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California Going Ahead With Bullet Train 709

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-an-actual-bullet dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from the NY Times: "[California state leaders] have rallied around a plan to build a 520-mile high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, cutting the trip from a six-hour drive to a train ride of two hours and 38 minutes. And they are doing it in the face of what might seem like insurmountable political and fiscal obstacles. The pro-train constituency has not been derailed by a state report this month that found the cost of the bullet train tripling to $98 billion for a project that would not be finished until 2033, by news that Republicans in Congress are close to eliminating federal high-speed rail financing this year, by opposition from California farmers and landowners upset about tracks tearing through their communities or by questions about how much the state or private businesses will be able to contribute."
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California Going Ahead With Bullet Train

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  • Time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:18AM (#38179182) Journal

    The first transcontinental railroad took less than 10 years to build -- considerably less. Before doing something like this, figure out why the hell it's going to take 30 years, and fix that first.

    • Re:Time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bp2179 (765697) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:25AM (#38179240)
      We kind of frown upon the slave labor that the Chinese and Irish (and others) that were used to build the railroad. If I remember my history correctly, the US government gave the train Barons the land and I think subsidizing them. There was very little population (aside from American Indians) out west. It will probably take 20 years to settle Eminent Domain cases and another 10 to build the rail lines. I worked on a survey crew to build an outer loop around a mid sized city. The first survey was done in 1984, I worked it in 1998 and they didn't start building until 2003. We did have a few fun run-ins with angry landowners and their shotguns.
      • Re:Time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EdZ (755139) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:13AM (#38180454)

        We kind of frown upon the slave labor that the Chinese and Irish (and others) that were used to build the railroad.

        If modern construction machinery is less efficient and effective than forced labour, then whoever designed such shoddy machinery should be the first in line to receive a shovel.

      • Re:Time (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:10AM (#38180670) Homepage

        If I remember my history correctly, the US government gave the train Barons the land and I think subsidizing them.

        The US Government did give the land for the railroad and every other section adjacent to the railroad to the railroad companies - in exchange for reduced cost transport (freight and passenger) for government business. Considering that the land that the government kept was essentially valueless without transport access, it was a pretty good deal for both sides.

      • Re:Time (Score:5, Informative)

        by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:14AM (#38180890) Homepage

        It makes an interesting comparison with Japan's new high speed maglev track. It is scheduled to be running by 2025 at over 500Kph. The terrain is difficult and there are major issues with noise pollution that increase the cost, but when it comes to buying land they realised that it is often cheaper to just elevate the track. Less disruption and no need for dangerous crossings.

        Elevated track also makes it easier to keep the whole thing level when you would otherwise have to do a lot of digging to flatten the ground below normal track out. IIRC the spec for Shinkansen (bullet train) track is something like no more than 6mm height variation over 10m.

    • Re:Time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:33AM (#38179284)

      High speed bullet trains probably require a bit more precision than the old steam engines.

      Also, where do you get 30 years from?

    • Re:Time (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:54AM (#38179430)

      The first transcontinental railroad took less than 10 years to build -- considerably less. Before doing something like this, figure out why the hell it's going to take 30 years, and fix that first.

      The first railroads were intended as a way to get from place to place, and hence they actually had to be completed in a sensible amount of time in order to operate and recoup their costs (though I believe they struggled to do so?). These new railroads appear to be intended as a jobs program for union workers, so the longer they take, the better.

    • Yeah, I saw the 2033 and thought WTF. Couldn't see why it would take that long, then I remembered that everyone will be getting paid by the hour.
    • by indeterminator (1829904) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:23AM (#38180504)

      ... 25 years in fighting off all the complaints from various parties.

      5 years in actual construction work.

    • The first continental railway wasn't going 300 miles per hour. Basically, anywhere they could put tracks at an inclination that was feasible for the locomotives to haul carriages over, was good enough. Now try making tracks that won't bump a train off at 300 mp/h. You need a lot more precision for that. That's why it will take longer to build. Sure, you can accelerate that by adding more monkeys to the equation, but the amount of extra money that would take, would make the project even more expensive. You c
  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:23AM (#38179230)

    Between the x-ray powered strip searches, the paranoid interrogations, and sexual molestations by abusive, angry pedophile wannabe mall cops, only masochists and boot lickers will want to ride in what could have been a beautiful piece of engineering. I'd rather drive in relative freedom than take a bullet train and be humiliated, brutalized, violated, and treated like an inmate. To quote the Elephant Man, "I am not an animal!".

    If the TSA could be kept away, then it would be great. But that isn't going to happen.

  • Monorail (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:29AM (#38179254)

    Is there a chance the track could bend?

  • Land? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by identity0 (77976) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:32AM (#38179276) Journal

    Can someone explain how it is crowded countries like Japan or Germany can manage to get land for high speed rail, but the US can't?

    Especially since Japan seems to have such problems getting land for airports that they have to build artificial islands [wikipedia.org] just to house them.

    • Re:Land? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by brusk (135896) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:44AM (#38179352)
      Different legal regimes. It's easier in some countries than in others to expropriate land for public purposes. It's also easier to oppose government actions with lawsuits in the US than in many other countries.
    • Re:Land? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TopSpin (753) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @01:31AM (#38179702) Journal

      Can someone explain

      The US indulges an enormous collection of elites and their pressure groups that preclude or impede most development rather effectively, and common folk tacitly support this sort of governance (see NIMBY, BANANA, etc.) after they achieve their desired level of comfort. We call this 'environmentalism' and beat each other over the head with it.

      Another reason is that US constitution established strong property rights and prescribes specific criteria and obligations for 'takings' by government. Some people believe that strong property rights has led to great prosperity and liberty. Others believe those people are evil capitalist pig-dogs that must skinned alive and slow-roasted in front of their offspring as a lesson to all.

  • It's crazy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsotha (720379) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:38AM (#38179318)

    I will certainly ride this train if it actually gets built. But it's a really, really dumb idea, and what we're likely to end up with is a train that goes from nowhere to nowhere because public support evaporated when the bill came due.

    And remember, this is the state that cancelled dental insurance for poor people because it ran out of money.

  • by BigFire (13822) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:43AM (#38179342)

    That's what they're building. No, we actually don't have the money. But when has reality stopped backers of High Speed Rail?

  • by isaac (2852) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:54AM (#38179418)

    This doesn't make sense. A rider arriving in LA is going to need a car when they get off the train, unless they fancy spending a lot of time waiting for on Metro (formerly known as the RTD - Rough, Tough, and Dangerous.) Total boondoggle.

    It would make a hell of a lot more sense to link the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, BC corridor with high-speed rail, since these are all cities where one can actually get around reasonably well without a car. It'd be a game-changer to have TGV-speed rail on that corridor - one hour between the downtown cores of Portland and Seattle, or Seattle and Vancouver? I've had regular, daily intracity commutes longer than that.

    Oh well.

    -Isaac

    • Something tells me that the state government of California isn't particularly interested in building a railroad for Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

      • by isaac (2852)

        Something tells me that the state government of California isn't particularly interested in building a railroad for Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

        Much of the proposed funding is federal stimulus money.

    • by fgouget (925644) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:39AM (#38180576)

      This doesn't make sense. A rider arriving in LA is going to need a car when they get off the train, unless they fancy spending a lot of time waiting for on Metro (formerly known as the RTD - Rough, Tough, and Dangerous.) Total boondoggle.

      That also means that all flights between SF and LA don't make any sense because any airplane traveler arriving in LA is going to need a car when they get off the train, unless they fancy spending a lot of time waiting for on Metro (formerly known as the RTD - Rough, Tough, and Dangerous.) Total boondoggle.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      Populations of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are less than Los Angeles alone-- almost less than San Francisco metro area.

      For California, the rail project could make living in godforsaken places like Fresno or Bakersfield viable for more people, reducing stress on other major metropolitan areas and encouraging economic growth.

      Specific to Los Angeles, they need to expand Metro and create more local transportation hubs. This is independent of any inter-urban transportation projects. Maybe things like zip

  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:55AM (#38179436)
    California is a walking bankruptcy, and they are doing this? To what? Help people leave as fast as possible?
  • Why not... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheMeth0D (182840) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @01:00AM (#38179476) Homepage

    California is already over 2 billion short on the budget this year and is long overdue for a serious financial wake-up call.

    Hope all the other states are taking notes on "what not to do"... Projects like the "high speed" rail just dump gas on the fire.

    Way to go spendthrift voters of California!

  • by telso (924323) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @01:33AM (#38179722)

    Yes, high speed rail is going to be expensive. Yes, it's now projected to cost much more than the original estimate. (The cost has largely increased due to delays (the longer it takes to build a project, the more it costs), particularly fuelled by NIMBY appeasement ("We don't want the train passing near our house!" "But it is much quieter than standard trains and will increase your property values by being near an HSR station." "Build a tunnel!" "Okay, we'll build a tunnel." "The costs on this project are ballooning!").)

    But you have to compare the cost to the alternatives. California's freeways and airports are jammed. With increasing population and mobility, something to move people around will have to be built. And the estimated costs to add volume to airports and highways is estimated to be $100-billion as well [cahsrblog.com].

    And, to top it off, high speed rail runs on an operational profit. (This means that yearly revenues are higher than yearly costs.) Everywhere. Yes, high speed rail lines run an operational profit in Japan and France [miller-mccune.com], Spain [nytimes.com], Russia [cahsrblog.com], Taiwan [cahsrblog.com] and car-loving-and-train-hating America [businessinsider.com]. In Britain all rail is private, and for-profit companies are in fierce competition to pay for the rights to run rail services, which are barely at HSR levels if at all. It's a strongly held misconception that rail travel is unprofitable: HSR makes a profit all over the world, and it usually subsidizes local and regional rail transport (which the US has much of).

    And though only the Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon line have paid off all their construction costs, that's because they're the oldest HSR lines; others are on track to in the future. Which modes of transportation don't pay off their construction costs? Oh, that's right, nearly all roads. Remember Carmageddon/The Carpocalypse, when an overpass outside LA was torn down, shutting traffic for the weekend? That was all so they could widen the highway through a mountain pass. Were the anti-HSR people asking for ridership studies for the Sepulveda Pass? Were they asking for the expansion to run an operational profit, let alone an overall profit? Of course not; only rail is subjected to such standards.

    Add to this that a train is much more efficient in transporting this number of people, from an energy, environmental and economic perspective, and this is using studies that are assuming that gas prices will be relatively stable over the next few decades.

    Obviously there still has to be overview of the project, making sure money is being spent efficiently and for best value. But the entire transportation sector needs to be looked at from this viewpoint. Airlines can work with rail to transport their passengers on their "last mile", freeing up their planes for more profitable medium- and long-haul routes, like done in Germany (Frankfurt Airport has two train stations). Road funds can be diverted to repairing our existing infrastructure as opposed to building more asphalt that needs to be maintained. And everyone will get to where they are going sooner. If this is done, North America will look back 20 years from now, not wondering "How could they do this?", but instead "How did they wait so long?"

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @02:30AM (#38180014) Homepage Journal

      Were the anti-HSR people asking for ridership studies for the Sepulveda Pass? Were they asking for the expansion to run an operational profit, let alone an overall profit? Of course not; only rail is subjected to such standards.

      This is an important point, and one that needs to be repeated over and over. The money the US and state governments spend on rail is a tiny fraction of what we spend on roads and air transportation. I mean, it's pocket change by comparison. And yet there seems to be a visceral negative reaction to rail on the part of a large number of people -- any kind of rail, whether local or long-distance -- that is all out of line with the numbers. It's particularly odd given our country's history, and the fact that the same people who gripe the loudest about any new rail project tend to be the ones who wave the flag at every opportunity.

  • by rossz (67331) <ogre@geekbike[ ]et ['r.n' in gap]> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @04:46AM (#38180362) Homepage Journal

    The state of California is populated with a bunch of morons who keep trying to vote themselves unicorns and rainbows and the idiots in Sacramento don't have the balls to actually do their jobs so the budget never gets balanced and the taxes keep going up. California has the highest overall taxes in the entire country. One of the highest state income taxes (about 9%), one of the highest sales taxes (about 8%), one of the highest corporate taxes (about 9%), and excessive fees for just about everything. Because so much money is predestined for someone's pet project (because of stupid ballot initiatives), there will NEVER be enough money to pay for the necessities. The train is just par for the course. The initial track will connect two places that no one in their right mind ever wants to go to, and the remainder will probably not be built in our lifetime.

    I was born and raised in California. I'm still here because I'm a tech worker and this is where most of the tech jobs are concentrated. I've watched my state get shoved into the waste bucket by the people who live here and am sick of this shit. For years I've lived by a simple rule when it comes to the ballot. I vote no for anything that forcibly allocates money. No exceptions. I also vote no on all bond measures as I do not believe it is moral to pass the big fucking bill to our children. I also vote no on all tax increases because we're already paying too much (see above).

  • by drolli (522659) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @05:34AM (#38180554) Journal

    go to Japan, test it on the line Tokyo-Osaka-Kyushu. The lines have to be chosen carefully, but if you connect megacities with it, then it can be a major economic factor. 100 billion dollar may sound a lot, but it actually isnt. it its operated over 30 years, then this is $8 million per day which you have to get in or subsidise. If you hav 500000 people per day using it, then thats $20 per ticket. 500000 Is the number of people riding per day on the Tokaido Shinkansen. $20 means (at my current rate) that the train has to save me 15 Minutes of my time. And hell, yeah, it did that when i liven in Japan. Going to the next airport (always outside the city), onto a previously booked ticket, waiting for a delayed flight with unreasonable security waiting lines, to the destination city and then have restriction when to travel back was a lot more troublesome than just stumbling into the train station whenever i want, catch a train withing the next 20 minutes without booking before, going many times close to the city center, and returning whenever i wanted.

    The economic meaning of the shinkansen for the cities between is incredible. Cities which would otherwise suffer a never-ending drain of companies and young people into the two megacity area are sustainable *only* because of a shinkansen stop nearby.

  • by Suomi-Poika (453539) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:23AM (#38180932)
    HSR is an investment to the post peak oil future. When Jet A1 fuel costs $5 per liter only the extremely wealthy can afford to travel by air. I hope you Americans are not counting on that, everybody is rich in future? :) Meanwhile the others (and you!) are landlocked either to low speed electric-hybrid cars or low speed trains, that is if you don't start building HSR now . The question here is that do you Americans want to continue your lifestyle of affordable travel after the fossil fuels are out of question, or do you want to isolate yourselves and remove the last of your competitive features: affordable movement of people and goods?


    But then again - "Americans, yes they are that stupid".

    What would happen if USA neglects building heterogeneous transport networks and stays on the current trend of fossil fuel automobiles and planes? It is not the end of the world after the oil gets too expensive for transportation. If only you can keep the agriculture running you will not starve and private enterprises will built HSR and electric induction roads very fast. The bad thing is that at that time the rest of the world have those and you are late, so very late that I am afraid someone else has the technological and political leadership in this world. As a North European I wouldn't like to see that happen. America(USA) means a lot to me and I want see you leading the world in the future too.
  • by SD-Arcadia (1146999) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:30AM (#38181676) Homepage
    I'm surprised no one brought it up but the comfort level of a west european train ride is amazing. You get leg room, you get a tabletop in front of you that is nothing like the plastic pos on a plane. You can walk about, visit the toilet and go get a meal whenever you feel like it. You get plugs and often internet for your laptops. If it's an overnight ride you can get a sleeper. A well organized train ride basically means the travel time is not wasted at all, in some sense rendering the journey free as in time. You actually can continue living on the train, with rest, food and work available. How does that compare to being stuffed in economy class or wasting away behind a wheel?

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