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.

10 comments:

Russell Seitz said...

Much of the country could conquer the Capex and NIMBY problems posed by HSR by combining Hyperloop and frakking technology, to drive an underground railway that powers and pays for itself by pistoning the natural gas that oozes in down the line to the cities that naturally consume it.

Once amortized, the money-spinning routes could pay its riders, guaranteeing coast to coast voter support,

David B Benson said...

Brian, the needed segment is a tunnel from the LA basin to the Central Valley.

Fernando Leanme said...

It's important to understand the Green New Deal is mostly nonsense, aimed at taking the US towards communism.

If you consider high speed rail segment by segment, it's easy to see it doesn't make economic sense. A better option is to gradually build an airport infrastructure which allows travelers to avoid TSA hassles and connect airports to light rail and commuter train networks. The left seems very keen on these Egyptian pyramid type projects which don't make any economic sense, and to top down imposition of nonsense "solutions". I see that in Spain. For example, the city where I live had a high speed rail line which connected it to Madrid in 3 hours. The government then invested in a very expensive FASTER line which takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. Meanwhile the train station is located 400 meters from the main light rail station...and the two aren't connected by a covered walkway or a people mover. This mess is the result of bureaucracy decisions which fail to take into account what makes sense at a local level.

I see that Green New Deal as a boost for Republican chances, because it's so full of minable nonsense, it will be used to convince many voters that the US Democrats are off their rockers.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: It's important to understand the Green New Deal is mostly nonsense, aimed at taking the US towards communism.

BPL: It's important to understand that Fernando's political views are tinfoil-hat-wearing lunacy.

William Connolley said...

> so much worse for American HSR than in other countries?

You haven't seen our HS2 in the UK, I take it.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Did you hear about Wally Broecker?

David B Benson said...

Yes. Also Walter Munk.

TheTracker said...

Of course one way to minimize the NIMBY-shrieks is to tunnel under the land instead of building over it. Which the Boring Co is working on.

David B Benson said...

Entropy is winning big time just now.

Russell Seitz said...

'Of course one way to minimize the NIMBY-shrieks is to tunnel under the land instead of building over it. Which the Boring Co is working on."

Not Under My Back Yard, he saod numbly.