Thursday, December 21, 2017

High speed may not be such a holy grail for rail

The train accident here in Washington State is tragic. Some people might feel it tacky to use this occasion for political, or long term thinking, but what else can I write except I wish my condolences to everyone involved. In years past, I've been along that train route coming back from various bike trips. I appreciate the train.

High speed rail is kind of a holy grail that we can't really do in USA. Not very easily at least. Rail travel is good, but speed isn't necessarily the only criteria to judge travel by. Rail could become more convenient also by offering more choices for departure and arrival times. Often there's only one train through an area per day. This isn't likely to fit many people's schedules. Imagine if there was a train each hour. Much more convenient. That's one reason why people like private automobiles. Leave when you want.

A problem with both speed and convenience is that there just isn't enough right of way for rail anymore in USA. Too much private property. For speed, there's just too many crossing points where higher speeds are a hazard. In China, they can build high speed rail and just tell property owners to get out of the way, we are coming through. In USA, their are just too many diverging interests, each with a voice, to stop building a new large scale project, like a rail line. It's easier to connect with air as flight uses a different dimension than the cluttered landscape. Elon Musk wants to do high speed rail by going into the dimension of underground. He has plans for the Hyperloop. Can that work? We will see.

Lack of right of way also makes more frequent train schedules difficult. Congestion on the track due to sharing with freight and so forth.

Speed, of course, isn't everything tho it's highly regarded in our society. Friendliness of travel can be a factor also. Make the trip part of the destination. Social life on a train can be pretty good compared to a plane, from what I hear. I haven't had occasion to fly since the 1980s.

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