Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

High-speed rail: too bad Texas didn't take the first leap

A Texas correspondent (Stuart J.) recently forwarded to me a piece about high-speed rail planning in Texas ("High speed rail: an idea with no funding," San Antonio Express-News), and it got me to thinking that Texas, maybe more than California, would have been a better place to try to pilot high-speed rail as a practical transportation service.

It's because the three major cities in Texas: Dallas; Houston; and San Antonio are relatively close, Austin is on the way from Dallas to San Antonio, New Orleans isn't super-far from Houston, and Monterrey, Mexico is a reasonable distance from San Antonio.

It's 225 miles from Houston to Dallas, 250 miles from Dallas to San Antonio, 180 miles from Dallas to Austin, the state capital, and 306 miles from San Antonio to Monterrey, Mexico, but the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is longer, 380 miles--although HSR as currently proposed stops in Bakersfiled, 100 miles from LA.  It's about 350 miles from Houston to New Orleans.

At those not so "Texas-sized distances," you can shift a lot of trips from the road or air to the rail, and a high-speed rail trip is faster than driving and faster than flying that distance, if you factor in the time getting to the airport, and waiting to board, and getting to your final destination.

-- Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study - Overview
-- "TxDOT Taking Steps to Further Explore High-Speed Rail," Texas Tribune
-- "Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail could break ground in two years," Community Impact Newspaper, (story discusses the possibility of doing this privately)

High-speed rail planning.  Where is the American Conservative Magazine's Center for Public Transportation when we need them?, to lay out the conservative case for high-speed rail in Texas.  They have this piece:  High Speed Rail: A Conservative Appraisal By Williams S. Lind and Glen D. Bottoms.  They make the point that it's best to move towards higher speed rail incrementally, and use the Cascades, Hiawatha, and Downeaster Amtrak services provided with financial and planning assistance by the respective states as models. 

Also see the past blog entry, "Second iteration, idealized national network for high speed rail passenger service."

California.  There is an interesting piece in the San Francisco Business Times, "Southwest Airlines meets high-speed rail? Bay Area rail boss on $68 billion project," about the current status of their project, and how they could seek bids from airline companies to run the system.

That's an interesting idea, because it could better integrate airport and rail services and get airlines thinking more broadly about end-to-end customer service, which they don't do so much now ("Airlines likely to balk at LAX transit link," Daily Breeze).

In the UK, the Virgin family of companies has subsidiaries doing both railroad service and air travel.  I don't know if they work to integrate promotion, marketing, and other elements of the service footprint.

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger washcycle said...

I was in college in Texas in the 90's when the Texas Maglev proposal was being kicked about. Opponents argued that the radiation from maglev trains would kill cattle. But in the end I heard that Southwest Airlines used their power to kill it. The Dallas-San Antoino-Houston triangle is their bread and butter, and it was a drawing of this on a napkin that led to their creation.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It was interesting that the SFBT article talked about how companies like Southwest Airlines could be involved in the running of the California HSR system.

But yes, I can see how SW airlines would be a big opponent. OTOH, A Texas rail consortium could get Ross Perot Jr. involved (although he is committed to airports as you know) and then it would be a battle of the giants.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many might think it seems great to find this blog article here, that supports high-speed rail.

The good thing is, that besides the DFW-San Antonio high-speed rail study by Texas Department of Transportation, there is also the high-speed rail project between DFW and Houston.

It's called Texas Central Railway, and it is working closely with profitable Japanese High-Speed Rail company JR Central. It will be a completely privately funded operation, and with $2 billion of annual profits, possibly JR Central would be able to finance part of it as well as other private investors as JR Central already has the know-how and experience of successful, profitable high-speed operations.

So while high-speed rail in the DFW-San Antonio corridor does not have funding yet, the DFW-Houston one looks like it could pretty soon.

About 2 weeks ago, there was a press report where Robert Eckels, a Harris County judge now serving as president of Texas Central Railway, said "We still think it will be operational by 2021".

So possibly, there will be a lot rebuilding space in urban Houston or urban Dallas... :-)

At 3:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

interestingly the Franfurt Koln high speed line- which is on eo fthe fastest regular service train lines in the world- we a joint effort between Lufthansa airlines and the German National railways which is actually a private corporation. Luftthansa agreed to halt or contain flights between the two large cities in order to create conditions/incentivize the working of the new rail line. It is a beautifully made line and takes about an hour - and it sits astride a major autobahn- the trains whiz right past cars going 125 MPH as if they are standing still. American planners do not pay enough attention to the German rail and maglev developments IMO. We focus way too much on the UK, France and Spain - whereas the Germans are the real inventors of much of this technology and make it happen in these other countries. The Germans built the Chinese maglev in Shanghai.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks for the note about the DFW to Houston link. I didn't realize that wasn't being addressed by TxDOT as well.

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Richard, thank you very much for your article and drawing attention to the topic of high-speed rail in general and high-speed rail in Texas in particular, as it will contribute to rebuilding places in an urban space, and help make cities more sustainable and more liveable, especially helping f.e. in Texas with reducing automobile dependence to some degree while potentially connecting to other public transportation and possibly leading more walkability and pedestrian spaces.

The reason that DFW to Houston is not part of the TxDOT study is because there will be soon (or even currently are) different, seperate environmental studies for Central Texas Railways' planned corridor.

Here is a recent press article about the project with some of its details:

Obviously the website of Texas Central Railway itself is:

Once again, the profits of JR Central are about $2 billion each year, which seems to be clearly more than the profits of all American airlines combined, so with that financial power in combination with the flat topography and low density in the corridor there might be a much higher likeliness that this completely privately financed high-speed rail system might materialize than a lot of other currently proposed ones in the US.

At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anonymous@3.44PM: Unfortunately, some of that information is factually incorrect.

"interestingly the Franfurt Koln high speed line- which is on eo fthe fastest regular service train lines in the world- we a joint effort between Lufthansa airlines and the German National railways"

Lufthansa was not involved in building that high-speed rail line at all, only since 2001 there is a cooperation in the way that 15 daily departures each way are also assigned Lufthansa flight numbers, and are also used by airline customers with their flight tickets. First plans for the high-speed rail line started 1964, construction started 1995, the cooperation agreement regarding services on the line was just made 1998. So it is obvious Lufthansa was not involved at all in planning or building of the new high-speed line.

"the German National railways which is actually a private corporation".

This is misleading, as technically Deutsche Bahn is a private company, but 100% of the shares are owned by the German Federal State, which in effect makes it a 100% public company. Deutsche Bahn is another example of why it is good not to follow the "privatize the gains, socialize the losses" scheme, as 500 million Euro annually (that is half a billion) of Deutsche Bahn profits are being transfered to the federal state's general fund. So public ownership pays off, it is a success model.

"Luftthansa agreed to halt or contain flights between the two large cities in order to create conditions/incentivize the working of the new rail line"

No, this is not correct. Since 1964, there have been studies by German national rail to build a new line between Cologne and Frankfurt. In 1995, construction started. In August 2002, the new high-speed rail between Cologne and Frankfurt was opened to the public. Still, Lufthansa flights between Cologne and Frankfurt continued. Only initially the number of flights was reduced from 7 daily departures to 4. Over time, also the plane size was reduced from 125 seats to 75 seats. This was because of decreasing demand though, as more and more people opted to take high-speed rail. It was only in 2007, that Lufthansa stopped all remaining flights between Cologne and Frankfurt because of the poor load factor. So Lufthansa continued operating flights between those cities after opening of the rail line, and it was only because at some point of time there were not enough people wanting to fly anymore, then stopped all their air service between those cities.

This is usually how it happens, once high-speed rail is established, the market share of air decreases during the next years, it was the same way f.e. between Paris and Lyon, Paris and Brussels or Madrid and Barcelona. It happens because in general high-speed rail is such an efficient, convenient and affordable travel alternative.

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds rather knit picking to me- and you are contradicting yourself in your statemnets- what is your point here- to prove all of my points incorrect? I question your information and sources- it is not at all what I have read. Have you actually been on this line before?

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this sure looks like a co-operative business effort to me;

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's nit-picking not knit picking.

At 6:08 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Okay. Be nice.

It's interesting to find out more about the Deutsche Bahn-Lufthansa coordination in any case.

Was Lufthansa once govt. owned? That might have made a difference.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many might already know some sources for some of the facts mentioned above.

Lufthansa did not have any role in planning or building the high-speed rail line from Cologne to Frankfurt. The cooperation agreement between Fraport, Deutsche Bahn and Lufthansa was just made in 1998. But construction already started in 1996, and for many years before that, planning took place. It was Deutsche Bahn and the german state that planned and built the high-speed rail line, not any airline.

"Taking 13 years to plan and approve – and just six years to build", Railway Technology writes (thus already planned and partially constructed before the cooperation agreement):

"Managing Airports 4th Edition: An International Perspective"
by Anne Graham writes about how the memorandum of understanding between Deutsche Bahn and AIRail was just signed 1998:

Though not a reliable source, there is a page about the Cologne-Frankfurt high speed rail line on Wikipedia:öln–Frankfurt_high-speed_rail_line

About the fact that 100% of all shares of Germany's "private" railway company are owned by the German federal government, there is also an english-language Spiegel article about this aspect, and that meanwhile many might think it should stay that way:

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@"this sure looks like a co-operative business effort to me"

There is a cooperation for Lufthansa selling some seats on some ICE high-speed rail services on their corridor to their customers, but that doesn't mean, as incorrectly stated earlier, that the "Franfurt [sic!] Koln high speed line [...] we [sic!] a joint effort between Lufthansa airlines and the German National railways", because that implies Lufthansa was involved in planning and building the whole high-speed line, which it was not.

Instead, Lufthansa just realized, as the planning and even construction of the new high-speed rail line was already underway for years, that its short-haul flights wouldn't be able to compete with high-speed rail, because of high-speed rail's efficiency and other advantages, so instead of leaving all of the business of transportation people between those cities to the high-speed rail alone (as happened in other corridors), Lufthansa cooperated with Deutsche Bahn, so at least still they do get some revenue out of that Cologne-Frankfurt city pair, even when not operating any flights within that city pair anymore.

It's not a contradiction to say, some entity currently has a cooperation for operating a service, while not being involved in the planning or construction of the infrastructure that this service is operated on.

What a lot of people may not realize is that how AIRail basically is provided between Cologne and Frankfurt is, is that Lufthansa basically has a reservation for the all or sometimes also just some seats in car 21 on select ICE trains:

- There are more daily ICE departures between Cologne and Frankfurt, those are just not having a (at least partially) reserved car 21 for Lufthansa passengers. F.e. tomorrow morning at Frankfurt airport the 7.09a.m. departure also features AIRail while the 7.43a.m. departure doesn't. So only some select trains every day are being used as AIRail in the first place.

- The trainset used is a standard ICE3 and also the seats in car 21 are not different from other cars in the same train, or other ICE3. In fact, many of these trains that are in addition also designated as a AIRail service between Cologne and Frankfurt have their departure and/or arrival outside of Cologne or Frankfurt. So one can ride in the same train, that is serving as AIRail between Cologne and Frankfurt, on those same seats, in car 21. F.e. the departure tomorrow at 7.09 from Frankfurt airport, those seats in car 21 can be used by any passenger (not only Lufthansa passengers) from Munich to Frankfurt, and from Dusseldorf to Dortmund. Just inbetween when that train travels between Cologne and Frankfurt, those seats in car 21 are reserved for AIRail services.

- The interior and the seats of this car 21 (some times not all seats of car 21, but just some, depending on Lufthansa's demand for the particular departure) of the ICE3 between Cologne and Frankfurt is exactly the same than any other ICE3. So when this "Australian Business Traveler" website linked above talks about how the large seat pitch is so great (which is it, indeed, and those are 2nd class seats), then they should have written, that high-speed rail is Germany offers this great seat pitch on those 2nd class lounge seats in general, no matter if you travel in an ICE3 as part of AIRail between Cologne and Frankfurt, or anywhere else in the entire Federal Republic of Germany. They did not, either because they did not know, or because possibly their coverage was sponsored by Lufthansa, so they were not going to mention that you can have that same comfortable and stylish way to travel anywhere you go with German ICE high-speed trains.

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(continuation from last post)

- In consequence, the described fact that those 2nd class high-speed rail seats are more comfortable than Lufthansa's intra-European business class doesn't only apply for all ICE travel inside of Germany, but also applies for ICE's international services. So the "Australian Business Traveler" also could written, why even bother flying Lufthansa f.e. from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, when it offers that uncomfortable seat pitch on the aircraft and when one has to deal with security at the airport etc, when one can go on that same ICE3 from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in 3h and 55mins? That's city center to city center, not from some airport to another far-flung airport. All while being cheaper as well, of course, as 2nd class seats to Amsterdam for tomorrow start at 120,60 Euro, 1st class seats on the train start at 195,20 Euro, while Lufthansa costs 514,79 Euro (economy).

- To some it might odd, how in the linked article above the "Australian Business Traveler" praises the "special cabin" for Lufthansa business and first class customers as part of AIRail services, as those are still 2nd class Deutsche Bahn seats. At the other end of the ICE3 train, in car 28 (or car 38 respectively), there is another "lounge" where you can look out onto the track in front of the train (or behind it), but those are actually 1st class leather seats (with an even bigger seat pitch) in there. And while the "Australian Business Traveler" tells about a cold bread or drinks being handed to them as Lufthansa Business Class passengers, actual regular 1st class train customers can purchase not only cold snacks, but also hot meals and a wider selection of drinks including organic soda, beer and wine by request right from their seat (regular 2nd class customers can of course also obtain those same foods in the dining car and at the BordBistro, but do not receive the "at-the-seat" service). So the "Australian Business Traveler" in that "special cabin" doesn't seem to be aware or at least doesn't mention that now actually he's traveling not in business class but in the train's "coach" section (2nd class).
Still no matter if 2nd or 1st class, high-speed rail is a very attractive way to travel, and not only on those few seats reserved for an airline between a few select cities.

For many, it won't be news: While AIRail is great for intermodal connectivity, for preventing inefficient short-haul flights and for directing more passengers towards rail, the cooperation with Lufthansa was not necessary for the success of high-speed rail in that Cologne-Frankfurt market, only a successful attempt by Lufthansa to make access to its long-haul flights from Frankfurt easier for inhabitants from the populous North Rhine-Westphalia, where competitor Air Berlin offers long-haul flights from its base in Dusseldorf. Most of all, Lufthansa's objective will have been to stay in business as much as possible in the Cologne-Frankfurt travel market even if air travel is being squeezed out of the modal share.

For example, on the London to Paris/Brussels routes, high-speed rail operator Eurostar has an 80% market share.
See here:

Hofstra University states that the Shinkansen high-speed rail accounts for about 88% of the travel market between Tokyo and Osaka.

In Taiwan, high-speed rail caused all air service to stop between Taipei and Kaohsiung, as seen here:

Many might think that Texas, with its wide-spread car dependence, according levels of pollution and auto-centered city development patterns, would be a perfect fit for environmentally friendly high-speed rail, hopefully integrating with other public transportation options, creating transit-oriented, walkable and livable neighborhoods.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Not sure if you know about this, but a few years Penn Prof. Jonathan Barnett got a lot of mileage for "proposing" (I think others had already pointed out the same thing) that US short haul airplane flights could be converted to train.

This isn't the document I am thinking about, there's an earlier one...

So this thread on HSR in Germany and other European cities wrt short haul distances between major cities is another important element of "what might have been" had the Obama Administration pushed HSR somewhat differently, towards the kinds of city pairs that would have made "more sense" in soem respects, like these
examples you have provided.

wrt Car21, what would be interesting is if it were branded in Lufthansa livery.

e.g., you must be familiar with this:

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"wrt Car21, what would be interesting is if it were branded in Lufthansa livery."

No, there is no painting or whatsoever, on the outside of ICE3 trainsets that offer AIRail services as well.

It also would make no sense if it were like that, because as was tried to explain above, sometimes the AIRail service is only offered for part of the line run. If the train goes f.e. from Munich to Dortmund, then between Munich and Frankfurt every regular train passenger can sit on those seats that are reserved for the airline only between Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. It's only in Frankfurt, that regular passengers would be "thrown out" of any seat reserved otherwise between Frankfurt and Cologne/Dusseldorf (because generally, in German high-speed trains reservation is not obligatory). So for a passenger traveling on that train solely between Munich and Frankfurt, it would be very confusing, if there was any Lufthansa livery on the outside of the train, when there is nothing going on with Lufthansa on that train for the segment he or she is traveling with it.
Also, there are no dedicated trainsets solely for departures that offer AIRail services. Every trainset may be used between Frankfurt and Cologne on one day, and exclusively on other routes some other day. It would probably be confusing if a Lufthansa-livery train was seen all across the republic all day long, while not offering any Lufthansa-cooperation services on that day at all. Many might think then, that it is odd, that a train company would be a moving billboard for its competition (air travel).

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"U Penn Prof. Barnett studio 2010 study"

Unable to provide the mentioned "short-haul flights to trains" document, the 2010 U Penn study linked though might be well known to many as an academic piece of work that might be a beneficial contribution to finally construct a dedicated high-speed rail corridor between Washington D.C, NYC and Boston, while doubling rail capacity and thus helping the important commuter rail and regional rail systems in that corridor at the same time.

The U Penn concept shows an option with a tunnel to Long Island, thus finally connecting the JFK area and Manhattan very quickly, and an option for a northern alignment largely following highways. Amtrak's 2010 study showed a different alignment with Danbury, Waterbury, Hartford connected, and the subsequent 2012 update opted for Hartford to Providence instead of Woonsocket, while following existing railroad right-of-way from Providence to Boston. Both studies suggest additional tunneling in urban areas, to achieve quick trip times. Of course the differences between the studies might seem minor to many, compared with the bigger issue to get in place the necessary support for an investment of $80+ billion on rail infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor, both with the population and its lawmakers.

At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[...] another element of "what might have been" had the Obama Administration pushed HSR somewhat differently [...]"

Many would probably love to read a blog entry called "how exactly the federal administration should push HSR differently = more successfully". There would probably be a lot of people, how would love to hear about what concretely needs to be done, so that a lot of 220mph high-speed rail or at least higher speed rail systems get built.

It might appear to a lot of people like thinking about "what might have been" is not very beneficial when trying to work towards a better future. And it might seem to many like the Obama administration worked quite successfully by unleashing the biggest investment into rail infrastructure for years and years. At least some might realize, that the federal executive is just that, not the legislative, and not the executive or legislative of individual states either.
In consequence, it might seem to many, like the Obama administration picked the correct city pairs for rail improvements, as it had to work with states, and some states had already prepared rail improvement projects, while others (like Texas) did not.
Specifically, Texas f.e. applied for a total of $1.8 billion in federal grants out of the $8 billion in ARRA funding. But for their biggest project, Texas HSR Express Texas T-Bone, those $1.8 billion would have provided only a fraction of the needed total $19.6 billion, and the grant request clearly reads "percentage [...] of matching funds: currently 0%", signaling that the state did not want to invest, and also plans were just very preliminary.
So to many, it might seem to make sense that the Obama Administration decided to instead award federal grants f.e. to California, which thanks to a passed proposition the sale of $9.9 billion of state bonds for high-speed rail already had a designated source of matching funds.
As widely known, some other states with promising high-speed rail projects like Florida cancelled them and rejected to be awarded federal funds. This is not due to the federal administration though, but many might realize that with federalism and checks and balances, there is only so much it can do.
Still, the federal administration did what it could: F.e. in 2011, it had $53 billion over 6 years for high-speed rail it its budget proposal (to see that part of the proposal being rejected). F.e. in 2013, it was requesting $40 billion of 5 years for the national high-performance rail system, and just a week ago, the president proposed a transportation plan with $19 billion for rail and $72 billion for transit over 4 years.

In addition, among a lot of other things, the administration assisted the state of California very concretely on several occasions with building the nation's first 220mph high-speed rail system.

To many, it might seem vital that f.e. the Northeast Corridor is equipped with high-speed rail (receiving more capacity for commuter and intercity rail at the same time), also for the reasons laid out again recently by the NEC Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, in its "February 2014 State of the Northeast Corridor Region Transportation System" report:

Meanwhile, the FRA is working on a Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan, expected to be finished in 2015, and Amtrak's 2012 NexGen plan seems to some degree be represented in Preliminary Alternative 13 of FRA's Preliminary Alternatives Report:

In conclusion, it might seem to many, that everybody who is interested in rebuilding place in the urban space, is invited to work towards getting high-speed rail up and running, and possibly might even, in order to achieve that, join the groups of people already out there, as many might think that together one might get there more efficiently.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. UR right to make the point that the branded car wouldn't make sense on the portion of the routing not offering the service.

2. I guess you're right too that the the Northeast Corridor is the easiest and makes the most sense to pursue HSR on.

a. but the problem is that then "the rest of the country" sees this as benefiting one region at their expense.

It is unfortunate that some of the other also likely to be successful places (like Texas, like say PGH to Chicago via Detroit, Florida) could have been prioritized better.

The problem, as is proving to be the case in California, is that the typical state doesn't have the kind of financing capacity necessary to pull the funding with the comparatively small match offered in the original round.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The problem, as is proving to be the case in California, is that the typical state doesn't have the kind of financing capacity necessary to pull the funding with the comparatively small match offered in the original round."

Whether it is federal funding, or state's financing, it might seem to many there just doesn't happen to be a capacity or no capacity, instead funding is being made available, in case the people and their elected representatives want it.
With the United States being the richest country on earth, having annual federal expenditures of $3.45 trillion, so $3450 billion in 2013, it might seem to many that it definitely not be impossible to allocate funding or "capacity" towards the construction of high-speed rail, when other, much less wealthy nations, have already been able to built high-speed rail systems. And those above expenditures are only the federal ones, the state and local ones still exist on top of that, so some might think the same could apply to individual states as well. And to some it might seem, that there is good news, as California is about to show with $250+ million in annual cap-and-trade funds that a dedicated source of funding can be made available.

Some might think it would be helpful though, if it was possible to work towards support for high-speed rail in a certain corridor or certain corridors because of the benefit to the whole nation's economy, and try to resist the reflex of geographical (re-)distribution. Of course it might be seen as a very human reflex of possibly f.e. someone in Chicago to think, "So much funding goes towards high-speed rail in California, I would like to stop that and have those funds used for 220mph high-speed rail to be built in the Midwest instead". To some it will appear like this might end up being counterproductive though, as the lobbying against CAHSR might only lead to that funding being taken away, but not funding added to f.e. Midwest high-speed rail instead. So some think it might be a challenge - at the same time possible - to communicate it that high-speed rail should be supported regardless of residence, instead of playing off some corridor against a different one, as implemented in such a corridor or corridors - having the density - high-speed rail will be beneficial to the whole nation's economy.
Many might think, the funding for rail can be made available, other countries did it as well, there just need to be the efforts to get it allocated to high-speed rail.

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