Just for the historical record, please find attached a scan of the 1 page / 2 sided brochure that the promoters of the Northern Lights Express distributed at the May 11, 2013 National Train Day event at the Saint Paul Union Depot (in case anyone is unclear on the matter, I do not endorse these claims).
Recently in Rail Category
I was at a public forum in Hinckley, Minnesota last night (home of the world-famous Grand Casino), giving a talk on the Northern Lights Express (NLX). The crowd was, in the immortal words of Grampa Simpson "Agin' it". My slides are here, though readers of the blog have seen most of the material before.
It was fun, thanks to the many organizers from Pine County.
I just finished watching Locomotion: Dan Snow's History of Railways. It doesn't air in the United States (nor is it on US iTunes), so you will need to use your special internet TV show finding powers to get it.
This three episode modern documentary series is a nice social history of trains in England for their first century (through World War I), looking at the both the standard history and some side notes relating railroads with other social changes (from trains for the dead to early soccer hooliganism). If you liked James Burke's Connections, and you like trains, and you like Victorian England, and you like history, and you like British accents, this show is well worth watching.
My thoughts on the Saint Paul Union Depot at Streets.MN: SPUD :
"We entered the
dimlyauthentically-lit Saint Paul Union Depot (SPUD), a large but not magnificent space. A train station with no trains. The restoration is nice, and I am sure a better space than the restorers found it in, but the original structure was really nothing special at all. Having only been to the front of the station previously (the acoustically challenged headhouse), I was actually disappointed at the rest of it given how much fuss and money have been expended on the project."
I get into a Letter to the Editors battle over in Pine City. I am responding to this about everyone's favorite intercity rail project, the Northern Lights Express. Keep in mind that the titles of Letters to the Editor are written by the editors, not the author.
Metcalf off the rails on NLX project
Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:04 am
Professor David Levinson | 0 comments
I am surprised at the Ad Hominem nature of the attack by Metcalf, whom I have never met, but desperate people say desperate things. I won’t respond in turn. I will say though I am trained as an engineer, I have done a significant amount of work in the related field of transportation economics and travel demand modeling. I worked as a demand modeler for 5 years and wrote my doctoral dissertation on the choice of financing mechanisms for highways, which I published as Financing Transportation Networks. I serve on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Transport Economics and Policy. I have over 100 peer-reviewed papers (see http://nexus.umn.edu/papers_journals.html), many of them on the topic of transportation economics, and hosted the International Transport Economics Conference in 2009, held at the University of Minnesota. I think I am qualified to write a letter to the editor.
So to begin, what are Metcalf and TEMS doing in this letter if not advocating for the project?
The letter says: “However, the Northeast corridor does not need an operating subsidy as it goes faster than 110 mph. It makes a good operating profit, just as the NLX will if speeds are kept up to 110 mph.” The key word is “operating”, meaning it does not include “capital.” This is a classic shell game. Operating revenue pays for the drivers and fuel, but not the longer-lived trainsets and tracks. Something else must pay for those. Also, the NLX is not the Northeast Corridor and nothing magically happens when speeds reach 110 mph; you get a few more riders in exchange for burning more fuel and paying more upfront for straighter and flatter tracks.
Metcalf writes: “The issue is can the service be franchised, by covering its operating costs and by covering operating costs only. If the train runs at 110 mph the answer is yes, it will cover its operating costs. The state and local communities will only be on the hook for annual operating subsidy not capital costs.”
Yes, state and local communities will be on the hook for the annual operating subsidy. This subsidy is what enables the franchised service to cover its costs. It gets revenue from passengers (farebox recovery) and from subsidy. The capital costs are of course generally paid “up front” by selling bonds. Those bonds will have to be paid back by someone or risk default. Often these bonds are backed by the downstream revenue source of the project they are supporting (they should be, otherwise the public is on the hook for paying them back), if the bond market has confidence that there will be sufficient revenue to pay back the bonds, otherwise it is backed by general revenue. Sure, having someone else (e.g. your Uncle Sam) pick up 80% of the check for the capital costs is better for you than picking that up yourself, that doesn’t mean the cost isn’t paid.
The letter asserts: “The Casino attracts nearly 8 million trips per year with over 3 ½ million visitors or 20,000 trips per day.”
That sure sounds like a big number, so, being an engineer, I looked at the traffic counts (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/traffic/data/maps/trunkhighway/2010/counties/pine1.pdf), which counts cars, not people. I-35W has about 20,700 vehicles per day just outside Hinckley in 2010 (total both directions). Near the Casino, there is a count of 9,600 vehicles per day (4,800 in each direction). East of the Casino, traffic counts are 5,100. So from the counts, it looks like the Casino is generating about 4,500 vehicles per day (both directions) or 2,250 vehicle trips into the site (we can annualize this: 2,250*365=821,250, a bit less than 8 million). Now of course, many of those vehicles are workers (the workforce is between 1,000-2,000), so won’t be taking a train. Others are delivery people and so on. So there are maybe 750-1500 vehicles per day of visitors coming in. Some of those vehicles are buses (and have lots of people), some are cars (and carry one to four typically). For what fraction of those people will taking the train be better?
Let’s do a thought experiment: Think about a typical trip-maker, two adults visiting the Casino for some entertainment. They leave their house in the northern Minneapolis suburbs (since there are different casinos serving other suburbs). Will they drive to downtown Minneapolis and pay for parking at the new Interchange Station? (unlikely). Will they drive to a suburban Minneapolis station and park, and pay for two round-trip tickets, and wait for a train, and then have to transfer when they get to Hinckley (since the train is not likely to drop people off at the Casino’s doorstop without a lot of added cost to build a diversion across I-35W), and then the same when going home? (perhaps) Will they drive straight to the Casino? (most likely).
A bigger market are people riding a tour bus, which picks them up at or near their residence. A train can’t beat that, even if it is faster. A train trip also has a lot of slow bits, like getting to the station and waiting for the train, and getting off the train, and going to your actual destination.
So yes, the cursory letter-to-the-editor level gravity model analysis skips the major metropolis of Hinckley Grand Casino and its 1,000 daily incoming vehicle trips. If the train captures five percent of those, its another maybe 100 daily passengers alighting at the station (if private vehicles carried 2 persons each) each way each day, less than 36,500 passengers alighting at Hinckley per year on a line that is purported to carry 10 to 20 times as many.
Next let’s consider the forecasts. We must ask “which forecasts?” Different professional forecasters looking at the line have come up with significantly different forecasts of demand for the line. Notably the State Railway Plan from 2010 (only three years ago) had ridership levels at half what the most recent Environmental Assessment projects. I won’t be getting into why the forecasts might be different (I am sure if you have read this far into the letter, you can surmise, and I suggest you read Flyvbjerg’s Megaprojects and Risk, or his research papers, on the subject for more details.)
The Best forecast from the State Railway Plan for this corridor has just over half the ridership of the more recent Environmental Assessment. The Base case is less optimistic with about one-third the riders.
It has been said that “Gambling is a tax on people who are ignorant of statistics.” Perhaps we should rephrase that … “Investing in transportation infrastructure and hoping for profits is a tax on people who are ignorant of history.”
This is a general problem, not only applied to rail, not just the US, and not only to the NLX corridor. The collective profits from US Airlines from the dawn of the passenger aviation era in the 1930s to the present are negative. The history of railroads is the history of bankruptcy. Minnesota’s storied Northern Pacific went bankrupt in 1875, and again in 1893. James J. Hill’s Great Northern acquired the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad from the bankrupt Northern Pacific and to launch his empire. The beauty of bankruptcy is it wipes out the original investors, but leaves the investment intact. Amtrak, nominally a “for-profit” corporation, was formed in 1970 to relieve freight railroads from their money-losing passenger operations in which they were disinvesting. More recent investments that have failed their initial investors include the Channel Tunnel (reorganized twice), which benefit/cost studies have shown would have been better for Britain if it had not been built (Anguerra (2006)).
There are many other examples, some are described in my book: Garrison, Wm and Levinson, D. (2006) “The Transportation Experience.” Oxford University Press.
Projections around the proposed intercity railway "Northern Lights Express (NLX)" line from Duluth to Twin Cities are presented below. The first two columns of data are from the Statewide Rail plan, funded by MnDOT, prepared by Cambridge Systematics (lead). The last column is from the recent draft Environmental Assessment by USDOT, MnDOT and WisDOT
|State Railway Plan||Environmental Assessment|
|Scenario Evaluated:||High speed, 8 RT||High speed, 8 RT|
|Operating and Maintenance Cost (Annual)||$45,700,000||$35,900,000|
|Capital Cost per Mile||$5,800,000||$4,500,000|
|Capital Cost per Rider (2030)||$2,042||$1,049||$732.14|
|Operating Subsidy per Rider||$83.82||$36.96|
|Feb-10||Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan|
|Apr-13||Northern Lights Express High Speed Passenger Rail Project from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minnesota|
"TEMS, the consultant hired to advocate for the project, asserts that revenue will exceed operating costs at higher speeds. I agree that both revenue and costs will increase with speed, whether one increases faster than the other is an empirical question on which forecasts are highly questionable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is lack of existing service on which to base such assumptions. Many have suggested the Downeaster is the most comparable market.
The Downeaster already carried 300,000 riders in 2005 and was in fact forecast to carry 625,000 passengers between Boston and Portland in 2015, so, [the fact] that it exceeds 525,000 riders in 2012 after a major investment is hardly testament to it beating targets. http://www.edrgroup.com/pdf/report-downeaster-final.pdf
More important is to compare the structure of the markets. Boston and Portland are less than 100 miles apart. Duluth is 137 miles from Minneapolis, so you would expect more trips between Boston and Portland if the sizes of the city pairs were equal. They are not.
The population of metropolitan Portland, Maine (516,000) exceeds that of Duluth (280,000); while the metropolitan Boston combined statistical area (7.6 million) remains larger than the Twin Cities (3.6 million). The number of trips between two places is a product of their sizes and inversely proportional to the travel time. On a population basis alone we expect the Boston to Portland market to have almost four times as many trips as Minneapolis to Duluth.
Of course metropolitan Boston has much greater transit use (12.2 percent) than Minneapolis (4.7 percent), and much better connections so that will also tend to increase ridership for the Downeaster above what the NLX should expect.
Unfortunately, U.S. experience with passenger rail for the past 50 years suggests the forecasts are optimistically biased in favor of the project in order to increase the likelihood they will be funded. The question at hand is will the project in fact recover its operating and capital costs?
We have no evidence it will. TEMS admits that Amtrak considers state revenue as income. A subsidy is a subsidy whether it comes from the federal, state, or local government. So even if the Northeast Corridor were operationally profitable (conveniently forgetting capital costs, which need to be paid somehow), that is not evidence any other particular route would be. Just because it pays its utilities (operating costs) doesn’t mean it pays its mortgage (capital costs). Who will pay if the NLX fails to meet revenue hopes?"
I get quoted in the Pine City Pioneer about the proposed Twin Cities to Duluth train: Does NLX rail make sense for Pine County?
I assume you can derive the answer from first principles.
Christian Wolmar writes about the romance of the rails in My window on America: From Los Angeles to New Orleans on an epic rail adventure:
"Then in the dark, we broke down, and the lights went off. The conductor said a hose has come undone and that the power had to be switched off while the problem was examined.
They had to send for an engineer, who arrived quickly with a huge lamp that eerily lit up the scene and solved the problem."
There was more excitement and evictions at San Antonio, which we reached at 9.30pm and where we were scheduled for a two-hour stop. It gave us time for a drink in a bar. A couple of girls on the train, heading for a music festival, had drunk too much, and were too out of it to stop singing on the way back to the train, even after a conductor warned them to stop. The train was delayed for the police to be called. Off they went, still intermittently singing and swearing, into the cooler.
The train meandered around the outskirts of New Orleans, but still arrived an hour early."
So the train broke down once and had to have the police called, but it was still early. How much slack is built into the system to ensure on-time arrivals?
Christian Wolmar writes: Innovation ignored at our peril :
"One of the reasons for my scepticism about HS2 is on the basis that it does not take into account future development of technology. Just look at how technology has changed since 1993 when mobile phones had barely taken root, Google, Facebook and Twitter were but twinkles in their founders’ eye and digital TV was just starting. Will there really be enough people wanting to pile into what are likely to be expensive trains in 20 years time to justify the huge expenditure on this project?
And here’s where I stick my neck out. The next big technology, one with such huge implications that it is impossible to being to predict them, is driverless cars. Google, which is investing billions in the project, announced back in August that its fleet of more than a dozen driverless cars had completed 300,000 miles – ten times round the world – without an accident. The cars have driven through San Francisco and through various parts of California and Nevada – where a law has been passed allowing them – and while there are no plans to produce them commercially yet, their time will inevitably come.
Perhaps they will start by being driven only on motorways but even that would have enormous consequences. It would combine many of the advantages of train travel with the flexibility of car use. Think trucks, too. The economics of transport would change as radically as they did when the railways were first developed. The time frame may be a decade or two, but the consequences will be much more far reaching than, say, the much talked about electric cars. The driverless car – or rather motor vehicle – is the innovation that we ought all to be taking into account in our future thinking."
BI reprints my HSR article from last week: Why Covering The US In High-Speed Rail Makes No Sense At All:
"When we study successful technologies and networks (e.g. The Internet, the London Underground), we see they grow from a seed, and expand outward - not from the top down. This is natural, it is risk-averse, it allows learning to occur before over-building. Not all technologies or networks will succeed, it is best to learn that early than after building a giant White Elephant."
Maps are powerful ideas. A map once drawn can be viewed as a contract, a promise to build something. We live with the ghosts of maps drawn long ago. Unbuilt highways queue-up to get built, even when their rationale has disappeared. But lines remain unbuilt for a reason, people perceived the benefit did not outweigh the cost. Of course, conditions can change, a line which once failed a benefit-cost test may now pass it, or vice versa.
High-speed rail advocates have long assembled maps of proposed routes. I have a collection of them here. These all present different visions of the future, and they can't all come to pass. But does that mean none of them should?
A private firm would build high-speed rail if the expected profits exceeded the expected costs. Clearly that is not generally the case in the United States, otherwise we would see more evidence of this. There are certainly proposals, some farther along than others. The most likely right now appears to be the All Aboard Florida project. I hope it succeeds.
The public sector remains uninterested in profit, but instead should favor the more ambiguous general welfare. High-speed rail makes sense when the full economic benefits outweigh the full economic costs. The potential benefits include time savings for travelers, increased reliability, improved quality of service, reduced congestion on roadways and at airports, reduced pollution from automobiles and airplanes, and more economic activity as a result of the improved accessibility. The potential costs are those of constructing the system, operating it, the pollution costs associated with construction and operations, and so on. The evidence is that the capital costs of the new system do not outweigh potential reductions in pollution.
The first map nicely draws with bright colors a possible United States High Speed Rail System. The second map, from Streets.mn blogger Mike Hicks, shows actual Amtrak ridership today. Actual ridership is highest in the Northeast corridor, where the Acela service, along with other conventional passenger rail runs today. The other big Amtrak markets are between San Diego and Los Angeles, between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area, between Seattle and Portland, and between Chicago and a variety of midwestern cities, in particular St. Louis.
Corridors that get traffic now with relatively slow service are more likely to get higher levels of demand when upgraded (made faster and more frequent) than corridors that get almost no ridership now. This argues for (1) incremental upgrades where the benefits outweigh the costs, (2) focusing on specific proven markets rather than trying to connect random large cities.
We should be looking for routes where train is more cost-effective than either driving or taking an airplane. This distance is certainly less than 600 miles for most of the US, under current costs of travel. (Once we have proven we can connect large places closer than 100 miles, we should connect large places less than 200 miles, and then expand outward. We should not start with a grand vision which will simply collapse of its own weight). We should also be looking for routes with large trip generators at either end.
Examining the first map shows a lot of non-sensical routes. I can't rate them in order of nonsensicalness, some are just too problematic.
This is not to say there are not segments which could productively be (and are) served by rail. The Northeast corridor is one. Chicago to Milwaukee is one. Los Angeles to San Diego is one. There are a few others. The key point is they are local serving, and should be locally supported. There is no need for US federal involvement. If the projects are worthwhile, the states and cities and private railroads should fund them. Almost all the benefits are local, the costs should be borne by those who benefit.
These segments can grow into systems that should be (1) separately organized, managed, governed, and operated to improve local responsiveness and reliability, and (2) allowed to evolve organically based on incremental changes and extensions. We do not ask San Francisco's BART to interline with Washington DC's Metro, nor should we expect a useful local service from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana to interline with a potentially useful route from Richmond to Washington, DC. By doing so you create dependencies (a blizzard in the Northeast holds up train service in Illinois) without any advantages.
High-speed rail is a difficult proposition to begin with in the United States. In the 50 years after it was opened in Japan, it has yet to come to pass in the US. There are reasons for this, beyond simple political obstinacy. The markets are different, the conditions are different (when HSR was opened in Japan, its airlines were highly regulated, e.g. Further, Japan has a much higher overall population density.) The US has been unimpressed with its passenger rail service for many decades (since well before Amtrak was formed to pick up the pieces of private passenger rail service), and has lost its rail-building and train-building skill-base.
When we study successful technologies and networks (e.g. The Internet, the London Underground), we see they grow from a seed, and expand outward - not from the top down. This is natural, it is risk-averse, it allows learning to occur before over-building. Not all technologies or networks will succeed, it is best to learn that early than after building a giant White Elephant.
Reihan Salam @ The Agenda - National Review Online: Brad Templeton Makes the Most Compelling Case against California HSR -:
"Brad Templeton, director of the Electonic Frontier Foundation, and chair of the Networks and Computing Systems Track at Singularity University, makes a number of worthwhile observations regarding California’s effort to construct a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco:
(1) though HSR strikes many Americans as very “futuristic,” it is a 50-year-old legacy technology that may well be rendered obsolete by a number of emerging technologies that are cheaper and better suited to the realities of modern urban travel;
(2) self-driving automobiles have the potential to radically reduce door-to-door travel times, not just downtown-to-downtown travel times that are less relevant in polycentric metropolitan regions, and are compatible with mobility-on-demand models that could more efficiently allocate mobility resources across large, dense populations;
(3) innovation in air travel might center not on increasing speed but rather on making more efficient use of travel time to airports and streamlining security procedures, and self-driving automobiles might complement a dense network of “air taxis” that make better use of currently underutilized air strips;
(4) new rail technologies will almost certainly emerge in the coming decades;
(5) and telepresence, including telepresence robots, might reduce the demand for inter-city travel. (I’m somewhat skeptical, but you never know.)"
Basically, quoting Gretzky, skate to where the puck will be.
I am interviewed by Pat Doyle in the Star Tribune: Northstar cuts fares by as much as 25% to lure more riders :
""We are a brand-new system and kind of have to play with price and demand to get it right," said Ed Byers, deputy chief operating officer for commuter and light rail at Metro Transit. But a transportation researcher critical of rail transit says the relative ease of driving and parking in Minneapolis practically guarantees soft demand for the commuter train.
"You're not looking at a market that was suited to this," said David Levinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota."
That fare will drop to $6 under the new pricing formula. Fares from Anoka or Coon Rapids-Riverdale to downtown will be cut from $4 to $3.
Levinson is skeptical it will pay off.
"They're hoping to use this to give people a taste who might otherwise not have tried it," he said. "I just don't think there's a large market out there of people who would ride the Northstar line ... for a $1 fare drop."
"Railways provided a far more enduring boost to the economy than the construction of roads or even canals had previously. Once a road was built, apart from the occasional patching up, it could be largely left alone. In contrast, railways not only needed continual maintenance, such as regular patrols checking that the track was safe, but also required a sizable organization to operate them involving thousands of workers."
``Boost to the economy'' is a really nice way of saying they incur many expenses.
KSTP has a story on Fighting Rush Hour featuring MTO Director John Hourdos
David King @ Getting from here to there: NO TAV: Anarchists Debate the Merits of High Speed Rail
Matt Kahn @ Environmental and Urban Economics: John Quigley: A Giant in Urban Economics: "UC Berkeley's John Quigley passed away this weekend. "[John Quigley was on my Ph.D. oral exams committee.]
"Meet Great Lakes, a no-frills newcomer that believes there's a lucrative opportunity in connecting rural America with bustling airports like MSP. The Wyoming-based airline is in the midst of adding more than a dozen new cities to its local roster, with the Twin Cities serving as its hub for 20 percent of its destinations."It provides "essential air services" with big government subsidy.
Back in 1981, American Airlines needed cash. Interest rates were sky high, so rather than borrowing the money, they hit upon a weird idea: sell lifetime passes good for unlimited first-class air travel for $250,000. Add a companion pass for $150,000 more. The resulting program, the AAirpass, turned out to be a huge disaster brilliantly chronicled over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times. Losing millions of dollars a year on its highest-use members, American has in recent years been employing investigators to try to find instances of rule violations that let them cancel members' passes.
I absolutely love this story because it illustrates so much about the business and economics worlds. It highlights the fact that there are a lot of ways to engage in "hidden borrowing" and that this kind of hidden leverage is often very costly. It illustrates the importance of avoiding adverse selection if you want to succeed. And most of all, it illustrates that over and above the structural issues facing the notably unprofitable U.S. aviation industry there also seems to be a problem of systematic mismanagement and repeated blunders.
"Old-school train conductors are finally ready to give up their hole punchers to try something new: the iPhone.
Amtrak, the government-owned corporation that oversees the nation’s railroad train services, has been training conductors since November to use the Apple handset as an electronic ticket scanner on a few routes, including from Boston to Portland, Me., and San Jose, Calif., to Sacramento."
"On Monday, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles approved Google’s license application to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads. The state had approved such laws back in February, and has now begun issuing licenses based on those regulations.
The state previously outlined that companies that want to test such vehicles will need an insurance bond of $1 million and must provide detailed outlines of where they plan to test it and under what conditions. Further, the car must have two people in it at all times, with one behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle if needed.
The Autonomous Review Committee of the Nevada DMV is supervising the first licensing procedure and has now approved corresponding plates to go with it, complete with a red background and infinity symbol."
The Prospect Park Newsletter sends me to Pete LeBak ... :
"Pete LeBak's barber shop is a neighborhood institution in Prospect Park. He's been here over 31 years. Light rail is going in on University Ave. now, and the work has wiped out the parking in front. Access is daunting folks; traffic has slowed to a trickle. So business has cratered. By the way, that's 'Bug' (short for Ladybug) on the floor in her usual posture. She's about 110 in dog years. Neighbors and friends are trying to get Pete some press and spread the word to help him make it through the construction gauntlet. Pete was fixing to move out, but he thought back on the 31 years he'd been there, all the friends he'd made, and it got his back up. Longtime customers stopped by to beg him not to go. So now he's fighting to stay. We're rallying the troops."[the external cost of transportation construction is non-trivial]
"A U.S. House of Representatives committee said it will investigate reports of conflicts of interest at California’s high-speed rail authority when it received federal money to start construction."
Bloomberg: ’Fortune 500’ of 1812 Shows U.S. Banks’ Early Influence [Look at all those Turnpikes and Canals though].
David King: By This Logic, Perhaps the Whole Thing is Flawed:
"Second, Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard explained omitting Anaheim based on the cost of travel time savings:Electrifying and improving the Los Angeles to Orange County route would cost $6 billion and save only 10 minutes of travel time, said rail authority Chairman Dan Richard.
"Why would we do that, pay $600 million per minute?" he said in an interview Friday.
Let's do the math here. The project is justified on travel time savings, and the Chairman has now said that $600 million per minute is too high a cost. At about $70 million, the current project needs to save more than two hours (116 minutes) to justify the expense if each minute is worth $600 million. Yet Richard says $600 is too high, but by how much? The current (new) business plan offers about 2 hour and 40 minute service from San Francisco to Los Angeles on some routes. (How travel times didn't increase with the blended plan is still a bit of a mystery.) So, can you get from Union Station to San Francisco in less than or equal to 4:40 under current technologies? Yes you can. Flying is faster, even with airport hassles (Try Burbank to Oakland!). Driving is a bit longer, but is much more likely to get you exactly to your destination resulting in similar door to door times."
"In her celebrated book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which first appeared in 1961, Jane Jacobs argued that zoning, the concept on which the entire American planning system is based, is misconceived. Zoning leads to a disaggregation of the many functions of the city so that people live in one part, work in another, spend leisure time in a third, and shop in a fourth. Whole swaths of the city are thereby deserted for large parts of the day, and the fruitful interaction of work and leisure never occurs.
Zoning contributes to the dereliction of the city when its local industries die and ensures that the central areas are not places of renewal, but at best museums and at worst vandalized spaces no one can use. In successful cities like Paris, New York, and Rome, workshops, apartments, offices, schools, churches, and theaters all stand side by side, with houses borrowing walls from whatever building has a boundary to spare.
The complaint against zoning is surely right. But it is not a complaint against planning. The great planning disasters, some of which have been studied by Peter Hall, owe their negative impact at least in part to their scale. When the layout of a town is conceived from a master plan, the possibilities for disaster are legion."
Annie Mole: More 3D London Underground Cutaway Diagrams
Pioneer Press: St. Paul's Union Depot won't get Greyhound, after all:
"The St. Paul Union Depot, in the midst of a $243 million restoration, has lost one of its first major tenants before it officially reopens its doors.
Ramsey County officials had anticipated that the Greyhound bus line would relocate this year from near Rice Street and University Avenue to the refurbished transit hub overlooking Kellogg Boulevard.
Instead, the bus company has told the county it will leave St. Paul entirely.
"Rather than operate two stations in the Twin Cities, they will plan to close their St. Paul operation and consolidate service at their Minneapolis station," said Josh Collins, a spokesman with the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority."
[So the Union Depot will not really have buses and it will not really have trains, but it sure will be beautiful.]
Via Kottke: Railroad company logo design evolution
"The brain appears to be wired in a rectangular 3D grid structure, suggests a new brain imaging study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Far from being just a tangle of wires, the brain’s connections turn out to be more like ribbon cables — folding 2D sheets of parallel neuronal fibers that cross paths at right angles, like the warp and weft of a fabric,” explained Van Wedeen, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), A.A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Harvard Medical School."
Antiplanner: Semi-Driverless Cars Available Soon :
"Continental Automotive, a company that makes tires and other parts, has put together a semi-driverless car for Nevada. Under the rules in that state, which legalized driverless cars last year, a car must successfully go 10,000 miles without an accident before being marketed in the state. Continental’s car, which is based on a Volkswagen Passat, should pass that mark this week."
"The Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) system (U.S. Patent 5950543, assigned to ET3.com, Inc.) would take passengers from New York to Beijing in just two hours. Advocates of Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) claim it is silent, cheaper than planes, trains, or cars and faster than jets.
How it would work: put a superconducting maglev train in evacuated tubes, then accelerate using linear electric motors until the design velocity is attained. Passive superconductors allow the capsules to float in the tube, while eddy currents induced in conducting materials drive the capsules. Efficiency of such a system would be high, as the electric energy required to accelerate a capsule could largely be recaptured as it slows."
h/t Brendan Nee: Uber Blog » Uberdata: The Ride of Glory:
"One of the neat things we can do with our data is ask about rider patterns: are there weekend riders that only use Uber post-party? What about the workday commuters who use us every morning? It was while playing around with this idea of (blind!) rider segmentation that we came up with the Ride of Glory (RoG)."
Summarized by Jeffrey Pieters the Post Bulletin: Study: Zip Rail would boost state economy by $1 billion per year - Post Bulletin:
Nearly $1 billion per year in increased economic activity would result from a proposed Rochester-to-Twin Cities high-speed Zip Rail line, concludes an analysis produced for Rochester Area Economic Development Inc.
"We think this study makes it clear — the benefits are significant and net-positive," said RAEDI Executive Director Gary Smith.
The study, prepared for RAEDI by R.L. Banks & Associates, an Arlington, Va., consulting firm, was commissioned to answer this "central question," Smith said — "What would happen if we shrunk the time and distance between the Rochester-area economy and the Twin Cities economy."
The purpose of the study, Smith cautioned, is not to establish the feasibility of the route and its estimated $1 billion construction cost. The study was merely a statistical analysis of the likely economic benefits, calculated using certain established formulas and assumptions.
"We thought it was important to weigh in, if you will, on the potential economic effect of this," Smith said. "There's enough economic benefit here this warrants further study and analysis."
The study assumed a nonstop route between downtown Rochester and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Such a route would attract an estimated 1 million riders per year, the study assumed.
Trains traveling at speeds between 150 and 220 mph would shave 30 minutes off the travel time by car and make the travel time itself potentially productive for the travel freed from the task of driving.
Benefits accrue from that increased productivity, as well as from tying together the unique biomedical and research economies of the two metro areas, said Frank Loetterle, transportation planner with R.L. Banks.
"There's a synergy that occurs here ... that doesn't occur other places," he said.
Some of the specific findings of the analysis include:
• Statewide, economic activity would increase by $987 million per year, and by $84 million in Olmsted County alone.
• Increased employment, over 25 years, would total nearly 7,900 jobs, including 3,250 involved in the planning, design and construction. More than $7.6 billion in individual income is attributed to the job increase — again, over the 25-year time span analyzed.
• The value of time-savings from the high-speed link would approach $30 million in the first year of operation, and vehicle gas consumption would be reduced by 2.5 million gallons. An estimated 40 road crashes would be prevented."
OK, to be more serious. Think about these results:
A line that carries 3000 people each way per day maximum (10 one-way trips of 300 passengers each) will generate 7888 jobs.
Only 610 of those jobs are in Olmsted County. So most people who benefit are elsewhere in the state because of the accessibility benefits given to the airport and the Mayo clinic … ? We have evidence of all this job growth from what? There is no US experience on which to validate job increases associated with HSR infrastructure.
Driving is assumed to be non-productive time. They have not heard of autonomous vehicles, which I hope will be quite available in well less than 30 years. Thus time savings is all of auto travel time, not just the difference in travel times. Passengers of autos seem to be counted as non-productive as well. The sick Mayo patients on-route will be productive. Nice to hear. Maybe they will want to rest up?
I will not comment much on the safety benefits, which are relatively small. It is a needlessly dangerous section of highway which could (and undoubtedly will) be fixed for less than the cost of this ZipLine. Nevertheless, cars will get safer over time for a variety of reasons, even if you don't assume automation.
Petroleum use is assumed fixed, 2.5 million gallons. I.e. in 30 years, autos will still get 20.3 mpg and buses 3.7 mpg.
Tax revenue is counted as a benefit.
The annual ridership is assumed to be about 1 million, which exceeds the best-case forecast of the Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan of 750,000. In 2008, total trips between Twin Cities and Rochester where just under 2 million, so they expect to capture half of all of the trips.
Unless those trips are destined for the rail stations on either end, they will need to transfer. Most people do not live at the airport or in walking distance of downtown Rochester. Aside from Mayo patients flying in, there is not much market there. I would be surprised if that were anywhere near 1 million patients per year.
At present there is no congestion between Rochester and MSP on highways. A distance of 77 miles is covered in 75 minutes.
I am sure I am missing obvious critiques, since I am doing this on the fly. Feel free to chime in.
Three on CaHSR:
Drunk Engineer at Systemic FailureHeads I Win, Tails You Lose :
"Incidentally, one major client of Goldman Sachs is the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). Goldman’s expert advice on structuring Public-Private Partnerships was that private investors receive 100% revenue guarantees — and to wait until the project reaches profitability before privatizing. In other words, taxpayers assume all the risk while Wall Street investors get all the profit. Like the interest-rate swaps, this would be a horrible deal for taxpayers.
Martin Engle sends me to the Washington Free Beacon: Cronyism at Any Speed:
"California’s high-speed rail initiative has its fair share of detractors, but the state’s two largest utility companies—Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) and Southern California Edison—are not among them.
Both companies stand to make millions, if not billions, providing electricity to the new high-speed rail lines if the controversial project is approved.
“Of course they support it,” Kenneth Button, a transportation policy expert at George Mason University, tells the Washington Free Beacon. “They’re going to make a lot of money.”"
"Finally, they could shave a lot of money (yes, billions) off that project cost by simply aiming for getting to the SFO Bart station rather than trying to get into downtown San Francisco. People are going to transfer to BART anyway, and it’s a simple BART trip to downtown from SFO. It’s a worthy amendment even if property owners downtown don’t want it."
[They could save a lot more money by going to San Jose or Livermore and stopping and letting people transfer to BART extensions or Caltrain, we don't put airports downtown, most people don't travel to downtown, why should HSR go downtown, to save a few people 1 transfer?]
[[ They could save even more money by not building it. ]]
Adrian Moore posts: The Detailed Concerns of the CA HSR Peer Review Group:
"Since the Peer Review Group report is curiously still not available on their website (but you can email them for a copy) I thought a summary of their analysis would be useful. Here, concisely as I can, are the key points, with some commentary.
1. "[I]t is hard to seriously consider a multi-billion dollar Funding Plan that offers no position on whether [the first operating section should be from almost Bakersfield to almost San Jose, or from Fresno to almost LA]."
2. The first section to be built will not be "a very high-speed railway (VHSR)" capable of operating at top speeds. "Therefore it does not appear to meet the requirements of the enabling State legislation." "The [first section] will not be electrified, and thus cannot serve as a high-speed test track for the future VHSR rolling stock."
3. "The only clear remaining basis for the [first section] is that it can serve as a vehicle for the use of Federal money that has specific deadlines."
4. "The fact that the Funding Plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program." "The CHSRA has also made it clear there will be no private sector interest in the project until the full public sector role is defined and funded, which means that significant private funding will not be available for many years." "The legislature could, of course, rectify this by enacting [a new tax or fee]. Lacking this, the project as it is currently planned is not financially 'feasible'."
5. "[W]e do not think that the current description constitutes a 'feasible' business model for a number of reasons." (bullets paraphrase)
The draft business plan relies on 'illustrative' concepts not decisions by the CHSRA.
There is no identified funding for the plan presented.
The biggest risk is system integration, but the plan requires all integration to happen very late in the project.
6. "We have repeatedly said that we do not believe that the current approach to project management, with the CHSRA's staffing, salaries and procurement controlled by California public agency rules, will suffice if the project gets fully underway and the CHSRA has to suddenly manage a construction effort larger than that currently managed by Caltrans."(emphasis added)
7. "Unfortunately, despite a strong recommendation from this group, the demand forecasts remain an internal product of the CHSRA and its internal peer review panel. The forecasts have not been subjected to external and public review, and many of the internal workings of the model. . . remain unclear."
8. "Capital cost estimates for the system have been steadily rising in every Business Plan." "The reasonableness of the capital budgets would be improved by development of a risk-based, cost-loaded construction schedule that makes a more explicit attempt to allow for a broad range of outcomes in cost and schedule."
9. "[T]he decision to put the entire initial effort into the Central Valley maximizes the risk to the State if no significant funding appears after the initial Federal contributions."
10. "In our judgment, a finding of feasibility in the Funding Plan would require that the following assumptions be found reasonable:" (bullets paraphrase)
The first section can be completed within budget and on time despite a lack of construction experience, managerial resources, and potential delays from lawsuits.
The $24-$30 billion still needed to connect the first section to either San Jose or San Fernando valley when the state is the only likely source, and is broke.
That the cost once up and running will be on budget, ridership will be close to estimates, and an inexperienced CHSRA can manage all the tricky integration issues.
All these same things will be true of adding the next part of the system, including another $14-$35 billion.
"[O]ur experience with [other HSR projects in the US and around the world] strongly suggest that each of these assumptions alone is slightly optimistic, and taken together, strongly so.""
The Telegraph: High-speed rail: A £250m lesson for Britain's rail enthusiasts:
"The new “Fyra” high-speed service in the Netherlands — opened just two years ago — is close to financial collapse with passengers shunning its premium fares and trains running up to 85 per cent empty.
The line, between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda, cost taxpayers more than £7 billion to build but is losing £320,000 a day amid disastrous levels of patronage.
A Dutch passenger pressure group, Voor Beter OV (For Better Public Transport), is now taking the national rail operator to the Netherlands’ competition tribunal after it slowed down services on the regular network in an apparent attempt to drive passengers on to the high-speed line."
Peter Gordon sends me to the LA Times, who write an awful editorial: Keeping faith with California's bullet train: "Worthwhile things seldom come without cost or sacrifice. That was as true in ancient times as it is now; pharaoh Sneferu, builder of Egypt's first pyramids, had to try three times before he got it right, with the first two either collapsing under their own weight or leaning precipitously. But who remembers that now? Not many people have heard of Sneferu, but his pyramids and those of his successors are wonders of the world."
In addition to Peter Gordon's point about slaves building the pyramids, I will reiterate Dick Soberman's (U Toronto) point that "the Pyramids have lower operating costs". I am sure three millennia from now people will visit the ruins of the earthquake-ravaged island of California to visit the random spurs of metal and concrete that were once a High-speed rail line which had operated for about a year before technology obsoleted it and the operator went bankrupt. This is much like today when veritable hoards of people visit closed Underground stations and other abandoned infrastructure. This future tourism (discounted to the present at an appropriate discount rate of negative 7 percent) is perhaps the best justification for HSR yet.
The education system in California has clearly deteriorated far beyond what we once understood when editorial writers either believe supporting HSR construction at this point is good policy, or believe their audience will be moved by this.
LA Times: California HSR is now more expensive: Bullet train cost estimates to rise: "Bullet train cost estimates rise to $98.5 billion. In a key change, the state has decided to stretch the construction schedule by 13 years, completing the Southern California-to-Bay Area high speed rail in 2033 rather than 2020."
However cost estimates have grown from $13 billion, cited in this early (1994) CalSpeed report "Revenue and Ridership Potential for a High-Speed Rail Service in the
San Francisco/Sacramento-Los Corridor" by Daniel Leavitt, Erin Vaca, and Peter Hall.