About China’s high-speed rail edge ….

posted at 2:00 pm on April 23, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama has spent the past two years scolding Americans on our lack of progress on high-speed rail, using China as a yardstick — or more appropriately, a ruler with which to rap our knuckles.  Almost exactly two years ago, Obama announced his intention to spend tens of billions of dollars in catching up to China and Europe in subsidizing the rail lines and systems for high-speed transport.  “My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America,” Obama said in April 2009, saying of China that it “may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now.”

Or maybe not, as the Washington Post’s Charles Lane reports after his trip to see the project first-hand.  The vaunted high-speed rail project pushed by Beijing has collapsed into a morass of embezzlement and failure (via Jonah Goldberg):

For the past eight years, Liu Zhijun was one of the most influential people in China. As minister of railways, Liu ran China’s $300 billion high-speed rail project. U.S., European and Japanese contractors jostled for a piece of the business while foreign journalists gushed over China’s latest high-tech marvel.

Today, Liu Zhijun is ruined, and his high-speed rail project is in trouble. On Feb. 25, he was fired for “severe violations of discipline” — code for embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Seems his ministry has run up $271 billion in debt — roughly five times the level that bankrupted General Motors. But ticket sales can’t cover debt service that will total $27.7 billion in 2011 alone. Safety concerns also are cropping up.

But hey, the trains still run on time, don’t they?  Not exactly:

Faced with a financial and public relations disaster, China put the brakes on Liu’s program. On April 13, the government cut bullet-train speeds 30 mph to improve safety, energy efficiency and affordability. The Railway Ministry’s tangled finances are being audited. Construction plans, too, are being reviewed.

Liu’s legacy, in short, is a system that could drain China’s economic resources for years. So much for the grand project that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likened to a “moon shot” and that President Obama held up as a model for the United States.

Even with substandard materials and shoddy construction, the system faces annual shortfalls of billions of dollars.  Now the system runs a lot slower, although the price isn’t likely to decline, and bus service will look better and better to the working class the high-speed rail was supposed to serve.  The pricing is why the train services mainly the wealthy and foreigners even with the massive subsidies for its operation.

For the record, the $271 billion sinkhole exceeds our government’s cost of taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and we have an annual GDP around three times larger than China’s.

Lane explains in his lengthy, must-read article that failure is the norm and not the exception for high-speed rail systems.  In Japan and Taiwan, high-speed rail systems needed government bailouts to keep operating.  Our own experience with Amtrak should make that fairly clear; despite having to make minimal capital investments (as opposed to capital-intensive startups for railroads), Amtrak routinely runs deep in the red, and even that is deeply subsidized, as Ronald Utt reminded us last month at Heritage:

Ridership has also faltered. As Amtrak data reveal, FY 2008 was the high-water mark for ridership in recent years. Ridership fell in FY 2009 and returned only to 2008 levels in 2010, when it reached 28.7 million nationwide,[7] about 10 million fewer passengers than went through the Phoenix airport in 2009.[8] To achieve this incidental market share, Amtrak required a federal taxpayer subsidy of $4.4 billion over the three fiscal years in question. As a result, Amtrak receives the highest per-passenger federal subsidy of any mode: $237.53 per 1,000 passenger-miles compared to $4.23 per 1,000 passenger-miles for commercial aviation.[9]

None of us should be surprised at the failure of China’s high-speed rail, but we’d better all learn a lesson from it.  Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure, especially when air service is faster, cheaper, much more flexible, and self-supporting.  We need to stop the federal government from attempting these social engineering projects and focus on spending reductions.  If politicians like playing with trains, let them buy a Lionel set like all the other little boys and girls.


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If politicians like playing with trains, let them buy a Lionel set like all the other little boys and girls.

But you can’t play with Real People (TM) that way!!

MetaThought on April 23, 2011 at 2:05 PM

If politicians like playing with trains, let them buy a Lionel set like all the other little boys and girls.

I’ll second that!

tim c on April 23, 2011 at 2:05 PM

High-speed air didn’t work either. The Concord was a financial bust because people were not willing to pay that sort of premium to shave off a little time on the trip.

sharrukin on April 23, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Duuuh!

AH_C on April 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

This is typical of China. Obama likes China cuz the kids are well indoctrinated throughout their school years. They will fight and die for the figment of China they have internalized.

Wait until Obama discovers that the Chinese medical system functions like this: no money, no care.

SilentWatcher on April 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Wow! Synchronize your watches.

tim c on April 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

In China, engineers have warned the system’s top speed is too fast, while others say the multibillion-dollar price tag is too high for a country where millions of families still live in poverty.

“They should not be building so much high-speed rail,” said Zhao Jian, a railway expert at Beijing Jiaotong University. “But since the projects have been completed already, it is a good choice to lower the speed.”

China has the world’s biggest train network, with 56,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) of passenger rail and 3.2 million employees. But trains are overloaded with passengers and cargo, and critics say the money would be better spent expanding cheaper, slower routes.

Unsafe trains for the wealthy — just like the ones Obama seeks to build here.

unclesmrgol on April 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

The Chinese are also notorious for their filthy spit-laden trains.

SilentWatcher on April 23, 2011 at 2:08 PM

What’s next, the old Doomsday gap?

golfmann on April 23, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Racist.

rogerb on April 23, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Yeah, and once all the tracks and trains are set, and we’re dependent on high speed rail, how are we going to protect thousands of miles of track from a terrorist with a relatively simple bomb?

Dongemaharu on April 23, 2011 at 2:24 PM

In CA, Governor Moonbeam is all a quiver to push forward on high speed rail projects. The CA HSR Board said even if federal dollars for HSR projects were to disappear, the CA projects will continue. Of course, the voters of this state approved $10B of bonds to finance this fiasco.

The Board is smart enough to start with an orphaned spur in the middle of the Central Valley that starts in nowhere and ends in another nowhere town. They gloat that once billions are spent for that spur, then the taxpayers would be outraged if more money wasn’t spent to extend the line further north and further south to create a full line between LA and SF.

Yep, they are so cynical that they know that leveraging an initial boondoggle is the only way to get more money for their project…that and the idiot in chief in the White House.

in_awe on April 23, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Got a couple of priceless quotes:

“Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure:|”

along with the Lionel train quote.

TomAnon on April 23, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Obama only sometimes pushes high-speed rail…Where America is concerned, he is always pushing high-speed fail

Battlecruiser-operational on April 23, 2011 at 2:25 PM

…For the record, the $271 billion sinkhole exceeds our government’s cost of taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac…

If only.

We’re on the hook for the full $6+ trillion or so in outstanding liabilities that the government keeps off the books.

Mr. Bingley on April 23, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Perhaps China should have hired Dagny Taggert to build the railroad.

Henry Bowman on April 23, 2011 at 2:26 PM

So what else is new?

Since 1917 the Commies have been practicing stagecraft. The libs and their media ooooo and ahhhhh. Clark, in 2001 not only had the Soviets Soviets, he had them prosperous. Reagan put the kabash on that. Count on China to beat it’s overinflated chest for a bit but then back to the Opium Wars for them.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Passenger Chinook helicopters???

Claimsratt on April 23, 2011 at 2:27 PM

The only train I’ve ever ridden was the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Kini on April 23, 2011 at 2:29 PM

I just read this to my kids out of their history book this week:

“The automobile was a symbol of freedom…With it he could go as fast as the fastest locomotive, and he could make his own timetable. Americans had always valued their ability to go where and when they wanted. In the twentieth century it was the automobile that helped make this possible” (The Landmark History of the American People by Daniel Boorstin)

That’s why the bureaucrats want us to ride trains. There’s just too much freedom otherwise.

parteagirl on April 23, 2011 at 2:30 PM

I have ridden the Maglev train in Shanghai many times. It is typically less that 1/5th full and is only used by tourists and business people

400lb Gorilla on April 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to..

…an endless waste of money.

percysunshine on April 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Well, the train is very fast… you get bottled water from Tibet… the seats are comfortable… the female conductors are hot…

ericdijon on April 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

The problem with railroads and the Left is that O’bama, as well as many of his disciples, see a 19th Century invention that became obsolete for passengers a half a century ago as a brilliant idea for 2011.

They also mistakenly believe that it was the US Government that “laid down rails” (to use O’bama’s exact lying words in his speech last week) to tie the infant US together in the early 1800s. In fact, the railroads built in the US between 1825 and 1869 were privately capitalized; the Baltimore and Ohio was the first privately capitalized railroad to connect the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes.

The real reason O’bama hearts trains so much: they get people out of cars where they can’t be kept track of (because in their cars, they have the freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they want.)

The Left doesn’t like that at all. Because they can’t control those actions as much as they would like thru simple laws.

Or, as George Will puts it in fancier words:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables.

Automobiles encourage people to think they-unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted-are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Del Dolemonte on April 23, 2011 at 2:37 PM

Alot of voters here in FL scolded Governor Rick Scott for turning away Washington’s money for high-speed rail here. Say what you will about the Governor, he made the right choice.

vcferlita on April 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Amtrak routinely runs deep in the red, and even that is deeply subsidized

It’s not just rail either, but light rail as well. Light rail systems routinely operate in the red & need to have state funds to balance their budgets. I think the only rail (light or heavy) that operates at a profit are the rail systems around NYC & the NY to DC corridor. Chicago’s light rail system “the El” runs in very heavily populated areas and cannot break even on operating costs, hasn’t for many years.

mdenis39 on April 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Count on China to beat it’s overinflated chest for a bit but then back to the Opium Wars for them.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 2:26 PM

Huh? Back to being forced by western powers to accept a drug trade?

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 2:39 PM

John Galt has come to take his railroad back.

NeighborhoodCatLady on April 23, 2011 at 2:41 PM

The Chinese had to abandon socialism and embrace state capitalism to survive economically. Unfortunately for them, they just can’t let go of central planning. Neither can Obama and the progressives.

cartooner on April 23, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Those pushing the high speed rail fail to understand the dynamics of America where even the poorest urban denizon has the means to obtain a car. In order to wean us off of the car, there must be a rail that covers every square inch of the cities, counties, states and the country. With an air industry that will take you anywhere you want to go in America, people will not use rail as a primary mode. I like to take Amtrak cross-country when I’m in no hurry and don’t feel like driving because it’s a quaint way to go but for those serious travellers, it will never cut it. But that is my two cents worth.

Big John on April 23, 2011 at 2:42 PM

I took the Shanghai-to-Beijing express overnight on a Saturday. Our car had ten rooms, four to a room, and only one was initially occupied. (Two of the four convinced the conductor to let us use a second room.) Maybe you can do that in an autocracy with 8-10% annual growth, but I doubt it’d be politically — let alone fiscally — viable here.

calbear on April 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

It is typically less that 1/5th full and is only used by tourists and business people

400lb Gorilla on April 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM

That’s probably because it’s function is to connect Pudong International Airport to the Shanghai Metro.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

We need to rub Barry’s face in this like a puppy in a puddle of pee.

Sharke on April 23, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Amtrak routinely runs deep in the red, and even that is deeply subsidized

It’s not just rail either, but light rail as well. Light rail systems routinely operate in the red & need to have state funds to balance their budgets. I think the only rail (light or heavy) that operates at a profit are the rail systems around NYC & the NY to DC corridor. Chicago’s light rail system “the El” runs in very heavily populated areas and cannot break even on operating costs, hasn’t for many years.

mdenis39 on April 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

AMTRAK’s Acela train turns a profit, but that’s about it. And it only does so because it’s in a very small geographical area. It would never turn a profit linking cities much farther apart, like those in the Midwest. And since it requires electricity overhead for its fastest sections in the Northeast, those would be unfeasible to connect, say, Vegas and LA across hundreds of miles of desert.

Del Dolemonte on April 23, 2011 at 2:57 PM

The vaunted high-speed rail project pushed by Beijing has collapsed into a morass of embezzlement and failure

Embezzlement plus failure? Sounds like a win – win situations for the Left.

I’m glad Gov. Kasich killed the high speed rail boondoggle here in Ohio.

rbj on April 23, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Wasn’t the Chillbilly referring to Obama’s bullet train to bankruptcy a week ago?

CTSherman on April 23, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Obama’s vision is so much about high speed rail, it’s about building the Privileged “Blue Rail”. Built by Blue unions, for the Privileged Blue City folk to travel from Blue City to Blue City. Paid for by private sector taxation of Red folks who live between Blue Cities…

drfredc on April 23, 2011 at 3:05 PM

and we have an annual GDP around three times larger than China’s.

On an exchange rate basis maybe. We all know the RMB is greatly undervalued, so that’s comparison isn’t real.

On a more realistic purchasing price parity (PPP) basis, China’s GDP in 2010 was about $9.872 trillion, compared to $14.62 trillion for the US.

(Source for GDP figures is the CIA World Fact Book, which notes regarding China’s GDP figures “because China’s exchange rate is determine by fiat, rather than by market forces, the official exchange rate measure of GDP is not an accurate measure of China’s output; GDP at the official exchange rate substantially understates the actual level of China’s output vis-a-vis the rest of the world; in China’s situation, GDP at purchasing power parity provides the best measure for comparing output across countries (2010 est.)”)

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Even if China’s train had been a model of efficiency, you know that in government hands here, it would have become another Big Dig and financial disaster.

flataffect on April 23, 2011 at 3:14 PM

…and that President Obama held up as a model for the United States.

Overseen by liberal politicians and built by union labor (along with obstruction by environmental groups and trial lawyers), I’m sure that it would be a perfect model of what would happen here in the US. In fact, we should be able to surpass this Chinese boondoggle easily.

trigon on April 23, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Portugal’s another country that tried high speed rail and had problems.

Iblis on April 23, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Roads and highways are government-subsidized. They don’t turn a profit either.

(Yes, I know that there are toll roads, often operated by private companies. What percent of lane-miles do they comprise?)

ss396 on April 23, 2011 at 3:31 PM

The problem with railroads and the Left is that O’bama, as well as many of his disciples, see a 19th Century invention that became obsolete for passengers a half a century ago as a brilliant idea for 2011.

Translation: The Leftists are throwback Neo-Luddite economic illiterates (or liars) that don’t care too much about actual results and how their policies impact real human beings.

The only thing the Left -really- cares about is patting themselves on the back. Self-congratulation. They’re the “good” guys….therefore, by definition, their “opponents” must be “evil.”

We need to stop the federal government from attempting these social engineering projects and focus on spending reductions. If politicians like playing with trains, let them buy a Lionel set like all the other little boys and girls.

Oh snap.

visions on April 23, 2011 at 3:32 PM

Jindal killed it here in Louisiana as well. I was at a small shop and the owner was telling how wonderful it was 40+ years ago to take the train to New Orleans from Baton Rouge, then back and not have to worry about how much you had to drink.

I asked how many used to do this back then, he said that the train was never more than 1/2 full even during Mardi Gras.

Kermit on April 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Unfortunately for them, they just can’t let go of central planning. Neither can Obama and the progressives.

cartooner on April 23, 2011 at 2:41 PM

We once had a consultant come into our place at work who was touting a program for us to engage in “sustainabiilty”. This guy had traveled to China and was absolutely in love with their “sustainability”, how they had been farming the same plots of land for 1000′s of years and know exactly how to recycle all waste into the rice paddies, etc. Gushingly in love with their system.

The anecdote that really got me was his story of speaking with one of the Chinese leaders; her job was planning housing for 30 million Chinese in one of the provinces. His take was admiration for the job she had to plan for so many people. My take was why in the @#$% was one person in charge of planning housing for so many people? In a free country, 30 million people would be in charge of planning their own housing and hundreds of thousands of developers, builders, and contractors would be working to plan developments and housing plans. Would mistakes be made? Sure, but the mistake of a single entity in a universe of hundreds of thousands would be less devastating than a mistake made by one person planning for 30 million.

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Let us not forget The Simpsons mono-rail episode…

mjbrooks3 on April 23, 2011 at 3:36 PM

The Chinese had to abandon socialism and embrace state capitalism to survive economically. Unfortunately for them, they just can’t let go of central planning. Neither can Obama and the progressives.

cartooner on April 23, 2011 at 2:41 PM

That’s because they’re just so much smarter than the rest of us. If only you bitter clingers would recognize that, and just get out of the way . . . .

AZCoyote on April 23, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Roads and highways are government-subsidized. They don’t turn a profit either.

ss396 on April 23, 2011 at 3:31 PM

You need to be more precise with your definition of “subsidized”. While it is true that government builds and maintains roads, there is a tax on gasoline and other motor fuels, excise taxes on tires, and per ton-mile assessments on freight trucks that go toward paying those construction and maintenance costs.

One also needs to recognize that this is one of the few legitimate activities (i.e., Constitutional) in which the government currently participates. So can one really call a legitimate government function a subsidy?

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:42 PM

You need to be more precise with your definition of “subsidized”. While it is true that government builds and maintains roads, there is a tax on gasoline and other motor fuels, excise taxes on tires, and per ton-mile assessments on freight trucks that go toward paying those construction and maintenance costs.

… and I also meant to say that those taxes were specifically enacted for the purpose of paying for roads and bridges. Thus, it is difficult to argue that using those funds in that manner is a subsidy.

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:44 PM

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:35 PM

There are private developers and builders in China. I’m writing this comment from a privately developed apartment complex in China.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 3:47 PM

There are private developers and builders in China. I’m writing this comment from a privately developed apartment complex in China.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 3:47 PM

’twasn’t my point regarding the existence or nonexistence of private developers. The anecdote related was in praise of central planning.

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:53 PM

’twasn’t my point regarding the existence or nonexistence of private developers. The anecdote related was in praise of central planning.

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:53 PM

Got it. At least China is generally moving in the right direction, toward less central planning. Unfortunately the same is not true for the US, thanks to the leftists.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 3:59 PM

The only places where rail is successful is areas with large cities in a concentrated area.

bw222 on April 23, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Rail won’t work here. Buying right of way there will be 5 lawyers and 10 tree huggers per mile fighting the land use. They want rail and will fight for every gopher, prairie dog, mouse wetland and stream. Just the land will be 10 times estimate. The unions and the mfaia. When we get in 300 billion to far, we will debate getting out. In China you can sieze any land you want, set the price and toos people that argue in jail. China can use their 50 million prisoners for slave labor and feed them gruel. We will have unions and multi levels of mafia kickbacks.

We also have Americans that own cars and take off and come home when we want to. Rail works in countries that have low car ownership.

seven on April 23, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Huh? Back to being forced by western powers to accept a drug trade?

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 2:39 PM

No…more like back to oligarchs being oligarchs. Drugs, dung, whatever. The Chinese mafia will make the Russian mafia look like boyscouts.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

I’d like to propose 1 high speed rail project. Washington DC to Chicago. One train only to depart in 2012.

Stephen Macklin on April 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

No…more like back to oligarchs being oligarchs. Drugs, dung, whatever. The Chinese mafia will make the Russian mafia look like boyscouts.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Why the reference to the Opium Wars then?

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Isn’t Senator Harry Reid in China right now?
Probably taking the high speed train to the casinos in Macau on a Senate investigation…

albill on April 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Why the reference to the Opium Wars then?

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

It wasn’t just about the drug trade. It was China being China. 4000 years of warlording is hard to shake off. My apologies if it was too obtuse.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:39 PM

It wasn’t just about the drug trade. It was China being China. 4000 years of warlording is hard to shake off. My apologies if it was too obtuse.

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Ah. I thought you meant they’d be victims of righteous western imperialism again. My bad.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 4:41 PM

Ah. I thought you meant they’d be victims of righteous western imperialism again. My bad.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 4:41 PM

LOL..well there is always hope!

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:42 PM

LOL..well there is always hope!

Limerick on April 23, 2011 at 4:42 PM

I’m afraid those glory days are over.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 4:47 PM

High Speed Rail… 19th Century technology at 21st Century prices…

80 years ago there were multiple railroads which ran trains at speeds over 100mph between Chicago and Minneapolis, but they couldn’t compete with 1930′s car and highway technology…

phreshone on April 23, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Government seems to be focused on yesterday:

Passenger Trains…obsolete fifty years ago.

Windmills…obsolete a century ago.

What’s next from Washington?? Horse-drawn conestoga wagons???

landlines on April 23, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Roads and highways are government-subsidized. They don’t turn a profit either.
 
ss396 on April 23, 2011 at 3:31 PM

 
Thanks for making the anti-rail point so well.
 
Federal roads (interstates) should be federally maintained. State? State maintained. County? Yep, county maintained. City? Guess. All the way down to my driveway, which I maintain.
 
I’ll support my taxes going to my local roads through my vote. I’ll know where the money is going, and I’ll know who to call if there’s a problem. Same with rail.
 
If two or three states want to get together and raise their taxes/tolls/etc. to create a high-speed rail system, they should do it, and they should fund it within the borders of the area served or at the point of service ($500 tickets?). Their citizens can pay for it, use it, and benefit from it if they want to. They will, however, be making a choice to remain in the expensive rail-subsidizing states.
 
Someone in New York shouldn’t pay for Raleigh’s light rail, and vice versa.

rogerb on April 23, 2011 at 4:56 PM

The pricing is why the train services mainly the wealthy and foreigners even with the massive subsidies for its operation.

This is the same problem with contemporary public/private toll roads, (toll roads as opposed to traditional turnpikes) in that they have to be heavily subsidized with public funds and private profits guaranteed with public funds.

We must be making after the Chinese, what with such toll roads becoming costly and as such providing services available only to the wealthy who don’3:43:11 PM want to drive on the same road as the ‘little people’.

Mcguyver on April 23, 2011 at 5:03 PM

sharrukin on April 23, 2011 at 2:06 PM

It’s a whole lot more complicated than that but when US congress refused a subsidy for Boeing SST then declared continental US off limits for commercial supersonic flight, Concorde was marginal; lack of enough high volume markets.
Still it lasted approx. 20 years.
Then Continental dropped a fairing that blew a tire that broke a fuel tank that set a fire that brought down the Air France bird.
No way to recover from that even had there been profits.

My understanding is that airline business has always been marginal. And government is doing it’s best to ruin that.
But this thread is about trains.

Sorry all.

Caststeel on April 23, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Yeah, Obama’s infatuation with China of all places should have given people a clue in 2008. I know it bugged me.

Sharr on April 23, 2011 at 5:34 PM

AZfederalist on April 23, 2011 at 3:44 PM

and

rogerb on April 23, 2011 at 4:56 PM

I am not making an argument for or against the viability of a rail system. I merely wish to point out the weakness of the “rail never turns a profit” argument. Whether I fund transit systems with a direct tax, an assessment, or a subsidy, the money is still transferred from my pocket to a government organization for expenditure on a transportation system.

I am not against that – certainly I recognize the government’s role in roads construction and repair. And I am grateful for that, because civil order surely is a prime responsibility of government. I do not begrudge these sort of taxes.

I also agree that, for the most part, rail does not make economic sense – not in a country of this size with its spread-out (and very independently-minded) population – especially for government.

I’m just fed up with “rail has to be subsidized” as an argument favoring roads over rail. Everything government does is subsidized one way or another; so let’s make sure that it does worthwhile things.

ss396 on April 23, 2011 at 5:53 PM

Alot of voters here in FL scolded Governor Rick Scott for turning away Washington’s money for high-speed rail here. Say what you will about the Governor, he made the right choice.

vcferlita on April 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

The Tampa to Orlando train idea is a joke. The Tampa station would be downtown Tampa to around downtown Orlando. It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Tampa to Altamonte Springs (just outside of Orlando). If you took the high speed rail train, you would need to get to the station a half hour or so before departure, schlep your luggage/carry on, buy a ticket, when you get to Orlando (at 30mph it would take forever), you need ground transport and luggage schlepping again. I’d rather throw my bag in the trunk and drive having my own “ground” transportation at my destination.

kringeesmom on April 23, 2011 at 5:59 PM

They also mistakenly believe that it was the US Government that “laid down rails” (to use O’bama’s exact lying words in his speech last week) to tie the infant US together in the early 1800s. In fact, the railroads built in the US between 1825 and 1869 were privately capitalized; the Baltimore and Ohio was the first privately capitalized railroad to connect the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes.

Are you stating that the railroads bought and paid for their rights of way?

The construction and operation of the line was authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864 during the American Civil War. The Congress supported it with 30-year U.S. government bonds and extensive land grants of government-owned land. Completion of the railroad was the culmination of a decades-long movement to build such a line. It was one of the crowning achievements in the crossing of plains and high mountains westward by the Union Pacific and eastward by the Central Pacific. Opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the “Last Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah, the road established a mechanized transcontinental transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West.

The Transcontinental Railroad was just one example. Many regional lines were built on rights of way owned by government and deeded to the railroads as an enticement to route their lines in certain directions.

The railroads are no more an example of the excellence of private industry than the NFL or the NBA.

unclesmrgol on April 23, 2011 at 6:03 PM

If they want to speed up long-distance rail outside of the northeast corridor, the cheapest way to do it would be to double-track all of the main lines and eliminate the single track routes with sidings, that require a train to stop out in the middle of nowhere for 30 minutes or more waiting for trains in the other direction to pass. Way cheaper than dedicated high-speed lines and with the added benefit that it would also speed up the profitable freight rail traffic.

jon1979 on April 23, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Nineteenth-century transportation systems are not the answer for our transportation infrastructure, especially when air service is faster, cheaper, much more flexible, and self-supporting.

That is true. But there are some places around the world where high speed rail can work.

In South Korea,it is 180 miles from Seoul to Daegu. The trip is 2 hours and 10 minutes on the route which is 70% high speed rail, compared to 4-5 hours by car.

Nonetheless, the Korean high speed rail has been heavily subsidized by the Korean government in its construction and operation.

slp on April 23, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Two more reasons why high speed rail is a practical transportation method in South Korea:

The train stations are in the middle of town.

There is an over abundance to taxis and buses in Seoul and Taegu.

slp on April 23, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Now that’s a WTF Sputnik moment!

OxyCon on April 23, 2011 at 6:44 PM

Once looked into taking the Amtrak from Detroit to DC: turns out you can shave a whole day off the trip by catching their BUS to Toledo, instead of having to backtrack out to Chicago first…

high-speed my tuckus.
/.

CaveatEmpty on April 23, 2011 at 7:00 PM

High-speed air didn’t work either. The Concord was a financial bust because people were not willing to pay that sort of premium to shave off a little time on the trip.

sharrukin on April 23, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Wrong! It did work and for decades. Because it wasn’t an American deal (Anglo-French) the USA did not allow it to fly into any airports other than New York. Oh yeah, and it shaved half the time going across the pond. Noise pollution was the excuse used to exclude it.

yubley on April 23, 2011 at 7:08 PM

High-speed dedicated rail has been at least break-even or better in parts of France. It can work in highly-traveled routes, as in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, where even Amtrak makes money.

You have to remember that airline infrastructure (airports, air-traffic control) are subsidized with tax dollars (and to some extent ticket fees). Highways are subsidized with gasoline taxes as well as income and property taxes at various levels of government. I don’t have numbers, but my guess is that if passenger-rail infrastructure (tracks, catenaries, stations, control) were subsidized at the same level as air and highway, with private companies running the trains (as airlines do) high-speed rail would be viable in many areas of the USA.

Medium-speed rail between cities 2-500 miles apart can be equally viable (and a lot less expensive than high-speed), especially if sleeping cars were brought back into the mix. Used to be you could get a sleeper between Washington and Boston, which as a friend used to say, took “no time at all,” because you were asleep.

Personally, I much prefer train travel to air, or to Interstate highway travel—it’s another matter if you want to get on the old roads and see some of the country.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Just idle speculation, but does anyone think that using trains to move people around in their cars would work at all?
You know, pull your car up on to the train, turn of the engine, and then sit back while the train takes you past all the cars jammed up on the highway?

Count to 10 on April 23, 2011 at 7:23 PM

If they want to speed up long-distance rail outside of the northeast corridor, the cheapest way to do it would be to double-track all of the main lines and eliminate the single track routes with sidings, that require a train to stop out in the middle of nowhere for 30 minutes or more waiting for trains in the other direction to pass. Way cheaper than dedicated high-speed lines and with the added benefit that it would also speed up the profitable freight rail traffic.

jon1979 on April 23, 2011 at 6:14 PM

This is true. Many of the freight routes in the West are gradually being double-tracked, and that will definitely benefit Amtrak as well as freight, as a lot of Amtrak delays are caused by dodging slower and/or oncoming freight trains.

In general, while it is true that airlines are faster (though not always, when you count time getting to and from airports, and weather-related delays) and cars are much more flexible (but wearying over long distances), railroad passenger travel after WWII was undermined as much by government subsidies to air and highway travel than by those disadvantages. The private railroads lost so much revenue to the other forms of transportation that they could not maintain their passenger services. They were also cursed with government over-regulation that ultimately drove most of the major roads (despite freight revenue) into bankruptcy. It is only since the ’80s with regulatory reform that the railroads have recovered.

Just because the Puppet President likes trains (which he never takes himself, I reckon) is no reason to disparage them.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:32 PM

Just idle speculation, but does anyone think that using trains to move people around in their cars would work at all?
You know, pull your car up on to the train, turn of the engine, and then sit back while the train takes you past all the cars jammed up on the highway?

Count to 10 on April 23, 2011 at 7:23 PM

The Auto-Train from Virginia to Florida has, as I recall, been a money-maker for Amtrak. It’s a concept that should be explored further. The Brits use it for the Chunnel.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:35 PM

Alot of voters here in FL scolded Governor Rick Scott for turning away Washington’s money for high-speed rail here. Say what you will about the Governor, he made the right choice.

vcferlita on April 23, 2011 at 2:38 PM

He did. Jobs on stuff like this, though long-term, are not permanent and you’d get a lot of out of staters coming to work on it and send their money back home, maintain their homes elsewhere and so on. Then there’s the looming un-funded cost in the future.

However, the way gas prices are going, who knows? The ascendancy of the automobile and more available airline service pushed the railroads out of the passenger market. One can suspect that when they decide it’s profitable again, then we know for sure we’re on an irreversible path concerning major changes in our lifestyle.

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 23, 2011 at 7:41 PM

Correcting my grammatical error:

In general, while it is true that airlines are faster (though not always, when you count time getting to and from airports, and weather-related delays) and cars are much more flexible (but wearying over long distances), railroad passenger travel after WWII was undermined as much by government subsidies to air and highway travel than as by those disadvantages.

/Mr Lynn

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:48 PM

I may be going to Maryland mid-May. I’ll take the train, but that’s because I like trains.

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 8:05 PM

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 8:18 PM

This post reminded me of a recent video on China’s Ghost Cities from Australian tv. There are 64 million empty apartments in China and the Great Mall, the largest in the world, is now called the Not So Great Mall virtually empty 6 years after being built.

Fascinating video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbDeS_mXMnM

No Niks on April 23, 2011 at 8:40 PM

This post reminded me of a recent video on China’s Ghost Cities from Australian tv. There are 64 million empty apartments in China and the Great Mall, the largest in the world, is now called the Not So Great Mall virtually empty 6 years after being built.

Fascinating video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbDeS_mXMnM

No Niks on April 23, 2011 at 8:40 PM

There are also about 20 million empty homes in the US according to some sources. Which would be more empty homes per capita than China.

But you’re right, China’s practically dead, with little economic activity. A while back there was a HA thread about the ghost city I live in. I sometimes wander for days without seeing anybody.

DarkCurrent on April 23, 2011 at 9:54 PM

I think that piece may be a little premature. I’m sure there was a lot of corruption in building the network. And there will be more in the future, it’s the Chinese way. And it may need to be subsidized for years.

But. There are officially 1.33 billion people and almost everyone thinks you can add a couple 100 million more and not be wrong. So they have the density thing going for them.

I’ve only been on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong train and there are probably different demographics at work there but it’s packed all the time. Train after train, all day long…$13 bucks one way, great seats, 110 miles, a decent beef noodle in the restaurant, smoke if you got’em.

I know that the newly opened Xiamen line north is packed all the time and they are opening the Xiamen-Shenzhen line latter this year.

Don’t misunderstand this post. I’m not in favor of subsidizing railroads or anything for that matter, I’m as free market as you can get. But, this might be a different situation for a country like China. If it’s even close to breaking even in 10-20 years than I think it was a very effective strategy. It really connects the country.

And remember, they have only about 80 people per thousand that own a car. Compared to 750 per thousand in the US. To get anywhere close to the west that would be a lot of roads, cars and massive traffic jams. So it’s in their interest to get people on trains. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with American lefties European train erotica dreams. I think it’s mostly practical.

They are pretty good at building infrastructure but they won’t be ready for 150-200 cars per thousand for some time. But don’t underestimate, one of the big reasons China has continued their 8-10% growth rates is that they spend massively on infrastructure. Cheap labor (going up though) and the ability to get the goods to a port.

This is not a pro China post. It’s reality. If America was still a full throttle, free market, limited government, capitalist icon I wouldn’t be worried.

Rahmulus on April 23, 2011 at 10:01 PM

The vaunted high-speed rail project pushed by Beijing has collapsed into a morass of embezzlement and failure

The same result could be said for many so-called shovel ready stimulus projects.

Birdseye on April 23, 2011 at 10:09 PM

I know next to nothing about this subject, but I’ve always wondered why the monorail never caught on. It seems ideal: the infrastructure is minimal, it can run above existing routes, stations can be located in multi-purpose buildings that for the most part already exist. What’s wrong with it?

SukieTawdry on April 23, 2011 at 10:09 PM

Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, where are you?

imperator on April 23, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Why not build universal pneumatic air tubes all over the country and put people in little O-shaped bubbles and shoot them around the U.S.?

As the socialist dreamer Edward Bellamy pictured in the 19th century mega-best-seller “LOOKING BACKWARD 2000-1887.

Call it O-trans.

profitsbeard on April 23, 2011 at 10:49 PM

MrLynn on April 23, 2011 at 7:15 PM

I believe that the standard airport receives an average of 4.6% per passenger of its operating revenue from the federal government, while Amtrak receives an average 36% per passenger.

See http://subsidyscope.org/transportation/amtrak/

unclesmrgol on April 23, 2011 at 11:10 PM

If high speed rail was such a great idea, companies would be begging to get the right of ways to get it done, the fact that they’re not would indicate otherwise.

Just for the sake of conversation, I could fill a train everyday, from Tampa to Orlando and return, perhaps even twice a day, if it were powered by an old fashioned steam engine. Put the N & W 611 back in commission and run a train from Tampa or Miami/FT. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach to Orlando and you would fill it with paying passengers and make a profit.

bflat879 on April 23, 2011 at 11:59 PM

High-speed air didn’t work either. The Concord was a financial bust because people were not willing to pay that sort of premium to shave off a little time on the trip.

sharrukin on April 23, 2011 at 2:06 PM

Concord was earning a profit until the attacks on 9/11, killed several of the bosses that had been approving Concord tickets as business expenses.

The increase in ticket price caused by the modifications mandated after the Air France crash. The crash was caused by Unionized Air France employees misaligning one of the main landing gear. The additional friction over heated the tires, and kept the plane on the ground for several hundred extra feet, during which it ran over the FOD.

Slowburn on April 24, 2011 at 2:14 AM

http://goo.gl/bAU0N

Politicians love trains. Why? Because they can tell where the tracks go. They know where everybody’s going. For policiticians it’s all about control and power. Politicians hate cars because cars make people free. Not only free in the sense that they can go anywhere they want, which bugs politicians, but they can move out of the political district that the politicians represents.

Politics itself is nothing more than an attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit. That’s the definition of politics.

~P.J. O’Rourke on Reason.tv

Dandapani on April 24, 2011 at 6:40 AM

The Chinese helped build the RR here, especially in the west and now they can’t build their own? Seems like politicians are the same the world over. See a pile of money and make it your own.

Kissmygrits on April 24, 2011 at 8:44 AM

The vaunted high-speed rail project pushed by Beijing has collapsed into a morass of embezzlement and failure (via Jonah Goldberg):

That’s probably why Barry wants this. Easy money to line his and his cronies’ pockets.

mizflame98 on April 24, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, where are you?

imperator on April 23, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Meh, who is John Galt?

mizflame98 on April 24, 2011 at 9:15 AM

No comment. Sometines, it’s just not sporting to shoot fish in a barrel.

FalseProfit on April 24, 2011 at 9:25 AM

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