Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rainy day, planes trains and apocalypse

Here in Southern Mexico it's been raining continuously for 3 days.
It's cool, not cold, getting down to around 60 F, but it looks
cold and miserable so it feels colder. Reading the interwebs:
Egypt, good luck, congratulations, etc. Hopefully the radicals
won't take over and the worse thing they'll chant outside the US
Embassy will be "Serious knee injury to the Great Satan".

I can see high-speed rail is back on the drawing board. I really
like trains. It's fantastic in Italy,if you live within walking distance
to a train station, you can go from your house to anywhere in Northern
Italy in just 3 hours without a car. It works perfectly in a small
country with nuclear power, everything is all electric, if the price
of oil goes to 400/bbl, train tickets stay the same while airlines
go out of business. (Italy doesn't have nukes unfortunately)

I've taken trains all over europe, the longest run I took was from
Milan to Napoli. 400 miles and 5 hours, which wasn't really that
bad because you're going not to an airport an hour outside of town
and you don't have to be there very early, so a 5 hour trip is 5

Key things that make trains successful:
- train stations are downtown
- trains are on a separate network then roads, no crossings
- passengers separate network from freight

What makes high speed rail successful:
- high speed trains are on a separate network from other trains
- all distances are within normal airplane travel time, one day travel
is possible if unpleasant
- it's all electric. at some oil price point, high speed rail will
be more efficient if the electricity is coming from coal or nukes.

France is most prepared for the future, with all their major cities
linked by nuclear powered high speed rail, when the next oil shock
kills the airline industry they'll still be ok for internal travel.
I would be ok with emulating france, creating local high speed networks
in the usa with new nukes at the same time to power them.

What I would do if I were emperor, I'd start to build local routes
of less than 400 miles with the nukes to power them and spend money
on research for even faster trains using maglev to build the cross
country routes.

There are two similar length routs (400 mi vs 387 mi) from Milan to
Naples and New Orleans to Dallas, that's about the limit I could be on
a train and still make a meeting on the same day. I found a report
that estimated the building cost for the tracks, two way tracks on
elevated cement roadway, at 20MM euros per km, which is around
$40MM per mile. A 400 mile route would cost $16 Billion.
Or a better route to start with would be the triangle between
houston-dallas-san antonio, that loop would around 720 miles, or
$29 Billion. That triangle route has lots of traffic, lots of people
moving from downtown to downtown.

The purchase of trains versus the purchase of aircraft is a wash. I doubt
we'd save much on fuel costs if you include the cost of a nuclear power
plant to power these things, but we should build them so that we have
availability of travel. We made it through the last crash with some
part of the oil industry left, but I don't see how we can make it through
an infinite number of these crashes. When prices reach $150/bbl again next
year, the economy is going to crash again, then the oil industry. We're
really just starting to ramp up now, after another crash we won't ramp up
at all, prices will just march straight back up again because production will
really be in decline. As the economy circles the drain demand destruction
will kill the price of crude because no one will be traveling.

The reason I think we should be doing this I'm starting to think it's too
late for scrubbing the budget, we're using the credit cards to pay the
mortgage, we should probably build something so that after the crash people
can still travel without having to take a pack-mule.

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