport/identity card to buy the ticket, since free movement is restricted in this way. Therefore, they have to check when you board the train.

In Europe, Japan and Taiwan etc, it's a good idea to be there a few minutes before (especially if you're not familiar with the station), but it's always less time than required for getting on a plane.


China is special in that regard. They need to check your social credit to see if you're allowed to travel or not.

incredible yeah.. but Bezos went to space.. take that China.

PS. Do I sense some missalocation of resources in the western world ?


I go to work with a train, not to space.

Yes - and it only took 10 minutes and some billions? But it is great - or maybe not. Actually useless.

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