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California's High Speed Rail Project Runs Out of Money

Discussion in 'Too Hot for Swamp Gas' started by chemgator, Oct 13, 2021.

  1. chemgator

    chemgator GC Hall of Fame

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    The train must arrive on time at all costs!
     
  2. SeabudGator

    SeabudGator GC Hall of Fame

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    I’ve been all over Europe, Japan, Korea (etc in Asia), so yeah, I’ve ridden a few trains. This is classic urban versus rural. Trains ARE more expensive than a rural road. And guess what, located correctly they can move way more people with lower environmental impact.

    People forget the massive federal investment in roads - which was called a boondoggle in its day. But it helped America grow… and sprawl. Guess what - we are undeniably becoming an urban nation. Many of those cities were built on that old road model that simply is inadequate at a certain point. Those cities will further benefit by HSR rail connection.

    Seems a valid contention but the unthinking response is: boondoggle. Or a country road is $2.5M/mile - with no comparison of use/passenger. And rail is “liberal” because it is better for the environment. And finally, rail doesn’t make a profit, just like roads. But because it serves cities it is a boondoggle versus those country roads “necessary for farmers goods” (always the go to for defending rural spending- the family farm though very few exist anymore as corporate farms have destroyed them). Got it.
     
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  3. chemgator

    chemgator GC Hall of Fame

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    This idea that urban residents NEED high speed rail is baloney. I already told you that city folk have four ways to get to other cities that don't involve owning a car: rental car, bus, low-speed train, or airplane. You haven't responded to that small fact yet. For the rural resident, the choice to get to town and bring back groceries (for example) is to drive their vehicle on the road or what? Drive a horse and buggy across the wilderness (and likely over someone else's property)? Is that what you expect? Maybe 150 years ago, when most rural people grew their own food, paved roads were not a necessity, but the U.S. has moved beyond "Little House on the Prairie" lifestyles, don't you think? You haven't responded to that fact yet, either.

    All I am saying is that you need a certain minimum population density per mile for HSR to be successful. (By successful, I mean "not a significant burden on the average taxpayer who is never going to regularly use HSR".) And only one place in the U.S. (the NE corridor) at this time clearly has that population density per mile. It makes the most sense to me to start at the part of the country where HSR is most likely to be successful, and then decide if we want to branch out further to other cities. If we build L.A. to S.F. and TPA-ORL-MIA high speed rail lines and they fail, we most likely will decide to never build HSR from N.Y. to D.C. There is a political dimension to this. If you screw yourself and put HSR in places where it won't succeed, the voters will not let you put any more HSR anywhere, even in places where it likely would succeed. You would become the boy who cried wolf (except it would be "high speed rail" instead of "wolf"). I am not declaring ALL high speed rail to be a boondoggle. But the voters who watch the first two HSR lines fail will call all HSR to be a boondoggle. Can you blame them?

    By world standards, few of our cities are truly BIG cities. With the urban population of Los Angeles area just below 4 million people, the U.S. only has one city above 4 million people (urban population). China has twenty seven. The U.S. has no cities with an urban population over 9 million people, while China has eight. If you want to build HSR rail in a very large country like the U.S., it helps to have the population to fill those trains. Europe has three cities with more population than New York. And the area of western Europe is comparable to the eastern fourth of the U.S.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_China_by_population

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_European_cities_by_population_within_city_limits

    If you don't hit the minimum population density per mile for HSR, then yes, it is a boondoggle. It will siphon off public funds that could be used on other things. The western two thirds of the country is running out of water. Most places west of the Rockies have been experiencing a drought. The area east of the Rockies is losing water from its aquifer (the Oglalla Aquifer) at an alarming rate, and parts of the Aquifer have already begun to dry up. A former co-worker of mine was planning on building a house in Utah, but the drought is so bad there, they stopped issuing building permits because there would be no water to send to the new house. Solving massive problems like a water shortage takes a lot of money.

    We also need to find the best way to fight global warming. If the trains run full all the time, then yes, HSR is a good way to fight GW. But if they run empty, then you are using energy to move the empty trains and therefore HSR is a bad (and very expensive) way to fight global warming. The money might be better spent on electric cars and upgrades to the electrical grid.
     
  4. SeabudGator

    SeabudGator GC Hall of Fame

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    Did the cars on.the road justify the highways when built? You are not building HSR for today’s populations but for 50-100 years from now.

    If we don’t destroy our kids homes with pollution and resultant climate change first. And nkk ok magic tech is gonna solve this. Musk builds rockets and sells e cars and he sees the need for a version of rail (underground to cut costs).

    My whole point has not been this particular project. It is the unusual suspects who immediately slam rail as a boondoggle or not turning a profit with no analysis of present/future demand and blindly ignoring that toads don’t turn a profit. It is again rural people complaining about urban investment versus “necessary” rural investments. And it ignores the dense future.done
     
  5. dingyibvs

    dingyibvs Premium Member

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    Your analysis is too simplistic IMO. How would rural residents get their groceries without roads? They won't. They'll move into the city if they don't want to starve. Roads, then, enable rural living. Similarly, HSR can enable denser, urban living. Without it, people spread out lest traffic/parking/etc. become too much to handle. Then folks like you will say we're not dense enough to need HSR, subways, etc.

    It's a chicken and egg situation. You're arguing that areas outside of the NE is not dense enough for HSR to make sense. But without public transit such as HSR, dense living doesn't make sense. Don't you think that the NE corridor is dense enough for HSR at least in part because it already has a good public transit system? If the west coast wants to replicate the denser living of the NE, should it build a slow rail first, encourage higher density, and replace it with HSR when the area is denser, or would it be cheaper to go straight to HSR?

    I really don't know how to do these calculations, balancing all the causes and effects that are at least partially recursive. I'm not saying that what you're saying is wrong, I'm just saying that given how new infrastructure can change how we live in the future, perhaps determining an infrastructure's utility based on how we live now is an incomplete analysis.
     
  6. chemgator

    chemgator GC Hall of Fame

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    You would never build slow rail on elevated tracks. Since slow rail is at grade, it has to allow road crossings. Road crossings will have businesses adjacent to the tracks that will need to be torn down to build elevated rail. Slow rail is also tolerant of much sharper curves than HSR, so the tendency will be to save money and "straighten out the track later". This will be costly. Low speed rail track is already a little expensive at $1-2 million per mile, not including crossings, track switches, etc.

    The best thing they could do to prepare for HSR in the future is identify potential routes for HSR first (and station locations), and then specific pathways for the track. Also identify any major challenges (like swamps, large rivers and mountain ranges) that need to be overcome. Then the gov't could start the process of acquiring the narrow strips of land required for future track. If people are still using the land, put a lien on the property such that they can only sell it to the government when they finish using it, or by using eminent domain if the decision is made to build HSR before they finish using it. There is no need to build any rail at this time if there is already Amtrak service between the cities. What would a second low-speed rail system achieve as far as transporting people that the first one can't?

    Buying the land and designating it for future HSR use will be difficult enough. You may have to tear down a historic building or two in various cities before HSR construction can start. There is a lot of cost in just buying the land, especially inside cities. It may not be glamorous to have a HSR program that has a lot of empty strips of land snaking through cities, but that is far better than waiting for the decision to build HSR a century from now, and seeing apartment buildings and shopping centers where your track needs to go.

    As far as the west coast goes, I would not do anything to encourage higher populations there until the water shortage issues are worked out.
     
  7. surfin_bird

    surfin_bird All American

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    Great information, as always, Chemgator. Personally, I think the Calif HSR is/was a waste of tax money. The state was keyed into future growth in the central valley, the eastside is/was booming along the Merced to Chico corridor. However, IMHO better use of $ would be on suburban transit and removing automobiles from local freeways. Many cities, San Diego is a good example, have brought back light rail to replace the streetcars ripped out post WW2. That would be the direction I would like to see. Faster/cleaner/and safer light rail. Although with Covid, ridership has certainly taken a big hit. As a kid, I grew up riding BART when it was new in the 1970's. To me that is a successful use of funding, and obviously ahead of it's time.
     
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  8. chemgator

    chemgator GC Hall of Fame

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    Anytime you are dealing with advanced technology, building now for some future need means tearing it down to put in something new when new technology becomes available. If the new technology is not compatible with the old technology, that means tearing out the elevated track, which is more expensive. So in the end, you have put in two very expensive systems before the trains even have a chance to fill up. If you just purchase the land for the track and stations, it would be much cheaper and more practical. Build the track when there is enough population to support it.

    Why does the future have to be dense? People are having fewer kids, so maybe the future becomes less dense. Right now, with Covid and remote work, people are moving out of cities. What if that trend continues?
     
  9. dingyibvs

    dingyibvs Premium Member

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    Denser population doesn't necessarily mean higher population, in fact it could be a part of the solution for the water crisis. A high rise will use much, MUCH less water than an equivalent number of residents spread into single family homes each with a front and back lawn. That's part of the appeal of urbanization, it's simply much more efficient at using resources.

    The future is in density, it'll be a good driver of efficiency and therefore productivity. Each road, powerline, water main, gas main, cell tower, etc. in a dense city can serve thousands instead of dozens in a rural county. The average car is parked 95% of the time, but in a city where most don't own cars and use Uber/Lyft instead, or robotaxis in the future, we can increase that by many folds. For longer distance travel people can then rely on HSR.
     
  10. chemgator

    chemgator GC Hall of Fame

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    What the areas without water typically do is persuade (or mandate) that homeowners not have lawns. You can have weeds, cactus, or rock gardens.

    Otherwise, I don't disagree with what you are saying. However, there are certain drivers that persuade people to move out of cities. That can include crime, traffic, noise pollution, pandemics, high cost of living, high taxes, etc. For coastal cities, that also needs to include global warming. Half of Miami may be abandoned in a hundred years. Will the high speed rail line going to Miami look so good then? New York has its own problems with global warming and flooding during storms. Will parts of New York need to be abandoned in the future?

    I'm all for starting high speed rail construction, as long as it is done in the area where it is most likely to succeed. Then we can branch out to areas that are borderline as far as chances for success, and see how it goes.
     
  11. slightlyskeptic

    slightlyskeptic GC Hall of Fame

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    No. Boondoggle because it’s always going to be way behind schedule, will cost many multiples more than the stated cost and will run at a deficit like all railroads in this country. BTW, toll roads definitely make a profit. In Florida that profit is used to make more toll roads…that also make a profit.

    I’d love to have HSR…..if it’s economically feasible. So far we have yet to have a truly solvent rail system. Amtrak requires over a billion in subsidies every year. They put in the SunRail in Orlando to lessen traffic on I-4 back in 2014. The prediction was ridership was in such demand that it would be profitable right away. Fast forward to today and ticket sales have never once covered ticket costs and there has been no reduction in I-4 traffic at all.