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11284Re: [carfree_cities] Re: "Biden rolls out $1.3 billion for Amtrak"

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  • Christopher Miller
    Mar 27, 2009
    • 0 Attachment
      On 25-Mar-09, at 11:52 AM, J.H. Crawford wrote:
      > Eric said:
      >
      > >MagLev will never catch on if for no other reason that it must have
      > >100 percent new RoW every mm of the line.
      >
      > There are two other reasons MagLev is not going anywhere:
      >
      > It's three times as expensive.
      >
      > It uses three times as much energy.
      >
      > Finally, we simply don't need the speeds that are possible.
      > Conventional TGV is faster than what is really needed or
      > desirable.
      >
      I would (generally) agree with the first three points, but only as
      they apply to the two currently operational high speed maglev systems:
      the German Transrapid (of Shanghai airport run fame) and the Japanese
      Railways system recently approved for a future Tokyo-Osaka route (cf.
      Rick Risemberg's posting from the New York Times a few days ago). Low-
      speed urban maglev involves a somewhat different set of issues.

      Yes, it's true these two systems and most others in development
      require entirely new infrastructure (like steel on rail, rubber on
      asphalt, or wheeled aircraft when introduced). The argument as I see
      it is that introducing a system interoperable with existing
      infrastructure would normally be cheaper than building an entirely new
      infrastructure. Huge cost overruns were what did in the Munich
      Transrapid project, which was cancelled a year ago on (March 27,
      2008). Whether this was due to construction/capital costs or something
      else I don't know, but adding construction costs onto an already
      ballooning budget would not have been popular, for sure...

      That said, especially with raised guideways, you *can* use existing
      rights of way: many maglev proposals actually take the same tack as
      Joel's Interstate Rail proposal by proposing to route their raised
      guideways along interstate rights of way. This was in fact a
      requirement of the US National Maglev Initiative of the 1990s.

      Construction costs for the TR and JR maglevs - as for most other
      maglev technologies in development - are indeed very high compared to
      steel wheel on rail train infrastructure, mainly because of the high
      materials costs for guideway construction. However, operational costs
      are lower due to the reduced need to maintain and service mechanical
      parts compared to wheeled trains.

      The energy consumption figures I have seen for Transrapid, at least,
      seem to be in the same league as for conventional high-speed rail
      (Germany's ICE 3).

      Like "wheeled transportation", "maglev" is a family of sometimes very
      different and incompatible technologies. There are other systems at
      various stages of development, most of them similar in most ways to TR
      and JR maglevs, but one in particular, proposed by the original
      developers of superconducting maglev and building on their original
      technology behind the JR maglev, brings numerous improvements that get
      around a lot of the problems with the others. It uses raised hollow
      beam guideways most of the time, but also uses flat horizontal
      guideway panels to be easily interoperable with existing railroad
      track (or asphalt roadway for that matter), and would be able to
      achieve greater speeds on flat guideways laid along existing rail than
      high speed wheel on rail could safely do. Because of its simpler
      guideway structure, estimated construction costs are estimated at 1/4
      to 1/3 those of the JR or Transrapid, i.e. $15 to $20 million per two-
      way mile (and only around $3 M per mile for installing guideway panels
      along railway track). What really distinguishes it from all others is
      this plus the fact it is designed to be able to carry heavy freight
      (not only passengers) at high speed, so carrying fees for ferrying
      transport trailers are estimated to help pay back construction costs
      over a five year period. (The whole financial model is aimed at
      private financing from freight.) Operating costs (including very low
      energy consumption) are estimated to be quite low.

      Now this system (like other less differentiated ones) is not yet
      operational and would still need to be tested out on a test track for
      several years before they could even begin to try putting it into
      operation. It's certainly possible that they might not be able to
      continue their development efforts.

      I'm not convinced about the speeds thing. Air travel (despite its cost
      and discomfort) continues to flourish not only for transoceanic
      journeys, but also for long- and short-distance intercity travel. The
      reason is that a very large portion of the population finds the high
      speeds attractive because they reduce travel time (and the same goes
      for light air cargo). One of the major premises of high speed rail or
      maglev is to provide a fast and cheap alternative to air (and
      automobile) travel that is attractive enough to reduce dependence on
      those two modes. We know, for example, that the Paris-Lyon TGV led to
      a huge reduction in air travel between the two cities (somewhere
      between 70% and 80% if I remember right).

      We know car and airplane-heavy travel is among the worst sources of
      greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Although a main reason for
      advocating carfree cities or at least heavy reductions in car use in
      cities is to restore a humane urban living space, the environmental
      argument is no less important. It seems to me it would be in our
      interest to support high-speed alternatives to the car and air travel
      that would actually attract people away from these modes as fast as
      possible, rather than letting them dominate our transportation system
      way into the future.

      Unlike Europe, it is clear that any return to a workable passenger
      rail network in North America will require massive new construction
      simply to avoid being held hostage to the demands of freight rail, so
      in that sense exactly what technology finally gets adopted is a moot
      point. The main thing is that we need to do this and get people out of
      cars and planes sooner rather than later. I think it's pretty clear
      that currently available maglev systems, Transrapid in particular, are
      not the answer, and also agree that high-speed rail technology as it
      currently exists is also limited in North America, unlike in Europe,
      by the distance factor. But if we can adopt a better technology that
      would work around the problems with these - that is, if it does get
      developed - I would say it fits in pretty well with what we want to
      do. If you have an alternative to using a car to go everywhere you
      will be less inclined to feel "the car" is the essential tool for
      taking you everywhere you want, including right into downtown.

      This was a fairly long post - I've done and redone it over the past
      few days - but I think the whole high-speed train and maglev issue is
      much more complex than the way it's been presented in the discussions
      I've seen so far. I does seem to me that any hope of reducing or even
      eliminating in-city car use depends a lot on reducing the overall car-
      dependent culture and infrastructure and replacing them with a
      pervasive and convenient mass transit system both within and between
      cities.

      Regards to all,

      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada
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