Brightline, "conservative" policy, and the future of rail

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jis

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I thought the shutdown was needed so they could get PTC installed?

And even if the actual design and installation work was done by external contractors, such things would presumably still require active supervision by management as well as a subsequent knowledge and skills acquisition, which might require more that just skeletal staff.
I am just stating what actually happened. It was fortuitous luck that they had a good excuse to use for messaging. If there had been no COVID they’d have had to shut down under FRA order or continue operating either with a large daily fine or operate just one or two trains. I suspect they’d have shut down with some exciting different messaging.

In actuality they reduced their total employee population to well under two dozen. Even the marketing VP was sent on vacation.
 

neroden

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While I agree that Brightline exists because of billionare largess, it could not be replicated in Iowa for three reasons:
Omaha/Council Bluffs - Des Moines - Iowa City/Cedar Rapids - Quad Cities - Chicago works fine.

A line connecting areas of 1 million - 700K - 430K - 400K - 9.5 million works.

So far, all Brightline has done is run commuter service within the 6.2 million person Miami metro area. And it wasn't profitable. Their plan is to connect the 2.6 million person Orlando area to the 6.2 million person Miami area, which might be profitable.

Whether there's enough money in Omaha and Des Moines to make connecting them to Chicago profitable, or whether there's more cultural resistance to rail, or whatever, are open questions, but there's definitely enough *people*. Gravity model of ridership says Iowa should actually do slightly better.

Are you *really* sure there aren't as many lucrative rail-related redevelopment opportunities in Iowa? I guess right now urban Chicago real estate is still readily available and not that expensive, so not that much. If Chicago demand rebounds like all the coastal cities have, though...
 

jis

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One difference with Iowa though is that a significant proportion of the projected ridership between Orlando and Miami has nothing to do with the population of either city. They are visitors from elsewhere, many from out of state. At least so was stated in the EIS. The FDOT (both Florida and Federal) traffic demand analysis places the Miami - Orlando - Tampa corridor as one of the top ten in the country irrespective of where the traffic components come from (i.e. local population or visitors). I know very little about Iowa, so cannot comment on that.

The Brightline Project is really not designed to serve local residents that much for local rides. As long as the Miami catchment area folks are going to Orlando or vice versa, Brightline in its original projections, is primarily interested in those and not someone traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Miami that much. So it is not surprising that their toy service did not come anywhere near breaking even. They were carrying incidental customer who the system is not really designed for. It has been like pulling teeth trying to get them to serve local traffic demands.

As for MSAs and mega-regions, I find the map published by Amtrak in the ConnectUS Report quite useful and illuminating....

1631377245493.png
 
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danasgoodstuff

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I've spent a good bit of time looking at that 2050 map, and I see some opportunity to expand service for sure, but some real geographic/demographic challenges too. Ideally I think you'd want heavy service within regions/corridors/whatever and light links between - and the two probably don't need to be the same trains or through trains since the good schedule for one part of a really long route means a bad one for other parts. And keeping things reasonably on schedule would be much easier if you're not trying to do that on a 2,000+ mile route. It would take a lot of analysis to figure out, and maybe someone has already done this, but what if you had, just for instance, separate CA to DEN and DEN to CHI trains and frequent N/S connections at DEN? I can imagine an ideal, fully hooked up system, but the hard part is what to do first, especially if you don't have enough money to do enough all at once to really maximize benefits. A lot of hard choices, and that's to make it even a halfway realistic pipe dream!
 

me_little_me

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From what I understand, Brightline is primarily a real estate company that happens to run a railroad. I know that’s not how it’s branded, and that’s not how they intend to be known as, but on paper, this is the case. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong.
By structuring this way, it allows them to cancel service, and still more or less not lose THAT much.
That was true of most of the original railroads including the UP and CP, builders of the first transcontinental RR. Government bonds and free government land paid for them.

I've always said, local transit systems and Amtrak should monetize their rails where possible by buying land near potential stations or those which will have expanded service before announcing where they will be.
 

Nick Farr

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Omaha/Council Bluffs - Des Moines - Iowa City/Cedar Rapids - Quad Cities - Chicago works fine.

A line connecting areas of 1 million - 700K - 430K - 400K - 9.5 million works.
That would work for a subsidized network where you link together the largest cities in the midwest.

However, it would not be large enough for a Brightline or private plan to work because there's not enough demand for luxury travel in that corridor. People in Iowa are used to driving. The distance to cover between Omaha and Chicago is simply too large. You don't have enough population density or tourist demand anywhere in that corridor like you do in Southern Florida.

My feeling is that Brightline is actually going to crash in the next economic downturn, I simply don't think that regularly scheduled passenger rail travel in the US can be profitable while public transit is still targeted towards the working poor and cars are still relatively cheap to own and run.

So far, all Brightline has done is run commuter service within the 6.2 million person Miami metro area. And it wasn't profitable. Their plan is to connect the 2.6 million person Orlando area to the 6.2 million person Miami area, which might be profitable.
The profit is not in the rail service, the profit is in the real estate development opportunities they own on or near the train stations. Florida real estate is all about location, and they're creating demand for location near those stations which they own. They also went into the project owning the Right of Way for the most population dense sections.

Whether there's enough money in Omaha and Des Moines to make connecting them to Chicago profitable, or whether there's more cultural resistance to rail, or whatever, are open questions
It's not really open question, given how cheap real estate is everywhere outside of Chicagoland. Even the real estate market in Chicago is showing signs of weakness. There are a lot of tourist opportunities there, but not so much in Omaha or Iowa.

There is absolutely an opportunity for a publicly subsidized service connecting the area, but none of that is even remotely profitable.
 

neroden

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I've spent a good bit of time looking at that 2050 map, and I see some opportunity to expand service for sure, but some real geographic/demographic challenges too. Ideally I think you'd want heavy service within regions/corridors/whatever and light links between - and the two probably don't need to be the same trains or through trains since the good schedule for one part of a really long route means a bad one for other parts.
I generally agree. But the Chicago-centered region practically runs into the NEC-centered region, which practically runs into the Piedmont-Atlantic region. So you basically need a continuous network of multiple trains per day from Chicago to the NEC and the NEC to Altanta.

And keeping things reasonably on schedule would be much easier if you're not trying to do that on a 2,000+ mile route. It would take a lot of analysis to figure out, and maybe someone has already done this, but what if you had, just for instance, separate CA to DEN and DEN to CHI trains and frequent N/S connections at DEN?
I would not have a problem with that. The reason Amtrak doesn't do this is to avoid the increased overhead cost of maintaining a maintenance base at Denver.
 

neroden

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My feeling is that Brightline is actually going to crash in the next economic downturn,
You're probably right; I figure its billionaire backer may be able to back it indefinitely, though. Which would be just as true in another location. Billionaire-subsidized service isn't that different from government-subsidized service, and can be even less logical.

It's not really open question, given how cheap real estate is everywhere outside of Chicagoland. Even the real estate market in Chicago is showing signs of weakness.
Fair enough. That will change in the next 20 years, but it'll take time. The smart money is predicting a migration towards the Great Lakes as other areas of the country are on fire or flooding.
 

jis

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is that map suggesting that there still won't be a Sunset East by 2050?
There are no plans anywhere credible for a Sunset East. There are some plans for a daily New Orleans to Florida service that is not Sunset East. But the ConnectUS plan does not include it because the corridor in question does not meet the projected traffic threshold used by ConnectUS.
 

toddinde

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Omaha/Council Bluffs - Des Moines - Iowa City/Cedar Rapids - Quad Cities - Chicago works fine.

A line connecting areas of 1 million - 700K - 430K - 400K - 9.5 million works.

So far, all Brightline has done is run commuter service within the 6.2 million person Miami metro area. And it wasn't profitable. Their plan is to connect the 2.6 million person Orlando area to the 6.2 million person Miami area, which might be profitable.

Whether there's enough money in Omaha and Des Moines to make connecting them to Chicago profitable, or whether there's more cultural resistance to rail, or whatever, are open questions, but there's definitely enough *people*. Gravity model of ridership says Iowa should actually do slightly better.

Are you *really* sure there aren't as many lucrative rail-related redevelopment opportunities in Iowa? I guess right now urban Chicago real estate is still readily available and not that expensive, so not that much. If Chicago demand rebounds like all the coastal cities have, though...
I’m from the Upper Midwest, and developing the old Rock Island corridor is fine with me, but there are some cold, hard facts. Iowa is not supportive, is not congested, and isn’t growing. In fact, without immigration, population will probably decline. The growth, congestion, and pollution is in the south and west. Tucson-Phoenix is absolutely, hands down, the best corridor to develop. Phoenix is the fastest growing city, and Tucson is right up there. The highway linking them has a long, four lane stretch. The existing rail line, with the exception of about 30 miles of the Sunset Route, is underutilized and happens to go to all the right places; growing communities, the two major state universities, the state capital complex, corporate headquarters, major sports teams, public transit connections on either end, etc. This is the biggest rail passenger no-brainer in the country, bar none.
 

neroden

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I’m from the Upper Midwest, and developing the old Rock Island corridor is fine with me, but there are some cold, hard facts. Iowa is not supportive, is not congested, and isn’t growing. In fact, without immigration, population will probably decline. The growth, congestion, and pollution is in the south and west. Tucson-Phoenix is absolutely, hands down, the best corridor to develop. Phoenix is the fastest growing city, and Tucson is right up there. The highway linking them has a long, four lane stretch. The existing rail line, with the exception of about 30 miles of the Sunset Route, is underutilized and happens to go to all the right places; growing communities, the two major state universities, the state capital complex, corporate headquarters, major sports teams, public transit connections on either end, etc. This is the biggest rail passenger no-brainer in the country, bar none.
It should certainly be built. I wouldn't bet on Phoenix expansion continuing for more than 20 years, however. I haven't done the detailed projections on when Phoenix runs out of water, but, uh... it'll be a lot sooner than the local governments would like.
 

Eric S

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Iowa as a whole is a relatively slow growth state, no doubt. But the Des Moines, Iowa City, and Omaha (mostly in Nebraska, but partially in Iowa) metro areas did see significant population growth in the 2010s. In fact, Des Moines is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the Midwest, with a growth rate slightly higher than Seattle, Denver, and Las Vegas.
 

Nick Farr

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It should certainly be built. I wouldn't bet on Phoenix expansion continuing for more than 20 years, however.
I would. Phoenix is leading the nation in wastewater reclamation projects and making sure new development doesn't outstrip the water supply.

As a state, Arizona is far more prepared for the looming water crisis and doing more to replace infrastructure to conserve water than any other state.
 

danasgoodstuff

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I would. Phoenix is leading the nation in wastewater reclamation projects and making sure new development doesn't outstrip the water supply.

As a state, Arizona is far more prepared for the looming water crisis and doing more to replace infrastructure to conserve water than any other state.
And the last time I checked on Google, the Rock Island station & tracks were still there on the edge of downtown Des Moines. I lived there in the '80s and Iowa is its own unique thing.
 

neroden

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I would. Phoenix is leading the nation in wastewater reclamation projects and making sure new development doesn't outstrip the water supply.

As a state, Arizona is far more prepared for the looming water crisis and doing more to replace infrastructure to conserve water than any other state.
I'd like to believe that, but I'll believe it when they rip out the golf courses.
 

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Phoenix is leading the nation in wastewater reclamation projects and making sure new development doesn't outstrip the water supply.
New demand has been outstripping new supply for decades, Arizona is the low man on the water rights totem pole, and Phoenix is jockeying with Las Vegas to see which major American city can run out of water first.

As a state, Arizona is far more prepared for the looming water crisis and doing more to replace infrastructure to conserve water than any other state.
Which sounds great until you realize that no state is well prepared for a long trip through a severe water crisis.
 

Nick Farr

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New demand has been outstripping new supply for decades, Arizona is the low man on the water rights totem pole,
Arizona is also not entirely dependent on the Colorado River for water *or* power, unlike Las Vegas. Their junior rights to the Colorado are primarily why they've been doing more to prepare than Las Vegas.

Phoenix is 70/30 split between river and groundwater, whereas Las Vegas is 90/10 river groundwater.

Las Vegas is also way, way behind in wastewater reclamation, whereas Phoenix has excess capacity.

Eventually, all desert cities are going to have to embrace toilet to tap. At least Phoenix is prepared.
 
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Nick Farr

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But doesn't the groundwater require the lack of endless droughts to get sufficiently replenished?
Groundwater sources get replenished from many different places. They're also harder to cut off entirely, unlike say the Colorado River.
 

jis

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Groundwater sources get replenished from many different places.
Then the question of specific interest would be where does the aquifer delivering ground water to Phoenix get replenished from. One cannot just arm wave away the core issue of aquifer replenishment and pretend that it does not matter.

The users of the Everglades Aquifer tried to get away with doing that for many years. Now they are slowly getting to panic about it.
 
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Nick Farr

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Then the question of specific interest would be where does the aquifer delivering ground water to Phoenix get replenished from.
Mostly rainwater, runoff and reclaimed water. They actually treat wastewater specifically for groundwater replenishment.
 
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Nick Farr

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But of course in prolonged severe drought condition presumably there will be a dearth of rainwater too, no?
The question is not so much the amount of rainfall as much as what's captured over a very long period and what leaves the area (into the ocean).

The primally problem with most drought areas is fresh water bring flushed out into the ocean faster than it gets replenished, usually with snowpack.
 

MARC Rider

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Then the question of specific interest would be where does the aquifer delivering ground water to Phoenix get replenished from. One cannot just arm wave away the core issue of aquifer replenishment and pretend that it does not matter.

The users of the Everglades Aquifer tried to get away with doping that for many years. Now they are slowly getting to panic about it.
I guess I'm supposed to know something about this, as I worked for over 20 years as a ground-water geologist.

Aquifers are, indeed recharged from rainfall, and usually from rain that fall pretty much in the general vicinity of the aquifer. That is usually on the order of a few tens of miles or less. There are regional artesian aquifers that can be recharged from some distance away.

I don't know the details of the hydrogeology of the Phoenix area, but I suspect that the amount of water being recharged into the local aquifers by the scant rainfall in the area is far less than the amount of water being used by the population. Even if they recycle more of the wastewater than they now do, there will always be some losses due to evaporation and such, so if the population increases they will never actually reach a point of self-sustainability in terms of water supply. Out in the desert, by the way, evaporation is much more of an issue than here in the East, which is why open reservoirs and flood irrigation are foolish choices.

Florida is a different setting, but the same principles apply. There's lots of rain, and the limestone aquifers are highly permeable, but there is a limit on how much of the rain actually enters the aquifer. Also, if you pump an aquifer heavily, you change the flow field within the aquifer, and you can induce the salt water that almost surrounds Florida (it is a peninsula) to move towards the pumping centers and thus contaminate the wells with salt water. It can also capture what would normally be streamflow, so you can dry up streams or upset a complex ecology, as the seem to be doing in the Everglades.
 
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