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View Poll Results: Should the US build or improve it's HSR network?
Yes 249 89.57%
No 29 10.43%
Voters: 278. You may not vote on this poll

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Old July 5th, 2011, 10:05 PM   #2701
khoojyh
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Quote:
Originally Posted by desertpunk View Post
I don't know how instructive this is but I just wanted to post it since it gives another side to the debate about HSR. The US has so many complicated processes to getting major things done that we wind up logjamming ourselves. If we still lived under 19th century legal and social conditions, HSR would have been running here decades ago.


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Old July 7th, 2011, 06:09 PM   #2702
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Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
My solution is simple. The government builds TRACKS, STATIONS and SIGNALS out of the budget, from whatever source, like it wold build a new freeway. You know, the stuff that stays in place. Then, it opens the public, open-access HSR to whatever private operator that pays to use it, according to the private operator schedule and wills.

Of course, there is a constrain capacity, so if more than one private operator wants to run a train at the same time on a public railway, the gov't puts that slot for auction and whomever pays more gains the right to run a train in specific date and time, say, up to 180 days ahead. Whomever pays less don't run a train and will be forced to adjust accordingly.

What I loath and fiercely oppose is government involvement with direct operation of vehicles and schedules, be them buses, trains, boats or airplanes. Unless, of coruse, we're talking of military, civil protection, rescue, FEMA stuff.
So essentially, you are saying the government shall foot the bill for the most expensive bit of the HSR network.

Then proceed to let private companies take the profits (if any) by operating the actual services?

Will there be any regulation or minimum standard of service? Because if I were a private operator, I just want to run services during peak hours for max profits. Would you like a train schedule like the airlines?

Worst thing ever.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 06:24 PM   #2703
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Originally Posted by TsLeng View Post
Then proceed to let private companies take the profits (if any) by operating the actual services?
The government could set usage/trackage fees. Those fees might, or might not, recoup the capital costs gov't incurred on the infrastructure. Some sectors might have higher fees, other lower fees and some could be even opened for free traffic (like we have expensive private-financed tollways, maintenance tolls that are cheaper, and free access highways). To make up for the equivalent of gas taxes, gov't could charge a tax on electricity used to power the trains.

Quote:
Will there be any regulation or minimum standard of service?
It would be like aviation: you need to certify your vehicles' adherence to safety standards, plus there should be regulations like working hours of conductors, fines for operators using unreliable rolling stock that shut down the railway for breakdowns etc.

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Because if I were a private operator, I just want to run services during peak hours for max profits. Would you like a train schedule like the airlines?
That is exactly what I want: cut-throat competition for passengers, fare wars, and routes/schedules that are decided by private operators without political considerations at all.

Liberalization of air service brought cheaper air travel everywhere.

I even think that private operators not bound to strict rules or obligations to provide universal service would come with solutions like low-cost trains that, with sacrifice of comfort, could easily accommodate 40% more seated passengers than the regular 2+2 open plan aligned seat car. For instance, a low-cost train service that uses 2+3 seat plans, with narrower corridors and no links between different train cars, to discourage people from walking and keep them put. Such trains could offer far lower priced tickets with aggressive yield management policies. The equivalent of Chinatown buses on rails!

But as plans are today, there will be no competition between train operators, just between train and other modes of transport.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 06:41 PM   #2704
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Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
The government could set usage/trackage fees. Those fees might, or might not, recoup the capital costs gov't incurred on the infrastructure. Some sectors might have higher fees, other lower fees and some could be even opened for free traffic (like we have expensive private-financed tollways, maintenance tolls that are cheaper, and free access highways). To make up for the equivalent of gas taxes, gov't could charge a tax on electricity used to power the trains.



It would be like aviation: you need to certify your vehicles' adherence to safety standards, plus there should be regulations like working hours of conductors, fines for operators using unreliable rolling stock that shut down the railway for breakdowns etc.



That is exactly what I want: cut-throat competition for passengers, fare wars, and routes/schedules that are decided by private operators without political considerations at all.

Liberalization of air service brought cheaper air travel everywhere.

I even think that private operators not bound to strict rules or obligations to provide universal service would come with solutions like low-cost trains that, with sacrifice of comfort, could easily accommodate 40% more seated passengers than the regular 2+2 open plan aligned seat car. For instance, a low-cost train service that uses 2+3 seat plans, with narrower corridors and no links between different train cars, to discourage people from walking and keep them put. Such trains could offer far lower priced tickets with aggressive yield management policies. The equivalent of Chinatown buses on rails!

But as plans are today, there will be no competition between train operators, just between train and other modes of transport.
What you described is remarkably similar to the system in Britain.
It may just work for purpose built HSR, but a lot of considerations need to be taken into account first. Most important of all, would there be enough passengers to make it worthwhile for private operators to run services?

And, with the regulation required to keep the private operators in line, there will be costs. Money that would otherwise be spent more usefully elsewhere. There are also costs in drafting of contracts, agreements and in the allocation of routes and scheduling.


All these just add levels of complexity and layers to the management of the railway. Yield management and other profit maximising strategies, those are not rocket science and could be implemented by a state run railway.

My view is, if there is any profit to be made, better to have it made by the State as it effectively goes back to the taxpayer. Not some lucky crony who managed to win the bid to run the trains (<< if the process is not fair. A fair process will cost money again...)

Do you see the problem?

I forgot to add, what is the main purpose of HSR anyway? To stimulate movement of people and growth or just exploiting the existing market?
Usually, railways are built in mind to also bring socioeconomic benefits beyond mere profits from running the services.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 07:00 PM   #2705
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What you described is remarkably similar to the system in Britain.
Not really. True open-carriers in UK are just 4, including one that offers only an airport link to Heathrow.

The British franchises are tightly regulated, they have pre-defined schedules imposed on them by the oversight authority, they have maximum prices imposed, they have to offer certain pre-defined discounts (Off-Peak, Advance) and so on.

Quote:
My view is, if there is any profit to be made, better to have it made by the State as it effectively goes back to the taxpayer. Not some lucky crony who managed to win the bid to run the trains (<< if the process is not fair. A fair process will cost money again...)

Do you see the problem?
I see several problems. Let's take the example of present-day Amtrak: it could severely cut its costs if it abandoned transcontinental routes that carry few passengers but cost a lot of money (just think of the structure needed in stations, crew rendition points etc. to run 1 train daily on those routes of of Chicago to Seattle, Emmerville, Los Angeles, Dallas, New Orleans...) However, Amtrak is at the mercy of Congress, and Congress likes services that, even in a token form, reach everywhere. So if Amtrak said it would cut 70% of its network length while cutting only 10-15% of pax*miles transported, it is likely all those congressmen West of the Mississippi would vote to kill Amtrak.

What guarantees that a national high-speed service wouldn't be subject to political considerations? Like very unprofitable services kept to appease a given U.S. Senator? I'm not even talking about whole lines, but things like "the commuters of OH 6th Distrcit need a train that reaches Chicago before 10am weekdays and it is only just that Amtrak puts an early service to serve them, at discounted fares because the region is already suffering from economic decay as manufacturing keeps moving elsewhere.

Also, if a service becomes too profitable, there would be calls for lower fares.

Quote:
I forgot to add, what is the main purpose of HSR anyway? To stimulate movement of people and growth or just exploiting the existing market?
Usually, railways are built in mind to also bring socioeconomic benefits beyond mere profits from running the services.
But that is the essence of capitalism: you achieve greater goals by the multi-vector sum of individuals and corporations, on their own, pursuing maximization of their utility/profits.

A basic example: feeding the population is a basic concern in every country. But you don't need government setting up US Federal Retail Centers: agrobusiness corporations, farmers, truck drivers, tractor manufactures, fertilizer wholesalers and supermarkets, each seeking their own profit maximization, end up delivering food to you.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 07:32 PM   #2706
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TsLeng View Post
So essentially, you are saying the government shall foot the bill for the most expensive bit of the HSR network.

Then proceed to let private companies take the profits (if any) by operating the actual services?

Will there be any regulation or minimum standard of service? Because if I were a private operator, I just want to run services during peak hours for max profits. Would you like a train schedule like the airlines?

Worst thing ever.
That would be called 'open access' and is how the highway, civil aviation, sea shipping and so forth systems already operate. What he is talking about would extend that to rails, an idea that I strongly support, BTW.

Mike
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Old July 7th, 2011, 09:11 PM   #2707
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Because the U.S. highway system and airlines are such excellent methods of transportation? This is the issue with most market-based approaches to almost anything: unless quality brings profit, quality isn't pursued. Shoving cargo into containers on ships as tightly as possible may work excellently for freight; previous decades and my own personal experience says that it's less effective for people. What's the point of travelling if you're so mentally and physically exhausted from the journey that you can't enjoy the destination?

I know that this isn't the most thoughtful point, but I don't see how anyone who's sat in a car for hours during traffic or flown economy class on any airline could argue against the validity of it.

By the way, the highways are not funded by the current management system; I'm not sure how many times this needs to be brought up. And again, if the implication from the rebuttal is that passenger rail use fees should be commensurate with the actual cost of use, then I don't see how you could support HSR. Much in the same way that if drivers actually paid for the cost of their driving, far fewer people would drive (bringing us back to the circuitous issue of U.S. road-use fees dropping with road-use, becoming ever more underfunded, reducing road quality, reducing road use, etc., etc.).
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Old July 8th, 2011, 11:05 AM   #2708
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Originally Posted by Suburbanist View Post
Not really. True open-carriers in UK are just 4, including one that offers only an airport link to Heathrow.

The British franchises are tightly regulated, they have pre-defined schedules imposed on them by the oversight authority, they have maximum prices imposed, they have to offer certain pre-defined discounts (Off-Peak, Advance) and so on.


You are correct that most TOCs are not open-access carriers in Britain. If what you are supporting is something similar to open-access carriers, then it may just work providing certain conditions are met. The most important is the cost.

If the government is to built the infrastructure and then charge access fees to make a return on it, why haven't private investors scramble to get a piece of the action? They can built the infrastructure themselves and run the service themselves!

If the government aims to only regain part of the cost, that is effectively subsidising a private company. Inevitably, this will cost more than running an efficient state service since private companies would be fixated on profits. Like the TOCs in Britain.

Basically, my view is that there will be 2 possible scenarios.

1. The railway will make a profit. Why let private companies make it when the state has to stump up the capital costs first?

2. The railway will run at a loss, which is the likely case. No private companies will want to run any services unless they are subsidised. Or they will run as an example, only x services a day, during peak hours only, cramming the trains to the max. That will leave the infrastructure out of use during other times which is a waste.

I think some industries, especially railways which brings wider socioeconomic benefits to the people should be run by the state, especially if the capital costs are paid for by taxpayers in the first place.
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Old July 8th, 2011, 11:12 AM   #2709
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Originally Posted by mgk920 View Post
That would be called 'open access' and is how the highway, civil aviation, sea shipping and so forth systems already operate. What he is talking about would extend that to rails, an idea that I strongly support, BTW.

Mike
The airspace does not require maintenance. Nobody has to build 'shipping lanes' either.

The disadvantage of a railway system is that the cost of infrastructure is massive. Now, who is going to foot the bill is the question. Suburbanist is talking about the government paying for infrastructure, then letting private operators scramble to run a competitive, profitable service.

That, in my view is not achievable. Simply because running a railway is a complex business. It is something long term and requires close interactions between different parties. They need to have the same goal too, working together, not having objectives of their own.

With sea shipping or aviation, the assets can be moved around easily. With rolling stock, that is near to impossible. That is a risk and any private operators would want to maximise profits to counter that. Another blow I'd say.
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Old July 8th, 2011, 04:20 PM   #2710
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That, in my view is not achievable. Simply because running a railway is a complex business. It is something long term and requires close interactions between different parties. They need to have the same goal too, working together, not having objectives of their own.

With sea shipping or aviation, the assets can be moved around easily. With rolling stock, that is near to impossible. That is a risk and any private operators would want to maximise profits to counter that. Another blow I'd say.
They used similar arguments in the past to support tight regulations of air travel market. Before 1978, in US, schedules, prices, routes for interstate air travel were all defined by the federal government. That created political pressure to oblige airlines to take very unprofitable routes to smaller cities in exchange for having exclusivity in prime routes. Then, discounts were limited, and the use of a third city to offer connecting flights were not authorized in all cases if it would jeopardize the carrier offering a direct route. Now, 33 years after de-regulation, air fares, in real terms, cost less than 40% of what they cost in 1978.

Let's take the road network example: we have all kinds of roads, from local residential streets to mountain remote dirt roads to major urban thoroughfares to freeways (tolled or not tolled). The government builds and maintains all that, and recoups the cost via gas taxes, vehicle taxes, toll fees from public turnpike authorities or exploitation fees from private concessionaires. And, then, many people make profits using the roads, from truck companies to limousine rental companies. Should government now become the solely car rental company, the solely truck cargo company, the solely taxi company, the solely operator of charter buses because the roads were build with mostly public money?

The problem with the British model is that it is not really a free market. If Virgin Trains decide they don't want to run trains to Manchester anymore, they can't do that. If they want to put 10 extra trains running to Glasgow, they can't do that at expense of 10 trains running to Liverpool. If they want to adopt reservation-only trains, they are not allowed to do so. The franchises don't have really autonomy in terms of service offer. Even the rolling stock they use is tightly regulated.
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Old July 11th, 2011, 04:01 PM   #2711
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The airline industry has a big difference to the railway. Nobody needs to physically maintain the 'airspace'

As for roads, that is a good example but not quite. You mentioned roads create profits for the people. That is the socioeconomic effect. The difference between road and rail is the degree of freedom of the vehicle used on it.

Everyone can drive cars, cars are universal. They run everywhere. Road travel is generally a personal form of transport. Sadly, Rail isn't. Railways have to be specific, point to point, especially when we are talking about HSR. Once invested, the scope for change is limited. With roads, people can choose not to drive it(use another route, drive elsewhere). With rail, once the rolling stock is bought, it is pretty much run it or waste it.

What I am saying is, if there is going to be government involvement, then it should be whole and integrated. Not just a part. Basically, my view can be summarised as follows,

1. If the government have the cash to built the infra., and can earn the cost of it back (or part of it) by charging fees from private operators (assuming private operators are turning a profit), why not,

1(a) Run the service as a national business, with profits going back to the taxpayers, rather than shareholders of the private operators. The advantage is that as a national business, there would be at least some hope of 'joined-up action' and the profits could be used to improve the network or expand.

Why do you think there is a need to involve private operators which will increase overall cost with the layers of management introduced? (Regulators, lawyers etc)

2. If private operators are involved, but the HSR turns out to be a dud, and they make losses, what will happen? It will be a right mess. let the private operators go bankrupt? What about people who bought season tickets? Any compensation? Government steps in to bail them out?



As I said already, HSR/railways are generally a social service. Most railways don't make money directly. A lot of profit lies in the economic activity generated by the railway, e.g. people with increased mobility, opening up new areas for business etc.

Simply put, if you believe that the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure can be recouped from the train service, why hasn't private investors stumped up the cash to support the HSR project yet? Rest assured that private investors will not miss a chance to make money. There is no need to help them by paying the massive capital costs first and then letting them cream the profits off.

The free market you are talking about that will work happened way back, in Victorian times. When companies built their own tracks, and ran their own trains. That will be the true, free market. Will it happen?

I mean, in the end, it may just be me. I just feel there is something really wrong when services are privatised just because you can.
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Old July 11th, 2011, 06:13 PM   #2712
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US Congress has appointed Virgin Rail to advise them on privatising Amtraks North East corridor route.
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Old July 11th, 2011, 10:19 PM   #2713
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US Congress has appointed Virgin Rail to advise them on privatising Amtraks North East corridor route.
I would keep the track/ROW in public hands, but investigate privatizing the operations, allowing anyone who wants to to provide the service. As long as 'slots' (in Europe they are called 'paths') are available, the equipment meets standards, the crews are properly licensed and they can pay the necessary fees and tolls, let the carriers compete on a level field.

BTW, yes, there is zero cost to maintain *airspace*, but it costs dearly to *dispatch* it (as in 'air traffic control'). Also, airports are pretty pricey and, from what I am aware of, no commercial airline owns and maintains its own airport(s). Terminal and maintenance buildings are another thing and even then, many of those facilities are publicly owned (as in owned by some unit of government) and leased by the carriers.

Mike
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Old July 11th, 2011, 10:47 PM   #2714
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US Congress has appointed Virgin Rail to advise them on privatising Amtraks North East corridor route.
That might cause issues , because all the NE Rail systems feed into the NEC.... A half million commuters use the NEC daily , what happens if Private blocks that , alot of cities have developments surrounding these stations , if commuter rail is blocked then the economy of this region will collapse....
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Old July 11th, 2011, 11:29 PM   #2715
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That might cause issues , because all the NE Rail systems feed into the NEC.... A half million commuters use the NEC daily , what happens if Private blocks that , alot of cities have developments surrounding these stations , if commuter rail is blocked then the economy of this region will collapse....
Privatization of NEC's operations wouldn't mean suspending every other service. A neutral framework that establishes access to feeder services to tracks and stations is an easy thing to devise.

The only thing that would change is that local/regional operators would no longer have leeway over schedule and ticket prices for NEC services, but it is likely on the interest of the private operator to keep good relations and deals with then to feed the main line.

What might change, for instance, is the maintenance, of politically-charged schedules aiming to appease local officials, like certain trains leaving Boston at 3:30 AM with 5% load factor.
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Old July 14th, 2011, 09:19 PM   #2716
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High Speed Acela Express passing Harrison Interlocks..

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Old July 16th, 2011, 01:42 AM   #2717
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So the U.S. government runs a profitable rail service with growing ridership, but is being heavily pressured to privatize it.

In this ****ed up country, even if the government does something well, it won't be allowed to continue to do so.

As for airspace- that is TIGHTLY restricted. Passenger jets can't take whatever route they want to get from city to city. There are clearly defined flight paths that must be approved by the FAA.
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Old July 16th, 2011, 04:40 AM   #2718
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So the U.S. government runs a profitable rail service with growing ridership, but is being heavily pressured to privatize it.
Put down the crack pipe. Amtrak is heavily subsidized. They are not "profitable."
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Old July 16th, 2011, 06:12 AM   #2719
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Put down the crack pipe. Amtrak is heavily subsidized. They are not "profitable."
Niether are the Airlines or the roads and there Heavily Subsidized and more then Rail in North America...
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Old July 21st, 2011, 09:57 AM   #2720
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