Last week, we looked at the early history of high-speed rail in the US. Though the US attempted to build its own high-speed rail routes soon after they debuted in Japan in 1964, these efforts were unsuccessful, outside of the popular-but-troubled Metroliner
Thank you for providing these in-depth articles. History is instructive as it reminds us that the "good ideas" of today may not be original and we ought to consider and learn why the same "good ideas" did not work in previous generations.
An underappreciated aspect of transportation solutions is the competition between roads and rail and air and water is constantly changing as technology provides new options and consumer preferences adapt. The "National Road" is commemorated in Ellicott City Maryland. One of the information boards talks about the competition between the railroad and the road. In the 19th century, innovations with railroad gave the upper hand to the trains.
"Noisy, dirty, and at first, unreliable, the railroad soon gained the upper hand. By 1840, a stage coach trip to Cumberland on the National Pike cost $9 and took twenty hours. The same trip on the B & O cost $7 and took ten. John H. B. Latrobe summed it up best when he wrote, “That solitary horseman who comes down [the National Road] at a trot that dislocates half the bones in his body, and sends his saddle bags with grievous flapping is one of the few who still prefers its glow and dust to the shade and velocity of travel on the iron avenue to the west.” While it was so important for the first decades of the 1800s, the National Road was doomed." https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=720
Today, the Patapsco Valley tracks carry coal on train cars from Appalachia to the port in Baltimore, but there is no passenger rail service. Instead, many thousands of cars each day drive the "National Road" and its derivative freeways to travel between homes and towns west of Baltimore to the city and back.
>Around the world, only two high-speed rail lines (Paris-Lyon and Tokyo-Osaka) earn enough money from fares to pay back their infrastructure costs and operating costs, and many can’t even cover their operating costs without government assistance.
Do you have a source for this? If I remember correctly, the EU does not allow subsidies to long-distance rail and member states have gotten into trouble for violating this in the past.
It’s crucial that rail is re-framed in discussion. Sure many rail systems don’t turn a profit. How many highways or interstates turn a profit?
Why do rails require burdensome environmental reviews when we know there is a net benefit to the environment by putting more people in a vehicle that can be powered by any power source?
Trains have been unsuccessful due to optics. If we can cut down environmental requirements and stop these unfair cost comparisons then rail can get off the ground.
The fact that, world-wide, high-speed rail is unprofitable, tells us that it is proposed and built for non-market reasons.
Nuclear power plants were built in the sixties and seventies because if you were a Great Power state in 1950, you had to have nuclear technology ASAP to remain a Great Power and not be relegated to the children's table at international conferences. Power plants were both an excuse for the technology's existence and a way to maintain a workforce trained in the technology until the next war.
In the same way, high-speed rail is not wanted for market reasons. The most likely culprits are a High Modernist aesthetic and a belief that it will somehow enhance internal security.
Excellent summary, thanks. I do think that "local opposition" is the one constant here. "A train will go through here, but it won't do US any good!" from every locality it passes through.
It would be instructive to look at why other countries can say, "yeah, well, tough!" but in the U.S. we can't.
Re the topic of hyperloops ---its possible they may be more efficient in certain situations for running freight, but not passengers.
CAHSR is the poster child for why the US can't do HSR. Once there is is a political commitment, construction and operation become a "money is no object" situation. HSR is now a jobs program for unionized construction and unionized civil servants, with any resulting transportation incidental to the project.
A huge cost I think is putting new trains at ground level and dealing with road crossings and infrastructure, which is why I was excited about hyperloops as they can be elevated. But it appears they are too expensive (at such high speeds you can't put enough cars/passengers safely to make it worthwhile). I always liked monorails, at least for the infrastructure/land requirement issue--lego-like modularity and all above ground. But I've read even with that simplistic construction they don't make economic sense because of low passenger capacity and lower speeds.
Perhaps when driverless cars become bug-proof those can be daisy chained together into temporary 'road trains'--that along with a concomitant syncing with local traffic signals for efficiency will be our best option--not fast but cheap as most the infrastructure is already in place. Plus airlines can still do the long hauls.
A superpower that cannot build trailing edge infrastructure (I commuted at 250kph in 1967) may not be a superpower.
A superpower that has no industries is probably not a superpower.
A superpower that pays $1 trillion in interest each year is almost certainly not a superpower.
A superpower that has never won a war and lost wars to both of its 'rivals' is bullshit.
As a nation, we've become like the Egyptian Army, incapable of maneuver.