Monday, February 18, 2019

CA HSR, RIP (kind of)

So just as high speed rail gets a political lift via the Green New Deal, the one active effort bites the dust in California. Read the link though, it's not entirely dead - Newsom committed to a strange little stretch in Central Valley from Merced to Bakersfield that's already partly constructed, and put off the rest for another (undefined) time. Some Amtrak connection to Central Valley could end up making a mixed HSR/normal line run from the Bay Area to LA.

Still, it's depressing if not surprising (I've been hesitant about it for a while). Vox tries to explain why HSR has done poorly, a combination of cost overruns, delays, and political overrides of logic, but that's at best a first-level explanation. Why are cost overruns, delays and politics so much worse for American HSR than in other countries?

Maybe our love affair with cars means that everything else gets second-best efforts. There was also some argument making its way around several years ago that English-speaking advanced economies have far more expensive public infrastructure than in comparable non-English speaking countries (couldn't find a good link on a quick search). The reasons given that I recall were stubborn labor unions, which I find a doubtful distinction, and greater legal costs, which also seem overblown to me. The real cause isn't clear.

Anyway I view the HSR failure as a similar disappointment to each carbon-capture project that bites the dust, usually for the same reason of cost overruns and delays. We need these programs to work.

Still, HSR isn't entirely dead, and alternatives like high-speed autonomous EVs in dedicated lanes could provide similar benefits. And people keep trying CCS, maybe it will eventually work as something we desperately need in order to generate large amounts of negative carbon emissions.

UPDATE - some good analysis from Scott Lemieux:

The crucial underlying problem here is America’s fractured and extraordinarily high-veto-point system, which inevitably leads to substantial inefficiencies and inequities unless (as with roads) the support for them is extremely broad-based and the opposition very weak. Any remotely rational plan would have started with a San Diego-to-LA or an LA-Bakersfield-SF line and proceeded from there, but instead so many local interests had to be bought off that it became white elephant done in a completely irrational sequence, and collapsed. And that’s in one of the most favorable political contexts for such a project.

Another related problem is that NIMBYISM has a serious presence on the left, which can be seen in the fact that the Green New Deal completely ignores the critical need for upzoning and increased housing density. These are both very serious issues.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Eli Rabett's: Dividend and Fee Carbon Taxes

Eli has an idea.  Usual disclaimers.
Let's have a dividend and fee carbon tax. Let's pay the first year dividend and only start to collect the fee in the second, and let's even give bonus' for good deeds, like riding public transport, not using neonicotinoids, giving more carrots to the bunnies and your suggestion goes here.
The Overton window on this is being shoved too and fro.  On the one hand in the US there is a real shift in public opinion toward reality on climate change to it is real, and we must do something about it.  The Green New Deal has a bunch of momentum going for it.  On the other hand the French gilets jaunes have been raising holy hell in the streets of Paris. 

Thus Eli Rabett's simple plan: Pay the first year dividend without collecting the tax.  Institute the tax in the second year.  Where will the money come from the bunnies ask.  Well, think of it as the infrastructure week that the US did not have.  It's an investment, and more will be needed for supporting research and new infrastructure like new nuclear plants and electrical distribution networks.   

So back to the beginning.  Fee and dividend was an idea popularized by Jim Hansen, the idea being that there would be a revenue neutral carbon tax with the revenue being returned to citizens.  In the US this has been taken up by the Citizens Climate Lobby among others including a whole bunch of economists who argue for a carbon fee and dividend plan.  CCL calls for a 100% monthly per person dividend and a border adjustment which would cover the carbon generated in the production and transport of imports. (Eli notes he was one of the first bunnies to talk about the border adjustment feature in the 2007 Eli Rabett's Simple Plan to Save the World).

Now one can argue about the correct costing for a carbon tax, but the general idea is clear and the point of the dividend is to capture the advantages of eliminating CO2 emissions while returning the fee to the public.  Why return the fee, well, some high fees will be needed to get to zero emission, and people will not be happy with paying them (Pay no attention to the folks selling free beer).  Thus pay the dividend up front, tax the carbon later.  Everybody wins

Friday, February 08, 2019

Making Tracks in the US

So with the Green New Deal on the street there is considerable talk about improving railroad travel.  Eli has a couple of perhaps odd points to make.

First high density is NOT something that is needed for fast trains, as a matter of fact it is a hinderance.  It doesn't matter how fast a train is if it has to make a lot of stops and every stop includes significant time decelerating as well as accelerating.  Moreover close to stations a high speed train travels slowly over normal tracks into the station rather than over a high speed right of way.

Ideally the time between stations should be of the order of one to two hours.  For high speed trains this is somewhere between 200 and 400 km (in disgraced units between 120 and 240 miles).  Thus, the East Coast Corridor between Boston and DC might not be a very good place to start as can be seen from the marginal reduction of travel time between the faster trains (Acela Express) and the normal ones on the NY - DC route, much of which is due to additional stops for the slower trains.

So where would be a good place to start.  There are a couple which suggest themselves.  Eli might point to a route linking Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

On Twitter, Paul Farrar, pointed out that Texas might be a good place to start.  Houston to Dallas  has been suggested, but such a route could be built out to include Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St, Louis and Chicago from Dallas, and to New Orleans and Austin from Houston.

So there are many possibilities for high speed rail in the US given the political will.

Which brings the blog to Eli's second point.  Railroads in the US are not electrified.  Even for freight there are places where considerable gains in decreased emissions and efficiency could be made by electrification of freight routes. One of the bedevilments limiting high speed rail passenger travel in the US has been that both freight and passenger trains travel on the same route.  Eli would propose that the lowest hanging fruit is electrification of the major freight routes, followed by building out a separate really high speed passenger rail network, starting in the middle of the country, where the land is mostly flat and population density outside of major cities is low.

It's perfectly fine to talk on a cell phone in an elevator

I have climate-related tabs piling up on my browser that I wanted to blog about, but felt I had to start with the important and pressing issue in the headline, first.

Mainly, the time spent in an elevator is brief and wasted, so why not continue a cell phone conversation? Should you really hang up for the 30-60 seconds that the elevator ride takes, and then call the person back, all so you could join the other people standing there facing a door (or possibly stare at your phone but without saying anything).

I don't see a point in not talking. On the train or bus, or maybe in a restroom, it's a longer time period where the other people are stuck with your conversation, so I'd understand a rule of courtesy there, but blab away on a brief elevator ride.

Glad to get that settled.