21 Jun

Texas hopes to copy Japanese rail success

Another article about Texas rail:

“Richard Lawless, who as a C.I.A. officer posted in Tokyo in the 1980s was a frequent Shinkansen passenger, has long found America’s failure to embrace high-speed rail ‘mind-boggling.’ But today the former Bush administration official is in a position to change things, as chairman and CEO of Texas Central Railway, a private company that plans to link Dallas and Houston with a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train as soon as 2021. The venture just might be high-speed rail’s best hope in the United States.

‘The project has been progressing below the radar, very quietly, very deliberately, over the last four years plus,’ says Lawless. It’s now undergoing an environmental impact study that will take between two and three years, but Texas Central, whose backers include Japan’s JR Central railway, has already conducted its own extensive research. The company, originally called U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail, looked at 97 possible routes nationwide before concluding that Texas was the ideal place for a high-speed line — and that healthy profits could be made in long-distance passenger rail, a travel mode that for the past 40 years has existed only with the help of massive government subsidies.”

(Via The Big Texas Plan to Copy Japan’s High-Speed Rail Success – CityLab.)

People keep saying that last line (US rail only survives via massive subsidies). But it ignores the fact that the Acela (and even the slower North East Corridor) is profitable. It’s just that Amtrak was mandated to take on all long distance lines whether it made sense to or not, so in order to keep all lines going it has to be subsidized.

I’ve talked about how to kill off unprofitable lines to make a profitable Amtrak before:

Acela makes $220,200,000 a year.
Northeast Regional makes $146,500,000 a year
Northeast Corridor ‘special trains’ make $3,600,000 a year.
According to the chart you need to deduct $1,300,000 for labor on the NEC corridor.

You’re left with the North East Corridor routes making $369,000,000 in profit a year.

The Government Accountability Office and Subsidy Scope claim that Amtrak’s depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs are $24.29 a customer.

That gives you $265,000,000 (roughly) in overhead. That means the North East Corridor lines mentioned above make $104 million dollars in profit a year.

04 Feb

Texas and high speed rail

Wouldn’t shock me if high speed rail in the US has to happen in a primarily red area in order to get past the culture war pawn status it has become…

“The Texas Transportation Commission is expected to vote Thursday at its monthly meeting on the creation of a high-speed rail commission focused on the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Separately, TxDOT is holding a series of public meetings around Texas and Oklahoma, starting this week, to hear comments on a study looking at the feasibility of high-speed rail projects between Oklahoma City and South Texas.”

(Via More on TxDOT and high speed rail – Off the Kuff.)

12 Sep

Malaysia set to spend money on rail…

I’m curious to see how much they’ve set aside for the high speed rail bit. But short of it is, Malaysia is about to join the list of countries investing in it as the US, still, lags:

“Malaysia plans to spend a staggering US$50 billion to develop its rail network over the next seven years, including a high-speed rail linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore set for 2020, and the urban mass rapid transit system that is rolling out in 2017.”

(Via Malaysia set to spend US$50b to develop rail network – Channel NewsAsia.)

20 Apr

Zeroing in on Amtrak

I point out something similar when I created a spreadsheet of profitable Amtrak routes and thought about how to make it profitable (quit running long ass lines through red-state areas of low density, basically):

“Some basic geometric facts: Intercity rail in the UK works because of the 63 million people in the country, 53 million of them live in England, an area about 16% smaller than the US state of Georgia, or 30% smaller than Washington, which has less than 7 million; most of the rest live in a small belt of Scotland or a pocket of Wales. There are therefore nearly an order of magnitude more people within a distance of each other that can be traveled by rail in a time competitive with flying.

Only two places in the US offer this kind of aggregate mega-regional density, which is essential to sustain a network of intercity trains at a reasonable level of public subsidy: the North East Corridor, possibly extended west out to Chicago; and the coast of California from San Francisco to San Diego. In other places, individual city pairs could make sense (e.g. Portland – Seattle), but those will always be A-B(-C) lines, not part of the network where you can travel widely.”

(Via Talking Sense About Amtrak – Seattle Transit Blog.)

Also quoted in the above article:

My understanding is that the real reason to run the long-haul trains at taxpayer expense is to touch enough states that most of Congress can feel good about Amtrak in general. The other arguments presented here sound largely rhetorical. Ridership may be rising but it’s a long way from profitable or even a reasonably level of subsidy per passenger. “National rail network” sounds like rhetoric without content. Rail is optimal for particular distances. Europe has lots of great rail services, but still, if you’re going 2000 miles within Europe, and you’re not a tourist or time-rich wanderer, you’re definitely going to fly.

My parents just rode the train from Virginia to Ohio last weekend to visit my twins for their 4th birthday and raved about how vastly superior it was to the hassle of flying.

Basically, you take a density map like this:


Anything with mountains on this image within 500 miles or so should have a high speed rail connection.

The vast empty bits?


11 Apr

Administration pushing for big high speed rail investment over next five years

This will become another huge battle and explosion over it, but I’m thrilled as fuck to see a potentially big step forward in high speed rail still something the current administration is fighting for:

“The Obama Administration released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 today, and the President has once again put forth a bold plan for transforming and expanding train service in the United States, with $40 billion in passenger rail investment over the next five years.”

(Via National Association of Railroad Passengers – President Pushes Bold Plan for Passenger Rail | Trains For America.)

18 Mar

Storified twitter exchange between Stross and me about China’s $250 billion edu initiative

Charles Stross and I were both thinking out loud on twitter about the implications of China’s announcement of $250 billion in educational investment:

07 Feb

Yummy look at what high speed rail could be…

Dan Geiser, and Jacki Wyse-Rhodes both pointed out this link to me of a vision for high speed rail in the US:


Created by Alfred Twu, the map compiles visions of possible American rail systems from a long list of places and mashes them together to show what a national rail network might look like.

Interesting in that, were you to develop a real high speed rail system in the US, Chicago sort of becomes the center of it all…

23 Dec

UK gears up for more high speed rail

Those communist bastards that are the Conservative Government of the UK are moving ahead with a second high speed initiative:

After seven months in power, the United Kingdom’s Conservative-led government has endorsed the previous Labour Government’s plans for a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, a connection that will reduce running times between the country’s two largest metropolitan areas from 1h20 to less than fifty minutes. In addition, the Department for Transport, led by Phillip Hammond, has recommended the eventual extension of the route northeast towards Leeds and northwest towards Manchester in a 335-mile Y-shaped corridor to cost upwards of £30 billion ($46 billion) to construct.

Investing in infrastructure during a recession. Investing in the future.

Oh, and here’s a look at buildings and infrastructure of US. Notice the trend? It’s all getting older. I’d be curious if whoever made this chart would do a US to other country comparison:


03 Aug

Cool Chinese Bus

Wow, China’s really thinking outside the box here with a tall rail straddling bus type thing that will let cars go by underneath it.


It’s really an interesting hack, though I wonder how well trucks and tall vehicles will work to avoid it (update, if you look at the video at Engadget, you’ll spot the neat, lo-tech hack that heavily discourages trucks from using the train/bus lanes!).

Still, it allows the city to add track to this weird looking public transportation vehicle at a much cheaper level that other rail-based metro projects (10% of the cost), and to existing road structure.