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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by hobbsyoyo, Jul 14, 2019.

  1. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    ....and all other modes of transportation.

    I'd like to talk about moving things, their impact on society and what you all think about them. I was on a sleeper train for the first time so I'll start -

    In the US, passenger rail is less convenient and more expensive than most other modes of transportation. Part of the problem is that our passenger rail service (Amtrack) only owns a tiny portion of the tracks they use which means that freight traffic has priority. This leads to delays though it's no longer as bad as it got in the 90's when freight train companies took brazenly illegal actions to hold up Amtrack trains for their own benefit.

    Another problem with Amtrack is that it can only get capital funding from Congress which regularly declines to give them more than is absolutely necessary to apply band-aids to their aging fleet. This means Amtrack trains typically date from the 90's or earlier and lack any sort of entertainment systems or even basic wifi. Also, since Amtrack trains all run on deisel and tend to have low ridership, they are not as energy efficient as rail systems in Europe and can even be more polluting than an airplane for some rugged routes. Almost none of the trains can be considered high speed either and they tend to run around 35 mph on average.

    All that said, trains are fantastically more comfortable than airplanes and if you have the time to burn, it's a great way to get around the country and to see a lot of it. The US West coast has some extremely scenic routes and I've heard many of the Eastern-bound routes are similarly pretty.

    There are other positive aspects to train travel here. There is no security lines to deal with and the trains are flexible. I managed to catch an earlier train on my route that saved me 2 hours of sitting in the terminal and there was no issue with it at all. Can you imagine hopping in line at an airport to take another flight because it'll get you there faster without having to check in with ticketing or pay to switch planes?
     
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  2. Truthy

    Truthy Titular character

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    Basically, I like cars and think the premise that cars are bad and need to go away is a non-starter. In the American context, shifting away from cars as the back bone of our transportation seems extremely unrealistic and undesirable. Especially as it seems we're approaching the technology needed to solve a lot of the problems we have with cars.

    I'm skeptical of HSR but open to persuasion. The issue is it's not clear to me that there's a real need, apart from the fact that it would just be kinda be neat to have our own Shinkansen like all the cool countries, and the costs are too high. It seems like the time to invest in that was the 60s. By 2019, the costs of construction, environmental reviews, lawsuits, NIMBYism, political shenanigans, and so on make it astronomically expensive. And at the end of the day, it's not clear trips would be as convenient as driving, or as fast as air travel, and fares likely wouldn't be lower. My suspicion is that future HSR efforts will resemble the recent California HSR debacle.
     
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  3. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    It has to be pointed out that this applies to everything pretty much equally, not just high speed rail. My suspicion, re-enforced by observation of efforts to build highways, power plants, airports, and every other form of infrastructure for pretty much my entire life, is that nothing can be done in the US without resembling the California HSR 'debacle.'

    That said...

    I recommend a winter rail trip. The train from Oakland to Chicago runs through the same passes as an interstate that I have driven. The views are awesome...gigantic sheets of ice drape from the highway where the snow has been melted off and refrozen...icicles on a spectacular scale. Of course, driving in those conditions was absolutely horrendous so I didn't really appreciate it, but I put riding that train on my things to do someday list.
     
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  4. Truthy

    Truthy Titular character

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    Sure, but how many of those things weigh in at a sticker price of 1 International Space Station? And they seem to have a lot more going for them in terms of proven desirability from where I'm sitting.
     
  5. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    Short-term rentals of electric bikes and scooters is becoming a big thing in cities. You use an app to book one of these units you find on the street, use it till you're done and then abandon it. Eventually either someone else uses it and takes it somewhere else or the companies pick them up, charge them and re-deposit them at certain spots around the cities. It seems very convenient but our sidewalks were not designed for 30 mph scooters and the people who use them tend to not wear safety helmet and often drive them in ways that endanger themselves, walkers and drivers.

    I also think a lot of people think of the scooters as an eye sore, especially when they're just tossed casually onto their side on the walking path but I tend to think of them as awesome portable infrastructure and would rather have them around than not. I don't know if these companies are making money yet though and this may prove to be a short-term fad for many of the cities that have allowed them.
     
  6. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    Well, if not for the drama we could have followed a plan similar to France and supplied pretty much all electrical power with clean and safe nuclear power plants thirty years ago. Would have been a pretty big sticker price on the investment, but long term would have been well worth it. I suspect thirty years from now the lack of a high speed rail system will look very similar.
     
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  7. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    There's another sort of transportation infrastructure build-out going on that doesn't catch enough attention. Everyone assumes that the lack of big charging stations which function like gas stations do now is holding back electric vehicle adoption. That's not really the case and while we will have a network of charging stations eventually, the vast majority of charging will happen in people's homes as they install home charging units. Probably something like 95% of all driving is in the range of EV's now and as more and more private homeowners and landlords install chargers, it is going to become an increasingly no-brainer to go all electric for most families. This will help a ton with pollution and paired with self-driving cars, may help ease traffic congestion though honestly it could just as well turn out to be a source of more soul-crushing congestion.
     
  8. really

    really Chieftain

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    I think you are being very hard on your country - sure public transport could be better but trains do carry huge numbers of people every day in cities like New York or Chicago.

    Comparing high speed rail is difficult too - NYC to Chicago is twice the distance of say Paris to Bordeaux.
     
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  9. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    I don't think I'm being hard on it - the national rail network has some big issues. Sure, they are largely unique to the US due to things like geography but that doesn't change the fact that the issues exist. All in all though, the train is an awesome way to long-distance travel if you can afford the ticket and the time off from work. There are some cities with good commuter rails but they're pretty rare and underwhelming compared to other countries and we tend to focus on building out our fantastic car-centric infrastructure which has both positives and negatives.
     
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  10. Truthy

    Truthy Titular character

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    Which comes back to desirability/need thing. Is HSR really like nuclear power in this sense? Is it possible it was actually smart for the US to not go down the HSR route? And most people think we're already well past the 30 year mark and should be looking back with regret right now. Which makes me have two objections. The first is that perhaps it's totally fine we didn't invest in HSR 30 years ago and we probably don't really need to now either. The second is maybe we should have invested in HSR 30-50 years ago, but now the ship has sailed.
     
  11. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    Well, closer to three times than twice, and involves terrain that most of France doesn't have to deal with, so yeah.
     
  12. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    Federal, state and local governments also shower airports and airlines with subsidies that the rail service doesn't get which further hampers the rail service. Additionally, Amtrak is forced to fund pensions in a similarly weird and usurious manner to what the Post Office has to deal with which also makes it less economically viable. Despite all this, ridership is on the uptick and has been ever since Amtrak consolidated the failing private services in the 70's. If Congress would allow Amtrak to invest in itself as any other private business would, we'd have much better service.
     
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  13. uppi

    uppi Warlord

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    I don't own a car (by choice) so I have to rely on public transport for almost everything that I don't want to do by bike. As long as everything works fine, I like riding the train quite a lot, because you don't have to do anything except for buying a ticket and showing up at the platform. It does get a bit uncomfortable if you have a lot of luggage though. Unfortunately, the German railway has become quite unreliable due to a failed attempt at privatization.

    A bit of a problem with public transport networks is that their utility scales with the size and density of the network. One high-speed railway line doesn't help much, if there is no way to get to and from the terminals. So if you want to set up a network, you first have a high initial cost, but the real benefit only comes if you keep investing to build a good network.

    I took a train on the US east coast once. It was actually quite decent and even had wifi.

    Honestly, when I drove a car there, I wasn't too impressed by the car infrastructure. The large parking lots were nice, but the roads weren't really of the quality I am used to.

    Paris - Bordeaux is around 600 km. New York - Chicago 1300 km. I would say twice is a fair description. It is still quite a lot shorter than Berlin - Palermo (2200 km), which also involves crossing the Alps.
     
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  14. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    The roads here are up to the states mostly so there is huge variation in quality. The primary selling point of our highway system is how ubiquitous and far-reaching it is. With a car you pretty much have total freedom to go anywhere in the country on a whim with total costs that are often lower than other modes of transportation.
     
  15. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo Warlord

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    It's almost like certain things cannot be delivered to the public as efficiently through the private sector as they can through the government. /s
     
  16. yung.carl.jung

    yung.carl.jung Morose & Lugubrious

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    yeah same here. I use train for everything, going to uni 3x a week which is a total of ~12 hours of commuting, then I drive around Offenbach for free, Frankfurt for free, can go back and visit my parents or my sister for as much as 15 bucks, even with crossing state lines, and also use buses a whole lot to get around the city. I can essentially drive to any city and take any metro everywhere in my state, for free. it's included in the student ticket, which is ~280 per months, about 100 or so I figure go for the ticket alone. that's 17 bucks per month for all of my transportation. no car can compete with that. I don't even bycicle for the most part, I just walk. I really like walking.
     
  17. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    For some reason when I googled it I got 499 km for Paris to Bordeaux, but either way.

    Throwing in NY to Chicago makes the train problem an order of magnitude more challenging. I think the US does pretty well with trains along the eastern seaboard, where distances and geography are cooperative.
     
  18. uppi

    uppi Warlord

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    That is probably the difference between geographic distance and distance by road. I think the latter is the batter value for comparison, becuase if there is a reason that the highway takes a detour, this would probably apply to a rail line as well.

    It would certainly be much more challenging, but also in the range what would be possible. It would probably not be a good project to start with, because to reap the benefits of such a link, you would need a developed rail network already.
     
  19. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    Hmmm. Maybe. Rail lines tend to be more of a "significant destination connector," where highways will often meander more just to hit additional population centers despite their small size. In the US anyway. That has contributed a lot to how we became so centered on cars. Rail may be a competitive way to get from A to F, but for C to D you need a car.
     
  20. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    Beijing to Changsha (Hunan Province) is about 1600 train kilometers at 250-300 kph. A first class ticket runs about $260 and the seating is nicer than first class on a US domestic flight. The trains run on time. And you can see stuff too!

    Is there a way to post a .mov file here?
     

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