Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More on trains, speed and comfort

A number of readers weighed in with commentary about high-speed rail. Apparently you can walk from car to car on a TGV. And Bruce, I may be wide now, but I wasn't when I last rode a TGV!

In response to Bianca's comment, I wouldn't want to open the windows on a train going 125 mph, but that's my point: sometimes comfort is a higher priority than speed. As long as there are normal-speed alternatives, I'm okay. It's true that you can't open the windows on an Amtrak train either, but that to me contributes to the sterile 70s-airline feel of Amtrak trains. I still remember riding out of the Gare de l'Est one September night in a couchette with the windows open, picking up speed as we headed for Frankfurt. There was something special about that. And no, the rest of the experience wasn't particularly luxurious, but thanks for the straw man!

For some reason Bruce and Bianca seemed to think I was talking about California high-speed rail. It's true that California is the closest to bringing us something comparable to a TGV, but there are plenty of other proposals, and I was thinking more about the Albany-Buffalo or DC-Charlotte plans.

I was also thinking about some of the "normal speed rail" arguments in the comments on the Transport Politic. One thing that can save us from going round and round in semantic arguments is going back to our goals: to get people out of planes and cars and thereby reduce pollution, improve efficiency, revitalize downtowns and cut down on carnage. Christopher Parker and Patrick make a very good argument in those comments that bringing up the minimum speed can have almost as much benefit as raising a maximum.

Sometimes I wonder how many people would choose the train rather than the bus if it went where they wanted to go, when they wanted to go, in a reasonable amount of time, there was decent food, and it didn't get delayed. We don't need Shinkansens for that, and in fact they may be counter-productive.

There is a bait-and-switch going on, no question about it. Most of the money in the stimulus package for "high speed rail" will probably not be spent on anything that fits the formal definition of high-speed rail. Your Cap'n deplores the dishonest double-dealings of the Obama administration - but it's still money well spent.

Also, finally, the TGV only operates on dedicated track for part of its routes. It uses plain old normal-speed rails to get from the end of the LGV to its terminals. That's how they're able to serve thirteen different destinations with only two branches of the LGV Atlantique. It's still fast.

1 comment:

BruceMcF said...

The formal definition of high speed rail that matters when talking about Congressional funding for HSR is, of course, the definition adopted for Congressional legislation, which is a two-tier definition, including both bullet trains and Rapid Rail.

Some could argue that, even under that definition, there will be bait and switch ... Ohio, for example, looks to be putting in for an 80mph regular Interurban Express system, because the Rapid Rail "costs too much" ... when, of course, its the Rapid Rail option that has the prospect of covering its operating cost from ticket revenue, and the other complaint is, of course, about subsidizing an Interurban Express system.

OTOH, that is a series of incremental upgrades of the line and an upgrade of the rolling stock to get to 110mph tilt trains, and its going to be hard enough getting the Interurban Express past the Republicans in the State Senate.

So if it gets up and running, and proves as popular with the voters as the similar system in Illinois, that could end up being a bait and switch and switchback.