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Obama Proposes High-Speed Rail System For the US 1385

fantomas writes "The BBC reports that 'US President Barack Obama has announced his "vision for high-speed rail" in the country, which would create jobs, ease congestion and save energy.' Can rail work in the land where the car is king? Would you travel on the new high speed lines?"
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Obama Proposes High-Speed Rail System For the US

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  • In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hellfire ( 86129 ) <.deviladv. .at.> on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:50AM (#27611577) Homepage


    • In two words (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Hell yes!

    • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xgr3gx ( 1068984 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:05AM (#27611915) Homepage Journal
      Me too - rail would be awesome, but you have to be able to connect the rail ways effectivley.

      Example, I take the bus to work and it drops me pretty close to my building, that works great.

      Recently, I changed locations, and now I'm about a 10 minute walk to my building, which is fine too, but some people I rode with drive in now because this new building has a free parking lot. Free parking is not worth 45mins of driving + traffic + burning more gas + milage on my car.

      If the train station was more than a few blocks away from peoples' destinations, how many lazy Americans do you think will want to walk that far? I think most would say - F' it, I'll drive in.
      • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Remloc ( 1165839 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:15AM (#27612163)
        Ok, how is parent a troll? He's right.

        Most Americans I know are so lazy they'll circle the parking lot for minutes looking for a place in the first few rows instead of (*gasp*) walk from the far side, or even the middle of the lot.

        Add in places like Chicago where it may be life-threateningly cold in the winter or here in Dallas where it's so hot in summer--even in the early morning that just a 10 minute walk will put you at work quite unprofessionally sweaty and there's no way I'm taking the bus that drops off about 10 minutes away though I cannot wait until they finish the rail line that will drop off across the street.
        • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Etrias ( 1121031 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:40AM (#27612749)
          At one of the clients I work at, there's a choice between riding the slowest elevator in the world or walking a few steps and taking the stairs. Guess which option most people take. And it's not like it's a ten-story building. Three stories, that's it...with most traffic going from the first floor to the second.

          We've somehow convinced ourselves that "convenient" is better than the alternative.
      • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:23AM (#27612347) Journal

        A few blocks? For high-speed rail? High-speed rail is for between cities. Local light and medium duty rail won't get any faster.

        Right now, Amtrak has a station in my city, but to get to St. Louis (two hours by car) I have two options by rail. I can go to Chicago (six hours by car, probably 10 by rail) then to St. Louis (nine hours by rail). Alternatively, I can get off the train and onto a bus for over an hour, then back onto a train to continue the trip.

        If Amtrak had a rail line from where I live to St. Louis, I could usually live with three or four hours of regular-speed rail to get there cheaply and efficiently. I doubt I'll have high-speed or even regular-speed rail from here, though. They'll put in high-speed rail to some subset of the places already served, and people outside those markets will be stuck with what they have now.

        I proposed on the web site the administration set up for proposals a sweeping growth of rail. I think that in order to convince people not to drive, we're going to need the traisn to at least go everywhere the Interstate highways do. Even better would be to ferry the cars along those rails so you can drive as needed once you reach your destination. Paying for the train then having to rent a car because your final destination is too far from the stations is silly, and that's one reason many people just drive the whole way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xaxa ( 988988 )

        If the train station was more than a few blocks away from peoples' destinations, how many lazy Americans do you think will want to walk that far? I think most would say - F' it, I'll drive in.

        Hopefully, the cities will improve bus service to the central station, and the larger ones might invest in light rail. Making the bus cheap to use can help -- e.g. make use of the buses free with the long-distance rail ticket.

        Bicycles also work well in combination with trains (full-size ones, or folding ones, as appropriate).

    • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:09AM (#27612027) Homepage


      Hell with high speed. 99.9978% of americans dont need to go from NY to LA via high speed rail.

      They need to get from the suburbs and smaller outlying cities to the major city or nearest city.

      how about fixing and replacing the rail system we used to have and need? Most 30 minute commutes could be eliminated by having a simple and useable rail system.

      High speed is not needed, How about having REAL public transit? you know the stuff that Ford and GM tried so hard to kill at every chance for the past 100 years...

      • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:17AM (#27612213)

        I agree: what these funds really need to be used for heavy-rail transit (i.e. subways/elevated trains in the city) and commuter rail (i.e. regular trains that go back and forth to the suburbs and neighboring cities). Long trips are better served, at least for now, by airlines.

        If they really want to spend it on long-haul stuff, they should consider improving freight rail. It's a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly than long-haul trucking, but it's been losing because the government essentially hugely subsidizes the trucking industry by maintaining the highway system, while railroads have to fund maintenance of all their track themselves.

      • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by David Greene ( 463 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:21AM (#27612293)

        This system won't take people from NYC to LA. It's for going from Minneapolis or Madison to Chicago. These are routes where air travel is wasteful (2 hours in the airport waiting for a one hour flight) and rail competes very well. Even with it's relatively slow speed and frequent stops, Amtrak's Empire Builder from the Twin Cities to Chicago is almost always packed. You usually can't get a ticket within a month of travel.

        Yes, we need to invest in commuter rail and light rail. Many cities are doing just that. But there is most definitely a place for intercity rail in this country.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mrvan ( 973822 )

          Second that; and the north-east has a number of cities spaced 100-200 miles apart, too much for driving comfortably (esp given traffic) and too little for flying sensibly (esp. given security measures and hassle). This is a perfect market for high speed trains. Oklahoma city to Houston or LAX-NYC will not be replaced anytime soon.

          DC does not need to support commuter rail (or "beltway" and other city-infrastructure interstates, for that matter!), this should be left to the states or cities they are in. DC sh

        • Re:In a word... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mr_josh ( 1001605 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:36AM (#27612629)
          Someone mod this up, the original parent is completely missing the boat (train?)

          Look at California: it takes a full 8 to 9 hours to get from the north end of that state to the south end. If they can connect the Bay Area to Los Angeles and make it a 2 or 2.5 hour trip, it'll be a huge boon (HUGE) to everyone from tourists to commuters to business people.

          There are fantastic possibilities here, they're not trying to send little Johnny from NY to California by rail.

        • Re:In a word... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:52AM (#27613005) Journal

          I agree with you (as someone who lives near Chicago).

          To add to your post, I also submit that it could be very efficient for crossing the vast stretches of emptiness that are Nebraska, parts of Wyoming and Iowa. I would have no problem visiting places like Colorado, Cheyenne (for the mountains), and other beautiful states if I could just get past the mind numbing 15-17 hour drive through nothingness to get there. Hop on high speed rail and be there in a fraction of the time.

          It could significantly grow Chicago's wealth as a city if a few western cities could use Chicago as a hub.

          That also assumes the cost is less than flying, or at least competitive if I can have an effective way of getting around when I reach my destination.

    • No (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xzvf ( 924443 )
      While I like the efficiency of trains, the US moved freight traffic to the highways because it created more flexibility in placement of factories and retail outlets. We built our houses and our lifestyle in a manner that took advantage of individual transportation vehicles. We don't have the density or the lifestyle desire to move to a hub and spoke system of fast rail. Air traffic has a better ROI for moving people over large distances in a largely rural nation. For high speed rail to work it has to li
      • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mr_josh ( 1001605 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:42AM (#27612799)
        Everyone here is talking about the northeast and midwest, what about the damned west coast? Linking San Francisco to LA is huge, by itself. Linking Seattle to Eugene or Southern Oregon would be amazing. The commuter possibilities are endless here. Take Portland to Seattle, for example. Many people hop that via plane even though it's only about a 3 hour drive. Turn that in to a 1.5 hour train trip, and guess what? You've linked two cities with amazingly effective public transportation, cut down on the pollution of a plane or many individual autos, and perhaps increased the number of people who are willing to commute between the two large cities and their metro areas.
      • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hibiki_r ( 649814 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:45AM (#27612855)

        When a flight takes about an hour, high speed rail will beat it in both real door-to-door speed and price. This doesn't just help the NE corridor, but allows for lines like Columbus-Chicago-St Louis-Kansas.

  • by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:52AM (#27611623) Homepage Journal

    Nice idea, but it'll never happen. These kinds of projects are only ever successful when a government steps in and does them properly. The process of doing it with "private enterprise" or a "public-private partnership" always kills anything good that could come out of it. Compare the shinkansen in Japan and the TGV in France to the farce that is privatised railways in Australia for a good example.

    • by dmmiller2k ( 414630 ) <{dmmiller2k} {at} {}> on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:00AM (#27611819)

      Nice idea, but it'll never happen. These kinds of projects are only ever successful when a government steps in and does them properly.

      And given the government's track record with doing things properly, even THAT probably wouldn't work in the US.

      • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:31AM (#27612521)

        Much of government incompetence has come from the fact that a lot of people in the government believe in the political philosophy that government is no good, and private enterprise should do everything. When the people in charge of the government believe that government is incompetent, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        The fact is, even in the United States the government is capable of doing a lot of things very well that the private sector simply can't or won't do. However, we've been so overtaken by this notion that government can do nothing right that we give up on government and starve it of all its resources, thereby assuring that government will not be able to do anything right.

    • Heard of Amtrak? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seakip18 ( 1106315 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:03AM (#27611895) Journal

      Amtrak has dragged it's feet on restoring the Sunset line east of New Orleans for over 3 years! Keep in mind that Amtrak now gets $2.6 BILLION [] annually.

      CSX confirmed that all track repairs had been completed in mid-2006.

      Believe me, I'm heading back to Houston from Tallahassee for Mother's Day and I'd love to grab a ride on sunset, but it looks like another airport shake-n-dance. Amtrak has 3 more months to offer a "plan" to restore service...wanna bet that no one ever asks for this plan?

      A government controlled-business does not make it some magical, ne'er-do-bad business.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) *

        The sad thing is, the Amtrak fare would likely have been more expensive than flying with a discount airline (e.g. AirTran) anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chazzf ( 188092 )
        On the other hand, ridership on the New Orleans-Florida segment of the pre-Katrina Sunset Limited was always poor. Methinks a better idea would be a revival of the Gulf Breeze or Gulf Coast Limited which would provide far more regular service.
    • by MindKata ( 957167 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:09AM (#27612025) Journal
      "Compare the shinkansen in Japan and the TGV in France"

      Yes I agree its not exactly as exciting. The Koreans also totally beat it with 350 km/h trains and they already have them working just like Japan etc... This 150MPH train system is years from being a reality. e.g. [] This idea could be so much more. Considering the size of America and modern engineering methods, the proposed speeds for this system already fall way below existing trains like the Shinkansen. (I had to look it up, I remember many years ago the so called at the time Bullet Trains were already fast and they are old). []

      Surely America can aspire to build something world class rather than average. Other countries are already doing more. America has the knowledge and engineering capabilities, it just fails in the management will to do something impressive and would sooner spend vast sums of money on proping up corrupt banks and their rich directors etc..

      I'm disappointed rather than exciting by this news. It could have achieved so much more. In some ways it feels like a lost oppotunity that could so easily have really impressed and create something truely useful.
      • by FluffyWithTeeth ( 890188 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:21AM (#27612305)

        You are massively underestimating the size of the US. A system like one in Japan or Korea is simply impossible, the resources don't exist.

        You'd be better off copying France or something.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mr_mischief ( 456295 )

        Who cares about world-class speed? How about something that actually gets me from where I live to the cities I want to get to without going through Chicago, which is six hours away even by car? I live within minutes of an Interstate that can get me onto a vast 70-mph network. I live on a spur of rail that only goes one direction from here. The number of connections on a network makes as much or more difference than the speed of any individual link.

  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:54AM (#27611665) Journal

    Here [].

  • Absolutely... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thered2001 ( 1257950 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:54AM (#27611671) Journal
    If it is priced less than air travel and it provides service to places I need to go.
  • by uncledrax ( 112438 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:54AM (#27611683) Homepage

    Personally I like rail.. the bad part however is it will cost ALOT.. and Amtrak isn't exactly doing a 'great' job thus far.

    Will it create jobs? Absolutely.. will it lower congestion at airports, absolutely..

    Will it work as a mass-transit system (be sustainable, profitable, used): I'm willing to find out, but it ends up horribly mismanaged and failing or inaccessible because of it; I'm gonna slap someone.

  • works in germany (Score:5, Informative)

    by pimpimpim ( 811140 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:56AM (#27611711)
    Germany is a pretty car-obsessed country but even here the fast trains have a nicely working system. One could say that there are many things wrong with it: tickets are expensive, it has cost that state a lot of money to build it, and for anything longer than a 6 hour drive, taking the plane is just as fast. That said, I use it with cheap early-booked tickets (30-60 euro independent of distance), it has onboard wlan for T-Mobile customers, per every pair of seats there is a power outlet. And when I arrive, I'm completely relaxed, in shape, and in the center of the town I want to be. Overall, it's a win. The US has a different geography though, many suburbs etc, not always a connecting public transport system. But if they start in places like california or the east coast, and build up from there, it could well work.
  • by qbzzt ( 11136 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:57AM (#27611735)

    High speed inter-city rail means that when I get to my destination I have to rely on public transportation (not very efficient in most US cities), or rent a car.

    If I'm renting a car, this doesn't reduce congestion. The congestion is in the cities themselves, not between them. Also, the car rental costs money. I doubt it will be cheaper than driving.

    I'd love to see rail as a replacement for flying, but I doubt it will be fast enough.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cyberax ( 705495 )

      Well, and do you now fly with your car in a baggage section of a plane?

      Fast railways are great for distances like 400-600km (they are too big to comfortably drive by car and too small for planes).

  • Bullet Trains (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr. Pants ( 179300 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:57AM (#27611747)

    Give me something at least resembles the Shinkansen and I'll ride it.

  • Obligitory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @09:59AM (#27611777) Homepage

    But the economy's still all cracked and broken!

    Sorry guys, Obama's spoken!

    Monorail... Monorail... Monorail!

  • rail is king is japan and europe because these places are so much more dense population wise than the usa. however, this is on average. rail can be king in the usa in dense areas like california, and the northeast. rail doesn't make sense in kansas or nebraska. still, a high speed rail link between major urban centers has some value. fast enough, and they can compete well with air travel. it will be very expensive to set up, but once the infrastructure is in place, its nothing but gravy savings

    even with all of that considered, the usa still has to look beyond the automobile in an age of ever increasing energy insecurity, and rail and nuclear are neglected and unsexy but utterly solid alternatives to oil funded geopolitical problems and oil fueled atmospheric degeneration: never mind the CO2, air quality in our cities is a valid reason to go to more rail. when you fill up your SUV, you fund russian neoimperialism, you fund islamic fundamentalism, you fund trolls like chavez in venezuela. who funds the enemies of the usa in this world? soccer moms do. this is an insanity that has to end, and if it means we ride more trains, then its a no brainer

  • Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clinko ( 232501 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:00AM (#27611805) Journal

    The only big highspeed I know of is the Acela, which goes from NYC to Boston or D.C.

    The price: $90 each way, no wifi.

    Or you can take a bus for $20 that has Wifi.

    I hear the Acela is nice, but I'd rather buy a DS for my bus ride, and i'd still save money.

  • Totally (Score:4, Informative)

    by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:03AM (#27611875) Journal

    Heck yeah. Why wouldn't I? I love the train.

    • Much less likelihood of getting stuck in a traffic jam.
    • I now have significantly more time to do what I want. If I'm driving, I'm concentrating on driving. If I'm sitting on a train, I can enjoy the scenery, read a book, pull out my laptop and do some work if I feel up to it, or take a nap if I don't.
    • Bring it. I don't even care if they're not such high-speed trains. (Remember the silly claims about the Acela so-called high-speed trains in the Northeast corridor? Laughable. I'll just take the regular trains that get there ten minutes later and cost half the price.)

      All I want is more connections. If I could take the train to work I would. Even transferring to a local bus would work for me. Presto: I now have an extra couple of hours per day for reading, studying, whatever I want. My commute is just wasted time.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:03AM (#27611879)

    Remember Amtrack anyone? The giant government boondoggle that loses money every year?

    What makes anyone think that Amtrack:TNG is going to be a better idea? It's going to be a huge buildout expense, disrupt many communities, and in the end will still be slower than airline travel.

    If you want something visionary, how about supporting large scale consumer adoption of small regional airports and new, small advanced planes that take far fewer people but connect small airports all over with mass transit in each city? It's like the dream of the flying car but with practicality behind it and yields a lot more flexibility.

    • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:30AM (#27612513) Homepage

      We spend 40 billion a year in federal funds on the highway system. Amtrak's deficit is one billion per year. I think someone has the crazy idea that providing more funds for Amtrak may make it more solvent, if it can provide better and faster service to more areas.

      We're still paying for the dismantling of mass transit systems in the 50s, when car, oil, and tire companies bought and dismantled local transit systems because they couldn't compete with them. It's the same mentality behind all of the anti-medicare propaganda. For profit companies receive government subsidies to provide medicare benefits that the government could provide, simply because they have lobbyists, and all of the sudden it's "unfair" to have a government provide a service that corporations have the "right" to make profits on.

      Air travel will never be as cost effective as rail, especially when you consider how unaffordable it is when there are spikes in oil prices. The TGV in France is all electric, powered by their nuclear infrastructure, allowing them to the same reasonable rates year after year. A high speed electric rail system (I've not yet read about the Obama plan) would provide a much better solution than increasing air traffic with thousands of smaller planes that are not nearly as efficient or energy independent as electric rail.

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @11:29AM (#27613871)

      Remember Amtrack anyone? The giant government boondoggle that loses money every year?

      I suppose the Federal highway system makes money? No. It costs us several hundred billion dollars a year.

      How about the airline industry, which has been a bailout baby for decades?

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:07AM (#27611999) Homepage

    I hate owning a car. Cars are a pain in the ass. They burn fuel, need repairs, require me to get them inspected, cost tons of money to clean, dirty easily, have to be parked, etc.

    I have been to nearly every state in the U.S. either by car or by plane. I've crossed the country four times from end to end by road. In nearly every one of these cases, rail would have been my first choice, but Amtrak always costs significantly more than plane or car.

    I LOVE the rail systems in Europe. I LOVE the relaxation, the space, the reasonable air and relaxed rules (unlike plane travel) and the fact that I get to see lots of places without having to be stuck in traffic in them. It's damn nice to go by rail.

    Within cities, I love commuter and transit rail systems. I took the BART when I lived in San Francisco and I took the TRAX when I lived in Salt Lake City and I took the TriMet when I lived in Portland and I took the El when I lived in Chicago and I now use the MTA Subway system heavily in NYC.

    I love, love, love rail and it would be a dream come true if someone at the top of this country could put together a working rail system that's affordable between major cities in the way that Europe's rail system is.

    If the price can even match the actual purchase price of air travel, I'd take rail instead at least 75% of the time.

    If rail ends up being 2x or 3x more than air, as it has been, though, I'll still end up driving or flying. Right now in the U.S. long-distance and inter-city train is a luxury mode of transportation.

  • by MillenneumMan ( 932804 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:12AM (#27612083)

    Obama's plan simply will not work because he plans to mix freight and passenger rail routes. I would not call the examples in Japan and France a _financial_ success, but they are indeed impressive technologically. However, neither of those systems would work if they did not dedicate their tracks to passenger transportation. Freight would slow everything down dramatically.

  • Yes you can, but you need to keep both the scope and the context mind.

    Regarding scope: high-speed rail is mostly interesting for journeys in the 50-400 mile range; for shorter journeys, the many stops would bring down the average speed too much, and for longer journeys a single-hop plane transfer is faster.

    I regularly travel the high-speed net in Europe, and I love it: No of that checking-in business; I get to the station 10 minutes before the train leaves, sit down on my reserved seat, and soon I am speeding through Southern Germany at 200 mph. Still, a ~400 mile journey (case in point: Zurich-Aachen) takes me 6 hours downtown to downtown. The main reasons for that slow ~70 mph average are slow links in Switzerland, and the relatively high number of stops in densely populated Germany. Still, this is 70 mph average, at (when planned somewhat in advance) EUR 120 for a return ticket.

    Now, in the US, the SF-LA corridor and the East-cost are excellent choices for such a network. Especially the SF-LA link could do with only a few stops (LA, Bakersfield, Fresno, (Stockton), San Jose, SF, say), so one could push for >80 mph average. This would bring down travel time from _downtown_ LA to _downtown_ SF to 5 hours. Such a journey would be the efficiency limit for a fast train though, since there is a good flight here. Perhaps LA-Bakersfield (~120 miles) in an hour would be a better example.

    The thing to remember though, and that bring me to the "context" part of the title, is that high-speed rail cannot exist on its own. Although the connections for larger distances already exist (planes), one definitely needs connections to shorter-distance transport modalities. Examples are fast commuter train for a metropolitan area (relatively high number of stops, but fast acceleration and deceleration), tram/bus networks in the city (and _adaptations_ to the city for that, so that trams and busses are never in traffic jams, etc.). Not having this latter modality leaves you with a "last mile" problem. If you cannot get to the station fast, often, and safe, you won't use your high-speed train, and you could hardly be blamed for that.

  • by Guysmiley777 ( 880063 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:51AM (#27612979)
    Price, destination options and schedules.

    If I could take high speed rail back home to visit (about 1,100 miles) instead of driving or flying I would, assuming there was a route and it didn't cost more or take longer than driving.
  • by DreadfulGrape ( 398188 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:54AM (#27613081)

    Unquestionably a modern, high-speed rail system connecting major cities would be a wonderful thing to have. But are we even capable of such massive, national projects anymore? Especially with a government that basically dances to the tune of big labor unions?

    Imagine Boston's "Big Dig" project to submerge I-95 through that city, with all its corruption, delays and cost overruns -- times a thousand. Hell, times a million. That's what it would be like to build a national high-speed rail system in the U.S. It would be a complete clusterfuck.

    Truly I say unto you: we'll see the damn Twin Towers rebuilt before anything like this gets done.

  • Airports == hassle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:56AM (#27613113)

    Done right, and for short haul travel, rail is way better than air travel. What you lose in sheer speed of the plane, is more than made up for, by the time saved by not getting to the airport, checkin, luggage screening, and that sort of thing.

    I've found that going to Paris on the Eurostar (French TGV bullet train that links central London and central Paris) beats air travel in just about every way. I had my parents insist on catching the plane to Paris.

    This is what happens when you go from London to Paris by air:

    1. Catch bus or train to airport (1hr)
    2. Allow three hours to check in, get through security, board the plane, and have your plane sit in a long queue to take off (2-3 hours)
    3. Fly to Paris (50 minutes)
    4. Disembark at Roissy, go through immigration, get to the RER train (30, 40mins)
    5. Get an RER ticket, catch train to Gare du Nord, trying not to get robbed by pikies on the way (40, 50mins)

    Compare with catching the Eurostar:

    1. Go to Kings Cross St Pancras, go through French immigration on British side, security screening (20 minutes). Immigration is no more than waving an ID card or passport.
    2. Train trip (a bit over two hours)
    3. Train arrives in middle of Paris.

    Price wise, you might save a few quid catching the plane, but if you factor in airport transfers, security screening hassle and all that rubbish, then train travel comes out way ahead.

  • by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:59AM (#27613179) Homepage

    Note to those comparing on the basis of the current U.S. rail system: don't, because it's crap.

    For e.g., Josh proposes linking San Francisco, L.A., Seattle and Portland...well hey, they're already connected. Have been for near a century, by the line / train now called the Coast Starlight. It's a beautiful journey from Seattle to L.A. through all the major (and some not so major) towns on the way, the ride is pleasant, the scenery is incredible...and it takes 26 frickin' hours. (I still prefer that to flying, but I'm in a minority there). That's because it's running on tracks that haven't been upgraded, it feels like, since 1926, using trains from 1963 through stations from 1886. It never gets past sixty miles an hour.

    A proper Japanese- or European-style high-speed rail network would do *the whole trip* in, oh, seven or eight hours, maybe. Meaning many of the useful internal trips would be 2-3 hours. That'd be huge.

    I would really, really love for the U.S. to build this, and for similar upgrades in Canada. I like to travel and I frickin' hate airlines, it would be so nice to have a pleasant, civilized way to cover this continent.

  • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Friday April 17, 2009 @11:01AM (#27613239)

    In principle I think this is an awesome idea. Whether or not it works out in practice remains to be seen, especially with the way things are done in the US.

    In Taiwan, just a few years ago, a high speed rail line was built from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south, nearly spanning the length of the island. It's done fairly well, almost meeting expectations. It's hurt the domestic airline industry somewhat mainly because the rail line only takes marginally longer to travel the entire distance; it takes a bit over 1 hour versus 45 minutes by plane.

    The high speed rail line had a few advantage however. Nearly all of Taiwan's major cities run down the west side of the island where the land is flatter. It makes it easy to reach all the key population centers.

    Secondly, unlike the US where Americans are used to having to drive long distances, Taiwan generally feel the 200+ distance is too long to drive. People do it all the time, but to them they might as well be driving from New York to California. And the cities are dense enough that it ends up being a hassle to drive around anyway. When I was in Taipei, for example, they had 2 or 3 cars for every parking spot. It's an exercise in frustration just finding a parking spot, let alone negotiating the dense, hectic traffic. The south is a bit better, but it's still a problem.

    Third, many people already took buses or the existing, slower rail line, so the jump to high speed rail was a logical one. The question was if Taiwan, who generally are quite cheap, would be willing to pay a good deal more for a significantly reduced travel time. It turns out they are, but if I recall correctly the high speed rail company did lower rates at some point.

    Construction was just beginning when I was living there between 2000 and 2002 and it was open to the public in 2007. The line itself runs just over 200 miles. The total cost was in excess of $15 billion. There's no way in hell we'd see a high speed rail line built that quickly and for that price in the United States.

    Take the piece of garbage that passes for a high speed rail line in the northeast, the Acela. It runs on existing rail lines with slight upgrades and they still managed to finish it well behind schedule. The Wikipedia article claims it was a year late, but from my recollection of announcements at the time I'd say it was at least 2 or 3 years late. The Acela has to slow down at every single station it passes, so in my area it's barely going faster than traffic on the highway. All the trains on this line are consistently late, to the point that the scheduled times are more of an identification for the trains than an actual indication of when the trains will arrive. The best part is how every so often a train pulls down the power lines.

    And I'm reminded of yet another issue, common courtesy. In Taiwan food isn't permitted on subways and most trains. And people respect those rules. In all the years of riding there I don't recall ever having seen graffiti more than a handful of times and very limited. I never had to worry about sitting in the mess someone left behind. Public bathrooms were always clean both because people weren't slobs but because they were also cleaned on a regular basis. If someone makes a significant mess someone will be by to clean it up in short order.

    When is this ever the case in the US? People seem to have no respect for anything, like it's their duty to deface and vandalize. And imagine suggesting to any rider that they should wait 30 minutes, until they get off the train, before they eat. Instead they'll sit there slobbering over their food, making a mess and then have the audacity to leave the garbage sitting under the seat.

    My point is that Americans turn public transportation into a miserable experience. Expect this money to be spend poorly and in the end still not provide the sort of experience that the European or Japanese high-speed rail lines provide. And just wait until every last town starts fighting for their own stop on the line. Or when the environmentalists show up whining about how the new train line will hurt the eco-system. Or even better, when residents seek to block construction of the line because it passes to close to their idyllic little neighborhood, and I'm sure they'll use environmentalism as their tool to hinder construction. It's next to impossible to get anything done properly in this country anymore.

    The big competition will be with the airlines. Even in Japan the high speed rail is already seeing declining ridership and facing stiff competition from the airlines. They're still doing well, but the problems are there. High speed rail is going to have to provide a fantastic experience, it's going to have to be fast and reasonably priced in order to provide a be alternative.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982