Thursday, May 28, 2015

vs California high speed rail

Now that we've established SparkEV kicks butt of cars, let's have it take on bigger fish: CA high speed rail, CAHSR or HSR for short. First, I'm going to describe high speed rail in realistic terms. Then I'll propose how SparkEV can demolish it.

Public transportation

There's lot of people who admire European and Asian public transit, especially the high speed rail. What they don't realize is that much of CA (and USA) is very different. The population does not live in apartments (aka. Condos) like much of Europe and Asia. For example, the land near my area for 10 households would easily allow 1000 homes in Europe and Asia in form of 10 high rise apartments of 100 homes each. As such, public transits in much of USA, where people want to live in houses, do not work. It's simply too expensive to pick up people who live so far apart. Unless people want to live in condos in tightly packed areas, the economics of public transit will not work.

New York and some parts of San Francisco have high enough density to allow some form of public transportation. But that's not the case in rest of the country, especially not in SoCal. In fact, polls show people want to have back yard, garage, and parking spaces for themselves and guests after they get tired of living in tiny city condos in their early 20's. It's not a matter of chicken and egg where having more dense housing will have people magically want to live in condos. People just prefer to live in private houses with garages rather than shared wall/floor condos after the novelty of condos have worn off. This is especially true when children are involved.

There's also the issue of people's dislike of close quarters with others. When you ride in public transit, you will notice that when there are fewer people, they will sit by themselves and not share the bench if they can help it. This is true with buses, trains, planes. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But it shows people's preference to be left alone and leave others alone if possible. I've seen this behavior in other countries as well.

The best way to keep people happy is to leave people isolated by their choice, be it public transit or not sharing walls by having private detached homes. You can't do this without having first class seats on all public transit. Then the cost will be so high that driving  private cars would be cheaper. Indeed, much of public transit in CA costs more than hiring Mercedes taxi for every rider. Why we pay more than Mercedes taxi for buses and rail while the riders have worse experience is beyond stupid.

Nevertheless, proposal was made for high speed rail between Southern California and Northern California with promised travel time of about 2.5 hours and cost about $30B, and voters approved it. After voter approval, cost projections tripled. It was found too costly, so it was pared down between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a distance of roughly 400 miles and settled on cost more than double the promise to voters to $70B. Ridership projections are all over the place, from 30M to 130M. To give you an idea, entire CA population is about 45M. Lot of this just doesn't make sense.

Travel time

Let's take the 2.5 hours travel time. Suppose there are 12 stops along the way (there will be more), and each stop taking 5 minutes. That's 1 hour for all the stops. That leaves 1.5 hours for 400 miles, which works out to 267 miles per hour on average. With hills, curves, going through busy intersections in cities, peak speed would have to reach over 300 miles per hour. I read claims that the time is for no stops along they way. Really? Is that what voters voted for? Then one should not claim 130M riders or even 1M riders; that's impossible without any stops along the way.

If we start with average speed and stops, we can get more realistic time from LA station to SF station. If we assume average speed while moving is 200 mph (peak speed of 300 mph), and 12 stops taking 1 hour, 400 miles would take 3 hours. With 6 more stops (18 stops total, 6 in SoCal, 6 in Central Cal, 6 in NoCal), it comes to 3.5 hours.

Station to station is meaningless; airport to airport time is about 1 hour, but one would hardly call this the travel time. We must include home to station, train departure margin, station to station time, station to car rental, rental car to final destination. As I mentioned before, public transit in USA where people want to live in widely separated houses and stretch out in roomy seats cannot work well, so car is necessary to get to final destination.

From home to station is variable, but we can estimate 30 minute travel time for most people. This would not be unreasonable if the stations are placed in strategic locations where many people live (and lots of traffic). This is also true from destination station to drive to final destination. Total of 1 hour of driving.

One must have some margin so he will not miss the train due to traffic, etc. 30 minutes is good average margin while places like LA may require more. Upon arrival at destination station, one must rent a car or order taxi. 15 to 30 minutes would be enough. Total of 1 hour of waiting, renting, etc.

With station to station time of 3.5 hours, home to destination time is 5.5 hours for average speed of 400 miles / 5.5 hours = 73 mph. It is "high speed" compared to conventional rail, but this is slower than cars on some freeways. Simply changing freeway speed limit to 80 mph on desolate sections of I-5 freeway would be faster than HSR in desolate (low traffic) areas of CA. By the way, Germany's Autobahn recommended speed is 81 mph.

For comparison, airplane would take 3.5 hours from home to destination if we assume 1 hour flight time and 1 hour margin for departure for average speed of 400 miles / 3.5 hours = 114 mph. I doubt many will ride HSR regularly if it takes 2 hours longer (over 60% longer) than plane.

Driving 400 miles at an average speed of 70 mph will take 5.7 hours. Of course, driver's bladder may not hold and traffic is unknown, so it will take a bit longer (6 hours? 6.5 hours?) To save 30 minutes to go though the hassle of waiting, renting a car, not being able to carry as much, I doubt many will take HSR. This is especially true if more than one person is traveling and/or with pets; for a family travel, HSR definitely won't be used by most people due to expense and inflexibility.

None of this will help the traffic, because you still drive from home to station, which is usually located in high density part of the city to allow that 30 minute average time to get from home to station. If you treat HSR as Disneyland ride, it would be cool to take in the scenery. But most people would rather save 2 hours of their lives by taking the plane or save money by driving and not buy train tickets for every family member.

Total time from home to destination: 5.5 hours.


Ridership estimate is still iffy. 100M rider estimate was based on people driving to station and riding to next station just few miles up, which is completely idiotic. Let's take lower end number of 30M in Wikipedia as that's more "reasonable". That's almost entire population of CA riding the train a year. It could happen; many people will ride only few stops, and not go all the way end to end. Let's explore why even 30M is unreasonable.

Each train is roughly 10 cars, each car able to carry roughly 100 people for a total of 1000 people per train. For 30M riders per year, that's 30,000 trains per year packed full of people. Because people will board and drop off in the middle, we have to guess turnover number, maybe 3 times turnover, so 10,000 trains per year packed full of people. There are 24*365=8760 hours in a year, which means train packed full of people will be leaving the station more than once an hour, 24 hours a day. 24 hours of operation is unrealistic. Instead, if we assume 12 hours a day, but going each direction separate, that's still more than 1 train packed full of people every hour in both directions. How realistic is this even with just 30M riders?

You can play with turnover numbers to make it whatever you want, but the reality is people will simply drive to shorter destinations of less than 2 hours. They may drive farther considering rental car hassle if they take the train, and inability to take rescue dogs with them. At 65 MPH, that's 130 miles range where people will simply drive, which covers most metropolitan areas. There aren't millions of riders wanting to go to farms of Fresno, so the turnover is likely to be small with much of the riders going end to end.

More realistic ridership number is impossible to predict, but it'll be far less than 30M. But let's say it'll be 35M. What the heck.


$70B is a big number. When it was put to voters, it was estimated much less than half that amount, then ballooned to more than $100B after vote passed, then settled on $70B estimate by dropping San Diego and other routes. Knowing the government, they will have cost over-runs (I'm guessing at least 2X). But let's assume $70B for now.

For $70B for 35M riders, that's $2000 per rider. You can get LA to SF plane ticket on advance purchase for about $70, sometimes less on sales. Divide $2000/$70 = 28.5 year. If you give free plane ticket to/from LA from/to SF for 35M people for 28.5 years, that's the cost of HSR construction. If you add in on-going operating cost of HSR, giving free plane tickets indefinitely will be cheaper. Given the choice between free plane ticket for 30 years for faster travel vs paying $70 (or whatever HSR decide to charge) and slower travel, I think most people will scrap HSR.

This assumes everyone's going end to end, but as we discussed, some will be going to the middle (Fresno?). Train ticket income will be even less in that case, which means the loss will be even greater.

There was proposal to put advertising on trains to recoup some cost. How many people will that advertising reach? Just printing flyers and hiring couple of people to hand it out will reach more eyes; don't leave the flyer on windshields; I hate those!

Still, some people will want to go to places like Fresno. To build an airport, it takes between $1B and $10B. Places like Fresno where there's not much stuff would cost less to build. Assuming 18 airports are to be built instead of train stations for $70B, that works out to $3.89B per airport on average. That's certainly within possibility. With shorter travel times of planes, they are more likely to be used than HSR. While better than HSR, that's still too much money spent to build in middle of nowhere like Fresno and Bakersfield.

Alternative: SparkEV

SparkEV without subsidy of any kind was $28K, now $25K. With federal subsidy of $7.5K, that price drops to $17.5K. For $70B, 4 million SparkEV can be bought, or subsidized at 100%. Of course, having 4M EV on the road will strain the electric grid. If we reduce the subsidy to 50% ($35B) and use the $5B to beef up the grid and put in 1 million DCFC at $20K each ($20B total), that will still allow 4M EV on the road while having $10B left over. $10B will be commission to me (just kidding! Keep reading) Not only will the electric grid benefit, but people will get kick ass EV that's quicker than any car under $20K with far more DCFC than gas stations. Indeed, 1 million DCFC just for CA might be overkill.

With such large subsidy, even poor people can afford to buy SparkEV.  $25K - $7.5K fed -$8.75K CA = $8.75K, cheaper than many 10 year old used cars. Of course, fed subsidy would have to roll over instead of expiring on first year to allow poor people to take advantage of it, too. Since poor people typically drive gas guzzlers and polluters, this will have great effect in reducing pollution, far more than HSR or airports or even Hyperloop (will bash that later). But I don't care about pollution; I care about saving money (time = money). SparkEV does it all.

As mentioned before, HSR would have 35M riders per year (very unlikely, but let's assume so for now). With 4M SparkEV, that ridership is reached in less than 2 weeks. With HSR, people will still drive from home to station and station to destination using gas cars. But with so many SparkEV that's cheaper to operate than gas cars and higher performance and abundant DCFC, people will simply not use much gas.

Traffic is still a problem, especially considering there may be more cars on the road due to influx of subsidized SparkEV. But EV is far more efficient in traffic. That's not an answer, of course. We don't want to sit around in traffic all day, especially if we have to go from LA to SF. However, unlike HSR, going from anywhere in CA to anywhere else in CA is possible entirely by driving electric car; no gas is involved. With a million DCFC (hopefully making profit), range anxiety is thing of the past.

SparkEV won't be terribly fast, and there may be more traffic. But far more people will benefit. Green house gas emission reduction will be orders of magnitude better than HSR. It will be cheaper by $10B. I will propose solution to traffic and speed problem with this money in next post.

Realistic projection

As of May 2015, roughly $10B is available for HSR, mainly as bond. Then let's see how we can use $10B. Obviously, HSR is impossible on $10B. Raising $70B is also impossible. We might as well cut our losses and do the best we can, and that's SparkEV. Following is my proposed budget.

Grid upgrade : $1B
100,000 DCFC stations at $20K each : $2B
SparkEV 50% subsidy : $2B (228571 cars)
My commission : $5B (just kidding!!! we'll explore this later to reduce traffic and increase speed)

Instead of 4 million SparkEV, only 228571 are subsidized. Let's call it 228K. Out of 20M cars in CA, 228K represents 1.15%. Not that great. But when people see that SparkEV with DCFC is real alternative to gas cars, more will join. In addition, benefits will be felt immediately rather than 30 years down the line.

In next post, a proposal to cut traffic and speed up time from San Diego to Oregon border using SparkEV will be explored. When people see how SparkEV cuts through traffic and cheaper and faster, they will flock to it like never before. While HSR is retrograding to 19th century transportation, SparkEV system will be the beginning of 21st century transportation. We don't want to follow Europe and Asia. We will innovate.

Edit Nov. 2015

What I forgot to consider is what would happen if there's a terrorist attack on the HSR. If the HSR become so successful that 35 million people a year ride them, it is highly likely to be a target for terrorists. A bomb blast at peak speed sections where the train is traveling 300 miles per hour would surely kill lots of people, especially considering that 35 million people a year ridership would require train packed full of people for every trip. A single bombing could result in casualties of 1000 people or more!

How likely is it that terrorists to target trains? Based on London and Madrid bombings as well as Japanese subway "poison gas" incident, trains are ripe for terrorists if there are enough potential victims. Success of HSR is just inviting the terrorists.

Suppose one terror attack occurred. It may not have been entirely successful; some idiot might've been carrying something under his shoes. We all know what happened after the shoe bomber was caught; every passenger must take off their shoes to pass security screening. If HSR becomes successful, it's likely that there will be just as long waits for security screening as airplanes. Then the time from home to board the train would be just as long as airports. You can do the math, but the average speed will become slower than cars on school zones (25 MPH) for some "high speed rail" trips.

Far worse with security screening will be shorter trips. If one's to take HSR for few miles from one station to the very next station that HSR projections indicated, and they must spend 1 to 2 hours in screening, no one's going to do that. Even for 200 miles ride, I doubt many will put up with lengthy security lines, opting to drive instead. That means fewer turnover, and ridership will plummet. Worst case would be no stops in between, in which case why bother with trains? Just go for planes if traveling solo to save time, or drive the car for multiple passengers which will get there much quicker than the HSR.

The terror attack doesn't just have to originate in the trains. It could originate from outside. If terrorists can put IED for Humvees in Iraq, they can certainly do that anywhere along HSR route. Unlike planes where external attack while in air is impossible without military missiles, any nut job with some plumbing supply could make pipe bombs and crude shape charge. Heck, even throwing acid or Laundry bleach from grocery store on rail to weaken it could derail the train.

With such obvious potential for attacks from outside, HSR would have to be protected throughout the entire route. US can't even seal off few hundred miles of key boarder areas to prevent drugs and weapons from pouring in. The chances of protecting 400 miles of HSR on both side (800 miles) won't be possible.

Post terror attack on HSR, the rhetoric won't be "we will shut down the HSR boondoggle" What will likely happen is that "we won't let the terrorist win; we will rebuild and secure it better" Then more money will flow into rebuilding and trying to secure the entire length of the rail route. This won't be just one time fee; this will be on-going forever payment.

How much more will securing the HSR route cost? We can't know until it really happens, but given that 800 miles need protection, imagine entire budget of border protection as rough order of magnitude. Given that the protection has to be much tighter than the porous border, I suspect it'll cost far, far more. At that point, it might be cheaper to give 35 million free Tesla P90D ($110,000 EV) every year rather than operating the HSR.

Stop the insanity before it starts. Just give away 35 million Tesla P90D every few years. That will save lots of money and time and emissions. Far better, just give away 300 million SparkEV every few years. Just with California high speed rail spending equivalent, we can convert much of the world to the benefits of SparkEV.

Far better would be my plan, which would be quicker, cleaner, more convenient, much much cheaper, takes few months to build, it'll be as close to panacea as one can get. But I'm taking my sweet time in writing it. I guess I don't have an urgent need for that $10B in commission, yet.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post of speed rail but now a days people use mostly taxi for travel and we provide you best Detroit airport taxi .