Saturday, January 30, 2010

High Speed Rail, Low Speed Expectations: The Doylet Line

The expectation that HSR will displace automotive travel is suspect, to say the least. Another way to put it: ChooChoo folk lie about ridership, lie about costs, lie about "enviro benefits," lie about "development", and lie about the speed of the trains.

In other words, ChooChooFolk are natural-born Democrat Party members.

...compared to the United States, countries with HSR have higher population densities, smaller land areas, lower per capita levels of car ownership, higher gas prices, lower levels of car use (measured both by number of trips per day and average distance per trip), and higher levels of public transportation availability and use.

Also, there is a significant difference in the structure of the rail industry in these countries compared to the United States. In virtually all of those countries, high speed rail was implemented and is operated by state-owned rail companies that operate over a state-owned rail network, a network on which passenger rail service was far more prominent than freight service even before the introduction of high speed rail. By contrast, in the United States the rail network is almost entirely privately owned, and freight service is far more prominent than is passenger service. Yet even with the introduction of HSR, and with other factors that are more conducive to intercity passenger rail use than in the United States, in most of these countries intercity rail travel (including both conventional and high speed rail) represents less than 10% of all passenger miles traveled on land.

A promising start, eh? It gets worse.

In the linked PDF, you'll also note that "high speed" actually means around 60 MPH, based on real-life experience with 5 existing HSR lines in the US. That 110 MPH stuff? It's fantasy. But then, fantasy is the living-quarters of the promoters of this stuff.

But hey! Milwaukee-to-Madistan travel makes a lot of sense!!


On the question of highway congestion relief, many studies estimate that HSR will have little positive effect because most highway traffic is local and the diversion of intercity trips from highway to rail will be small. In a study of HSR published in 1997, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) estimated that in most cases rail improvements would divert only 3%-6% of intercity automobile trips. FRA noted that corridors with short average trip lengths, those under 150 miles, showed the lowest diversion rates

(By the way, "improving" the proposed service doesn't win customers, either.)

[The] Department of Transportation’s Inspector General (IG) found much the same thing in a morerecent analysis of HSR in the Northeast Corridor. The IG examined two scenarios: Scenario 1 involved cutting rail trip times from Boston to New York from 3 ½ hours to 3 hours and from
New York to Washington from 3 hours to 2 ½; Scenario 2 involved cutting trip times on both legs by another ½ hour over scenario 1. In both scenarios, the IG found that the improvements reduced automobile ridership along the NEC by less than 1%.

And CRS was kind enough to provide a darn-near-perfect comparison to the Doylet Line, too!

Planners of a high speed rail link in Florida between Orlando and Tampa, a distance of about 84
miles, estimated that it would shift 11% of those driving between the two cities to the train, as
well as 9% of those driving from Lakeland to either Orlando (54 miles) or Tampa (33 miles).
However, because most of the traffic on the main highway linking the two cities, I-4, is not
travelling between these cities, it was estimated that HSR would reduce traffic on the busiest
sections of I-4 by less than 2%. The final environmental impact statement for the project states that the reduction in the number of vehicles resulting from the HSR system “would not be
sufficient to significantly improve the LOS [level of service] on I-4, as many segments of the
roadway would still be over capacity.

Pollution Reduction? Nope.

Because HSR will only capture a relatively small share of total passenger trips, it is also unlikely
to make much difference in achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets, nor for that matter in the amount of oil imported. A critical analysis of HSR in California estimates that it might account
for 1.5% of the state’s goal for reducing carbon emissions, and that would be at a very substantial
cost.49 A study of the potential benefits of HSR in Sweden concluded that investment in rail
networks is not a cost-effective climate policy instrument; general policies, such as increased fuel
taxes, would be more effective.50 Similarly, in the UK’s analysis of a line from London to
Scotland, they estimated the carbon savings would be 0.2% of the UK’s current carbon emissions, and this assumed that all flyers take the train and the HSR is zero-carbon.

Let's talk about "estimates." (That's Fantasy-By-Numbers--you know, just like children do.)

...a project to increase train speed between Chicago and other Midwest cities would make improvements to existing track. These improvements involve approximately 3,000 miles of track at a total estimated cost of $7.7 billion, or about $2.5 million per route mile.

The "estimates" were $2.5 million/mile.

The reality?

A GAO review of six projects involving incremental track improvements found that per mile costs ranged from $4.1 million to $11.4 million

ChooChooFolk are math-challenged, so I'll help. REALITY BITES AT TWO TO SIX TIMES YOUR FRIGGIN' STUPID ESTIMATES!! (Could you read that? I put it in all caps for you.)

CRS notes that ChooChoo folks worldwide lie habitually about "costs," usually by about 50%.

By the way, if you think you'll get there on time, you won't.

...while Amtrak’s on-time performance on the NEC,67 which has multiple
tracks and on which Amtrak controls the scheduling, was 85% in FY2007, Amtrak’s on-time
performance on short-distance corridors outside the NEC, where there is often only a single
track, and where scheduling is controlled by freight rail companies, was only 65%.69 According to Amtrak, much of the delay was due to interference from freight trains, and to a lesser extent,
commuter trains.

Think it was great? You're pregnant and you now have a social disease!!

There is the matter of "operating costs," which will go on.........forever........after Obama's money runs out. This is why I refer to this boondoggle as "The Doylet Line." Just like the rest of Doyle's policies, Wisconsin will be left in the Doylet--in this case, with rails. Wow.

In addition to infrastructure costs, operating costs, such as labor, fuel or electric power, and other costs that vary depending on the number of trains that are operated, can be a significant public expense if the train operator cannot generate sufficient ridership to cover these costs with ticket revenue.

...Given the high cost of constructing and operating high speed rail service, its cost-effectiveness
depends on achieving high ridership levels

...Amtrak only captures about 5% of the air/rail market share for trips from Washington, DC, to Boston (a distance of about 440 miles, which takes nearly seven hours even on the Acela).

That '440 miles' should sound familiar: it's 407 from Chicago to the Twin Cities. The ChooChooFolk who yap about "it's not just Milwaukee-Madison" are wrong on that count, too. And by the way, there are 3500 passengers/day on the MSP/ORD route, so we can look at 175 passengers/day on the ChooChoo.

High speed trains are not expected to compete well against intercity buses in many instances
because bus travelers are most concerned about price. Recent improvements in intercity bus
service quality and frequency may reduce demand for high speed rail in some markets.

Except for the high-priced lobbyists (and lawyers), who don't like to associate with the ........ugh.....BUS riders.

Destinations Count

Trains depend on population density to operate efficiently. To compete with the airlines, trains
must depart frequently but they also must fill, or nearly fill, their seats to generate sufficient ticket revenue if they hope to cover their operating costs. Not only is the population size of a city
important but also the concentration of economic activity in the central business district or
otherwise near the train station(s).

It's fair to say that Milwaukee and Madison are not exactly Manhattan--nor downtown Chicago.

New York City is more suited for train travel than many other U.S. cities because of the high concentration of activity on the island of Manhattan. About 35% of the city’s jobs are within three miles of Wall Street, while in other American cities, on average, about 22% of employment is within a 3-mile radius of the city’s center. Although the nation as a whole is becoming more urbanized, trends show that employment is steadily decentralizing in almost all U.S. cities.81 Most other large U.S. cities have a population density that is less than one-third that of New York City.

The actual 'commercial hub' of Madison is near the Beltway and a number of miles west of the Capitol--in the Middleton area, by the way. It's also about 5 miles SOUTH of the Capitol.

What was that "per-ticket" price, again?

The quoted price for tickets on the Doylet Line was around $44.00.

In FY2008, Amtrak reported having 28.7 million riders, paying an average ticket price of $60.39.

What was the "ridership estimate"?

...the level of ridership, which is difficult to forecast accurately.

And Who's Going to Pay the REST of the Bills?

Congress may wish to consider how to pay for maintaining an HSR system over the long term. Passenger revenues may not be sufficient to cover the operating costs of high speed lines. The federal government’s responsibility in financing this gap versus the responsibility of state or local governments has not been determined.

All aboard the Doylet Line!!

Welcome, FoxPolitics readers! For even more, including responses from a promoter of this boondoggle, see Rick's place.


R10 said...

You left out the good probability of time lost to getting through security. Anyone believe the TSA is going to ignore the opportunity to expand its unionized labor force to protect historically identified terrorist targets. Better safe than sorry, especially when living wage jobs hang in the balance. Shoes off and all aboard for the future.

Steve said...

Excellent information and summary.

One other thing you forgot to mention when talking about destination and business density...

This waste of tax money forever, this boondoggle, this liberal fantasy would not even terminate at the capitol, five miles or so from they business center of Madison. The station is at the airport - another 5 miles northwest from the capitol.

This is a farce, a liberal wet-dream (pardon my crudity), and will burden the already overburdened taxpayers of Wisconsin with a dead albatross around our necks for generations to come.

Thanks, Diamond Jim. Your reputation was already sufficiently noxious so as to gag a maggot. This certainly won't help.

Ted Crocker said...

Nice blog. I have one objection. I am a liberal, and an active watchdog of the California HSR project. To be fair, this isn't a liberal thing as there are supporters on both side of the isle, especially when it stands to run through their district. No, I am firmly against the California project as it stands. CA already has a $21B deficit. HSR will be the nail in the coffin if costs run as expected. Unlike China, the Feds haven't shown that they are committed to invest the type of capital that a system like this really requires. Nationwide, it will require $500B-1Trillion, depending on who is estimating. In this small space, I cannot begin to get into all that is wrong with the CA project, including breaking the law. I suspect other projects have similar issues. Good luck with your battle. Stick to the facts, avoid generalizations and hold the Legislators accountable.

Dad29 said...

Well, Ted, good luck with your fight, too!

By the way, fiscal common-sense is not a 'liberal' hallmark.

So you're probably a RECOVERING liberal...