Pontifications: Airports and aviation or mass transit, conventional or high-speed rail

Nov. 26, 2022, © Leeham News: Some European countries declared war on the airline industry. Authorities in The Netherlands want to put permanent caps on operations at the Amsterdam airport. The French government wants to ban most airline flights of two hours or less within the country.

By Scott Hamilton

These two countries prefer requiring travelers to use trains vs planes. In the US, there are some on the East Coast who similarly advocate mass transit, more conventional rail and the creation of high-speed rail over short-haul flights operated by small regional jets.

Here in the greater Seattle area, forecasts conclude that there will be airport passenger demand for 97 million people by 2050. The region’s main airport, SeaTac International, has growth plans to accommodate 50 million passengers by then. Physical constraints prevent the airport from expanding. Just adding a third runway took 20 years and required a massive landfill to match the plateau topography on which the airport sits.

A task force recommends three sites south and southeast of SeaTac. Each is a greenfield site that is mostly farmland. Aside from the opposition from landowners over their properties being targeted, anti-aviation people are already suggesting creating more conventional and brand new high-speed rail alternatives.

But, like so many advocating battery-powered airplanes and eVTOLs, or hybrids, or hydrogen-powered aircraft, those advocating substituting rail for airports ignore all the costs—both financial and otherwise—that go into a rail system.

Let’s take a look.

Europe’s example

The arguments for shifting travelers to trains are easier to make in Europe than in the US. There is a robust rail system in Europe. The passenger rail system in the US is an embarrassment. Rail service, whether light rail or “heavy” rail, is concentrated on commuters. Long-distance rail service, provided by Amtrak, a quasi-government company, is scattered across the country, infrequent, and has erratic service.

Amtrak must play second fiddle to the freight lines, from which Amtrak rents tracks. The freight trains get priority. The tracks in Europe enable rail speeds of 90 mph or more. The ride is generally smooth. You often can’t even feel the mating of each rail, the construction is so good.

In the US, sometimes you’re lucky you can walk in a straight line from one car to another because the cars rock back and forth on uneven tracks. Speed limits slow fast trains going 60 mph or more to 30 mph because of poor track conditions or sharp curves.

The US had an expansive national rail network up until the creation of the national freeway system (like Germany’s Autobahn). In the 1950s, President Eisenhower proposed to Congress the interstate highway system be created. As the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, he saw Germany’s Autobahn and the need for something similar in the US. Good idea, but it was the start of the death knell for the national passenger railroad system.

Railroads serving big metropolitan areas for commuters would survive. But long-distance railroads collapsed one after another.

Eventually, Congress created Amtrak. Its bread-and-butter service is the US Northeast Corridor (Boston-New York-Washington). Routes extend to Florida, and Chicago, and limited lines to Seattle, Portland, and California. An effort to restart Amtrak service between Florida and Mobile (AL) has been stalled for years.

Starting over

But Amtrak relies on leasing rails from freight railroads. Its schedules must work around freight trains. When there is a conflict, freight wins. Many of the freight lines require slow speed—well under 60 or 70 mph. Tracks sometimes are in disrepair. In rural areas, vehicle crossings are not equipped with gates. In many areas, one set of rails is all that’s available.

High-speed rail has been talked about for decades. One was proposed between Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, the four largest cities in Texas. Herb Kelleher, then CEO of Southwest Airlines, objected. (This tells you how long ago HSR was proposed. Herb retired from Southwest years ago and has since died.) These are bread-and-butter routes for Southwest to this day. If the state subsidized HSR, then it should subsidize Southwest, he complained. (Of course, he ignored all the state and federal dollars going into airports Southwest used, but details didn’t matter.)

California pondered HSR between San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Washington State proposed HSR between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. Each was a no-go due to costs and environmental concerns.

And there’s the rub of those proposing massive conventional or HSR service today.

The total life cycle

Expanding conventional rail and creating HSR is nice in theory. But I can tell you, having served on the Sammamish (WA) planning boards for eight years dealing with land use issues, establishing a network of conventional rail and high-speed rail presents massive environmental challenges (wetlands, hazardous slopes, mountains, wildlife displacement, threats to endangered species and forests [for those in the US, remember Oregon’s Spotted Owl habitat fight?]); obtaining rights of way at billions of dollars in costs; legal fees; and on and on and on. It took 20 years just to get to the third runway at SEA.

The Washington (DC) Metro rail system opened in 1976. Light rail to Washington Dulles Airport began service just this past Nov. 15—46 years after Metro began operations. Sound Transit, the light rail/bus system for the greater Seattle area, was created in 1993. Voters approved funding in 1996. The first heavy rail service, using freight lines between Seattle and Tacoma, began in 2000. The first light rail service in Seattle began in 2009. This required the demolition of businesses and housing—as does every light rail link since then.

In 2016, voters barely approved $26bn in new taxes for Sound Transit 3, which will be building light rail until a target date of 2041. (It almost certainly will be late and over budget, as has been every project.)

What of the land use required with all the above factors to consider for rail yards? See the New York City rail system with Grand Central and Penn stations; look at Chicago’s Union Station and Ogilvie Center. Go see Victoria Station in London. The railroad system into and out of these required lots and lots of land. (Although the following is for freight, check out the rail yard just south of O’Hare Airport from I-294—holy crap!)

What are the trades?

To use a favorite Boeing expression, what are the “trades” for rail vs everything else? Just how environmentally friendly is rail?

If it’s conventional rail, how is it powered? If by fossil fuels, what’s the impact of an ideally created national network? What about the escapage of diesel fuel and oil when the engines are idle?

If electric rail, where does the power come from and is the power source environmentally friendly? Is the power generated by windmills, hydro plants, coal, or nuclear stations?

Where’s the material come from to make the rails and railroad ties? What are these impacts? What’s eventually recyclable when equipment wears out? This is called the Total Life Cycle analysis. And just as with all the alternative energy ideas for aircraft and eVTOLs, the rail proponents don’t take into account realities vs nice ideas.

It’s what’s happening with all the stuff revolving around eVTOL, hybrid-electric airplanes, hydrogen, and hydrogen-hybrid airplanes. The promoters claim batteries are clean (as they do for cars), without owning up to the total life cycle challenges. To get the lithium needed for these aviation batteries (and for cars), strip mining is the preferred way. This is hardly eco-friendly. Recycling lithium batteries is a challenge for which there is not a good, complete answer today.

It’s like when Boeing launched the 787 program, touting its economy and better impact on the environment via lower fuel consumption. Unaddressed was the industrial waste from the carbon fiber which had hexavalent chromium as a key ingredient. (See Erin Brockovich.)

Time impact

Right now, Amtrak advertises 45+ hours between Seattle and Chicago. An airplane gets you there in 4 hours. Which has the lesser impact on the environment? Today Amtrak’s quickest trip from Seattle to Spokane, a distance of 311 miles, is advertised at 7 hr 40 min. Flight time (not block time) is a little more than 30 minutes, and you can drive in 5 ½ hours. Today’s train is obviously not HSR—but as noted above, the challenges (enviro and cost) will be huge—just getting through the Cascades mountains.

None of this considers the displacement of homes and businesses and costs. A national system is a task that will take generations upon generations.

Establishing a network of rail services will take generations. Today isn’t Abe Lincoln’s era, where, as president and a former RR lawyer, he gave away vast swaths of open land to the railroads to expand to the West Coast. This isn’t China, where the government doesn’t give a flip about the environment or the people.

Paine Field

So, what are the trades between establishing massive HSR networks and even improving conventional rail vs air service? AvGeek or not, as a land use planner, I still come out on the side of airports—provided that in our case, you use and improve what you have–ie, Paine Field or even McChord Air Force Base.

Paine Field is the airport where Boeing assembles its widebody aircraft. There is a maintenance facility there serving airlines. There is a two-gate airline terminal with 24 flights a day (12 in and 12 out). Paine was a World War II air force base and was given over to civil aviation after the war. Suburbs surround the field today. It has two runways (though the short one is a parking lot for Boeing airplanes). It has hangars, including the giant Boeing building, that can be used for airlines. (This presupposes that Boeing will eventually vacate the assembly line building—something I think is in the cards in the coming decades.)

The active runway is 9,010 feet long. The airport covers 1,315 acres. It’s more than twice as big as Chicago Midway Airport, which served 20.8m passengers in pre-pandemic 2019. The terminal has 43 gates. It has four primary runways, though only two are routinely used by airlines.

San Diego’s one-runway airport is only slightly larger than Midway. It is the second busiest one-runway airport in the world. The runway is 9,400 feet long. There are 51 gates. The airport served 25 million passengers in 2019.

Paine Field is ideally located to serve all the suburbs north and northeast of Seattle—and all the way to the Canadian border. Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle is a bottleneck that is perpetually congested from 7 AM into the evening. Diverting airport traffic to Paine Field will reduce vehicle traffic (and carbon emissions) downtown.

Paine Field is already where the people and businesses are.

McChord Air Force Base

Another alternative site is south of Tacoma is McChord Air Force Base. Proponents of the greenfield sites point out the Air Force says it won’t give up McChord or allow joint use. All well and good, but tell me what is the strategic value of McChord today? All its use could be transferred to Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base, which is only another 45 minutes of flight time away. Fairchild is getting the USAF refueling tankers, not McChord. Cargo and troops don’t really care where they depart from for combat.

McChord should be BRAC-ed (declared surplus), freeing it up for civilian use. It has a single, 10,108 ft runway, hangars, etc., that could be converted for a lot less cost than any greenfield site.

A downside to McChord: there is less population and fewer businesses nearby compared with Paine. And with apologies to Tacoma, its draw as a destination is not comparable to Seattle’s draw, including the northern suburbs.

Other factors

Other factors to consider: Paine and McChord already have highway infrastructure nearby. Paine is on Sound Transit’s list of destinations for light rail. This line is already under construction from Seattle to the suburb of Lynnwood, a short distance from the Paine extension. Paine and McChord have airport infrastructures already in place, including fuel pipelines.

The greenfield sites will need highways, local roadways, pipelines, etc., etc., etc. Endangered species and other wildlife will be displaced or threatened or killed. Wetlands will disappear. Emissions will be created, affecting nearby Mt. Rainier.

The recommendations by the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission are just plain nuts. The costs will be greater, the impacts worse, and residential and industrial growth will sprawl to these sites, just as they did when Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport was built in cornfields between these two cities. Now, suburbs, business, industry, and nuisance noise lawsuits are right to DFW’s edges.

Paine and McChord are the obvious answers. Developed properly, each can serve between 20 million to 25 million passengers annually. Along with SeaTac’s plan to grow to 50 million passengers takes the region to the 97 million passengers projected by 2050. Maybe by then, Tacoma’s sprawl will envelop McChord, too, making this a viable third airport for the region.

173 Comments on “Pontifications: Airports and aviation or mass transit, conventional or high-speed rail

  1. As far as I know there is no recycling of lithium batteries, despite PR-friendly talk of it.
    Evidence to the contrary is welcome.



    • There is some recycling, but on a pathetically inadequate scale.
      In the US, about 5% of TODAY’s Li batteries are recycled (from laptops, phones, power tools, etc.) — which, of course, represents a MUCH smaller fraction of what’s coming from EV batteries (of the order of 500 kg per car).
      Recycling on a larger scale occurs in China and South Korea, but still not anywhere near adequate to match supply.

      Now that the venture capitalists have pulled the purse strings shut, the PR stream should dry up.

    • Wind turbines and solar panels too.
      Vast amount of co2 and all sorts of nasties to produce,landfill in 20 years or less.

      • Wind turbines and blades and PV panels are 95% recycled in Europe. The US makes the political choice not to recycle.

        Washington State has a PV solar takeback mandate in RCW 70.355.010 Photovoltaic module stewardship and takeback program-Definitions-Requirements-Enforcement-Fees-Rule making.

        Similar legislation has been proposed in Washington state legislature for wind turbine blades.

        • Wind turbine blades are not recycled in Europe, they mainly cut up, stacked inside each other and buried. Sometimes they are ground up and buried under roads, which enables them to qualify for tax credits for recycling.
          It is technically possible to burn out the resin and recycle the carbon fibre but I don’t think that this is done on any scale. Work is being done on dissolving the chemicals and reusing them but this is theoretical at the moment

          • Four EU countries ban sending blades to landfills–Finland, Austria, Netherlands, and Germany. EU is considering extending that ban to other countries. Companies in Denmark (Orsted) and Sweden (Vattenfall) have made commitments to halt landfill disposal in advance of EU action.

            One feasible approach is waste-to-energy in cement clinker production with this being implemented at the Holcim Lagerdorf plant in Northern Germany and at two Buzzi Unicem SpA cement plants in the US. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Veolia Environment SA has been disposing blades in the US since 2020 and is able to process 3000 blades per year in this manner.

            The EU LIFE+ program has an active research program on wind blades to move recycling further up the value chain.

          • On the subject of EOL wind turbine blades:

            “Turbine blades need to be replaced as frequently as every 10 years due to natural deterioration, damage or upgrades. As more turbines go up, it becomes a major issue to deal with so much waste.

            “There are currently no plans to dispose of retired blades in an environmentally friendly manner. The current process for getting rid of these blades is to pile them up and cover them with dirt like a mass grave.”

            “The public needs to be aware of this tragic reality. So many people believe that once a turbine goes up, it is free, infinite, green energy, which is simply not the case. Many are not aware of the maintenance and replacement that accompanies these massive turbines.

            “The public is eager to hop on the green energy bandwagon without considering the full consequences of the energy source. The U.S. must slow down its turbine production and spend more time carefully planning the lifecycle of this infrastructure.”


            “A study conducted by the University of Cambridge estimated that 43 million tonnes of wind turbine blade waste will be generated by 2050, most of which will be disposed of in landfills. China is expected to hold 40 per cent of the world’s waste; Europe 25 per cent; the United States 16 per cent; and the rest of the world 19 per cent.”

            “According to estimates, 10 kilograms of blade material is required for every one kilowatt of new capacity. As a result, approximately 75 tonnes of blade material is needed for a 7.5 megawatt wind turbine. What are we going to do when all those turbine blades reach their end?”


            Don’t attach too much importance to “bans”: wherever there’s a “ban” on something, it just results in more use of back doors.

          • @ Bryce

            – “Turbine blades need to be replaced as frequently as every 10 years”

            Where does that happen in 10 years? Not in Europe at least (I don’t say there has never been any bad blades anywhere (undoubtedly has), but I don’t see how bringing up some rare cases would make sense in this context). The place where you got your quotes seems like a sort of quack site. You have done better with your aviation-related comments.

            – “There are currently no plans to dispose of retired blades in an environmentally friendly manner.”

            There are already methods and several plans to reuse blade material. Reuse is not widespread yet, largely because the wider need to do it is a recent phenomenon. Few industries and societies do anything that costs for problems until those problems grow above a certain level. There’s no big hurry, though, because turbine blades are not hazardous waste.

            – “The current process for getting rid of these blades is to pile them up and cover them with dirt like a mass grave.”

            Mass grave? Seriously Bryce?

            – “The public needs to be aware of this tragic reality.”

            Tragic reality? Same as above.

            – “So many people believe that once a turbine goes up, it is free, infinite, green energy, which is simply not the case. Many are not aware of the maintenance and replacement that accompanies these massive turbines.”

            If “so many people” believe that wind turbines don’t need maintenance, they probably believe the same about hydro power plants and many other things. How is that an argument against wind power?

            – “A study conducted by the University of Cambridge estimated that 43 million tonnes of wind turbine blade waste will be generated by 2050, most of which will be disposed of in landfills.”

            Did the University of Cambridge really conduct a study on how used wind turbine blades will be handled decades from now? I doubt it.

            – “What are we going to do when all those turbine blades reach their end?”

            Somebody is a real drama queen.

            – “Don’t attach too much importance to “bans”: wherever there’s a “ban” on something, it just results in more use of back doors.”

            As with the ban on substances that damage the ozone layer? As with leaded fuel? As with selling cars without a catalytic converter? And so on.

          • @ Bryce

            Could you quote the in your opinion relevant parts from the Bloomberg article that address my criticism? I’d prefer not to create another registration, as I already have too many of them to keep track of.

            I’d like you to do the same for the study by the University of Cambridge. I assume you have read it, so if you could quote just the part or parts that in your opinion contradict what I say in my comment. Thanks. I might add that I have read a few articles on Bloomberg before (I think the content was available without registration then), and I wasn’t very impressed by at least some of them. I don’t remember details anymore, but to me the articles seemed pretty biased and superficial. They may have improved, though, or may have good articles on some subjects and less so on others.

            – “Denialism doesn’t make problems go away…and denialism is a BIG problem among environmental activists.”

            I have noticed that activists against activists often suffer from the exact problems they blame activists for.

          • @ Ademeion
            I’m not going to spoonfeed you.
            You called my original link a “quack” source — I provided you with a more authoritative one.
            You doubted the existence of the Cambridge study — I showed you that it does, indeed, exist.

            Nothing like a bit of reading to broaden the mind 😉

          • @ Bryce

            – “You called my original link a “quack” source — I provided you with a more authoritative one.”

            You are mixing up things. I criticised National Wind Watch as a general source of wind power related information, not in relation to one particular issue (waste from used turbine blades). Thus offering a study by the University of Cambridge as an alternative to National Wind Watch makes no sense.

            – “I’m not going to spoonfeed you.”

            Referring to the relevant part of a long and information-dense document isn’t called “spoon-feeding”, it’s called “being helpful” or “being sensible”, and in this case perhaps even “not trying to obfuscate with a torrent of mostly irrelevant information”

            – “You doubted the existence of the Cambridge study”

            I definitely didn’t. I only presented my doubt on that they have studied how discarded wind turbine blades will be handled decades from now. Misunderstanding that part of my comment is understandable, though.

            – “Nothing like a bit of reading to broaden the mind “

            I’m glad you think so. Here’s some useful reading for you (and others) about the subject, not particularly as an argument on things we have talked about, but as general information about the subject:

            Here’s a recent article (a short one and easy to read) by the U.S. Department of Energy about a mature technology to utilise wind turbine blade materials:

            Here’s another one by a Veolia about using over 90 % of the blade material in cement production (again, a short one):

            A more detailed one on Chemical & Engineering News about the same subject as above:

            Siemens Gamesa has a new, easily recyclable blade material already in commercial use (quick read):

            One more, slightly longer article about blade recycling on E&T (Engineering and Technology):

            Other interesting blade recycling projects presented by the Composites World:

        • -That couldn’t be true about 95% Recyling of wind turbine blades. The first company to offer recyclable wind turbine blades was Siemens-Gamesa and the thermoplastic blades were offered as an option only 1-2 years ago so none would be in need of recycling yet. The tower would be easy to recycle, not sure about the 700 tons of concrete and steel foundation though. I do know that in Australia the Australian Government leases the rights to offshore wind farms to the wind energy company for 25 years. After this period the entire wind turbine must be removed, and the environment restored. There are options for extending the lease.
          -Most automotive manufactures offer bounties on the batteries of their EV to ensure they are recycled as Toyota has always done with their hybrids since it introduced in 1997.
          -Tesla batteries that have lost capacity are not recycled but are derated and repurposed as solar batteries. (Really needed in Ukraine now) I would be extremely surprised if EV batteries went to landfill in any Western country given the costs of deposing of anything with heavy metals in it.

          • ” I would be extremely surprised if EV batteries went to landfill in any Western country”

            They don’t have to end up in a western country — there are plenty of other countries where rules/standards are more lax.

      • A company with a completely vacuous website — zero relevant content.
        Dependent on funding from VCs — no actual turnover generation.

        • Well they have a site in reno Google it and have teamed up with Audi USA to accept all lithium batteries ie phones etc for recycling
          Minerals are too valuable to landfill but if the good old muricans just chuck in trash then trash it is.there is 99 per cent recycling of lead acid car batteries so it can be done if the right mind set is adopted.
          Lithium are 20 times more valuable than lead acid but disposable rules ok

    • There is a lot of VC financing being put into this space.

      From IEEE Spectrum, 05 January 2021:

      “Canadian firm Li-Cycle will begin constructing a US $175 million plant in Rochester, N.Y., on the grounds of what used to be the Eastman Kodak complex. When completed, it will be the largest lithium-ion battery-recycling plant in North America.

      The plant will have an eventual capacity of 25 metric kilotons of input material, recovering 95 percent or more of the cobalt, nickel, lithium, and other valuable elements through the company’s zero-wastewater, zero-emissions process. “We’ll be one of the largest domestic sources of nickel and lithium, as well as the only source of cobalt in the United States,” says Ajay Kochhar, Li-Cycle’s cofounder and CEO.

      Founded in late 2016, the company is part of a booming industry focused on preventing tens of thousands of tons of lithium-ion batteries from entering landfills. Of the 180,000 metric tons of Li-ion batteries available for recycling worldwide in 2019, just a little over half were recycled.”


      • “The plant will have an eventual capacity of 25 metric kilotons of input material,…”

        That input corresponds to the battery content of about 40,000 typical BEVs.
        In California alone, about 900,000 new cars are sold annualy — for the entire USA, the figure is about 17 million cars and light trucks.
        That Li-Cycle plant will barely scratch the surface.

        • You envision a problem where none exists. There is practically no supply of EV batteries to recycle currently.

          As reported in Forbes, Aug. 21, 2022:

          “Almost all of the [electric car] batteries we’ve ever made are still in cars,” said Nissan executive Nic Thomas. “And we’ve been selling electric cars for 12 years,” he added.

          “It’s the complete opposite of what people feared when we first launched EVs—that the batteries would only last a short time,” he reflected. It’s clear that most EV batteries will outlast the vehicles they were installed in, and even then, they have a worthwhile second life before they need to be stripped down for recycling.”

          • The problem most certainly exists — it just hasn’t manifested itself yet.
            EV batteries have an expected lifespan of about 10 years — so a tsunami of EOL EV batteries is in the pipeline.
            8 million BEVs were sold last year; almost 12 million will be sold this year.
            On top of cars, don’t forget buses, vans, forklifts, bikes,…

          • Of relevance:

            “Batteries differ widely in chemistry and construction, which makes it difficult to create efficient recycling systems. And the cells are often held together with tough glues that make them difficult to take apart. That has contributed to an economic obstacle: It’s often cheaper for batterymakers to buy freshly mined metals than to use recycled materials.”

            “Both processes produce extensive waste and emit greenhouse gases, studies have found. And the business model can be shaky: Most operations depend on selling recovered cobalt to stay in business, but batterymakers are trying to shift away from that relatively expensive metal. If that happens, recyclers could be left trying to sell piles of “dirt,” says materials scientist Rebecca Ciez of Purdue University.”

            “To realize direct recycling, however, batterymakers, recyclers, and researchers need to sort out a host of issues. One is making sure manufacturers label their batteries, so recyclers know what kind of cell they are dealing with—and whether the cathode metals have any value. Given the rapidly changing battery market, Gaines notes, cathodes manufactured today might not be able to find a future buyer. Recyclers would be “recovering a dinosaur. No one will want the product.””

            “Engineers might be able to build robots that could speed battery disassembly, but sticky issues remain even after you get inside the cell, researchers note. That’s because more glues are used to hold the anodes, cathodes, and other components in place. One solvent that recyclers use to dissolve cathode binders is so toxic that the European Union has introduced restrictions on its use, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined last year that it poses an “unreasonable risk” to workers.”

            “There’s little time to waste, Abbott says. “What you don’t want is 10 years’ worth of production of a cell that is absolutely impossible to pull apart,” he says. “It’s not happening yet—but people are shouting and worried it will happen.””


          • Most EV battery “recycling” is in fact repurposing, they sort through the cells and pick out the stronger ones for use in home batteries. This does manage to kick part of the problem down the road for a few years Actual recycling is a disgusting and filthy process involving lots of energy and toxic waste.It is also uneconomic a the moment.
            I have seen a few fires involving composites such as those used in wind turbine blades and whilst there is indeed a lot of calorific value it also produces the thickest choking black smoke imaginable

          • @ Grubbie
            “Actual recycling is a disgusting and filthy process involving lots of energy and toxic waste”

            Yes, it certainly is — which is why the realists among us know that it will ultimately be off-shored to poorer countries.
            Just like the manual ship recycling done in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

          • While I have no problems with the fact that Li Ion batts will be an issue, small versions are used in cell phones and lap tops as well as in hand tools and those do fail .

            But keeping it on an even keel, Lead Acid batteries were also an issue. In the US it was mandated they be recycled and are through a joint recycling operation.

            That too is a nasty filthy operation but it has controls in place to keep it from being the same problem they were established to solve, ie lead batteries all over the landscape breaking down and into the eco system.

            Lead Acid bats base materials sourced are also is environmentally impacting, so they are not a poster child in that regard but due to the recycling, far less than they were and no longer the issue they were.

    • Focusing on the main part of the topic, Ft Lewis is adjacent to McChord. That is a combo the Defense Department will fight for and hard.

      McChord is where the USAF links up two Army response unit.

      In fact, its now a joint McChord Ft Lewis base, not two separate entities.

      While the USAF unit could be re-located much more problematic for Ft. Lewis portion.

      While the runways could be dual hated civilian military (Charleston has that structure) the Ft. Lewis portion would be vastly harder.

  2. Maybe it’s time that the USA do a massive investment in trail and stop to be a third world country.

    This is what it takes off they want to compete with China.😉

    • The US does not intend to compete with China.
      They want to dominate China.
      dialing back to zero Chinese emancipation 🙂

      Then China is a lot less active in the “Trash the Environment” domain than western media story inventers would like to present it. Keep in mind that they do the production of the stuff that other nations have reduced their environmental impact on ( not really, per capita energy expenditure is vast in the US without this being balanced by “hard” production )

      All nations will have to find a solution on how to cope with those religious treehuggers that know no reason.

      An essential interconnect in the Autobahn network (A20 including a river Elbe tunnel ) has been mired for the last 20 years and no progress in sight.

    • Go outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Wuhan, or Macau and China is a third world country.

  3. What hope is there, when the environmental discussion is (increasingly) dominated by uninformed people who are “jumping on the bandwagon” because of stuff that they half read, half understand and don’t actually think about?

    I was in a consultation recently about the local airport (which caters to 7 million passengers per year). A “bandwagon” politician was suggesting that it should be closed altogether, because of its CO2 emissions. I presented a simple calculation showing that heavy truck traffic on a local freeway produces more than 25 times as much CO2 as the aircraft using the airport — comparing the 20km portion of the freeway that skirts the city with all flight movements within the city bounds. Stunned silence, stammering, and then the usual accusations of “climate denialist”, etc.

    The average activist doesn’t realize — or just won’t accept — how inefficient ICEs are compared to gas turbines.

    • “how inefficient ICEs are compared to gas turbines.”

      which isn’t true at all.

      The gasturbine Brayton cycle is principally less efficient than
      the ones used in IC engines.
      Added disadvantage is a marked loss of efficiency for reduced power demand.
      Today 2-stroke diesel engines for shipping reach beyond 60% efficiency! ( 155g/kWh )

      Electricity as energy storage/carrier has the advantage of allowing large scale highly efficient generation inclusive use of waste heat.
      Full cycle efficiency of battery storage should go beyond 95%. compare that to numbers for Hydrogen : currently not much above 25%, future outlook well below 50%.

        • For many reasons. The first is for high efficiency. The exhaust of a gas turbine is put through what is called a HRSG, a heat recovery steam generator, where the exhaust energy is captured, steam generated and power output from the resulting steam turbine. Overall efficiency for this combination is 60% on the LHV.
          See https://hi.dcsmodule.com/js/htmledit/kindeditor/attached/20220402/20220402143103_85047.pdf for a great overview.
          Second most important aspect is their quick response time, from cold start to full power on a simple cycle, they can react quickly to fluctuations in demand for dispatch to the grid.
          There are others, like fuel flexibility etc

          • Indeed. When I learned about this process, I was amazed how efficient it is.

          • -It was expected that these systems would be nearly 70% efficient by now (using new turbine metallurgy and ceramics) and capable of running on a choice of natural gas or hydrogen. Unfortunately, the orders books of GE and Siemens are dead in these last few years due to the financing and tax breaks being thrown into renewables and the lavish transmission networks needed to support them and development has stagnated.
            -I have seen it argued empirically and convincingly to me that an investment in combined cycle technology would have led to lower emissions than investment in renewables by now.

        • Which kind?
          The Aero-engine derived ones are el cheapo and
          have fast response. not overly efficient but suitable for “filling up” power demand on short notice.

          the large, complex stationary ones with a plethora of add-ons to increase efficiency ( CCGT / GUD ) aren’t really common here. Though that was to change I don’t think the process will continue.
          gas today is too expensive.
          one path could be gassifying coal …
          ( good efficiency comes with high process entry temps: 600++°C for steam only, ~~1600°C for the gas turbine, with that secondary steam system process exit is at similar temps.

      • “Today 2-stroke diesel engines for shipping reach beyond 60% efficiency! ( 155g/kWh )”

        Wonderful, but such engines tend to be the size of a house — so they’re not very useful in road vehicles 😉
        ICEs in cars have an efficiency of about 20%.

        • what do you expect from a _stationary_ 80MW power station?

          Then modern (automobile) diesels reach 35+% )

          Still using electric drive via batteries makes sense.
          60% power station, 95% grid, 95% power conversion into storage …

          Thermal energy is a PITA, most other forms can be converted ( in theory ) lossless.

      • The HCCI or RCCI gasoline engine is also showing efficiencies of 58% and seems to be showing around 50% in Formula 1 (which is Hybrid now). This makes the engine more efficient than fuel cells. It’s also clean, being able to actually improve air quality of the intake air in some cases.

        • And how many actual road vehicles is HCCI currently being used in?

          – Achieving cold start capability.
          – High heat release and pressure rise rates contribute to engine wear.
          – Autoignition is difficult to control, unlike the ignition event in SI and diesel engines, which are controlled by spark plugs and in-cylinder fuel injectors, respectively.
          – HCCI engines have a small torque range, constrained at low loads by lean flammability limits and high loads by in-cylinder pressure restrictions.
          – Carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbon (HC) pre-catalyst emissions are higher than a typical spark ignition engine, caused by incomplete oxidation (due to the rapid combustion event and low in-cylinder temperatures) and trapped crevice gases, respectively.

          • -These problems you list have long been solved and most definitely solved in the RCCI variant.
            -The Mazda HCCI engine is called Skyactiv-X solves them basically by operating as a SI when HCCI conditions do not exist.
            -With many countries legislating an effective compulsory conversion to battery electric vehicles by 2030 (rather absurdly in my views) the HCCI engine is not getting the investment it deserves. To get RCCI working properly will require the distribution of DME dimethylether. Either way the technology if combined with hybrid technology can cut automotive fuel burn to 45% fairly simply.

  4. The idea that rail can be used to supplant air travel within Europe is unrealistic.
    For example, Amsterdam (Holland) to Madrid (Spain) on Dec. 1:
    – 2h 40 m by plane, for about $55 one way (Air Europa).
    – 16h 15m by train (fastest connection, with 3 transfers), for about $350 one way (Renfe, SNCF, Thalys).

    People like to retort that it takes time to get to the airport and to clear security, etc. — but it also takes time to get to the train station and to clear the security there (high-speed trains in Europe now have airport-like security checks before boarding).

    For flights shorter than 1 hour, the comparison between plane and train (or car) starts to become more favorable.

    • “but it also takes time to get to the train station and to clear the security there”

      Haven’t seen airport like security passage in any (German) train station yet. 5 minutes ahead of departure is usually early enough.
      compare to airports: you are advised to be present for processing 1++ hour ahead of departure. lack of personnel FUBARed that quite regularly in recent years.

      • Eurostar train stations have airport-style security — in GB and the EU.
        Gare du Nord (Paris), Gare du Midi (Brussels), Liège-Guillemins TGV stations also.
        Same at all Spanish high-speed stations.

        • Eurostar is not a proper example as it has an absolutely non-significant share of the whole EU HST traffic.
          Only trains to London have security checks because of UK Gov requirements. Arriving early at the station is required because of border control, not safety checks per se.

          Spanish high-speed stations only use X-ray scanners for luggage. No thorough safety check on individuals. Arriving 10/15 mins before departure is enough.

          Outside of these 2 cases, there is no safety check whatsoever. For the simple reason that it’s … impossible. A double-decker TGV leaving Paris equals up to 1268 people + kids and luggage, boarding in 15 mins by using a platform only a few meters wide.
          French, German and Italian larger Stations have tens of entrances, making them impossible to secure. Commuter traffic and subway is shared with long-distance trains. Sometimes on the same platforms.

          As a matter of fact, leaving in Central Paris, it is usually worthless to fly if my train trip is less than 5h.
          In the Summer, going to Barcelona by train takes 6h45. Add everything up, and you’ll not even save half an hour by plane (2h).

    • Part of the reason why the rail time from Amsterdam to Madrid is that slow is that, mostly, the European nations have concentrated on building rail networks that make sense within their countries, with very little in the way of planning for cross-European travel.

      Once such example is France – their rail network is extremely Paris-centric, with the idea of a high speed interconnect to Spain being something of an afterthought. And transiting Paris has to be factored into a journey, which one might want to allow a couple of hours for if one’s got luggage.

      The European Commission has finally worked out that, perhaps, for an efficient European network there perhaps ought to be some coordinated planning. About 50 years late, which is a touch unfair (given that the EC didn’t exist back when the French were first planning their TGV network). However, the value of cross border planning was there for all to see, back in the 1980s when the TGV started running. It’s a failure of European politicians that such planning didn’t start then.

      For the record, if there were a dead-straight line from Amsterdam to Madrid, that is a distance of 920miles, and it’d take a current-era HS train about 5 hours, which is likely about par with an aircraft with in-airport time taken into account.

      • “For the record, if there were a dead-straight line from Amsterdam to Madrid,…”

        But there isn’t — and there never will be. It’s utterly impractical to connect every major city pair by straight lines (except in the air, of course).
        That’s the big problem with ground infrastructure.

      • In theory a european network would make sense. But when I look at the travesty re creating connections on the german side to the Fehmarn Belt and the new Alp tunnels, I dont have much hope.

      • -There are big Polish Plans to connect the Baltic to the Black Sea and high-speed rail is definitely wanted along with freight Rail.
        -With Hungary and Romania part of the EU and with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz’s speech at Charles University Prague promoting the idea of Ukraine, Moldovia and Georgia entering the EU the conditions are being created. Unfortunately, the last big Transnational mega rail project like this was the Orient Express or Berlin Baghdad railway. While genuinely motivated by a desire to create trade it created so much fear and resentment besides because beside the power of its economic impact it bypassed the Suez Canal, allowed troops to be moved within in Turkey and from Germany to the middle east) it created the tensions that led to WW1 about 10 years later.

        • You talk about the British Empire feeling endangered and acting accordingly.

          The BE did not survive that counter all too long.
          KrimConflict, WWI WWII .. BE fin.

          IMU we do see the same process today.
          Chinese Belt and Road initiative and functional Russian control of the “heartland” endangers the US global position.

          rinse repeat.

        • “Ukraine, Moldovia and Georgia entering the EU”

          Won’t be happening unless they satisfy all membership requirements — and they’re nowhere near that.

          Even if they did, membership would still need to be green-lighted unanimously by all current member states — and that’s not a realistic expectation.

          The EU won’t be undergoing any more big expansions.

          • @William, Bryce, et al: This post is NOT about Ukraine/etc/EU. Drop it.


  5. one reason that passenger rail is generally more viable in Europe vs the US is the tyranny of distance.

    typical distances between major cities in Europe are much less than anywhere in the US other than the DCBoston corridor

    • Additionally European living quarters are less spread out
      and public transport actually is functional.

      Living in forex Hamburg you don’t need a car.
      The public transport network is closely knit, high frequency. modern, clean and affordable.
      compare to living in your car while go slow commuting.

    • Straight-line distance from Northern Norway to Sicily is 2750 km.
      Northern Norway to Tenerife (part of the EU) is 4000 km.

      Dublin to Bucharest in 2550 km.
      Azores (part of the EU) to Bucharest is 4325 km.

      Those distances are also “tyrranical”.

      • yes, but also over water and therefore not amenable to rail. so what is your point?

        st croix to guam is over 15,000km.

        in practice most travel (even in europe) is within single countries, the largest of which is france, which is roughly .8 the size of texas with 2.5x the population.

        if makes sense to fly from NY to LA and being in one country it is quite common. there is no high speed rail, and even if there were it would take over 24 hours to make the trip. vs 9 including airport overheads to fly.

        the french equivalent would be Nice to Paris, which has a beautiful TGV route that can take as little as 6 hours, where flying out of CDG is over 2 hours before you even get on the plane, a 2 hour flight and then another hour to get to the center of Nice.

  6. Lots of ideology in the comments so far. Typical. One side assaulting the other. What’s new.

    I travel very heavily in the US/EU/Singapore-SEAsia. Homes in the US+EU. 5 times vaccinated against the chinese flu. Never saw a vaccine i did not like. But again i am from west (hard) africa.

    Made my initial money building real time drilling systems in Oil&Gas (in a specialty called mud-logging, upstream OG). Loved the business and… especially the people. Started as a 17 y old, block 17 with Chevron (i think) (operator with Sonangol) drilling offshore Angola – as a sample catcher at the time (late 1982).

    Loved and Love O&G.

    But at my age, traveling and reading (trending) on both sides (NYTimes/WSJ/Bloomberg/Handlesblatt/FAZ/LesEchos/LaTribune) for years i see the trends. We are simply burning too much carbon, trashing too much plastic (and many other things). At the scale of india+china+indonesia+brazil+nigeria+…, the planet will not sustain a US quality of life (EU’s quality is imploding in many countries – even germany is changing :-().

    As for the remedies, i’ll let the pundits insult each other.

    Trains will never work in the US (or the soviet union). Only in specific, bounded geographies. “Tyranny of distance” i read above. Well put. The economics will not work otherwise. It will need to be subsidized and that will fail (ultimately, inevitably). In the EU it works to some extend quite well but again only in some (many) geographies. And again because of the short distances. I enjoy very much the train for Paris/London or Paris/Mannheim (where my wife comes from). But i fly Paris/Hannover. No chance i’ll sit 7-8h in a train. Paris/Bordeaux is great (2h). Paris/Toulouse? 5-6h in a train? No way.

    Tyranny of geographies. Forget ideology.

    By the way, my wife (gently) coerced me to buy BWMs for the past 20 years. We got a Tesla Y to try 6 months ago. I was stunned how much i like driving it. No way back. Nothing to do around ideology. I just like driving it. It’s amazing. the torque. The feel. Though there is ‘some’ pleasure in just plugging it at home and saving a gas station trip.

    Commercial aviation (and business aviation even) has a way disproportional benefit to the wealth of the world because of business activities it enables and perpetuate than its carbon damage. I’d go to some (a lot) length to try to protect it vs. other polution sources like driving (gas) to an office every day. Though i see for my software business that having people together is more beneficial than having them working remote (in many cases, and especially for the young people).

    • With US population growing and if gates are openend 50-70 million poor immigrants will come quickly. Even with US life expectancy declining due to stress, fast food and drugs the roads will be filled with more cars and the US population will adapt to its choosen life style. New ideas can help, like having electrical aircrafts flying in semi submerged tunnels at 1″ altidude with atmospheric pressure of 60 000′ called hyperloop, parking your electric car at the nearest shopping mall and get off at another or at the airport where you find your company’s new offices and factories. If going directly it is sufficient going in 100mph and not 400kn. Back then the US population went by train so it is not against the law of nature and you can relabel hyperloop as flying instead of a train ride and move its certification to the FAA to get US political acceptance.

  7. Indeed. When I learned about this process, I was amazed how efficient HRSG is, as these things go.

    Still, it’s painful to think of the wasted energy even in a plant like this.

  8. Superb overview of the trade-offs that are almost always ignored by HSR advocates. In South Florida, the fledgling east coast HSR already has resulted in almost 60 deaths at rail crossings. Although most fatalities clearly have been caused by drivers seeking to “beat the train” across the tracks, the proximity of the rail lines to congested coastal cities is a concern. Something to think about in this rush to HSR around the country.

    • What am I not understanding?
      Are you seriously telling me that the US has level crossings on high speed rail lines?

      • Yes. From Miami currently to West Palm Beach, Florida. Soon to be extended to Cocoa Beach, up the east coast of Florida.

        • The answer of course is to elevate the lines and not run on freight tracks.

          There is faster rail in the US maybe but not HSR

  9. None of the issues regarding the challenges of technology of intercity rail matter, because we have zero political will.

    The California High Speed Rail program is the perfect example. The original purpose of the rail system was to move people between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are easily enough O&D trips to justify the train on that metric alone. When the rail was proposed, there was real concern that air traffic in this corridor was putting so many planes into the SFO and LAX air traffic control pattern that precious capacity to serve the rest of the country and the world would be threatened in the future.

    Then, the politics started:

    If you look at where I-5 goes, it is the textbook illustration of the 1950’s intent of the Interstate Highway System: to connect major cities with major cities. This was a radical change of concept of intercity road building in general which had always been to connect rural areas with their markets in cities.

    I-5 does not go through the Central Valley. BFL, VIS, MCE, SCK, FAT. None of these places are even near I-5.

    And Central Valley politicians were very up front about how that was not going to happen again.

    Unlike the Interstate Highway System that was 90% funded by the US government, California is paying a little over half of the money, at least for the now-orphaned segment between, BFL and MCE. The rail authority no longer even pretends that the system will be built up to its original plan.

    Why? Because of a total failure of political will. Central Valley politicians were completely open in their conviction that a monumental project like this was not going to bypass their constituents. So now the train that was supposed to connect SFO and LAX in the most efficient way is a ridiculously expensive local service train-Son of Amtrak.

    And worse yet, the state has allowed every podunk municipality the train passes through regulatory control over what happens within its borders. So the contractor for the state has to get a building permit from the issuing entity where a facility is located.

    They do not have these problems in China and they did not over half a century ago when the Japanese built the Bullet Train.

    Look at a map at all that lovely flat farm land between St. Louis and Chicago. What could be a more perfect place of 21st Century rail?

    Not a chance.

  10. Canada has the same problem as the US, made worse by the politicians selling both the track and the hard assets of CN when it was de-nationalized. The only rational solution is to fund higher-speed (meaning about 140mph) when viable (as in Southern Ontario, Quebec and Alberta) or to build (at public expense) a third rail along the primary freight routes.

    I would add to Scott’s illuminating comment that one other issue is the dominance in the US regulating bodies of freight railway and airline ‘influencers’ – the standard maximum speed allowable for passenger trains of 79mph without exceptions being granted being an utter joke in this century. It is as if the NTSB limited all jet airliners to a maximum of 390 knots.

    • Ah, yes. Just build a third rail. That is music to the ears of property rights lawyers and building contractors across the developed world.

      There are the children of children not yet born that will be sustained by the lawyers of property owners who will be suing when the government tries to take “just a little sliver” of their land for hundreds of miles and for contractors trying to turn a single or double bridge over thousands of culverts into a triple.

      I suppose the NTSB, or whatever regulator agency would limit jetliners to 390 knots if the air made them crash if planes exceeded that speed.

  11. Very good piece, Scott, thank you.

    Since I live in Puget Sound as you do, I can certainly relate to your arguments. Rail is a joke, as you pointed out here in the US, especially Sound Transit where the only people that ride it are vagrants and criminals.
    Consider yourself lucky you’re not in the taxing district.

    As for McChord AFB. There are two types of air bases, Air Mobility (McChord: C17’s) and Strategic (Fairchild: Fighters/KC 135’s/B52’s).
    There’s a very good reason McChord sits next door to Fort Lewis, and that’s the ability to quickly move those some 35,000 troops and equipment at Fort Lewis if the President orders it practically anywhere in the world.
    I agree that where McChord sits next to I-5 makes it a prime spot for future civil airport growth. But the defense department won’t be giving this up anytime soon. Way too important. McChord also supports combined practice missions with the Army regularly such as practice airborne drops. Can’t do this from Fairchild.

    Ultimately as your piece so eloquently states, the future is in aviation. It’s too bad our former leaders let the rail network be neglected.

    • @Airdoc:
      “Consider yourself lucky you’re not in the taxing district.”

      This is precisely one of the reasons we moved from Sammamish to Bainbridge Island.

    • Blame the residents of the 60’s and 70’s who voted against the light rail after Senator Magnusson secured federal funding to pay for a majority of it. Atlanta transit appreciates the gift. Now I live in a special ST taxing district to build an underwhelming, overtime, and over budget light rail 50 years too late that maybe I’ll ride once before I die. Who knows what it would have done for other transit options had the populace of Western Washington witnessed efficient urban mass transit in the last quarter of the 20th century.

      • There is a small upside to Senator Magnussen’s gift to Atlanta. The system that was being designed at the time was wholly Seattle centric. The emerging moderate Republicans were coalescing around the Eastside didn’t want to be permanently frozen out of rail transit.

        The system was also heavy rail. They had to rip up the never-used heavy rail tracks in the bus tunnel when they finally did get a more comprehensive light rail system.

        There’s no question opposition was a GOP finger in the Democratic eyes that ran the city of Seattle, but there was a small measure of good policy.

  12. This debate heavily hinges on whether or not we can get fusion running, or not.

    If one plans a low-impact transport network with today’s built-and-running power sources, it’s basically a story of increasing combustion efficiency, building a few electric rail lines here and there, some electrification of road transport and generally trying to minimise transport usage.

    If one were to build a large number of fission or fusion plants, that changes things a fair bit. With surplus electrical energy one could in principal synthesize hydrocarbon fuels direct from water / atmospheric CO2, probably, and burn that in aircraft. So long as those aren’t pumping out too much NOX, that’s clean.

    Partly, this a leap of faith. We can assume that the (very large number) of scientists / engineers working on fusion will all fail, or we can assume they will succeed. To me it feels like most of the debate, most of the planning and development is confused and dysfunctional because no one settles on the “will fusion work?” question.

    If fusion does work, transport could remain more or less as is, either electrified or running on synthetic fuel. Having said all that, population trends tend towards city-dwelling. Japan has one of the most enviable transport networks in the whole wide world, and is experiencing a migration of jobs towards Tokyo with cities as far away as Osaka becoming dormitory towns. The same thing is going on all over the world. Fewer and fewer people want to live in rural, far away locations. If that trend continues in the USA, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to sustain the aviation network as it is today, regardless of sources of energy.

    So there’s a lot of factors, and getting it right is probably impossible!

    • We don’t necessarily need fusion: thorium salt fission will do just fine, and it’s available today.

      Incidentally, practical fusion is not clean: the most technologically accessible fusion reaction (Deuterium-Tritium) has significant environmental drawbacks.

  13. Eisenhower was named commander of Operation Overlord because of his expertise in logistics. When Eisenhower returns from Europe and plans for the interstate transit system, he understands the military significance of an interstate highway system that supplants the inherent choke points of rail hubs.

    It is the same reason that why Rome built roads to allow its professional army to be rapidly deployed and provisioned in the field. The Appian Way, which originates at center of Rome at the Roman Forum, was built purposely for the Samnite Wars. Rome’s extensive road system is what permitted the empire to dominate its neighbors for centuries with a small standing professional army.

    Currently, the Ukraine-Russia war highlights once again how Russia’s primary reliance on rail for logistics places them on a strategic disadvantage. They are incapable of operating more than 25 miles from a rail hub.

    The United States’ investment in its interstate highway system should therefore be considered in the context of supporting its post-WWII international security role. Just as in Rome, the highway system allows the US to rapidly redeploy its military from one coast to the other. US politics in the 1950s and 1960s is dictated by opposition and containment of communism.

    Remember as well that the US highway system and suburban sprawl only occurs with plentiful and inexpensive gasoline and diesel, where the price on the international market up through 1972 is set by the United States.

    The United States has never really had to face the problems of sustained high energy costs. Europe, especially France and Norway, understand that energy imports which are subject to exogenous shocks are a threat both to the economy and security. Germany is now founding out its mistakes of reliance on Russian natural gas and decommissioning nuclear power. The high taxes on gasoline and diesel in Europe have proved to minimize balance-of-payment imbalances and incentivized wise and efficient use of energy. The lesson from Europe is that a high standard of living is possible with much lower energy use than like that in the United States.

    The political will to fund HSR on the national level is possible only when there is consensus that such a network is in the economic and security interests of the country. That consensus does not exist today as evidence by the “All of the Above”, “Energy Dominance” and “Drill Baby Drill” signaling, and the climate denialism of one party.

    Reality though is that it would be a failure to presume that the low-cost and carbon-intensive past that the United States has benefited is possible going forward. The tight oil fracking boom in the US provided a brief respite, but both geology and climate mean that economy is to be re-invented.

    In the context of a new airport, the question on the forefront should be whether public investment in infrastructure makes sense in a low-carbon economy. Tax dollars are limited. Is it a wise use of tax dollars to fund airports where the high cost of sustainable aviation fuels means a decrease in air shipment of highly perishable goods? Will it continue to make economic sense to airfreight cherries from Moses Lake to Asian markets? Will business travel, especially international travel, be supplanted by virtual collaboration through Zoom and Teams? Should we be assuming that there will continue to be weekend vacation trips to Vegas? Is this investment eventually going to be a wasted stranded capital asset? The case for airport expansion is that it likely could be. Not so much for High Speed Rail.

    • One of the reasons for Russia reliance of rail traffic (and that of the Ukraine and Siberia) is that during the wet season and the spring thaw ( Rasputitsa) unsealed roads turn to mud while sealed once collapse.
      -The fact that the US was able to provide Russia with 600,000 4WD/6WD trucks lets us know the US automotive industry was well established before 1940.
      -While a cynic of high speed rail outside of appropriate areas I have a romantic soft spot for the Reichbahns “Breitsphurbahn” or 3 meter 10 foot broad gauge which would have had 6 meter /20 foot wide cars.
      -It was hoped to build this gauge from Berlin down to the Black Sea and out to Siberia, across to China and also the Berring Sea to Alaska, down and across the US and thence through to Brazil. Chile and Argentina.
      -A carriage with of 6m/20ft would allow a wide body jet liner fuselage to be transported, a nuclear reactor core, large chemical reactors or fully built factories. First class carriages with full sized lounge rooms and bedrooms with on suites and cinemas.
      -The freight possibilities interest me the most.

      • “Breitspurbahn”

        That would have made only sense connecting (lesser) metropoles to the Global Capital Germania.

        fortunately this foundered.

        • -A Freight Track from South America up though Central America, Mexico, West Coast USA, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, China and on to Europe via Russia would work very well for all countries involved even now. Using Rail to connect Asia to Europe was developing. The speed of rail would have been 3-4 times that of fast ships. Perhaps 3300 kilometers or 2000 miles/day enough to take custom from air freight as well as sea freight.
          -A 3m/10ft gauge with 6m/20ft carriage width might have changed the way global manufacturing happens but clearly isn’t needed for most goods.
          -Not many will want to travel from Buenos Ares to Paris or Berlin this way even at VFT speeds, but it will likely increase economic integration and increase demand for air travel.

          • I don’t think a train from hemisphere to hemisphere to work. The initial costs would only be exceeded operating costs for all that track.

          • There are currently about 15 trains per week between China and various countries in the EU. They’re faster than ships, but they still take 2 weeks to make the trip — which has 3 different gauges along its routes. Unfortunately, the volume of goods carried is tiny compared to sea shipping — remember that, nowadays, a single ship can carry more than 20,000 sea containers.
            Like air travel, sea shipping doesn’t require route infrastructure — apart from the odd canal here and there.

    • The reality is that the US Interstate Highway system was not needed and irrelevant to US National Defense.

      Rail is what moves bulk freight, not the highway system. The 1s Armor Division moves on rails to the ports.

      Unless the US was invaded, highways are not relevant (supplement yes). Highway is used for faster delivery but at a loss of bulk capability as well as economics (and get rid of coal and rail is freed up a lot).

      • @TransWorld.
        That conclusion is incorrect when one reviews the historical record.

        “In 1954, Eisenhower appointed Clay to head the President’s Advisory Committee on the National Highway System. The so-called “Clay Committee” began work to develop a national highway plan, and its outcome was a report to Congress on the National Highway Program.

        The resulting “Grand Plan” obligated $50 billion of federal funds over 10 years to build a “vast system of interconnected highways.” The committee based its proposal on four points. The first point appealed to safety. It cited 36,000 traffic fatalities each year and the multibillion dollar effect on the economy.

        Next, the report cited the physical conditions of existing roads and their effect on the cost of vehicle ownership. It was thought poorly maintained roads adversely affected the economy by increasing transportation costs, which were ultimately borne by the consumer.

        The third point involved national security. The pervasive threat of nuclear attack in the United States called for the ability to execute the emergency evacuation of large cities and the quick movement of troops essential to national defense. ”

        “In a July 1954 speech to the Governors’ Conference, Vice President Richard Nixon expressed concern over the “appalling inadequacies” of the existing U.S. road infrastructure and its inability to meet the needs for responding to a national emergency on the scale of atomic war. Nixon mentioned atomic or atomic war no less than 10 times in the speech. ”


        • “In a July 1954 speech to the Governors’ Conference, Vice President Richard Nixon expressed concern over the “appalling inadequacies” of the existing U.S. road infrastructure and its inability to meet the needs for responding to a national emergency on the scale of atomic war. Nixon mentioned atomic or atomic war no less than 10 times in the speech. ”

          Me thinks that in an atomic war, the concrete might have a hole or two in it every four inches or so….

          • Around cities or other strategic targets, sure. But on the long stretches between cities, which would be used for disaster relief/troop positioning/supply convoys? You would have to waste an awful lot of nukes on otherwise empty real estate to significantly dent the interstate system.

      • The tanks and tracked vehicles of the 1st Armored move on rails en masse sure, but the army’s vehicle inventory is not ONLY tanks and tracked vehicles. Most of the vehicles are wheeled and do in fact utilize the US highway system. Drive on I-90 and I-82 near training time and you’ll see a lot of green and tan vehicles making their way to the Yakima Training Center. Hard to do if you didn’t have an efficient Federal Interstate Highway system. NATO soldiers stationed in Germany during the Cold War appreciated an efficient limited access highway system too when they trained to speed toward the Fulda gap.

  14. TYPO at the very beginning of your paper Scott!
    You say “The French government wants to ban most airline flights of two hours or less within the country.”
    That would ban ALL flights
    France is not vast: less than 1000KM high and 1000KM wide

    Flights which are banned are linking cities which have a rail connection of less than 2 hours (around 250 miles high speed rail)
    Actually very few flights were banned….

    • Check where French Guyana, Reunion, New Caledonia, or other overseas departments and regions are and recalculate those “not so vast” distances 😉

      • Frank W are you joking?
        Flights cannot be banned to overseas departments and regions!
        There is no train going there!

  15. Scale? What works for small country usually does not apply well large.
    USA : 331,002,651 p/ 9,147,420 km2 = 36 p/km2 w/83% urban
    Netherlands: 17,134,872 p/ 33,720 km2 = 508 p/km2 w/92% ”
    Netherlands ~ size Indiana (km2), which works in favor for car/rail (short distance, relatively low cost, few time constraints). Different scene than USA (think ‘macro .vs. micro’ economies), where the USA has >19x people, >271x land, and only 2.7% the population density people/km2 compared to Netherlands) e.g. need vastly more $$ sites to achieve economic feasibility.

    • Conversely, the Los Angeles metropolitan area has 3,275 people per square kilometer, and an area of 87,940 km2. So, its rail system could — in theory — be just as fantastic as in The Netherlands (which has the busiest rail network in the EU, and the third busiest in the world).
      Alas for the people of LA — the reality on the ground is somewhat different.

  16. “Airbus has announced the commissioning of the first A321 aircraft to be assembled at its Final Assembly Line Asia (FAL Tianjin) in Tianjin, China. The breakthrough expands and deepens the collaboration with China’s aviation industry, and demonstrates Airbus’ commitment to enhance its long-term strategic partnership with China..”


    • So, even though China has a stunning high-speed rail network, it still sees the need for expansive air transport.

        • its obvious. look at distances and _population density distribution_

          The average green uncompromising virginity demanding projects are unworkable.

          advised reading session: Blish : “Torrent of Faces”

  17. Richard Heinberg: “..Hence the rather sudden and widespread interest in the creation of a circular economy in which everything is recycled endlessly. Unfortunately, as economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen discovered in his pioneering work on entropy, recycling is always incomplete and always costs energy. Materials typically degrade during each cycle of use, and some material is wasted in the recycling process..”

    More than “some”, actually. Interesting that Heinberg did not directly mention EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) in this piece. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2022-11-22/the-renewable-energy-transition-is-failing/

    As for ready-to-go Thorium Salt reactors: I’ll believe it when I see it. More hopium..

  18. Scott, you make it sound impossible to establish some high speed lines in the US. That sounds very unamerican, where’s your can-do spirit?
    Since the fall of the Berlin wall we’ve managed to build a handful of new lines in germany. And we have one of the most regulated and contested infrastructure planning environments of the world. Its neither easy nor cheap to get it through all the hoops. But if there’s a political will, it will be possible. I think thats the bigger hurdle in the US. German car manufactorers never pursued the idea to lobby against railways. Thats a purely american desease, you wont find that anywhere else.

    That beeing said, I think you might create a bigger impact by building subways in the cities first. Thats much more traffic volume than what you have on long distance routes. And yes, you can drill the tunnels underground without ripping the city open. And you can place those deep enough to bypass any supply lines. We’re doing that all the time in Hamburg. Costs a fortune, but the tech is there.

    • @nofly:

      As a planning commissioner, I supported multi-modal transportation (cars, buses, light rail). But as a politician (which is planning commissioner is, essentially, since you can’t divorce land use from politics), there’s political and fiscal reality with taxpayer dollars. Say what you will about Elon Musk (and there’s a lot to say), his privately funded SpaceX and Boring companies are doing things governments can’t or won’t do. Jeff Bezos Blue Origin, also private money, joins SpaceX in doing space stuff government-funded NASA can’t do.

      But if memory serves, the Chinese were interested in the California projects and withdrew because of cost, delays and politics.

      • I think it might change political dynamics to do it on a federal level, as we’re doing it here. If there’s a budget anyway, it becomes a race to get the most out of it for your home area for each congress man.

    • Clearly you didn’t have to deal with the Big Bertha tunnel drilling highway 99 debacle that plagued Seattle for years which produced a lackluster tunnel (putting it lightly). Don’t underestimate our ability to dig crappy over budget and overtime transit tunnels lol.

      • Our problems are largely structural, with governing systems that were designed from the beginning to diffuse power and deliberately choke off concentration.

        Our gelded legislature could have asserted state authority in a heartbeat on the 99 tunnel if it wanted to, but even back then, being “inclusive” was more important that getting the job done properly at the lowest cost to the taxpayers.

        But I don’t think the can-do spirit of America is lost. We pulled off a miracle with the Covid vaccine and were shockingly focused getting aid to Ukraine.

  19. Two additional points to consider.

    My perception is that the most influential event in European transportation in the last 20+ years has been the growth of low-cost airlines which have greatly expanded travel opportunities. Ryanair was one of the first, and now there are many. Europe’s high-speed rail networks are nice for show but the airports and low-cost airlines get most of the job done.

    For Texas, Hamilton mentions the original high-speed train proposal which died a long time ago. But there is a much more recent failure, Texas Central, between Houston and Dallas. TC completed the environmental impact statement (which took a very long time), but could not get all needed permits. This is in Texas with negligible environmental concerns compared to most places. The terrain between Houston and Dallas is generally flat and minimally populated (=inexpensive to build compared to most places).

    Texas Central is not officially dead, but its board of directors has been dissolved and it no longer has a management team. So as a practical matter it is dead. Why? First, there is the cost. Initially estimates were $12 billion, and the estimate before the recent spate of inflation was around $30 billion. When interest rates went up, it killed any chance of getting low-interest loans, which were a necessity for any chance of financial viability.

    Second, there has been ongoing litigation from rural areas in the train’s path. TC was able to survive the legal challenges, but there will be more challenges if the project somehow comes back to life. I think lawsuits would be likely for most greenfield routes for high speed rail. (Although I’m not aware of any in California.)

    Bottom line: high speed rail is absurdly expensive, will require massive government subsidies, will have environmental and legal problems in most places you try to build it, and will have negligible impact on carbon reduction (if any at all). Airports are far more efficient. One airport gets you service to a vast number of destinations.

    • It did not help that TC did not know how to talk to people they were about to buy land from (LOLOLOL………they never had the money…….LOLOLOLOL). The rural people stated they were willing to deal, for goodness sake they deal will underground gas lines being laid across their land often. As they put it, TC came across smug and condescending, oh did I mention they did not have any money. Yeah, I am going negotiate with a company that says,” wait and see?” Please, can’t blame the rural people on this and I was for this project, having lived through the disappointment of the 90s project being sunk by SWA. SWA gave TC its blessing this time around and still could not make a go of it.

      CHSR project and TC have sullied the waters for high speed rail in the US for decades with cost overruns and just plains lies.

      I take no please in this, I am for high speed rail, but the only high speed rail outside of the NEC will be a 90 mph catenary less railroad.

      • Our problems are largely structural, with governing systems that were designed from the beginning to diffuse power and deliberately choke off concentration.

        Our gelded legislature could have asserted state authority in a heartbeat on the 99 tunnel if it wanted to, but even back then, being “inclusive” was more important that getting the job done properly at the lowest cost to the taxpayers.

        But I don’t think the can-do spirit of America is lost. We pulled off a miracle with the Covid vaccine and were shockingly focused getting aid to Ukraine.

      • Considering that Texas has some “creative” laws regarding eminent domain, allowing private, for-profit corporations to use it to acquire rights of way for oil pipelines, for example, that they couldn’t figure out how to do a deal for a railroad must have been an epic failure of politics and p.r.

    • >Airports are far more efficient. One airport gets you service to a vast number of destinations.

      You really should visit Japan, Switzerland or Germany. Given an extensive rail network, railway connections up to 4hours are much more efficient and hazzle free than flights. You’ll have some trunk routes serviced by high speed trains and then change to a slower train to connect to any other destination.

      >Europe’s high-speed rail networks are nice for show but the airports and low-cost airlines get most of the job done.

      Ryanair and co have completely abandoned the german inland market. Why? If there’s a railway connection up to 4hours, thats usually much more convenient and kills the business case for flights. You can observe that every couple of years when a new high speed connection comes online or has been improved to a point below 4 hours.

      Legal problems? You can always find excuses to not do something. Infrastructure projects in germany dont enjoy any less resistance than what you imagine for the US. It costs money, time – but its doable. Of course you need the neccessary buerocrats to see it pushed through over a potentially long time.

  20. I’m not sure I really understand the problem.

    So the USA is too big for HSR? then there is too plenty space to build it. It’s not a technological or commercial issue. The problem is political.

    • Sonik:

      The US is not China nor the density of the center EU states.

      The US does not have the number of huge cities China has nor the free ability to not worry about legalities.

    • I think of every creek and culvert the existing Amtrak Cascades line between Vancouver and Eugene goes and can just picture the children who aren’t even a glimmer in their lawyer parents’ eyes who will be put through college with the fees spent “protecting the salmon”, which of course, will just be the legal excuse for the luddites to stop it.

  21. One of the issues is that no one in the US seems to understand the difference between a High Speed Line and higher speed train service. The former is indeed impossibly expensive (HS2 in the UK costs an incredible six times as much per kilo as most European 220-350kph lines) and difficult to build in nations (primarily Anglo-Saxon) with ludicrously complex opportunities for litigation and an endlessly inventive passion for individualism. Europe largely dodges these costs because most nations use existing facilities where possible (train stations and the dozen or so miles into a large city or town) and because there is little public antagonism to the state paying money to improve infrastructure. Even so there is no attempt to claim that trains beat planes for speed or cost (though always for comfort) for distances greater than say the length of France – such as Paris to Bordeaux or Marseille. Any further is only of benefit to those that treasure comfort and relaxation over time.

    • David. I understand your points, but Im not sure you understand that virtually every mile of railroad track is privately owned. The grandiose plan to install HSR between San Francisco and Los Angeles is already estimated to be 90 BILLION dollars over the existing budget, and the only rail on the ground so far is between Bakersfield and Merced, not exactly hubs of humanity. This rail link also hasn’t figured out a path or methodology to bore through the mountains yet. Most of us will be dead far before this is completed.

      • Same problem as here in Canada: The only sensible (meaning politically viable) solution suggested is to compel joint (rail company/government) funding of an additional or third track or/and additional extended sidings so as to allow ‘higher’ speed trains. Meaning passenger at 200 kph and freight at 160kph. Even minor changes such as raising the speed limit where trains are diverted onto sidings to let faster ones go by from the present ludicrous 10-15mph to a European normal of 35-40mph would help.

    • HS2 in the UK is also a misnomer.

      People see HS as high speed and yes it is relatively high speed LINE and will allow quicker transit between cities, BUT it’s actually a line built for capacity.

      HS2 is largely an additional line that moves passengers off the existing lines and thus allows more freight on the existing lines. The additional freight capacity reduces large heavy goods vehicle traffic on the roads and thus reduces road traffic congestion.

      HS2 is also a part of the effort to reduce CO2 emissions.

      HS1 (UK speed record 208 mph) is the line between London and the Channel Tunnel, the implementation of which brought down the time between London and Paris to 2 hrs 16 minutes from around 3 hrs.

      London to Paris via high speed rail really is competitive against flights, I’m not sure where else it would really work. I have used the Acela Express between Boston and New York and wasn’t impressed, didn’t reach very high speed much of the time and stopped for quite a while as a crossing hadn’t been closed.

      If Boston to New York and on to Washington was a proper high speed line (200 mph + and no crossings) it would probably work pretty well.

      I have taken Eurostar from London all the way to Bourg-Saint-Maurice to ski in Val d’Isère before and it was actually slightly less painful than the flight equivalent London to Lyon, Chambéry or Geneva and continuing the journey by bus. The better option was Eurostar to Paris, grab a meal and take the Snow Train sleeper to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

      Many of the commuter rail lines in the UK run about 90 to 100 mph.

  22. Getting back on the topic of High Speed Rail or Very Fast Trains. I highly recommend this videoblog by VisualPolitic of what can go wrong economically if decisions are made politically rather than on a commercial basis. I think folks will find it unbiased.
    There is a place for High Speed Rail in Europe and the USA but it is not the answer to everything. It can only replace aircraft in certain niche areas where there are large cities that need to be connected and those cities have population with high disposable incomes. Outside of that it can be a disaster.

  23. There is an assumption built into this well-written opinion, and it is that air traffic is going to double in the next 20-30 years. This sort of projection is frequently interrupted by reality. To take but one example, look at the “population explosion” scare of the 1970s vs most industrialized countries now having negative population growth (in America, immigration more than makes up the different, but not in Japan, Russia, most of Europe, etc.).

    Many knowns and unknowns can, and probably will, make air passenger projections a chimera. These can be economic, social, regulatory, industrial, and so forth. To take one hypothetical, no new refinery has been built in America since the 70s, but many have closed. At some point jet fuel is going to get very, very expensive or just plain unavailable, and flying will return to an elite activity as it was until the middle 1960s.

    In the Seattle area, (Un)Sound Transit will complete capital construction just about the time it is completely obsolete, due to self-driving cars, telecommuting, etc. This second airport will almost certainly suffer the same fate.

    • “At some point jet fuel is going to get very, very expensive or just plain unavailable”

      Based on what logic?
      Regardless of its own refining capacity, the US can continue to import oil from other countries.
      And when it finally gets around to re-tooling some if its existing refineries to cope with domestic sweet crude instead of foreign sour crude (projected: 2025), it can move toward reducing its oil imports.

    • Yeah, there does seem to be some unpleasant rumbling about that.

      I think these kinds of projects get going in the first place because the designers and the politicians always have a Get Out of Jail Free card.

      Since they are rarely wholly self-sustaining in the first place, their creators always fall back on the “Oh, well. We can just increase general taxpayer support.”

      That principle wasted no time in being implemented with the county bus system. “We’ll just keep providing these money-sucking services that we emergency subsidized with Covid (and federal Covid relief) money on a permanent basis. That way we don’t have to make cuts and anger ‘activists’.”

  24. Although I am not an expert on this subject matter, Scott’s report sure clarifies the dilemma in some city pairs. Hopefully, when as the country’s infrastructure is rebuilt, the most judicious decisions will be made.

  25. Thorium Molten Salt Reactors

    Why is everybody hung up on battery technology and recyclability. That’s a minor issue compared to the Elctrical Generation Shortfall that will prevent those batteries from being filled. Nobody here is looking at the fact that the only path forward to provide this capacity is Nuclear Generation. China, as we speak, is building TMSRs to start their move to build capacity to electrify everything. The West needs to do the same. Build 2 standardized plants, one large, one of lesser capacity for rural areas, on an assembly line basis. It should be able to build the capacity necessary and that leaves the distribution problem as the tall pole in the tent.

    • “Nobody here is looking at the fact that the only path forward to provide this capacity is Nuclear Generation”

      Not true — there are various commenters here saying the same thing.
      Unfortunately, in “the west”, any progress on this front is being impeded by uninformed activists. For example, the Dutch government wants to build 5 TMSRs, which would solve the sustainable energy problem in NL in one step. But stuck-in-the-mud Greens are up in arms at the idea — and, unfortunately, we have a lot of those here in Europe.

  26. The train is time-competitive with the plane for travel times of up to 3 or 4 hours.

    Where high-speed train connections (under 4h) exist, the market takes care of drastically reducing flights, without the need for legislative interventions.

    Typically, as a rule of thumb, Easyjet doesn’t operate any routes that would have a train equivalent of three hours or less; https://simpleflying.com/why-easyjet-does-not-operate-flights-where-trains-are-3-hours-or-less/.

    Since 2009, a high-speed railway connects Rome to Milan (and other cities such as Turin, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Naples).
    Between 2003 and 2005, over 2.4 million passengers a year flew between Milano Linate (LIN) and Rome Fiumicino (FCO). That route alone accounted for 10% of Italian domestic traffic.
    In 2021, it accounted for less than 2%. (https://travelradar.aero/high-speed-rail-vs-airplane-the-italian-case/).
    Low-Cost Carriers (Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizz Air, Volotea) currently operate no flights between Rome and above cities.

  27. Just more right-wing talk radio blather where they like to throw around words like “incompetent” as if some AM radio talking head would remotely be capable of judging over 100’s of experts.

    The new arrivals facility just opened earlier this year after being slowed by Covid. There are still countless details to flesh out.

    There are staffing shortages everywhere, which has nothing to do with the years-long planning and design of the facility.

    Given the pre-Covid gridlock that was there mid-day when maybe a dozen international flights all hit in a 4 hour mid-day window in a facility that was built for 2 Pan Am and 3 Northwest widebodies all day, the only thing incompetent would have been to do nothing.

    If you think a “clean sheet of paper for a new airport is remotely a possibility, you must not live around here. This in not Denver in the 1980’s.

  28. “You often can’t even feel the mating of each rail,”

    Rail matings have been done via thermite welding for a long time here. i.e. very few matings. none on HSR.

    Another difference is that freight trains go much faster.
    They top out at 120km/h, express freight 160km/h.
    That makes them fit in with non HSR passenger trains.

    Adapting that to the US would require a major about face.
    difficult in a country that today likes to avoid up front investment. ( I suppose that the highway system from the 50ties would be impossible to recreate today.)

  29. “Amtrak’s quickest trip from Seattle to Spokane, a distance of 311 miles, is advertised at 7 hr 40 min”

    That’s pretty horrific. Reminds me of travelling similar distance from Kyoto to Hiroshima by train in … 1h45h. Go there in the morning, full day of sightseeing
    then go back in the evening. And of course it is much more comfortable than flying.

  30. Although the train in Japan probably doesn’t go through some challenging mountains on tracks built by private investors, primarily for freight in the 19th Century.

    There are some advantages when your country has been nuked and gets to start from scratch.

    • Only two cities in Japan were “nuked” — not the entire country.

      As various other commenters here have pointed out, the main problem is that the US tends to be “allergic” to federal spending (except on defense), whereas other countries don’t suffer from such reticence.

      • Well, of course I know the whole of Japan was not nuked, but it might as well have been given the near-total destruction of its infrastructure.

        The US is almost alone in the world in being a federal system rather than a confederacy as is Canada or Switzerland, or, most commonly, a unitary system as in the UK or Japan.

        A unitary system means decision-making and funding is centralized, making projects of a national nature, much easier to plan and implement. In the US, states do much of the work that is done at the national level elsewhere. Defense is centralized, so that is indeed one thing we spend money on at the national level.

        But it’s worth remembering that while states do most of the work, the United States government does essential work in planning and funding.

        We don’t have a national rail system because it’s a dumb idea, not because we couldn’t do it.

          • The Netherlands is also a federation.
            In addition to state (provincial) spending, the main spending is at federal level.

        • The US federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and dates to 1993. It is not indexed to inflation which should have increased the tax by 93% to 35.5 cents per gallon. The result is an under investment in practical things like bridge maintenance and road repair. It also results in funds not being allocated back to states to address other mobility needs, like mass transit and rail. Certainly this is a reason why the US has 650-850 deaths per year in train-automobile collisions at crossings. The US has not been able to raise federal gas tax primarily due to inherent Constitutional bias that provides conservative rural states with disproportionate representation in the Senate. Coming back to the topic at hand, this is also a reason why both High Speed Rail and airport construction are primarily funded by user fees and state revenue.

          • Indeed.
            In backtracking the recent (fiasco) tax cuts in the UK, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
            “You cant have European-level public services based on American-level taxes”.

          • Jeff….. You are unaware of the tax picture….. Here is the breakdown of Gasoline taxes in Washington State.

            How much is the gas tax in Washington state?
            49.4 cents
            18.4 cents (Federal gas tax) + 49.4 cents (State gas tax) + 46 cents (Emissions tax impact) + 1 cent (Low Carbon tax impact) = $1.14.8 beginning in 2023.

          • @ Scott Correa
            $1.148 tax on a pump price of $4.50 implies that 25.5% of the pump price is tax.
            In The Netherlands, 63% of the pump price is tax.

            Low tax = low public facilities.

          • Bryce.
            Comparing the gasoline tax rate in the Netherlands compared to the US is virtually meaningless. The Netherlands 2021 gasoline usage there was 88 thousand barrels a day. The US used 8.80 Million Barrels a day. The Netherlands taxes are high because the revenue generated needs to be economically significant as they do not have the economy (or problems) of scale needed to accomplish their tasks. The US, consuming 100,000 times as much gasoline each day as the Netherlands, generates huge tax revenues. Your posit that low funding = low facilities seems to fail when viewing gross revenue. It is true that Quantity has a Quality all its own.

          • @ Scott Correa
            (1) The Netherlands also has a smaller population and area than the US — you forgot to factor that in.
            (2) Petrol tax for other countries in the EU is at a similar level to that in The Netherlands. Your comparison fails completely when the EU is taken as a reference.

            Once again:
            Low taxes = low public services.

          • Bryce wrote…..Your comparison fails completely when the EU is taken as a reference.

            First, we werent discussing the EU. We were discussing the Netherlands, which was the subject of your replys to me. You picked it. After I showed the fly in your ointment with numbers showing how badly your example was, you tried to segue into using the EU as the argument starting point, moving the goalposts so to speak. Then you make a presumptious statement that my analysis fails when applied to the EU. Lets forget for a minute that you are now mixing apples and oranges as I have not run the numbers for the EU and I have not published an opinion on that…. What is so difficult about holding somebody (you) to what they wrote, you’re giving a guy a pile of crap because he was shown, with numbers, to be wrong about the size of europe . Why is he different than you, why are you grinding him on the numbers when substituting the EU in his case changes things dramatically. You brought the Netherlands up, I didnt, your statement was wrong, and you should accept that instead of trying to find cover by changing the argument….. I see that you are unwilling to be wrong, pity, Intellectual honesty flys out the window when looking good trumps honesty

          • @ Scott Correa
            I see that I’ll have to make this simpler for you.
            When making comparisons between countries, one needs to look at things like tax revenue, consumption and federal expenditure ** per capita ** in order to make meaningful comparisons.
            So, your statement:
            “The Netherlands taxes are high because the revenue generated needs to be economically significant as they do not have the economy (or problems) of scale needed to accomplish their tasks.”
            is flawed, because you forgot to look at per-capita figures. When one looks per capita, the GDP figure for the USA is $61,280 whereas that for NL is $52,331 — of the same order.
            Despite the similarity in GDP per capita, The Netherlands has universal healthcare, free third-level education, better infrastructure, and a lower per-capita debt. Why? Higher taxes.

            The EU was introduced into the argument so as to show you an entity with a similar GDP to the US, but with similar taxes to The Netherlands. Evidently, this was too difficult for you to follow, because it put you in a temper.

        • Although i agree with you, I will nitpick that Canada is a confederacy. It is not. It is a federal system with similar characteristic to the US such as devolved powers to the Provinces and Territories but with more deference to the unitary British parliamentary system. Where you get “Confederacy” from in relation to Canada was the 1867 Confederation of Canada where Newfoundland and New Brunswick joined the Dominion. It’s really just a matter of semantics in that case. Australia is another good example of a major western country that practices Federalism with similar characteristics to Federalism found in the US and Canada, with major domestic governing performed primarily by its States and Territories.

    • The problem with the Pontificattion is it ignores the reality of the US vs Europe (China is an exception due to government money and policy)

      Europe would fit inside Alaska or two Texas sized areas. Its a relatively small area with high population density.

      High speed rail or Bart of the Washington Metro makes sense for higher density. It does not Seattle to Chicago (or even Spokane, another cow town though the cost of living in cow towns is a lot less!)

      Equally so, the Airport system is paid for by Federal Dollars, in short the whole aircraft system is heavily subsidized (including the FAA to do all the activities say the auto industry is not had to have – which is also subsidized by road building)

      Denver Airport went way over budget. Access can be horrid during snow storms though the rail system (right) now helps that out.

      The reality is most of Seatac passengers are passing through. Moses Lake would make a fine Pass Through location. Seatac would then be viable for the Tacoma-Bellingham corridor passengers.

      Seattle could use light rail though having used the bus system that works quite nicely.

      • “Europe would fit inside Alaska or two Texas sized areas”

        Land area Europe: 10.53 million km2
        Land area USA: 9.834 million km2
        Land area EU: 4.233 million km2
        Land area Alaska: 1.723 million km2
        Land area Texas: 0.695 million km2

        Any other wild assertions? 😏

        • 😉

          Europes’s combo of sensible transit options is exhilarating
          for a USian like me to use. Admirable..

        • Europe density is relevant as Europe (depending on what you include or exclude) does not have a 3000 mile break between its two main population areas.

          And down the West coast it is long stretches between the big cities.

          And yes I expect Bryce to look up the numbers so I did not have to.

          But, what is the land area of France, Germany and the Channel States? What is the network of fast rail vs HSR as well as shared rail?

          • “Europe… does not have a 3000 mile break between its two main population areas.”

            Poor TW seems to think that the interior of the US has no big cities — imagine that!
            Here’s a list of the largest cities in the US: can anyone spot the ones that aren’t on/near the east or west coast? Really difficult! 🤔😅

            1st hint: look at numbers 3, 4 and 5.
            2nd hint: ever heard of a state called Texas?
            3rd hint: Denver (CO) is as big as Amsterdam.


      • Oh come on – there are vast areas of Europe as empty as any in the US – been to Northern Finland or Sweden lately, or the Balkans or rural Poland? There is zero difference between Europe and the US when it comes to the viability of HSR: It is just that in Europe there are far more population masses within HSR distance (up to 5 hours at an average of 200kph plus) than in the US. But were the US as capable as Europe (or China or even India) in building new infrastructure there would be genuine HSR from Virginia to Maine, from New York to Albany and beyond as well as the obvious two city twins in Texas, Florida and elsewhere. But political corruption (made legal of course), a peculiar disbelief in taxes and an absurdly tolerance for legal entanglements means that the US will likely remain the proud possessor of a 19th Century freight train model for generations to come.

    • Goforride:

      You clearly did not follow the nuttiness of expanding Narita (see the Runway in the ocean that keeps sinking).

      The farmers at one point attacked the airport and wrecked the control tower systems.

      • @TW: Narita is landlocked, not near an ocean. But the farmer thing was pretty amusing.

      • Why would you say I clearly didn’t follow it when my then girlfriend lived in Japan at the time. It was pretty hard to miss.

        It seems a strange conclusion to draw with zero evidence.

        • Don’t pay too much attention to it — it’s part of the territory here 😉

          He’s confusing Narita (Tokyo) with Kansai (Osaka).
          They’re separated by about 500km, but that’s not important 😉

  31. Patently different local & regional population densities, plus any need to cross international borders, distances between high density areas and the existence of effective local public transprtation networks affect the viability or lack of for different modes of transport above a given range. And patently for these reasons much of the USA air has the edge over rail.


    For much of Europe rail is competitive.
    For much of China rail is competitive
    For much of India rail is competitive

    So, for a vast majority of the world’s population, rail is competitive. At which point decisions are significantly political.

    If the above 3 were to heavily tilt toward rail the economics of airliner production/development etc. would leave civill aircraft OEMs relying much more heavily on especially the USA domestic market plus long haul. It doesn’t mean the USA would switch air to rail but it would affect the economics of travel in the USA and the economics of the civil aviation industry.

    As for the potential, a decade or more out, for fusion (or even SMR PWR etc)., if the means to utilise this in covil aviation are still seen unfavourably it wouldn’t be of benefit.So, depends on any studies to characterise climactic effects of hydrogen combustion at altitude or on battery lifecycles or whatever flavour etc., and hw the timing of this fits with the investment schedules required to implement said ecosystems. Again, much depends on politics and especially how those under, say, 30 years old feel about air travel.

    • Woody:

      The term competitive is only in price, time is a factor. In stark terms, rail only work time wise in high density.

      Light Rail makes sense. High Speed rail does not as it incurs huge costs as well as duplicating aircraft travel.

      I have been on Bart and The Metro and both were outstanding for their focused mission.

    • “in much of europe rail is competitive”
      Are you joking?
      Absolutely not true
      French SNCF is a good instance: rail users pay on average 40% of cost.
      The balance is paid:
      – at the local level by subsidies from métrople or departement
      – at the regional level by subsidies to regional network (train express regional)
      – at the national level by subsidies to retired cheminots and by funding for TGV lines
      Without these subsidies, rail tickets should cost 150% more
      In spite of these subsidies which we are paid by taxpayers, it is usually cheaper to fly low cost than to take a train. And the low cost companies make profits and they finance the retirement of their staff…
      SNCF is absolutely not competitive vs low cost
      But the French love their trains!
      And flying is a sin nowadays

      • No, I’m not kidding. As I wrote “decisions are significantly political”. Either top down or (made to look) bottom up, the operating environment is framed through boundary setting, frameworks, incorporation or lack of incorporation of externalities, tax burden etc. poltically.

        The primary and secondary rail networks, plus supporting local transport systems and residential arrangements in these regions are sufficiently well developed that rail is competitive. It is made more so or less so depending on political choices. At the moment there are significant direct financial subsidies for rail in France (and other countries too) etc. but there are also significant subsidies for civil aviation through fuel costs, relative CO2 costs (especially long haul) etc..

        Air has one major advantage over rail in the regions I mentioned, which is competition, the ability of different carriers to service a specific sector, whereas rail is largely monopolistic.

        Air has another major advantage in much of it by being private, not subject to dinosaur unionism (this is not to say unionism is bad, simply that the fiefdom dinosaur unionism is).

        LCCs have a further advantage in not having the high staff legacy costs that older airlines have (and that SNCF has)

  32. “Rolls-Royce and easyJet test aircraft engine running on hydrogen”

    “Rolls-Royce has said it has run an aircraft engine on hydrogen in what is thought to be a world first for the aviation industry, which is considering using the fuel to decarbonise air travel.

    “The FTSE 100 engineering company said the ground test was a “major step towards proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future”, in a joint project with the airline easyJet.

    “The test took place outdoors at Boscombe Down, a British military facility in Wiltshire. It used a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine that is generally used to power turboprop planes.”


  33. More and higher Tech seems to directly correspond to increased
    centralization of political control, with “it’s for your own good, proles!” as a mantra. Who decides?

    I prefer to make those decisions for myself.

  34. back in the days at university, there was a calculation car vs. bus vs. train vs. plane.
    As it was Germany, the comparison was always the old capital Bonn to Berlin.
    They did calculate the load factor – which is horrible for the car and train, way better for the bus (50%) and pretty good for the plane (75%).

    And the result was pretty clear.
    Bus is by far the most effcient, using 0,5l of Diesel per pax per 100km.
    A full car is pretty effcient too, about 2l if you calculate 4 persons.

    The train and the plane are both equaly bad. The train was used with the actual german power mix at the time, still containing nuclear energy.
    I think the shorthaul A320 came down to 4,5 l diesel equivalent, the train (german ICE) was about the same.
    The funny thing is:
    the german train is the largest Diesel user in Germany.
    And they never published their real power demand, they always calculate with netto usage. So no one knows how much the losses due to network, etc. are.

    The green train is a fata morgana and a myth, as long as you generate electricty from fossil energy sources.

    • “The green train is a fata morgana and a myth, as long as you generate electricty from fossil energy sources.”

      Even with non-fossil propulsion, there’s still a gargantuan CO2 footprint associated with providing and maintaining the tracks…

    • But…

      Whereas the plane is 1 transport node to 1 transport node and in part achieves its energy efficiency through limited schedules, the train is many nodes to many nodes (multiple intermediate stations) and could operate at substantially improved energy efficiency if schedules were reduced to generate say 70% minimum load factors. If this was the political wish.

      On top of that are the non CO2, non NOx pollution figures for each mode. Road is becoming increasingly PM poluting as vehicle mass and size increase enormously. Rail polution is, I think, reducing. Air also has been reducing.

  35. What’s a little odd, though, is that “deep costs” are being found
    and carefully included for all transit alternatives, >> except for << those of aircraft, airports, their fuels, their manufacture..

    The argumentation seems less than clear ( I like planes, too, and / but have no financial connection to them).

  36. At some point the Chinse concluded High Speed train was a good idea longer term over other means of transportations.

    They reserved hundreds of billions , put hundreds of thousands at work and 15 years later left the rest of the world behind.

    Sometimes democracy / business cases, fully understanding and disiplined budgeting don’t win. We just keep discussing, dismissing, playing down, suboptimizing, introducing alternatives, hiding, abusing techno optimism.

    Nanjing hub. The Chinese aren’t boosting about their high speed train operations, showing off, they are just operating them.

  37. When ALL $ costs are considered, flying always wins over rail for journeys of 120+ miles.

    The reason is simple: tracks are major maintenance expenses, and the air through which planes fly requires no maintenance at all.

    This is AFTER the rail lines exist and are installed – which is, as the article points out, a major, major hassle and expense.

    • > The reason is simple: tracks are major maintenance expenses, and the >>air through which planes fly<< requires no maintenance at all. <

      An interesting comment. I wonder what the net maintenance expenses work out to, for each type of travel (I like flying, too; it feels like magic, and that feeling might provide some clues).

    • ?

      The entire climate change argument, and the entire anti-diesel argument are specifically about the maintenance of air. Too much CO2 in it, too much NOx in it, too much PM in it.

      The issue is how external costs are apportioned. They ought to be apportioned to the cause.

  38. I suppose that in those nations where airports are free, air control and navigation is not charged, where aviation is the cheapest form of fuel and everyone is flying in economy class A380s at the rate of two per train that would be the case. However alas it is not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *