Mass Transit Musings

Three governors have wisely turned down federal money for High Speed Rail projects.  They know accepting it will cost them billions, and probably tens of billions, in cost overruns for a project that will create enormous, but speedy, white elephants.

Progressives (i.e. socialists)  all pissy about these decisions.  But then, the left has always been ga ga about mass transit.  They insist that everyone riding together like sheep, following someone else’s schedule is far superior than people going where they want, when they want, in their evil evil private vehicles.

Mass Transit makes perfect sense in densely populated areas.  The higher the density the better it works.  But with the exception of a few major cities the US is very very spread out, which makes travel by those evil, individual cars the best way for most of us to get around.

I’ll support high speed rail, or regular speed rail, or even a bus, when it offers me the following features I currently get from my 11 year old car.

  • Pick me up at my doorstep at the exact moment I’m ready.  I don’t want to wait in the rain or the cold or the heat or the wind.  Not for ten minutes, and certainly not for an hour when they screw up the schedule.  If I want to go somewhere, or leave somewhere, at say, 1:21 AM, it should be waiting for me at that exact time, at my exact location.
  • After picking me up I need it to go directly, non-stop, to my endpoint as quickly as possible.  That means it can’t stop every block to pick up other people.
  • Along the way I want to listen to the music or podcasts I choose, at whatever volume I like.  I should be able to sing along to my favorite tunes as loudly as I wish.  Sometimes I will sing on key.  Other times I will not be even close.   I don’t care, and no one sharing the ride is allowed to either.
  • During the ride I will not have to listen to the inane (and often insane) jabber of annoying people sitting near me, unless they’re friends or family I’ve willingly let join me.
  • During the trip I may decide to smoke a cigar. It may be a fine high quality smoke or a cheap stinky dog rocket.  This must be legal, and I will not tolerate anyone bitching at me about it.
  • I should have lots of room for groceries, coolers, and anything else I want or need to bring with me.
  • My dog must be welcome.

None of these requirements are negotiable.  Give me mass transit that meets all these criteria and I’ll happily give up my car.  Until then, I’m keeping it.  I’ve got places to go and things to bring there, and nothing will do the job nearly as well as my own vehicle.

4 Comment(s)

  1. Bullet 1 & 2 are physically impossible, also with a car: parking. Bullet 3 & 4 are mutually exclusive. Bullet 5 is politically impossible. Bullet 6 & 7 are no problem.

    We have lots of mass transit in densely populated Europe. It costs lots of money, off course.

    The solution? Government should lay infrastructure and commercial companies should compete on that infrastructure. Bus companies in developing countries are a good example.

    That said, there is NOT A SINGLE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD where passenger service by train makes money.

    Eur van Andel | Mar 3, 2011 | Reply

  2. When riding in a train or bus you can read a book, do work on your laptop computer, talk on your cell phone, you can’t do that driving a car. And you arrive at your destination relaxed, not stressed out from coping with all those idiots driving cars, fighting your way through grid lock, hunting desparately for a car park.

    Mark.V. | Mar 11, 2011 | Reply

  3. Here in FL our governor has wisely turned down putting a high speed rail service between Tampa and Orlando (which are only 86 miles, and 90 driving minutes, apart). The desire for “high speed” travel between the two cities is so low that, even though there are already 2 commercial use airports in the Tampa area, and 3 in the Orlando area, you can’t fly directly between the two cites via airlines (at least, when I checked a few months ago the first time I was commenting on the stupidity of a high speed rail system between them).

    But the real killer in high speed rail is that it has to build and maintain its own purpose built roadbed. You can’t share the rails between 60 MPH freight trains and 180 MPH passenger trains; the total capacity of the rail system DROPS when you try to do this. To do 180 MPH on rails the needed turn radius is 3 MILES (see TGV). Existing track will not support these speeds.

    But here’s the real reason high speed rail won’t ever be competitive: airlines do not have to purchase, build, and maintain the AIR! All airlines need are runways and terminals. Trains need terminals, and roadbed between them. Airplanes are more flexible. If demand suddenly means that there’s a need to fly directly from Orlando, FL to Traverse City, MI, without stopping in between, they can do it TOMORROW! All they have to do is assign a plane to the route. A train has to follow existing track, or wait for track to be built. So with a train, if the current rail system requires that to get from Orlando FL to Traverse City, MI you have to pass through DC, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit, you’ll still need to go that way, even if the train doesn’t stop.

    But the most interesting thing about mass transit is the ONE system that might succeed has never been tried. In the 1960s in Minneapolis (I can’t recall which University, MN, I think) Personal Rail Transport was suggested. It is the most car like. People ride in individual cars that hold 4-6 people (you only ride with who you choose, so if you’re traveling alone, you’re the only one in the car), about the size of a single roller coaster car (although covered). Stations are built off the main line (so when the car in front of you stops to drop off its passengers, you don’t have to stop). Traffic is computer controlled and balanced for minimal travel time. There are no traffic lights to stop for. You hop in at a station, give your destination, and away you go. Commercial concerns could pay the costs of putting a station on their property, in return for being added to the destination list. Housing associations could do the same thing. The system would make sure there were always cars waiting at each station, so you wouldn’t have to wait to depart. It can learn the loads, and anticipate them so it could have cars waiting where and when peak loads occur (elevators in high rises already do this). So the only thing you’d need to do is walk to the nearest station to hop in and go. This could be done for less than the costs of owning and operating a car (which is currently the cheapest per passenger mile), because there is no paid driver, and no need for substantial crash safety (perhaps sprung bumpers like on older european train cars) as the computer control would prevent accidents. Motive power could be provided via stators (also used in newer roller coasters) so the individual cars won’t need motors, saving weight and costs (the motors are in the track). The rails would be elevated above existing roads (and this won’t require much, as the cars are light), and could even be integrated into light poles to light below the rails (since electricity will be power the track anyway). With modern LEDs, you could illuminate the area below the rails (at night) with minimal power. It’s a win-win-win-win system, but nobody will try it. They always go for “light rail”, which is anything but, and isn’t flexible; or buses, which usually block traffic on the road when the stop for passengers (pissing off everyone in the lane behind them), and are so hated (because of the issues most people have with riding with an unknown number of thugs) that most buses are already less than half full (and because so few people ride them, bus stops are few and far between, and they run on their schedule, not yours). And once two adjacent cities have enough demand, the systems could be linked. Imagine if the Orlando metro area and the Tampa metro area were already using such systems. A link between them might actually be sustainable, and you could easily do 100+ MPH via such a system (imagine slogging your daily commute in your car between the two cities, watching the PRT cars above you passing you at 50% faster speeds, and knowing that you could be working, sleeping, reading, etc. during your commute.

    PRT would be like a taxi service that is faster (no need to stop for traffic lights), cheaper (no paid driver, no motors in each car, light roadbed), safer (no accidents caused by drunken or inattentive computers, no muggers in YOUR car), etc. and is always available. It is like like those new car sharing services popping up in places, except you don’t need to do the driving. I know I’d use it if it were available in my area. According to Car and Driver’s web site, the cheapest car to own (3 year ownership cost) runs about $6,000 per year. So if PRT can beat that substantially, it should be pretty popular. Imagine, families that only needed one car, big enough for everyone, rather than 3 (two small cheap ones for commuting, 1 big one for family outings). Just PRT to/from work, mall, grocery store, etc. Kids, PRT to/from school. Family car used when the whole family goes somewhere that PRT doesn’t reach (camping, say), or needs to tow the family boat (which can now be afforded because the two small commuter cars aren’t needed).

    Well, I could go on all day (and you probably think I have). But I agree, High Speed Rail is a boondoggle that will just keep on taking, as existing world-wide evidence shows. Politicians HAVE to know this, so their support for it must be for other reasons (like, will it help them get reelected).

    MPH | Mar 20, 2011 | Reply

  4. I live in Michigan, and if there were a high-speed rail between Detroit and Grand Rapids, it would be awesome. I would increase the job search radius for a lot of people. I live in Grand Rapids, and if I had to look for a job I’d only have a 35 mile radius that I would look because I wouldn’t want to drive further than 70 miles every day. If there were a high-speed train that could take me to Lansing or Detroit at 160 mph, I could expand my radius to those cities because my commute time would be far more realistic than driving. Plus, I don’t have to spend the money on gas and maintenance driving so far. That is the ONLY reason I’d think a high-speed rail was a good idea, if it were connecting two anchor cities that were really far apart. Tampa and Orlando aren’t far enough apart to justify it. Heck if there were a rail between Grand Rapids and Traverse City it would be a even bigger boon to the economy up there.

    To expect a train to replace everybody’s commute doesn’t really make sense. But, they can augment and create commutes in the right situation.

    Brian | Mar 24, 2011 | Reply

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