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January 27, 2010 7:13 AM   Subscribe

"You have to put two and two together, and hopefully you come up with a high-speed rail project."
The St. Petersburg Times announced today that the state of Florida will receive funding for a high speed rail project, to be announced today by President Barack Obama in his Tampa visit.

The state asked for $2.5B; estimates for the initial phase from Tampa to Orlando are at $2.5B, with the Orlando-Miami phase expected to cost a further $8B.
Critics of the current plan argue that in leaving out spurs to downtown Orlando and Lakeland limits its use to mainly tourism, ignoring the needs of residents.
Florida's flirtation with high-speed rail goes back at least a decade, with the state's voters adding a constitutional amendment mandating the effort back in 2000, but voting to repeal the amendment in 2004.
A deal long in the works in which FDOT was to purchase 61.5 miles of track from CSX has been roundly criticized as being much too advantageous to CSX, because of terms that allow CSX to continue to run the same number of freight cars per day through the corridor without having any responsibility for repair or maintenance.
posted by toodleydoodley (86 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This seems like a better post than the slightly earlier one.
posted by Mister_A at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2010


Double, -ish.
Although at first glance this post does seem better.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2010


Thing hasn't even been built and it's already six minutes late!
posted by briank at 7:16 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


(but seriously, this is the better of the two posts)
posted by briank at 7:16 AM on January 27, 2010


Not fast enough.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:17 AM on January 27, 2010


I had to run on the old tracks, duh
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:17 AM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


He's visiting Tampa tomorrow.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on January 27, 2010


You know what I think would be cool?
Passenger service returning to the low-speed rail station down the street. The tracks are already there and in use.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, is this the "Magic Levitation" line from South Beach to Disney World that Bobby Jindal warned me about?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:28 AM on January 27, 2010


Sorry, flagged as a double.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:30 AM on January 27, 2010


So anyway, I personally have no need for an airport to airport train in Central Florida, although the lack of a spur to downtown Lakeland looks a lot less heinous than the one in Orlando. A lot of residents do commute between Tampa-Lakeland, Orlando-Lakeland and Orlando-Tampa, but on the Orlando end, would be unlikely to abandon I-4 for a train if they can't get to their destination quickly and cheaply.

Lakeland is pretty compact, and its Citrus Connection bus system has routes to the airport and across I-4 that could probably serve rail riders reasonably well. Orlando's Lynx bus system goes all over, but the international airport is nowhere near where anybody wants to go, including Disney, Kissimmee or downtown and the O-Rena.

The question is, will building high speed rail between two of Florida's largest cities spur these cities to improve their own local public transit infrastructure after decades of neglect?
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2010


Other countries have excellent high-speed train networks. It's not like this is rocket science, just train science.

Why do people think that things we don't have in the US are impossible, despite all evidence to the contrary.
posted by ged at 7:38 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


It also takes political will, and funding, and a host of different logistics, and an interested market—not just technical know-how.

It might be some of those things that people are describing as impossible in the US. If, in fact, anyone has said that bullet trains in the US are impossible. Which I don't think they have.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:43 AM on January 27, 2010


Fixing existing rail wont work - for many reasons including the ones pointed out by Mr. Pileon in the deleted thread (having to yield to freight, Amtrack not owning the rail they have trains on, etc).

Creating a new network wont work because the right-of-way to actually build the train where its useful (e.g. LA to SF) is too damn expensive because not only do you have to buy out the land where the tracks would go, but also all the fucking NIMBYs along the route that don't want to live near high speed rail, after you've spent years in court with them as they file lawsuits against the project to keep it from happening.

Unless you have complete control of the situation (like the Chinese government) to keep the NIMBYs out of it to take whatever land you need plus the cheap labor to build it all you aren't going to be able to build cost-effective rail transport to get humans from one place to another.
posted by SirOmega at 7:46 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll believe it when I see it. Amtrak can't even manage the trains it has now: frequent breakdowns, broken toilets, always having to yield to freight. Even with fixed management, a bullet train system would require a Manhattan Project-level commitment from the public and the government.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:46 AM on January 27, 2010


well, having lived in Florida for 20 years, including +/- 12 years in one of the target cities, I can attest that one of the biggest things standing in the way of good public transportation is bad public transportation. The perception in low transit-use cities (both by government and citizens) is that buses and trains are for poor people.

in spite of the fact that transit maps address actual commute use patterns pretty well (using Tampa as an example, there appears to be adequate coverage of the Hyde Park/Palma Ceia node to both downtown and West Shore nodes, as well as from the West Ybor/Central node to downtown, etc., although transportation from anywhere to the University node is pretty sucky), the service itself, in frequency, particularly (every hour except during rush hour, anyone?), and in details like covered shelters (lack thereof) and unmaintained bus stops (anthills the size of mailboxes) leaves a lot to be desired.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:52 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


High-speed rail smacks of socialism.
posted by Mister_A at 7:54 AM on January 27, 2010


buses and trains are for poor people.


Bingo.
posted by Mister_A at 7:54 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


High-speed rail smacks of socialism.

funneee!

but it's a joke I've thought a lot more about since moving to no-more-taxes, no-more-roads land up here in north fla. in my teabag county, the only thing people can agree that they want their taxes to be used for is cops and jails. judging by the letters to the editor, we could pretty much do without roads, schools, fire department, animal control, clean water, sanitation and actual court systems.

not that they'd actually be happier going it alone, shooting and trapping all their own meat, running down and stringing up their own evildoers, boiling and filtering their own water and watching the fireplace for entertainment in the evening - but they sure think they would.

it's the american myth of self-sufficiency: how do you convince people that we're all in it together, when they think they're already doing everything themselves?
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:03 AM on January 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


Great question, and I don't have an answer for you toodleydoodley.
posted by Mister_A at 8:08 AM on January 27, 2010


I hear those things are awfully loud.
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wonder, why Tampa/Orlando/Miami first?

I've heard of five potential sites thrown around:

1. Northeast Corridor (NYC-Phila-DC)
2. Midwest (Hub--Chicago--and Spokes incl Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc)
3. Texas (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin
4. California (Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, San Diego)
5. Florida (Tampa, Orlando, Miami)

Why is #5 the best pilot? My lay knowledge tells me it doesn't have the biggest potential ridership, has a population not accustomed to mass/rail transit, and is the least likely to spur tourism.

Honest question -- why Florida first?
posted by jckll at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2010


This morning on our local news they were saying that California had secured the funding, and made it sound like we won out over eight over proposed systems. So are there multiple systems getting funding? Or do I just need more coffee?
posted by Big_B at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2010


I hear those things are awfully loud.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 AM on January 27 [+] [!]


next you'll be complaining about how many low-income neighborhoods have to be bulldozed to build the information superhighway...{/}
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd like to believe it, but the Democratic Party only has an 18 seat majority in the Senate, so there's no way funding will happen.
posted by eriko at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


It glides as softly as a cloud!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Florida has the advantage of being flat. Maybe also because so many people visit there, from everywhere, for added PR. And maybe someone thinks Florida needs some do-re-mi from Uncle Sugar, to make them feel happier about things.
posted by Goofyy at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2010


I hear those things are awfully loud.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 AM on January 27 [+] [!]

next you'll be complaining about how many low-income neighborhoods have to be bulldozed to build the information superhighway...{/}


Someone has to get up to speed on his Simpsons episodes!
posted by bitteroldman at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is #5 the best pilot? My lay knowledge tells me it doesn't have the biggest potential ridership, has a population not accustomed to mass/rail transit, and is the least likely to spur tourism.

Honest question -- why Florida first?


I think you're all kinds of right. 1 & 2 I'm personally familiar with as areas with established cultures of ridership that should really embrace and use high speed rail. the others I don't really know about. my best argument for Tampa - Orlando is the incredibly high european/asian tourist contingent we get here for Disney/Busch Gardens/the beaches, and they sure as hell know how to ride trains. maybe they can teach us rednecks how to let go of the pickem-up truck and ride trains as well.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:17 AM on January 27, 2010


Someone has to get up to speed on his Simpsons episodes!

is that something I'd need a teevee to understand?

no, I was just getting in my obligatory Cryptonomicon reference.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2010


THAT'S where I remembered the quote from. Okay, Carry on talkin' bout trains.
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 AM on January 27, 2010


monorail...monorail....MONORAIL!
posted by nimmpau at 8:22 AM on January 27, 2010


This is more of Shelbyville idea....
posted by RussHy at 8:23 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there a chance the track could bend?
posted by e.e. coli at 8:26 AM on January 27, 2010


Honest question -- why Florida first?

I would guess a combination of Florida being a swing state and the route being flat and relatively unpopulated (?) north of I-4.
posted by cardboard at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2010


monorail...monorail....MONORAIL!

Well, there used to be one but nobody rode it...
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:29 AM on January 27, 2010


My understanding has always been that the US decided to become a car-centric country at the time Europe was deciding to become a train-centric continent. These "decisions" were both following WWII: the US prosperity led middle-class Americans to buy cars, while the poverty in the post-war period forced Europeans to rely on public transportation. The legacy of this is massive public infrastructure in Europe and a remarkable interstate system with a dying auto industry in the US.

I would love to see high-speed rail here, and I think anyone who backpacked across Europe in college would, too. A principle reason I favor this is, frankly, tourism. When I arrived in a European city by train, I popped out of the station into the thick of things. When you arrive in an American city by car, you pass the ugliest strip malls before you find the historical attractions of the dead downtown.

Successful rail leads to urban core revitalization.
posted by jefficator at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Honest question -- why Florida first?

Here is what I found:
Competition is fierce among states for a piece of the $8 billion Obama has devoted to rail projects, but Florida is widely considered one of the front-runners because it has secured land rights and has cleared a federal environmental review. The Legislature in December approved a commuter rail project in the Orlando area that was pitched as a way to attract the federal dollars.

Illinois and California are considered to be among the other top contenders for federal funds.

“The fact that we have made the commitment legislatively has put us among the states that are serious about rail,” Galvano said.

posted by I am the Walrus at 8:45 AM on January 27, 2010


So there's gonna be a train that nobody's used to riding to take people from no part of Orlando that people visit to a city that has nearly no tourist appeal, each that require a car for reasonable travel and whose rental car hubs are near the airport where the train won't be.

As a Floridian, I think this is the worst type of bullshit project. Floridians hate public transit and don't use it, and the state simply is not laid out to support it. It's got all the sprawl problems of Texas with the culture to boot. Gah.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:57 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. Northeast Corridor (NYC-Phila-DC)

This is the most realistic but I suspect cost for securing right of ways is somewhat prohibitive.

2. Midwest (Hub--Chicago--and Spokes incl Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc)

Good options especially if increased funding in Ohio could result in long term electoral success.

3. Texas (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin

Despite the massive population growth in these centers, Texans still like their cars alot, the distances are immense and Texans don't vote Democrat. I know I live here.

4. California (Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, San Diego).

I assume right of ways is a major issue here as well.

5. Florida (Tampa, Orlando, Miami)

Some work is already been done on the right of way and you really only have to make one big long line instead of a hub-spoke or loop. Honestly it would be best to have it go between Miami and Atlanta with stops in Jacksonsville and Orlando and a spur to Tampa but that would be pretty damn expensive.
posted by vuron at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


“The fact that we have made the commitment legislatively has put us among the states that are serious about rail,” Galvano said.

that's totally great; now here's the hard question I have to ask myself and everyone else - would you for real ride a train?

how much will it cost, for real, door to door? I was trying to figure this out recently after MrDoodley and I went to Miami for the weekend. we drove from northwest BFE to Miami via the turnpike, at a cost of about $20 each way for tolls, plus about $50 each way for gas. on the convenience side, we had a car to get around Miami in. on the inconvenience side, we had to park it, which was free off Calle Ocho but not only not free on South Beach, we had to hike pretty far just to buy something in order to get change for the meters (which don't yet take credit cards, unlike the meters in Palm Beach).

so, how much will they charge to ride from, say, Tampa to Miami? $50/passenger? $75? is that one way? round trip? will ground transportation be adequate and reasonably priced at the destination?
am I willing to factor in $100 - $200 in upfront transit costs for a beach weekend in Miami? I never think about the cost of gas, somehow, but I suspect I'm far from alone. when all you have is a car, everything looks like the interstate.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2010


I'd like to ask people with real experience riding medium-distance high speed rail, how much does it cost for comparable distances elsewhere? it's about 90 miles from Tampa to Orlando, a distance you ustacould drive in 90 minutes or less, before Lakeland and Plant City exploded. now you don't clear the gravity well of Tampa until practically Baseball City (Haines City), which is almost to Celebration, which is almost to Orlando, which is, I suspect, the reason people are finally willing to consider it.

so, I repeat - y'all who know about trains, how much is a 90-mile train ride worth to you?
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:14 AM on January 27, 2010


WTF? Americans hate trains, and are provenly incapable of running them as a practical method of transportation. Why would anyone think this was a good idea?
posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2010


So here's an idea:

Why not build a new passenger rail system in the median of the interstate highway system? You'll have to rebuild a lot of bridges, but the routes are already mapped out, and that solves the right-of-way problem.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2010


Charlie Crist's brother in law has a train company he wants to franchise. Please try to keep up Artw.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2010


This morning on our local news they were saying that California had secured the funding, and made it sound like we won out over eight over proposed systems. So are there multiple systems getting funding? Or do I just need more coffee?

There's $8 billion in funding for high speed rail in the stimulus bill. FL wants $2.5 billion for the Tampa to Orlando section. CA wants $4.7 billion. I don't think any of the money has been awarded yet by the FRA but clearly the more developed plans are more likely to get the money.
posted by smackfu at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2010


Why not build a new passenger rail system in the median of the interstate highway system?

that's actually the plan in the Tampa-Orlando project
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


4. California (Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, San Diego).

Didn't we vote on this during the last presidential election? I thought a bunch of $$ was being allocated to investigate high-speed rail from SF<>LA. I assume this also ties in with the massive Transbay Terminal rebuilding project.
posted by gnutron at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2010


I suspect that in alot of areas building a train in the existing highway median could be accomplished but eventually you have to tackle the urban areas. Building an elevated train-line above the existing highway (at least in my area the median is pretty small) is probably doable but it would be a) incredible expensive as you'd have to rebuild every overpass and highway interchange and b) incredibly disruptive to existing traffic flows.

An almost certain way to kill public transit is to make people's commutes even more hellish even if it's just in the short term.

I think long term high speed rail is definitely warranted but I wonder if many of the same policy goals (reducing emissions, improving commute times, reducing highway traffic) could be accomplished by a) increasing the relative cost of gasoline (yes political suicide) or b) mandating that a greater percentage of commercial truck traffic be offloaded to the commercial rail system. I know that if my commute had significantly less 18-wheelers on the highway I could probably get places faster and the air quality would improve significantly.
posted by vuron at 9:33 AM on January 27, 2010


Other countries have excellent high-speed train networks. It's not like this is rocket science, just train science.

However, many of those countries are small and densely populated, so it's cheaper on a per capital basis to build.

For example, about 35 million people live in the Kanto area of Japan, and high speed rail (the shinkansen or bullet train) connects this region to the Kansai region of Japan, which is home to 21 million people. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the shinkansen passes through the Tokai region of Japan (Japan's industrial and manufacturing heartland) with 15 million people.

The bullet train line nominally serves a population of about 70 million (60% of the Japanese population), in a distance of just 300 miles.

The London metro population is about 14 million, and high speed rail connects it to Paris, with a metropolitan population of about 13 million.

Probably the only region in the United States where you would get that sort of density is the Northeast Corridor, or perhaps Toronto-Windsor.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:35 AM on January 27, 2010


Are there really that many people who go from Orlando to Tampa?

Can I vote for service out to the other coast, so I don't have to drive down the oh-so-boring Florida's Turnpike*?


* Am I the only one who starts singing "Good Times" the minute they see the first sign for this road?
posted by madajb at 9:36 AM on January 27, 2010


Vuron, right and right! I've often thought that cranking up the gas tax would pay for a lot of trains, as would cranking up the taxes paid by trucking companies, since the amount they currently pay doesn't even come close to the damage they do to roads.

my real worry about dealing with the urban areas with elevated lines in Central Florida - hell, just the interstate-concurrent lines in Central Florida - is the sinkholes that occur more and more frequently as overdevelopment and agricultural emergencies draw down the aquifers.

as I recall, the Howard Frankland bridge widening project (1990s) was riddled with delays and cost overruns because the geo survey they'd made of Tampa Bay wasn't adequate to keep the piles they drove from rocketing right the hell into the Florida Aquifer and gone forever.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:39 AM on January 27, 2010


I suspect that in alot of areas building a train in the existing highway median could be accomplished but eventually you have to tackle the urban areas.

Also, a lot of areas have "used up" the median already because that was "free" space for extra highway lanes.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on January 27, 2010


rocketing, where rocketing actually equals plummeting
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:40 AM on January 27, 2010


But, wait, Tampa already has a useless monorail.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


We all know who the real winner is here: Disney. They are getting a federally funded rail line from the airport to their front door. And when they tell people to use it, they actually get good press!
posted by smackfu at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2010


also Joe Beese can you pretty please with whipped cream, jimmies and a cherry on top bring that Kunstler quote in here? Pleeeaaase?
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2010


The perception in low transit-use cities (both by government and citizens) is that buses and trains are for poor people.

When I worked at a research center in Florida, one of our projects worked out that it was cheaper to buy each regular bus rider a car than pay for the bus system in one of those metro areas.
posted by ahughey at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2010


Yeah, this is not good policy.

Regardless of where in the country the train money goes, it looks like the projects are focused on connecting metropolitan areas instead of making metropolitan areas more transit-based themselves. There isn't enough intercity travel to warrant any of these projects.

The most likely outcome here, if these projects are completed, is that they'll allow further commutes and reduce density in city cores. The density is both what makes trains economically viable and environmentally beneficial. It's also the missing ingredient that Europe has and we're missing.

Fortunately (crosses fingers) some of this money should be going towards the City I work for near Boston, which is a pretty good model for what everyone seems to think this country should be doing.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:22 AM on January 27, 2010


cheaper to buy each regular bus rider a car

does that include insurance? because I have found that except for the car I now own, I was spending about as much on insurance (liability and PIP only) every two to three years as the upfront cost of the car.

but most households have two cars, and if you're making payments on the car, you have to have full coverage, which depending on your driver record, can be $1,000/year or more, per car. so, there's $2,000/year for insurance, plus say $7,200/year for car payments for two cars (total, not each). so almost $10,000/year just to own cars, not including fuel, maintenance, parking, tolls and accident repairs.
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


WTF? Americans hate trains, and are provenly incapable of running them as a practical method of transportation. Why would anyone think this was a good idea?
posted by Artw at 12:17 PM on January 27 [+] [!]


Sort of a chicken or egg problem though, isn't it? It's hard to love train travel when the only thing you have is Amtrak.

I think if you ask most travelers in the NE corridor, they would say that despite its (numerous) flaws Amtrak can be quite effective and efficient. If I want to go from DC to NY or PHI to BOS, taking the train versus flying is really a flip of a coin.

But it takes good networks, good engineering and good PR to make that happen. People won't stop hating trains until they have a reason to.
posted by jckll at 10:31 AM on January 27, 2010


toodleydoodley: The perception in low transit-use cities (both by government and citizens) is that buses and trains are for poor people.

This goes even farther. You can create a hierarchy of transportation systems that shows that both the level of government regulation / attention and level of quality is directly related to the income level of the people who generally use them, not just how much they operate.

Bus transportation is lower quality than train transportation, which is lower quality than airplane transportation. Here we're talking not only about the vehicles themselves (their level of comfort, their reliability, etc), but the level of professionalism amongst staff, the comfort level and number of amenities in terminals, the level of regulation (there's a whole regulatory agency for airplane travel), the amount of customer service provided when those systems are delayed (airlines provide passengers delayed overnight free lodging in a hotel and provide all passengers delayed beyond a few hours with travel vouchers, Greyhound provides its travelers with nothing), etc. But it goes even further.

Break down the companies that provide bus travel. For 95% of the locations in the United States, there is one bus company (Greyhound and its subsidiaries) that provide one, crappy level of service. In the northeast, there became a growing trend of "Chinatown" bus companies that would ferry (originally) Chinese residents from major city to city. In DC and NYC now, however, there's a whole variety of bus companies serving between the two cities offering a variety of extra amenities (Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, more leg room) etc. Here's what's strange: these new bus companies have cheaper ticket prices than Greyhound (Greyhound still charges about $30 to get between NYC and DC, while these other companies can charge as little as $1 with advertising). The difference is the clientelle: DC to NYC travelers who get on buses in ritzy downtowns have several transportation options, and will exercise them if given the chance: as a result, they get a ton of companies that compete for their business. Low-income travelers, many of whom have to make hasty travel decisions in order to aid sick family members or take advantage of transient work opportunities, are served by one company that routinely screws them.

To a lesser extent, the same thing can be said about airlines. Why do United and American stay in business at all when carriers like Southwest and Virgin offer cheaper tickets and more amenities, in an industry that has a reputation for crappy service? Its because Southwest and Virgin serve only large hubs in major urban areas (where the poor aren't taking planes to begin with), and United and American serve both those hubs and the myriad of 20 gates or less airports which dot the midwest and the southeast.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:34 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the claim that you could provide a car to riders of public transit for less than it costs to run public transit it a bit of a hyperbole.

However it is true that most Public Transit Authorities are heavily subsidizing the cost of ridership. Public transit outside of very limited areas of the US hasn't actually been profitable for decades. Could that money be spent better on other priorities? Possibly, improved public health and education outcomes would probably result in more people finding higher paid jobs (so they don't need public transit) but I don't think you could give every rider a check equal to the subsidy for ridership and they would suddenly be able to afford a car or taxi rides.

The truth is that public transit is necessary for improving outcomes for poor people in poor neighborhoods (spatial mismatch hypothesis) by providing them transit to areas of the city that have those jobs. The rest of us arguably benefit because those poor people fill low paying jobs that we don't want. The result is that we end up paying less for goods and services than we would otherwise and we don't have to drive into the bad part of town to get access to cheap labor.
posted by vuron at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2010


"Floridians hate public transit and don't use it, and the state simply is not laid out to support it. It's got all the sprawl problems of Texas with the culture to boot"

Bit of a chicken an an egg problem there. Infrastructure isn't going to be laid out to support rail until rail, or at least the promise of it, is in place.
posted by Mitheral at 11:16 AM on January 27, 2010


Do trains make sense in a place where there's no existing train infrastructure? I understand why, in the 1800's, if you had to move things or people from two points that don't have a river connecting them, laying two parallel lines of steel at a fixed gauge and running an engine across them would be a great improvement over donkeys or carts. I also understand why, if you've already got the infrastructure in place you want to maintain it and continue using it, but it seems inefficient to start from scratch without considering alternative solutions. There's a road right there. Bigger buses, like the Dulles airport mobile lounges, but faster and safer in a dedicated lane would be cheaper and, crucially, could be steered around problems. The main drawback with trains is that one of them breaking down screws up every other train behind it.
posted by IanMorr at 11:59 AM on January 27, 2010


how much is a 90-mile train ride worth to you?

as a resident of FL just SW of Orlando, I would pay a couple of bucks to go to Tampa. No more than $10. My car gets ~30 mpg, so a 90 mile trip would be around $8 in gas. Yes, I realize the other costs of a car, but the main barometer would be gas.

If, as the news states, this is meant for commuters to use daily, I would say tickets should be no more than $5.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:12 PM on January 27, 2010


However, many of those countries are small and densely populated, so it's cheaper on a per capital basis to build.

And then there's Spain. Ranked 111th in the world in population density at 235/sq. mi. (Florida is 338/sq. mi.). Had one of the worst rail systems in Europe as of the late '80s. Now has probably the best HSR network in Europe, and by 2020 more than 90 percent of Spaniards will live within 50km of an AVE or AVANT station.

The Barcelona-Madrid AVE has just destroyed short-hop air travel on that route, and the Seville-Madrid line - the oldest, considered a boondoggle at its outset, with the longest track record to examine in terms of economic and social impact - has totally reinvented the regional economy of the region it runs through.

I rode the AVE network extensively last fall. It's cost-competitive with air travel - first class a bit more than a discount flight, coach AVE ticket probably a bit cheaper than its air equivalent, especially on the heavily used commuter routes. And the first-class service is quite simply the best way to travel I've ever experienced anywhere (and I'm including that one time I got bumped up to first class on Cathay Pacific). There is simply no better combination of cost, speed, convenience and quality on offer. It is wholly pleasurable basically from start to finish.

I met with a number of academics and officials involved in the AVE project, and the short version is that it's at its optimum between good-sized urban centres over a distance of 200-600km, ideally without too much in between to drive up the cost buying up right-of-ways. These need not be two huge cities - the line from Madrid out through Valladolid to Bilbao is not expected to be any less successful than Madrid-Barcelona, I don't think. I should also mention that this is a nation that has seen some of the worst train-targeted terrorism anywhere in the last 20 years, and still the boarding process is two minutes long and involves no shoe removal or shedding of liquids.

The Spaniards had two big money pushes at the outset (big infrastructure buys for the Barcelona Olympics and Seville World Fair, plus a big whack of EU transfer payments), but the range of stimuluses and buyouts and bribes handed to auto companies by the US and Canadian govts in recent months (not even to get into the whole stimulus/bailout package) is probably in the same ballpark. In other words, we have the money if we decide it's important enough.

For this reason, I'm telling anyone who will listen to me that the best thing that could happen to the Calgary-Edmonton and Montreal-Windsor regions here in Canada would be HSR. Not sure if there's a way to make it work from the Lower Mainland of BC to the Okanagan, but it'd be seriously awesome if it could.

Canadian "leaders" being the quivering parochial cowards that they mostly are, I bet the US will have to bite big first, so I say: Go Florida!
posted by gompa at 12:49 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I live in Greater Orlando. I would probably take high speed rail from Orlando to Tampa for a night out, if the price was reasonable. I'd definitely head down to Miami a lot more often.

I have a few coworkers who commute here (N of Orlando) from Lakeland, which strikes me as INSANE, but what do I know. I do hope that high speed rail would help relieve some of the congestion on I-4, making it easier to get around.
posted by kableh at 12:59 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd love seeing the U.S. build a massive TGV style 300kph train running from Tampa to Boston. A more realistic option however is ground-level power supply in highways for electric cars, and those cars using batteries for limited range travel off the interstates.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:05 PM on January 27, 2010


The whole "travel from city-center to another" is nice for tourists, but it loses a lot of advantages if you don't live in the departure city-center.
posted by smackfu at 1:55 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the claim that you could provide a car to riders of public transit for less than it costs to run public transit it a bit of a hyperbole.

More of an extrapolation than hyperbole. Obviously I'm not suggesting the government go out and buy cars for people, but the cost per mile of public transportation in these Florida counties is higher than the cost per mile of personal transportation.

The average cost per mile of car ownership in Florida in the late 90s was less than $1 a mile (including fuel, insurance, maintenance, and cost of car). In Hillsborough County (Tampa), the total cost per passenger mile of public transit was around $3. In Orange County, the cost per passenger mile was closer to $9.

For comparison, average cost per mile of car use was around $.50 in 2006 before factoring in the purchase price of the car. This usage number depends on the type of car, where you drive, and how much you drive. I could go digging for more recent public transit data, but I'm sure the general trend holds for these Florida countries.
posted by ahughey at 2:46 PM on January 27, 2010


The average cost per mile of car ownership in Florida in the late 90s was less than $1 a mile

anecdatally there are now a bajillion more people living in metro tampa/orlando than there were a decade ago and it is correspondingly more difficult/expensive to drive there.

IDK exactly where you are, but you seem to know the area well. remember when you could drive from Ybor to The Warehouse in a little over an hour, and notice how you totally can't now? that's one of the things that might make the tampa-orlando train usable.

but as you say, it has nothing to do with the transportation infrastructures of those two respective cities. their increased population density, as of the last decade, however, might.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:27 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I also understand why, if you've already got the infrastructure in place you want to maintain it and continue using it, but it seems inefficient to start from scratch without considering alternative solutions. There's a road right there. Bigger buses, like the Dulles airport mobile lounges, but faster and safer in a dedicated lane would be cheaper and, crucially, could be steered around problems."

You either need to grade separate and totally isolate the bus lane, in which case you can no longer merely steer around problems; or you can't run the buses any where near as fast as the trains. A greyhound driven at a 100 mph separated by even a no post wall from adjacent traffic doing 65-70 is a scary proposition.

"I'm telling anyone who will listen to me that the best thing that could happen to the Calgary-Edmonton and Montreal-Windsor regions here in Canada would be HSR."

A high speed link connecting to a near city centre (I don't know about Edmonton but say Franklin or a dedicated station between Franklin and Zoo in Calgary) seems like a complete no brainer for Alberta. Right of way could be made to exist over much of the route alongside the QE2 for cheap. A spur could connect Red Deer (which would be a natural logistics and repair point). And it would be faster than air between the two cities when you consider security and scheduling delays.

ahughey writes "In Orange County, the cost per passenger mile was closer to $9."

That's crazy. If that's a consistent average of all routes and not just a cherry picked example then they are doing something wrong. Way wrong. Rampant corruption levels of wrong. To put it into perspective Greyhound Canada claims that it costs them C$3.46 per mile to run a highway coach in BC. And that's a self serving number, in Canadian dollars, probably generated to maximize the cost per mile. The average cost per mile (note not passenger mile) to operate a transit bus in significant metropolitan areas in the US in 2002 was only $0.64. [PDF]. Rates top out at less than a buck and quarter. You'd have to run 6+ miles empty for every mile you had merely a single passenger to reach $9 per passenger mile in the most expensive area.

ahughey writes "In Hillsborough County (Tampa), the total cost per passenger mile of public transit was around $3."

The PDF I linked to shows Tampa-St. Petersburg (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART)) (is that where we are talking about) at $0.73 per mile to operate their buses in 2002. So either they are running empty 80% of the time and with only a single passenger the other 20% or someone is distorting some numbers. Note again it costs Greyhound ~$3.50 per mile to operate a highway coach.
posted by Mitheral at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2010


There isn't enough intercity travel to warrant any of these projects.
L.A./San Diego to Vegas. More than enough travel.

Bus transportation is lower quality than train transportation, which is lower quality than airplane transportation.
This is only true using the fairly narrow confines of how you define "quality." Personally, I define it as how happy I am getting somewhere. And the answer is:

1) Bus: Miserable. Slow, smells bad, uncomfortable.
2) Plane: Miserable. Long waits, VERY uncomfortable, rarely leave within an hour of what's printed on my $300+ ticket. Yes, they provide me a hotel if they cancel my flight, but WTF are they canceling my flight?!!
3) Train: A pleasure. Mostly on time. More comfortable seats (for longer trips I've taken, and for short jaunts comfort is less of an issue). Make it faster and it's damn near perfect.
posted by coolguymichael at 6:07 PM on January 27, 2010


How much is a 90-mile train ride worth to you?

Twenty bucks, same as in...but seriously, how fast would it go? I already have to pay tolls on the 528. Anyway, I'd ride a train from Orlando to Tampa for sure. I could visit my parents, who hate hate I4 (I just wish it went right out across central Florida to the East Coast to the Melbourne area). What I think a lot of folks living in other states don't realize is that we have HORRENDOUS public transit here, we don't have car inspections for fuel emissions, and we really don't carpool as much as we should. We don't have all the ride-sharing options many of you do. So the bullet train might be a better deal, environmentally, than clogging up our interstates even more with car traffic.

The bullet train is also good for tourism, of course. Which is another reason to support it, since tourism keeps us from having state or local income tax. Miami, Tampa and Cape Canaveral all have cruise ships running out of them, in addition to the theme parks, which are a huge draw for tourists.

And I think, though this sucks for the other 4 contenders, we are having a bone thrown to us because the space shuttle program is ending, and we have strong lobbyists. So the jobs being lost could maybe be offset by the construction of the new bullet train system.
posted by misha at 6:18 PM on January 27, 2010


though this sucks for the other 4 contenders

me too, but I don't think it's winner take all. I think there are 8 beans, we asked for 2.5, we might get between that and 1.8 and others also might get some award? but the part I'm really waiting for is orlando-miami, because seriously, who wants to drive to miami? I want to teleport.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:54 PM on January 27, 2010


Mithreal writes The PDF I linked to shows Tampa-St. Petersburg (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART)) (is that where we are talking about) at $0.73 per mile to operate their buses in 2002.

I'm using total cost and you're using operating cost. The numbers in your report come from the National Transit Database and are solely short-term operating costs (driver wages, fuel, maintenance) and do not include capital expenditures or anything like the cost of buses and shelters (and maybe executive salaries?). The numbers I used above came from a report that factored in all costs. (I have a physical copy of it otherwise I'd link it for you.)
posted by ahughey at 1:28 AM on January 28, 2010


True. Let's say capital costs and administration double, no quadruple the cost per mile. That puts us in line with the cost Greyhound gave for operating a much more expensive highway coach on more expensive Canadian diesel. Still doesn't get you anywhere near the $9 per passenger mile mark. Seriously that is completely crazy if you have any ridership at all. The only way I can see that is if they made a huge capital investment and then didn't actually carry any passengers and didn't drive the buses. After all even if you only manage to average two passengers per bus your cost per operating mile would be $18. You'd have to have hours of unoccupied driving to compensate for each full rush hour bus.

What is the name of the report? I'd be interesting in tracking a copy down to see where the fix is in.
posted by Mitheral at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This just in! Obama, speaking at the University of Tampa, says he'll be back to ride the choo-choo train once we build it.

wowee wow wow! That will be even cooler than when they opened the first Krispy Kreme in Denver, down in Lone Tree, and all those transplanted Easterners camped out for like three days to get the first Hot Now!
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


ah, but only $1.25B
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2010


Transit Stimulus Funds Handed Out
The Obama administration is distributing $8 billion in grants to modernize rail service along 13 intercity routes, with the biggest single award going to development of a high-speed rail system in California. (more on the [FL] shinkansen)
posted by kliuless at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2010


I think the biggest obstacle to public transportation (apart from lack of funds, laziness on the part of city councils and the like) is the stigma attached to it. Where I live, a significant number of people on the bus are there because they aren't allowed to drive anymore- in short, they're alcoholics.
If there were more riders, they would extend service beyond once an hour and past 6PM- which would mean even more people would ride the bus. As it stands right now, however, the people riding the bus are those who are in a really desperate way- and although I feel bad for them, I also understand why people would rather drive at all costs than listen to those guys shout and swear and talk about their latest stint in county jail.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2010


Where I live, a significant number of people on the bus are there because they aren't allowed to drive anymore- in short, they're alcoholics.

where I live, we call them <scare quotes>bicyclists</scare quotes>
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:19 PM on January 28, 2010


As a resident of Dallas, i gotta say this city has come a ways since the time i got here. Then, you couldnt buy a car or pantyhose on a sunday. Now, looking at a map of the commuter trains (in frickin Dallas!) one could almost think that he was somewhere civilized. It is an illusion of course. It is poorly designed, runs on the surface amidst traffic and the stops are few and far between. Also it seems to be more concerned with reaching the suburbs which are ambivelent at best towards it than in serving the needs of the city. The car culture is deep and ingrained here and waiting for buses is a painful experience. Still, Dallas has commuter trains!
posted by jake1 at 9:01 PM on January 28, 2010


I'd like to see some of these routes include autotrains like the existing Amtrak service from Orlando to the DC area. This makes the problem of the final destination a little more palatable if it's too expensive to terminate in a city, or if the city doesn't have a transit system of its own to tie into.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what will boost support for public/mass transit? Mandatory driver retesting, especially vision. If that were the case, Florida would probably already have a space elevator.
posted by Eideteker at 5:57 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


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