American High Speed Rail is a Terrible Idea

So Sam can argue with himself apparently. I mean, first sentence of the OP:

Whose new push? Whose argument exactly is the OP countering? Who said what that Sam heard? We don’t know! And now he’s picked up his toys and left the playpen. This is just mystifyingly weird.

I get the impression that the current US administration is working on a $2T infrastructure plan that includes $80B for rail improvements and $100B for High Speed Broadband. Perhaps those two things became conflated with each other?

Well, ISTM that you’ve been a bit unclear on that all through:

Throughout this thread, Sam, you’ve been arguing fairly indiscriminately against various kinds of rail development plans irrespective of what other posters are actually advocating, using every kind of hypothetical comparison you can think of and then ignoring or shrugging off objections to the unrealistic aspects of your scenarios.

The only consistently cogent point you’ve been making is that nationwide high-speed rail is probably never going to be technologically or demographically an optimal investment for transit in a country like the US, which, again, AFAICT nobody at all in this thread is disagreeing with you on.

Most of the rest of your arguments are basically the Gish-galloping that you’re constantly accusing other posters of: What about self-driving cars with a mini-fridge? What about terrorism? What about remote work? What about security screening? What about population shifts? And so on, and as soon as anybody points out one of the flaws in your arguments, you complain that they’re nitpicking and move on to a different argument.

To be fair, previously Buttigieg had been a big HSR fan, Buttigieg is Transportation Secretary, and Biden is pushing for investments in rail. Sam quickly admitted that the conclusion that therefore Biden was pushing HSR was false. I think he’s even accepted that the Amtrak wishlist of new rail is not the Biden plan even if some of it might be considered on individual bases.

So let’s maybe end the thread with agreement: HSR is not the focus of the Biden investment in trains; focused investments in rail may make sense; cross country HSR lines would not; other emerging technologies may serve some needs better than trains.

In post 226 Sam accuses @iiandyiiii of hypocrisy, citing something Biden boosted that Reagan also advocated.

Personal attacks in GD. Fun times.

Do you have a cite you’re getting this factoid from, that you can share with the rest of us?

Maybe this will help:

Coal accounted for 30% of tonnage carried by American class I (i.e., major) railroads in 2019, and even that is a steep drop, barely half what it had been even as recently as 2008. (cite [PDF]). As the country continues to move away from coal, the railroads are going to have to find some new sources of traffic.

Have they found new traffic sources since 2008?

Agricultural traffic waxes and wanes; for awhile, they got some crude oil traffic, but overall, no: rail freight carloads are about a third lower than they were in 2008. See the numbers at Fred.

It appears that Sam’s premise is that HSR would have to tunnel through the Sierras, because going over hills is not possible for trains. At best, a train might go through passes with a snow shed (roofed right-of-way), which might be less costly than a tunnel.

Of course, a fast train from LA to Vegas (which I think was one of the original proposals) would not have to negotiate the Sierras at all. Most of that route would not have to negotiate high mountains at all. Similarly, a LA-SF route would largely be spared tall terrain. Tunnels would mostly not be needed.

However, I believe fast passenger rail would call for a screen arch (fencing) over much of the tracks to minimize encounters with wildlife and inhibit casual mischief. It would be an added expense, but if a train derails a 150mph, the fence could reduce the overall catastrophe to the riders and to the neighbors.

A derailing train wouldn’t even notice a fence.

And some green bridges.

What if the title of this debate were (pick any):
American airline travel is a terrible idea.
American bus travel is a terrible idea.
American car travel is a terrible idea.
American pedestrian travel is a terrible idea.

The point should be that there are benefits and shortcomings to each form of travel, and the proverbial “wise and beneficial ruler” would be trying to obtain the best results from a combined system (if you prefer - an integrated system). A bit of history, the Santa Fe railroad used to run local bus lines that acted as “feeders” to their rail passenger service. Until the Interstate Commerce Commission made them stop.

I recall reading a Scientific American article about a major city in South America that investigated different forms of public transport, and decided that their funds would be best spent by changing their bus system. They set up a system of bus stations where riders paid to get into the stations, then walked directly onto the buses from station platforms. Lifts for wheelchairs and such were built into the stations. (I don’t know if the buses had lifts for emergencies.) In other words, the time-consuming transactions were all handled before the riders got onto their buses.

Bear in mind that this is like a mesh tunnel, meaning it does not have a floppy top edge but is uniformly stiff and flexible all the way around. The train is not plowing straight through it but hitting it at an oblique angle (it would probably be heavily sparred at the curves), and the train-to-fence tolerances would be tight – a foot or two – so the train’s improper travel vector would not have as much time to randomize into utter chaos. Mostly, though, it is there to make derailments less likely (less crap, deer and suicidal people collecting on the tracks).

Note that this was in 2015, and the rail project was promising that the tunnels would be finished by 2022. As a reminder, the project was greenlit in 2008. As far as I can tell, they got around the tunneling problems by simply not working on them. Right now, the only active construction is Bakersfield to Merced. Then they are promising that the ‘phase 1’ connection to San Fransisco will be done by 2029. That leaves the very difficult connection to LA through the mountains.

The initial price of the project was $45 billion. Eatimates are now over $100 billion, but no one believes that either. The promised full run from San Fransisco to LA is now scheduled to be completed at an indeterminant time in the future after that.

And things are getting worse. The HSR project is being continually hit with environmental lawsuits. The environmental reviews for the project were all supposed to be comlleted by 2017, but as of my last cite in 2020 were still underway, which means they don’t even have routes locked up for the entire thing.

Also if you look at the map of the routes, they are extremely twisty. California promised that the train would run at 224 mph. That isn’t going to come close to happening. In fact, I believe they have decided to share track with conventional trains in a few places, meaning the train will have to slow down to normal train speeds in those areas, then accelerate again. That slows the average trip time and lowers energy efficiency.

I’ll bet that when this train is done, IF it is done it won’t average more than 150 mph block to block - that’s about the real world speed of the current Shinkasen trains. If they get a result closer to France’s TGV, 124 mph, The appeal of the train will go way down.

And this one 420 mile stretch of train will take 30 years to complete from initial approval. California’s experience with HSR shoild be a giant warning flag to everyone who wants to build more of them.

The California HSR debacle should be a warning.

Linked to there is this interesting analysis:

So to be clear, in some corridors at least passenger rail continues to compete quite well with other forms, while freight trains are losing out to trucking and water transport. Trucking is likely to become more efficient as platooning takes off, with or without being electric or fully autonomous.

I don’t see the words “gravel” or “sand” anywhere in your cite.

I took the ICE (German HSR) from Brussels to Frankfurt, and there seemed to be quite a lot of short tunnels. My theory at the time was that they tunneled through the crests of hills so that the passengers wouldn’t have a brief feeling of weightlessness (like on a rollercoaster) that they’d get by going over the hills. Just as there’s a limit to the curve radius a high-speed train can take, there’s probably a limit to the radius of crest it can go over, both for passenger comfort and to keep the train on the rails.

It was a great trip. There was a screen on the train that displayed the speed. It was at 296 kph for most of the trip, and that train was rated for 300. We left Brussels about ten minutes late, but arrived on time.

One thing I noticed about trams and buses in Europe (some cities, anyway) was that the passengers didn’t have to all file in through a single door. There are travelling inspectors who will come on some of the buses and ask to see your ticket, and if you don’t have one you get fined. You have to show them either a valid pass (daily, monthly, whateverly) or a paper ticket that you timestamped at the beginning of your journey. The result is that when the the tram stops, all the doors open, people get off and on quickly, and then you’re on the way again in a few seconds.

Sam already posted a cite but it is not the Sierras in question but the Transverse ranges, particularly the San Gabriels and the Tehachapis, the latter notorious to anyone who has climbed the Grapevine on the northern route into Los Angeles. Some of the geologic issues are discussed here.

ETA: Full disclosure, I voted against this CA HSR project for several reasons. But I am not against HSR per se, I just wasn’t sold on the merits of this particular proposal. Geology was not one of my serious concerns. The cost vs. utility and customer base was.