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Do Not Fail High Speed Rail

May 24, 2011

California needs high speed rail for so many reasons. Given I-5 and LAX, how can you seriously push back on 2 hours and 40 minutes to LA, allowing for a couple of beers at 220 mph and then a nap?

But I’m truly surprised by those who push against it. I grow tired of NIMBY selfishness in Palo Alto / Menlo Park and childish op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post (or even the SF Chronicle or LA Times). And who knew highways magically grew from the soil without any sort of government subsidy?

Anyway, it was refreshing to see the The Sacramento Bee publish a solid editorial with an utterly brilliant diagram comparing California’s future HSR with that of France.


This diagram is just gorgeous and to the point. But as much as I love the TGV, an even better comparison to California is Spain and AVE between Madrid and Barcelona. It’s almost the same distance and time as the CAHSR plans, and the two cities are much closer in size than Paris-Lyon.

I was going to make a diagram for Spain in the same style as the Bee’s, but I realized that most people don’t realize how big France and Spain are compared to California. So behold a quick map of the three regions and HSR-relevant cities I whipped up in OmniGraffle.


(Geographic regions are to scale, and the metro population circle sizes are a bit of a wag, but all are relative.)

With population density like ours, and the success of TGV and AVE, how do you claim with any intellectual credibility that HSR won’t work here? It’s a significant amount of money, but it’s an investment, and the alternative is worse. You’re not going to make I-5 any wider, or add more runways to SFO or LAX.

While I’m at it: the utter moral bankruptcy of those using “train to nowhere” to describe the first planned segment between Bakersfield and Fresno is maddening. You know where they build the first bit of Interstate? Missouri. And the first BART line? Oakland-Fremont. Just stop moving your lips, you are embarrassing yourself. (This includes you, The Economist – your article was weak sauce. Sad, even. And you really ought to drive out of LA up I-5 on a Sunday sometime. Or any time.)

And don’t get me started on the haters in Palo Alto – their hypocrisy is stunning given the town was founded by a rail magnate.

Anyway, here’s to more sensible discussions on how to make HSR in California the best it can be, rather than killing it and California’s future.

68 Comments leave one →
  1. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
    May 24, 2011 1:21 pm

    Agreed on all counts. I also can’t understand people who seem to honestly believe, all evidence to the contrary, that people would not USE high-speed rail if it was available.

  2. May 24, 2011 1:39 pm

    My only objection to HSR is that it would require me to travel through BOTH twin armpits of California, Fresno AND Bakersfield.

    Seriously, though, I go to LA at least twice a year and don’t even bother flying anymore. I waste lots of fossil fuels driving, because 7 hours on the road beats at least ~5 hours of getting to the airport, taking the shuttle from parking, waiting through security lines and flight delays, etc. etc. etc. HSR would be such a time-saving and ecologically-friendly alternative. It really is crazy we don’t have it already.

    • May 24, 2011 2:08 pm

      Oh, that’s what the beer and naps are for.

      I’m also thinking taco and burrito cars. In fact, I’d love a food car that would host street food vendors from both SF and LA.

    • marc permalink
      May 26, 2011 1:17 am

      technically, fresno is the taint (perineum) of CA, and bakersfield is the armpit

    • Alex M. permalink
      May 30, 2011 2:23 pm

      Oh, Fresno’s not that bad.

  3. May 24, 2011 2:15 pm


    I imagine a future where you can also take a high speed train up to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, and perhaps something a bit quicker up to Tahoe / Reno for ski trips.

  4. siesta permalink
    May 24, 2011 2:37 pm

    I totally agree with you on the issue. Please note, however, that something is off in the Bee’s diagrams:

    Compare the size of the 6.4 million in San Diego to the 10.4 million in Paris; the total area of the Paris circle should be 62.5% larger, but you could probably fit seven or eight of the San Diego circles inside the Paris circle (just eyeballing it).

    Similarly, the Paris population of 10.4 million is ~55% of the LA population, but the Paris circle looks to be about 33% or less of the LA circle.

    And, both SD and SF have 6.4 million but the SF circle is larger in size.

    • May 24, 2011 3:31 pm

      Yeah, I noticed that and tried to adjust to more realistic circle sizes on my map.

      Unfortunately, πr2 doesn’t show magnitude difference all that well – proportional bars would be better but not as nice on the map.

      Also, note that the Sac Bee map shows projected 2030 population – not really necessary.

  5. noehiller permalink
    May 24, 2011 3:05 pm

    I’m all for HSR too. Definitely want it to happen.

    But taco and burrito cars? seriously? wtf? Next you’re gonna want an all bike car, and a hipster car with only cheap beer.

    How bout a wine and cheese car?

    Let’s get some class on this train,ok?

  6. siesta permalink
    May 24, 2011 3:15 pm

    “But taco and burrito cars? seriously?”

    “Next you’re gonna want an all bike car, and a hipster car with only cheap beer.”
    Well, now that you mention it…

    “How bout a wine and cheese car?”
    Sure, why not, this is all hypothetical anyway.

    “Let’s get some class on this train,ok?”
    Let’s get all classes on this train, not just upper.

  7. May 24, 2011 3:44 pm

    The detractors against this make me ill, just as whenever I mention the fact that SF needs an underground (or elevated, I ain’t picky) rail to replace the 38 and then another down Geary. The “Oh, that’s just too expensive so it will never happen” drive me nuts and those who keep claiming that the solution is bolstering our airports are out of whack. Do any of these people look at the flight path maps for the SF Bay Area? I mean seriously, how much more air space do they think there is? “Oh, but American towns aren’t built like European towns!” If you put rail hubs in the center of them, they damn will be super fast once gas hits $10 a gallon in the near future.

    @noehiller, if you’ve ever taken the TGV, I can very much assure you that there is a very badass wine and cheese car. I still find it amazing to be able to go nearly the entire length of California (Paris to Perpignan) in less than five hours.

  8. generic permalink
    May 24, 2011 4:00 pm


  9. May 24, 2011 5:44 pm

    Amen on all counts. Sadly, I’ve given up hope: if they really are, after FIFTEEN FUCKING YEARS on this project about to go back to square one on route planning, then we can safely assume that it’s never going to happen.

    The death of HSR in California is exhibit 1 (of several goddamn thousand) for the complete perversion of the environmental review process here.

    • stiiv permalink
      May 24, 2011 5:50 pm

      Naw, man. It’s not that bad. Check out some history on California’s other great projects. It’s always like this. Always. Just gotta keep pushing and we’ll eventually get it.

    • May 24, 2011 7:14 pm

      +1 to @stiiv. BART encountered epic resistance at first, but patience and persistence won the day. We’ll get it done. Also, cheap gas is a thing of the past. Just look how behavior changes at $4/gallon – imagine an oil shock and what $10-15 would do.

    • May 24, 2011 8:18 pm

      @johnnyo: except that it kinda didn’t win the day. Sure, BART exists, but it’s crippled: no service to either the peninsula or to the northbay, only a single line through San Francisco, and only limited service hours. It’s better than nothing, but compared to the original plan it’s an abortion: the NIMBYs in Marin and San Mateo clearly won their fights, and we’re still dealing with the fallout years later.

      (Seriously, look at the map at that link: if they’d built that as planned, you would have been able to get on a train in San Jose, transfer once and get off in NAPA. It is to cry.)

    • May 24, 2011 10:13 pm

      No doubt. But look how the NYC subway evolved. These things take large fractions of a century.

    • May 24, 2011 10:23 pm

      @BJ: I dunno, thinking about the MTA does not exactly inspire confidence in re BART. The majority of the NYC subway lines were built in the prewar era, with only a relatively small bit of construction done between D-Day and 1955, and nearly nothing after that. The sole major new line to be built since WW2, the 2nd Avenue line, has quite literally been in the works since 1929, with construction originally starting in 1972. Construction ceased in the mid-70s due to budget issues, and has only recently resumed: current estimates for completion hover around 2017-2020, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 2nd Ave line open on its own centennial in 2024.

      For better or worse, the regulatory environment today just doesn’t allow for the kind of rapid construction that the New York, Boston and Philadelphia subways were able to take advantage of.

    • May 24, 2011 10:28 pm

      D’oh, dropped a close tag. :(

      Anyway, sorry for all of the rampaging negativity: I really, really want to see HSR succeed here. But I’m just not holding my breath.

    • May 24, 2011 11:59 pm

      Guess I come from the perspective that it’s a miracle we have BART at all – how any of it came to be, in the car-centric post-WWII era, is simply amazing.

      Like you note, these things get built in bursts. Hoping $10 a gallon gas will accelerate things.

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      May 25, 2011 1:09 am

      Hey, it has been 55 years since the NIMBYs stole away Marincello, and I haven’t given up hope.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 25, 2011 7:44 am

      Concerned: I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that all “NIMBY” campaigns are negative. On the contrary, they have been responsible for much good, as well. Preventing Marincello is a good example of such, preserving many structures of historical/architectural/cultural import as well as locations of ecological significance or natural beauty, etc etc.

      However, the term “NIMBY” has become one often used as a sort of catch-all reference for UNREASONABLE attempts to prevent changes. Is this necessarily a fair change to the term? Probably not. It makes it too easy for people to dismiss people with legitimate reservations about projects as “just NIMBYs”.

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      May 25, 2011 1:22 pm

      I’m suggesting that. To the extent nimby means opposition to something you want for yourself (housing in Marin or SF, transit to LA) but not for other people, it is always bad. If you’re pro-GGNR and pro-walkable urbanism and bart in Marin, that’s not nimby, but that has never been the animating mindset of the kind of pseudoenvironmentalism that feeds on spurious CEQA lawsuits and is ironically responsible for the environmental catastrophe of norcal status quo suburbanism.

  10. May 24, 2011 5:47 pm

    What you said. Remind me to vote for you when you’re vying to be in charge.

    As someone who used the TGV (as well as many other trains of the SNCF) on a regular basis for 5 years, I can say that it’s all win. There is cheese and beer, but tacos would have been nice. Of course, France is smart in that they charge for their freeways and jack up gas prices, but that’s another post…

  11. Ivy permalink
    May 24, 2011 11:20 pm

    James McCommon’s new book “Waiting on a Train” is a great read on passenger rail, and the reality of all the barriers facing HSR in California (and elsewhere). He made his case so eloquently that he’s convinced me to evolve from just a foamer to a passenger rail advocate. It’s not enough to just love trains or rail bridges (heart be still), but we have to make more rail happen for California!

  12. May 25, 2011 6:49 am

    The map of Spain has a big problem. There are many many more HSR lines tha the showed in the map. The first one is form 1992 and links Madrid and Seville, and not even that is drawn in the map.
    This is a actual map of spanish HSR lines (december 2010):

    • May 25, 2011 6:37 pm

      It’s not supposed to be the full map, just the Madrid-Barcelona line for illustrative purposes.

      You damn Europeans, bragging about your multiple high speed rail lines. :)

  13. DocSparky permalink
    May 25, 2011 6:53 am

    America needs HSR everywhere, and it will be a great jump to the economy everywhere it is put in. That being said, we must make sure it is truly HSR. The plans for Ohio that Kasich said no thanks to was a top speed of 55 mph. This was completely unacceptable and a waste of money. A success of HSR anywhere will ensure that it will be added other places. A half measure failure, (and 55 mph IS a half measure failure) will ruin it for us all. We have to go the last mile and make sure true HSR is implemented. I have often heard” if I make a change in one person’s life I’ll consider myself a success”. In whose mind is that acceptable? You have to help everyone, anything else is just a monorail in Springfield.

  14. May 25, 2011 8:44 am

    Do we really have enough people traveling in those areas that a 220MPH train is worth it? In the truly congested areas, would it even be faster for you to take a high speed rail train vs. driving your car?

    I’m not opposed to it, just don’t know if it really makes that much sense with all the other things we could fix in California.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 25, 2011 9:39 am

      Do you drive your car 220MPH?

      As for numbers, there are dozens of flights every day between SF-metro and LA-metro. It is a pretty safe assumption that many, many of those people would take a cheaper alternative that is nearly as fast, when one takes the time involved with dealing with airports into consideration.

    • Alex M. permalink
      May 30, 2011 2:25 pm

      Considering the SF-LA flight corridor is one of the busiest in the world, I would say yes.

  15. Jay permalink
    May 25, 2011 11:05 am

    There’s a pretty simple reason why people are opposed to it and it has nothing to to with NIMBY issues. It’s called money. And California doesn’t have much. There a ton of priorities that deserve the billions of dollars it will take to make HSR a reality. Education for one, social services for another.

    Don’t get wrong – it’s not that I don’t like the idea, it’s that I don’t think we can afford it right now. Were resources not an issue, then make it happen. Sadly, resources ARE an issue. Not to mention that Cali doesn’t have the best track record in making large infrastructure investments happen on time and under budget. Right now, we’ve got bigger problems. Priorities people.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 25, 2011 11:19 am

      The truth is that it is inevitable, in the long run. The only question is whether we do it now or later, and it is only going to get much, much more expensive the longer we put it off.

    • May 25, 2011 7:31 pm

      This line of thinking is penny wise and pound foolish. It’s not just a cliched turn of phrase to say we can’t afford *not* to build HSR. The trip capacity between LA and SF that this would yield would cost far more money to build into our freeways or airports.

      With California projected to grow over the next few decades, we’ll either pay more to build this capacity later, or we’ll stifle our economy with the resulting congestion.

    • Alex M. permalink
      May 30, 2011 2:28 pm

      There’s a big difference between HSR and other projects: HSR will pay for itself. It has everywhere it’s been built. Roads and airport expansions do not pay for themselves.

  16. aidan permalink
    May 25, 2011 11:28 am

    Thanks for this op ed Johnny. I want to believe in CAHSR, but I don’t think I’m quite convinced yet. I guess my main concerns are:

    a) Will it be more affordable than flying to LA? Currently you can get a ticket to LA for what…$100-$120? And I’ve seen tickets in recent years for UNDER $100. And that includes fees. Go ahead and add onto that the cost of getting to the airport, say… another $20 average. Given the cost of this project, I’m not convinced that they’ll be able to get tickets priced competitively. However, it could be that by the time the full SF->LA line is operational that equivalent airfare would be significantly higher. I dunno, I just don’t want to see tickets for this thing be $150.

    b) Will it be less of a pain in the ass than flying? I’ll wager good money on there being a TSA security checkpoint/groping station at all CAHSR stations. There’s no way they’d let us have a quick, convenient, and affordable mode of transportation. It’s just against their principles.

    c) Will it actually be as quick as they say? What is the projected travel time from SF->LA? 2.5 hours? Again, my fear is that in reality, it will end up being much longer. Like 4-5 hours. Most because of time spent crawling into and out of stations along the way, and waiting for people to shuffle aboard at those stations. And maybe because of lowered speed limits on portions of the track thanks to the PENIMBYSULAs.

    If they can get all of these things right, I will be sitting next to you in the beer/taco observation car.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 25, 2011 11:32 am

      As fuel prices continue to go up, rail travel will only get more and more cost-effective. You need to remember that rail travel is *THE* most efficient form of land-transport we currently have. That’s just physics.

    • May 25, 2011 1:07 pm

      All good points, @aiden. But HSR in the rest of the world should address your concerns.

      Given the hate on the TSA, and the fact that HSR in the rest of the world is walk-on, walk-off (even in France and Spain, countries with legitimate terrorist concerns), I really doubt there will be any acceptance of security theater on HSR, despite politicians looking for something to rally around.

      As far as time, the entire system is being designed (and is in fact legally required because of the referendum) to be no more than 2:40 between LA and SF. While I believe there will be trains that stop at every station, Europe and Japan shows turnaround can be remarkably fast.

      Also, this 2:40 hour time takes into account the slower speeds on the peninsula – the Bee map of the tracks shows expected speeds on different sections of track.

      Airfares aren’t getting any cheaper, nor is fuel, and California airports are pretty much at capacity. And remember that short haul flights are the least profitable for airlines. And HSR is as much an alternative to flights as it is driving.

      Re fares, I believe the estimated HSR ticket price had to take into account for inflation, so those are 2025 dollars you’re looking at.

      Also, the rest of the world shows it is very possible to run trains that are competitive or cheaper than equivalent airfares. Flights between Lyon and Paris pretty much disappeared, and Madrid-Barcelona used to be the busiest flight corridor in the world, but if I’m not mistaken, the train now accounts for half the traffic.

      To the taco car!

    • Alex M. permalink
      May 29, 2011 3:53 pm

      As far as train speed and travel time, the train is required by law to be able to get from SF to LA in 2 hours and 40 minutes. There will be 24 stations in the system and most trains won’t stop at them. In fact, most trains will only stop at SF, San Jose, and LA. There will be bypass tracks so that trains can run 220 mph through stations.

  17. Bruce Salem permalink
    May 25, 2011 10:11 pm

    Don’t bring the thing to the San Francisco Peninsula! You don’t even need to run high speed trains in the Bay Area at all. We have Bart and Caltrain and with all the crossings a high speed train isn’t! You could bring the thing as far as Tracy and people can take Bart from there and be in San Francisco in 40 minutes. Even if you brought it in further, it doesn’t need to come all the way into San Francisco. It is geography and congestion. The reason people got so pissed at the HSR authority is that they tried to, er, railroad their plans for the use of the Caltrain right of way, which is very narrow, before a good discussion and people at the State level found that the suits didn’t do very good research; it sounded like a boondoggle and still does. Even the bullet trains on Caltrain only benefit a very few, and with the expensive re-railing for that and the current revenue Caltrain is in financial trouble. I remember not fifteen years ago I could ride the train on the Peninsula for $ 0.75, before the suits got to it. Caltrain is now quite expensive. It has many pedestrian deaths a year and the right of way would have to be completely isolated for the entire run up the peninsula, why, so a bunch of businessmen from L.A. could use it once a day? Either a huge cost to the cities on the peninsula would have to be made to make the tracks safe, or the train would not really operate as HSR, so why have it there at all?

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 25, 2011 10:22 pm

      The peninsula is exactly where it needs to go. The whole idea is high-speed transport between the two major cities of California (to begin with). Deadending in Tracy or San Jose or some other suburb of San Francisco would defeat the whole point and significantly limit ridership.

      As for your odd attempt to bring class into it, are you suggesting that only “businessmen” travel between LA and SF? Because if so, that is a pretty wild claim.

      This is the first post I’ve seen in response to this topic that really appears to embody the worst aspects of “NIMBY”ism.

    • May 25, 2011 10:32 pm

      Mr. Salem: I hardly even know where to begin. Please visit any major city on the east coast and take a commuter train there. Caltrain is an embarrassment: the first time I rode it I assumed that the car had engine trouble because there was no other believable reason that it could be moving so slowly.

      I think half the problem with selling HSR in California is that most people who live here don’t even have a good idea of how quickly circa-1977 rolling stock moves in the real world.

    • Martin permalink
      June 13, 2011 3:57 pm

      Mr. Salem, the caltrain corridor is PLENTY wide for HS rail and Caltrain. Below are stats of why Caltrain corridor was chosen over 101 or 280:

      Average width: 112 ft (34 m)
      Percentage 75 ft or wider: 94%
      Percentage 80 ft or wider: 88%
      Percentage 85 ft or wider: 80%
      Percentage 90 ft or wider: 77%
      Percentage 95 ft or wider: 70%
      Percentage 100 ft or wider: 68%

      Given that you need 75feet for 4 tracks, it’s no wonder caltrain was chosen. Are you suggesting that HSR shouldn’t be built up to SF because of that 6% that’s not wide enough? The other options would be to take out a lane of Alma. Given the volume of passengers using the train vs cars, it’s worthwhile to maximize the flow of people.

  18. marc permalink
    May 26, 2011 1:20 am

    For me the biggest problem with HSR is the last mile problem in the LA area. Bay area isn’t so terrible, but LA needs a complete public transit overhaul

  19. Taco Justice permalink
    May 26, 2011 9:39 am

    That’s right. Two major cities of California. LA and San Jose. Last I checked, San Jose has twice the population of SF (and growing) and more low income residents per capita that are likely riders. Fear not Burrito, just because there might be more than two major cities in CA doesn’t mean that SF needs to be considered any less superior in your eyes.

    Speaking of superior, let’s not fail to point out that a disproportionate amount of the cost is wrapped up in SF’s new gleaming terminal and the tunnel to it. That’s right, tunnel. Somehow no expense can be spared for a terminal and tunnel in SF, but on parts of the peninsula and in the southland any tunnels are dismissed outright as “too expensive.”

    And since you pointed the NIMBY finger first (and it’s definitely a middle finger if you happen to be on the receiving end), let’s do a tally on who’s IMBYs the major transportation projects are hosted in the Bay Area:

    Oakland: Major Freeways Cross Town (too many to list), Major Airports (1)
    San Jose: Major Freeways Cross Town (too many to list), Major Airports (1)
    Peninsula: Major Freeways Cross Town (101, 280, +380, +92+85, etc), Major Airports (1 – SFO+ Smaller San Carlos, Palo Alto etc)
    San Francisco: Major Freeeways Through Town (0 – remember the great freeway revolt of the 60’s and the teardowns post ’89?), Major Airports (0 – SFO is in San Mateo and not continguous with SF)

    So get real and grab a transfer like the 400,000 people in (major) city of Oakland and the other couple million in the east bay will be doing. Oops! Forgot. You really are more special than the rest of us in the Bay Area.

    So Burritto, if you really want your choo choo, step outside your precious SF worldview for just a split second, stop pointing the finger at others, and start listening to the rest of the Bay Area for a change and work some of their needs and concerns into the equation.

    And, please, don’t ever forget, we’ve got you surrounded. Unless you are planning to move to the Farallones.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 26, 2011 9:40 am

      San Jose is nothing but a suburb of San Francisco, their inferiority complex notwithstanding.

    • May 26, 2011 10:17 am

      I think you need to review the US metro statistical areas. Let’s check this out, shall we?

      SF/Oakland/Fremont: 4.8 million (11th in the nation)
      San Jose/Santa Clara: 1.8 million (31st in the nation, 400 people ahead of Columbus, Ohio)

      Is SJ growing? No doubt. But from 2000-2010, the SF MSA grew by 200,000, while the South Bay grew by 100,000.

      Population density:
      SF: 17,243 / sq mile
      San Jose: 5118 / sq mile
      Santa Clara County 1380 / sq mile

      San Jose is the hub of the South Bay, no doubt. But not of the Bay Area.

  20. Taco Justice permalink
    May 26, 2011 9:50 am

    What are you talking about? San Jose is clearly a suburb of Palo Alto. And so is San Franciso for that matter, it’s superiority complex notwithstanding.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 26, 2011 9:54 am

      You’re not very good with the whole “geography” thing, are you?

  21. Taco Justice permalink
    May 26, 2011 10:12 am

    You’re right. I am much better with math.

    Which is why costs need to be cut if this thing is ever to work. Rather than eliminate the SF tunnel and terminal to the stars, it makes more sense to have a renewed, electrified, high speed Caltrain get leveraged for lower cost, not to mention less disruption to small town lifestyle of the Peninsula. And if what is the least subsidized public transportation system in the country can be put on a firmer financial footing in the process, all the better (sorry SF MUNI, there’s got to be at least one pot of money you get left out of).

    But that starts with the Bay Area thinking as a whole. Kumbaya.

    And that’s of course assuming the darn thing pencils out, the state actually has dineros left, and private financing is crazy enough to pitch in. I still have my doubts…

  22. Taco Justice permalink
    May 26, 2011 10:31 am

    Oakland/Fremont lumped in with SF. Very open minded. Love to see more of that “togetherness”!

    Just confused if they are considered inner or outer Mission?

    Where is that damn taco car? Think we could use one about now.

    • May 26, 2011 10:38 am

      The North Bay is more densely populated than the South Bay. Sorry if that upsets your worldview.

      Also, Oakland is closer to SF than SJ is to Palo Alto.

      HSR isn’t just about SF and SJ, it’s about the whole state. It’s a system that will relieve pressure on all the other IMBY infrastructure you mentioned. God forbid we invest in the entire state.

  23. Taco Justice permalink
    May 26, 2011 10:52 am

    Yes, very true of life in general. The densest wins!

  24. Jeremy permalink
    May 27, 2011 11:36 am

    First of all, the us interstate system wasn’t built for public transportation. I was a by-product of the cold war designed to internally mobilize troops in case of a communist invasion. I can only speculate as to why Missouri was first because either: 1)thats where there were the least roads or, 2) there were more military bases there that needed mobilization from.

    As for the HSR, as much as I’d like to see it to happen, it probably wont for one simple reason: This is America and americans LOVE their cars…due to the fact we already have such a great interstate system. I can easily see us shelling out up to $6 gallon before we resort to a HSR. That’s the kind of stubborn, reactionary culture we are.

    Europe has a better rail system because during the reconstruction after WWII, they built rails, not highways. It was better for them at the time because less people had cars. Over here, it was the reverse. Unfortunately we chose poorly in the long run.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 27, 2011 11:56 am

      Yeah, except that neither of those things are true. First of all, a need for transport for defense purposes was only one factor, and not the major one, in the creation of the interstate highway system. A much bigger impetus was lobbying by the automobile industry.

      Second of all, the rail system in much of Europe was already great BEFORE the war, it wasn’t the result of Post-war rebuilding. In fact, in many places in Europe the coverage of rail-service actually declined in the decades after the war.

      Your claims simply do not jibe with the historical record, I am afraid.

      Similarly, the claim that “Americans won’t shell out to take the train” is belied by the fact that they already DO, in great numbers, where good rail service is provided at an affordable price, most notably on the East Coast. And that is at CURRENT, k-razy cheap gasoline prices. Once gas prices go up, as they inevitably will, mass transit will become not only more attractive but an outright necessity. $6/gallon gas is not particularly high. Consider that the price of gas now is 3 – 4 times what it was 20 years ago. Why is it difficult to hypothesize prices going up to a similar degree, at the very LEAST, over the course of the next 20 years? Demand far outstrips supply, especially as the developing world comes on-line. Prices are only going to go up.

    • May 27, 2011 3:26 pm

      This is America and americans LOVE their cars

      I don’t know how old you are but I am guessing you are making that statement with blinders on. Younger people have been deferring getting drivers licenses and cars, and the gains in bike usage are coming in the 20’s/30’s demographic.

      At the very least, among younger people the word ‘love’ is no longer capitalized. They do LOVE their smart phones however, and those can be used unfettered on a train.

    • May 27, 2011 8:55 pm


      I love my car – for driving around town running errands. But I hate hate HATE driving to LA. Or the South Bay. More than an hour, give me a fast train.

      And my friends in Europe who pay $8-10 a gallon? They have a car. ONE car.

  25. Terrance Lop permalink
    May 29, 2011 4:33 pm

    Great article but you BLEW it on the first sentance. “California needs high speed rail for so many reasons”

    Why do you have a “so” in there? So many that….? Just use english normally dude. using extra “so” makes you sound like a teenage girl.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      May 29, 2011 6:40 pm

      What an odd form of pedantry. Disagree.

    • May 30, 2011 10:04 am

      Says the guy who misspelled “sentence”.

      (And you’re lucky I didn’t write “sooooo”.)

  26. Zubin permalink
    July 1, 2011 9:11 pm

    There are rail lovers in Palo Alto. I hope our city gets a stop but even if it the stop ends up in Redwood City, I’m all for High Speed Rail. (I hear some PA Billionaires are in support as well, but I’m honestly not sure)

  27. Douglas permalink
    June 2, 2012 8:48 pm

    Please don’t read the following the wrong way: I’m all for high-efficiency, high-capacity, high-speed ground transportation!

    However, if we’re going to invest at least $68B to $100B(+) on a state-wide high-speed ground transportation system here in California, which will have a life span of at least 100 years—why not invest in state-of-the art, leading-edge train technology which can easily (and with wide margin) outperform High Speed Rail (HSR) in every technical metric?

    Instead, Californians have been duped into deploying a “high-speed” train system which is based upon ancient technology that is definitely at “end of life”—and with absolutely no possibility for advancements in performance in the future. We will be locking ourselves into a massive transportation system which at its core is based upon technology that’s well over 250 years old (steel-wheeled trains running on a pair of steel tracks).

    These so-called “high-speed” rail trains are touted as running at speeds of 220mph; but that’s just folly. The HSR trains already deployed in Asia and Europe (which is the same technology they want us to install in California) have average cruising speeds of only 160-180mph. Why? Because running HSR trains faster causes them (and the tracks) to wear out at an exponentially faster rate. Not to mention exponentially increasing noise pollution. Plus, HSR technology requires much more energy to run trains faster, requires much longer distances (and time) to ramp up to faster full cruising speeds, and takes much longer to halt those trains when it comes time to stop at a station.

    Our California HSR plan is simply insane, and is bordering on the criminal; considering there is much better technology available which has MUCH better performance metrics. This alternative technology is “Maglev” trains—which are trains levitated by a magnetic field. Since Maglev train vehicles are levitating and have absolutely NO contact with the guideway below it, there is absolutely ZERO contact friction. For anyone with a sense for or the knowledge of the physical sciences, one can easily realize this aspect of Maglev is HUGE. Maglev trains are literally hovering and flying above their guideways. Furthermore, the energy required to levitate a fully-loaded train with 300 passengers is only about 19kW; which is equivalent to the power draw of just twenty home hairdryers. And once that Maglev train is levitating, even a child could push the fully-loaded train down the guideway—because there’s zero contact friction. Try that with a fully-loaded HSR train.

    If a child can push a fully-loaded Maglev train down the guideway, imagine how little energy it takes to actually propel that train at high speeds. Not much. It’s at least 65% less propulsion energy required, when compared to HSR trains running at the same speed. The only impediment against forward motion is simple air friction; which affects both Maglev and HSR trains. Maglev trains can easily cruise at speeds of 350mph (compare that to typical cruising speeds for HSR trains of 165-180mph); running Maglev trains any faster requires an exponentially higher amount of energy, to overcome ever-increasing air friction.

    Maglev technology has its roots in the 1920’s and has been under intense development for the past 25 years. There are a handful of short-range systems installed and operating around the planet; so it’s not just a theoretical pipe dream. And the Japanese have recently approved a Maglev train system to be built in parallel to the existing Shinkansen “bullet train” rail line between Tokyo and Osaka—with eventual plans to eliminate the (by that time) 75-year old Shinkansen line, once the Maglev line is fully operational. And the Chinese, though they drank the HSR Kool-Aid and are building an end-of-life HSR system, are also planning to augment HSR with a Maglev train system.

    Compared to “end-of-life” HSR technology, state-of-the-art “Maglev” train systems: are at least 200% faster and have 500% better acceleration and braking performance (= shorter trip times); are 45% more energy efficient and have 77% lower maintenance & operating costs (= lower ticket costs); have a 25% smaller physical footprint with a 250% greater climbing gradient (= lower installation & environmental costs); and have 0% chance of derailment (= infinitely safer travel); and Maglev trains operate virtually silently at speeds up to 180mph! No more NYMBY complaints along dense urban right-of-ways. Maglev trains have all these benefits (and more) over HSR—for the same or even lower installation cost!

    And what’s best: Maglev is “start-of-life” technology, which has a very promising future. If the Maglev train guideways are planned to easily accommodate a future “retrofit” which encloses the train guideways in a “tube” which can be evacuated of most air molecules, and with new pressurized Maglev train cars (like jet airplanes of today), then Maglev trains can easily run at speeds of 600-900mph. We’re talking a 60-minute train ride between San Francisco and San Diego!

    In my mind, this issue is a no-brainer. But most minds in California are either ignorant, or have been misinformed and marketing-brainwashed by the European and Asian HSR technology companies, whom have lobbied our policy-makers and misinformed the general public—because they want to sell their goods now. This is just dumb; and practically criminal, given the huge sums of money involved.

    California Maglev = YES! / California HSR = NO!

  28. June 25, 2012 9:24 am

    Few of these comments are relevant to the actual high-speed rail project that’s on the table for California. If you can’t come to grips with what serious critics of CHSR are saying, it’s nothing but hot air:

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      June 25, 2012 9:35 am

      If I ever encounter a “serious” critic of high speed rail, I’m sure I’ll take that under advisement. Until then, they’re all a bunch of deluded cranks.


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