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Is a US High-Speed Railway Economically Feasible?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the price-of-admission dept.

Transportation 1139

An anonymous reader writes "The federal government has committed at least $8-billion (and counting) for the development of a nationwide high-speed intercity passenger railway system in almost three-dozen states. Rail advocates have long dreamed of an extensive railway grid that will provide clean, speedy, energy-efficient travel. The high-speed rail program is also expected to create thousands of desperately needed jobs, while reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil and easing gridlocked highways and congested air-space. However, this noble, ambitious, multi-year plan faces a multitude of obstacles — including costs that will no doubt escalate as the years pass by; and an American public that may be reluctant to relinquish the independence and convenience of their beloved automobiles for a train."

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1139 comments

Niggers (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296306)

Niggers and coons and jigaboos, oh my! That's what will be on the train If the fee is not high

Re:Niggers (1, Flamebait)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296380)

Willy Wonka is fit to run a chocolate factory, not a long-distance rail network in the south-western united states.

Solution: Tax gas more. (5, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296320)

Once they're paying as much as people in any other first-world country, "beloved" will give way to "practical". And it brings in some nice cash too.

Alternate solution (5, Interesting)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296350)

Cut subsidies for all forms of transportation. Then, tax in proportion to carbon emissions. Trains win in every densely populated region, hands down.

Re:Alternate solution (1, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296516)

Cut subsidies for all forms of transportation. Then, tax in proportion to carbon emissions. Trains win in every densely populated region, hands down.

And for those of us not in densely populated regions?

Re:Alternate solution (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296570)

Tough shit. Living in a dense, urban area has certain economy-of-scale advantages over rural areas, because distances between everything are much shorter.

Why should everyone subsidize your choice to live in a rural area?

Don't forget, land values in rural areas are generally far lower than in urban areas, so you're already getting a benefit there.

Don't get me wrong, I plan to move to a rural area as soon as economically feasible, but I don't think I should expect city-dwellers to pay for this luxury for me. I'll consider the increased costs of transportation as one of the downsides I have to deal with. Hopefully, telecommuting will reduce this as a factor, so I only need to drive when I have to get groceries.

Re:Alternate solution (5, Insightful)

lostros (260405) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296670)

Maybe, but those rural areas create the food that the cities need to house and feed their populations. When you increase the costs of those areas, you greatly affect the cost of city life. Cities are also far, far more subsidized then any rural area is. The roads needed to truck in supplies, heavily subsidized food programs, and greatly disproportionate distribution of state tax income as well as federal aid.

Re:Alternate solution (5, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296692)

I guess we'll just have to increase what we charge for production, then. You know, trivial things like:

* Corn
* Wheat
* Soy
* Fuel (yeah, we make a fair amount of it)
* Beef
* Chicken
* Pork
* Machinery (used to pave your roads, build your sky rises, construct your high speed rail...)
*

Don't get me wrong, I plan to move to a rural area as soon as economically feasible, but I don't think I should expect city-dwellers to pay for this luxury for me.

What luxury is that? Driving an automobile? Apparently you're not aware of what most "rural areas" in the US require. Yes, you can very easily die getting to work in the weather we've got out here without the protection of a vehicle. And when that's not a concern...

You also realize that if someone is being taxed more for the "luxury of driving" - this tax money going towards the construction of rail, which said people are not being given - then it's the rural people who will be getting gouged, right?

It's been shown time and time again that urban dwellers have a (significantly) higher carbon footprint because it takes more energy to maintain that way of life. It's been true since the first person grew his first field of corn and realized "hey, I can support a lot of people with this". While people in an urban area are in malls buying things, playing laser tag, eating at a restaurant, and doing whatever it is urban people do, people in rural and remote areas are spending time outdoors, cooking their own food and having simple social pleasures.

Re:Alternate solution (0, Troll)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296520)

An SUV with 1 driver and 3 passengers is pretty close, with the advantage that it goes exactly where you want it to go when you get to your destination.

Re:Alternate solution (3, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296702)

My 20-year-old van with one passenger has a lower carbon footprint than someone traveling on high-efficiency highspeed rail. Why?

Because the energy put into building the van is already spent and done with. Not true for the HSR.

Re:Alternate solution (0, Offtopic)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296584)

You can't tax CO2 emissions accurately if you can't quantify the damage caused by CO2. So far I haven't seen a single estimate of the damage caused by CO2 that's more than speculation.

I raise you a bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296640)

A full bus can get over 250 passenger miles per gallon. A full electric train can get 800, before you factor in the ~50% efficiency of electricity generation. Bus size can be quickly changed to meet the number of passengers. Trains often have many empty seats.

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296376)

I'm all for eliminating all transit subsidies.

In practice, this means that taxes on car sales, oil, gasoline, and such need to pay for all road maintenance, or all roads are toll roads. Really, all roads being toll roads is silly. Thus, you end up with much higher gasoline prices, but that income specifically pays for the road infrastructure, causing drivers to see the actual cost of their automotive traffic, just as the subway system here is forced to make at least 50% of its income on fares.

Faster Solution (4, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296398)

Or they could design the train so that people could drive their cars onto it and park.

It'd kill the airlines in a week.

Re:Faster Solution (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296538)

No, because it takes a lot longer to load a train with cars (and to empty the cars off the train) than it does to fly and then rent a car when you get there.

And you know this by what empirical data? (3, Insightful)

apparently (756613) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296626)

Seriously, what the hell are you basing this on except your personal lack of vision?

Re:Faster Solution (5, Interesting)

Cwix (1671282) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296696)

Ive railoaded military vehicles before. It can happen alot faster then you think, all you have to do is have a trained crew do the actual loading while the travelers waits nearby.
I see the biggest issue with being are the people going to ride IN their own vehicle? These train trips can be long rides without restrooms and food. If you have these people ride inside regular rail cars on the same train, your going to be wasting alot of fuel toting around a shitload of vehicles all the time, and your not going to get the fuel savings trains normally have.

no need (4, Insightful)

nten (709128) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296402)

If we just stopped subsidizing it, we wouldn't need to tax it, and we'd get the same revenue benefit without the infrastructure needed to enforce the tax. Bastiat [wikipedia.org] has a lot of interesting things to say about both subsidies and taxes. I personally hate driving and flying, so I'd really enjoy a national rail system. I'd like a local transit system even more, but that is not something my city is even close to.

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (4, Interesting)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296418)

I'm pretty sure that simply raising taxes isn't the cure to all that ails us. Keep in mind that everything you eat, wear and touch is delivered in one way or another on transportation of some kind, so literally everything would become more expensive. From experience, I can say that often a very large part of the price of goods is from transportation. When you double that cost, everything now costs 10% to 50% more overnight. That is called inflation, and it cuts demand dramatically, which is likely not the best solution considering we have the highest unemployment since the early 80s, and the most persistent unemployment since the Depression.

The problem is that the US is one giant suburb sprawl, and because our population densities are so much lower between cities, trains will never be viable all over. On the east coast, yes, and maybe even a few in fly over country. But to have trains in most of the rest of the country would take more carbon than driving cars. From building the trains cars that would only be partially full because of the lower density, to the fuel used for those smaller passenger loads, it doesn't make sense in the US for most areas, at least not for daily travel.

Also, you have to condemn land, lay tracks, uproot people and remove farm land and utilities, and in the end, most people here would still rather drive less than use the train. You can't turn America into Europe by simply taxing fuel at the same rate.

how about more inner city rail as well? (2, Interesting)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296494)

how about more inner city rail as well?

add buses, moving walk ways, more inter city rail and that will cut down on cars.

Re:how about more inner city rail as well? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296590)

Buses suck; they spew out tons of pollution, travel at inconvenient times, and are much too slow because they stop too much. It also sucks having to deal with the other people on them.

The only answer for inner-city public transit, for cities that aren't as dense as Manhattan (which is most American cities), is SkyTran [skytran.net] .

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296588)

Not only that, but I think they may have underestimated the value of mass transit over long distances and the general distaste for air travel these days. I dread flying now simply because it takes longer to go through the whole flight process, check-in, security, etc, than actual time spent in the air. You also have to worry about late flights, being held hostage on the runway (in the sense of delays, not actual hostage situations). It's just a big mess.

I could easily see myself taking a train, were if readily available, for long trips and simply renting a car if needed on the other end. Trains would seem to provide a lot of convenience (good speed, no need for bathroom stops, means served on the train, etc). I think part of the issue has simply been availability for most of the U.S.

Travel to any major metro area that offers a decent public transit system, and you will find that, properly managed, they are not that horrible to use.

Once they're paying as much as people in any other first-world country, "beloved" will give way to "practical". And it brings in some nice cash too.

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (5, Insightful)

Haeleth (414428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296604)

You overstate the case. In Britain, fuel prices are vastly higher than they are in the USA, and driving is still usually cheaper than taking the train.

People travel by rail in Britain when it's more convenient. For commuters it makes sense because you can work or relax on the train; of course, many US cities already have popular commuter rail services. For other people, it often boils down to things like the very poor parking facilities at urban destinations and the poor roads at rural destinations -- an expensive train ticket looks a lot more attractive if you know the alternative is going to be six hours stationary in heavy traffic on a narrow road, or an extortionate charge for commercial car parking. These latter problems tend not to exist so much in the USA, where there's plenty of room for wide roads and large car parks.

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (1)

iceperson (582205) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296636)

We do pay as much as people in any other first world country with comparable population density and GDP.

Re:Solution: Tax gas more. (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296646)

I hope you understand why that plan would be unpopular, is impractical, and no rational politician would actually vote for it.

Think about it: a good number of Americans are willing to go to war to keep gas prices low. Do you think they will appreciate it if gas prices rise double for no reason other than some people (you) don't like their cars? Not to mention there's a good portion of the country where people couldn't ride the train even if they wanted to.

Long-distance trains are better than busses... (4, Insightful)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296348)

...In that you can sleep in them, lying down. In Sweden, there's a six-bunk pullman car model, and a more expensive two-bunk model that's more like a proper "fluffy" bed. It's not all that nice to sleep with your boots on in a closed compartment with complete strangers (and they never get the heating right), but it's better than sleeping in a seat.

Re:Long-distance trains are better than busses... (2, Interesting)

msobkow (48369) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296654)

Of course if it's a business expense, you just include the cost of a bunk-bed coach. Room for 1-2 people, bathroom, chair, everything you need to be comfortable (if cramped) for a day or two. I imagine any new rail system will also provide WiFi or equivalent with a coach in the future.

I've only travelled once by VIA (Canada) and once by Amtrack (US) each. It was a pleasant experience, though a lot of people are pissed off that VIA travels through the Rocky mountains at night so you can't see them. I expect they've got some sort of premium "Rocky Tour" package by now.

Don't target cars (5, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296356)

A high speed rail network should be targeting air travel. There are many short haul air routes (e.g. New York to Washington) where high speed rail could provide an comparable door-to-door journey time (especially once you take check-in, security and all the other things into account). High speed rail has none of the big downsides of air travel like the need to get to the airport 2 hours before the flight to check in, the need to pass through 3 layers of security, bans on liquids and other things, cramped seats etc.

Now obviously trains cant compete with long-haul air travel such as New York to LA but for short haul, it could really work. (but only if its given proper high speed track and doesn't have to share that track with slow freight trains)

Re:Don't target cars (5, Insightful)

koreaman (835838) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296370)

Just wait until the first person tries to blow up a train. Then many of those advantages will vanish.

Re:Don't target cars (5, Insightful)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296422)

it's hard to crash a train into the pentagon, if the tracks don't go that direction.

Re:Don't target cars (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296502)

Doesn't matter. It's not about causing actual damage; it's about causing psychological damage. The image of dirty, bearded, beady-eyed Muslims blowing up a train will haunt soccer moms and inspire gun-toting overcompensating internet-tough-guy "patriots" and give endless fodder to demagogues both radiophonic and actually involved in the political process. If any joker claiming to be Al Qaeda accomplished even popping a paper bag on a US train, trust in the system's safety and the government's ability to defend the homeland would be compromised and the right wing would go apeshit sending out chain-mails of weeping, twinkling, glitter-covered bald eagles wrapped in American flags.

And, so, as soon as the first firecracker is detonated on a high-speed US train, and maybe even before then, you'll be taking off your shoes, placing your laptop and one-ounce bottles on the conveyer, and stepping into the backscatter microwave to the titillation or, more likely, horror of some TSA flunky tasked with scrutinizing the greasy rolls of fat enveloping like undulating armor the most insecure, paranoid nation of all the tribes of the Earth.

Re:Don't target cars (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296532)

It's funny you mention that. Two sets of train tracks run right under the Pentagon.

Re:Don't target cars (1, Troll)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296548)

are they highspeed rails? Nope. So, irrelevant, really.

Re:Don't target cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296628)

Yeah. A train is still a long metal tube full of meat-sacks. Don't matter where its going when all your targets are crammed into convenient packaging like that.

Re:Don't target cars (0, Flamebait)

kanto (1851816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296644)

are they highspeed rails? Nope. So, irrelevant, really.

Good point, Allah wouldn't look too kindly to speeding whilst martyring yourself.

Re:Don't target cars (4, Insightful)

nanoakron (234907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296544)

You mean like in West Bengal http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10178967 [bbc.co.uk] , Madrid http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Madrid_train_bombings [wikipedia.org] or Russia http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8383960.stm [bbc.co.uk] ?

Yet people are still building new train projects worldwide.

Do you honestly think 'b..b..but terrorists' is any sort of intellectually valid answer to questions of national transport projects?

Re:Don't target cars (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296668)

Use Hanlon... odds are higher that it would be because stupidity. And probably every year drunks driving cars kill more people than terrorists, so, this time, you can think on the children.

Re:Don't target cars (1)

codepunk (167897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296404)

It is not going to work for short haul either. Say I am a passenger, what do I do when I hit the other end? I guess I could rent a car but then again I could have just taken the car.

Re:Don't target cars (3, Informative)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296424)

Um, use public transportation?

Re:Don't target cars (2, Insightful)

codepunk (167897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296458)

Why do that for a short haul trip, I could have just taken my car and not had to fart with any of that. Now if I am traveling to a city with decent public transportation like ny and where finding parking is hell then yes I might would do it.

Even then I can smoke in my car and cannot anyone say shit about it, so the chances of taking the train at least for me are zero.

Re:Don't target cars (4, Insightful)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296488)

Some people would do it because it's more cost-effective, less stressful, or even because it's more energy efficient.

Obviously you're not one of those people.

Re:Don't target cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296474)

Unless you are checking in your car as luggage on a plane, you do exactly the same thing you'd do for a short haul flight. Whatever that is.

Re:Don't target cars (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296540)

You can say that about flying as well. Or ship. Or just about any form of transport other than driving yourself.

There are multiple transportation issues. The first is getting people from their homes to work. That's what a local public transport network is supposed to do. The second is getting goods from their source to wherever they're needed (be it a factory, the shops, or somewhere else.) That's what a freight network does. The third is getting people from city A to city B. That's where airlines, fast rail, and other such transportation systems come in.

Fast rail is not a local public transport network. It should, however, link up with the local public transport network at both ends, so that passengers aren't forced to hire cars, or find a nearby car park to stash their car for the duration of their trip.

Me? Given the choice between fast rail or air on a trip that would take 1-2 hours by plane, I'd pick the fast rail. It's slower on paper, but the benefits - no need to checkin, no security theatre, the ability to do whatever I want (within reason; we're in public here after all) in terms of work or entertainment, and the prospect of decent wireless Internet connectivity - make it a no brainer for me. If only it were available in my country...

Re:Don't target cars (4, Informative)

spinkham (56603) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296484)

You do know that NY-Washington already has high speed rail, right? It could be better, but it's the only one in the country at the moment, and it makes Amtrack money hand over fist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acela_Express [wikipedia.org]

Re:Don't target cars (4, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296614)

What is needed is to upgrade the Acela and give it dedicated right-of-way for as much of its run as possible (similar to what has happened with the TGV and ICE trains in Europe which have dedicated high-speed track). If the Acela could travel at the higher speeds of high-speed-trains in Europe, even MORE people would start using it.

Re:Don't target cars (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296650)

A high speed rail network should be targeting air travel. There are many short haul air routes (e.g. New York to Washington) where high speed rail could provide an comparable door-to-door journey time

You have to ask which routes will see enough traffic to be economically viable.

The Northeast Corridor, Boston to Washington, has a population of 50 million. 931 per square mile. The US averages 80 per square mile. Northeast megalopolis. [wikipedia.org]

The Northeast Corridor is the political and financial capital of the US. It has vast recreational and cultural resources. There are many reasons to be on the move here.

But geography and culture are rarely as hospitable to inter-city rail.
   

Re:Don't target cars (4, Informative)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296686)

Now obviously trains cant compete with long-haul air travel such as New York to LA but for short haul, it could really work. (but only if its given proper high speed track and doesn't have to share that track with slow freight trains)

At 200 MPH, the trip would take 15 hours, give or take.

Leave at 5 PM, get in the sleeper, drink some wine that you brought on board, eat your dinner, and go to sleep. At 8AM, you arrive at your destination, in the heart of the city, rested, and ready to go. No need to get your luggage, take a taxi, or a long ride to and from airports.

Now compare this to the red eye flight. Tell me it's not feasible.

We take sleepers in Europe whenever we can; they're so much nicer than planes.

Another stupid idea that will increase the deficit (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296364)

If it was really cost effective some private company would have already built it.

I have a better way to cut down on traffic and save money....require all government contract business show that 25% of their workforce telecommute.
And make all federal senators/representatives telecommute from their home state.(plus not really traffic related, but make their pay propotional to the percentage of votes they cast).

This is just a few people getting slush funds for their states that everyone else is expecting to pay for.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (5, Interesting)

Second_Derivative (257815) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296392)

A private consortium tried just that back in 1991 in Texas. Then Southwest Airlines called in a few favours and had the project destroyed (some details on Wikipedia here. [wikipedia.org] ). Free market capitalism may or may not have worked here (if it did then one could certainly expect other consortia to follow suit) but the Texas state government never gave us a chance to find out.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296434)

It's not going to be cost effective for some private company to do it and still be able to turn a profit. It'll be so expensive that tickets will be unaffordable. Or the tickets will be barely affordable, but service will be absolutely terrible. If we want this to happen, the government will have to grant money, land, and privileges. Unfortunately, the company that gets to build it will avoid paying the government back, and will just use what they have to further screw the consumer. Then we'll be looking at Amtrak of the 2010s.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (1)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296468)

...require all government contract business show that 25% of their workforce telecommute.

As an electrician, I would love to telecommute, but no one can tell me how to twist that wire nut from home.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (-1, Troll)

pooh666 (624584) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296470)

Yeah, just like our highways, sewers, fire, police. What is up with all of these deficit building *socialist* enterprises? What waste? And why would we ever want to use the most efficient means of transportation for bulk travel? All of this deficit BS is just a way of saying lets not invest in our country, let it fall... Oh but how can we start a new war?! That is good for Halliburton so it must be good for the U.S.A. THE WORD IS COMMUNITY and unless we start thinking about the betterment of our own communities(not just your town, but also your state and country and even world), the more into the pit we go.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296624)

I know you're trolling, but sometimes I can't resist.

Rail is the most efficient form of long-distance travel other than water, assuming that there is no value accorded to speed of transport. If you're a steel mill, or a power plant, or any of a thousand other industrial processes that do not concern themselves with transit time, then rail is incredibly efficient and logical. After all, it's not as though coal goes bad if it takes a week to get to you. If you're a dairy producer, the rules are rather different.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (4, Insightful)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296518)

I suggest you read this: Sewers and Storm Drains [typepad.com] .

Yes, paying a million people to fix up our crumbling infrastructure (or in this case, to build a high-speed railroad) will be expensive. However, all those million people will no longer be unemployed, which means that they will go from being a drain on society to being a benefit to society. This sort of thing would lead to much faster economic recovery than your "everyone stop spending money right now" plan.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (3, Insightful)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296672)

The CCC did some wonderful things. And quite a bit of those things are up for repair or replacement. If we're in the 'worst recession since the great depression' then we need to treat it as such. Cancel 'handouts'. If you want welfare, you can work for it. Everyone gets a job and stuff gets built.

Bridges, Dams, Power lines, roads. Quite a bit of stuff was built during the great depression putting people to work. After the MN bridge collapse inspectors are coming out of the wood work going "Yeah, these could fail at any time now too."

Take all those 2.9M employees that are out of work and have them start building shiat. If they want to sit on their Union ass and do nothing, they get nothing. Turn off unemployment. There'll be no shortage of jobs. Pay them what they're actually worth as manual labor. Caterpillar & Deere, the big 2 domestic construction manufacturers would need to increase their workforce (Which is partially union). Truckers would get more work shipping construction supplies and equipment. Mobile home makers would need to up production for temporary housing. Concrete, asphalt, and steel industries would need to up employment to help keep up with demand.

Along every road and every bridge run fiber, it costs nothing compared to what a new road does, so run a fat pipe to every town in America. The next Wozniak or Linus could be sitting at a place that currently just has 14.4 dial up. Maybe the smartest of the high school students could take part in remote learning at MIT or some where where they'll not be kept behind with the rest of their class.

In addition, toss a rail line down the center of the interstates. Get a light rail connecting most large cities. Maybe even a 'ferry' service. Need to go to CA? Load your car up on a rail. Go sit in the comfortable seats and in a day. You're in CA.

Just like all those roads and bridges helped spark the auto boom a decade or so later, in 10-20 years we could really see the economy back on its feet doing something else productive.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296698)

And where will the money to pay a million people to do busywork come from? Out of Obama's ass?

Paying a million people a year say, $50000 (to cover their wage plus the usual overhead) is $50 BILLION, and that doesn't buy any materials (such as trains, or track, or even coffee). That's a far cry from the $8 billion being discussed here.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296530)

"If it was really cost effective some private company would have already built it."

Like the internet. And train systems in every other country. Or the road system.

Or it could be that you don't have a clue what you're talking about. It can be cost effective for the nation as a whole (have a net economic gain) without providing companies with a profit necessarily. That's why the subway is subsidized. That's why road are subsidized. It isn't a good thing to have private roads, but roads in general benefit the economy.

Next time please engage a little bit of grey matter before you spew your ideological BS.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (2, Interesting)

akeeneye (1788292) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296586)

The government's job is to build things and provide services that citizens need but that are not profitable. The military isn't profitable (though defense contracting is very much so). Putting in roads is unprofitable .. and would probably be impossible for private industry alone to do because they'd need the power of eminent domain, like the government has, to get the land to do it on. Sewer systems and treatment plants are unprofitable. Basic research is often unprofitable. What private entity is going to pay to send space probes to Jupiter, or do weather/climate research? The answer is none.

The very fact that something is unprofitable, and that no private party has stepped up to do it for that reason, does not mean the thing is not worth doing and worth having the government do it.

Speaking of the military, just a small fraction of that $500B-$600B (more?) annual offense budget, currently being in great part wasted on failing attempts at nation-building, would buy us this rail service and a whole lotta other stuff besides, without adding to the deficit. The military is just a few (well, a hell of a lot) of people getting massive slush funds for their states that everyone else is expected to pay for.

I'm with you on telecommuting though. It's idiotic for most people to transport a sack of meat - themselves- in a one to two ton container just to sit at a desk and in all likelihood be no more, if not less, productive than they'd be at home. And then transport the same meat/steel back at the end of the day.

Re:Another stupid idea that will increase the defi (2, Informative)

Haeleth (414428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296664)

If it was really cost effective some private company would have already built it.

Don't be silly. Building a rail link is essentially impossible unless you can use eminent domain to acquire the necessary land; there's no way a private company could realistically expect to persuade thousands of individual landowners to sell them land in a straight line from one city to another, possibly crossing several different states in the process.

No, think big oil and property taxes (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296386)

never gonna happen, corp. america has way to much at stake, the auto industry is in trouble; but big oil is healthy and Ain't gonna let it happen

Re:No, think big oil and property taxes (2, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296464)

big oil is healthy and Ain't gonna let it happen

Why not? Trains run on diesel just like buses and VW TDI cars.

Where there's a will, there's a way. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296396)

People love their automobiles because the great majority of them aren't given a choice in the matter.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to hop on a train to head to a concert, sporting event, famous restaurant, etc. a couple hundred miles away and back on the same day? That sort of casual impulse travel would be of new benefit to the economy (particularly of hub cities) even if the railway itself didn't pull in the cash.

Re:Where there's a will, there's a way. (1)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296436)

I ride Amtrak where possible, 4 hour trip to Seattle, 8 hours to Vancouver B.C. no driving, just sit back and watch the scenery.

Rail System Needs (4, Insightful)

srothroc (733160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296412)

My problem with trains in American isn't speed.

I'd rather have a train system that had a range of trains to different places at lots of different times, every day. But most importantly, I'd like to have a train system that actually follows the time table. Nobody wants to pay for public transportation when you have to arrive early, wait a long time, and then not leave on time... and probably not arrive at your destination on time.

Wait, we do that for airplanes. Nevermind. Go about your business.

Re:Rail System Needs (1)

dido (9125) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296618)

Such a mass transit system exists. There's a country in Eastern Asia whose rail system has managed to do all those things and more. Trains that are off the timetable by more than a minute in Japan are extremely rare. Their rail system is so extensive that very few destinations, at least in urban areas, aren't reachable within fifteen minutes to half an hour of walking from the nearest train station. Getting around in a major urban area like Tokyo or Osaka boils down to finding the closest train station to wherever it is you're going, and finding out when the train to where you're headed leaves and arrives.

Re:Rail System Needs (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296690)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but all that comes at the cost of living among people who think buying soiled panties out of a vending machine is normal.

Not on National Basis - Some Local Solutions, Yes (4, Interesting)

wclough (819407) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296414)

Europe has certain zones where high speed rail makes sense. Those also exist here, such as the Acela route, also perhaps Miami to Orlando to Tampa Bay, LA to San Diego, and Dallas - Fort Worth. However, extending high speed rail across the US makes no economic sense now, and would place the government into direct competition with private commercial transport. It is unlikely that high speed rail will become economically viable on a nationwide basis given the huge costs of creating dedicated, isolated rails on such a broad spread basis. While I strongly support high speed rail in high density, closely located urban zones, especially where urban mass transit exists to get people to and from the train stations, it doesn't seem either economically viable or practicable in other locations.

Re:Not on National Basis - Some Local Solutions, Y (2, Insightful)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296552)

Is anyone really suggesting high speed rail everywhere? The suggestions you made are the only area's that I have ever heard it mentioned.

It just doesn't make sense, and even politicians recognize that.

Now, what I have heard suggested is more routes for rail travel. When I lived near the Pocono's, there was a large number of people that traveled to New York City every day by bus for work. It was worth it for them to spend 3/4 hours on bus one way due to the lower living expenses and high wages. For them, having rail service(shorter travel time) would have been a god send. But, again. That was not high speed rail. Just new/additional rail service.

Re:Not on National Basis - Some Local Solutions, Y (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296648)

Hey idiot, "area's" means "belonging to [the] area". You meant "areas". Idiot!

Forget High Speed Rail . . . (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296444)

I want a monorail.

Monorail. Monorail. MONORAIL.

Needed (1)

KnightBlade (1074408) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296450)

I think it's the need of the day. Given how horrible air travel is becoming every day, there needs to be another option. Trains are more comfortable too. I've found 3 things problematic with train travel in the US 1. speed- It takes about 2 days to get from Seattle to LA. 2. Costs are at times way higher than those of flights. 3. Schedule & frequency- There's got to be more of them and they have to be at convenient times. 4 in the morning is neither here nor there.

Boondoggle (2, Interesting)

jaymzter (452402) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296454)

The US is not built to support high-speed rail, nor is there a need. Consider the Florida High Speed Rail program, part of which will run between Tampa and Orlando, a grand distance of 85 miles, or about 90 minutes driving. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] however, "bullet train would beat a car by only 30 minutes." Odds are even that advantage will be lost when the Lakeland stop is opened. Additionally, that doesn't even take into account that you're going to have to drive to the station, then when you get to your destination, you're going to have to drive wherever you need to get to!

High-speed rail can work in certain environments, but it's self-defeating the way it's being implemented here in the US, because it's just being used to buy votes, as the summary itself all but admitted.

Re:Boondoggle (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296616)

The Chinese are building a large high speed rail network. It is not as expensive as it used to be, since the process of laying tracks is highly automated today. Oh and if stations are too close, the train will never get to maximum speed before needing to hit the brakes to stop for the next station. The trick is to have separate high speed and low speed rail networks with common stations at high speed rail stops.

Independence? (4, Insightful)

emkyooess (1551693) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296466)

"and an American public that may be reluctant to relinquish the independence and convenience of their beloved automobiles for a train."

The automobile is far more of a ball-and-chain than an independence-granting device.

$8 billion? Is that all? (1)

nanoakron (234907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296478)

Let's look at some more realistic likely project costs shall we:

High Speed 1 in the UK (our first 'high speed' but really only reaching 180mph, which people do on their motorbikes nowadays)

- 67 miles, £5.2 billion ($8 billion)

Cross-Rail (our newest train project in London, crossing the capital)

- 73 miles, £16 billion ($25 billion)

The 'big dig' in Boston

- 3.5 miles, $22 billion

So, we've got $8 billion to spend - you'll be lucky if you see 100 miles of track, let alone purchase any trains with the leftovers!

It's too late for Rail to save US (2, Insightful)

Silentknyght (1042778) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296480)

and an American public that may be reluctant to relinquish the independence and convenience of their beloved automobiles for a train.

Well, duh. Convenience and independence are huge. Public transportation isn't "when you want it" or "where you want it" and just doesn't have the trunk space. In many major american cities, the suburban sprawl is enormous, bordering on ridiculous. It's too late for the US. You'd need to throw in something like $100 TRILLION in order for (rail) mass transit to work. You'd need to interconnect each sprawling suburb with each other--not just with downtown, regrettably how its often done--in order to make it even feasible.

And it still won't be convenient to travel by mass transit if you have more than you can carry in your arms.

And then, at some point, it's still not the cheapest. For example, $5 a roundtrip ticket for me, my wife, and two others to travel downtown for a baseball game. Even with expensive event parking, that's already about even. If we had a van and squeezed in another couple, it'd be cheaper to carpool, perhaps even including the amortized costs of vehicle purchase & repair for that event, especially since we still needed a vehicle to get us to the rail station...

The plan is bad for the environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296486)

From somebody who understands this stuff: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/41/politics/obamas-high-speed-rail-announcement-462286/ [twoplustwo.com]

This plan is worrying. America is probably neck and neck with Canada for having the most efficient freight distribution system in the world (it's far and away more efficient than Europe's), and I worry that this high speed rail plan has the potential to throw a major wrench in this system. The issue is that virtually all major rail initiatives occur on existing freight rail corridors. There are a handful of examples of brand new corridors for freight use (KCS is building one in Texas right now to try to fill in the missing link between the Lazero Cardenas port and its American rail network), but usually building brand new mainline (particularly high speed mainline!) is prohibitively expensive.

...

I can smoke in my car (0)

codepunk (167897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296490)

I can smoke in my car, I cannot do that on a train. That is just one reason there is zero chance I would pick a train over a car.

Re:I can smoke in my car (1)

tknd (979052) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296592)

They have smoking cars on the Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) and also on some Europe trains.

There's no reason why it wouldn't be possible here. Except that we have a culture of turning everything black and white rather than negotiating a solution for both sides.

Re:I can smoke in my car (2, Funny)

johnhp (1807490) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296600)

That doesn't seem like a great reason to decide against using trains, but I think you have a point. If a government funded national system were developed it would only be fair to include some kind of smoking car or other reasonable accommodation.

Railways (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296496)

The reason trains haven't been very popular with Americans has a lot more to do with train scheduling than trains themselves. Basically, if you decide to take Amtrak, you have almost no idea when you're going to arrive at your destination. As I understand it, much of the problem is that Amtrak runs over railways owned by other entities; they aren't Amtrak's rails. So when a freight train comes rumbling along, the passenger train effectively yields to it. This rather complicates scheduling, so if you know you need to be in Springfield by 11:00 AM Tuesday, you can bet that you won't get there in time if you don't take the train scheduled to arrive on Monday. Even if Amtrak doesn't have to yield, the tracks are crap so the trains can't run at their design speeds.

Out here in the West, I don't think I've ever heard of the Coast Starlight being on time. Not even once.

In the Northeast, where Amtrak owns the rails, the trains are actually useful.

Dedicated rail lines would actually allow the trains to run more-or-less on time. Dedicated rails would also let them run fast. Then trains can be quite a nice way to get around, especially when weighed next to the bullshit you have to put up with when you fly. Realistically, it takes pretty much all day to fly anywhere, even for very short flights, given the lines, misery, and chaos at the airports. So if you can get a comfortable seat on an uncrowded train where you're not required to be photographed naked to get a seat, and you can walk around a bit, and maybe have some acceptably palatable food, you're not charged an extra $50 because you had the gall to bring your purse and a bag, and it costs 1/2 the price of an airplane ticket, trains could be pretty nice -- if only you could guess +/- half an hour when you might actually arrive.

Fixing rail service in the US means installing dedicated passenger rails.

beloved automobile? (1, Interesting)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296512)

I gave up cars several years ago. I do have a motorcycle, but I either walk, ride a bicycle, ride my motorcycle, or do public transportation. A motorcycle can go crazy places. I do all my shopping with it; and on the rare occasions I need something that won't fit in my large hiking backpack, I rent a truck.

Point is, we're not all members of the planet-destroying hippy generation that dramatically increased our meat consumption (the beef industry is more destructive to the planet than all the transportation industries combined). I had to help solve a software bug this morning when a customer had an order go through for an overnight delivery of a handtowel from California to Hawaii, and the shipping wasn't computed correctly. The customer's site specializes in eco-friendly products. So, somewhere there's a person in Hawaii that thinks overnight shipping an empty box (just forget the damn contents) is somehow more environmentally friendly than ANY handtowel they could have bought at their walkin stores. $80 shipping for a $7 item. That shit right there, with environmentalists driving SUVs and doing whatever they want because they buy carbon neutral credits is the problem. But fortunately, that generation is getting old and will die off soon enough, and we'll have a healthier planet because of it.

There are PLENTY of people who would love to get in a high-speed train from LA to Phoenix, LA to SF, that sort of thing. They might not be children of the 60s, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile consumers.

Already Have Trains (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296522)

We already move a lot of freight by train, which makes a great deal of sense because it's so heavy. Humans weigh so little that all the fuel goes into moving the train, which means very little fuel savings per mile unless the train is very full. If it takes one ton to move four people by car and four tons to move four people by train, even at twice the gas mileage the train loses out. And the train does not get you door to door. And the train has to make stops. And the train sticks to a predetermined and therefore inconvenient schedule. Etc.

Fly-over country need not apply (5, Interesting)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296546)

I fear the high speed rails will be deployed on the east and west, and those of us in "fly over" country will be left out in the cold.

Which is a shame, because in many ways the middle of the country is where high speed rail could really shine: the trains could get up to speed and stay there for a significant length of time.

However, a few random points:

1) France has a total of 1000 miles of high speed track. The Southwest Chief [amtrak.com] runs from Chicago to LA - about 2000 miles. That's just ONE of Amtrak's routes.
2) In Europe, they have auto-trains: put your car on, go, take your car off, drive. The only place this happens in the US is on the east coast [amtrak.com] , on one run. Again: were it possible to put your car on in New York, pull your car off in Flagstaff, and drive up to the Grand Canyon, I think it would be much more attractive to many people.
3) Were autotrain runs more common in the US, then driving an electric car with limited range wouldn't be the deal-breaker for long trips it is now: again, put the car in in NY, off in Flagstaff, with a fully charged battery courtesy of the train's power.
4) There is a great push on just to restore old-style rail service in the middle of the country: see the Heartland Flyer [heartlandflyer.com] extension effort [kake.com] .

I routinely travel long distances: Wichita to Los Angeles for example. I'd love to be able to put my car on the train, roll overnight, and be able to make the trip in a day rather than two. I'd love to be able to hop on the train for my business trips to Kansas City and Austin. The idea that Americans won't take the train doesn't square with how many ride it now, when Amtrak seems to go out of their way to make it unattractive. Over 4000 people used the Amtrak station in Hutchison KS [wikipedia.org] last year, and that is a little station in a town of about 40,000 people - the station isn't even manned, and the train gets there at 4 in the morning.

No, rail COULD work in the US - it's just that no big company will make $$$$ from it, so no CongressCritters are motivated to do anything about it.

'Beloved cars' is a stupid dichotomy (3, Insightful)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296596)

The choice is not between 'car' and 'rail'. The choice is between 'rail' and 'airplane'.

There is a nice Amtrak route from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR. It takes about 3 hours, and a plane flight is less than an hour. At least, until you factor in getting to the airport (way outside of town, and the Amtrak station is right downtown), going through security, the cramped seating, and the overall icky stupidity of the entire process of air travel nowadays. Then the Amtrak starts looking a heck of a lot more attractive than a plane flight.

I also travel to San Francisco from Seattle sometimes. My current choice is to take a plane. If there were a high-speed rail corridor to San Francisco that took less than 5 or 6 hours, I might well choose it instead. Sure, it's an hour or two longer than even the total time spent to travel there by air. But it's an hour or two of comfort, not an hour or two of not-quite uncomfortable enough to be unbearable that air travel is.

No. (1)

Stradenko (160417) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296610)

Next question please.

Re:No. (2, Insightful)

Stradenko (160417) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296634)

And to clarify, for the haters. Government subsidized anything is not economically feasible. Privatized rail and you'll have competitive free market stuff to determine what's feasible and what's not, then the question won't matter except to Entrepreneurs and investors.

Will it cost more? $100 by air cost $250 by train? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296620)

My main concern is cost and time. If it takes me about the same amount of time and costs more to go by train I'll take the air transportation. However with my recent delays due to weather I'd consider train if amtrack didn't cost so much. I flew from Boston to Washington for $100 (taxes included). I think amtrak would have been like $250.

It would work if... (1)

thestudio_bob (894258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296652)

If you connect every "major" city with high speed rail, and then let the cities choose to build their own light rail system to handle all the secondary stops, then I think it would work. And when I say major cities, I'm talking things like Kansas City, Las Vegas, Chicago, etc. The minimum distance should be 300 miles or something to that affect.

But if they plan on making this thing stop every 60 miles or so, then it's really not worth it. Most people will drive that distance.

Fries with that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296676)

This program would go well with inner city banks of public/ private electric cars,working from rail hubs with govt subsidies and special privileges,parking rates and or lanes. It would reduce infrastructure cost in the long run reduce inner city smog (looking at you L.A.) and reduce oil consumption. AND stimulate construction in suburbs.alleviating unemployment there.

Then subsidize trains as much as cars and planes (0, Redundant)

Big Jojo (50231) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296680)

If they weren't hugely subsidized they would not be economically feasible.

American doesn't know how to handle trains (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33296700)

I'm an American and normally don't agree with anti-american sentiments but I have to say I've ridden trains in Europe and the US and there's no comparison. European trains are clean, efficient and cheap. US trains are dirty, undependable and just as expensive as air travel and some times more expensive. Cross country trains are useless because they cost a fortune, stop in every little town and take forever. I found conditions filthy and food disgusting and expensive. Generally with cross country trains there are only a couple a week and they are often hours to a day late. You could take nearly two weeks to travel coast to coast and back again. It was faster and a better experience in the mid 1800s and I'm including having to breath coal smoke back then. The officials that run trains in this country need to quietly take a trip to Europe and ride the trains then ride Amtrak and the commuter trains here. If they can't match Europe in price and efficiency then fire them all and find people that can match Europe.

Economically Feasible? (1)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33296710)

As long as VP Biden wants to play with his trains and as long as Congress is wasting billions and billions of dollars, of course it's "feasible".

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