Interesting Article Opposing High Speed Rail

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Willbridge

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I see enough to know that I won't waste my time reading anything from the CATO Institute.
One of the founders of the Cato Institute provided access for the money from his family share of the sale of Pacific Trailways to Greyhound. His father hated Amtrak so much that his ticket agents were instructed to insert attack ads in ticket envelopes. He was the key person killing our 1975 proposal for what is now the Oregon portion of the Cascades (including the bus portions).

To be fair, I once searched for any papers that Cato might have sponsored on the subject of highway user cost responsibility. Real libertarians have interesting ideas about highway finance. I found one in the midst of a steady flow of anti-rail and anti-transit papers.

This paper is by experienced data-twister Randall O'Toole, who always turns up when the opportunity presents itself. Much of what he writes, going back to his days fighting New Urbanist planners in Oak Grove, Oregon, misdirects readers not familiar with his specific example projects.

Perhaps the biggest thing that he avoids is that some of the state projects that he criticizes for benefiting the private railroads were actually intended to benefit the private railroads' freight operations AND public passenger services -- to the benefit of the states that they serve.

In this paper he does advocate for a better system of charging for the use of highways but it's deep in the article. The lobbies that rely on his output for criticism of rail projects are the same people who fight his preferred method/s of highway financing.

He is the author of "Silver Age" rail nostalgia on a separate website. Appropriately, he likes Ayn Rand's favorite, James Hill's Great Northern Railway.

For an analysis of O'Toole's recent return to attacking high-speed rail by Alon Levy, the most knowledgeable interpreter of international comparisons:

Randal O’Toole Gets High-Speed Rail Wrong | Pedestrian Observations
 

sttom

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This paper is by experienced data-twister Randall O'Toole, who always turns up when the opportunity presents itself. Much of what he writes, going back to his days fighting New Urbanist planners in Oak Grove, Oregon, misdirects readers not familiar with his specific example
I had to watch an interview with him while I was in college and the subject was public transportation. He heaped praise on Megabus because "it's private" but Amtrak steals your freedoms because it's public. That was when I learned he and most other anti rail people are not serious people. At best they exist to do a song and dance for people to get their beliefs confirmed by someone in a suit or to dupe less informed people into thinking roads are good and essentially free with no downsides. And transit always costs 1000 times its cost estimates and will lure in poor people to steal your TVs.
 

Willbridge

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I had to watch an interview with him while I was in college and the subject was public transportation. He heaped praise on Megabus because "it's private" but Amtrak steals your freedoms because it's public. That was when I learned he and most other anti rail people are not serious people. At best they exist to do a song and dance for people to get their beliefs confirmed by someone in a suit or to dupe less informed people into thinking roads are good and essentially free with no downsides. And transit always costs 1000 times its cost estimates and will lure in poor people to steal your TVs.
The tv thefts go back to a telephone recorded message (the Liberty Lobby?) opposing the original MARTA rail transit project. O'Toole avoids that sort of thing; someone else is always willing to take the low road.

And speaking of the olden days, Alon Levy points out that O'Toole uses highway construction costs from the 1960's (adjusted for inflation but not for modern highway costs). I was alarmed by the haphazard way that the Interstates were built through Portland so I took these and other photos. Ahh, the good old days with no environmental considerations, no ADA, no relocation assistance for renters, etc.

Gravel landscaping by Kiewit.

morr013-1963.jpg

Safer than using the three ped underpasses to be navigated safely.

Morr006.jpg

The underpasses reeked of urine.

Morr004.jpg

The ADA unheard of.

Morr002.jpg

In the 1960's I walked every Portland bridge except for the SP&S Willbridge and the newer the bridge was the less suited it was for pedestrians. Finally, the Marquam Bridge (I-5) was built with no provision for pedestrians.

---_0292.jpg
 
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neroden

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O'Toole is, as others have said, a notoriously dishonest anti-passenger rail hack for hire. There's another one: Wendell Cox. There's a third one but I've forgotten his name since he seems to have stopped the anti-rail hack career and gone on to something else. Literally, it's always those three.
 

Willbridge

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Didn’t know about the bias and credibility issues.
Well, we can learn from anything but it does help to know some of the background. The internet is weird that way in that sometimes it's easy to figure where someone is coming from and sometimes it tosses up gibberish.
 
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Exvalley

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There is definitely some confirmation bias on this forum. People were happy to read a Greenpeace article in support of rail, but refuse to read a Cato Institute article opposed to it. Both organizations are unabashedly biased.

I want to know what the opposition is saying. It helps my advocacy when I can anticipate their objections.
 

sttom

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There is definitely some confirmation bias on this forum. People were happy to read a Greenpeace article in support of rail, but refuse to read a Cato Institute article opposed to it. Both organizations are unabashedly biased.

I want to know what the opposition is saying. It helps my advocacy when I can anticipate their objections.
It's one thing to read an article that actually supports it's arguments with verifiable data. And it's not hard to find studies comparing a mostly electric rail system vs air travels emissions. Thinking Greyhound or Megabus is better than Amtrak almost entirely because it's privately owned is an ideological point that has at best little evidence of being better than a publicly run system and at worst piles of evidence to the contrary. On the contrary to the anti rail people, there is plenty of evidence to show that transit improvements and the cost of operations are significantly cheaper than road alternatives, generate more overall economic activity and a well built rail project deals with less traffic. People like O'Toole need to result to falsehoods to convince others to not like rail since most people have a built in sympathy for trains and the evidence is dramatically on the side of rail over highways even when railroads get some public money.
 

Exvalley

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It's one thing to read an article that actually supports it's arguments with verifiable data.
The Cato Institute paper has 139 footnotes with citations.

I don't agree with their conclusions, but you can't say that the paper is merely an opinion piece that is devoid of evidence.

Greenpeace advocates for what is best for the environment - some of their views make a lot of sense and others are considered to be radical by many people. Greenpeace sees government as the vehicle to institute these policies - regardless of the economic and practical realities. The Cato Institute lies at the other end of the spectrum. They believe in the free market rather than government. As with most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

I want to see an expanded rail network as much as anyone else. But the reality is that we need a cultural change in this country. The Cato Institute makes some very good points about our inability to make improvements just along the Northeast Corridor. If we are going to spend billions of dollars on rail, I want to know that we are committed to maintaining that system and to building infrastructure to enhance the system. With our two party system, there is reason to be concerned about that.
 
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jis

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Tlcooper93

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Randal O'Toole is a very interesting person who is so ideologically opposed to rail that it almost seems as though someone is paying him to be so.

To actually believe that every metro system aside from NYC should be shut down (stated in some of his other articles) because of cars being endlessly accessable is a fable at best. He is a wealthy white individual who cannot see past his own privilege of living outside of the city in a small-town, upscale neighborhood with a, likely, high end car (or two) to suit his needs. Bus Rapid Transit has its uses, but simply cannot deliver the numbers that subways can.

The fact that he believes that most people have the means to live like him makes me scoff at his ignorance and idiocy, and essentially voids his argument. Boston seeing the MBTA shut down (without a replacement) would be catastrophic at best.

It's one thing to oppose HSR in the US (on some level, I oppose it as well). This paper has some good points on why it may not work in the US. Its another thing to have a fanatical devotion to cars, and a religious crusade against trains.
 
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saxman

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He even went on to talk about Japan's failure of the Shinkansen. Literally even anti-transit article that gets circulated is by him and him alone, (along with maybe Cox). I haven't seen anything from Cox in quite a long time though. Whats even more bizarre is that he calls himself a rail fan.
 

John from RI

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I have read articles before by Randall O'Toole opposing new high speed rail systems. I have never heard of anyone in the Biden Administration making such a proposal. Does anyone know of one?
What I have heard of is replacing the catenary between New Haven and Washington. The present one was built in the 1930's and is worn out. That would enable increased speed for the Acela on the existing rail line. The state of California is building a new rail line but that has nothing to do with the Federal Government. Finally, Joe Biden does want to extend service on existing rail lines but that again is not building a new high speed rail line.
I have no idea of what Randall O'Toole is writing about.
 

Cal

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I am more curious to learn what your thoughts are on it. Since afterall your the one who took the time to read it. 😏
Well I am much less knowledgeable than most on this forum. I thought they made some decent points, especially about the NEC backlog and the rising costs of the California High Speed Rail project. On their other points, such as about the economic growth and costs, I was surprised. And I was definitely questioning the accuracy of some of their statements by halfway through. And I will say that them talking about China's highway miles compared to their railway miles was an interesting surprise. 4

I was also curios about the section where he was talking about the improvements that were made to various corridors with money given to them years ago. I don't have a comment, as I'm unsure of the accuracy of it.
 

George Harris

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Generally O'Toole and Cox I ignore. Even when they have some of their facts right their conclusions tend to be nonsense.
He even went on to talk about Japan's failure of the Shinkansen.
Do WHAT?? This is utter nonsense. Their only failures are being near overwhelmed with passengers and trying, and in a lot of locations succeeding, running faster on parts of the system than the original design anticipated. Maybe he should visit the place and ride around some.

DC without WMATA? Equally silly. WMATA has a lot of problems, most of their own making, but the area without the system would be far more traffic congested. I recall when I was working there some of the more "upper crust" neighborhoods even opposed bus service into their areas.

There are many other O'Toole conclusions that are also equally disconnected from reality.

When bringing up the issue of the increasing cost of the CAHSR, it is conveniently forgotten that this is endemic to all public works in California. For example, the replacement East Bay portion of the Bay Bridge cost several times the original estimate. I have heard 20 times, but do not know more precisely. To go even further, that it was replaced at all instead of repaired was entirely political. The existing bridge probably could have been repaired and upgraded as needed for less than one percent of the cost of the replacement. Is the new equivalent to the old? Pretty close. The number of lanes is the same, I think there were some improvements in alignment geometry and shoulders. A bike lane was added, but it only gets you to the mid bay island, not all the way across.
 

sttom

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I remember the last time BART was shut down when they went on strike. The whole Bay Area was backed up by 6am. Shutting down our public transit systems would be beyond stupid.
 

Willbridge

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The Cato Institute paper has 139 footnotes with citations.

I don't agree with their conclusions, but you can't say that the paper is merely an opinion piece that is devoid of evidence.

Greenpeace advocates for what is best for the environment - some of their views make a lot of sense and others are considered to be radical by many people. Greenpeace sees government as the vehicle to institute these policies - regardless of the economic and practical realities. The Cato Institute lies at the other end of the spectrum. They believe in the free market rather than government. As with most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

I want to see an expanded rail network as much as anyone else. But the reality is that we need a cultural change in this country. The Cato Institute makes some very good points about our inability to make improvements just along the Northeast Corridor. If we are going to spend billions of dollars on rail, I want to know that we are committed to maintaining that system and to building infrastructure to enhance the system. With our two party system, there is reason to be concerned about that.
I recommend reading Alon Levy's work regarding transit infrastructure costs. In the blog post that I linked above he critiques O'Toole's paper. Some of the information cited was misused. Unrelated to transit or railways I've run across that problem with others in my history research.

The reason that I posted the Greenpeace story link is the significance of a non-transportation group taking an interest. In the past, intercity rail travel has often been ignored by environmental groups.

Here's Alon's critique of O'Toole's paper again:
Randal O’Toole Gets High-Speed Rail Wrong | Pedestrian Observations
 

Tlcooper93

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I recommend reading Alon Levy's work regarding transit infrastructure costs. In the blog post that I linked above he critiques O'Toole's paper. Some of the information cited was misused. Unrelated to transit or railways I've run across that problem with others in my history research.

The reason that I posted the Greenpeace story link is the significance of a non-transportation group taking an interest. In the past, intercity rail travel has often been ignored by environmental groups.

Here's Alon's critique of O'Toole's paper again:
Randal O’Toole Gets High-Speed Rail Wrong | Pedestrian Observations
Thanks for this link.
This is such a helpful article, especially given it comes from someone as regarded and thorough as Alan Levy. Just sent this article to many friends and family who are O’toole fans.
 

west point

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What I have heard of is replacing the catenary between New Haven and Washington. The present one was built in the 1930's and is worn out. That would enable increased speed for the Acela on the existing rail line.
Only partially true.
1. First MNRR. It has almost completed or maybe finished installing Constant tension CAT New Rochelle - New haven. That will not enable higher speeds. MNRR has not shown interest to increase MAX authorized speed that would only benefit Amtrak and Acela. Plus you have the problem of track centers too close for higher speeds. Then the problem of bridge replacements along the MNRR route. Walk bridge is the first example that will not be complete for several years . The work causes for only 3 track choke points and will also cause 2 track impediments for several months at a time. Then the other movable bridges will need replacement. Probably all bridges will not be complete before 2050 ? Now if infrastructure funds can be found to do all the bridges at once ??

2. Next New Rochelle -NYP. Amtrak has installed 12.5 Kv 60 Hz constant tension cat New Rochelle - Gate. However the Pelham bridge is needing replacement to allow 100 MPH operation over that full segment. The MNRR proposal for service over Hell Gate will have effect on speeds until complete. When the Harold separation project is finished then consistent timing there will be enabled.

3. Now the PRR style is worn but has had renewal in places. Mainly the vertical support poles were buried in dirt and are rusting out at ground level. The design is obsolete and that is a big problem. PRR suspended support cables from the verticals on each side of all tracks. All tracks ( being 2,3,4 ,5,6 ) had the cat suspended from that support wire. That often causes more than one track's cat to have its cat pulled down when just one track had cat snagged. For constant tension to fix this a cross beam across all tracks is installed to allow each track's cat wire to be separately hung. But there is a problem. PRR had vertical support columns installed at about 180 feet apart. For constant tension to work properly at the 160 MPH speeds the vertical poles need to be approximately no farther than 120 feet apart. Now PRR curve verticals were often at shorter distances You can imagine the difficulty to install new verticals and horizontals over live wires and tracks.

Amtrak at present is only planning to install constant tension on higher speed tracks,

Note the MNRR new Haven line conversion already had horizontal beams that allowed for separation of each track's cat. But look how long MNRR has taken to convert to constant tension!....
 

George Harris

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To add to what West Point said: There is not much to be gained in speed northeast of New York, regardless of what you do to the catenary due to the curves of the line. Higher speed for short distances is near meaningless. Calculate the difference in time in running 5 miles at 125 mph versus 90 mph, then remember that acceleration and braking near the ends of the higher speed sections eats up a lot of distance. Hence, raising maximum speeds northeast of New York is more for bragging rights than anything else. As to track centers: I have seen plans of some of these areas on the ex-NH&H and had no idea anyone in the US ever built tracks that close together. 13'-0" is about as close together as you will find tracks anywhere outside the northeast.

As to the Pennsy side: I think you can make constant tension work with 180 feet support spacing. In fact, somebody may be able to prove me wrong, but I would have thought you could get away with wider support spacing on constant tension systems. Crossbeams replacing cross track support wires, yes, that should be done post-haste. At least much of the Pennsy is straight enough that increasing speed limits would have some real value, but getting rid of the slow spots first gains more.
 
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