"The US isn't ready for High Speed Rail:"

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WICT106

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The US isn't ready for High Speed Rail" Comment below. I was suspicious, but didn't know, that the Interstate Highway System wasn't complete until 1992 ! So many seem to think that the Eisenhower just woke up one day, and, quickly, in a few years, the highways were built. 35 years ? Over $ 530 billion ? Wow ! Also, that excludes all of the costs of military expenses, sending troops overseas, maintaining the navy to keep the tankers safe, bribing third world dictators to keep the oil flowing, …
 

Tlcooper93

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The US isn't ready for High Speed Rail" Comment below. I was suspicious, but didn't know, that the Interstate Highway System wasn't complete until 1992 ! So many seem to think that the Eisenhower just woke up one day, and, quickly, in a few years, the highways were built. 35 years ? Over $ 530 billion ? Wow ! Also, that excludes all of the costs of military expenses, sending troops overseas, maintaining the navy to keep the tankers safe, bribing third world dictators to keep the oil flowing, …
If only the position and facts in this article were more widely acknowledged by Americans.
I think I now self-identify as a HrSR advocate as opposed to a HSR advocate. America has the potential to have a great rail system. If we can electrify the majority of what we have, and create corridors where travel times can be slashed, I think Amtrak could create an "opinion-changing," system that would move people really well (without losing any aspect of what we currently have).

Only then can we really entertain true HSR.
I'm sure some would disagree with me, so I look forward to other opinions.
 

rickycourtney

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A few years ago I was impressed by the "Solutionary Rail" pitch.

It boils down to this -- electrify America's mainline railroads by combining the infrastructure with electric transmission infrastructure. That presents a natural synergy with efforts to upgrade our national energy grid... and will allow things like wind turbines and solar farms to be built in rural areas and connect them with major cities.

They also wanted to create a property tax exemption over the railroad rights of way and shift a lot of railroad tracks to semi-public ownership. They argued that nobody is collecting property taxes on interstate highways -- which are publicly owned. Since railroad tracks benefit more than just the railroads, they should be treated more like roads, especially if upgraded and allowed to host more passenger trains.


If you're interested -- the full pitch is available a free ebook available HERE with coupon code 4WRD2GTHR.

Living in Fresno, the capital of HSR construction here in the USA -- building the infrastructure is hard, expensive, and politically fraught work. I agree that most places would be better served by upgrading what already exists rather than building clean sheet rights of way.
 

bms

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I would love to see High Speed Rail, but I tend to agree with the author that Amtrak should spend its money on increased frequencies, new service, upgrading tracks, and buying tracks when available.

My main fear with any Amtrak HSR route is that a lot of money would be spent over a long time period, only to see the project killed by a future President, Congress, or even a single conservative governor in one of the States along the route.
 

cirdan

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A few years ago I was impressed by the "Solutionary Rail" pitch.

It boils down to this -- electrify America's mainline railroads by combining the infrastructure with electric transmission infrastructure. That presents a natural synergy with efforts to upgrade our national energy grid... and will allow things like wind turbines and solar farms to be built in rural areas and connect them with major cities.
I'm not sure if I like the idea of combining electric transmission rights of way with railroads. Or maybe it depends on what you mean when you say combine. If you mean they should follow the same general path, then why not. But if you mean carried on the same poles or otherwise positioned directly above the tracks, then no. It's never a good idea to design a system with a single point of failure. If strong winds take down say the transmission line, then not only do you have no electrical interconnection but you also have no railroad. Or if a train derails in an awkward manner and takes down one or several poles, ditto.

Furthermore, maintenance interventions on high voltage lines, such as pulling new cables, would require the ground underneath to be kept free for safety reasons and also to make it easier to work (typically they lay the cables on the ground first and then hoist them up). This would require the railroad to be closed for the duration.

I have a friend who is a retired telephone engineer and he said that back in his day it was an absolute no-go to run telephone cables and power cables in the same conduits or on the same poles. Nowadays I think there seems to be more tolerance for that sort of thing, I guess mainly for cost cutting reasons.

I guess similar safety and functional oriented separation ought to apply to trains.
 
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cirdan

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If only the position and facts in this article were more widely acknowledged by Americans.
I think I now self-identify as a HrSR advocate as opposed to a HSR advocate. America has the potential to have a great rail system. If we can electrify the majority of what we have, and create corridors where travel times can be slashed, I think Amtrak could create an "opinion-changing," system that would move people really well (without losing any aspect of what we currently have).

Only then can we really entertain true HSR.
I'm sure some would disagree with me, so I look forward to other opinions.
I think when you're looking for opinion changing experiences, there is Brightline. There could be the NEC if only Amtrak could get it ironed out and get it to work like clockwork (why not bring in some consultants from Japan for example?). An opinion changing system doesn't need to go everywhere. It just needs word to spread so everybody knows how wonderful it is. And then people will start asking why they can't have one too. This is what happened in Japan, in France and in Spain. Basically the pattern was that an initial line was built. It worked very well. These initial lines worked so well that they became patriotic icons of sorts. You could have asked people what's the best thing in France and maybe among the top 10 things they would have said, the TGV. Ditto for Japan with the Shinkansen. That's what you need to be aiming for. Then once it's running, sit back for a bit. In the above examples, nothing more was done for 10 years or so and then somebody stepped up and said, let's build this into a national system, and cities started fighting one another to be first.

Sometimes the better can be the enemy of the good. Maybe building LA to SF was too ambitious? Would SF to Bakersfield or wherever have been good enough for that proof of concept? Or just taking a few hundred millions and ironing out the doglegs on the NEC so trains really can go at good speeds all the way? And then running a Sinkansen type service with trains every 15 minutes or so, so you don't need to tinker your plans to fit the train schedule.

Sometimes going smarter is better than going bigger.
 

Tlcooper93

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I think when you're looking for opinion changing experiences, there is Brightline. There could be the NEC if only Amtrak could get it ironed out and get it to work like clockwork (why not bring in some consultants from Japan for example?). An opinion changing system doesn't need to go everywhere. It just needs word to spread so everybody knows how wonderful it is. And then people will start asking why they can't have one too. This is what happened in Japan, in France and in Spain. Basically the pattern was that an initial line was built. It worked very well. These initial lines worked so well that they became patriotic icons of sorts. You could have asked people what's the best thing in France and maybe among the top 10 things they would have said, the TGV. Ditto for Japan with the Shinkansen. That's what you need to be aiming for. Then once it's running, sit back for a bit. In the above examples, nothing more was done for 10 years or so and then somebody stepped up and said, let's build this into a national system, and cities started fighting one another to be first.

Sometimes the better can be the enemy of the good. Maybe building LA to SF was too ambitious? Would SF to Bakersfield or wherever have been good enough for that proof of concept? Or just taking a few hundred millions and ironing out the doglegs on the NEC so trains really can go at good speeds all the way? And then running a Sinkansen type service with trains every 15 minutes or so, so you don't need to tinker your plans to fit the train schedule.

Sometimes going smarter is better than going bigger.
It remains to be seen whether Brightline will work well enough to be a proof of concept. Furthermore, Brightline isn’t HSR but actually HrSR.

How often do you travel on the NEC? I would argue that it provides high level service, indicated by ridership. In terms of frequencies, they were starting to iron out more trains just before covid hit, and with the new Acelas, I assume they will make it happen. Asking a bunch of Japanese train admins to come to the US and run our trains is not a smart idea.

Furthermore, trains on the NEC provide service that is comparable to many European routes, including the Frecciarossa Milan to Venice corridor. Widely regarded as the best high speed service in a Europe, the Acela offers relatively identical time to distance ratio on its NYC to DC stretch, traveling ~200 miles in just under 3 hours.

HSR is far more expensive in the US than other places for myriad reasons, usually including unions and regulations.

We need good old RAIL before talking about HSR. A good integrated network needs to have a strong backbone to function properly.

You mentioned ironing out the “doglegs” on the NEC. There has been a lot of discussion recently over NEC improvements. Lots of good points on why major improvement is not going to happen in the short term.
 
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MARC Rider

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It remains to be seen whether Brightline will work well enough to be a proof of concept. Furthermore, Brightline isn’t HSR but actually HrSR.

How often do you travel on the NEC? I would argue that it provides European level service. In terms of frequencies, they were starting to iron out more frequencies just before covid hit, and with the new Acelas, I assume they will make it happen. Asking a bunch of Japanese train admins to come to the US and run our trains is not a smart idea.

Furthermore, trains on the NEC provide service that is comparable to many European routes, including the Frecciarossa Milan to Venice corridor. Widely regarded as the best high speed service in a Europe, the Acela offers relatively identical time to distance ratio on its NYC to DC stretch, traveling ~200 miles in just under 3 hours.

HSR is far more expensive in the US than other places for myriad reasons, usually including unions and regulations.

We need good old RAIL before talking about HSR. A good integrated network needs to have a strong backbone to function properly.
Another aspect of the NEC is that it has integrated connections with extensive commuter rail, rapid transit, and even bus transit at most of its major stations. In addition, it has park and ride stations that provide access to suburban areas where potential passengers might find it inconvenient to use commuter rail to get to the main downtown stations. Thus, it's part of an integrated transportation system that provides an real alternative to driving and, for distances of up to 200 miles or so, flying. That sort of system isn't available in other parts of the US. It's possible in California, as San Francisco, LA, Sacramento, and San Jose have some commuter rail and mass transit, but not so much so for some of the larger towns in between. In the midwest, only Chicago has a real mass transit ecosystem, though Saint Louis and the Twin Cities does have some light rail. Detroit, Indianapolis, and Kansas City don't have much to speak of. On the Rocky Mountain Front Range, Denver is the only place with decent transit. Dallas/Fort Worth has a lot of mass transit, and Houston has light rail, but San Antonio is completely clueless about the value of getting people out of their cars. In all of these places, any kind of rail corridors will need to be developed with a lot of park and ride stations that perhaps could eventually be developed into new city centers as transportation hubs.

As a user of the NEC, I found the pre-covid service to be pretty good. The scheduled times were certainly fast enough. My main complaint is that the fares are too high. It's not clear whether that means they need to offer a steerage class for budget travelers to compete with the Chinatown buses or offer local through trains at budget prices. There are also a few bottlenecks that need to be cleared up, which would probably do more to speed up travel times than spending zillions to increase the top speed in a few places.
 

Tlcooper93

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There are also a few bottlenecks that need to be cleared up, which would probably do more to speed up travel times than spending zillions to increase the top speed in a few places.
So true. Speed has become somewhat of a red herring in the public eye. The Acela travels plenty fast enough for the most part. Addressing other low hanging fruit will do more to speed times up.

The only real offender speed wise is CT.
 
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toddinde

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Higher-speed conventional rail combined with higher frequencies and more reliable schedules is good enough.
Agreed. They’ve learned in France that high speed rail sucks the money out of the system and other services deteriorate. People don’t really know the difference. I know a lady who called the Amtrak Turbos that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee in the ‘70s “bullet trains.” Fast, frequent, reliable service is good enough.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Agreed. They’ve learned in France that high speed rail sucks the money out of the system and other services deteriorate. People don’t really know the difference. I know a lady who called the Amtrak Turbos that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee in the ‘70s “bullet trains.” Fast, frequent, reliable service is good enough.
Maybe you and your lady friend cannot tell the difference but in my experience the first thing working age people see when they research travel on Amtrak is how long it takes to get anywhere. The TGV and Shinkansen projects were not magic bullets that solved all problems but they did help save passenger rail in their respective regions by proving newer rail technology could still serve a useful and appealing purpose in the era of jet aircraft and personal vehicles. Meanwhile the Western Hemisphere has done precisely as you recommend and mostly ignored high speed rail as our passenger rail networks continue to dwindle in size and relevance as they pass into obscurity and obsolescence.
 

cirdan

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Agreed. They’ve learned in France that high speed rail sucks the money out of the system and other services deteriorate. People don’t really know the difference. I know a lady who called the Amtrak Turbos that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee in the ‘70s “bullet trains.” Fast, frequent, reliable service is good enough.
The problem in France in my opinion is that the success of the TGV ran away with itself .

the initial line was solidly planned and implemented and also represented a sensible cost to utility ratio.

when it’s success became apparent and even people who had previously opposed it turned around and advocated it, things started to go wrong .

Mayors of towns and populists started promising the blue sky just to get elected and then they were under pressure to keep those promises . So a lot of lines got built that were planned on the back of political convenience rather than solid analysis . And once the snowball was rolling it was difficult to stop and some of the proposals got increasingly silly

But this does not in any way detract from the fact that the principle at heart is a sound one .

in the 1990s in Britain it was decided that rather than build a high speed line from London up the west coast , which was Britain’s busiest line , they would upgrade and improve the old one . There followed years of misery for passengers as services were suspended to provide engineering access . All the safety rules on working on an operating railroad led to high costs and slow progress . At the end the project had to be scaled back, and despite the massive cost overrun not all promised benefits and improvements could be delivered .

Now 20 years later they have decided to build a high speed line anyway . They could have saved a lot of money and pain going there straight away .
 

Tlcooper93

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Maybe you and your lady friend cannot tell the difference but in my experience the first thing working age people see when they research travel on Amtrak is how long it takes to get anywhere. The TGV and Shinkansen projects were not magic bullets that solved all problems but they did help save passenger rail in their respective regions by proving newer rail technology could still serve a useful and appealing purpose in the era of jet aircraft and personal vehicles. Meanwhile the Western Hemisphere has done precisely as you recommend and mostly ignored high speed rail as our passenger rail networks continue to dwindle in size and relevance as they pass into obscurity and obsolescence.
This topic is more complex than speed vs. frequency.
I do think advocating for speed in America should be secondary to advocating for increased, on-time, affordable and reliable service. That said, increasing speeds could prove to be important in the future, once we get the ball rolling on salvaging what left of the passenger rail system there is. I could be wrong, but I think if we figure out plain old rail first, we will get higher ridership

Comparing America to other nations isn't very helpful. Japan, France, Spain, and many similar countries had their infrastructure networks destroyed due to war (and those who didn't like the UK really struggled to update their rail systems). The silver lining was rebuilding their networks with the newest technology. We were never forced to re-think rail for the 20/21st century like other countries were. It is easier to build afresh rather than tear down and rebuild, or update. Just look at the interstates.
 

cirdan

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This topic is more complex than speed vs. frequency.
I do think advocating for speed in America should be secondary to advocating for increased, on-time, affordable and reliable service. That said, increasing speeds could prove to be important in the future, once we get the ball rolling on salvaging what left of the passenger rail system there is. I could be wrong, but I think if we figure out plain old rail first, we will get higher ridership

Comparing America to other nations isn't very helpful. Japan, France, Spain, and many similar countries had their infrastructure networks destroyed due to war (and those who didn't like the UK really struggled to update their rail systems). The silver lining was rebuilding their networks with the newest technology. We were never forced to re-think rail for the 20/21st century like other countries were. It is easier to build afresh rather than tear down and rebuild, or update. Just look at the interstates.
I’m not sure it’s that simple . The German rail network as it was in the 1980s before the first high speed line was built was very much the same topologically as the pre war system . After the war damaged stations and rail installations were pretty much rebuilt in the previous locations and pre war service patterns were resumed. Well into the 1960s and 1970s even it was quite normal to encounter pre war locomotives and cars in everyday use . There was modernization of course , especially electrification and higher speeds and a gradual replacement with modern equipment . But the core network was the same as has been built in the 19th century .
 

jis

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Comparing America to other nations isn't very helpful. Japan, France, Spain, and many similar countries had their infrastructure networks destroyed due to war (and those who didn't like the UK really struggled to update their rail systems). The silver lining was rebuilding their networks with the newest technology. We were never forced to re-think rail for the 20/21st century like other countries were. It is easier to build afresh rather than tear down and rebuild, or update. Just look at the interstates.
This is a favorite American mythology repeated ad infinitum while the facts are that the Classic rail networks in the war ravaged countries were substantially restored completely before any of them embarked on their high speed rail projects. Yes they were researching HSR while they restored their pre-existing rail networks, but the actual construction and deployment of the HSR network came later, and very few of them actually were reconstruction of or in lieu of restoration of an existing route. Even today most of the classic network exists and is operated to more or less extent depending on policies developed later while the HSR network was projected upon the classic network as an add on. They did not tear down and rebuild. They rebuilt after the war and then built the HSR in addition to the original network.

It is convenient in the US to provide this narrative as an excuse for policy neglect and progressive problems with a vision of exclusive road based ground transportation in the U with no real solution in site while staying constrained by that vision..

The road network was equally destroyed in the war in Europe and yet countries like Germany now also have arguably a better high speed road network than the US. So this endl3ss excuse mongering is not limited to railroads. The war has been over now for over 75 years. Time to move on.
 
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Tlcooper93

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This is a favorite American mythology repeated ad infinitum while the facts are that the Classic rail networks in the war ravaged countries were substantially restored completely before any of them embarked on their high speed rail projects. Yes they were researching HSR while they restored their pre-existing rail networks, but the actual construction and deployment of the HSR network came later, and very few of them actually were reconstruction of or in lieu of restoration of an existing route. Even today most of the classic network exists and is operated to more or less extent depending on policies developed later while the HSR network was projected upon the classic network as an add on. They did not tear down and rebuild. They rebuilt after the war and then built the HSR in addition to the original network.

It is convenient in the US to provide this narrative as an excuse for policy neglect and failure of a vcision of exclusive road based ground transportation in the US.

The road network was equally destroyed in the war in Europe and yet countries like Germany now also have arguably a better high speed road network than the US. So this endl3ss excuse mongering is not limited to railroads. The war has been over now for over 75 years. Time to move on.
I stand corrected twice.
 

jis

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I stand corrected twice.
I am sure you are not at fault about not knowing the history of recosntruction in Europe and Japan. It is not something that most Americans know much about. Unlike you though, many believe that because Americans won the war Americans know the history of European reconstruction much better than anyone else, and get downright hostile when the actual history is recited to them. There are odd ones that even believe that everything including the HSR was built by American through the Marshall Plan! All sorts of fun conversations over many beers :D
 

Ziv

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I wonder how much CAHSR would have saved by going with a top speed commensurate with a 3 hour trip from San Fransisco to downtown LA instead of 2:40. That would probably be a requirement of 200 mph vs the 220 mph max speed probably needed to do 2:40. But I have to admit that I have seen so many different stated probable max speeds for CAHSR that I am not sure if it was 250 mph at one point, is supposed to be 220 mph now or might be 200 mph soon. Californias problems aren't limited to the issues related to speed, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot in a plethora of non-speed related ways as well.
But it definitely seems like 200 mph max speed would give you a lot more choices for rolling stock.
Agreed. They’ve learned in France that high speed rail sucks the money out of the system and other services deteriorate. People don’t really know the difference. I know a lady who called the Amtrak Turbos that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee in the ‘70s “bullet trains.” Fast, frequent, reliable service is good enough.
 

Tlcooper93

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I am sure you are not at fault about not knowing the history of recosntruction in Europe and Japan. It is not something that most Americans know much about. Unlike you though, many believe that because Americans won the war Americans know the history of European reconstruction much better than anyone else, and get downright hostile when the actual history is recited to them. There are odd ones that even believe that everything including the HSR was built by American through the Marshall Plan! All sorts of fun conversations over many beers :D
Indeed, we all have our areas of expertise, and areas where we lack expertise.
I suppose it is presumptious of me to believe every article I read regarding why America doesn't have HSR.

Well, maybe. But your fundamental point - that it isn’t “one size fits all” - is fair.
Thanks for pointing that out.
 
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cirdan

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This is a favorite American mythology repeated ad infinitum while the facts are that the Classic rail networks in the war ravaged countries were substantially restored completely before any of them embarked on their high speed rail projects. Yes they were researching HSR while they restored their pre-existing rail networks
I don't even think the immediate post WW2 period had any significant effect on development of HSR. The Japanese were already planning a new railroad aligned for higher speeds before the war and had even commenced construction. Parts of this aborted construction effort were re-used by the first Shinkansen. The Germans had developed diesel railcars that although they wouldn't count as HSR by today's standards, were definitely HrSR and contributed to the understanding of the dynamics of high speed, both in terms of train and of track. AFAIK, the Germans were also the first to do serious and scientifically minded studies on train aerodynamics. The post-war efforts could basically build on this. So basically I think it is fair to say that in both countries efforts picked up more or less where they had left off and that even without a war or its aftermath, HSR would have emerged.

, but the actual construction and deployment of the HSR network came later, and very few of them actually were reconstruction of or in lieu of restoration of an existing route. Even today most of the classic network exists and is operated to more or less extent depending on policies developed later while the HSR network was projected upon the classic network as an add on. They did not tear down and rebuild. They rebuilt after the war and then built the HSR in addition to the original network.
True.

Neither Germany nor Japan used HSR to replace classical routes and in fact the classical network is still operating in parallel. You can for example travel between Franfurt and Cologne on the super fancy high-speed route, but there are still intercity trains even following the classical and scenic sinuous route that follows the Rhine valley and passes by the Loreleley.

I think the only country where HSR has seriously cannibalized the classical network is Spain, where there are now routes that see only sporadic freight. But many other routes still have some minimal passenger train coverage. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with WW2.
 
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JontyMort

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I think the only country where HSR has seriously cannibalized the classical network is Spain, where there are now routes that see only sporadic freight. But many other routes still have some minimal passenger train coverage. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with WW2.
In terms of cannibalisation Spain is a special case, because the High Speed Lines have been built on the standard gauge with little (if any) “backwards compatibility” (I’m not sure if any of the AVEs has gauge change facilities, but it would be an inconvenience at best). On the one hand, that must have made things more difficult to plan, but conversely it provided an impetus to “get on with it” - which they certainly have.
 

jis

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AVE train sets are not multi gauge, but there are a large number of other train sets that are gauge changing, which they can do at slow speed but without stopping, that operate partly on the high speed standard gauge lines at upto 250kph and partly on upgraded Spanish gauge lines. A quick summary can be found in the Wikipedia article on AVE..

 
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