June 24, 2008

Here's Your Homework!

Read this PJM article on rail travel in America, and tell me what you think.

We'll have a nice rational discussion about it tonight and tomorrow morning.

Don't pull your punches, just because you know that I have a rail-travel fetish.

h/t: Glenn.

Posted by Attila Girl at June 24, 2008 01:31 PM | TrackBack

Good luck getting anything built today. Who knows? Some exotic species of pubic louse may be endangered. Sure, build them. But avoid anyone's back yard.

Posted by: Darrell at June 24, 2008 08:16 PM

Trains work just fine in America, as long as they're freight trains. In fact, there is a lot of stuff that goes by rail in American that would go by truck in Europe.

Regarding passenger rail, I think it has a role on a regional level, with runs of maybe 200-500 miles. In most cases this will require the bulding of new track, which will be a problem for the reasons Darrell points out.

In most cases, existing freight routes are either too congested or configured wrong (too curvy) for highspeed passenger traffic...there *are* some cases where 90mph or so pax trains could coexist with freight, and indeed where steam locomotives regularly ran at such speeds. After some awful collisions, though, the Feds prohibited pax-train speeds of over 57mph unless the line & locomotives are equipped with Automatic Train Stop, which will halt the train if the engineer overruns a signal. This is expensive, so most lines don't have it and the speed restriction is in force.

I think it's possible that some of the new GPS-based approaches to train control would allow the ATS function to be achieved at much lower cost than the traditional way.

Posted by: david foster at June 25, 2008 06:42 AM

There's a recent book by John Stilgoe, a professor of landscape architecture(!) on the coming revival of pax rail. He's a smart guy and a good writer...irritatingly, I can't find my copy of the book.

He wrote an earlier book on RR history in 1985, and was inspired to write the current book when real-estate developers started consulting with him about buying up properties near abandoned rail lines.

Posted by: david foster at June 25, 2008 06:51 AM

There was a window of opportunity, about 15-20 years ago when Pennsylvania could have constructed a mag-lev passenger line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. US Airways opposed the mag-lev since it would all but replace the regional commuter air service in the cities between PA's bookends. Just as the window slammed shut, US Air decided mag-lev might be a good idea after all. Now US Air has lost most of the commuter business in the enter of the state, and it still takes forever and a day to get to or from places such as Altoona, Johnstown, or Lancaster.

As it stands, Amtrak shares the Norfolk Southern freight line across the Keystone State; a main line that was once four tracks wide, but has been cut to just two to save maintenance costs. Passengers crossing PA frequently have ample opportunities to "hurry up and wait" for a track to clear.

Posted by: BobM at June 25, 2008 10:31 AM

Only peripherally on-topic...but Linda Niemann's book about her experiences working for the Southern Pacific Railroad is beautifully written and deserves a wider readership.

Posted by: david foster at June 26, 2008 08:20 AM

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