Monday, January 28, 2013

Driverless cars, high speed rail, and climate comedy

1. I'm more inclined than not to support high speed rail in California and elsewhere - we need to get people out of the sky.  OTOH, I've wondered for several years whether the otherwise-beneficial role of driverless cars could turn HSR into a financial dinosaur.  Those driverless cars could hook up together as a pod, and even if they can't go 200 mph, they could go faster than humans could drive them and be an acceptable way to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles when you can make productive use of the entire time.

Maybe building HSR in stages makes sense so we can cut our losses if needed.

2. Marginally related subject:  American University and Sierra Club are running an Eco-Comedy Video Competition for the funniest, under-three minute original video educating people about climate change.  I plan to submit 179 seconds of Joe Bastardi talking, but maybe you can think of something even funnier.

38 comments:

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Unfortunately, high speed rail is about as energy intensive as flight due to ground effect friction. Medium speed rail at 80-100 mph is much more efficient and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Driving Miss Crazy
-- by Horatio Algeranon

When humanity rides
In a driverless car
On a mountain road
With a heavy load

If the car decides
To leave the tar
It can't be slowed
And can't be towed.

Anonymous said...

I've got some video footage that I took at a Monckton appearance in my town a few months ago. The problem is, which 3 minutes to choose?

I guess I could just clip out any random 3 minutes and submit that...

Anonymous said...

Submit 180 seconds of reading any part of Michael Mann's book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars". That is a lot funnier than Joe Bastardi talking.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think Joe Bastardi falls under the horror genre.

John Mashey said...

I think driverless cars don't overlap so much with high-speed rail, as much of their benefit is found on congested highways and in urban areas where one might want an <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_EN-V>EN-V</a>, which I saw up close at Stanford, but the line to ride was too long. Very cool, reminded me of Sleeper.

I think the real problem for HSR in CA is we likely do better by investing in rail transport inside each of the metropolitan areas. Long-distance rail works well in Europe (or other places) where each terminus has convenient rail connected. When I've flown to Los Angeles, sometimes I got somewhere faster than our local sales folks, because they had to drive, whereas I flew to the handiest airport. If Bay Area & LA got to local transport like London or Paris (or even Vancouver, whose SkyTrain seemed pretty useful), then HSR could make more sense.

Of course, in the long term, trains can be electrified, nobody knows how to do that yet with planes.

dhogaza said...

"I think the real problem for HSR in CA is we likely do better by investing in rail transport inside each of the metropolitan areas. Long-distance rail works well in Europe (or other places) where each terminus has convenient rail connected."

It should work well enough in SF, with BART and the MUNi. Also, one side-effect of the HSR project in CA will be to speed CalTrain as well. No, it won't suddenly be high-speed, but HSR requires separation of rail and street traffic, i.e. more viaducts and you lose the railroad crossings in those areas where it is practical to improve the road so that trains can move in the 100 mph range. The real HSR portion will be in the central valley, when it breaks free of the bay area morass. But this is typical in Europe, as well, though the urban areas tend to be less sprawly. The trains really stretch their legs when they get out in truly rural runs, for instance for about an hour at 250 kmh without a break well west of Berlin in the former East Germany (might be 45 min at 350 kmh now), when going from Madrid to Sevilla a big stretch after leaving a nearby suburb until you get to Cordoba (not far north of Sevilla), etc.

Russell Seitz said...

A 179 second response to Matt ridley's latest may be a higher priority.

Anonymous said...

Well color me stoopid, that is why they call me "Hey Stoopid"

One wonders why a majority of Americans willingly cling to old obsolete long deceased nineteenth century ideas, then have the temerity to complain about the enormous cost of replacing something that died long ago?

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else." Winston Churchill

It is a dying shame, nobody in America, is willing to consider the long term costs of being stoopid in a globally warming world of the 21st century.

WTF

John Mashey said...

In computer performance analysis, one looks at the entire time to do some task. To improve speed, one has to improve anything that takes much time. A HSR cannot be fast and stop very often, which means one has to get to the places where it stops. Suppose SFO could teleport directly to LAX, eliminating an hour's flight. It would still take:
30 minutes to drive to SFO
90 minutes to be there early enough
teleport, eliminates 60 minutes.
X minutes to get from LAX to wherever on was going in LA, say 60.

So, one has cut down 4 hours to 3 hours. If one were going to Irvine, then flying to John Wayne might cut another 30 minutes out.

How many places would a HSR stop in LA? At least, around the Bay Area, I'd be happy if it came to SanJose, and then had a better connecting rail network around the Bay.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that they have these things called "buses" that can do pretty much anything a train can do. They can go pretty much anywhere a car can go and you don't have to lay track for them. They can(and do)run on natural gas and someday might even run on electricity. I'll bet the inside could be made more trainlike for upscale travelers.

Canman

Thomas said...

I've heard others claim that driverless cars will be the end of cars as we know it. Today it's the myth of freedom as much as anything that makes people get cars. Remove that by forcing everyone to hand over control to a computer and cars are just like public transit, just more expensive.

dhogaza said...

"In computer performance analysis, one looks at the entire time to do some task. To improve speed, one has to improve anything that takes much time. A HSR cannot be fast and stop very often, which means one has to get to the places where it stops."

Judging from my experiences in Europe, and from what I've seen of the planning of the CA HSR project, planners and engineers understand this.

Why would you think they don't?

The high speed train routes I've taken in Europe are often fully booked. This is an indication that they know their audience.

Acela on the east coast is a medium-speed line that is often booked, even though in absolute time it takes longer to ride it from NYC to Boston than to fly. Your assumption that people will fly unless ground-based transportation takes less total time doesn't hold up in the real world. It just has to be reasonably close.

Russell Seitz said...

The inability of Amtrak to re-invent smoking and club cars doubles the percieved time it takes.

Amtrak's native capacity for innovation rivals the stagecoach industry, and it speaks volumes that , absent a heli, the fastest commercial point to point time from Boston's financial district to New York's is the unsubsidized 25 dollar Chinatown Bus.

Anonymous said...

Lots of people often wrongly compare train travel times with the time it takes to fly the same distance. They ignore all the time spend/lost by travelling to an airport by car, airports which are generally located (well) outside a city center, unlike train stations.

Then there's all the time lost with check-in, security checks, waiting for boarding, the usual delays, baggage claim and travelling to your final destination once you've reached the airport you travelled to. That also counts as travel time and that is where HSR beats airtravel, particularly on the relatively shorter routes.

HSR departs from and arrives at city centers, there is minimal security hassle (at least in Europe), there's no lines for check-in (you've got your ticket and you just hop on the train with your luggage), there are no limitations on laptop or cellphone use for security reasons and then there is the not unimportant fact that one can move freely inside the train throughout the entire journey.

Business travellers should welcome this. How much time don't you lose on airtravel when it is mandatory to switch off your laptop/phone and are recquired to stay in your cramped seat and be a good boy/girl?

EliRabett said...

Frankly Russell, the new high speed Eurotrains have all the inside appeal of an old Grayhound redone in plastic.

Anonymous said...

Canman,

Look up trolleybuses.

John Mashey said...

What engineers and planners might know is outweighted by politics.

I've happily traveled in UK, Europe and Japan by train, and back East on Amtrack, and I use BART and Caltrain here when they work.
Many cities there have clear city centers and usually good public train/subway systems that connect to substantial geography, but Bay and especially LA aren't that way.

The current plan is better than some of the earlier ones, some of which made little sense, even to those of us who generally like the idea long-term.

SF is not even the geographic/population center of the Bay Area, being about 10% of the population, and at the wrong end for LA travel, compared to San Jose.

HSR does nothing for the East Bay. At one point, they were going to do full-speed HSR up the Peninsula, through densely-developed communities that mostly wouldn't have a station handy, but either trains would disrupt the communities or have to use tunnels ($$$).

The current plan upgrades the CalTrain line, but with HSR running along tracks slower, far less expensive. One could easily spend the same money to extend a slower rail network around the Bay, more immediately useful, and then there would be much more ridership to feed the eventual long-distance connection.
Rail wins biggest for medium-length trips.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of climate comedy, did Jennifer Marohasy predict more accurately than the Australian BoM the amount of rain that eventually fell on Queensland last week:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hepQw9CxKkc

If she did could someone point to her prediction?

'Bubbles'

WhiteBeard said...

I too want a source for BCL’s contention that flying and HSR are a wash on energy consumption. Completely new to me is "ground effect friction" and I’ve done some informal, self directed study of aerodynamics.

A brief search yields around a 4 to 1 edge in fuel burn for the train carrying roughly 4 times as many people. A similar stab finds about a 3 to 1 lower max power rating for the train’s propulsive system (provided I did the conversions correctly).

Also odd to me is the interest ginned-up by a political columnist at Mother Jones who saw a demo and was impressed. How many bunnies have a jet backpack stashed somewhere? The piece at Mother Jones is remarkably free of even Popular Mechanics detail on how the system works, only breathy “believe me, it’s really cool” assurance. Is Brian a member of the Californian to automobile marriage cult?

On the merits, I’d think the problems of Cal HSR have much to do with the upfront capital investment and the operational need for more trackway maintenance.

WhiteBeard said...


I can envision head lines, or rather the functionally equivalent tweets, reading “Sensor Failure Blamed for Massive I5 Pile Up.

Oale said...

Under 6 hours in a train passes by quite nicely. also with overnight trips 9-12 hours. this leaves the gap 6-9 hours travel. What this means is you'd have to get the day trains running 1 1/3 faster than the overnight trains to get a continuous range for passenger trains. 6 hours with a av speed of 100 mph gets you 600 miles, so the slowest night trains at distance of 600 miles would travel at 600mi/9h = 67 mph which is likely feasible for faster freight too. and still faster than travelling by car. The trouble comes only once one tries to pack the slowest freight trains with the faster ones on the same track. Assuming there are engineer (driver) rest periods every 8-12 hours or so, there should be yards close enough to to let the slowest trains deport the mainline every 360 to 480 miles. (assuming average of 40 mph). As the feasible departure times for overnight passenger trains is 6-9 pm, the slower freighters should start on these lines a bit later to get out of the way before the morning commute in the destination city. the whole issue of scheduling on single (well also double) track railways is a fascinating subject to ponder, though there are softwares to do this optimization too. anyway the maximum capacity of the rail system isn't easily enlarged for the addition of trains will change the optimum placement of the rest areas and yards. too bad in a growing economy (as long as there is one).

dhogaza said...

"6 hours with a av speed of 100 mph gets you 600 miles"

Current trainsets from Siemens run at a max speed of 220 mph, so an average speed of 100 mph on a six hour trip is pessimistic. Madrid to Seville is about 315 miles and takes 2.5 hours, an average of 126 mph. But that's using the older Siemens trainsets which have a max speed of 150 mph. On newer, longer routes with the latest trains, they average more like 175 mph.

Spain also has another class of train between the AVE and the older slow trains, that capable of about 120 hour. I've taken that kind of train from Madrid to Valencia, and it probably averaged about 100 mph you're hypothesizing. But since then, they've upgraded the route to AVE technology ...

dhogaza said...

"The current plan upgrades the CalTrain line, but with HSR running along tracks slower, far less expensive. One could easily spend the same money to extend a slower rail network around the Bay, more immediately useful, and then there would be much more ridership to feed the eventual long-distance connection. "

There's a cart and horse question here, the question being which is the cart, and which is the horse.

Not to mention the false dichotomy that if one builds the CA HSR, one can not improve Caltrain, Muni and Bart in the same decadal timescale.

dhogaza said...

"SF is not even the geographic/population center of the Bay Area, being about 10% of the population, and at the wrong end for LA travel, compared to San Jose."

But the planned train goes from SF to San Jose. When going north, you're allowed to get off at San Jose, you know.

And as you say, initially the HSR will run on improved Caltrain tracks. This will require electrification of the route, which will means Caltrain will run electric trains when this is completed. Electrifying the Caltrain route should be a goal anyway.

The long-term plan, of course, is to build out the HSR road from SF to SJ so it no longer shares the lower-quality Caltrain road. Caltrain will still be electrified when the HSR moves to separate tracks (I realize there are funding questions involved and some think this is a pipe dream).

dhogaza said...

"On the merits, I’d think the problems of Cal HSR have much to do with the upfront capital investment and the operational need for more trackway maintenance."

I haven't looked at the expense numbers for the CA HSR project in detaill, but for light rail where there's not an existing suitable railroad right of way that can be taken over, paying for right-of-way can be the largest expense.

This is one reason why it was decided to build the Central Valley part of the CA HSR first (the other, I believe, because this is the stretch along which the train can run full speed, which will give them operational experience), and when the SF to SJ segment is built to do so by sharing (and upgrading) the existing Caltrain tracks.

Oale said...

yes the electrification gives trains better acceleration thus more stops may be possible among freight... but I wasn't talking about any specific line, rather how networks might be generally run... take the average of 125mph on a day train then on the night (on longer routes) this would mean the average of about 94 mph which is very fast for freight, maybe even not safe... i don't know of such speeds on freight (in germany fastest AFAIK is something like 140kph - 87mph) Anyway, speaking of California, you have such hard terrain going eastwards I doubt average of 94 cross sierra and rockies is possible in any way and with any trainset (at least they should pass Salt Lake City full speed... :-) ). opinions of course vary here.

EliRabett said...

ACE from Stockton to San Jose is another link, which if upgraded would contribute, esp if the HSR linked up and provided a route from San Jose to Sacramento.

dhogaza said...

"Anyway, speaking of California, you have such hard terrain going eastwards I doubt average of 94 cross sierra and rockies is possible in any way"

Of course. But north-south within western CA doesn't have this problem. I don't think HSR east from SF across the Sierras is on any radar screen in any serious way at the moment.

On the other hand, the LA to LV HSR line makes a lot of sense.

dhogaza said...

"(at least they should pass Salt Lake City full speed... :-) "

Actually, east of SLC you hit the rockies. The original transcontinental line went north of the Lake and over an easier pass over the rockies. The first service to SLC was via a north/south spur from the main line.

But then they built a causeway across the Great Salt Lake and realigned the route to pass through SLC.

EliRabett said...

There are any number of long railroad tunnels in the Alps, so it is not out of reach.

Oale said...

dhog< no doubt you know the local conditions better than I. the trouble with night trains is of course the intermediate stations. F.e. Night train from San Fransisco to Salt Lake City and Denver could use the old alignement and be split on the spur you mention. Then SLC station would have to have a extra locomotive just for these (don't know how much travel there is between SF and SLC... 6 sleepers?) and that might be prohibitive cost-wise. yes the coastal alingement for HSR makes sense, and there are plenty good proposals imho elsewhere in the states too. meh, did a flimsy plan for memphis central station, imagining the city is about the best place to cross mississippi and essential for both freight and good passenger service in southern states.

Aaron said...

With high speed material handling systems, HSR can also handle huge amount of cargo, thereby taking trucks off the road, and making the energy efficiency of rail really useful.

dhogaza said...

"There are any number of long railroad tunnels in the Alps, so it is not out of reach."

Oh, they tunneled the hell out of it in the 1860s. And did more when they made the route more efficient, later.

But it's not exactly low-hanging fruit to do so again for HSR. I'd like to think the federal government will pick the low-hanging fruit ...

EliRabett said...

They are building more today (and actually they never really stopped). See the Wikipedia for a list and HSR has a list, but high speed in the tunnels is not really required given the efficiency of not having to climb up to a pass

dhogaza said...

"With high speed material handling systems, HSR can also handle huge amount of cargo, thereby taking trucks off the road, and making the energy efficiency of rail really useful."

Freight trains place huge amounts of stress on the rails, especially when cornering. Passenger trains are relatively light.

Traditional speed rail freight is already efficient, especially electrified freight lines in europe, and most freight doesn't have to travel at high speed anyway, there's no real benefit to high-speed shipping of iron ore, or pig iron, or finished industrial goods, etc. Inventory management just needs to know how long it takes to ship something.

WhiteBeard said...

Not really. The distance where HSR wins a travel time comparison with air is markedly increased by the cargo handling itself. High speed material handling is almost all parcels.

“Huge amounts” is really about mass and the rail system for that exists. In the US it has much higher operational priority and profit potential for ownership. As well, virtually all the legacy right-of-way from the 19th and early 20th century belongs to freight haulers who see passenger service as a royal pain if they can’t avoid it altogether. HSR is light weight equipment on spiffy track. A gondola of soybeans isn’t, by a order of magnitude or more, as fussy about waiting on a siding for an hour or several for a slot and will tolerate being pulled over track that isn’t in nearly as good a condition - a good thing because, as dhogaza noted, freight rapidly screws-up the roadway for HS use.

Russell Seitz said...

Why not?

Passengerless cars are already a prominent feature of California high speed rail.