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By the creator of the California Rail Map, and inspired by ideas from various agencies and advocacy groups: A Map of the US High Speed Rail System
posted by Potomac Avenue (85 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
And even more future...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:43 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This summer I worked on a Republican political campaign in Florida, and high speed rail was a big issue. The state legislature had just voted on a proposal to fund a HSR corridor between Tampa, Miami, and Orlando, if I remember correctly. It was a huge money sink, nobody could get proper estimates on how much it would actually cost, and then the company that would build it was Chinese so apparently it wasn't going to create any jobs for Americans. It ended up being a moot point because you could drive between stops faster than the train would get there. That was really the discovery that damned the whole system, when somebody realized that the train has to speed up gradually and it wouldn't even get to full speed before it had to slow down again. One candidate in our race got totally torpedoed because he'd supported high speed rail.
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte at 9:46 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is way more of a tease than flying cars or super-skyscrapers.
posted by postcommunism at 9:46 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


WHAT DO THE COLORS MEAN? Arrrgh WHY IS THERE NO LEGEND!!!!
posted by Windopaene at 9:49 AM on February 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Embarrassing that the U.S. can't do better than this.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 9:49 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like viewing an artifact from an alternate universe.

Being able to get to Chicago in half a day without getting on a plane? Yes, more please.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


It ended up being a moot point because you could drive between stops faster than the train would get there.

How nice for people with cars.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:52 AM on February 5, 2013 [38 favorites]


I was just coming on here to say, "Oh, cruel cruel fiction. Why must you torment me so?"

(FYI, if anyone is interested in reading about public transport, I cannot recommend Taras Grescoe's book Straphanger enough. It will make you angry about North America's public transport boondoggles.)
posted by Kitteh at 9:53 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


"How nice for people with cars."

Or access to a bus.
posted by Blake at 9:54 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This seems... not even slightly useful. It currently takes at least a day to get from Raleigh to Miami, not 6 hours or so this map seems to indicate. Is this supposed to be a "imagine if" kind of thing, or am I misunderstanding?
posted by odinsdream at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2013


For fun, sometimes, I'll print out a map of the Midwestern city I grew up in and lay out my imaginary transit lines. Speaking of, Indianapolis should be the nexus of this system, not Chicago!
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


odinsdream: “This seems... not even slightly useful. It currently takes at least a day to get from Raleigh to Miami, not 6 hours or so this map seems to indicate. Is this supposed to be a "imagine if" kind of thing, or am I misunderstanding?”

I have a feeling that has something to do with the massive "220 MPH" in the bottom corner there.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This summer I worked on a Republican political campaign in Florida, and high speed rail was a big issue.

I'm going to posit that it was a big issue because you were working in a primary, right?

Outside of the hardcore Republican primary electorate, where lifting a finger for modern infrastructure is a form of fiscal apostasy, voters in Central and South Florida rather liked the concept of modern high-speed rail. But it didn't matter, Governor Scott killed it even though the vast majority of the project was federally funded: $2.4 billion out of $2.6 billion. Much like Gov. Christie of New Jersey's decision to kill the ARC tunnel, it was immensely shortsighted. Florida voters will rue the day they sent a slash-and-burn tea partier to Tallahassee that set them back decades.

Look, this is just a dream proposal map, and many of the corridors listed aren't viable even to me, a strong advocate for high speed rail (Juarez to Cheyenne?? Really??). A New York-Los Angeles HSR corridor should be a last priority, but because of the way Congress is structured, a line like that is probably necessary to get rural buy-in.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:59 AM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


It ended up being a moot point because you could drive between stops faster than the train would get there. That was really the discovery that damned the whole system, when somebody realized that the train has to speed up gradually and it wouldn't even get to full speed before it had to slow down again.

The problem is that "high speed rail" is a catch-all in the US, when passenger rail is probably the appropriate term. "Commuter rail" serves populations who travel between significant population bases, and in some cases, within large population centers. They can't get to high speeds, as identified by Comic Sans-Culotte, because there is a transition time from full speed to stopped, and more intermediate stops means slower travel, though you can capture more riders (in theory).

High speed rail is an alternative to (regional) air travel, not distances easily covered by cars, and the ticket cost is then a savings compared to air travel, not car travel.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:59 AM on February 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Sigh, and my city is probably losing its Amtrak service to the east coast in the Fall.
posted by octothorpe at 10:01 AM on February 5, 2013


Wow, nice font. I assume there will be a station near Starfleet Headquarters?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


the ticket cost is then a savings compared to air travel, not car travel.

Not to mention the savings to ye old environment just kidding Supertrain will be fireproof and submersible for passing through those areas damaged by the Sunspot Hurricanes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Odd that Quincy, IL gets its own spur. Is the mapmaker a secret Forgottonian?
posted by Iridic at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


and then the company that would build it was Chinese so apparently it wasn't going to create any jobs for Americans.

How would that work? A few thousand Chinese people would walk off a boat with all their materials, build the rail system without employing any locals, spend nothing while here, and then immediately go home?
posted by scottatdrake at 10:03 AM on February 5, 2013 [18 favorites]


odinsdream: “This seems... not even slightly useful. It currently takes at least a day to get from Raleigh to Miami, not 6 hours or so this map seems to indicate. Is this supposed to be a "imagine if" kind of thing, or am I misunderstanding?”

me: “I have a feeling that has something to do with the massive '220 MPH' in the bottom corner there.”

Less snarkily, having looked at it, the travel time is apparently feasible. Looking at it, a train should totally have time to speed up and get from Raleigh to Miami in six hours or so if the top speed is 220 mph.

However, it seems like high-speed rail is a mistake. Trains need more stops than this to make a lot of sense, and I don't think the trade-off in time is a big deal.
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 AM on February 5, 2013


Here's a real map of things that might theoretically happen: Designated High Speed Rail Corridors

In theory, these lines actually have a reason to exist, rather than just connecting stuff because "we need a national high-speed rail network."
posted by smackfu at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


One thing I've wondered is whether the federal government could put together a single team that would slowly and continuously build out the rail system over many years. It seems like a lot of the costs of a system are related to the uncertainty around government decisions, and the terrible economies of scale in developing one-off train equipment, signalling, and control systems. There just isn't anything like the ecosystem of experts that we have for road construction, or that Europe has for rail construction.

If the government could make a guarantee that it will fund 250 miles/year of high-speed rail construction over 30 years, then companies could develop new technologies to make it cheaper, contractors could put together an "assembly line" process for building out the lines, and bright young engineers could plan their careers around becoming experts in rail infrastructure. I think this has a much higher chance of success than pleading with our officials to spend hundreds of billions of dollars all at once.
posted by miyabo at 10:07 AM on February 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


and then the company that would build it was Chinese so apparently it wasn't going to create any jobs for Americans.

How would that work? A few thousand Chinese people would walk off a boat with all their materials, build the rail system without employing any locals, spend nothing while here, and then immediately go home?


Er. I take this back. I don't know how this made it into my memory, but upon further research it's not true. Sorry.
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte at 10:09 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Cheyenne Wyoming, population 60,000? Is this some kind of Dick Cheney appeasement?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:10 AM on February 5, 2013


Speaking as a Californian, I'd just like to thank Florida for rejecting the federal HSR funds.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is my low speed rail map of New Jersey. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/HISTORICALMAPS/RAILROADS/RR_of_NJ.jpg
posted by otto42 at 10:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah well our government can't even make a guarantee that we'll continue paying our debts for more than 24 months at a time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2013


Here's a fairly detailed proposal (.pdf) from SNCF (French railway company). Total cost: $116 billion to link major Midwest metros with 220mph rail.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It makes me chuckle to think the artist was probably very pissed when he found he had no choice but to hyphenate Indianapolis.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


And Cheyenne is an extension of a line, not just a stop along the way. Quincy, Illinois, another extension has 40,000 people. Jack Klugman appeasement?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:14 AM on February 5, 2013


If the Montreal - Windsor corridor is part of an imagined U.S. rail network, can you guys go ahead and build a stretch between Edmonton and Calgary, too? Make it go down to Denver or someplace in the square states if you must.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2013


It's worth noting that Amtrak's actually been getting much of the funding that it's asked for to begin upgrading the Northeast Corridor.

Although it's true that the currently-allocated money is just a drop in the bucket compared to what will be needed, we are taking steps in the right direction. Amtrak's also taking steps to reboot the US railcar manufacturing industry. No word yet on whether or not Amtrak's going to standardize signaling too (one could hope...).

Amtrak's new diesel services in Virginia have also been extremely successful (actually turning a profit in most cases), and seem to suggest that Rail may be far more viable in the Southeast than we'd previously estimated that it would be.
posted by schmod at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's a fairly detailed proposal (.pdf) from SNCF (French railway company). Total cost: $116 billion to link major Midwest metros with 220mph rail.

Man, direct-ish 220mph rail to Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Madison and Detroit would be lifechanging for me, it would really tie the Midwestern cities together so much more closely.
posted by enn at 10:17 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


it would really tie the Midwestern cities together so much more closely.

Agreed. You could legitimately commute to downtown Chicago if you lived in Detroit. And vice versa.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:18 AM on February 5, 2013


Trains need more stops than this to make a lot of sense

No, they really don't. Going from where a lot of people live to where a lot of other people live makes a hell of a lot more sense than stopping in every town over 50,000 people along the way.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:20 AM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


That Denver to Las Vegas segment looks pretty optimistic: are they planning on resurrecting Operation Plowshare to do the tunneling?
posted by penguinicity at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


to begin upgrading the Northeast Corridor.

We've got crappy rails in Vermont that are so lousy in places the train can't go more than about 30MPH, so upgrading the rail service (which is okay for freight but really terrible for passenger stuff) is going to shorten the time it takes to get from here to NYC by three hours which is a minor miracle. They finally moved to an online ticketing system this past year as well. The bus stopped stopping in my town when gas went up to $4 gallon here, so Amtrak and the short-ride bus (heavily subsidized to get people to the VA and the supermarket and other essential services) are most of what we have here that isn't cars. Cautiously optimistic about some of this.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


They need to look a bit harder at a map of the Northeast ... there's no way that a New York - Hartford - Providence route is ever going to exist. There's no right-of-way there, never has been, and if they couldn't punch it through it in the 19th century when the whole area was basically depopulated by westward migration we probably can't do it today when there are houses there.

However ... there used to be a rail line that ran directly from New York to Boston via Connecticut, called the "Air Line". Basically if you take a map and draw a line with a ruler between Boston and New Haven, you'll find it. And the right-of-way is still intact (used mostly for bike trails now). But you could probably reactivate it.

The ironic part is that when that line was built in the 1860s (not a typo, 19th century), it was envisioned as a HSR line, cutting travel time between Boston and NYC versus taking the shore line through Providence. It was staggeringly expensive to build and I'm not sure if it was ever profitable. The huge viaducts turned out to be ... problematic when the rivers flooded, and after the flood of 1955 it was never used for through trains.

Had the line survived until the takeover by Amtrak of passenger operations, perhaps they would have retained it as an alternative route between Boston and points south.

As it is, I think it's important to appreciate that providing HSR service in New England, using the best technologies available, is not exactly new; people have been trying for well over a century now and it's a really Hard Problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:23 AM on February 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had lunch a few years ago with a guy who was a lawyer for Amtrak for many years. I was pestering him about HSR, saying that the often-discussed St. Louis to Chicago route seemed like an easy call as it is flat and straight.

He said that one big problem that people don't often think of is the number of roads that cross the tracks that are there now. Between St. Louis and Chicago there are hundreds of them; even in farm country they cross over every couple of miles at most. When a train is rumbling by at 50 mph that's easy enough to see and avoid. But at 220 mph it's a different story. So apart from the technological challenges, a big big part of it is the existing infrastructure layout and all of the existing crossings that would need to be either eliminated or redesigned. And each elimination would bring a threat of litigation. I had never thought of that.

He also said that - just like the problem Amtrak has now - every politician along an HSR route would demand that his town should be a stop too. And slowing down, stopping, and then speeding back up takes the H out of HSR.

If we could just go back in time and convince the builders of the Interstate Highway System to leave some room in the middle for rail tracks...
posted by AgentRocket at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


However, it seems like high-speed rail is a mistake. Trains need more stops than this to make a lot of sense, and I don't think the trade-off in time is a big deal.

Time matters a great deal if you're competing with air travel, which for a Raleigh to Miami trip, you are. I live in DC and I make regular trips to Raleigh, NC. Currently by train, that's a seven hour trip, by air it's an hour. If you want me on the train, you've got to either 1) be super cheap or 2) be a lot faster than seven hours.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2013


So one thing that's particularly infuriating about right-wing opposition to high speed rail as being cost-inefficient or a boondoggle1 is that the construction and maintenance of rail transit in America is held to a radically different standard than the construction and maintenance of highways. When discussing things like billion dollar projects to widen 10 miles of freeway, the main concern is how to mitigate traffic during construction. The possibility that we could just like not spend billions of dollars adding lanes and building hugely expensive freeway interchanges and 5 billion dollar beltways way out in the middle of nowhere is rarely even mentioned. But when it comes to rail infrastructure, you better believe that every penny has to be accounted for and every single trivial step of the process becomes a new excuse to kill the project as a whole.

Is HSR between Tampa and Orlando the same speed as driving? Well... who cares? Get back to me when you have info on it producing more carbon than people driving, and then maybe you'll have something. Get back to me when it's safe to read in your car. Get back to me when car-centric development is more sought-after than rail-and-walking-centric development (how can you tell that transit-oriented development is more sought after than auto-oriented development? Because market. If people didn't like it, they wouldn't pay top dollar for it).

What? what? you're calculating in the carbon costs of infrastructure construction and rolling stock when considering how much carbon rail generates vs. driving? Do make sure you do that with the cost of building highways, surface roads, and automobiles too.

Basically, there's this assumption that freeways come free, or that as a rule they're so necessary that we shouldn't even consider how much they cost, and a parallel assumption that HSR is in all ways extremely costly and should only be considered as a last resort in situations where there's absolutely no argument whatsoever against using it — which in practice means nowhere. Antienvironmentalists in Florida say California should build HSR, but that it just doesn't work in Florida, antienvironmentalists in California say that the Northeast Corridor warrants HSR, but not SF-LA, and antienvironmentalists in the Northeast Corridor say that, gosh, they'd love to have real high speed trains like those fancy Europeans, but it'd just be too hard to turn Acela into real HSR.

In reality, freeways are insanely expensive and HSR is a fantastic investment. But thanks to the disparity in how costs are conceived of and accounted for, antienvironmentalists get to pretend that it's the other way around — and unfortunately they've managed to install their upside-down frame into the basic language and accounting practices used in common/media discussions of transportation planning.

1: I have developed an irrational loathing of the word "boondoggle" and refuse to use it except when citing other people. In situations where I'm tempted to use "boondoggle," I say "mistake" instead, just like in situations where I'm tempted to say NIMBY, I instead opt for "antienvironmentalist."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:25 AM on February 5, 2013 [32 favorites]


Realizing all the problems that would pop up in re: to HSR, I still would love the abilty to travel to places via train that actually got me there in short period of time as compared to the last time we took Amtrak and it stopped at every damn small town on the way to our destination. (Not small-townist.)
posted by Kitteh at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2013


dances_with_sneetches: "And Cheyenne is an extension of a line, not just a stop along the way. Quincy, Illinois, another extension has 40,000 people. Jack Klugman appeasement?"

Iridic: "Odd that Quincy, IL gets its own spur. Is the mapmaker a secret Forgottonian?"

It takes about 7 hours to drive to Chicago from Quincy, but only 4 hours on the train. (due to the layout of the interstates being a the opposite and adjacent to the trains hypotenuse path).

Quincy, IL is served by TWO Amtrak lines daily:
* Illinois Zephyr: daily service between Chicago and Quincy, IL (Leaves Quincy at 6am, turns around, leaves Chicago at 4pm)
* Carl Sandburg: daily service between Chicago and Quincy, IL (Leaves Chicago in the AM, turns around, leaves Quincy in the PM)

It includes service to Macomb, IL, home of Western Illinois University, Burlington, and some other towns along the route. It is fairly vital for business users from small towns that go to Chicago regularly.

Note: I was born and raised in Quincy and frequently took the train to get the fuck out of Quincy.
posted by wcfields at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would love it if we had more rail, and had high speed rail in the US.

As it is, I'll settle - in the short term - for at least getting my rapid transit station.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:30 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


wcfields: "Quincy Stuff"

Also, the state of Illinois heavily subsidizes intrastate Amtrak. There are spurs that go from Chicago to Quincy, Carbondale, and St. Louis. It is probably most frequently used by the college students: WIU, SIU-Carbondale, SIU-Evansville, UIUC.... Taking the Intrastate line is nearly 1/3 of the cost of a interstate train. A ticket on the Chicago-Carbondale train was only $40 vs. $120 for the same destination on the Chicago-New Oreleans train.

Consider it a token of appreciation from the good people of Chicago for remembering that the state of Illinois exists outside of Cook/Lake counties.
posted by wcfields at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading this thread, I think the biggest problems facing HSR have to do with the fact there are too many towns/cities so picking and choosing--especially in middle America and less populated bits of the West--who gets a stop where becomes hugely problematic. The other is that the car and airplane companies would raise an amazing stink about North Americans being able to get to places for (theoretically) cheaper prices and (theoretically) quicker times. Especially when it comes to car-driving. We have been romanticizing the freedom of being a car-owner for decades and decades now.
posted by Kitteh at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2013


Time matters a great deal if you're competing with air travel, which for a Raleigh to Miami trip, you are. I live in DC and I make regular trips to Raleigh, NC. Currently by train, that's a seven hour trip, by air it's an hour. If you want me on the train, you've got to either 1) be super cheap or 2) be a lot faster than seven hours.

I use the train for most of my East Coast travel. When figuring out travel times, I always calculate the time I will spend getting to the airport, waiting in the airport, and getting out of the airport, because the train beats all of these pretty handily -- Providence --> Philadelphia is more or less even, time-wise and rather more comfortable, especially if I can spring for the ACELA. DC is a bit slower by train, but I like trains, so I take it even though it takes a bit more time. I can understand how a regular commute would get to be a bit much.

Of course, the TSA seems to be eyeing train travel, so things could slow way down there, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:33 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing I've wondered is whether the federal government could put together a single team that would slowly and continuously build out the rail system over many years.

I would encourage the US federal government to start with the Windsor-Montreal corridor of this proposed US high speed rail network. Go ahead and get the kinks out on a peripheral route - we won't mind. Perhaps you could hire SNCF (not Chinese, I promise) to help out a little, just for this first one?
posted by ssg at 10:36 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I use the train for most of my East Coast travel. When figuring out travel times, I always calculate the time I will spend getting to the airport, waiting in the airport, and getting out of the airport, because the train beats all of these pretty handily -- Providence --> Philadelphia is more or less even, time-wise and rather more comfortable, especially if I can spring for the ACELA. DC is a bit slower by train, but I like trains, so I take it even though it takes a bit more time. I can understand how a regular commute would get to be a bit much.

In my specific case, I can drive to the airport, wait in the airport, fly, and drive from Raleigh to my actual destination (Greensboro or Burlington) faster than I can take the train. I'm also way more confident that the travel time will be what I'm expecting; Amtrak south of DC runs more or less an hour behind schedule at all times.

Obviously, specifics will vary, but outside of the DC-Boston route, Amtrak has a lot of trouble competing with air travel in terms of time or cost. It's a shame, because I do prefer the train, but taking longer than driving and costing the same as flying? Not really worth it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amtrak has a lot of trouble competing with air travel in terms of time or cost. It's a shame, because I do prefer the train, but taking longer than driving and costing the same as flying? Not really worth it.

It is in fact a problem that passenger trains in America are slow.

Perhaps we could fix this problem by investing in fast trains.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the government could make a guarantee that it will fund 250 miles/year of high-speed rail construction over 30 years

This would absolutely make a huge difference; unfortunately, the way the Federal budget works it is also absolutely impossible. Not even defense spending is guaranteed that way, and it's probably about the most untouchable part of the discretionary budget.

Get back to me when you have info on it producing more carbon than people driving

Carbon emissions don't cost the emitter anything, and thus there's no incentive to minimize them. A significant percentage of the US population doesn't believe that carbon emissions are anything but a liberal plot to redistribute their wealth to swarthy minorities, anyway. I don't think you'll be winning any billion-dollar arguments on the basis of carbon emissions. *sigh*

But in that same vein, a huge amount of support for the Interstate system comes from the fact that we're a car-centric culture and the costs of the road network are made artificially cheap via tax funding, while at the same time fuel is made artificially inexpensive by externalizing the costs of the emissions and environmental damage that it does. Even if you don't own a car, you end up paying for the Interstate Highway network, and you end up dealing with the consequences of cheap gasoline. If that weren't the case, car ownership / usage and driving in general might not seem like the obvious choices that they do to many Americans.

Long term, some of the best things we could do for HSR are to push for higher gas taxes, including carbon emissions taxes, and for toll roads that better shift car-related infrastructure expenses onto drivers and off of the taxpayers generally. As those hidden costs are revealed, rail only looks better and better.

Rail transportation (especially for freight where it's far too big to ignore) has inherent advantages, and is probably the most efficient form of land transportation devised. In a fair fight against personally-owned road vehicles, when all costs are taken into account, it will win. But it won't ever win when the fight is so badly rigged, and I'm not even sure that pushing for HSR absent reforms that eliminate some of the unfair subsidies given to other forms of transportation is a good idea. It's better to refuse to fight than take part in a fixed match.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


But that's where a part of the problem lies, YCTAB. Who gets to decide where the fast trains stop? The passenger trains in the US are slow because they pretty much stop at every middling-to-large town currently. It's why train travel in the US is so frustrating. When you read about how they've accomplished it elsewhere, you get to feel a little jealous.
posted by Kitteh at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2013


That was what I was saying. I was originally responding to:

"However, it seems like high-speed rail is a mistake. Trains need more stops than this to make a lot of sense, and I don't think the trade-off in time is a big deal."

An investment in high speed rail would get me on the train. Right now, I fly to Raleigh instead of taking the train directly to my destination. Give me a high speed rail line that went DC-Richmond-Raleigh (say), and I would take that over flying, even though it would bypass the smaller community I'm actually going to.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


For comparison, the map of high-speed rail in Europe (WP).
posted by elgilito at 10:51 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, I understand the theoretical nature of it, but I'm not sure I understand the thinking behind leaving two of the largest cities in the PNW off the grid almost entirely.

But, I suppose we are already second-class citizens when it comes to air travel, why not trains as well?
posted by madajb at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2013


Kitteh: The California HSR process has been pretty good, on the whole, about selecting stop locations. I think they've been so successful in part because the HSR initiative California passed includes trip time constraints — most notably, it demands that trains get between LA and SF in two hours and 40 minutes.

Hilariously, antienvironmentalists in and around Silicon Valley have successfully lobbied their city goverments to prevent HSR stops from being built in their cities. Most notably, Mountain View and Palo Alto both turned down stations, leaving it to Redwood City to pick up the station / become the new center of the area.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2013


Man, if they did this and brought back the Winnipeg Limited, I'd never step foot in a plane or have to spend more than 30 minutes in a car ever again.

*Puts 'In Dreams' on the turntable, picks up trouble light*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2013


If we could just go back in time and convince the builders of the Interstate Highway System to leave some room in the middle for rail tracks...

A lot of Interstates, especially out West, have plenty of room in their right of way for rail. Even more so if you ran elevated mag-lev or something similar.

There are issues with minimum separation between travel directions, and of course mountain passes and tunnels, but those are all surmountable problems, I think.
posted by madajb at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2013


Hell, I'd settle for having our old rail infrastructure back. I look at the photos of the train station that used to stand in my smallish central Mass town and marvel at the thought of being able to hop one of several daily trains to Boston from right in town. Or being able to connect to other lines going practically anywhere.
posted by usonian at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


But it won't ever win when the fight is so badly rigged, and I'm not even sure that pushing for HSR absent reforms that eliminate some of the unfair subsidies given to other forms of transportation is a good idea. It's better to refuse to fight than take part in a fixed match.

Man I totally see where you're coming from, but nevertheless: reject. If there are not working examples of HSR / HSR lines to build off of and connect to, we won't ever unfuck our regulatory system. Yes, I understand the danger involved: maybe the regulatory system so pathologically incentivizes freeways and airplanes that any HSR line that's built right now will fail, giving HSR a bad reputation and keeping us from building it in the future. It's just, well, HSR hasn't failed anywhere. It hasn't come close to failing. Even halfassed fake HSR like Acela is successful.

I hold that fighting to build trains now, even though the fight isn't remotely fair, is in fact how we make the fight fairer.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2013


But that's where a part of the problem lies, YCTAB. Who gets to decide where the fast trains stop? The passenger trains in the US are slow because they pretty much stop at every middling-to-large town currently. It's why train travel in the US is so frustrating. When you read about how they've accomplished it elsewhere, you get to feel a little jealous.

There exists a technology called "express trains" and "local trains" where one stops at every dot on the map and the other passes it at carefully selected locations and speeds on. It isn't much of a thing in terms of intercity rail right now in the US because the trains are slow enough that the added time for a stop is a relatively smaller hit, and because there are so few trains a day that cutting stops on some runs isn't possible.

For an example of how this works, look to Caltrain. Their schedule is wicked overcomplicated, but basically there are 22 stops between San Francisco and San Jose. There are milk run trains that stop 22 times; there are limited stop trains that do part of the corridor as a semi-express and part as a milk run; and, there are "baby bullet" trains that stop four or five times between SF and SJ. This is also how the Northeast Corridor works as well; there are regional trains that stop 25 times between Boston and Washington and there are Acela trains that stop 14 times. If there was additional capacity and higher speeds, one could create a super-express that goes from Boston to Washington stopping only in cities big enough for an NFL team.

The California HSR plans have something like half a dozen service plans; a direct SF-LA nonstop, one that stops everywhere in the Bay and then runs express to LA; one that stops everywhere in LA and then runs express to San Jose and San Francisco; a semi-express that stops at like SF, SJ, Fresno, one or two others, LA; and the milk run that stops at every station.

That's how you can provide both fast end-to-end times, frequent trips between major centres while also having local stops where appropriate. But it only works once you're running on the order of 20+ trains a day, which isn't being done in the US.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My other big idea is to fund rail using tax-increment financing on new exurban developments that would not have been viable without it. If a house 150 miles from SF costs $200k, a lot of people would be willing to pay $400k for the same house if it was a few miles from a train station which could get into the city in 45 minutes -- it would be essentially equivalent to having a house in the suburbs. So the state could partner with a developer to build tens of thousands of these houses, and charge the homeowners $20k a year over 10 years in property taxes for the privilege of having a train station in your back yard. If you built 50,000 houses 150 miles south of SF, and another 50,000 houses 150 miles north of LA, you'd have raised $20 billion to construct the train lines, and the general taxpayer would just have to finance the connecting segment in the middle.
posted by miyabo at 11:18 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was staggeringly expensive to build and I'm not sure if it was ever profitable. The huge viaducts turned out to be ... problematic when the rivers flooded, and after the flood of 1955 it was never used for through trains.

My favorite part of that:
By the early 20th Century, the iron viaduct's capacity was inadequate for the New Haven's heavier freight trains, and in 1911, the New Haven submitted to the state railroad commissioners a plan to encase Flat Brook in a culvert and fill in the viaduct. The plan was approved, and from 1912 to 1913, sand was dumped from the tracks over the bridge until the bridge was completely buried. The fill was topped with a layer of cinders, hiding and preserving the viaduct.
Which doesn't have much to do with HSR, but is still damn cool.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on February 5, 2013


This is also how the Northeast Corridor works as well; there are regional trains that stop 25 times between Boston and Washington and there are Acela trains that stop 14 times.

Also commuter lines that cover smaller stretches of the corridor and make even more stops.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you built 50,000 houses 150 miles south of SF, and another 50,000 houses 150 miles north of LA

I understand what you're getting at, but do we really want to encourage more sprawl? Increasing transportation efficiency is how we got so much sprawl in the first place.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My other big idea is to fund rail using tax-increment financing on new exurban developments that would not have been viable without it.

That's actually how big parts of the Washington DC Metro system were funded (at least the commuter-rail-esque parts). There were/are special tax zones set up around the Metro stations, and the closer to the station you were/are, the more tax you pay, to reflect the benefit that you (or your property value) gets from the Metro.

However, there are some issues with this: first, it generates a lot of understandable opposition from people who live in the affected areas right now and aren't planning to flip their houses in the near future. Presumably, someone living somewhere today can get to work (one way or another) and thus doesn't really need the Metro. So they end up paying for something that they can really only use if they either make a significant lifestyle change, change jobs / work locations, or sell their house. Also, they get hit not only with the special tax assessment due to their proximity to the Metro, but their regular property tax creeps up as well as the underlying property values increase (which takes a while, at least in VA, since it's done by comp sales that actually have to take place). And the result is long-term residents who thought they were living in a cheap suburb suddenly get taxed out. Granted, in some cases they end up making money on the sale, but it's still not what they probably bargained for when they bought in that area.

I think these problems would be magnified if you were doing them on a larger scale (towns rather than individual properties) along an HSR route. On one hand, schemes like that are great because they provide a source of tax revenue that actually is directly connected to the rail line and in the long run actually levies the tax on the people who get the greatest benefit from it. But in the short run there would probably be a lot of people who were quite happy living in their distant sub/exurb, perhaps because they have remote jobs or are retired or whatever, and suddenly they're going to end up paying what's essentially a commuter tax.

It's this opposition that essentially killed further expansion of the DC Metro out further into N. VA, even though there's a clear path for it (an Interstate highway median), and I think there'd be similar problems with HSR; you might get towns battling to keep a station out in order to prevent their taxes from suddenly going up.

I don't think there's a magic bullet, although the solution that finally got us some more Metro trackage down in VA was to use toll-road funding to offset some of the local tax revenue: a portion of tolls from a road that currently parallels the proposed new route (which runs to an airport) have been set aside for the rail extension project. This seems fair to me, since people who are driving on that stretch of road today are the ones who would logically benefit the most from having the rail alternative tomorrow -- either by being able to use it, or by having less competing traffic on the road itself. Eventually I suspect the road-toll revenue stream will dry up and the line will have to rely on fares and tax revenue, but it helped the public swallow what would otherwise have been a very large construction-cost pill.

I'm not sure what the HSR analog to that would be. Perhaps a special tax on airports, or on air itineraries running between the cities that would be linked up? It depends on whether the proposed route would really be competing with air travel, as in 200+MPH HSR, or would really be competing with cars as is the case with regional trains and "fake" Amtrak-style ~100MPH HSR.

The insane costs of building passenger rail infrastructure in the US, compared to highways or European rail rights of way or even privately-owned rail lines here in the States, are a subject unto themselves. They're as bad as the worst defense projects I've ever seen in terms of bloat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The cross-border routes make for an interesting thought experiment*. Crossing the border by train now is a colossal pain in the ass, being parked at the border for a few hours as Customs checks the passengers and the train itself, completely erasing the benefits in time and convenience that taking the train offers in the first place.

The Chunnel train has pre-checking at the originating station, which is possible as the train isn't stopping anywhere before going over the border. And on the continent, border crossings aren't a concern.

So how, then, to do an originating station pre-checking, when some passengers are going over the border, but many are not? Sealed cars? That might work for the passengers themselves, but would it work for the actual train? What kind of tracking system would you need for cargo or baggage, to make sure nothing goes over which shouldn't?

Neat to think about though.

*Because this ain't ever gonna happen.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:57 AM on February 5, 2013


Wow, nice font. I assume there will be a station near Starfleet Headquarters?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:02 AM on February 5
That'll only happen if San Francisco manages to build rail out on Geary. I would bet on the entire map from the OP getting built before that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 PM on February 5, 2013


Call me when I can get on a train in Los Angeles at 7:45pm, have a late light dinner, fall asleep in a small private compartment, wake up at 6:30am, have an early light breakfast, and get off the train in San Jose.
posted by davejay at 12:36 PM on February 5, 2013


Yeah, looks pretty nice, but couldn't we find an endless middle eastern war to spend our money on instead?

The fact that this is all an unlikely dream just infuriates me. It's not going to get cheaper, or easier. It will get more necessary. I don't know if the specifics of THIS map are the specifics that we need (and in fact I tend to think that more local rail is a 'better' answer than this sort of thing) but some sort of massive public transit movement is such a good idea for so many reasons.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:41 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, while these are cool concepts, these don't seem like very good maps. As noted, what do the colors mean? Why a spur to Arcata? Why not high speed between Albuquerque and Kansas City? Or does light gray mean high speed too? No extension up through BC to Juneau? The more I look at this, the more dreamy and ill thoughtout it seems.

Don't get me started on the international map.
posted by maryr at 1:08 PM on February 5, 2013


I will say this, rail commuting in Silicon Valley has gotten better in the past 20 years. And when I say "better", I mean that if you look at my old commute (Morgan Hill <> San Jose), it at least exists, albeit in a way that would make it nearly impossible to sustain any kind of constructive family life, which is why I bit the bullet and moved to Mountain View.

I do not miss California at all.
posted by plinth at 1:28 PM on February 5, 2013


So how, then, to do an originating station pre-checking, when some passengers are going over the border, but many are not? Sealed cars? That might work for the passengers themselves, but would it work for the actual train? What kind of tracking system would you need for cargo or baggage, to make sure nothing goes over which shouldn't?

A similar (and maybe better, since it involves the two countries in question) model is US preclearance at Canadian airports. At the eight largest airports in Canada, a US customs and immigration office has been established, and you go through customs into a specific secure terminal -- at that point, you are effectively in the United States, even though it's an airport terminal where you buy Tim Horton's coffee with loonies. This means that flights can go to any US airport as a domestic flight, which is incredibly convenient from a scheduling, capacity and connections point of view.

There are roughly four routes across the Canadian border that make sense; from Vancouver to Seattle and beyond, from southern Ontario to Detroit and beyond, from southern Ontario to Buffalo and beyond, and from Montreal south into northern New York or Vermont.

From Vancouver, it's only a few miles to the border, so you can build a preclearance facility in the train station; you go through customs and immigration and onto a waiting train on a secure platform. The train goes directly to the US. You do the same from Montreal; it's 50 miles to the border but not really much outside the metro area; the existing service (Adirondack) doesn't stop outside metro Montreal right now.

You build entrance facilities in Detroit and Buffalo, which are both major cities right on the other side of the border. The train goes into a secure area, you get off and go through customs & immigration and then either into town or onto a connecting train, just like landing at Detroit airport from Frankfurt or where ever.

Finally, you build a preclearance facility in Toronto Union station, by far the busiest station in southern Ontario. This permits express trains that leave Toronto and go nonstop to Detroit (then on to Chicago) with no customs fuss when crossing the border, and the same going nonstop to Buffalo (and on to New York) with no customs fuss.

That's a total of five facilities, two in the US and three in Canada. People carry their baggage, as they already do. Cargo continues to use the freight transport system. If the system proves successful, you could build additional preclearance terminals in Canada, so that the express train from Toronto to New York pulls into a secure siding in Hamilton to let more passengers on or whatever.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


However, it seems like high-speed rail is a mistake. Trains need more stops than this to make a lot of sense, and I don't think the trade-off in time is a big deal.

The day to day, hour to hour train schedules can accommodate this. You have your slow local trains that stop at every station. Express trains stop at roughly every fifth station. Super express at every tenth, Limited Express every 15th...etc. etc. This is what Japan does, where stations and train lines are everywhere.

And remember, high-speed rail isn't necessarily intended to replace cars; its best feature is that it replaces air travel.
posted by zardoz at 1:35 PM on February 5, 2013


From Vancouver, it's only a few miles to the border, so you can build a preclearance facility in the train station; you go through customs and immigration and onto a waiting train on a secure platform.

This is already how it happens.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:38 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand the thinking behind leaving two of the largest cities in the PNW off the grid almost entirely.

Which two cities are those? It looks to me like they're just proposing to upgrade the Amtrak Cascades line, which sounds like a pretty good place to start.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:48 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The cross-border routes make for an interesting thought experiment*. Crossing the border by train now is a colossal pain in the ass, being parked at the border for a few hours as Customs checks the passengers and the train itself, completely erasing the benefits in time and convenience that taking the train offers in the first place.

Someone's already discussed pre-clearance, but I feel like it might just be a problem of scale. Right now, there's one train a day between New York and Montreal. Amtrak schedules an hour to get into the US and somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half to get into Canada (I'm having trouble understanding the schedule in that direction). At two trains a day (one in each direction), there's little incentive for those border crossings to be able to clear a train efficiently. But I don't think a train is inherently any harder than getting an airplane load of people through immigration in under an hour (and my worst waits at immigration at an airport haven't been that long). It's harder in that you can't strand people at the border when the border guards decide they want to take someone in the back and intimidate them for 20 minutes for answering a question truthfully, but I don't think that accounts for how long it takes. (This happened coming into the US on Greyhound. They found out a guy was a university student and decided he was obviously going to be studying in the US without a student visa. 20 minutes later, it dawned on them that there are universities in Britain and he was on his summer holidays.)
posted by hoyland at 3:03 PM on February 5, 2013


Oops. Each side of the border sees only one train a day.
posted by hoyland at 3:04 PM on February 5, 2013


I see a NY-LA route. I also see someone mentioned a supertrain.

And yet, not a single link to this.
posted by qcubed at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2013


Super Train is gonna solve all of this. Keep a small bag packed.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:55 PM on February 5, 2013


jessamyn: "We've got crappy rails in Vermont that are so lousy in places the train can't go more than about 30MPH, so upgrading the rail service (which is okay for freight but really terrible for passenger stuff) is going to shorten the time it takes to get from here to NYC by three hours which is a minor miracle."

For stupid political and budgetary reasons, half of that delay has to do with the fact that the Vermonter needs to go to the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts, and make the railroad equivalent of a K-turn in Palmer, MA (which isn't even a stop on the route!). You'd be hard pressed to find another scheduled passenger train in the world that needs to do this.

When it comes to fixing the Vermonter, Amtrak has a lot of really low-hanging fruit to pick from.

It's the railroad equivalent of Breezewood.
posted by schmod at 4:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real miracle of Supertrain is that a tripod.com site still works.
posted by maryr at 8:09 PM on February 5, 2013


schmod: They're working on re-routing back to the west side of the Connecticut river, which will fix the Palmer problem. Funding is in place, wiki says estimated to be finished by end of 2014. The wiki blurb is here.

My understanding of the original problem was that the owners of the direct route didn't feel like selling to amtrak when amtrak was starting up, so we got stuck with the crappy side of the river.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:10 PM on February 5, 2013


Speaking as a resident of Washington State, I'd also like to thank Florida, for your rejection of federal HSR funds.

According to estimates, it will generate around 1,000 jobs for people until completion in 2017.

This summer I worked on a Republican political campaign in Florida, and high speed rail was a big issue.

Keep up the good work!

and then the company that would build it was Chinese so apparently it wasn't going to create any jobs for Americans.

A yellow scare? The Chinese are going to take our railway jobs? That'd be kind of lulz really, if it wasn't so racist.

But, here's a secret:

Chances are, it wasn't the imaginary Chinese railroad laborers who killed HSR in Florida in 2008. It was your Governor's pal Michael J. Ward (John McCain 2008) of CSX who hates the idea of HSR. Whereas the Pacific Northwest had Warren Buffet's (Obama for America) and his newly purchased BNSF lobbying for approval.

Politics, money, fear and railroads. Classic America.
posted by formless at 12:04 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the CSX guy has a point. He's abrasive about it, but it doesn't mean the point is unsound. 100+ MPH passenger trains and freight trains should not share the same track. And passenger trains have never been a moneymaker, which is why the railroads got out of the business the second they were allowed to and shoved it all on Amtrak.

One of the reasons the Acela is both comparatively slow and stupidly expensive to build compared to European high-speed trains is that it's built like a "bank vault". It weighs twice what European trains do, as a direct result of safety requirements that require it to withstand a full-speed, head-on collision with a fully loaded freight train. That is not a risk that European or Japanese high speed passenger trains have, because they run on their own tracks away from freight trains. But it means you can't go and buy an "off the shelf" European or Japanese (or Korean or Chinese or anyone else's) bullet train and operate it in the US.

Also, track that's perfectly fine for freight use isn't necessarily good for HSR and vice versa. With freight, most of the load is straight down. Wood ties and crushed stone ballast over compacted subgrade work just fine. With HSR, the tracks have to deal with much more horizontal load, particularly on curves. The French TGV tracks are banked and have very large-radius turns, neither of which are necessary (or in the case of the banking, even desirable) for freight. And the overhead wires that carry power to electric passenger trains just get in the way and could potentially restrict the height of freight trains.

So I can understand how CSX, which is basically in the business of moving cargo containers around, doesn't really relish the idea of having their well-oiled container-moving machine messed up with HSR "improvements" that wouldn't benefit them. The solution is to not go after halfassed solutions like shared passenger/rail infrastructure, but instead build dedicated point-to-point HSR lines that don't interact with the freight railroads.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:40 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


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