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Time to Change the Paradigm?

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toddinde

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You have sent a strong message, and in commonality we both support a vibrant passenger system; I salute you!

But your point of view hasn't changed my perspective, and the thoughts of many others. If Amtrak were privatized it would be more more efficient. Here's what others are saying...





The premises are all false. Amtrak is not a failure. Our passenger rail system is far superior to many similar countries including Canada, Mexico, Australia and Argentina to name a few. Amtrak runs a national passenger railroad for what amounts to a rounding error in the federal budget. Pre-pandemic, it almost covered its costs. It generates a huge economic impact nationwide, particularly in the rural communities it serves. Britain privatized their rail system with a franchise system that seems to be what you’re suggesting. It’s been an abject failure, and British Rail is likely to be renationalized in the coming years. There is nothing wrong with Amtrak that good management and a supportive administration can’t fix. Those that consider Amtrak a failure judge it against unrealistic or imaginary visions. Fund Amtrak appropriately, get good management, and quit nit picking it.
 

west point

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Messages
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The premises are all false. Amtrak is not a failure. Our passenger rail system is far superior to many similar countries including Canada, Mexico, Australia and Argentina to name a few. Amtrak runs a national passenger railroad for what amounts to a rounding error in the federal budget.
Actually you are correct in your first sentenance. Amtrak is a success in that with the exception of Japan and China it has a higher car miles per day than any of the systems we like to admire. Even the HSR trains in western Europe have a much lower mileage per day than Amtrak. Most of the LD trains in the east run 24 = 40 hours before ending thei trips and then turn back in about 14 -20 hours back. The western LD trains are even more used as their routes are up to 60 hours long before reversing.. The last I read Amtrak has about 85 - 90% of cars ready for service. Of course some are not in the best repair for dispatch.

VIA cannot keep more than about 40% of cars running except during some peak times. Granted the CN delay are terrible but VIA did have 3 RTs a week for the Canadian before cutting back to 2 per week. VIA maintenance is very good and they keep what is assigned running especially their locos. But with all their cars trains are often sold out and VIA will add cars unlike Amtrak to fill out trains when it can. But reliable locos in the north country are a must.
 

ehbowen

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Houston, Texas
The trains might have interline agreements, but you might need to change stations. Back 70 years or so, I think Chicago had like 7 different train stations. (Some only blocks apart, some had 2-3 railroads but if you had to switch from say Santa Fe to NYC, you may need to go to a different station across town!)
Dear God, if only that was the worst problem we faced today....
 

jis

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For those who are all excited about Brightline, they discontinued service at the first opportunity presented by COVID and are unlikely to restart service until well into next year. That is always a hazard of privately operated service that is not regulated in any way and is basically on an as and when we can and feel like it basis. That would be an inappropriate model for something like Amtrak.

They have withdrawn their original PTC application. They don't have any PTC application pending with the FRA while they figure out how to install I-EYMS instead of their one off eATC. Of course no passenger train will run until said new system is installed and certified. Can you imagine Amtrak pulling such a stunt and getting away with it?
 
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toddinde

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Apr 23, 2015
Messages
132
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Sierra Vista, AZ
Because Amtrak is poorly funded and has poor management... it is a failure; and for reasons that are way beyond nitpicking.
But it’s not a failure for the reasons I cited. The problem is that some feel like if you get rid of Amtrak, the 20th Century Limited and Super Chief will magically appear. That’s disordered thinking at its worst.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
264
Location
Michigan
The premises are all false. Amtrak is not a failure. Our passenger rail system is far superior to many similar countries including Canada, Mexico, Australia and Argentina to name a few. Amtrak runs a national passenger railroad for what amounts to a rounding error in the federal budget.
All of these things. Amtrak was designed to fail and the fact that it has not is incredible.

Another thing about High Speed rail: EVERY SINGLE HIGH SPEED RAIL NETWORK IN THE WORLD (except the Acela) WAS:

* Built from the rail ballast up specifically for high speed rail (including building bridges or tunnels to avoid grade crossings)
* Heavily subsidized by the government
* Built between cities that were about 300 miles apart, with major metropolitan areas to be served in between. (Note: China has diverged slightly from this as of late, but the other two points hold.)

High Speed Rail under these conditions is possible, but not without heavy support from the government.
 

Nick Farr

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Messages
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Michigan
To respond to the OP:

Can we try some new ideas to restructure Amtrak? Is there some way to radically change the paradigm?
Yes. Consider Amtrak as a public service not a for-profit entity, as was previously mentioned.

Force freight railroads to prioritize passenger traffic. Subsidize building sidings and rail network improvements the way that the US Government subsidizes new freeways.

Fund improvements to the rail lines themselves, including building new electrified passenger service railways like they did in Europe after WWII.

How about a new and improved "Material Handling" concept? Create a high-speed express freight network and combine that train with an Amtrak train. Yes a modern "Mixed Train".
The market for high speed express freight is simply not that large if it exists at all. It could not compete with trucking (logistical flexibility) or air freight (speed). There are almost no high speed express freight rail services in the world that are not simply extensions of the postal service.

The other thing is high speed rail is designed to get humans from one urban core to another. Freight rail always operates from major ports to major ports and industrial centers, most of which are located far outside of major urban cores.

The one thing rail freight does really well is getting big, bulky things across large distances at an incredibly low cost.

How many "Super Priority" containers would be needed to operate such a train say between Los Angeles and Chicago?
This is a great example: There is no freight I can think of between Los Angeles and Chicago that is time sensitive enough to warrant a high speed rail network where existing trucking or air freight doesn't already serve sufficiently well. There's a reason the market is largely Overnight or 2-Day.

Chicago and Los Angeles are 2,000 miles apart. Unless you count Ürümqi and a Chinese coastal city, there's no other city pair with a high speed rail connection anywhere in the world of that distance--and even then, none of them are on the same line.

There's really no other country on earth with multiple major population centers along two different coasts that are 2,000 miles apart.

China's population is concentrated along its coast--but even it had the sense to build a high speed dedicated passenger rail network linking all of its cities. While the US doesn't have the population density of China, it could easily build one or two high speed passenger rail lines from Coast to Coast with the idea being to link up larger population centers and boost regional rail transit networks.

There are also a lot of other population centers that would benefit from a high speed Auto Train service--but you won't get these developed until you subsidize the rails themselves like the government subsidizes the roads.
 

Nick Farr

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But it’s not a failure for the reasons I cited. The problem is that some feel like if you get rid of Amtrak, the 20th Century Limited and Super Chief will magically appear. That’s disordered thinking at its worst.
I think something like this would be possible if the rails were subsidized, freight networks were mandated to prioritize passenger traffic OR we simply built a new dedicated passenger rail network from the ground up.
 

20th Century Rider

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But it’s not a failure for the reasons I cited. The problem is that some feel like if you get rid of Amtrak, the 20th Century Limited and Super Chief will magically appear. That’s disordered thinking at its worst.
Nobody is expecting the 'golden era of rail travel' to reappear but we all want to see updating and upgrading similar to successful rail systems found in most other countries. I do agree with Nick Farr's reply to your same statement but would add that it's unfair for the government to expect Amtrak, a government transit agency... to support itself and make a profit. I would like to see government subsidy [our taxes] for Amtrak because it is a service for the people of this country.
 

MisterUptempo

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Chicago, IL
While the US doesn't have the population density of China, it could easily build one or two high speed passenger rail lines from Coast to Coast with the idea being to link up larger population centers and boost regional rail transit networks.
That, I believe, is the key to the whole thing. Instead of envisioning purpose-built, high-speed long distance trains, we need to concentrate on building strong regional rail networks. Many of the networks will then naturally connect to each other to permit long-distance travel if a need or desire is there.

The FRA has already been working with state DOTs for years developing regional rail plans. In the Midwest plan, the network stretches from Kansas City and Omaha to the West (possibly further if the Dakotas are included), to Pittsburgh and Buffalo to the East, and St. Louis, Memphis, and Nashville to the South. All of those would serve as gateway cities to other regional rail networks. There would be a need to bridge networks that are not immediately adjacent and where the population is sparse, like the Midwest network to the Front Range network (Omaha/KC to Denver).
 

20th Century Rider

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That, I believe, is the key to the whole thing. Instead of envisioning purpose-built, high-speed long distance trains, we need to concentrate on building strong regional rail networks. Many of the networks will then naturally connect to each other to permit long-distance travel if a need or desire is there.

The FRA has already been working with state DOTs for years developing regional rail plans. In the Midwest plan, the network stretches from Kansas City and Omaha to the West (possibly further if the Dakotas are included), to Pittsburgh and Buffalo to the East, and St. Louis, Memphis, and Nashville to the South. All of those would serve as gateway cities to other regional rail networks. There would be a need to bridge networks that are not immediately adjacent and where the population is sparse, like the Midwest network to the Front Range network (Omaha/KC to Denver).
Yep... and that's what many of us have been saying... as we see natural resources become depleted; urban centers sprawling, and highways forever being more and more clogged with traffic! Passenger rail development with updated technology is inevitable because the need keeps growing for an environmentally compatible solution.

It would be nice to see the government [we own it, we pay for it, and it is supposed to serve us] bring a massive effort to updating and expanding Amtrak... with local governments cooperating with regional and city systems... all interconnected. It's called creating a strong national infrastructure. And why not! 🤠
 

jiml

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Toronto area
All of these things. Amtrak was designed to fail and the fact that it has not is incredible.

Another thing about High Speed rail: EVERY SINGLE HIGH SPEED RAIL NETWORK IN THE WORLD (except the Acela) WAS:

* Built from the rail ballast up specifically for high speed rail (including building bridges or tunnels to avoid grade crossings)
* Heavily subsidized by the government
* Built between cities that were about 300 miles apart, with major metropolitan areas to be served in between. (Note: China has diverged slightly from this as of late, but the other two points hold.)

High Speed Rail under these conditions is possible, but not without heavy support from the government.
You're not wrong in your three points, but I think it is important to differentiate between true High-speed Rail and higher-speed Rail. Acela is the latter - trains capable of higher speeds without the supporting infrastructure being purpose-built. A lot of the British rail network is this way and even some DB ICE trains travel on conventional roadbeds, such as those that follow the banks of the Rhine and share track with conventional trains and freight. Comparisons with France's TGV network, Japan's high-speed trains and recent construction in Asia are somewhat "apples to oranges". In addition to your points, Amtrak, VIA and large segments of the UK are faced with a similar problem in that there is sometimes no place to put new tracks without shutting down what is there during construction. Acquiring the land alone in urban environments would add exponentially to the cost.
 

Nick Farr

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You're not wrong in your three points, but I think it is important to differentiate between true High-speed Rail and higher-speed Rail.
This is an important distinction. As opposed to when the Acela entered service, I think there is a big opportunity to take advantage of the lull in commercial and industrial real estate and realign the worst curves in the DC-NYC-Boston corridor. Now that COVID is here and service levels are reduced, it would make sense to go ahead and start on a major project like this. I know Bloomberg was a huge fan of this idea, I'm not sure how much was done beyond that.

Acquiring land now is probably going to be a lot easier. Perhaps if it were pitched to the right people as a side-door bailout package for brownfields, it would get a lot more traction. There's got to be a way to align the Republicans and the AOCs of the world behind it.
 
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Michigan Mom

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It would be nice to see the government [we own it, we pay for it, and it is supposed to serve us] bring a massive effort to updating and expanding Amtrak... with local governments cooperating with regional and city systems... all interconnected. It's called creating a strong national infrastructure. And why not!
That WOULD be nice!
 

neroden

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Ithaca, NY
Can we try some new ideas to restructure Amtrak? Is there some way to radically change the paradigm?
A while back, Wick Moorman, when he was CEO of Norfolk Southern, proposed that the federal or state governments own all the tracks, and that the Class Is act as tenants -- the same way many shortlines act as tenants on state-owned lines which are "passenger primary". This would relieve the Class Is of the burden of track and signal maintenance -- helping them compete with trucks, who don't pay for road maintenance -- *while* guaranteeing that passenger traffic came first and was delivered on time.

I thought this was a great idea for changing the paradigm. I love it! Unfortunately it didn't get much attention.
 

west point

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Messages
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But trucks and buses do pay for road maintenance through fuel taxes and tolls.
Not even close . Our interstate right lane is all torn up from trucks. Weight on axels actually tires damage roads to the fourth power pf weight . s car tire with 1000 pounds on pavement compared to a truck tire on pavement of over 4000 pounds. Truck tire has damage potential of 264 times the car.
 

cocojacoby

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Messages
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I was responding to the previous post that said, "-- helping them compete with trucks, who don't pay for road maintenance --". Just saying they don't get a free ride.
 

20th Century Rider

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Ok! No one gets a free ride! So how come we must pay so much money for LD to get such an unhealthful, abusive, and uncaring non connective level of service...which in actuality is in no way the level of 'service' for which is being charged... I mean... I mean, I mean... dedicated travelers are being charged premium pricing for a total lack of service! C'mon... Amtrak is taking advantage of their most loyal passengers willing to pay the big bucks for a somewhat equitable level of basic service! They don't care and are just taking advantage of 'old timers' for which they have no respect for! They have this 'millennial' attitude which is being used as an excuse to provide absolutely nothing... which the equate with millennial needs and desire. Don't pass me off as an old timer without the ability to think and have feelings! I am still a whole person!
Don't pass me off as an old timer without the ability to think and have feelings! I am still a whole person!
Don't pass me off as an old timer without the ability to think and have feelings! I am still a whole person!

I am entitled to what I am paying for.
 

neroden

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Trucks basically get a free ride. The amount they pay in fuel taxes is peanuts, and hardly pays for any of their damage to the roads.

We rail passengers pay a lot more in ticket prices which goes for rail maintenance (what do you think those "host railroad fees" which Amtrak is charged pay for?)

Toll roads are different. Even there trucks are heavily subsidized by passenger cars, but at least trucks + cars together are paying reasonable amounts on toll roads. However, *most roads are not toll roads*.
 

John Bredin

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American Airlines is threatening to end service to various communities in early October absent more coronavirus relief funding. Article with list. While I think the airlines merit a "bailout" as much as any other* corona-impacted industry, the federal government should make its efforts consistently, pursuant to a considered policy, so that necessary relief is provided but public money isn't wasted.

Note that many of the communities to lose American service are served by Amtrak:
Del Rio, TX
Florence, SC
Huntington, WV
Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI
Lake Charles, LA
New Haven, CT
Springfield, IL
Four of those airports serve cities with decent corridor and/or long-distance service, while three are on the less-than-daily Sunset and Cardinal lines.

While some public money should go to the airlines during this unprecedented slowdown due to coronavirus, it should be to maintain a core of longer-distance flights to principal cities, not to provide duplicative subsidized service to smaller communities already served by Amtrak or that could be served by Amtrak more cheaply than the airlines. I would imagine keeping daily service on the Silver trains (Florence) and making the Sunset (Del Rio and Lake Charles) and Cardinal (Huntington) daily would be cheaper than whatever American would want to continue service to those airports.

More generally, the federal government should examine which places receive Essential Air Service subsidies (official list) but are, or could be, served by Amtrak. If part of the calculus in funding Amtrak and officially proposing changes to Amtrak services included the offsetting effect of not having to pay as much for EAS because Amtrak would take up some of the load, keeping and adding Amtrak service looks more attractive to legislators and officials who are not blatantly anti-rail but skeptical.

To give some examples:
*Altoona and Johnstown PA being on EAS and the Pennsylvanian line is an argument for a second Pennsylvanian.
*Similarly, EAS to Burlington IA and McCook NE are arguments for a second or at least increased-capacity California Zephyr.
*Ditto a bunch of Empire Builder stops in ND and MT.
*Or Dodge City and Garden City KS with the Southwest Chief.
*Or Meridian, Laurel, and Hattiesburg MS with the Crescent.
*Or Staunton VA and White Sulphur Springs WV as arguments for a daily Sunset.

Even more generally than that, ideally the government (yes, I know those two words shouldn't necessarily be used together ;)) should formulate an actual transportation policy that determines the best funding and appropriation mix for the best transportation mix in light of existing and projected resources, demand, and environmental concerns. Having a plan and actually consistently implementing it isn't "socialism" (as some would allege) if you're already spending the money but doing so willy-nilly and sometimes at cross-purposes.

In a well-considered transportation plan, aviation has a place, and highways definitely have a place, but so does passenger rail. Some rail opponents seem to believe that rail should get nothing from the federal government because it doesn't go everywhere and can't do everything. I've seen stuff like "95% of travel is by road"** as an argument that the government shouldn't pay for rail, completely ignoring that that state is at least as much the result of earlier government decisions as the cause of them. If environmental concerns took their proper weight in a comprehensive transportation policy, rail's place in that policy would be at a much more robust level than now.


*Almost any other. IMHO, the foreign-flagged cruise ship industry should have to go to their low-regulation (and low-budget) flag nations for any relief money. :mad:

**Not necessarily an actual statistic. :)
 

Eric S

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Milwaukee
Trucks basically get a free ride. The amount they pay in fuel taxes is peanuts, and hardly pays for any of their damage to the roads.

We rail passengers pay a lot more in ticket prices which goes for rail maintenance (what do you think those "host railroad fees" which Amtrak is charged pay for?)

Toll roads are different. Even there trucks are heavily subsidized by passenger cars, but at least trucks + cars together are paying reasonable amounts on toll roads. However, *most roads are not toll roads*.
Agree.

Isn't it estimated that the damage done to the road is proportional to the fourth power of the axle load of the vehicle? So that if the axle load is doubled (2x), the damage done is 16 times greater (2x2x2x2). Can't imagine many trucking-related taxes and fees come anywhere close to achieving that.
 

MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
American Airlines is threatening to end service to various communities in early October absent more coronavirus relief funding. Article with list. While I think the airlines merit a "bailout" as much as any other* corona-impacted industry, the federal government should make its efforts consistently, pursuant to a considered policy, so that necessary relief is provided but public money isn't wasted.

Note that many of the communities to lose American service are served by Amtrak:
Del Rio, TX
Florence, SC
Huntington, WV
Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI
Lake Charles, LA
New Haven, CT
Springfield, IL
Four of those airports serve cities with decent corridor and/or long-distance service, while three are on the less-than-daily Sunset and Cardinal lines.

While some public money should go to the airlines during this unprecedented slowdown due to coronavirus, it should be to maintain a core of longer-distance flights to principal cities, not to provide duplicative subsidized service to smaller communities already served by Amtrak or that could be served by Amtrak more cheaply than the airlines. I would imagine keeping daily service on the Silver trains (Florence) and making the Sunset (Del Rio and Lake Charles) and Cardinal (Huntington) daily would be cheaper than whatever American would want to continue service to those airports.

More generally, the federal government should examine which places receive Essential Air Service subsidies (official list) but are, or could be, served by Amtrak. If part of the calculus in funding Amtrak and officially proposing changes to Amtrak services included the offsetting effect of not having to pay as much for EAS because Amtrak would take up some of the load, keeping and adding Amtrak service looks more attractive to legislators and officials who are not blatantly anti-rail but skeptical.

To give some examples:
*Altoona and Johnstown PA being on EAS and the Pennsylvanian line is an argument for a second Pennsylvanian.
*Similarly, EAS to Burlington IA and McCook NE are arguments for a second or at least increased-capacity California Zephyr.
*Ditto a bunch of Empire Builder stops in ND and MT.
*Or Dodge City and Garden City KS with the Southwest Chief.
*Or Meridian, Laurel, and Hattiesburg MS with the Crescent.
*Or Staunton VA and White Sulphur Springs WV as arguments for a daily Sunset.

Even more generally than that, ideally the government (yes, I know those two words shouldn't necessarily be used together ;)) should formulate an actual transportation policy that determines the best funding and appropriation mix for the best transportation mix in light of existing and projected resources, demand, and environmental concerns. Having a plan and actually consistently implementing it isn't "socialism" (as some would allege) if you're already spending the money but doing so willy-nilly and sometimes at cross-purposes.

In a well-considered transportation plan, aviation has a place, and highways definitely have a place, but so does passenger rail. Some rail opponents seem to believe that rail should get nothing from the federal government because it doesn't go everywhere and can't do everything. I've seen stuff like "95% of travel is by road"** as an argument that the government shouldn't pay for rail, completely ignoring that that state is at least as much the result of earlier government decisions as the cause of them. If environmental concerns took their proper weight in a comprehensive transportation policy, rail's place in that policy would be at a much more robust level than now.


*Almost any other. IMHO, the foreign-flagged cruise ship industry should have to go to their low-regulation (and low-budget) flag nations for any relief money. :mad:

**Not necessarily an actual statistic. :)
They should start looking at trains as part of the feeder service to regional airports. Of course, that would require building some new tracks to connect the existing rail network to the airport. And service to the more central parts of the metro areas needs to continue, as people shouldn't have to drive out to the airport just to catch a train.

Bus feeder service to airports, like the Van Galder bus that feeds O'Hare from Madison and Beloit is another good idea that could be implemented very quickly. If they could figure out a way to do the TSA check and check bags before you board the buses or feeder trains, they could run into the airport terminals on the airside of security, thus avoiding a lot of the unpleasant congestion at the airport. All of this might be a lot cheaper than subsidizing commuter flights. (I hate flying in small commuter planes, anyway.)
 

west point

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Messages
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Eric it is actually each tire's load. So a 4000 pound car would have ideally 1000 pounds on each tire. However we know loads in a car are not even so it is more likely 800 on 2 tires and 1200 on 2.
So an eighteen wheeler will have approximately 4500 pounds on each tire. But then it gets complicated. Loads on pavements are not translated straight down. Each type of pavement tranferrs the loads at a different angle thru the pavement to the subgrade. Different types of concrete and asphalt are alll slightly different.h So the thicker the pavement the better loads are spread. However for trucks the 2 tires together the loads will cross over at the sub grade.
An example of the above is airport runways. 2 different type of airplanes that each have a 160,000# weight on main gear has 40,000# on each tire. But the one that the 2 tires on each side with different spacing betweem the tires may be able to operate on a runway and not the other. Montgomery alabama is an example.
Subgrade work at airports has become very good. It has been found a layer if asphalt underneath concrete spreads the load better. Asphalt is classified as a super cooled liquid the will flow under load to fill any voids thereby keeping the concrete intact. Newark airport extended a runway both ends that way .
 
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