Tag Archive: Transport

Jan 29 2017

Sunday Train: Is Cuomo Dragging His Feet on the Empire Rapid Rail Corridor?

It’s been two and a half years since I started working full time for my University here in Beijing, and in that time, the frequency of the Sunday Train dropped from once a week a week with only the occasional missed week, to a few scattered runs during Semester breaks. Back in January 2014, more …

Continue reading »

Mar 17 2014

Sunday Train: Four Rules for Transit-Oriented Development from Five leaders

This week’s Sunday Train features a piece from John Karras’ urbanSCALE.com, How Your City Can Succeed In Transit Oriented Development. John looks at DC, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City and Cleveland to argue that your city can also succeed in pursuing Transit Oriented Development:

Here are the 4 key ingredients needed to create successful transit oriented development:

  • TOD Ingredient #1: Connect dense employment centers
  • TOD Ingredient #2: Regional collaboration
  • TOD Ingredient #3: Proactive planning and public policies to encourage TOD
  • TOD Ingredient #4: Public-private partnerships for joint development

This is an important argument, and ties in with many themes address in previous Sunday Trains, including Sustainable Real Estate Development is Good for the Economy and Other Growing Things (30 June 2013), Trains & Buses Should Be Friends (24 Nov 2013) and ‘the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail.’ (1 Dec 2013), so join me below the fold for the most recent consideration of these issues and Transit-Oriented Development, commonly abbreviated as “TOD”.

Mar 03 2014

Sunday Train: The Ends of Amtrak

At the beginning of last month, Paul Druce of “Reason & Rail” discussed the possible impact of the pending upgrade of the Amtrak Acela route in Acela II is the path towards Amtrak operational self-sustainability:

The forthcoming Acela II isn’t just supposed to be significantly faster than the current Acela service, cutting 24 minutes from the scheduled time between Washington and New York and 38 minutes between Washington and Boston, but it will also represent a significant boost in capacity. …

With an increase in seating capacity, Amtrak will be able to garner significantly more revenue, even if it lowers the price of Acela seating somewhat. This added revenue comes with no significant increase in operational cost and quite possibly a lowered cost, as there should be a higher rate of availability and lowered mechanical costs for what is essentially an off the shelf train, along with significantly lower energy consumption. With current averages for occupancy and passenger revenue unchanged, an Acela II train service could see $742 million in revenue, with $447 million in operational profit.

This will have an even larger effect upon Amtrak’s financial deficit than initially appears because starting in FY2014, the states bear a greater responsibility for the short distance train corridors. This had the affect of reducing Amtrak’s FY2014 budget request to only $373 million for the operating grant; 2013’s appropriation, by contrast, was $442 million.

Note that what Paul Druce refers to as “operational profit” is what I have been calling “operating surplus” in the Sunday Train, the surplus of revenues from operations over operating costs. This is nothing like an operational profit, at present, since a profit is a financial benefit from a difference between revenue and costs, and there is nothing in the current organization of the Acela services that make a surplus on their operations into a distinctive financial asset for any purpose … whether public or private.

Whether or not all or part of this operating surplus should be made into an operational profit is a question that goes to the heart of what is the purpose of Amtrak. The way that this surplus is spent can be the means to service a range of ends … but what are the ends that are a legitimate use of these means?

Since Amtrak was established, and exists, as a political compromise, this is not a question about what is the proper “End” for Amtrak activities, but what are the proper “Ends” for Amtrak activities.

Dec 02 2013

Sunday Train: ‘the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail.’

In covering the upcoming vote on the planned North Metro Rail line in Denver, the Denver Post writes:

People and circumstances over the years have tried to change the gritty image of Commerce City. There have been high-end homes on its eastern border and a world-class soccer and concert stadium not far from the city’s oil refineries, and even an attempt to wipe the city’s industrial name off of the map and replace it with the more low-key moniker of Derby. But it may be a stop on the Regional Transportation District’s North Metro Rail Line that brings some shine to the center of the city.

They quote the Commerce City Mayor:

“I’m very optimistic about the commercial opportunities that come with transit-oriented development,” said Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford. “Once rail comes, we can develop around it, and I think it will be highly beneficial.”

… as well as the Adams County Commissioner and Chairman of the North Area Transportation Alliance:

“In our world, the successful communities are going to be the ones who get rail,” said Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen

And on Tuesday night, the Metro North line was approved, for a 2014 start and 2018 completion, when it had been previously set back to 2044 (an oddly exact date that clearly meant, “not now, but maybe later”):

A spontaneous offer from Graham Contracting in February stepped up the plans for the North Metro line after the company teamed with three other private developers and gave the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors a viable, ambitious construction plan, said RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas.

Nov 25 2013

Sunday Train: Trains & Buses Should Be Friends

The Salt Lake Tribune adopts the familiar mode-warrior framing in comparing rail and upgraded buses, typically called “BRT” for “Bus Rapid Transit”:

The Utah Transit Authority figures the many new rail lines it opened in the last three years attracted $7 billion to $10 billion worth of new development near stations as a side benefit to improving transportation. Since it spent $2.4 billion on those lines, it sounds like a good return on investment.

But a new study says governments get even more bang for their buck in revitalizing areas if they instead build “bus rapid transit” (BRT) systems. While far cheaper to construct, they attract just as much development.

… which elicits a measured response from the UTA:

The UTA says there is no need for buyer’s remorse for its new TRAX, FrontRunner and streetcar projects – because they do more than revamp areas. But UTA adds that BRT is a focus of its future plans. It is sort of a TRAX on rubber wheels where buses have exclusive lanes, passengers buy tickets from vending machines before boarding on platforms, and buses have priority at intersections.

The “odds and sods” system in the US for funding transit improvements encourages this type of mode-warrior framing … which mode delivers more:

  • … bang for the buck
  • … diversion of motorists to transit
  • … Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction
  • … development impact
  • … reduction in the annual slaughter of Americans by motorists
  • … amenity to the rider
  • … farebox revenue
  • … (and etcetera and etcetera) …

And that framing for studies like the one that the Institute for Transport and Development Policy is presently promoting, claiming that BRT delivers 31x the bang for the buck that rail does.

Nov 11 2013

Sunday Train: Will We Be Ready for the Great 2017 HSR Policy Unlock?

I’ve posed a question in the title of this week’s Sunday Train that I have no intention of answering myself.

The first thing you may have noted is that the title presumes a “Great 2017 Policy Unlock” that is by no means certain. And assuming an event in a title as a lead-in to talking about the likelihood of that event is a long-standing internet link-bait practice.

The second thing, however, is that even that would be focusing on political fortune telling, and the Sunday Train is not normally about making guesses about what will happen. It is more often focused on policy in the sense of thinking about what should happen and, sometimes, what we can do to make it more likely to happen.

The foundation of the Sunday Train is the premise that on our current track, with our current transport and energy systems, we are driving the possibility of retaining a national, modern, industrial economy over a cliff. We are doing that in three ways:

  • Our Energy Production and our Transport Systems combined are responsible for a majority of our CO2 emissions, and even if we converted everything else in our economy to be 50% carbon negative ~ sequestering 50% as much CO2 as it present emits ~ our current Energy and Transport systems would be sufficient to drive the globe far enough into Climate Crisis to bring down our national industrial economy;
  • And the world has hit Peak Petroleum Production, as is clear from the variety of “scraping the bottom of the barrel” oil and oil-replacement exploitation efforts taking place today, and has started to slide down the other side of the peak, so that an economy as exposed as our own to oil price shocks is going to lose massive ground compared to competing economies that are already positioned to shelter themselves from the impact of oil price shocks
  • And we are heading toward the Energy Return on Investment cliff for the fossil fuels we produce ourselves that our current Energy and Transport systems relies upon, and as we slide down that cliff, the economic benefit of that domestic fossil fuel production will progressively decline, leaving us behind any national economies or continental economic systems that seriously pursue sustainable, renewable energy sources that are seeing growing Energy Return on Investment, due to technological progress.

Pick your poison, since any one of them is serious enough to either drive the US economy from the ranks of the core economies into the ranks of the semi-peripheral economies, or even to eliminate our ability to retain a national economy at all.

Given that premise, the “odds of success” in a political forecasting sense is not the focus of the Sunday Train. The focus is rather the prospect for improving those odds. Whether that is improving the odds from a 50% chance of success, or a 1% chance of success to a 2% chance of success, in either event it is worth the investment in effort to try … whether the mere 1/5 improvement in the odds, or the more impressive doubling in the odds, what is won in the event of a win is such a jackpot that its worth the effort to simply improve the odds a little bit.

Oct 28 2013

Sunday Train: Steel Interstate Revolution

The Steel Interstate is a proposal to pursue dramatic gains in the energy efficiency of long haul freight transport in the United States, resulting in:

  • Substantial reductions in Petroleum Imports;
  • Substantial reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions;
  • Substantially improved protection from Petroleum Supply interruptions;
  • Improved productivity for North American manufacturing; and
  • Substantial reductions in damage to the existing Asphalt Interstate System

How can it promise all of this? By mining gross inefficiency. The United States has one of the most energy inefficient systems of moving freight long distances available under current technology, and we combine that with an economy that relies heavily on moving freight long distances.

Some of the specific sources of energy efficiency are:

  • Moving cargoes in linked electric freight trains offers less air resistance than moving cargoes in individual trucks, because the freight car ahead provides a slipstream for the freight car immediately behind;
  • Steel wheel on steel rail has less rolling resistance than rubber tire on asphalt road;
  • Electric motors are more efficient than diesel or gasoline internal combustion engines; and
  • When braking, electric trains can put a load on their electric motors and generate power, feeding it back onto the line

Overall, long haul electric freight is around 15 times more energy efficient than long haul diesel semi freight. I tend to express this as over ten times the energy efficiency, to allow leeway for possibly longer routings when taking advantage of the Steel Interstate.

Long haul electric freight trains are also more space efficient than long haul truck transport. Freight demands that would require multiple lanes each way just for truck traffic can be readily accommodated on a two track mainline route. This can be done while accommodating a mix of 60mph heavy freight and 100mph fast container freight by including regular extended sections of passing track: the difference between passing track and sidings is that on-schedule faster and slower trains using the passing track remain in motion, rather than one sitting still in a siding waiting for the other to pass.

Finally, the operating cost per ton-mile for electric freight for both 60mph heavy freight and 90mph fast freight is enough lower than the operating cost of long haul trucking that the government can fund a National Steel Interstate with interest subsidies alone, with Access Fees and User Fees refunding the original capital cost of the system ~ initially, funding expansion of the system, and finally funding retiring the bonds.

Oct 21 2013

Sunday Train: A Train Running A Profit is Charging Too Much

This is a repeat of a Sunday Train that originally ran on 24 January 2010

Note that the statement is abbreviated for the title. The full statement is, a common carrier like a train, bus, or plane that running a profit based on passenger revenue while paying its full operating and capital cost is charging too much for its tickets.

The radical abbreviation of the title is in part because of the radical abbreviation of the lie that is commonly used as a frame. The lie is that a common carrier like a train, bus or plane that is paying for its full operating and capital costs out of passenger revenue ought to run a profit, commonly expressed as a charge of, “SERVICE_XYZ is losing money, it needs to be reformed!“, which assumes that Service_XYZ is supposed to be making a profit.

And, of course, in the sense described above, if its a common carrier transport service, of course it shouldn’t be making a profit. And further, if under the above conditions, if its making a profit, you’re doing it wrong. In the sense given above, PROFIT=FAIL.

This is problematic under our economic system, because under our economic system, running a profit on the full cost of production normally means that you are free to continue without substantial outside interference, while not making a profit implies that you have to go cap in hand begging for money to operate. So if the main assertion is correct, we have a situation where you can be doing it wrong, and be free to continue, or be doing it right, and have to constantly beg for permission to continue doing it right.

Oct 14 2013

Sunday Train: eBikes & Green Austerity

About a week ago, the following story caught my eye:

For the first time on record, bicycles have outsold cars in Spain.


Higher taxes on fuel and on new cars have prompted cash-strapped Spaniards to opt for two wheels instead of four. Last year, 780,000 bicycles were sold in the country – compared to 700,000 cars. That’s due to a 4 percent jump in bike sales, and a 30 percent drop in sales of new cars.

And this is not primarily about a wave of government policies promoting cycling, or an outbreak of climate activism among the young … its the result of the crisis. As this NPR story concludes:

“We are learning every day, about the crisis. Maybe it’s not changing the things that we thought at the beginning would change – the politicians, the banks, that kind of things. But it’s changing our minds,” says Juan Salenas, another cyclist at the Bici Crítica rally. “We spend less. We try to live with [what we have, and be] more happy. And we try to keep what we have, because maybe we will lose it tomorrow.”

Spain is experiencing a shift in which both conventional and eBike sales are increasing, but as The Economist reports, in Germany, France and the Netherlands, where transport cycling culture is more entrenched, the shift is within bicycle sales:

In the Netherlands one bicycle in six sold is an e-bike. In Germany the cycle industry expects electric-bike sales to grow by 13% this year, to 430,000 (the most sold in any European country), and to account for 15% of the market before long. In France sales of traditional bicycles fell by 9% in 2012 while those of e-bikes grew by 15%.


E-bikes are catching on as people move to cities and add concern about pollution and parking to worry over petrol prices and global warming. Frank Jamerson, who produces the Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports, estimates sales at around 34m this year and perhaps 40m in 2015. China buys most of them and makes even more, with European sales of 1.5m in second place.

So, as events in DC have unraveled to the point were the outcome that the Democrats are fighting for is to fund the government at austerity “sequester” levels, this Sunday Train looks at Electric Bikes.

Sep 23 2013

Sunday Train: Rapid Rail and Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy (pt 2)

cross-posted from Voices on the Square

Last week, I considered the concept of Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policies: the kind of policies that we will now have to pursue if we become serious about Climate Change, because of the 16+ years we will have wasted since 2000 that would have given us the opportunity to pursue a more gradualist approach. At that time, there was a debate that could be characterized as an argument between “incrementalism” and “purism”. However, at present, and therefore by the time the current administration will be completed, we have passed the point of asking “how fast should we go”, and have passed into “how fast can we go” territory. Hence the Pedal to the Metal approach.

Last week, I did not rehash Micheal Hoexter’s overview of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy, but rather looked at the leading edge of that policy package, what I dubbed “front-runner” policies, and looked the Steel Interstate as one example of a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy package. This week, I am going to turn from Rapid Freight Rail and consider what kind of Rapid Passenger Rail policy would qualify as a front-runner policy for a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy.

Older posts «

Fetch more items