What are the prospects for a three-tiered rail transit system in the U.S.?

I agree with you. But a public-transport oriented community does not need to ban cars. Public transport will be an option people can choose to take advantage of. If this option exists, car usage will drop, perhaps to a point where one car per household will be the norm, not one per adult.

I myself love my car and would hate to give it up. I often use it on weekends and sometimes for shopping. But I don’t want to drive it to work every day either. (And I don’t - I chose an apartment 4 miles from work so I can bike there.)

The problem is that the US government is artificially keeping gasoline prices low and subsidizing road infrastructure. This is interfering with the free market and preventing a gradual, market-driven shift towards increased use of public transport.

Oh, I forgot to bring up the proposed rail system in New Mexico going from Belen to Santa Fe. I’m not really sure how well it would work or whether or not it’ll be better for an individual than I-25. Especially in Albuquerque, where first you’d have to get to the train tracks (about 8 miles from my house, which is kinda in the center of the eastern part of the city) either by driving there or by taking the bus (which often isn’t a very good option.) Plus, there’s the problem of either laying new track or cutting a deal with Burlington-Northern and Santa Fe to use their existing tracks. I like the idea in theory, but I’m not sure how well it’d work in reality.

I use my car to get to work every day. I live about a thirty minute car drive from work. I work in a moderately sized city-town and live in a rural area. I could not bike to work even if I wanted to, because I’d have to follow a different route that would nearly double the length of the trip distance wise. It’d also be impossible to bike to work during the winter, when there’s three or six or twelve inches of snow.

How is this, exactly?

And they wouldn’t have to pay for road infrastructure if there were buses?

I’ve lived in cities that had decent public transport, but all in all it was still a lot more hassle than driving myself where I needed to go. When I drive myself, I live on my schedule. Living in Pittsburgh and taking the T (light rail) to South Hills (the closest stop to where my family lives) took almost 2 hours. In a car, that trip would take me 20 to 30 minutes, and I could do that any time of day I wanted.

Need to go to the mall on a Saturday? Good luck. Buses run approximately hourly, but I have to take two different buses, so the trip there takes about 2 hours. In a car, it takes about 20 minutes. Want to go home? Either get in the car and go now, or sit around waiting an hour for a bus.

Sunday nights I worked until 10 p.m. and had to be out the door at exactly 10 p.m. to catch the last bus that could take me anywhere near home. Home was three miles away. I could bike in the summer, but in the winter I was screwed. Cab fare for that ride was $6. Car was far cheaper and more convenient.

You generalize. In fact, I think the opposite. Many people really like living in the city, and go to ridiculous lengths to live there. Live in a smaller space, commute to jobs in the suburbs, pay outrageous rents etc. The prices in livable cities (New York, San Francisco, etc) are high because they are desirable, and supply of city housing just cannot keep up with demand.

At any rate, I’m one person currently raising a family without a car, in Queens, NY. Things are probably a lot better now than they used to be- for example groceries are no problem, if you don’t live by a grocery simply order from Fresh Direct on the web. Myself, I really enjoy not having a car. It frees my mind up from worrying about repairs, maintenance, gas, etc. Plus it’s a much healther life-style.

At any rate, there are no lack of suburbs, and that’s fine, because lots of people like them. Lots of people also like living in the cities, so we should try and create more of those environemnts.

About the topic at hand, however, I would say rail would only be effective if there were programs in place for encouraging high-density mixed-use development around stations. The trains will always need subsidies, though.

According to the Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_metropolitan_areas, the 24 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., based on the 2000 census, are as follows:

1 New York–Northern New Jersey (Jersey City, Trenton, Newark)–Long Island–Bridgeport–New Haven NY–NJ–CT–PA 21,199,865

2 Los Angeles–Riverside–Orange County CA 16,373,645

3 Chicago–Joliet–Naperville–Gary–Kenosha IL–IN–WI 9,157,540

4 Washington–Baltimore DC–MD–VA–WV 7,608,070

5 San Francisco–Oakland–San Jose CA 7,039,362

6 Philadelphia–Wilmington–Atlantic City PA–NJ–DE–MD 6,188,463

7 Boston–Worcester–Lawrence MA–NH–ME–CT 5,819,100

8 Detroit–Ann Arbor–Flint* MI 5,456,428

9 Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington TX 5,221,801

10 Houston–Galveston–Brazoria–Baytown–Sugar Land TX 4,669,571

11 Atlanta GA 4,112,198

12 Miami–Ft. Lauderdale FL 3,876,380

13 Seattle–Tacoma–Bremerton WA 3,554,760

14 Phoenix–Mesa AZ MSA 3,251,876 The Valley of the Sun

15 Minneapolis–St. Paul MN, WI 2,968,806

16 Cleveland–Akron OH 2,945,831

17 San Diego CA 2,813,833

18 St. Louis MO, IL 2,603,607

19 Denver–Boulder–Greeley CO 2,581,506

20 San Juan–Caguas–Arecibo PR 2,450,292

21 Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater FL 2,395,997

22 Pittsburgh–New Castle PA 2,512,302

23 Portland–Salem–Vancouver OR, WA 1,979,202

24 Cincinnati–Hamilton OH, KY, IN CMSA 1,979,202

Only 9 of these are on the East Coast or the West Coast – 12 if you count Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Miami. Ten are in the vast interior which bicoastal residents sometimes call “the Great Flyover.”

If you click on the New Trains site (http://www.newtrains.org/pages/354055/index.htm), you will see a map of the proposed high-speed rail system. There is a West Coast line from Seattle to San Diego; an East Coast line from Boston to Miami; a central transcontinental line from San Francisco to Washington, DC; a southern transcontinental line from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, FL; and several more lines criss-crossing the interior. The system would reach every one of the above metro areas, except for San Juan, Puerto Rico (for obvious reasons).

Bear in mind that we have had rail service in practically all of these corridors for a very long time. What the New Trains organization is talking about is upgrading these links to high-speed rail – which can operate on electric power, which can be generated by nuclear power plants.

What are the alternatives, for long-distance transportation? What we’re using now – jet airplanes, buses and autos for passengers, trucks for freight. Trucks and cars and buses burn gasoline. Jet airplanes burn jet fuel – kerosene, essentially. Fossil fuels. Our fossil fuel supply isn’t going to last forever – more importantly, long before the oil supply actually runs out, it’s going to get a lot more expensive.

The important thing is that we get started on this now, before fossil fuels start getting prohibitively expensive – because if they do, and no non-fossil-fuel-based alternatives for transportation are in place, our national economy will come to a grinding, screeching halt.

(By the way – there isn’t going to be any “hydrogen economy.”)

Exactly. Because the fact that it has to be subsidized means not enough people ride it. And when not enough people ride it, that means society really doesnt want, even though they may like the idea.

Its silly of those on here to talk about how society wants it, but then declare it would need to be subsidized. The existance of one is a negation of the other; the two states cannot coexist.

Think more along the lines of 1000 miles. That’s the practicable limit of European rail systems before the journey time is significantly more than by flying, once you factor in travel to out-of-town airports and 1-2 hours for check-n and security. A quick look shows that NY-Atlanta is 756 miles, which would be 5 hours or so by high-speed rail. Compare that to getting to JFK, check-in, a 2 hr 30 min flight…not so different.

And the cost is down to inequalities between the overt subsidy needed by the rail system and the covert hidden subsidies mentioned above which allow road and air to dominate.

The railways of Europe are heavily subsidised; if they were to cease to exist, the economy would grind to a halt. Can you reconcile these two facts with your logic?

Voodoochile, it is obvious that Americans want automobile transportation – but that also has to be heavily subsidized by the state and could not exist without public subsidies. I repeat: on average a motor vehicle in the U.S. costs it’s owner $6,000 a year, and the public sector another $4,000 a year. You seem to be under the delusion that automotive transportation is a product of the free market, pure and simple. In fact, it is a product of the economic free market acting in synergy with the political marketplace of ideas – in other words, the people have decided they want this badly enough to be taxed as needed to keep the system going.

Please remember that travel time is not the only important factor here. High-speed rail travel is sustainable because it can be operated independently of the fossil fuel supply if necessary. Airplanes can’t.

Which ones? The ones in Britain are privately run, so are the ones in Sweden. And they make a profit. Similarly, there are private lines here that make a profit; Caltrain, etc.

In the US, one could make the case that the price of gas is artificially low; in europe, one could make the case that the price of gas is artificially high. If there is an artificial incentive to drive in the US, there is an artificial incentive to take a train in europe. In either case, all things being equal, in any commodity, whether or not something needs to be subsidized is the empirical verification as to whether ‘society’ really values it.

You don’t have to go to Chicago to get from New Mexico to Florida. Amtrak has the Sunset Limited which runs from LA to Orlando via San Antonio and New Orleans.

But Amtrak does have pretty crappy routes at the moment. Obviously, part of upgrading our passenger rail system would be improving routing. No one claimed that Amtrak is currently a very effective form of travel (did they?).

I don’t think so.

Police and fire departments don’t turn a profit. They could be run as private companies, only providing their services to paying customers, but instead they’re entirely subsidized by taxpayers. Does that mean society doesn’t value law enforcement or fire protection? Or does it mean society values them so much that it wants law enforcement and fire protection to be supplied even when it isn’t profitable?

I think CalTrain is a public organization. Even if it isn’t, the Board of Directors is appointed by public agencies and they are heavily subsidized by the government. For example, the new Baby Bullet train is 100% funded by the State of California.

(from the minutes of a CalTrain B of D meeting.)

Similarly, the British and Swedish train systems might be run as private companies (so is the NPRC [Amtrak]) but they are also heavily subsidized.

I will agree that the price of gas in the US is often artificially low, though I would certainly want to see some cites for your numbers.

Im under no illusion that the use of automotive transportation is soley due to the freemarket. I am very aware that there are many people who dont use and dont want to use fossill fules but they are being forced against their will to help subsidize those who do.

But you would really have to convince me that subsidies exist to benefit ‘society’, when usually they exist to benefit particular industries or companies within an industry. The US auto industry is heavily subsidized; when foreign auto makers make more fuel efficient cars more cheaply and more well made than american ones, ‘society’ is punished for their decisions and the US auto industry protected. US auto makers going out of business would not be bad for ‘society’, it would be bad for US auto makers and all those who short sightedly depend on their monopoly for their livelyhood. Indeed, the inefficiency of the auto industry is due in no small part to subsidies, yet the New Trains people think using the same mechanism for trains is going to make an efficient train system??

Its just amazing, seeing the screwball effects subsidies have had on so many industries and the long term costs they create by ~less~ efficiently responding to consumer demand, that one would want to use the same mechanism yet again for yet another industry. Its mind boggling in its short term stupidity.

Subsidies arent about what ‘society’ wants (as in disparate individuals making free choices as they go through their lives); subsidies are about one group thinking it knows best what society ~should~ want, even though such a thing is impossible and would be funny if it werent responsible for so much bullshit in peoples lives.

Efficiency is subjective. It is subject to the end result sought by the individual taking an action. When I, or the millions of others in Cal who do the same, set out to get away from it all and find little out of the way towns to kick it in for a bit set out on my journey, taking a train would be very inefficent. Trains can only take you to a new place once. Cars can take you to new places all the time. Ill take CalTrain or Bart or Muni when Im going to the city or somewhere in the area for business or something, but if im going to buy a bunch of crap, a train seat is a very inefficent means of carrying a shitload of bags/boxes.

Indeed, certainly in the context of California, there could be no such thing as a highspeed train. Just going from San Fran to LA, there are small towns at least every 20 miles along the way. So either:

  1. the trains dont stop at all the small towns (though they would have to slow down anyway due to traffic crossings etc), thus forcing rural communities to subsidize urban ones, as well as descreasing the amount of people who would ride the train in the first place

  2. the trains stop at most of the small towns, increasing potential ridership but decreasing the speed with which it reaches LA or San Fran, thus replicating probably the single largest reason why few people take Amtraks Coast Starlight, which 20-odd years ago ran daily but now is down to something like once a week.

It doesnt matter how fast the train can go in theory, it matters how long the journey takes in reality. Current Amtrak trains, as slow as they are, rarely reach their top speed on the north south line, due primarily to the fact that the train has to slow down through towns for safety reasons. A high speed train would in reality not be able to go any faster than Amtrak currently goes in Cal simply because of the number of towns it has to go through. The stretches of open track are not long enough for the train to reach full speed before it would have to wratchet down for the next town.

I like trains. Ive ridden the Coast Starlight a few times; when Ive had the time to waste. But the fact of the matter is, for the vast majority of reasons I travel around, trains are far less efficient for satisfying m motives than autos, and apparently the same is true for millions of other people in Cal as evidenced by the low number of people who use the existing publicly owned and subsidized passenger train system.

You’re missing relative size. Of the 12 cities on either coast (BOS, NYC, PHI, DC, ATL, TB, MIA, SEA, POR, SF, LA, SD - I’m counting things that are relatively within a narrow corridor here and could be done with one line each on the coasts) we have a total population of 82.5 million people. For the remaining 12 cities in flyover country we have only 48 million people. And those are spread out to ridiculous distances requiring multiple lines to service them.

If you really feel like removing TB and Atlanta, fine. That changes about 6 million people leaving a final tally of 76 million and 54 million respectively. The coasts still win handily in total population and population concentration.

I think that’s actually a poor idea. Completely new routes would be much more intelligent. Why not make LA, Chicago and NYC major hubs? Right now you have to take some convoluted journey to get from LA to NYC. Makes no sense, but that’s neither here nor there - these things can be worked out.

Anyway, back to my point here. While it’s true that we already have rail service in those areas, that’s only by political necessity. Service is so light in those areas that they run trains only once per day for most corridors - and often only 3 times per week.

However, that may change with high speed rail, who knows. But just saying, well, we already have rail service there so they’re automatically good candidates for rail isn’t necessarily true.

Very true.

Fossil fuels aren’t going to just disappear over night. There’s plenty of time. And why not wait? By waiting a while longer, we’ll get better technology and better trains.

Never said there would be.

Perhaps. Unfortunately, airports aren’t really located that far away from most people. Take LA, for example, it would be much easier to get to LAX, Long Beach, Ontario or John Wayne airports than to downtown LA into the train station. Moreover, if you were going to get into LA downtown via rail it would be more of a pain in the butt to get around in than just flying in. Washington, DC, would be about the same. NYC offers clear advantages. Not sure about Chicago.

But let’s say it is comparable, the cost will still be extremely high - which brings me to…

Unfortunately, it costs twice as much to build and maintain a high speed rail system than it does to build a highway. I think high speed rail will need to be subsidized even more than either highways or airports for those areas, but I’m willing to listen to cost estimates and partnerships between public and private.

I think you’re overlooking the purpose of a multi-tier system. You could have a high speed train that goes between major cities with only a couple stops (maybe none), and then slower trains that go from those stops to smaller towns. You might get on a high speed train in LA, transfer to a medium speed train in San Jose, transfer again to a low speed train in Santa Cruz, and get off in Capitola.

I don’t see a lot of thinking outside the box here.

For one thing, we’re not so far away from a time when cars will be able to drive themselves. Imagine taking a train to a city; you arrive at a central terminal, approach a computerized kiosk, and enter a destination some distance from the terminal. A sub-station closest to your destination is selected, and you are directed to a boarding area. You then board a small bus with some number of other passengers who happen to be going the same part of town. The bus drives itself to your destination. Other buses of various sizes can be boarded at any of the sub-stations to go wherever you need; bus traffic is monitored and altered dynamically to keep up with passenger demand for destinations. There are no set routes.

An automated and dynamic bus-based mass transit system linked to other comparable systems by high-speed rail service would make for very convenient travel. With increases in computing power, I think urban mass transit could be much more individualized and flexible, both by the use of automated buses, and a well-designed dispatch system that adjusts to traffic needs on-the-fly.

The question of what’s on the other end of the train link has been posed as an objection to train travel. I think it’s a problem with any kind of travel not done by automobile. We all know mass transit in cities can be a hassle (except in a few places like New York). Subway tunnels are expensive. Bus routes are rigidly designed, and are not always user-friendly. Smaller cities don’t get the benefits of intra-city rail because they can’t handle traffic that arrives conveniently. But if a fleet of small, automated buses could be successfully built, such a thing ought to scale easily for any size city, and not require radical improvements in transportation infrastructure. Such a fleet of buses coulds simply use the existing roads.

We can’t discount what technology could feasibly make possible in the near future. That should be part of any long-range transportation strategy. Air-based travel seems rather limited when one considers the improvements that can be made in ground-based travel with transit systems like what we saw in the film “Minority Report” The cars might not be as sleek and fast, but they could be as self-reliant.

Avumede said:

Absolutely. Many people love living in the city. And for them, maybe rail makes the most sense. More power to them. I have absolutely nothing against city living - it’s just not what I want.

Where I start to get mad is when the people who live in the city start calling the people who live in the suburbs idiots and parasites, and start lobbying government to force them to live the way city people think humans should live. And of course, I’d feel the same way if suburbanites did the same thing.

It’s all about freedom of choice.

Well, it depends on your definition of subsidy. In Sweden especially, the state maintains the rail and charges the companies fees of use. The vast majority of lines in Sweden are profitable, meaning revenue is greater than expenditure, meaning they pay for themselves, meaning they are not ‘subsidized’. The govt charges the companies rates based on govt expenditures. The private companies not only manage to pay the rates, but also make a profit.

Britain is a different story, but considering the profits of the rail companies, this is probably due to the govt charging too little to recoup their costs. The money is there, certainly.

Our postal service now pays for itself, it is not subsidized. Fannie Mae and Fannie Mac pay for themselves, and they also are not subsidized, even though they all get infusions of govt money. They all either at least break even or profit, so they pay for themselves, so they are not ‘subsidized’.

Yes youre right, I was wrong. I assumed, due to the high ticket prices, that CalTrain was private and paid for itself. Now that I know its not and doesnt, Im far less likely to use it ever again. I couldnt sit on a CalTrain now, seeing all the white collar people riding, without thinking of all the poor in the area being forced to subsidize my train ride. I may be able to afford $8+ a day (plus parking) to go to and from the city, but most poor in the area probably cant, especially when its around 5 times cheaper and 45 minutes faster to drive. Even the average cost of parking in the city, around $8 a day, combined with gas is pretty equivelent to taking CalTrain. The difference in time makes all the difference. Knowing now that $8 a ticket, while high, doesnt come close to the true cost just tells me that taking the train is a greater use of resources than driving. Other peoples resources, not mine. So thanks; this is really something I should have looked into earlier. No more CalTrain for me.