Europeans found upside of high-speed rail
Published Wednesday, January 6, 2010, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Letters to the Editor
It may well be that California's high-speed rail plans are ill-advised, or that this is not the right time or economy to be embarking on such an
ambitious construction, but several things bother me.
First, major infrastructure projects might be a good thing in a down economy. Just think about the Bay Area's signature bridges, both completed during the Great Depression. Next, take a look at some existing high-speed rail networks.
As reported in the Economist magazine, the French national railroad made a net profit in 2006 of 695 million euros after paying fees to the track owner, and the TGV (France's high-speed trains) had the highest profit margins. In 2007 the French national railroad had a record profit of 1 billion euros.
Spain, which has a smaller economy than California, already has 310 miles of high-speed rail between Madrid and Barcelona, and has ambitious plans for another 5,500 miles of track. To quote from the Economist, "The aim is to create Europe's most extensive high-speed network, with 90 percent of Spaniards living within 50 kilometers of a station."
What really bothers me about all the hand-wringing regarding high-speed rail is the implication that we are somehow not as smart or as capable as those Europeans. The French (and the Japanese, too) did a lot of engineering work advancing the technology of trains and track to allow travel at much higher speeds, in greater comfort. Anybody who has enjoyed the French TGVs knows what I mean.
It should be much easier for us. It's all been invented before, just not here. Maybe we should just hire a French or Spanish engineering firm to do it for us. One more quote from the Economist concerning high-speed rail: "Carbon emissions per passenger are one-sixth as big as for air travelers."
Thank you Bob,
As a college student based out of Tokyo, I used the Shinkansen train several times to Osaka. It truly amazes me that my Tokyo neighborhood was rubble and ashes just after the war in 1945. By 1957 Japan had already set the speed record at 90 miles and just seven years later in 1964 "Shinkansen" service began between Tokyo and Osaka.
From ashes and rubble to bullet trains took less than 20 years. To put some automotive perspective to this, the Chevrolet Corvair was orginally designed in 1956 and first rolled off the asembly line in 1959. Six years later Ralph Nader would publish his book "Unsafe at Any Speed", highlighting safety issue with the car.
High speed rail has now been in service around the world for over 45 years with a safety record that the auto industry can only dream about. With safety concerns at airports increasing travel times and longer auto travel times due to congestion; a safe, efficient, and tested alternative is surely needed.