Debates 2020

Biden Says High-Speed Rail Will Get Millions of Cars Off the Road. That's Malarkey.

This is what happens when you think all of America looks like the Acela corridor.


In the midst of Sunday's presidential debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Biden blurted out that his campaign's high-speed rail plan would take "millions of automobiles off the road."

This is the second debate in which the former vice president brought up the belief that bullet trains will get people out of their cars. This is, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely.

Biden's campaign site calls for "the construction of an end-to-end high speed rail system that will connect the coasts, unlocking new, affordable access for every American." Would bullet trains passing through major cities scattered across the U.S. actually get people out of their cars?

"The answer is no," explains Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation. (Full disclosure: The Reason Foundation publishes this website.) "High-speed rail primarily takes customers from aviation. Car travel might be substitutable with inner city buses, but we don't really see it in rail. That's not why other countries have built high-speed rail."

Feigenbaum notes that countries that have built high-speed rail have typically done so to reduce crowding on existing rail lines, not as a substitute for roads. The sole exception was China, which used it as an economic development project during a time when its highway system was much less robust than America's.

"Basically, Biden loves rail," Feigenbaum says, noting the vice president's roots in the northeastern Acela corridor. Indeed, the first high-speed rail project Biden says he'll focus on is increasing the speed of trains traveling from New York City to D.C. That region is the only part of America where rail travel has been shown to be efficient and profitable. Taking that mentality and trying to stretch it across the U.S. is absurd.

And no, this travel will not be all that more "affordable" than air travel—not unless the trips themselves are heavily subsidized. High-speed rail does not help the poor access the job market better or travel more freely.

"High-speed rail benefits wealthy business travelers," Feigenbaum points out. "How this plan helps the Democratic base is unclear to me."

Perhaps because—as we've seen with California's efforts in this area—high-speed rail is more of a jobs program than a realistic plan to make mass transportation greener. When Feigenbaum critiqued Biden's infrastructure plan in December, he wasn't impressed with Biden's emphasis on feeding jobs to construction unions over actually fulfilling transportation needs:

We shouldn't build transportation projects to create a bunch of temporary jobs; we should invest in transportation to improve mobility and the economy, and then the robust economy creates jobs. Further, Biden's plan reads as though we are still in the throes of the Great Recession of a decade ago, not at the record-low unemployment we are now experiencing….

The plan assumes that investing in high-speed rail (HSR) and light rail would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, studies have shown that bus, not light rail, is more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions since most light rail vehicles have few riders outside of peak periods. High-speed rail is extremely energy-intensive to build. The California high-speed rail project would have needed to operate for 71 years at average capacity to neutralize the emissions needed to build the line. If Biden's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are much easier and cheaper ways to do so than building HSR and light rail.

The inclusion of light rail and HSR won't help working-class communities, either. Building light rail lines typically leads to gentrification, which increases home prices and forces low-income minorities to move. (The new residents use light rail less frequently than the displaced residents). HSR is frequented primarily by wealthy business travelers. Lower-income residents use intercity buses, which benefit from improved highway conditions, not rail upgrades.

Meanwhile, California's zombie bullet train project remains a shambling mess that refuses to die. Its estimated price tag increased to $80.3 billion in February. (California voters authorized the state to spend only $33 billion on it.) Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that managers who were working on the project were told to keep their mouths shut about any problems or face termination. Several have walked away from it, one calling it the "worst job of [his] career."

California's efforts should serve as a warning: Politicians and other self-serving interests will declare their pet projects "green" to attract huge chunks of money whether or not the projects actually help the environment. High-speed rail doesn't "get cars off the road," won't reduce congestion in cities, and won't make travel more "accessible" to the poor. But poor people's taxes will still be used to subsidize the travels of the business and leisure classes.

NEXT: Déjà Vu in Iraq

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  1. Every time I have checked into using rail as a trip option, it was both the most expensive, and the longest travel time.
    (eg. Orlando to Atlanta; two days! Go to DC and rest overnight, then on to Atlanta.)

    1. It’s not an accident that the Green New Deal basically endorses a replacement of the road system with a series of rail lines.

    2. Seriously. The last time I checked into booking a train ride from St. Louis to D.C. it was absurdly worse in both categories compared to other options:

      Fly a major airline –
      Round trip cost: $200
      Total travel time: 2.5 hours (Including TSA wait)

      Take Amtrack –
      One way cost: $300
      Total travel time: 23 hours, 58 minutes (Including stops in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Baltimore)

      Wait until all these morons pushing for cross country rail and getting rid of air travel and road infrastructure find out that their only option left to get from New York to LA takes a week and costs 5 times more than it does now.

      Because it would not be a straight shot. Every major city would want to be a stop – you would need at least one in every state. Just like what’s happening to the California rail project.

      1. Most of those people could still fly their private jets, silly.

      2. “…Take Amtrack –
        One way cost: $300…”

        And probably a $300 subsidy from the rest of us.

  2. Pack people into public transit.

    1. Pack ‘em in tight.

      1. Just in time for SARS-COIVD season.

        1. I read that NY city is “discouraging” use of public transportation due to COVID-19. Imagine the mess they’d have if everyone actually had given up personal cars like the left has been begging for all these years.

  3. Once again, folks, I recommend Romance of the Rails for all sorts of fascinating debunking.

    1. Danke. It’s in the cart.

  4. HSR: Takes you from where you aren’t to a place where you don’t want to be, all at a cost greater than most alternatives!
    A proggy’s wet dream.

    1. That description matches government itself, especially the Progressive variety.

      1. Reading about Biden’s support base has been quite illuminating–no one, absolutely no one, can even mention what parts of his platform they support. It’s entirely based on “he’s the only one who can beat Trump,” not any policy he’s actually pushing. Bernie’s actually losing people who support his platform because “beat Trump” is the only thing they care about.

        I can’t think of a recent period in American history when a party’s supporters were this pathetically craven about why they’re supporting a candidate. At least Trump gave the Republican base something to get behind and rode it to the nomination. Biden’s condition makes him nothing more than an avatar for Obama nostalgia at this point, and what’s hilarious is that Obama has notably not endorsed him, even after the DNC completely cleared the way for Biden to win the nomination and Democrats went on an endorsement binge for him.

        1. It doesn’t matter who Obama endorses, Who Obama’s teleprompter endorses is what matters and it endorsed Biden.

        2. I can’t think of a recent period in American history when a party’s supporters were this pathetically craven about why they’re supporting a candidate.

          Respectfully disagree. IIRC, HRC’s ad-buys were only 10% policy; 90% personal (attack/hagiography), and she wouldn’t even meet with the press for months. So with Herself it was either “D next to her name”, “she has a vagina” (assumes facts not in evidence btw) or “it’s her turn”. All just as specious as Orange Man Bad.

        3. It’s not that Trump gave the republican base something they can get behind. Half that base is gone. Trump’s re-invented what constitutes the Republican based.

          1. This is actually a great point.

            Up until Trump the GOP had been mostly taken over by the “neocon” wave who were actually just pro-war, pro-security state Democrats. Not traditional conservatives nor even traditional Republicans.

            Trump has pretty much run them off and drew in what I would call the disaffected middle class. The Democrat party mostly counted on getting union votes and the votes of flyover country that were so disgusted with both parties they were mostly staying home.

            The Trump GOP is now traditional conservatives, business interests, social conservatives, and the disaffected flyovers. The neocon group has returned to the Democrats.

  5. I was promised no malarkey.

    1. I think they should have used Biden’s own words: “bullshit”.

  6. High-speed rail doesn’t “get cars off the road,”

    unless, of course, those cars are in the crossing at the wrong time.

  7. Cars on a road go past my front door. Trains on a track do not. Therefore I still need my car on the road to get to the train!

  8. Joe’s dementia has reached the “I LIKE TRAINS” stage. Someone get him a book of scratch-n-sniff stickers, he’ll be occupied through the election.

    1. Do they make them with hair scents?

  9. Santa Fe to Albuquerque NM on the “RailRunner”! Nice ride. Great for some, but an$8 billion boondoggle by Gov Richardson to serve government workers who commute from Duke city to Santa Fe. Ridership is down, deficits galore.
    Altogether a nice idea that people do not use.

    1. Altogether a nice idea that people do not use.
      So…not a nice idea after all, huh? Maybe you mis-typed “stupid”?

  10. It would have been amusing if the “moderators” had thought to ask him: “If you do manage to remove millions of automobiles from the road, how will federal and state governments replace the lost fuel taxes?”

    1. “Um, some millionaires and billionaires….. er just billionaires [cuz the Bern is a millionaire now] will pay for it… like everything else they will pay for .”

    2. And registration fees.

      On the plus side, maybe we’ll see less of flo, the insurance hag on our TVs.

  11. What is it with Democrats and the damned trains?

    1. How else would you move political undesirables to the labor camps?

    2. Control.

    3. Progressives make the trains run on time.


  12. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that managers who were working on the project were told to keep their mouths shut about any problems or face termination. Several have walked away from it, one calling it the “worst job of [his] career.”

    These freelance jobs were never good anyway.

    1. Boooooooooooom. Headshot.

    2. When they have to keep their mouths shut, is that “Gag Economy” work?

  13. Sorry but Biden is (shockingly) right about this.

    Rail is very good for movement between cities. I’ve lived in Europe and they do this very well. Buses are also doing well.

    Well developed mass transport helps the auto driver very much.

    Key to a good rail system is making it accessible and pleasant.

    Unfortunately Amtrak cars were designed and built in the 70s and show their age.

    Despite this my trip from Pgh. to San Francisco was interesting, pleasant and relaxing. Cheaper than an airplane by a good margin.

    1. Rail is very good for movement between cities. I’ve lived in Europe and they do this very well. Buses are also doing well.

      The United States is bigger than Europe, and has a fully developed road network that effectively replaced trains over 50 years ago. The only places where trains are viable here are hyper-dense urban areas, which is why all the left-wing bugmen are trying to get everyone to live in a high-rise shoebox instead of moving to the suburbs as soon as they get married and have kids.

      Key to a good rail system is making it accessible and pleasant.

      No, the key to a good rail system is reliability, frequency, and monopoly. Ask Denver how well their light rail system is working out when it’s not rush hour, not to mention the airport train which breaks down half the damn time. RTD is having to cut back services because even the tech goons and immigrants that have flooded the metro area in the last ten years don’t want to give up their cars.

    2. Despite this my trip from Pgh. to San Francisco was interesting, pleasant and relaxing. Cheaper than an airplane by a good margin.

      How many hours did that trip take? Was it more than 5?

      1. And how much did YOU pay for him to travel?

    3. “…Rail is very good for movement between cities…”
      If it’s so good, the market will demand it. Un-subidized, so YOU paya for YOUR trip.

    4. Rail is very good for movement between cities.
      It is good for moving freight between cities. It removes many trucks from the roads.

    5. A pleasant 70 hour trip and roughly a $500 round trip [for coach, not a sleeping car]. Go for it, because you being on a train means one less idiot trying to get on a plane with me. I’m curious how you smelled after 3 days.

    6. The viability of rail is all about population concentration. If you have high concentration and fairly short distances, then rail works great. If you don’t, not so great.

      So it works well in Europe, Japan, and the US NE corridor. The rest of the US, not so much

  14. every idiot on a train isn’t in front of me in traffic, so bonus.

  15. “California’s efforts should serve as a warning: Politicians and other self-serving interests will declare their pet projects “green” to attract huge chunks of money whether or not the projects actually help the environment.”

    While it’s true that California has a failing rapid transit, poor roads, litter all over the place, many poor urban public schools, super high land costs near the coat, poverty in the center of the state and homelessness in coastal cities these shouldn’t shadow the benefits of living in California. The weather is nice and we have the highest state tax rates the most regulations of almost any other state in the U.S. High taxes and and lots of regulations are the foundations of virtue signalling, something we do best in California.

    1. Gotta play to your strengths.

  16. I’m surprised Old Joe isn’t holding out for a high speed stagecoach line.

    1. Please.
      Don’t give him any ideas.

      1. He’s just gonna forget em anyways, might as well have some fun with it.

  17. “High-speed rail benefits wealthy business travelers,” Feigenbaum points out. “How this plan helps the Democratic base is unclear to me.”

    The coastal ruling class is the Democratic base. They get better commutes.

    1. They also get to skim off the cream from the construction contracts.
      Just look at the boondoggle in California for an example of how this works.

  18. Expanding rails is no small task: First you have to pay for “right of way” permission. There are TEAMS of environmental lawyers READY to sue you for any new activity in areas where wild-life exists.

    They will “skim-off” the easy money for building rail…by the billions. Then, there’s almost nothing left for actually building them. Biden has no idea how this works…or doesn’t. Nor does he care.

    The ENTIRE purpose of Democrats is to get POWER. That’s all it is about.

    That’s what they do. Graduates of law school have to do SOMETHING with their useless degrees.

    Sanjosemike (no longer in CA)

    1. The high speed rail boondoggle in California is demonstration of exactly this scenario.
      The project is abysmally behind schedule, costs have grown to three times what the voters approved. And there still isn’t a wheel turning.
      The first link will connect what is for all practical intents and purposes a cow pasture with a mid state town whose chief reason for existence is as a hub for the surrounding agricultural lands.

      1. “The project is abysmally behind schedule, costs have grown to three times what the voters approved.”

        This was before it went to a vote, a guy named Ron Deridon (sp?) was moonbeam’s choice to spearhead the the project.
        Wife and I went to Momo’s for lunch, and in comes Willie Brown, who sits down with Deridon (after working the room; not happy with my question regarding Jim Jones).
        They are scribbling on the backs of the menu, and there were no other people (contractors, engineers, enviro-lawyers, etc) involved.
        A couple of days later, the ‘budget’ was announced.
        Now this is Willie Brown, who is entirely too honest in his corruption:
        “News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should not come as a shock to anyone. We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the [San Francisco] Central Subway or the [San Francisco‐​Oakland] Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So get off it. In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in [emphasis added].”

    2. The right of way issue is huge as is construction costs.

      High speed rail requires very flat rail and very shallow grades. High Speed rail lines beyond the NE Corridor will need to cross the Alleghenies which would require essentially ramps starting hundreds of miles on either side even to make it though valleys. The right-of-ways needed will be all new as existing right of ways are too steep and to curvy to be suitable. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss the construction cost of environmental impact.

      High speed rail is not practical in much of the us. A segment from DC to Charleston WV would probably exceed a couple of trillion USD and one from Charleston to Cincinnati a couple of trillion USD more.

  19. As COVID-19 clearly demonstrates, encouraging more people and businesses to work remotely would have the largest impact on emissions. Instead of offering subsidies for electric vehicles for the affluent and building bullet trains, they could offer tax incentives to businesses that encourage remote work. A 20% reduction in traffic would dramatically change the efficiency of existing vehicles and infrastructure because there would be less congestion. For those who do need to commute, it would be considerably less painful.

    Nearly every solution that I have heard about for reducing emissions involves the status quo. It assumes that people will continue to pack the roadways and railway to get to work. Naturally, those who sell vehicles, fuel, batteries and asphalt want to maintain that. But if climate change requires action, we could have a huge impact almost immediately with very little cost.

  20. During the heyday of Passenger Rail Travel speeds were as much as 40 MPH ~faster~ on inter-city rails than what they are today.
    People are ~forced~ into aluminum petri dishes with wings in order to get to most inter-city destinations because there is no passenger rail service.
    European Style High Speed Rail won’t work in the USA, particularly west of the Mississippi, because the distances are too great and the required infrastructure would be prohibitive in cost. Much of the success for High Speed Rail in Europe can be attributed to the early in the build-out of the original rail systems including grade separation at many rail crossings, something impossible to accomplish in the USA for many interrelated reasons.

    1. People are ~forced~ into aluminum petri dishes with wings in order to get to most inter-city destinations because there is no passenger rail service.

      Much like people today are “forced” to use spotify instead of an 8-track player.

  21. The idea for the California High Speed Rail project started with the construction labor unions which are big donors to the Democrats in the state legislature. The politicians put the financing as ballot measure which barely passed. The proposition had some requirements that included minimum speeds between destinations and limits on ticket prices with no operational subsidies. All of those constraints will be violated yet the program lives on. This article points out further flaws in this concept.

    We have wasted too much money on this system and it is time to cut our losses and view it as an expensive lesson in crony capitalism.

  22. Why are these idiots so fixated on trains? We have airplanes now. Passenger rail is superseded.


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  24. In general rail is stupid… High speed passenger rail in the USA is just a no go because of lack of population density. But I have always wondered about a couple things, and never seen solid figures.

    What about for CARGO??? The US is actually more efficient at moving cargo via rail than the EU! Progs never know this. I’ve wondered what saaay a single high speed east-west rail line might be able to do for cargo transport.

    First off some next day/2 day delivery might be able to be done this way, cutting costs a ton. It could move ALL cargo faster, which is cool, if the costs weren’t too much more than for regular speed trains.

    It could have a couple north south corridors where it made sense, probably to the US south, a few population centers in the midwest, Texas, then probably Cali and maybe Portland/Seattle.

    If cargo could be moved quickly and at a reasonable cost, to essentially cover the fixed costs of the whole thing, then whatever minimal passenger crap could just be tacked on top. Obviously the trip time issue could easily be solved with direct routes that bypass stops by pulling off onto side rails for passenger entry/exit while other trains keep blowing on by.

    Mainly, I think cargo could be the only thing that might make high speed cross continent rail make sense. As I said probably just one line across the country. Maybe a northern and a southern with a 1 or 2 crossover points on the east/west trip.

    Anybody ever seen anything concrete on this?

    1. My understanding is that it’s a combination of the last mile problem, no straight path between most destination cities, and difficulty with partial loads.

      No matter how many rail lines you put down you are going to always have to hire a trucker to drive the last mile and the first mile. If you already have to hire him it’s cheaper to just add on a few miles to the trip he will be making anyways than to add in a whole new cost of loading and unloading onto a train and hiring another separate trucker to make the other end of the trip.

      Then there is the hub system most train tracks work on. If you want to go to a city 50 miles over odds are high with a train you’ll have to first send your cargo 300 miles out of it’s way. Trains are cheap because they can haul a lot, but that means you need to consolidate goods coming from all over to a single location.

      The final issue is the full car price. For some reason trains charge you the same for a half empty car as they do for a full one. Truckers on the other hand will let several different businesses consolidate goods into one truckload that goes to multiple locations.

      1. So here’s the problem with that thesis:

        We move most cargo on trains ALREADY.

        In fact, in Europe the majority of cargo is just trucked everywhere. Probably for the reasons you give above, which are legit. But the finest logistical minds at the biggest companies in the world have determined that RAIL is the most effective form for moving most cargo in the USA.

        Apparently the first/last mile issue isn’t enough to offset the savings IN THE USA. Maybe in Europe, being small and dense, it is, which is why they truck stuff. But apparently taking avocados from California to NYC or salmon from Seattle to Miami it’s worth putting on a train for the bulk of the trip.

        Technically, a limited high speed rail system would double up on some of those issues, unless said trains could transfer straight onto regular speed rails to finish deliveries without having to transfer to different low speed trains. There’s different tech employed in some high speed rail systems that isn’t compatible.

        But even if such an issue existed, a network that basically only serviced saaay a couple dozen metro blobs could conceivably cover 50-80% of the population, even though the geographic reach was very limited.

        Hence, a LIMITED system might pencil out if there was widespread cargo use. There’s no way passenger travel works in the USA, because we’re too big and it’s too slow… But as a faster cargo system that’s less expensive than trucks/planes, it just might work. I’ve still never seen any real math on this.

        1. That single high speed line across country would likely cost hundreds of trillions to build, (no, I am not exaggerating even a little) take decades for environmental permitting, and more decades to build. It would FAR exceed the entire cost of the US interstate highway system.

          It is so impractical we will be beaming goods like Star Trek from coast to coast long before those high speed rail lines got built!

          1. Bullshit.

            1st, we could cut the red tape so none of the environmental nonsense was a thing. If private companies were doing it, it wouldn’t cost a fraction of what the retarded California line did per mile. It wouldn’t even be hundreds of trillions using their insanely inflated per mile costs though, so you’re just flat out wrong.

            So yeah, even with efficiencies it would be hundreds of billions… Perhaps in the very low trillions… But we spend trillions on global transport every year now. So it’s a question of whether or not it makes sense long haul… Which is the question I wonder about, but have no firm answer to.

    2. Somewhat related: You know how/why 2 day is so prolific? it’s tied to why you have to pay to check a bag. The unused space in your airplane is used to haul packages for amazon et al.

      In short I’m not sure rail would work with consumer shipping, where it could have effect is industrial customers.

      1. Oh yeah, they use up every last bit of space whenever they can.

        Well, it would depend on how regular and consistent the rail service was… And the cost. They don’t get that space on planes for NOTHING. If high speed rail from NYC to Chicago still met the deadlines for 1 or 2 day like clockwork, but was 20% cheaper than cramming it on airplanes, people would use it.

        But I do agree that it would be MORE used for bulk industrial stuff. Shaving a day or two off transcontinental freight that needed to be done cost effectively would be a BIG thing for many industries.

        Hence I’ve always wondered if it would pencil out! It seems on the surface that there could be a lot of use cases. No mode of transport is a magic silver bullet for ALL use cases, but something between trucking/regular rail speed and airplane speed, also at an intermediate cost, seems like it could have customers.

  25. Imagine my surprise when Koch-funded Reason advocates against efficient rail projects…

    We don’t need them going across the country to SLC but could easily connect more coastal and inland cities. But hey, Reason isn’t here to argue in good faith. They know their masters..

    1. God you’re dumb.

      I say let whoever wants to build a train system, BUILD IT. Then charge what it costs to operate with no subsidies! If it’s such a great idea it will make a ton of money!!!

      The reason nobody will is because it’s a shit system in a country like ours. The eastern seaboard is the ONLY place it makes any sense, and it still isn’t good even there. If it made any sense it could be privately funded in a heartbeat.

      1. It makes sense down much of the west coast too (Washington & California & to Las Vegas too)

        But it is the GOVERNMENT that earns most of the profit – from a boosted economy and extra tax dollars earned back over the 100 year lifetime of the project.

        Do private roads work? No.
        Only GOVERNMENT roads repay their costs – through tax.

        Railways repay their costs through not just fares & increased land values near stations, but ALSO through tax dollars from a BOOSTED ECONOMY.

        1. Actually, private roads DO work. That’s why there are still some of them, and used to be a TON more before government muscled them out. Funny how every other type of rail can be privately owned too…

          I’m not knee jerk against rail, but it just doesn’t pan out in most of the USA. Even on the west coast, the major population centers are too far away from each other for passenger to make sense.

    2. but could easily connect more coastal and inland cities.

      Easily? Money is a proxy for resources. Easy things take few resources. Someting that’s going to cost $800 trillion to do ain’t easy.

      1. Well Said.

  26. Feigenbaum notes that countries that have built high-speed rail have typically done so to reduce crowding on existing rail lines, not as a substitute for roads. The sole exception was China, which used it as an economic development project during a time when its highway system was much less robust than America’s.

    Even China’s not an exception. A key reason for building was to add capacity to freight lines by removing passenger traffic from them.

  27. Everyone with even half an ounce of common sense knows that what America really needs are high speed paddle steamers. There used to be thousands of them on American rivers until Big Coal and Big Steel killed them off with their government subsidized choo-choo trains.


  28. While I haven’t made an exhaustive study by any means, my strong impression is that 99% of everything said in favor of building High Speed Rail in the United States is malarky, and at least 50% of everything said in favor of high speed rail anywhere else is too.

    It seems to work in Japan. But then, mass transit seems to work better in Japan than it does elsewhere.

    BTW; if I’m wrong about mass transit working well in Japan, I would love to be pointed to information to the contrary.

    1. It depends on what you mean by working well. Runs on time? Profitable and privately operated companies? High quality? Affordable? That depends on what part of the country you’re in. JR Tokai is the most profitable of all the lines. It covers the central Japan area just west of Tokyo and goes into Tokyo. Many people commute into Tokyo or do business in this area and it’s more highly trafficked that most airliners. This line checks all the boxes. I rode it from Osaka to Tokyo and it was wonderful. Tokyo Metro is also very popular and well run and their commitment to timeliness is unparalleled.

      When you start to move outside of Tokyo, that’s where things become iffy. Volume starts decreasing and thus rail becomes less economically justifiable. JR Hokkaido has not been and most likely never will be profitable. They have tried for decades and continue to fail, downsize, and receive bailouts.

      1. Interesting. So the Japanese, widely considered to have the best rail system in the world, cannot run the wider parts at a profit.

        1. Roads never make “profits” – as nobody pays their true cost.

          When you include extra tax earned by a boosted economy, high speed rail quite easily repays it’s cost.

          By halving journey times it doubles business hinterlands to earn more tax from increased sales and a doubled labour pool of talent.

          Staff can commute from twice the area. Sales can be made to twice the area. The GOVERNMENT earns more tax income.

      2. Population density is the only thing that makes rail work… But even then, it is often little better than A BUS cost wise. But it can be better cost wise, and time wise, in very dense areas.

  29. Trains tend to work in population dense areas with less navigable geography for cars, such as Japan and Korea. Trains also tend to work better in countries that were completely demolished due to warfare or that don’t have private property rights and eminent domain laws, like China.

    1. They work ALL OVER THE WORLD – between large cities.
      They COMPETE with crowded roads & take city-city car markets.

      Why drive 400 miles for 8 hrs when trains do it in under 3 hrs?

      1. Why take a 3 hour train ride when you can take a 1 hour plane ride that costs 40% less money?

        That’s the problem for rail in many places.

        1. But to reach the city centre the plane ride takes 3 hrs.
          As we’ve found in Europe, nobody flies those routes anymore.

          Rail has taken 100% of markets like Paris-Lyon, Paris-Brussels, Frankfurt-Cologne/Dusseldorf etc where the planes just gave up in the end. ZERO flights now.

          Lot’s of other city pairs have found 80% of people have switched from plane to rail (eg London-Paris, Madrid-Seville / Barcelona)

          The same will happen in the USA for city pairs such as LA-SF when high speed rail gets journey times to around 3 hrs – as that is the break point for taking over 50% of the air market.

          At 2 hours or less, rail takes 90% or more of the air market.

          When the next train leaves SOONER than the next plane, that makes a difference to journey time too.

          It is (a) TOTAL journey time and (b) CONVENIENCE and CONNECTIVITY – ie a less broken journey from city to city instead of taxi/car to the airport, airport delays & the same to reach your destination at the other end.

          That is why integrated local metro / local rail etc matters too – eg the growing SF BART & LA Metro links matter too.

          I agree that in the USA, high speed rail will be limited to city pairs in the West & East Coast + perhaps Texas for a while though.

          And having taken 80% of air markets about 50% of the long distance CAR market gets taken by rail too – eg to the Central Valley from SF and LA in that case.

  30. Oh sure. Worked great in California.

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  32. This really isn’t “malarky” anywhere else on this planet.

    Here in Europe, 200mph rail doesn’t just take air markets.
    It takes ROAD markets too – eg Paris-Lyon, Paris-Brussels, Tokyo-Osaka, Madrid-Barcelona, Madrid-Seville have for decades been known to have taken ROAD markets as well as wiped out the old air markets too.

    If you can travel 400 miles in 2 or 3 hrs by rail – and reach city centres without needing to find expensive parking too, why drive?

    Welcome to the future – of what we’ve had in Europe, Japan, China or many other places for decades now…..

    One day you americans might catch up with planet earth 🙂

    1. Yeah, if we have 1.5 billion people crammed into the continental USA.

      Until that happens, it doesn’t make sense financially, and is faster to fly! It’s not hard to figure out. It works on the east coast, ISH… And if we had another half dozen major metro areas on the west coast more than we have now, it might work there. Maybe a loop of the midwest big cities? Other than that it will never make sense here.

      1. But you agree that high speed lines down the West & East coasts would work – and probably some in the South & Florida too.

        Chicago-Detroit-Toronto-Montreal & Washington-NY-Boston could be linked via a Cleveland-Pittsburg route too.


    This article is worth reading too though.
    UBS notes that high speed rail takes MORE from road than air!

    Here is the last paragraph:
    “Data from a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1 000 people in four European countries and China suggested that leisure travellers would tolerate 5 to 6 h on a train and that business travellers in the EU would accept up to 4 h compared with a general consensus of 2 to 3 h. ‘In China, high speed rail has taken more travellers off the roads than away from airlines, although that could change’, UBS said. Service and frequency are key drivers of demand for longer train journeys, and ‘both can be improved when competition among operators is introduced’.”

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