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November 18, 2007

574.8 km per hour
Posted by Patrick at 04:57 PM * 150 comments

Remember the future? They’re having it in France.

(Thanks to Charlie Stross for the pointer.)

Comments on 574.8 km per hour:
#1 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:43 PM:

France is also more densely populated than the vast majority of the US, and trips are a lot shorter in length. Their cost/benefit ratio is a lot lower than what would be needed for a similar system to work in the US, except in limited areas like the East Coast megalopolis and the San Diego/San Francisco region.

574 km/hr translates roughly to 350mph; nowhere close enough to current flight speeds, especially when you can expect similar wait times for security in the train stations as in airports.

#2 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:57 PM:

And meanwhile, the powers that be in Britain have decided that Britain is *too* densely populated for such things to be viable, and 125 mph is perfectly fast enough....

#3 ::: mac ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:59 PM:

John, that's a false equivalence.
1. The US doesn't even have TGVs on those corridors where it makes sense. Acela is nice, but it doesn't compare with 350mph. And there's nothing equivalent on the West Coast and other potential markets. LA-SF. Portland-Seattle-Vancouver.
2. There is no similar wait to get on trains. It takes 15 minute to buy a ticket and board the Japanese express (see above pointer.) Boarding trains is just a lot faster than planes--more doors. And you need a bigger bomb to do real damage, so the security doesn't need to be as tight.

#4 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:59 PM:

John L. I am missing something regarding your point about security lines. Maybe what you mean is that our government seems to insist on time consuming security theater and will do the same thing with a train line, and that might be true. Logically, though, it seems to me that a train needs far less security than an airplane because trains are inherently less vulnerable to terrorists. The explosives that could depressurize an airplane would only kill the few people standing nearby on a train. An airplane crash is likely to kill all of the passengers; many people will survive a derailment. And there is no way to steer a train into a skyscraper. (On the other hand, to argue the other direction, a bomb that tore up a major track could delay travel for months of repairs; there isn't really an analogous effect for airplanes.)

If I were a terrrorist, I'd be looking at things that were engineered with a low safety margin, where it would be difficult to recover from damage and where a failure could kill hundereds of bystanders. Airplanes make an obvious target. I don't see why trains do.

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:03 PM:

John L @ 1

Well, given that you can put the train stations downtown (or close to it), instead of a half-hour away from anywhere, that speed is just fine.

In the US, about the top speed you can get is 79mph, mostly because freight and passenger are on the same tracks. In some areas, it's still single track (I doubt they'll double-track the tunnel between Chatsworth and Simi soon; they'd need a new tunnel).

#6 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:20 PM:

P. J. Evans: the Accela gets up to 125mph on some short stretches -- much like the 30-year-old InterCity 125s still running on the disgrace that is the post-privatization British railway network. The ride quality on the Accela is pretty close to a British inter-city train, the furniture is nicer (because it isn't 30 years old and tired), but my experience of the punctuality is ... worse.

I'd like to note that the British railway network is the laughing stock of Europe.

John L: trains don't have to compete with the air speed of planes, they have to compete with the total journey time, city centre to city centre. So there's a built-in 3 hour handicap in the train's favour. You spend more time on the train, but less time queuing up and being searched and warehoused in a departure lounge or sitting in a taxi or car.

For journeys from Manhattan to Boston, the Accela is competitive with flying. TGV or Shinkansen type high-speed rail is competitive at distances of up to about 600-800 miles. Above 1000 miles, you really need significantly faster trains than the current production models. But if they ever get that special record-breaking TGV system up to production reliability ... a 2000 mile flight takes 4 hours in the air, plus two (check in/security/boarding) plus a half (baggage claim/journey into town). At 570 km/h, or about 360mph, it's five and a half hours. Your call!

#7 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:29 PM:

When WGBH was taking us to Boston last year, we went Accela, and it was The Best.

It beat going to the airport all the way.

And when we arrived, we were nearly there, unlike going to the airport.

Love, C.

#8 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:31 PM:

I'm aware that high-speed trains aren't the optimal transportation solution for parts of the US. Claiming that they are wasn't my point.

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:32 PM:


My line is
'Amtrak's ontime record: if it's on time, it's a record.'

It's really not good. A lot of the older conductors on the LA regional rail system came from Amtrak, and most of them don't want to go back: even making multiple runs per day, or working a split shift, they prefer the regioanl trains. (They have stories about trains breaking down from lack of maintenance, or poor maintenance.)

It takes just about as long to get to work on the train as it does on the express bus that leaves from the same station and goes most of the way on the freeway, dropping me off at the same corner where'd I'd be leaving the subway system.

#10 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:36 PM:

"Britain is too densely populated for such things" turns out to mean 'we can put in London-Birmingham-{pick one of Manchester and Liverpool}, but the inhabitants of Stoke-on-Trent, Northampton, and {pick the other of Manchester and Liverpool} will derive little benefit from it' - between megacities there are cities which are still large and full of voters, but in which it's not practical to have a TGV decelerate gradually from 200mph, stop, let people off, let people on, and accelerate gradually to 200mph again.

London-Leicester-Leeds-Newcastle-Edinburgh infuriating the inhabitants of Sheffield, Middlesbrough and Nottingham is I think the other conceivable TGV line in the UK.

Discussions of TGV in Britain often suggest that the money would be better spent on reasonable-speed cross-country lines - Norwich-Cambridge-Luton-Oxford-Bristol or EasternPorts-Bedford-Coventry-Birmingham, both of which are presently via London.

#11 ::: jrochest ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:37 PM:

For short hops, trains make vast amounts of sense: there should be high speed service between New York and Washington, between Chicago-Toronto-Montreal, between Seattle-San Fran-LA. There's something so handy about going downtown, lining up for a half an hour, sitting comfortably in for 4 hours and arriving downtown.

And at least in Canada, airlines now fly you in short hops: to go Toronto-Vancouver on Westjet, you often need to go Toronto-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Regina, Regina-Calgary, Calgary-Vancouver, with significant wait times between flights. A 4 hour direct flight is often expanded to a full day.

#12 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:56 PM:

France (and a good part of Europe) are almost ideal for a high-speed rail system - France is a nice, kind of square (geometrically) country, and trains make a lot of sense there. When my wife and I took the TGV in 1999, it was a great ride, smooth and fast.

Trains could do quite well in parts of the US, particularly between cities in a 500 mile radius. However, it would take a good deal of political will to have high-speed rail connections built between those cities, as the airlines that serve them would not sit kindly to having a rail competitor.

Some years back, there was talk about a triangular route between San Antonio-Austin-Dallas-Houston-San Antonio, and when Southwest Airlines found out about the plans, they lobbied heavily, putting the kibosh on any government funding of such a venture. (It's perfectly all right and natural for the gov't to put money towards airport improvement and Air Traffic Control, but god forbid that the goverment should show favor on another form of transportation - trains are for freight in this country, by golly.)

Now I'm a private pilot and I have a vested interest in the government continuing to support aviation, but I also recognize that the way the Fed has supported airlines is not in the best interests of the country, particulary when energy efficiency and carbon emissions are becoming more of an issue. So I split the difference - air travel where it makes sense, and rail where it makes sense.

And to those who say, let the market decide, well, live in the dream. In mature societies, markets and governments work together, and you might as get used to it.

#13 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:59 PM:

I would much rather take a high-speed train than fly between SF and LA or San Diego, where my family lives, but I doubt I'll see that in my lifetime.

When I have the time to spare, I drive. It may be an all day trip, but it's a whole lot more pleasant than flying. It says a lot about the whole air travel experience that I'd prefer driving I-5 through central California (it's not what you'd call a scenic trip for the most part), traversing L.A. on the 405 and having to stop for gas at near or over $4 a gallon at the highway robbery gas stations along the way, to the stress of airports.

#14 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:09 PM:

Dawno @ 13

I'm partial to 99 myself; more scenery, more places to stop, not noticeably longer. Also I'm used to it; I remember some of those oleanders when they were too small to hide Volkswagen beetles, and now they can hide semi tractors.

#15 ::: folk on LJ ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:38 PM:

Incredibly impressive. I think I might take the train to visit my friend in Strasbourg. Oh, wait, that's five hours from Cornwall to London, then another five from London to Strasbourg -- which includes a Paris transfer.

Part of the UK issue is that everything is London-based, London's not in the middle of the country, and there's not a main London station -- there are sixteen, each of which deals with a different segment of the country. There is only one trans-London rail line, Thameslink, which connects London Bridge, Blackfriars and the King's Cross Thameslink station. Connectivity between London stations is by taxi (incredibly expensive) or Tube (still expensive and without step-free access between the majority of the London stations).

To some extent, France, Japan and Germany have an easier time of it geographically. Paris is more central, though skewed north of the French hexagon. Japan is easier since it's basically a big spine without bits l, and the German rail system is decentralised because of the way the Cold War changed its map and population/economy centres.

Oh, yes, and it's all privatised, and fares are absolutely, utterly insane.

#16 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:39 PM:

I've taken the 99 occasionally, PJ, particularly when I needed to stop in Fresno. The oleanders are nicer to look at than brown hillsides. To say nothing of the smell of the Harris Ranch stockyards...

I remember when some of the abandoned stops on 99 were in business - I grew up in the high desert (Edwards AFB) and we drove north on the 99 from time to time as I was growing up. My husband and I started driving to Las Vegas two years ago for a number of reasons, but a big one was how little either of us enjoyed the last time we had to catch our flight home from McCarran.

#17 ::: folk on LJ ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:46 PM:

Oh, blast, I forgot to mention that, in the UK, the train can often be faster than the plane. Take London to Edinburgh, which I used to do on business, for example, assuming flying BA from Heathrow and GNER from King's Cross, best case scenarios.

From Paddington, 25 minutes to Heathrow. 15 minutes to extricate yourself from the bowels of Heathrow, and charitably another 30 minutes to check in at Terminal 1. 1.00 of waiting time, and I'll split the "security" section between check-in and wait time. 1.20 of flying time. 30 minutes from the airport into the centre of Edinburgh. Total: 4 hours.

From King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley (central Edinburgh): 4 hours. Walk into the station, walk onto a train, siddown, walk off the train.

Now, the first class rail fare was cheaper than the plane. Given that I was generally lugging an overnight bag and a laptop with assorted gubbins (occasionally a projector) around, plus whatever papers I needed, it was the train hands-down. I could spread out on a table and work, watch the scenery go by (the Northumbrian coastal section is stunningly beautiful), enjoy a pretty damned good restaurant car service...rather than dashing from train to terminal to plane to terminal to bus with luggage.

#18 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:59 PM:

PJ Evans @ #9, "(They have stories about trains breaking down from lack of maintenance, or poor maintenance.)"

Well, yeah, but that's a funding problem. The US government has never believed in AMTRAK as a long-term solution, and since it's spread over a hundred or more Congressional districts, it doesn't have single champions in the House or Senate either.

The airline lobby is one of the strongest in the country. Remember that $15B they got immediately following 9/11, for "business disruption or whatever?"

#19 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:00 PM:

I'd like to note that the British railway network is the laughing stock of Europe.

London to Paris is now 2h15 on the Eurostar. If you pick the right station in East Kent* you can get a direct train to London that takes 1h57.

Still, it cuts nearly half an hour off how long it took in the late nineteenth century.

Folk on LJ - you can (and when the tube is shut for engineering works, sometimes have to) catch buses across London; this is slightly less scary than it used to be as the Transport For London website does quite a good job of giving you various options of getting from A to B. But travelling in London is not a game for amateurs.

* Coincidentally my local station (70 miles from London, 35 miles from Calais)

#20 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:07 PM:

I would say that the problems of US train service are as follows:

1) Lots of places where it doesn't make any sense, which saps political will. Lots of places so close driving is more practical, lots of places too far. Houston is close to New Orleans, San Antonio, Dallas, would make great sense, right? Except the city itself is so spread out you're looking at terrible local transit costs arriving or departing there.

2) Tremendous infrastructure costs necessary to upgrade. The Acela has the ability within the train to go much faster than it does on its existing route, but the track doesn't support it. Apparently to upgrade each grade crossing is between a couple hundred thousand and a million dollars apiece, the track would need straightening, and the caternary towers would need replacement.

3) Amtrak has a terrible record of service, and hasn't inspired anybody to think it would be any more successful in the future. On the other hand, who would replace them? A supersized MTA?

#21 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:07 PM:

Dawno & PJ Evans:

As a resident of Merced, not only do I generally prefer 99, I usually have no choice. Currently I commute two days a week to Fresno.

Case in point: I have a committee meeting in Irwindale (just off the 210 south of Azuza). After investigating air fares and schedules, and allowing for $3.50/gal prices it was cheaper to drive down to the meeting, then take the next couple of days hitting some of the facilies that I have not had the chance to get to, in places like California City and Taft. This includes lodging and meals, when you net out what it wouold take to visit these facilities from Fresno. And the real problem is that considering what the routing is like from the San Joaquin Valley to anywhere (never direct) it wasn't much faster to fly than drive or take Amtrak. Consider that there are few direct flights to Ontario (California) from Fresno.

#22 ::: folk on LJ ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Neil @ 19: re: train times: if you're unlucky and have to change trains in Plymouth, it takes longer from Cornwall to London now than it did before WWII.

re: London buses: Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmmm. (This is my sceptical face.) I used to live around the corner from Paddington, and it took me ages to figure out where the buses for the Marylebone Road/Euston Road went from (hint: it's opposite Peking-Seoul, a surprisingly excellent Korean and Chinese restaurant, on Praed Street. Highly recommended).

How anybody who's not a Londoner is supposed to (a) find their bus route, (b) find the stop that's used for that route in that direction, (c) find a working bloody pay-point because they all only take Oyster is supposed to do it, I'm not sure. My mother always gives up and gets in a taxi from the station to wherever she's going in Zones 1 and 2.

Andrew @ 20: Supersized MTA for rail might not be such a bad idea -- when I lived in Westchester, north of NYC, the train service was the best I've ever experienced. Once or twice a year there might be a delay due to landslides or flooding along the Hudson, the fares were reasonable and the service reliable. Sure, it'd be nice if they turned on the damn a/c before you got on the train in Grand Central, but hey. I quite like the idea of the MTA running a Boston-NYC-Washington shuttle.

#23 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:21 PM:

I'm driving to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving.

If I weren't taking a metric buttload of gifts with me -- including some (CA-legal) fireworks -- I'd seriously consider the train instead.

#24 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:50 PM:

>re: London buses: Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmmm. (This is my sceptical face.) I used to live around the corner from Paddington, and it took me ages to figure out where the buses for the Marylebone Road/Euston Road went from (hint: it's opposite Peking-Seoul, a surprisingly excellent Korean and Chinese restaurant, on Praed Street. Highly recommended).

>How anybody who's not a Londoner is supposed to (a) find their bus route, (b) find the stop that's used for that route in that direction, (c) find a working bloody pay-point because they all only take Oyster is supposed to do it, I'm not sure. My mother always gives up and gets in a taxi from the station to wherever she's going in Zones 1 and 2.

I'm not a Londoner, but had no problem figuring out how to get from Paddington to the Euston area by bus.
There are good maps and directories all over the place. You just have to be willing to read or ask. I do own an Oyster card, and have had it for a while (partly so I can wave it around at local transportation commission and BOD meetings).

The problem with high-speed rail on the West Coast of the US is that there are too many mountains in the way to make it easy. And there are lots of politics about the route, at a fine-grained level, such as Pacheco or Altamount Pass,and San Francisco or Oakland as the major terminus.

The long-distance AmTrack trains out here have such a bad on-time record that they're useless for anything except excursions (even if one-way).

I'm in Oakland, and use Bay Area public transportation a lot.

#25 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:20 PM:

You know how incredibly engineered the brake systems are on those things? The brakes alone are smart enough to transcend.

(I translated the specs for some of them.)

#26 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:33 PM:

The US will not get high speed rail. There are two groups that won't let it happen -- the Trucking industry and the Airlines.

There is no logical reason for STL-ORD flights, except that Amtrak is forced to run on freight tracks. Best speed -- 80mph, unless there's a freight on the track (good bet, it's *freight* trackage) in which case, they follow the freight at 60mph.

Worse -- they get tiny slots. If the freight ahead or behind delays, they *lose* the slot, and wait for the next one. This might be twenty minutes. This might be four hours on the long western track sections.

Amtrak is kept just as it is to make sure nothing can compete with trucks for non-bulk freight and planes for passengers. A 150mph train means downtown St. Louis to downtown Chicago is 2.5 hours, with a couple of stops and slow track in the cities. Alas, unless and until someone tells the trucking and airline industries to fuck off, this won't happen.

It's a real shame. Even the problem ridden UK rail system is such a vastly better experience than flying in the US.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:33 PM:

Claude @ 22

You'd get stuck with the Amtrak Bus between LA and Bakersfield, too. Granted, it's a nice bus, but it's still a bus. (I wouldn't have thought Fresno to Taft was that difficult, but it is kind of sideways to all the main roads.)

#28 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:34 PM:

Raleigh just abandoned an attempt at coming up with a design for a light rail system. The original snake-oil salesmen (i.e. rail engineering consultants, etc) proposed using existing tracks and just building new stations at certain spots. Cost? About $300 million.

Except, as the time went on, and the engineering really began digging into it, the costs kept going up. Eventually, when it was abandoned, the costs were up near $800 million. This was for a 30mph, one track system that ran less than 40 miles from end to end.

High speed rail, as I said, would be most viable in heavily populated areas that already get a lot of inter-area travel. It would need new rail lines (new R/W) with expensive controls and separations over all other tracks and crossings. Unless someone can point me to a huge pile of money sitting around, I just don't see this happening.

Security wise, if something exploded on a 350mph train, I would expect very bad things to happen to those train cars and the surrounding area. The government would err on the side of safety and require airline-style security at transit stops.

#29 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:38 PM:

Another factor to consider -- rail travel tends to be less wearying than a shorter air travel time, since you're not subjected to pressure changes, bad cabin air, tiny cramped seats and it's much easier to get up and move around. (Trains being relatively unaffected by air turbulence.)

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:42 PM:

Erik @ 26

Well, there is a solution of sorts: Amtrak should be the owner of the rails, rather than the freight lines. The owner gets to set the priorities, and also gets to collect 'rent' from the other rolling-stock using their routes. It would require spending money, though.

My regional rail owns its own track in LA and, I think, Orange counties. We don't get delayed much by freights (sometimes, yes, but not daily or even weekly). There are problems in other counties, partly because freight lines run the systems there, and also because one of the routes goes though a very busy freightyard which has a second freight line from a different company cutting across it (ouch).

#31 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:06 PM:

*pburch* "Ladies en jhzentilemen, zis iz de enjhineer a speaking. Ve have had a slight miscalculazshun -- oui forget to install ze breaking system. Pleaze hode on for your own safeties az oui wheel be landing in Estonia shortly...Sank you!"*pburch*

#32 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:50 PM:

John L, I think everyone here knows that the TGV is expensive, and that France has advantages in terms of the geography that the US doesn't.

As to the security concerns, why not look at countries where there's been experience of terrorism, sometimes against the rail networks, and how they've reacted to it, instead of making up hypotheticals?

#33 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:18 AM:

That is one fast train, that is.

For various reasons mentioned here and some unmentioned (alas for the ongoing destruction of Amtrak from within and without!), the U.S. rail system is unlikely to move into a future anywhere near that one anytime soon. I hope I'm wrong about that, but the odds aren't favorable.

The trains in the U.S. aren't good, but they're still trains, and for some of us, that's enough to lure us. Especially when they connect to VIA trains (Canadian).

Hmm. Guess I'm getting nostalgic. Time to start planning the next 30-day, 13,000-kilometer solo trip. Last time, the base railpass cost me under $500 for the entire trip. (I did add on sleeper accomodations on the Canadian, as it was the 50th anniversary of that particular train. Impossible to resist! And well worth it, as it turned out, in all sorts of ways: scenery, food, and company.)

#34 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:54 AM:

The key to understanding rail is you build the city and the region around the system--and it works. You can add cars and airplanes to that system and it still works. Retrofitting rail into urban and regional plans that have been designed for car and air travel is a much more difficult problem. It is, however, near-certain that in four generations we will be using primarily rail, not automobiles or airplanes--the energy efficiency and lower output of greenhouse gases ultimately will tell. A little common sense suggests that best policy in this area, from the viewpoint of energy, environment, and human comfort would be to implement high-speed regional rail systems and local light-rail systems in areas where they are plausible. But that is not yet what the USA is doing.

#35 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:23 AM:

I also am rather envious of the exceedingly common high quality air-rail connections in continental Europe. Most of the major hub airports (CDG, FRA, AMS) have rail stations in or very near the terminal with long-haul train service to and from medium-distance destinations as well as regional rail into the city itself. Meanwhile, our major airports have, at best, some kind of shuttle to the nearest rail station (JFK/EWR) or a connection only to the local rapid transit system (ATL/ORD).

Air France even uses the TGV for CDG-Brussels service rather than flying it.

#36 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:21 AM:

It's really going to be depressing to go back to the US after living in "train paradise" here in Japan. I've never been in a car in this country, and I've lived here two years. Not even a taxi.

This train is pretty sweet, but I think the Shinkansen is still faster. However, I would guess that the age of maglev is coming to an end, if conventional trains can go this fast.

#37 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:30 AM:

Excellent video, though the parts that impressed me most were shot from the still vantage point and the train whooshed by. The tracking shots from the air are a little too blurry on YouTube to really get that across, but when I saw it go under the bridge, I thought f*ck me that's fast.

35: Well considering that Atlanta gets two Amtrak trains per day, there's not much point of connecting the passenger terminal to Hartsfield. But yeah, coming off the plane in Frankfurt and going down into the modernized station for high-speed trains is most excellent. (As are the various stretches that allow the trains to reach almost 200 mph.) And the previous station was built as an integral part of the terminal, which opened in 1972, so it's not as if this is a new idea or anything.

I'm based in Munich, presently, and I don't even think about flying anywhere within the country except Hamburg or Berlin. (The latter is an interesting case: Right now, it's mainly served by a city-center airport Tegel, and the trains have to contend with suboptimal tracks in Thuringia. Over the next ten years, though, Tegel will be phased out in favor of a big airport way, way on the south side of town, and the rail network is spending EUR 10 billion on upgrading the tracks from the south to the capital. Right now, it's about two hours faster to fly; the changes will make the two approaches equal.)

28: It's not impossible that the US government would insist on security measures for trains that no other comparable system in the world uses, and that are not present on the current system of trains, but I just don't think this is the way to bet.

#38 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:33 AM:

Keir @32: Italy had several trains and stations blown up by right-wing CIA-funded terrorist groups in the 70s (quite a hot Cold War). There's now a dedicated police force for trains, Polizia Ferroviaria, but you rarely see them. People do notice suspicious baggage and report it. That's all. Compared to current airport humiliation routines, it's a paradise.

Oh, and the italian railway system is fantastic compared to the UK counterpart: cheap and fairly reliable (don't listen to the Italians moaning, they complain about everything anyway). The reason is very simple: it's still pretty much 100% state-controlled, whereas in UK it's a patchwork of public money, private interests, and corporate profiteering.

#39 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:54 AM:

Well, no one is going anywhere on a TGV this week, since there's a strike. I should have been typing this from Avignon, after an eight hour journey in first class from St Pancras but when we reached the station we were informed that the strikes had closed down all inter-provincial TGVs -- needed to get from Lille to Avignon -- and all public transport across Paris as well. Today's Independent says it took the Paris correspondent 90 minutes to drive 3km across the city on Friday.

And when I looked at last-minute alternatives, I realised that flying Ryanair is just so nasty that it cancels out the rest of the holiday. The worst thing is that they now play advertisements very loudly through most of the flight.

#40 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:36 AM:

Giacomo: #38 I didn't know of that example (although Stanislaw Lem's Chain of Chance contains an attack on Italian transportation), but I am aware that, for instance, the UK rail network -- specifically, the Tube -- has been attacked by, supposedly, the Suffragists (!), by the IRA in the 30s, by the Provisional IRA in the 70s, and most recently by Islamic extremists.

The most notable result has been the removal of rubbish bins.

John L.'s fears appear overblown.

And the Italian railways are very nice, as are the Swiss railways. We travelled Italy and Switzerland by train, and the rail system really puts New Zealand's system to shame.

#41 ::: Martin GL ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:52 AM:

Well, the point is not so much whether or not the high-speed train is convenient as it is that it must be built. It is the next best option. Aviation is one of the worst sources of carbon emissions (pretty much the worst emissions by private individuals), and needs to be cut. The way we move between major cities on a continent needs to change. We have to learn to accept that we are not goint to be able to get there as fast as we do today. New York - LA in a couple of hours is no longer going to be an option. Air travel needs to become far more expensive or otherwise restricted, and military aircraft missions must be significantly reduced or eliminated.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but as I've understood it, US geography is perfect for trains, apart from the Rockies and the Appalachians. Flat, with many opportunities for straight stretches to build speed. Much better than Norway, where I live. When they built the railway between Oslo and Bergen here - 8 hours through mountains - it cost a couple of state budgets all told. But they still pulled it off, and the trains are still being favoured by many, despite a 50 minute airplane route. Now they are getting close to deciding on a high-speed track. It will take three or four hours and will probably significantly reduce the most populated air journey in Norway.

Once you factor airplanes out of the equation, high-speed trains are simply the best option.

#42 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:30 AM:

Didn't the Spanish have several bombs explode on some of their trains? Or did I just imagine that?

I'm not advocating an airline-type level of security for HSR, only that the US government would certainly do so.

#43 ::: Koneko ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:14 AM:

#2 - it IS. The tracks are terrible and I've yet to go on a train that doesn't cross a town, village, or city, for at least fifty percent of the journey. Rabbits on the line are fine - people get messy. 'Sides, I'd feel scared going much faster, with all the gardens almost on the track.

But... the british rail system is really quite good. We're an island, built up, and we haven't got half the space of most countries. You can't rebuild it and fix it because that means knocking down houses, usually the ones that people are living on. An English home is the home owner's castle, and no one will let them go through it.

You can't, therefore, make one main station to feed all the country and Europe - where would you put it? Want to knock out central London?

You could make a monstrously sized nexus sort of station outside London, but people would complain about the size of it, how easily you get lost, the fact that it's not central... and, of course, the clincher that London itself is the largest city in England, the most easily accessable city in England (as all trains go there, in the end) and has a direct link to the Channel Tunnel.

At least if there's sixteen stations to feed different parts of England, you can't get lost on which part of England you're going to.

#44 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:14 AM:

But there aren't; this is crap.

Paddington: Great Western - the West!
Euston: LMS - Midlands, Birmingham, Manchester, W Scotland, NW 'burbs
King's Cross: London North Eastern - Fenland, Yorkshire, Newcastle, Scotland. NE suburbs
St Pancras: Midland main line - East Midlands, Yorkshire...and the Eurostar!
Liverpool Street: Great Eastern, East Anglia
Marylebone: Old Great Central - NW suburbs
Waterloo: South Western main line, SW suburbs
Victoria: South Coast
Charing Cross: Southern Suburban
Fenchurch St: London, Tilbury and Southend
Cannon Street: Southeast Suburbs

That ain't no sixteen stations, and you can really rule Marylebone, Fenchurch St and Cannon Street off because they are only of interest if you are a commuter; Charing X too, for that matter. King's Cross and St Pancras share a tube station and are gradually morphing into one huge station.

Note; if you think 125mph trains are good, you wait 'til you meet the 100mph container freights...

#45 ::: folk on LJ ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:17 AM:

Koneko @ 43: As much as I'd love a London Hauptbahnhof in the German tradition, it wouldn't be practical unless built underground (Hyde Park, Green Park, or St James' Park, perhaps), although that would be very expensive and realised over far too long a time period to be politically viable.

However, I can't help thinking that there has to be a better way than the current sixteen stations. Crossrail will help, and it's good to have the Eurostar on the Circle Line, but still, transferring in London is pretty frustrating compared to, well, anywhere else in Europe.

#46 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:51 AM:

...they are only of interest if you are a commuter; Charing X too, for that matter.

Well that's where my trains to London terminate :) (They also stop at Waterloo East, across the road from Waterloo).

Re: buses (and, to a lesser extent tube and suburban rail) in London - I did say it's not for amateurs. As Doug Faunt says, if you spend a bit of time looking and asking you can figure out the bus routes; the TFL website is an advance on this only in that you can spend the time trying to figure out where the bus stops are in front of your computer rather than on the street. Because I go to or through London nearly every time I go anywhere (my brother lives there) I've got an Oyster card. But yeah, if in doubt get a Taxi - in London they actually know where they're going most of the time.

#47 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:53 AM:

John L @42

commuter trains into Madrid were bombed on 11th March 2004. 191 people died and at least 1,800 were injured.

More details here

#48 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:12 AM:

"...but still, transferring in London is pretty frustrating compared to, well, anywhere else in Europe."

Berlin only has a Hauptbahnhof as a result of the Soviet invasion and the subsequent Wall. As methods for urban renovation go, they're thorough, but not widely recommended. (Note also current shortage of Soviet troops and, indeed, Soviet Union.)

Paris, Budapest, Vienna and Rome are further examples of cities with multiple major stations, and Moscow has bunches, though historically speaking opinion has varied somewhat about whether this last is a place in Europe.

#49 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:46 AM:

If rail in London had been designed as a whole, it would be different.

But it wasn't, and I would be unsurprised if there were still more than one main-line terminus under such a scheme. But Euston, St. Pancras, and Kings Cross might be a single large station; they're close to each other.

You could also expect a better cross-London system, perhaps a through express from Dover to Edinburgh.

Still, there are problems of capacity and control. Let me check Google Earth for the number of tracks coming in...

Looks like around 20 tracks available for traffic in and out of those three stations, but one or two may not be for passenger use. A through station can also operate more efficiently, since a train arriving ar a particular platform doesn't have to be switched to a different track on departure.

The "station throat" for 20+ tracks would be horrible complicated, and you'd probably have the effect of three stations, each feeding a different main line.

#50 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:53 AM:

In fact, how many cities have only one at all?

Lyon has two; Manchester has two and used to have three (not counting Oxford Road on the same principle as I don't count Waterloo East or London Bridge; they are intermediate stations in London rather than "London"); Bradford has two, Glasgow has two; Brussels had two but built a new one between them. My home town, Keighley, had in the past a station on the Midland and another on the Great Northern.

Berlin just built a new single station, but used to have quite a few (Zoo, Lehrter, Anhalter, Alexanderplatz..) Munich has a couple; Vienna has a South Station that includes the former East Station and handles eastbound trains, but also a North Station that handles only suburban trains that don't necessarily go north, and a West Station that handles westbound trains *but also some eastbound and quite a lot of northbound trains!*, a funny little one called the Franz Josef Station that does...something or other but not much, and a Central Station that looks and smells like a public toilet and only handles suburban trains. They do, however, have a plan to build a new whacking gurt central station which won't actually be at Central Station or very central, although it will be the railway centre of central Europe. (if you've ever seen the huge railyards just to the east of the city, on the way to the airport, you'll understand)

Now, Budapest is well weird; Keleti (Central) Station is in the east of the city and Deli (Southern) Station in the west of the city, and the train from Vienna comes in to the Southern Station despite coming from the north-west (having started off at the West Station in Vienna:-)).

Paris has the added complexity that some of the stations have twins; Montparnasse has Vaugirard next door and sort-of in the same building but not quite, the Gare de Lyon has the Bercy next door...and the Gare d'Orsay is actually an art museum but still has trains in the basement.

And New York has multistations, too; Grand Central and Penn Station, right?

Of course, most of this is down to the effects of Victorian free-marketeering; you couldn't let the OTHERS have a bigger station, could you?

#51 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:58 AM:

Of course, Dave's point is entirely true; in a sense King's Cross and St Pancras are already growing together, there being only what's left of the Great Northern Hotel and one street width between 'em, and the tube station being the same.

And the cross-London interconnection has just improved a lot with the completion of the CTRL, which comes up from the south, under the river, and into the northern railwayland behind KX/SP. In fact, I read they have added a spur from it onto one of the northern main lines...

#52 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:17 AM:

> There is no similar wait to get on trains.

A while ago I flew to Paris and got the Eurotunnel train back, and the checkin requirements and wait for the train were worse. That's something of a special case, crossing an international border, but security theatre is coming to UK rail stations too:,,2211088,00.html

#53 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:28 AM:

Well, there is a solution of sorts: Amtrak should be the owner of the rails, rather than the freight lines.

Doesn't work. Amtrak needs dead smooth lines, with wide curves and no grade crossings, to run high speed passenger trains. Freight needs *strong* lines to haul mile long bulk carriers, and shallow grades to haul everything up and down. Passenger trains can handle steeper grades.

So, there really can't be any sharing between freight and high speed passenger rail. One of the reasons the TGV works is the LGV, the Ligne à Grande Vitesse (Line of Great Speed) that they run on. If you can't run at TGV speeds, you don't run on the LGVs.

Building them isn't hard -- it's fairly detailed, but it's the same order of effort to build highway lanes.

You can build track to handle 125mph pax and 100 mph mile freight, but then The original snake-oil salesmen (i.e. rail engineering consultants, etc) proposed using existing tracks and just building new stations at certain spotwhat happens in the US is that everything runs at 100. If you want truly high speed rail, then you need to set the rule that only high speed trainsets are allowed.

The original snake-oil salesmen (i.e. rail engineering consultants, etc) proposed using existing tracks and just building new stations at certain spot

1) High speed intercity rail != suburban commuter rail != intercity light rail. They aren't the same hardware, or the same track, and they don't solve the same problems. Conflating them is, at best, laziness.

2) Figures that Raleigh would screw this up. Building on old right of way does work, provided that the old track goes somewhere useful. This is often the case, because the old track went somewhere useful when it was built.

St. Louis has built three lines this way, it has been a smashing success, despite multiple predictions of doom. Given that they're about to close I-64 for two years, I suspect Metrolink is going to do even better.

#54 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:51 AM:
One of the reasons the TGV works is the LGV, the Ligne à Grande Vitesse (Line of Great Speed) that they run on.
In plain English, Ligne à Grande Vitesse simply means "High-Speed Line".
#55 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:09 AM:

Keir @40: you managed to miss the fifty-odd killed on tube trains (and a bus) by suicide bombers on 7/7.

The British government's heavy-handed security theatre does in fact have some basis in reality.

Disasters involving high speed trains are rare, but tend to be bad. There was the TransRapid maglev accident last year, that killed everybody on board the train (it hit a maintenance car that shouldn't have been on the track -- at around 200mph). And there was the ICE train derailment near Eschede in 1998. It probably wouldn't have been fatal ... except that it derailed just before a bridge, and the carriages piled side-on into a concrete abutment at 125mph.

... On the other hand, trains are inherently closer to fail-safe than aircraft, and you can envisage using security measures with them that you can't with planes. For example, resurrect the old Guard's Van for luggage: if your case is larger than handheld size, you tag it with your destination and drop it off on the platform. It goes in the guard's van and you retrieve it from the platform at your destination. The guard's van is towed along at the back of the train, with no passengers in it, so if someone's sent a bomb all the energy goes into making a mess of a baggage car rather than a passenger-carrying vehicle.

(Yes, current high speed rail doesn't make provisions for this kind of nonsense, because -- thinks your French or Japanese engineer -- who would want to blow up their baby? But the point is that it can be added -- a lot more easily than towing a baggage glider along behind all airliners.)

#56 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:13 AM:

Sorry, this should have gone in the previous post:

One thing that's becoming clear is that high speed rail does have different requirements from traditional track. You need modern signaling because you can't spot lights and signs whizzing past at 200mph. And they are utterly incompatible with level crossings of any kind. Level crossings make as much sense as allowing right-of-way for local roads across the runways of a busy airport. In fact, high speed lines need to be physically walled or fenced off from their environs, to keep vehicles from accidentally (or deliberately) crashing onto the track -- as happened here (one suicide, seven deaths).

#57 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:22 AM:

Eric @53:

I wasn't trying to conflate light rail with HSR; I'm well aware of the differences. I was using Raleigh's failed system to show how even simple projects on paper often turn into really big, complicated and expensive problems once the details start getting worked out.

I'd love to see a regional HSR system running between, say, Boston to DC, but the planning, design, R/W acquisition and overall cost (not to mention the inevitable political pot stirring) will probably mean it won't be in my lifetime.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:40 AM:

DavidS @ 4

(On the other hand, to argue the other direction, a bomb that tore up a major track could delay travel for months of repairs; there isn't really an analogous effect for airplanes.)

If you measure lost dollars or passenger-miles, you don't have to hold up airflight for the same amount of time*. A reasonably large explosion† on the runway of a major hub airport** would put it out of commission for a couple of weeks, I would think.

* In the US that is; the ridership isn't anywhere near as high as in Europe, and therefore there's not as much to lose.
** Two, for places like Denver that run parallel runways.
† Something very hot would be best; cracking of a large stretch of the runway from flaming jetfuel for instance, would take a while to repair. Crashing a widebody on a steep angle into the center of the runway would be effective, I think.

#59 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:56 AM:

John L #28:

As I recall, the other strikes against the light rail in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill were that the railway wasn't going to go through RDU airport and Duke Medical Center objected to having a stop close to the hospital. I think the idea was that you would take a shuttle bus from the train station to the airport, but then why bother? Hardly any of the Triangle area is more than 30 minutes drive from the airport. I can't recall what Duke's beef was. Something about riffraff being attracted to train stations and/or tracks ruining the scenic beauty of Erwin road, but again, if you can't take the train to one of the major destinations in Durham, why bother?

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:57 AM:

Randolph Fritz @ 34

The inverse is also true: build the cities for cars and eventually the train makes more sense. In 2001, after I finally lost patience with the Portland neurosurgeon who wouldn't consider operating on my spine, but wouldn't actually say so, I found a clinic in Seattle that would. From my house in Portland (about three miles from where I lived then) to downtown Seattle where the hospital is less than 90 minutes by car, if no one else is on the road. That part of the I-5 mess in Seattle is in gridlock for 12-16 hours a day, however, so your mileage will most certainly vary.

The train took 3.5-4 hours downtown to downtown, which is much longer, but allowed me to sit in comfort, reading or working on my laptop, and got me into Seattle within walking distance* of the clinic. A plane would have taken as long, counting the time to and from airports, especially as SeaTac is about 25 miles from downtown Seattle.

* If I had been in condition to walk; I took a cab most of the time just to make it easier on myself, as the clinic is up on the hill, and the train station is down at nearly the same level as the ferry docks. And I want to say that finding a cab, even right at the station, was the hardest part of the trip.

#61 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 10:23 AM:

Re transferring in London: I find it downright simple, but then I'm used to it. Use the journeyplanner website to put in your start and end destinations, choose the date & time, tell it if you don't want to use a particular method or if you have accessibility needs, and it'll give you a choice of journeys.

For buses, it'll tell you which route and which stop - eg. Liverpool Street Station, Stop L - and those are easy enough to find. Step outside and look around, you'll see a bus stop somewhere. It'll have a letter on the top and the buses that stop there, and a map showing where the others in that set are in relation to that one. The journeyplanner website will also give you a Google-style scrollable map, or a PDF map with your route marked on it to print out.

Their routing procedures will always try to put you on the Tube first, then the bus, then walking, and I find they drastically overestimate walking times but are otherwise accurate.

London has the best public transport system in the UK, both in frequency - you can get anywhere at any time, though it'll take longer on Sunday nights - and information-wise. If you can get to the internet you can find a route anywhere, and you can walk across the whole city by navigating along bus routes.

#62 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 10:30 AM:

Well, that was a shiny, shiny thing.

re: east coast TGV equivalents.

I'm familiar with the setup and history of some of the trackage on the east coast. If you wanted to make high speed connections more practical, two solutions suggest themselves:

1. connect two shorter distances where practical without regard to the rest of the system. A high speed link between Philly and D.C. or even Baltimore and D.C. would get pork-flavored political support from PA, MD, and VA congresscritters that you can't summon for a coastal-scale project. Sure, you'd end up with the London problem of multiple-not-directly-connected stations, but in-city connections are a known, solvable problem.

2. Start exploiting the long curvy rights of way in the center of interstates. I haven't taken a close look at the whole I-95 route from DC to NYC in a long time, but big chunks of that should be doable.

You can see something like this on the Chicago loop that hangs between the segments of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Yes, there are engineering difficulties with existing bridges crossing the highway, but there are no political entanglements involving eminent domain or transit noise. Its not as though they aren't going to try to widen those right-of-ways anyway.

re: London
So, London has all these rail stations, but there isn't a dedicated bus line making a circuit connecting all of them? I would have thought that to be an obvious thing to do.

#63 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 10:36 AM:

50: For heaven's sake, Tyndrum has two stations. They're about 200 yards apart. If they were any further apart, one of them wouldn't be in Tyndrum any more. The place has a two-digit population.

I believe there was once a plan (in the mid 19th century) to build an enormous London Central Station on Hyde Park; fortunately defeated.

#64 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:08 AM:

Midori @62:

RE: using interstate medians for HSR

1) I-95 is designed for 70mph, tops. IOW, the horizontal curves are too sharp for a high speed rail line.

2) While some of I-95 has a 60' wide grass median, a great lot of it is much narrower and in places there's only the concrete Jersey barrier and no grass at all.

3) If you've got a 300mph train whizzing down its tracks, I would hope you also aren't putting hazardous cargo trucks, Greyhound and school buses and hundreds of thousands of personal autos within just a few feet of it too.

4) Handwaving away the "engineering difficulties" of crossing already existing overhead bridges is not fair. Every single overhead bridge has to be separated from the HSR; if the rail goes over, then you need about 25' of elevation between the bridge deck and the rails themselves. If you keep the track at the interstate level and rebuild the overhead bridge, you have to put it about 30' high (trains have higher clearance requirements).

4) Track grades have to be VERY flat, much more so than an interstate. I-95 can have grades up to 4-5%; a commercial train track cannot exceed a 2% grade and they prefer nothing worse than 1%. What a HSR would require is probably even flatter than that.

It would be a lot easier to build a brand new route than trying to build a HSR within the limits of any interstate R/W.

Nick @59:

Yes, the Raleigh light rail plan came nowhere near the biggest destination point in the region; the RDU airport. They at first showed a 'future plan' to add a spur, but dropped it when they realized it would cost more than the rest of the line, and RDU frankly was uninterested in supporting a rail line there (they like their parking lot fees, you know).

Duke protested the station near their hospital for exactly what you said; that undesirable types might be drawn to the station, despite the fact they'd be a good magnet for riders.

However, as the costs continued to rise and political rumblings got louder, the light rail planners began cutting back on the design to reduce costs. First they removed the second track, then they cut the 4 stations in North Raleigh (where a lot of their commuters would get on).

Then they wondered why all their surveys indicated they were getting less and less support from the public; after all, they were giving Raleigh a Rail System, and everyone nationwide knew that Big Cities have Rail Systems!!

#65 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:16 AM:

midori at #62: No bus link, but that's precisely what the Circle Line was designed for. Well, I say designed... the Circle Line is an administrative entity created by fiat, and doesn't actually own any of its own track.

(Tube map link - yellow is for the Circle Line.)

#66 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:19 AM:

Charlie Stross #55 and #56 : the two high-speed train accidents you mention were just that - accidents - and they show the futility of security theatre for high-speed trains. If you want to cause maximum damage, the way is not to put a bomb in the baggage, or to carry on a pair of tweezers, but simply arrange for a bulky hard object to be on the track somewhere where the train is going fast, and with a good strong bridge in the way, as with the Enschede crash, and a similar, lower-speed crash near Clapham Junction in London some years ago. Getting objects on the track is very easy, as countless inadequate teenagers have shown, though they don't often achieve a high-speed derailment, much as they might want to. (Not to mention the idiot who fell asleep (?) on a British motorway, went off the road onto a railway track, and crashed two trains, one going at over 100mph, though with relatively few casualties - no bridge.)

#67 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:22 AM:

re: me at #65. I've just been corrected by the ex-Tube controller across the room - the Metropolitan Line was built first, then the District Line, and then the Circle Line had some extra bits added on to connect the two and get all the main-line stations on (or next to) the same line. I don't have the reference for which station was built when on me at the moment, it's on my desk at home.

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:39 AM:

We had an incident several years ago, where a trucker moving a condenser to a refinery missed a turn and ended up crossing the railroad, and on trying to re-cross got high-centered. Train hit it and took the whole thing out (no one was killed, but the engineer and conductor were banged up). They had to bus passengers around it all morning.

There was also the major train accident in 2005, where the guy drove his SUV onto the tracks and parked it. The southbound train hit it, somehow derailed (not a usual occurrence, especially as it was slowing on approach to a station) and hit the northbound train passing on the track to its left and the freight train parked on the siding to its right.
Total: 11 dead, including the conductor on one of the trains - I knew him - and a lot more injured, and the guy who caused it is still in the legal system somewhere, although I don't know if he's actually gotten to trial yet.
The cars were moved to a parking lot a couple of miles away, where they're still sitting, wrapped in tarps.

#69 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:46 AM:

The USA, in terms of high-speed rail, seems to be mostly in the same state as the UK in the mid-Sixties.

Just getting a diesel-electric 125mph train would make a big difference, but fitting them in with the freight traffic would be the killer. Still, there are places which see only one or two passenger trains a day.

Of course, fast passenger trains are only useful in advertising when you carry passengers, but people remember the LNER for the Flying Scotsman. not for trainloads of fish out of Grimsby.

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:54 PM:

This entire discussion would be moot if we were all issued personal jet packs.

#71 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:57 PM:

71: I put it to you that it would, in fact, be w00t if we were all issued personal jet packs.

#72 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:06 PM:

But then we wouldn't be literate.

#73 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:16 PM:

(Not to mention the idiot who fell asleep (?) on a British motorway, went off the road onto a railway track, and crashed two trains, one going at over 100mph, though with relatively few casualties - no bridge.)

This was the Great Heck accident. There surely was a bridge; it was the embanked approach to it he drove off. He'd been up all night IRC-ing some woman he'd just met, it was dark, and it was snowing; some combination of sleep deprivation, poor visibility, and snow led him to veer off the motorway and down the embankment.

He survived the crash; he was phoning the signalman to report the obstruction when a 140mph Class 91 express hit the Land Rover, which wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the fact the train derailed exactly into the path of a 90mph fast freight loaded with about 2,000 tonnes of coal.

I think he ended up in jail for dangerous driving.

The chief engineer of the East Coast electrification, Don Heath, was on the express. He survived.

#74 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Note to all.

We shouldn't get too excited about the CO2 savings from train travel.

Yes, per unit of distance travelled, a plane is something like 4X as bad, a car 2X as bad. *but* that assumes a load factor on a train of over 80%.

As the load factor deteriorates down to 50%, none of this looks at all rosy.

George Monbiot has looked at this quite closely. The optimal transport replacement system is not trains. It is buses. What you need are a system of buses that don't depart from the city centres, but depart from hubs along the motorways. And then the buses have to have a priority system on congested roads.

A bus at a 60% load factor beats a car by something like 2:1 (I don't have Monbiot's book to hand, so this is all a bit handwavey).

The problem with rail is the infrastructure cost: £12bn (that's $24bn) for Crossrail, with normal overruns figure $32bn. That kind of money just isn't available.

The problem with buses is of course a social class thing. Only proles take buses.

On the US and trains, I despair. I suspect there is more mileage (no pun intended ;-) in improving urban bus systems. Yes these are mostly used by poor people. But they are relatively cheap and flexible, and they do make significant savings in traffic and CO2 over having those people drive cheap jalopies.

London is the first city in recorded history to achieve an 'intra modal shift' back to buses from cars (about 4% of journeys). It's become middle class acceptable to take the bus again. Apparently nowhere else has ever achieved that.

This has been achieved by our dear demagogic mayor (enemy of Ariel Sharon and the Saudi Royal Family, friend of Hugo Chavez, we are getting free oil from Herr Chavez) and his Congestion Charge (£10 a day to drive into Central London).

But there is a degree of unsustainability in this, as subsidies for London buses have soared, and post 2010 the money doesn't exist to keep running them at this level. £500m a year of subsidy for which future funding from Central Government just won't be forthcoming.

Against advice for the transit professionals, the mayor has greatly increased the number of 'free' concessionary fares: those over 65, those under 16.

In addition he has introduced multiple access 'bendy buses'. I can tell you from my local route that the bendy bus user treats this as a free bus (you are supposed to tap in or out if you get in at the rear sets of doors). Yes the inspectors fine you occasionally, but I would bet that 50% or more of the users of bendy buses are not paying.

So the system is in a financial sinkhole and is not sustainable.

Just a couple of historical points on the British rail system:

- it is a crazy patchwork, with 16 mainline stations in London, because each railway company built its own terminus (just like the dot com bubble, there was a huge race to build infrastructure, and a fantastic bust at the end). None could get permission to build through Central London from the large landlords, so the termini are on the outskirts of what was then London (1830s). We had the first rail system and so we have 'first mover disadvantage'. Kind of like being locked into CPM or DOS.

- the same effect accounts for, for example, 2 train stations in the same small village (which was significant for some reason in the 1840s)

France and Germany don't have this problem, because the rail networks were centrally planned (caveat: the different German Lander did their own planning, I think). So the French rail grid is Pariso-centric, but makes a lot more sense than the British one.

Like France's commitment to nuclear power, the TGV is exactly the sort of system you would expect from a nation where engineering is so highly respected: how many senior American politicians and businessmen have Phds in engineering? The top school for French leaders, ecole Polytechnique (the military college) is an engineering school.

When faced with the Energy Crisis of the 1970s, and no domestic sources of energy, France embarked upon 1. the TGV 2. nuclear power for 80% of its electricity needs and 3. mass encouragement of diesel powered cars (about 70% of all new cars in France are diesels).

Engineering in Britain is definitely a socially downmarket profession compared to law or investment banking or accountancy, and so Britain, despite having some of the world's best industrial designers, has never managed to adopt workable leading edge technology.

- the Beeching Commission (1959 from memory) led to the abandonment/abolition of c. 30% of the nation's rail network. A professor of traffic planning had already predicted the traffic jams that are modern Britain (the most heavily jammed country in Europe after Netherlands), but at the time, there were 1 million cars in the UK (pace over 30 million now) and so the congestion he forecast just wasn't credible (just as the discoverer of the principle of global warming, and the discoverer of the CFC/Ozone interaction, both thought that human emissions would never rise to a level which would threaten the environment).

Much of those rail rights was sold off. As you can imagine, local residents are none too happy about the prospect that what remains might get reactivated, and fight it tooth and nail (the same reason we cannot get wind farms built: the Thames Array, offshore the mouth of the Thames, is blocked because the local council doesn't fancy the transformer station that will have to be built for it to come onshore to supply London-- the UK has the best wind resource in Western Europe (almost in the world, other than the Great Plains) but we are one of the worst for building these things.

#75 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:54 PM:

It also helps that French and German rail systems were rebuilt after 1945, while British and US systems have been added to incrementally since railroads were invented back in the 1840's.

When you've got the money and ability to put tracks anywhere you want (with cities destroyed and the infrastructure gone, you're starting from scratch), there's an advantage over just adding on a little bit at a time.

#76 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Amtrak's number one curse is that it was created as a bailout program for an industry that nobody but railfans liked at the time. Getting people in the mindset of thinking of it as a vehicle for tranportation innovation is tough.

Let me suggest a good place for a pilot HSR program: Chicago-St. Louis. Acto Google it is almost exactly 300 miles between the two Amtrak stations. The topography is pretty flat and wide open, and there are only two major stops along the way (Bloomington and Springfield), nicely spaced. At a leisurely 200 mph the travel time would end up around 1 3/4 hours, which compares favorably with the 1 1/4 flight time (especially when you add in check-in and Security Theater). Google gives a nearly 5 hour drive time, some of which, to be sure, is chewed up in city driving.
Amtrak schedules the trip for a dog-awful 5 1/2 (or more) hours, making a fair number of stops, of course. By comparison Paris-Lyon (264 mi) is scheduled for 2 hours.

I don't know what the volume of Chi-Stl travel is, but judging from the large number of non-stop flights available I suspect it isn't insignificant. The current price breaks seem to be OTOO $200 to fly, $60 for the train, and $30 gas money (assuming 30 mpg). The cheapest Paris-Lyon TGV ticket is $60; Air France charges $260 and takes a bit over an hour. Constructing a LGV-class roadbed is a known thing and could be costed out accurately (I have no idea what it would be, though).

The big issue (and that's the big issue for any US rail project that doesn't cross the Rockies) is acquiring the right-of-way. The way to go in-city is to do what SNCF did and reuse the existing trackage; certainly in both St. Louis and Chicago (the latter being the busiest rail hub in the country) there should be some what to entice the railroads to rectify some of the trackwork there in exchange for getting Amtrak out of their way. Out of town is the problem. Even given that 98% of the track would be in a single state, it's going to be a difficult piece of imminent domain to acquire a new rail corridor. Unfortunately I don't have my 1948 Rand McNally Handy Rail Atlas to tell me what routes lie between the two cities, but I suspect it's not going to be possible to persuade whoever owns the Chicago/Bloomington/St. Louis line to give it up.

As far as reasons to built it (and equivalent service) are concerned: Whether or not environmental impact is a good reason (and that's a long argument in itself), as a sales reason it lacks. "Environmental reasons" means, as far as the public is concerned, "second rate". And it means (liberal) busibodies in DC forcing restrictions on "ordinary" travelers which congresscritters and corporate executives don't have to live with (and in the case of the latter, they are surely correct). The only way a project like this can be sold is on the basis of better service. And it's clear (if the French example is much of a guide, for I have no idea how much SNCF is subsidizing TGV traffic/LGV maintenance) that it can be sold on that basis-- a coach ticket on American or United (or Air France) will buy you the most de luxe accomodations on the Paris-Lyon train.

In the larger picture, none of this is going to help much unless the airlines are convinced to drop out of the short-haul business.

#77 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:55 PM:

#74: The problem with buses is not a social class thing; the social class stigma is because only the people who don't have a choice ride them, because in terms of expense, convenience, speed, and quality of ride, they lack on every single count. The only selling point they have is Greyhound's: "Leave the driving to us." It's particularly a hard point to sell (and why Greyhound is always on the edge of going under, and why Trailways is long gone) for non-commuter travel, where what you are getting is airline-quality accomodations at automotive speeds. People are willing to be shipped like cattle only if they are getting there a lot faster.

#78 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:02 PM:

There is a demotic quality to public anything. Was it P.J. O'Rourke who made the observation comparing various things, about what people prefer?

Public transportation vs. private car
Airline vs. Private Plane
Public restroom vs. private bath

#79 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:17 PM:

I just looked at booking with Amtrak v a query on Orbitz. Round trip from Tulsa to Orlando via train during peak holiday season: $798.00 . Round Trip via American Airlines: $248.00 .

It will be decades before America entertains the notion of a coast to coast bullet train... and at these prices --- it won't happen in my lifetime.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:34 PM:


I think one reason for the prices is because Amtrak is supposed to 'pay for itself' (as opposed to airlines and highways.
If the prices were lower and the service more reliable, more people might use it, and they actually could make money, which raises the question of just how these decisions are made and by whom.

#81 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Charlie -- I thought I mentioned the Islamic extremists at the end of my first sentence?

Certainly, British transport has actually had a long and involved experience with terrorism.

#82 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:01 PM:

re 79: If you look at the itinerary for your Tulsa/Orlando trip, you would see why it's so expensive: what you actually would have booked would have been a trip Kansas City (on a bus), then a trip to Chicago, then a trip to DC, and finally a trip to Orlando. My guess is that at the height of American rail travel, you could have simplified this (some) and shortened it (a lot), but the same basic structure would have obtained. (That trip would probably have looked something like Tulsa-St. Louis-Atlanta-Orlando.)

Amtrak's real limiting factor has always been equipment and track capacity. They buy equipment at the sufferance of Congress; they use tracks at the sufferance of the freight railroads. Long distance service is "bad" because they can't buy cars and can't get space on tracks. On the other hand, if you are taking the train from (to take an object example) DC to Shelby, MT, you aren't expecting speedy service. (2100 mi at 200 mph is still 10 hours plus.) They aren't going to attractively price the Tulsa-Orlando trip because no sane person is going to want to make a 48-hour/3-changes trip. But no matter what, nobody is going to construct a nonstop train between the two cities with any existing technology.

#83 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:04 PM:

P J Evans @ 80

The price for an airline seat is heavily dependent on when you book it. The coast-to-coast walk-up fare would be a lot higher than $248.

All the major airlines (except Southwest and couple of others) run highly sophisticated software that continually adjust prices as the flight time approaches. This "yield management" software is designed to maximize the revenue for a particular flight. One of the reasons for that $248 fare is that the airline is meeting its costs for that flight with other passengers who pay more.

I doubt Amtrak is doing anything similar. The cost structures for airlines and trains just aren't the same.

#84 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:04 PM:

re 78: True, though to a large extent we are comparing various public alternatives. And behind PJO'R's comment is the entirely rational reason that private travel is pleasanter.

#85 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:38 PM:

75 John L

Although the junctions and switchyards were hammered by the 8th Army Air Force and the RAF, the bulk of the German trackage was still there. In fact the 8th AAF was ordered to stop destroying bridges in early 1945.

Railways are surprisingly difficult things to destroy, as the US found out in Vietnam. You can blow holes in the tracks, but they are easy to fix.

The best success is actually P47s ('Jabos' in German) and Hawker Tempests hunting trains. Destroy a train and you've blocked the line for some hours. The Germans were also chronically short of railstock: a product of underinvestment in the railways in the 30s (Hitler was too fascinated by the autobahns, even though you can't move tanks long distances by road, and Germany had no native fuel supply) and of the losses on the Russian Front.

The French railway system was in better shape, considering what had happened. On the Eastern Front, both the retreating Russians and then the retreating Germans had time to screw the system up royally, but the collapse came so fast in France after Patton's breakout in operation Cobra, that the Germans didn't have time to finish the network off.

Southern France (Operation Anvil Dragoon) a little different as the German retreat was more planned.

What did happen though was that:

- in the US the rise of the private automobile and the freight truck killed the railroads. This happened right after 1945 and especially 1945-60. So the railroads (who were heavily regulated and prices controlled) didn't invest.

- the UK underinvested in fixed assets and infrastructure relative to France and Germany from 1945 onwards. Still does.

#86 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:47 PM:

What fraction of the US population lives in regions with a population density comparable to France?

Hmmm. Let me dig up that perceived population density chart that Tom Womack did...

Ah, France's is about 50% higher than the USA's. Still, there must be places like BoWash where high speed rail makes sense.

#87 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Steve C: Yield management software and competing train companies on the same routes have turned booking a trip on the British railway network a nightmare. It used to be you could just stroll up, buy a second class ticket, and that was it. Now, if you do that, you get ripped off; but how much you pay depends how far in advance you book, and through which online store or ticket office.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:02 PM:

SteveC @ 83

The coast-to-coast walk-up fare would be a lot higher than $248.

The walkup fare for LA/SF can be higher than that, or so I've heard.

(Actually, if they want to do high-speed rail, LA-to-Vegas via Victorville would be a good bet. It's a large potential market, and a lot of it now drives rather than flies.)

#89 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:16 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 87 -

Ah, the dubious joys of consumer empowerment. No doubt the rail companies sold the idea on the basis of lower prices and deregulation. It's kind of like how deregulation of electric utilities in various US states was heralded (by some) as a way of giving consumers a choice in their power provider. The result is that the states that deregulated have higher rates on average than the regulated states.

#90 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:43 PM:

I really love train travel. When planning for the recent LA Worldcon, I was excited about taking the Coast Starlight (the Amtrak route that hugs the California coast for most of the way between the Bay Area and LA) like I had for the '96 Worldcon.

But it wasn't going the whole way -- due to rail repair, they were going to put me on a bus at Santa Barbara. Well, OK, that would still let me see most of the pretty scenery.

Closer to the travel time, they emailed "Oh, and you'll arrive around 3 AM, not 9 PM." I gave up, cancelled my ticket, and got a ride with a friend.

Last year was my first trip to the UK and Ireland. I was excited about taking the train across Britain, and the ferry to Dublin. This ended up being a comedy of errors too long and complicated to get into, and I'm not likely to try it again.

It's sad when even a railfan ends up avoiding the train.

#91 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Personally I'm a fan of low-speed rail: the overnight sleeper train that trundles gently, at freight-train speeds, overnight from A to B, taking eight hours or more, so that you get a night's sleep and travel at the same time. I detest having to waste four or five hours travelling (go to airport, check in, 'security' hassle, sit in lounge waiting for delayed plane, board, maybe one-hour fight, escape from airport, go to destination) only to check in to a hotel late at night, just to sleep and leave early to get to an 0800 meeting. But few railways seem to have understood how to run sleepers properly.

#92 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:54 PM:

fight => flight (appropriate slip maybe...)

#93 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:12 PM:

#1 People bring up this density canard every time it's mentioned that France (and Japan and Korea and many other countries) have faster Internet access than the U.S., too.

In fact, France has *lower* average population density than the U.S.

#20 What's wrong with rail in the U.S. is big oil and big auto; the same duo that destroyed electric rail in U.S. cities. Now plus the airlines.

People forget that the U.S. had an extensive rail network that was once the envy of Europe. Nevermind high speed: you used to be able to take a train from any
medium sized city to any other.

Just like the U.S. used to have an Internet that was the envy of other countries.

#80 And the other thing that's wrong with rail in the U.S. is that "must pay for itself" ideology, which is now being applied to the postal system, too. Who's' behind it? Take a look:

Look up this particular fellow's bio: Hoover Institution, George Mason University, Progress and Freedom Foundation, etc. The sorts of think tanks that don't believe in the general welfare or the public good, yet arrange so that there's no
free market, either.

#94 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:39 PM:

The best means of transport across/around central London, assuming you are able-bodied and not carrying too much luggage, is a bicycle. You don't have to wait for it and it's faster than any method of public transport most of the time for journeys under about five miles.

Of course, restrictions on trains mean you need to pay out for a folding bike if you want to arrive in/depart from London by train at anything resembling rush-hour. But it's worth it to arrive at Charing Cross (or whichever other rail station), unfold the bike and cycle off rather than traipsing down into the Tube to play Sardines or waiting for the none-for-an-hour-then-three-at-once buses.

#95 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:26 PM:

This discussion of UK rail is fascinating, since I am currently in the UK and just left London, where we were staying a few blocks from Paddington Station. I'd looked into a train from London to Manchester for later on this week, and was wondering why the Manchester trains only leave from Euston. Thanks for the learning experience. :)

(Alas, the vagaries of my job and the reason I'm over here necessitate that I drive everywhere ... on the wrong side of the road, shifting with the wrong hand. I am SO glad we'll have someone driving us when we get to Japan next week!! I can't take all that *and* road signs I can't read, too.)

#96 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Track grades have to be VERY flat, much more so than an interstate.

Simply not true of high speed passenger trains. Paris-Sud-Est LGV has a 3.5% grade, NBS Cologne, 4%, the train sets easily handle even higher grades. The Kagoshima branch of the Kyushu Shinkansen is built with, in spots, 7% grades. When you're moving at 300km/hr, you have a whole bunch of inertia working for you, and not that much mass holding you back, and a good deal of power in the train set to get you over the hill.

Interstates are supposed to have no more than a 2.5% grad, obviously, anyone who's traveled I-40 in the smokies or I-70 in the Rockies knows this doesn't always work out (Nevermind I-24 at Monteagle, TN.)

*Freight* trains need low grades -- they don't move fast, they're very massive, so they're lousy at climbing.

#97 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:48 PM:

Valuethinker = Murdoch/Associated News rightwing bollocks.

Show me one of yer planes that burns electricity.


#98 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:48 PM:

jaskew @ 93 -
#1 People bring up this density canard every time it's mentioned that France (and Japan and Korea and many other countries) have faster Internet access than the U.S., too.

In fact, France has *lower* average population density than the U.S.

I find this exceedingly hard to believe, given that a simple bote calculation (well, back of the calculator and VoodooPad) yields -

France - population ~60m, size ~545,000 sq km (approximately size of Texas - raw average population density - 111.57 people/sq km

United States - Population ~301m, size - ~9,000,000 sq km (approximately twice the size of the EU) - raw average population density - 32.86 people/sq km.

France has one fifth the US population, packed into a space the size of our second largest state. Several of our largest states are all but empty - Alaska has a population density of less than half a person per square kilometer, and only eight states in the Union have densities that match or exceed France's - Florida, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

(Wikipedia lists France at 113 people/sq km, and the US at 31 people/sq km, btw. All other numbers taken from the CIA Worldbook or from Wikipedia).

#99 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:57 PM:

....assuming people are evenly distributed.


#100 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:14 PM:

Gee, and here I said the words "average" (and so did jaskew), pointed out that there are US states whose average population densities exceed that of France as a whole, and we were, in fact talking about "an assumed even distribution of population" - that's what Average Population Density is.

Otherwise we could compare New York City's average population density (10,194 people/sq km) ) with Paris' (2,723 people/sq km) - and according to that ratio, US broadband ought to be running at a couple of terabytes per second, and trains take us everywhere.

jaskew didn't say "There are parts of the US which have population densities that grossly exceed those of the most densely populated parts of France" - that's painfully obvious (if nothing else, Manhattan at 25k+ people per square kilometer would put the truth to that).

What he *said* was "In fact, France has *lower* average population density than the U.S."

Which is not (afaict) true, unless he is using some variation of "Average" "Population" and "Density" that I'm not familiar with.

#101 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:29 PM:

re 93: Huh?!?!?!?!?!

A quick check on Wikipedia shows that only eight US states are as densely populated as France, the least dense of which is Florida; Ohio and Pennsylvania are not too far behind.

#102 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:52 PM:

Let's keep certain things straight here. Urban and short haul interurban, regional, and transcontinental trips are different problems, with different solutions. High speed rail fits the regional niche in the US better than the other applications. The right of way issues get too gnarly for true high speed transit -- BART speeds are about the best you can do, and they started out with a lot of existing heavy rail lines. And to the best of my knowledge no HST project is trying to compete with airlines on transcontinental routes. For example, I have not myself heard of a proposal to turn the Trans-Siberian into a TGV route, and I don't expect to hear of it anytime soon.

The one area I am rather familiar with is California, especially as I was a transportation planning intern long ago, and try to keep up. Over the distances that flights take here, the theoretical cruise speed of any particular airliner is largely moot. Somebody upstream asked if airline speeds were higher than 350 kt. -- well around here they are not. You don't have the time or the space for it, and your speed is governed more by traffic control considerations that economic operation. Just about any study done reports that downtown to downtown, HST beats airlines into the forseeable future. And without using TGV speeds. If we could do that, watch out . . .

As far as routes are concerned, California was built around ralroads. For example, in the San Joaquin Valley, which ties the rest of the state together, the only substantial cities not founded on rail lines were Stockton and Sacramento -- almost every other city out here was founded by a railroad company, usually the Southern Pacific. The main highway is CA-99, which is largely a freeway paralelling the SP tracks. There are few mysteries about routes. Our problem is not finding routes, it is picking between alternatives.

#103 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:04 PM:

Oh, and the average population density for California is just short of 80/ -- and that includes the half of California few people live in, like the Sierra, North Coast, Mojave Desert, Death Valley . . .

Somebody sold us that line that highways would handle everything over fifty years ago. By now we know better, if anyone in this country does. Consider that there were not that many invited guests on that record run. However, one of them was a California state legislator, Fiona Ma.

#104 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:06 PM:

Claude, just wondering about CA-99 v. I-5 as the main route through central California - you mean as one that actually connects the central towns rather than the one most folk take, right? Or do more folk take the 99?

#105 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:20 PM:

I-5 was stuck out in the middle of nowhere (up the west side of the San Joaquin Valley) because there weren't any towns there to give the planners grief about the route. Or so I heard.

99 is actually marginally shorter (ten or fifteen miles) between Stockton and Wheeler Ridge. Of course, taking it through Stockton will eat any time you might have saved northbound.
(Stockton is a four-lane section, narrow, slow, and heavily-travelled. But they did get rid of the grade-level railroad crossing that used to be on the north side.)

#106 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:30 PM:

Actually, most of the traffic around Stockton seems to have shifted to I-5. CA-99 through there will never be wonderful, but things are worse these days south of there around Manteca.

I-5 was intended to be the quickest land route between the Bay Area and LA. It was, and still is, the longest totally new stretch of new superhighway every built in the US. It was intended to pull traffic both from US-101 and CA-99. However, somebody forgot that the great majority of traffic on both routes is local intercity. CA-99 is far more traveled than I-5.

#107 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:34 PM:

Another of Amtrak's problems is that its lobbyists have more than once turned out to be in the pay of the freight industry.

I can't find the link, but within the last five years the New York Times reported on one of these cases; dude had managed to get Amtrak fined for something the freight companies did. Might have managed to pass a rule saying that Amtrak was always responsible. NYT's attitude was sort of 'too bad so sad oh well it's only the train'.

#108 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 10:05 PM:

There's another reason why the French are German rail systems are better than the British and American systems: the Marshall Plan. Yep: they got new rail systems on the American dollar.

#109 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:35 PM:

The maximum speeds on US railroads were probably in the late 1930s/early 1940s, for both passenger and freight. With the advent of long-distance trucking after WW2, the railroads' only way to survive was greater economy on bulk freight, and they've been working at maximizing that every since - reducing costs, increasing train lengths, etc etc.

In most areas, the freight railroads have been systematically reducing capacity for about the last 50 years. The less track there is, the lower the maintenance costs are. They've been working on moving more freight with fewer trains, fewer employees and less track the whole time. This is partly what means there is little room for passenger rail anymore.

Agree with the post above that railroads are hard to destroy; look at how quickly they get things working again after a major crash, for instance. It'd be very hard for terrorists to disable a rail network for long.

#110 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:18 AM:

Australia is very low-density on average, but 85% of our 20 millions live in the larger cities and the sprawl along the East Coast from Queensland to Victoria, with smaller batches in SW Western Australia and southern South Australia. Having good rail 'backbones' connecting across East-West and North-South, plus some coastal connections for the high-traffic, high-population centres, with some parts designed to get freight — farm produce & minerals, mostly from low-population areas — to ports, and imports to distribution centres, to take as many big trucks off the roads as possible, is my preferred system. I'm livid that in this election campaign neither party is looking at starting to set that up with part of the huge "surplus" funds the government has acquired recently. [But there's a whole separate rave on all the infrastructural deficits that need fixing.]

For long-distance travel (and being car-free), I by far prefer rail to bus. I've done Sydney-Melbourne (~1000km/620 miles) by both methods more than once, as well as Sydney-Gladstone, Sydney-Broken Hill and Sydney-Adelaide (longer) by train, with Sydney-Hervey Bay and Sydney-Gold Coast (same or somewhat shorter) by bus. I do think it would be more popular if they'd re-institute the Motorail service, where you would put your car on the train with you, so it was there for travelling around wherever your destination was. For shorter journeys even a coach service (adaptable to low-emission vehicles) is safer than private driving.

(Perth takes 3 days by Indian-Pacific train, similar by bus, so being short of time I flew. Sydney-Canberra I've travelled car, bus, train and plane. Perhaps my favourite, tho' was Sydney-Devonport by coastal bluewater ferry.)

#111 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 03:11 AM:

Meanwhile, there's something very strange— though, perhaps not very futuristic— happening in San Francisco these days. I thought I was seeing a lot more luxury coaches trundling around the city and running down I-280 lately, and it turns out I have been. The reason?

All those silicon valley large-cap employers have a lot of personnel living in the cheap rent districts of SFO, and for some reason I haven't quite figured out yet, they're chartering regular commuter coaches that run between the city and their campuses in the Palo Alto - San Jose metro axis. I've been riding the one my employer provides for the last two weeks. They run six coaches south in the morning and six coaches back in the evening. Fifty seats on a coach. They seem to be averaging 70% full. The ones I ride are sometimes completely full and they call in a backup to carry the rest of us.

These are nice coaches. Leather seats. Power outlets everywhere. A Wi-Fi route to a 3G datalink. I've gotten really attached to taking them instead of driving solo down I-280 for fifty miles one way.

Anyway, here's what you do. Go down to the corner of Market and Van Ness between 18:00 and 19:30 and count all the unmarked luxury coaches that pull up at the MUNI stop on Van Ness. Watch them disgorge all their salarycreatures into the local MUNI station and the Market street bus lines (one of them might be me). Keep in mind that Market and Van Ness is only one of the several common stops these coaches make. (Note: their schedules are unpublished.) I think you'll be surprised by what you see. (Not shocked, but you'll definitely notice that something that wasn't happening a few years ago.)

Now, mind you— I've been to parts of the world where every third vehicle in the street is a bus and the other two are some form of paratransit. That's not remotely happening here in SFO yet. My point is that large employers on the peninsula (and probably elsewhere) are finding reasons to pay for luxury commuter coaches, and this is new.

So, to a certain extent, we're having a taste of the future in SFO. Though, a 2.5-hour train ride to Union Station in LA would certainly add some needed vril to the California lifestyle, and we're a long damned way away from seeing that happen.

#112 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:47 AM:

97 Alex

1. electricity is generated by *coal* in the UK (mid merit electricity, peak is gas). In principle a train running at night on baseload might be carbon free, but nukes are only c. 18% of power production.

If you remember your physics, electricity is a form of energy, not a source in and of itself.

(it's fair to make the argument, but I doubt you even knew it, that the damage from aviation jet trails is rather greater than the CO2 would predict-- to be precise, it looks like jet trails in the day are good (reflect sunlight) and bad at night (reflect heat downwards). I don't think a plane flying around the UK reaches 30,000 feet, though, so the effect is muted.)

2. I'm quoting George Monbiot, who is an arch environmentalist, Guardian columnist (where I read him)-- hardly a Murdoch paper.

So you've been insulting, and made a weak argument.

#113 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:50 AM:

95 meredith

Just to confuse you, the Midland Mainline train company also has a train to Manchester from St. Pancras station, I believe. Worth knowing when Virgin is up the spout.

Virgin revenue maximises in the worst way (yield management!). What they do is instead of the normal formula of 1-2 first class cars, and 5-6 second class, is put on 4 first class and 4 second class cars.

I've ridden to Coventry with standing room only, people packed in the aisles, and empty first class carriages (which cost twice as much). On weekends you can upgrade your seat for £10, but not on business days...

I've come to hate Richard Branson and his self promotion, courtesy of that experience.

#114 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:00 AM:

108 C Wingate

You are overestimating the Marshall Plan-- a tradition in American historiography.

1. the Marshall Plan was effectively a commutation of debts that had been owed pre war to the US, which would never be paid.

2. relative to the GDP growth that actually took place, it was relatively small.

3. if the French and the Germans replaced their entire rail infrastructure with the Marshall Plan, then that railway infrastructure would now be c. 55 years old. I think they've made significant investments since then? And their railway infrastructure wasn't totally destroyed in 1945.

4. where the Marshall Plan was key was in restoring confidence, and in particular allowing international payments and trade to take place, between the Continental European countries and with the US. Once that happened, people could be fed and economic growth could resume.

If the strategic bombing of Germany was one of the largest (negative) foreign aid programmes in history, then the Marshall Plan was one of the largest positive foreign aid programmes.

It turned out the raw materials for explosive economic growth were there, what was needed was foreign exchange and confidence in the economic system, to make it possible.

The problems in the UK and US rail systems lie in domestic factors, in particular a deliberate 'hands off' policy by the governments, and chronic underinvestment, rather than particular benefits granted to other systems.

#115 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:11 AM:

106 Claude Muncey

There is a website for a Caltrans high speed train SF to LA. The need now is to 'pre buy' some of the real estate, thus preserving the option.

Given California's endemic financial problems, I cannot see it every happening. Plus the politics would screw it up, there would be stations added, routes in irrational places, to get the votes to make it happen.

Another problem (perhaps solvable a la Zipcar?) is that when you get to LA Union Station ((?) you aren't really, anywhere, are you? LA is unique amongst world megacities for having no consistent centre for commuting and work-- a city of 11 million people with the downtown of a city of 1.5 million?

People talk about the problems of arriving at out of town airports. But these days, a lot of destinations are, eg, the Washington Beltway, or the New Jersey suburbs, not downtown.

It is truly a tragedy, in California, because if there are 2 places that beg for a high speed train they are: SF-LA-Las Vegas and Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-Washington

111 JH Woodyatt

Good griff, and thanks. I had heard about the Google bus but not the generality of this development.

It's a private sector solution-- in an ideal world it would be made available to *any* commuter.

I've often thought a solution to eg the Washington Beltway traffic would be a system of minibuses, that would circulate around from parking lot to parking lot. This, as you point out, is more or less how third world cities work, with unlicensed taxis/ jittneys. In Johannesburg, the wars between the taxi companies are Kalashnikov-lethal.


Reverse commuting (SF to the Valley) is becoming an interesting phenomenon. There is significant traffic now out of Grand Central Station to Greenwich Connecticut (Stamford?) of young hedge fund employees. Similarly there are forests of condos in downtown Toronto, and significant traffic flow out to the suburbs where many of the jobs are.

#116 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:52 AM:

electricity is generated by *coal* in the UK (mid merit electricity, peak is gas). In principle a train running at night on baseload might be carbon free, but nukes are only c. 18% of power production.

If you remember your physics, electricity is a form of energy, not a source in and of itself.

It's a form of energy which can be generated by essentially any method. Compare aviation kerosene; currently available from oil, oil, and oil. (Yes, you can make it from coal; great!)

Scott Taylor:

Average population density is a silly metric; you can quite easily have a low population density if you have a mixture of large cities and very empty know!...which implies that you have significant load centres to link up and empty space to build railway lines over.

#117 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:11 AM:

From my limited experience with train stations in Germany and France, boarding a train is nothing like boarding a plane at all. Over here, at least, the way it usually goes is you buy your ticket online, you print it out, and you just go to the train station. Arriving 5 minutes before the train leaves is plenty. I've yet to go through a single security check. You just walk up to the platform and get on the train. From walking into the station to actually sitting on your departing train, you could be looking at as little as five minutes. Even in an optimistic setting (let's say Ryanair, small airport), you still need at least 45 minutes (that's really cutting it close) or more realistically an hour to get on your plane, and that's not counting the fact that there are fewer airports, increasing your average travel time TO the airport.

(for example, I live in the middle of nowhere here. I drive about 10 minutes to the next train station that connects directly to the bigger stations, and about one hour and 15 minutes to the nearest airport)

The reason everyone here is flying even relatively short distance is quite simply money. Booking about a week in advance, going for example from Hamburg to Duesseldorf, you pay about 140 Euro for a roundtrip by train and about 50 euro for a roundtrip by plane. The future looks really cool, but price-wise it's still far from viable.

#118 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 07:19 AM:

112: you should really know that starting a sentence with "George Monbiot says..." immediately destroys your credibility for the rest of the sentence. He's not a very good writer - certainly doesn't believe in using more than one source if he's found one he agrees with. The Guardian frequently has to apologise for his columns in its corrections section. Pretty much every time he's written about something I actually know about, he's been wrong in some way, ranging from subtle to grotesquely libellous.

Judging by his track record, someone probably sent him a press release about the "motorway bus scheme", and he bought into it completely and wrote it up. Might be true - might not be.

#119 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 07:37 AM:

Alex -
Whether or not APD is a silly metric or not - it is what was being discussed.

We can talk about what measurements are useful for determining what will be practical - but regardless of whether a measurement is useful in a given situation or not, references to it must be accurate.

#120 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 08:19 AM:

Erik Olson @96

"Interstates are supposed to have no more than a 2.5% grad, obviously, anyone who's traveled I-40 in the smokies or I-70 in the Rockies knows this doesn't always work out (Nevermind I-24 at Monteagle, TN.)"

Uhhh, no. Interstates in mountainous areas can have a grade up to 6% without a design exception. I've designed interstates before
(I-26 north of Asheville, NC); it has a 6% grade.

BTW, I-40 through the Smoky Mountains stays fairly flat throughout that terrain, as it is following the Pigeon River Gorge. There's only one short section that has a steep grade on it and that is between Asheville and Canton; I added a climbing lane to that section and IIRC the max grade is about 5%. There is a steep section on
I-40 east of Asheville but that's not in the Smokies; it has a 7% grade as it used an old segment of US 70 years ago.

I-95 has rather flat grades because in that kind of terrain the maximum allowable grade is 3%.

The comment I made about trains requiring flat grades was based on my experience with commuter and freight rail, both which I was told could not exceed 2%. It makes sense to me that HSR could handle short stretches of steeper grades due to the inertia and momentum that you mentioned.

#121 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 09:22 AM:

Charlie Stross, 87,
SteveC, 83
P J Evans, 88

Yield management & variable priced tickets on Amtrak:

Amtrak does (or did) use a primitive form of variable pricing for tickets in the form of semi-hidden discounts on their site, for trips in a 2½ week window in the future. Discounts seem to range randomly from 20 to 90%.

303 Lincoln Service
Chicago, IL- Union Station(CHI) 9:25 am 27-NOV-07
St. Louis, MO (STL) 3:00 pm 27-NOV-07
5h 35m Snack car
1 Weekly Specials Seat

Sadly, time travel is still not available:

Problem with Selected Travel Date: Unfortunately, our system cannot process the date you selected, as that date has now passed. Our system can handle bookings for trains arriving today up through 11 months in the future.
[Error ID: 532S]

#122 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 09:27 AM:

> Compare aviation kerosene; currently available from oil, oil, and oil. (Yes, you can make it from coal; great!)

If you have enough electricity (which practically speaking, we don't, yet), you can make it from air and water.
I seem to have an inability to find things on James Nicoll's journal that I could have sworn I saw not long ago, but there was a link to

The perceived population density thing James mentioned earlier which might be more relevent than a flat average was linked from

#123 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:38 AM:

122: The air into oil option isn't necessary for the US because they are sitting on something like one quarter of the world's coal supply, which even with the inefficiencies of the Fischer-Tropsch process is enough to fuel the US for more than a lifetime.

#124 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:54 AM:

I'll add another 6% grade to the collection: the Grapevine grade on I5. It's 5.5 miles of 6% grade and difficult for many vehicles in both directions. (Down is almost like a slalom run, dropping down a canyon, and then you get to a point where you can see the mouth of the canyon opening ahead of you.) The southbound half dates back to the early 30s - Caltrans has a photo in their collection where you can see it from the really old road.

#125 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 11:40 AM:

Oh, there are many, many sections of interstate that have 6% grades on them. I'd say that nearly all interstates going through mountainous terrain have grades that steep or nearly so, even higher in some isolated situations. Six percent is just the steepest grade allowed without needing a design exception.

Before my section of I-26 opened in 2003, I would drive the car up to the top of the 6% grade and put it in neutral. From a dead stop the car would accelerate to about 60mph by the time it reached the bottom of that 4 mile long downgrade.

If anyone's interested, my website of the construction of I-26 is here:

#126 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 12:17 PM:

Doug @ 37: I used to fly Nuremberg-Hamburg -- while it took longer, door-to-door, than taking the train, it cost only half as much...

#127 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:05 PM:

re 114: I checked around at various sites before my previous comment, and all of them agreed that Marshall Plan money was spent of the French railroads. Indeed, it occurs to me that one of my locomotive books describes a class of French postwar engines built in the USA (they also showed up in other countries-- IIRC they were used in Greece up to the very end of steam there). It's hard to imagine how simple debt retirement could figure in this, seeing as how I cannot see where there could be any international rail debts to retire. And it's a relative thing, too: the American roads got nothing at all from the government except business and an extra layer of management. They went into the '50s overbuilt and overequipped from the war, and the weaker NE lines promptly started to go under. Now I think the Penn Central merge was a colossally bad idea which basically brought the whole house of cards down. If it had been done the right way the first time-- NYC with C&O/B&O, PRR with N&W/Sou, which is how the Conrail breakup came out-- the line redundancy could have been dealt with rationally instead of in a mad panic, among many other things that went wrong. The bankruptcy of the other NE lines was a foregone conclusion and there is nothing that was going to stop it.

And on the other hand part of the problem was a very "hands-on" approach in the US. Until the Staggers Act, the US railroads were very heavily regulated; they were treated as corprate bullies who couldn't be trusted about anything. And that was true in 1910, when as a group they had a monopoly on surface transportation. In the '50s it because quickly untrue.

re 116/119: Ideally for HSR you do not want a high population density along the route; you want it as low as possible, so you don't have to stop. HSR is by its nature an intercity mode, and that's how TGV built it. If you are applying it in California, what you can do is make life easier for SF/LA/SD intercity travelers by taking them out of the commuter traffic and obviating flying at the same time. The catch, I imagine, is that it isn't going to help road traffic at all; the best it can do for the other modes is cut down on commuter flights. That's not insignificant-- there are several dozen LAX to SF flights a day-- but I imagine it has a hard time getting past the Continuing Commuting Crisis on the priorities list.

As far as DC-NYC is concerned, whatever is going to be done is going to involve upgrading the existing corridor, by improving the trackage and equipment, and by simply adding more trains. There is no hope at all of condemning a new route.

#128 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:11 PM:

126 Inge

The problem is we don't pay for the CO2 we emit when we choose the plane over the train. Nor for the noise pollution.

Aviation is one of the world's more highly subsidised activities. By treaty, there is no tax on aviation fuel whereas all other transport pays fuel taxes. Airports were typically state built and maintained with at least partial subsidy from general taxpaying revenues: some airports *pay* Ryanair to fly to them as a local economic development measure. Airlines don't pay a noise fine for the loss in property values and health of the people under the landing zones.

The development of new aircraft is highly subsidised via military innovations in aerospace (the Boeing 707 was based on B52 technology) and other implicit subsidies (Airbus!).

123 James David Nicholl

There is a huge argument about the US coal reserve data. It turns out it comes out of the work of 1-2 geologists in the US Geological Survey, and they are dependent on industry data. So there is a bit of the 'Saudi Oil Reserves' problem there.

Having said that the US certainly has 100 years of coal at current production rates (it's just likely they don't have 250 years)-- more than enough, on its own, to give the world a serious CO2 problem. Of course if the US went Coal-to-Oil, it would seriously accelerate the depletion of that resource.

Like Alberta Tar Sands, CTL is one of the dirtiest technologies you can imagine.

Jeff Goodell's book 'Big Coal' is quite good on all this.

#129 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:53 PM:

Valuethinker@115 writes: "Good griff, and thanks. I had heard about the Google bus but not the generality of this development."

I'm not sure how many companies besides my employers and Google are doing this yet, but I know I'm seeing a lot more coaches than the ones chartered for my commute. It can't just be us and Google.

There are a lot of companies down the peninsula with enough employees residing in SFO. However it makes financial sense for these companies to be offering this service— I honestly don't know, but I suspect there is a California state commute alternatives subsidy involved somewhere— it's happening now, when it didn't used to be.

"It's a private sector solution-- in an ideal world it would be made available to *any* commuter."

Well, yeah— but keep in mind that I'm from the generation whose gee-whiz science-fiction future was written by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, not Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. In my science-fiction future the private sector is basically the only sector, and the government is, at best, just another under-performing, under-capitalized, under-equipped, non-profit enterprise. No, this isn't particularly utopian. As an age-cohort, we seem to be characterized [rightly] as having a low threshold of tolerance for utopianism. Sad, but true, I think.

#130 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:17 PM:

jh woodyatt

I'm not sure which cohort you are? Mine (40-something) is no fan of government, if you were born after 1956 you think government is a screw-up.

But the reality is government financed public transport systems work, and work pretty well, in a lot of countries, but not the US. And not emerging markets, generally (hence jitneys).

The reason I think is too much of the benefit of public transport (that I don't clog up your roadway, so you get to work faster, and I don't pollute your air) is non-appropriable by the public transport operator.

So unless we tax the heck out of the driver (the European solution) we can't really make public transport self sustainable. London fares are double, more or less, New York fares (triple for longer distances) but London Transport still requires a subsidy. But I look around the streets of New York, see all those SUVs with *one* driver, jamming the roads, and think 'you guys need a congestion charge'. Bloomberg is trying to create one, we'll see whether that flies.

Dick was of course much of a muchness in time frame with Asimov and Heinlein (later works), but a conscious reaction against Golden Age techno-optimism. I see him more in a line of development with Pohl/Kornbluth from the 50s ie advertising agencies rule the world (The Space Merchants) and the world sucks.

The thing about government is that it succeeds where transaction costs, or the costs of acquiring information, are high-- where market transactions either don't take place, or take place on adverse terms. Similarly when, for example, one person needs something which is a necessity (food, medical care) that they just cannot afford.

I think historically there is a pendulum in these things. In the period of the 1920s it was conventional wisdom that companies and free markets were all. In the 1930s, that was revised.

Similarly in the 19th century, it was British government policy, guided by classical liberalism, not to intervene in societal problems. So Ireland and India both kept exporting food, whilst millions starved to death (the Nazis had similar policies in Eastern Europe and Occupied Russia, but it was quite deliberate).

These things go in cycles. Eventually the abuses of classical liberalism and free markets become so great, that intervention is forced to take place.

#131 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:12 PM:

JohnL / Erik on track grades:

20+ years ago, The New York Times ran a profile of the standard and high-speed lines between a pair of French cities. The high-speed line had not just steeper grades but more rise and fall than the standard track. My recollection is that high-speed rail saved a lot of money on distance and cutting/tunneling/bridging, although I don't remember exact numbers on the balance with the better track and bedding required.

Valuethinker@128: IIRC, the 707 is the civilian version of an in-flight tanker, not a bomber.

#132 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 11:06 PM:

Valuethinker writes: I'm not sure which cohort you are? Mine (40-something) is no fan of government, if you were born after 1956 you think government is a screw-up.

I was in high school the day President Reagan was shot. (In fact, I was in the real life high school that the popular American television program _The O.C._ purports to depict.) I remember it because I was reading Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy at the time.

The rest of my age-cohort may, on average, think government is a screw-up. I have a more cynical view. I think our government, when it works, is basically a nuclear-armed reinsurance corporation with an unusually well-equipped rescue and recovery section and a rather cult-like company culture. Of late, I've been thinking it most resembles what that kind of organization would be like after its principle founding officers and talented key personnel sold off their shares and turned the operation over to the kind of people who made Enron into the economic powerhouse it is today.

Oh, and then there's the torture. At their worst, the guys at Enron only joked about torturing people for fun and profit. So yeah— my apologies for not having a sufficiently patriotic outlook for some of the old timers around here. I'm working on it.

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 02:51 AM:

Excerpt from Night Mail

London to Brighton in Four Minutes (Looks a bit over-compressed...)

#134 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 03:10 AM:

132 J woodyatt

It sounds like we were in school at the same time. My high school was that one in Tom Brown's School Days (I'm joking, but only just)-- you know, where they have the list of boys who died from corporal punishment on the wall.

I don't think one can homogenise government. It just fills the hole that you can't fix with private arrangements in a society. No one has ever managed to, sustainably, find an alternative.

There's a strong streak in SF (running back to at least Poul Anderson, but I am sure before that) that says that we can replace government with private arrangements. I know enough about Port Royal, Jamaica (the headquarters of all the new world pirates until Woods Rogers cleaned it up, and then came the earthquake) to doubt that.

It's a major achievement of the political right in America to implant such a deep and widespread scepticism of government, even in the face of programmes (Medicare, Social Security) that are demonstrably popular and which cannot be synthesised privately (ask Ford and GM retirees about their healthcare schemes).

If we go back to 1964 (see Rick Perlstein 'Before the Storm'

we can see for how long, and how hard, the right has been at work on this. A brilliant feat of political organisation and manipulation (helped no doubt by the excesses of the Great Society and the Vietnam War, and of course Richard Nixon's manifest corruption).

A deeply cynical attitude about government is their friend, because it blanks resistance to rampant privatisation (social security, Blackwater etc.). And when the government does something truly awful (torture) instead of outrage there is a weary cynicism that this is what governments do (they're evil, right?).

Paul Krugman's new book, Conscience of a Liberal, touches on all this, and the mechanisms by which it was brought about.

#135 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 10:46 AM:

"Personally I'm a fan of low-speed rail: the overnight sleeper train that trundles gently, at freight-train speeds, overnight from A to B, taking eight hours or more, so that you get a night's sleep and travel at the same time."

Within the Schengen area, sleepers are glorious; you hand over your passport and the bit of paper on which you listed your breakfast selection to the guard at 11pm in Strasbourg, and your passport comes back on the breakfast tray at 9am as you reach the outskirts of Vienna.

Outside the Schengen area, the train stops at 1am, Serbian customs knock on your door, wake you up, check that you look like your passport, check that your passport has a validly-dated entering-Serbia stamp, add a leaving-Serbia stamp, leave. The train stays stopped; at 1:30am Macedonian customs knock on your door, wake you up, check that you look like your passport, ask you something incomprehensible in Macedonian, add an entering-Macedonia stamp, leave. The train continues. At 6:30am the train stops, Macedonian customs knock on your door, wake you up, check that you look like your passport, check that your passport has a validly-dated entering-Macedonia stamp, add a leaving-Macedonia stamp, leave. At 7am the train stops and everyone has to get out; all the Serbians and Macedonians hand their passports to Greek customs, have their visas inspected, and then line up in a roll-call to get the passports back, while the EUians get to have a chocolate bar and a cup of coffee. At 8am you get back into the train, and it rolls into Thessalonika main station at about eleven.

#136 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 11:06 AM:

Valuethinker @ 128: The problem is we don't pay for the CO2 we emit when we choose the plane over the train. Nor for the noise pollution.

I know. It's plain insane, paying less than half for a regular flight on a major (not discount) airline over the holidays than for a train ticket.

But if you're short on money, a 50% discount on an expensive item you need will decide the issue most of the time... (Plus a guaranteed seat and a place to store your luggage.)

Unfortunately, high-speed trains are not exactly marvels of energy efficiency either. If you are serious about reducing CO2, having the trains go only 100 mph would be more reasonable than three times that.

#137 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 12:28 PM:

96: I-24 at Monteagle was awesome for Sewanee students. When I first got there, traffic in both directions went along the east side of the mountain, cramming four lanes of traffic into the space now occupied by three, with rock walls and significant drops the penalties for screwing things up. Although I think Hwy 64 down the other side was more prone to accidents, as was the Sherwood road, which featured one curve that banked the opposite way it should.

#138 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 12:30 PM:

re 128, 131: The C-135 (and its tanker variant) and the 707 derive from the same prototype, which was built on speculation (but which of course benefited from earlier work on bomber designs). As far as I know, no American passenger jet derives from a military transport, and indeed the latter are either mods of existing passenger versions or were independent projects entirely unrelated to civilian aircraft.

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 12:47 PM:

C. Wingate @ 138

Having seen a 707 not too long ago, parked for servicing at Burbank airport, it's remarkable how small they look compared to current jets. Of course, they were designed before jetways came in.

#140 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 02:50 PM:

Valuethinker #134: Woods Rogers cleaned the pirates out of Nassau, not out of Port Royal. By the time Rogers descended on the pirates in the Bahamas, Port Royal had long been a naval station rather than a buccaneer's entrepôt.

#141 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 03:36 PM:

Tom Womack #135 : Long ago, before the Channel Tunnel, somebody - French railways or British railways, or both - used to run a luxury sleeper called the Golden Arrow (Fleche d'Or) from Paris to London, putting the train on the ferry. So you get in your cabin at Gare du Nord and wake up at Victoria station in London. Wonderful, yes? No. Around midnight the train arrives at Dunkerque, I think it was, and they shunt it onto the ferry. Clang, bang, all magnified inside the metal hull. Finally all is quiet and you go back to sleep as the ferry sails ... only to have the whole thing happen again about 3am as they take the train off the ship at Dover. Yet this really was sold as a luxury train.

#142 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 04:08 PM:

C. Wingate @ 138: I can't think of any western jetliner that was based on a military design; military jets tend to be optimised for all the wrong things for commercial use. The last western aircraft that springs to mind is the Boeing Stratocruiser, which was based on the B-29. I think Valuethinker's point about the subsidy of airliner development still stands - it's highly unlikely Boeing could have afforded to develop the 707 without the experience of the B-47 and the sales of the C-135.

#143 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 04:50 PM:

re #142: That's a stretch, because it's tending towards the implication that there's something wrong with using a company's experience or old work to promote the next generation of products. Development of diesel locomotives was similarly cross-subsidized by the other business of GM and Westinghouse, after all. Also one must remember that Douglas and Lockheed were developing transports without benefit of government funding for their projects.

#144 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 07:25 PM:

j h #129:

This raises the question of why that bus is not being run as a for-profit venture. Any ideas?

A natural outgrowth of this idea would be for some company to offer a flexible, luxury sort of bus service, and then hire out to employers as a kind of available benefit, so that their employees can use it in their commute just by setting up some kind of schedule.

I'm not sure why rail service is so bad in the US, but one thing that keeps it from getting better is that most cities I've lived in and visited in the US are pretty much impractical to visit without a car. Commuting to work using a train or bus is sometimes practical, because you plan to stay there all day. This is especially true if your workplace has at least a few restaurants and such in walking distance. But there are plenty of places where arriving without a car means you take cabs everywhere or are stuck in your hotel room (which you took a cab to get to).

#145 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 02:40 AM:

140 Fran re Woods Rogers

I stand corrected. Thank you. I think the point about the limitations of purely private arrangements stands.

#146 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 11:06 AM:

JAkob #142: going in the opposite direction is, of course, not so unusual. For example, the Hawker Siddely Nimrod is basically what you get when you take a 1960s-vintage Comet-4 airliner, fit a forty foot bomb bay, and add missiles; or the Lockheed P-3 Orion (an Electra with attitude).

#147 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 11:59 AM:

146: and then of course there's the AMCA Troupes Aerol Portees Mle. 56, or Anti-Tank Motor Scooter - also known as the Bazooka Vespa.

#148 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 01:03 PM:

On the other hand...

I can't seem to find a unified train map of continental Europe, or a routing service. Hmmm.

#149 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2007, 10:41 AM:

Randolph: in 1990 we used the long-famed Thomas Cook timetable, which had a section on international routes; but their front page doesn't have anything that looks like it should lead to a rail schedule. OTOH, Googling "european rail schedule" gets a number of promising-looking sites, although Comcast (as usual here) times out much too quickly for me to evaluate them from home.

#150 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 09:30 AM:

Here's the official website for Thomas Cook timetables, and an unofficial one.

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