Sunday, June 22, 2008

High Speed Rail Transportation

Let's look at the economics of high speed rail transportation.

One of Sen. Obama’s energy and environmental proposals is that high-speed rail (which has enormous costs to start up) would provide great environmental benefits.

My own view of high-speed rail transportation is that this program would greatly benefit elites who would love to cut their travel time from New York to Washington from the current rail system's 3hr. 20 min. but it would do nothing for the people who take the bus, which burns about 1/3 of the energy of Amtrak per passenger mile, because the bus costs much less than Amtrak.

If people switched from flying from New York to Washington, then this might save some energy. However, if people switch from the currently slower rail service to the high speed rail service, then energy use almost doubles, a point made by the U.K. rail minister in rejecting a high speed line from London to Glasgow. (See link below.) So if 50% of the passengers switch from regular rail to high-speed rail, you have almost doubled the per passenger mile energy use for those passengers.

So you have the likelihood that the beneficiaries of this expenditure after it is built are business executives and Congressmen who can now get from downtown Boston, New York or Philadelphia to the federal district in Washington in half the time it used to take and those who will have high paying jobs on the rail line. Meanwhile, towns that currently benefit from Amtrak but where stops will not be made on the high speed line will have service dropped.

Britain's Rail Minister


Britain is to be left out of Europe’s high-speed rail revolution because the Government has decided that 200mph trains are bad for the environment.
Despite repeated promises to consider the benefits of a dedicated new line capable of carrying passengers from London to Scotland in less than three hours, ministers are thinking again.
In a letter obtained by The Times, Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, said: “The argument that high-speed rail travel is a ‘green option’ does not necessarily stand up to close inspection. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200kph [125mph – the current maximum speed of domestic trains] to 350kph leads to a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption.”