TGV Valenciennes

Earlier this year, Seattle Transit Blog covered possible routes for high-speed rail (HSR) to Vancouver. Zach Shaner wrote the first two parts, and I wrote the last two. In December, Washington State DOT (WSDOT) released a study about the possibility of HSR in the Pacific Northwest. The study is bearish on HSR, with high cost estimates and unusually low operating performance—but the numbers themselves are suspect, suggesting a unit conversion error. WSDOT says that the numbers in the study are right—but there is cause for skepticism. If the numbers are wrong, the entire study must be redone, and would point to a more positive conclusion about the prospects of HSR.

The Error

The source of the unit conversion error involves miles and kilometers. A mile is about 1.6 kilometers, so the cost per mile of anything is by definition 1.6 times the cost per kilometer. On table 5-10 of the study, there are cost ranges for various items. The original costs per kilometer were instead 1.6 times higher than the costs per mile. It is the costs per mile in the study that are correct. Thus, the study’s costs per kilometer were inflated by a factor of 2.6: instead of dividing by 1.6, the study’s authors multiplied by 1.6, and 1.6 squared is about 2.6.

When I pointed the unit conversion error, WSDOT rail division communications manager Janet Mankin said, “That conversion appears to be the only error. All of the capital and operating costs and costs recovery numbers were calculated based on cost per mile.” Since then, the table was corrected, and the costs per kilometer are now correct. Unfortunately, it appears what Mankin said was incorrect, and the cost estimates elsewhere used the inflated numbers, overstating the costs of HSR in the Pacific Northwest by a factor of 2.6.

The telltale sign is operating costs. The study believes that HSR in the Pacific Northwest will only be able to recover 62-83% of operating and maintenance costs through fares (table 5-1). This is a red flag: internationally, HSR makes money. The profits of the Japanese Shinkansen operators, and of the long-distance divisions of the French and German national railways, speak for themselves; even Taiwan HSR, which made news for going bankrupt, always had operating profits, and was weighed down by interest rates on construction debt.

The operating and maintenance costs in table 5-1 are a range of $0.65-0.78 per passenger-mile. This contrasts with costs given in table 5-10 of $0.09 per seat-mile, about 12-13% occupancy: WSDOT’s numbers assume the trains will be practically empty. But table 5-5 gives a maximum train load of about 30%; with nearly all ridership coming from the major stations, trains are likely to be at close to their maximum load the entire way. The difference between 12% and 30% occupancy is very close to the 2.6 factor of the unit conversion error.

When I reached out to study consultant Scott Richman, he defended the numbers, saying that the model they come from is separate from the model used in table 5-10. He also said he sent an explanation written by study consultant group AECOM to WSDOT, but as of the time this post goes to press (the evening of January 8th) the study has not been updated with any such information. Without additional information, the evidence suggests that the study used the wrong numbers.

The good news is that fares are likely to cover much more than just the operating and maintenance costs (certainly more than the study’s 62-83% range). This makes HSR a better value proposition; if the numbers in the study are correct, then HSR is too cost-ineffective.

The Problem with the Model

The study uses a coarse model to evaluate ridership, called CONNECT. The model cannot evaluate ridership within each metropolitan area, only between different metro areas. Thus, it cannot distinguish the various alignment options proposed: from its point of view, a downtown station and a station at the edge of the metro region are equivalent. Richman explained that the model actually sandbags downtown stations, by including a special fudge factor boosting ridership at airport stations; this makes the option of serving Vancouver at the airport rather than at Pacific Central Station look better.

The study’s main alternatives do not even go into city centers. Of the three alternatives analyzed for operating costs, one (Alternative 1A) has an airport station in Vancouver rather than a downtown station, one (2) has an airport station in Portland, and one (4) has peripheral stations in all three major cities.

The study recognizes its own model’s limitations. It calls for further investigation of alternatives including downtown versus peripheral stations, and options with or without stations in intermediate cities such as Bellingham and Everett. But if the alternatives proposed are the ones progressing to the next level of analysis, then the entire process will be compromised because of the weakness of CONNECT.

How High are Construction Costs?

The study says that the capital cost range is $24-42 billion in 2017 dollars, or about $80-140 million per mile. This is almost certainly too high, for two separate reasons.

The first reason is that the capital costs may have the same unit conversion error as operating costs. Without seeing the AECOM response, it is impossible to tell what went into the capital cost model. If this is what happened, then the correct figure is most likely $9-16 billion, which is much easier for the state to afford (and in line with French TGV construction costs).*

The second reason is that the study says that all alternatives are assumed to include heavy tunneling. The reason given is “to not preclude any technologies at this stage,” including Hyperloop: in other words, this study is using Hyperloop and maglev tunneling requirements to analyze conventional HSR, which can use legacy rail rights-of-way to complete the last few miles into Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland at relatively low cost.

Based on the assumption that heavy tunneling is needed no matter what, the study finds very little difference in capital cost between HSR and maglev. This is not what railroads choosing what to build have found: maglev technology cannot use legacy tracks and must tunnel to reach city centers, driving the high cost of the only intercity line under construction today, the Chuo Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka.

HSR at Lower Cost

It is almost certain that both capital and operating costs for HSR in the Pacific Northwest are affordable, contrary to what the WSDOT study found.

If the operating ratio is only 62-83%, then the best way to maintain good finances is to run as few trains as possible; when operating costs are averaged out with capital costs, the study finds that the optimum is only about 15 roundtrips per day.

But in reality, HSR operating ratios are much more than 100%. With the operating costs reduced to correct the unit conversion error, the operating ratio should be 160-215%, which means that it’s best to run as many trains as can be filled, to help pay off construction costs using operating profits.

With lower operating costs, HSR service could also charge lower fares. The assumption on fares is very high: $0.50 per passenger-mile, as compared with about $0.35 on the Shinkansen and $0.20 on French and German intercity trains. Reducing the fare to European levels would raise ridership, allowing trains to run fuller and more frequently: German intercity trains averaged a 60% load factor in 2016.

If the costs are what the WSDOT study says they are, then the process should stop here: HSR in the Pacific Northwest is too expensive to build and operate. But if the costs are lower, then it could provide much more than the limited options the study suggests. Trains could connect Seattle with Vancouver in 1:10 and with Portland in 1:20, every half hour, charging $30, and making a profit.

*Editors’ Note: CAHSR Phase 1 will cost $123m/mile, but that is in Year of Expenditure (YOE) dollars. When expressed in 2017 dollars, this study assumes a cost considerably higher than California’s.

61 Replies to “How Much Would High Speed Rail Actually Cost?”

  1. The study did not look at ridership within metropolitan areas, correct? So no value was placed on the fact that the HSR infrastructure could be used for “non-express” trips within the Seattle metro for commuters?

    Building a line that does double duty as a commuter rail line withing Tacoma-Seattle-Everett seems to me the best way to get both the ridership & the operating costs to pencil out.

  2. Are we thinking the massive errors in this study are simply due to ineptitude, or is it possible that there are more sinister elements at play? Who are these consultants? Do they typically work on highway projects or airports?

    Perhaps WSDOT needs to have the Germans, Japanese, or Chinese do their own studies. After all, they have the experience.

    1. …I’m not sure. When I asked, my sources defended the numbers and said that the operating cost numbers per seat-mile (as in table 5-10) and per passenger-mile (as in table 5-1) came from different sources. I’m not sure what exactly happened there.

      1. It’s appropriate for you to say that, but I’ll come out and say outright that this study is fraudulent. When someone is caught making calculation errors and they double down defending their inaccurate numbers… someone’s paying them to lie.

    2. The Chinese definitely have US experience. As well is in a lot of the world, doing work that should be ours. When we start looking to earn money for building railroads rather than losing much greater amounts in last half dozen wars. Whose goal has been securing oil.

      As if those lilly-livered environmentalists would ever let North Dakota have to compete for Amazon’s second headquarters!

      But only fair that the Chinese give us the contact info for the Irish firms that gave their workers so many co-workers named Mike, and Paddy. Though crews will finally get to exchange work-songs between Irish and Mandarin.


  3. As far as operating profit, a private company is building a high-speed rail line in Florida, called Brightline. No government money involved.

    FWIW, this may be a plausible financing method in Washington, where the state simply helps the private company with ROW issues but lets them pay for everything.

    1. I would call that project “medium-speed”, since they are currently operating at 79mph, and will hit a high of 125mph on the next segment.

      They also have the advantage of a little-used ROW in a very flat state with few barriers for projects like that (they have faced a lot of NIMBY resistance, however). Unfortunately, a private company attempting this in the NW would have significant issues with ROW, not to mention the cross-state and cross-nation crossings on the Cascades corridor.

    2. Brightline is making most of it’s money via real estate – basically owning most of the land around the stations, which become much more valuable when that land suddenly becomes adjacent to rail. I believe the privately funded Texas project has a similar business model.

      So for this business model to work here, either the stations need to be somewhere where a private owner can acquire land somewhat cheaply (i.e. not downtown), or the State hands valuable land over to a private owner in return for them building/operating HSR. So it’s more than just the ROW, though that’s certainly important.

    3. Had the state been on its way toward fully implementing the Cascades long range plan, ticket revenue was estimated to cover 99% of Amtrak Cascades operating costs around 2023.

      1. Yep, if they’d actually implemented it, it would have been profitable.

        Lack of cooperation from British Columba is basically making it impossible to achieve this on the northern side, but on the southern side (Seattle-Portland) it’s still possible.

  4. No, the cost isn’t understated. California has proven that. Even Brightline has been hit with overruns, delays, etc.

    What people don’t understand that High Speed Rail in the United States will always be dramatically higher cost than other countries because of our environmental regulations. Texas could probably be already under construction if it wasn’t for that. California would probably save 10-20 billion in costs because of extensive mitigation.

    Where is the funds for this going to come from? The state can’t even properly support the Cascades system, nevermind look at supporting a true HSR.

    I will always be hypercritical of HSR in this state where a Medium speed system can and will fully support our needs here. The funds would be much better spent on improving the Cascades and freight system in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia to support delay free passenger trains. Less delays means higher reliability, less overall cost and faster farebox recovery.

    8 billion to finish our Cascade and freight system vs 30+ billion? I’ll take the Cascades.

    1. Don’t they have similar environmental regulations in Europe and Japan?

      Sorry, but I just don’t buy environmental regulation being the biggest problem. I happen to agree with this assessment: It is about the process. This article suggest high labor costs play a part, but only because they hire too many laborers, not because they pay them too much: That makes sense during a recession (the more workers the better, even if half of them are standing around) but not when money is tight. it also goes on to say that private contractors are ripping people off, and there is a terrible procurement process. I’m not saying the environmental laws are designed as well as they could be, but it really isn’t the biggest problem.

    2. Brian, gimme enough Brakes to get a Talgo train from 80 down to 30 in distance from Lakewood to just past Dupont. If we had any environmental laws at all- wouldn’t they already be saving us from ever having a Sounder held by coal or an unbelievably dirty and dangerous trainload of hyperflammable Bakken oil?

      When we get space and population density constraints that put the TGV in the budget in France, very high speed rail should take us a lot less time than now. Also than in France Skeptical about conglomerates as a force of nature. Unless they’re the British East India Company. Bit Oil didn’t do the North American continent with landfill or bulldoze whole surface flat.

      Trains, tunnels, and elevated rail will only get faster and cheaper. And there’ll only be more people. Present fate of our own suburbs gives me faith in the power of people finally of being stuck in traffic to get us a lot of electric rail real fast. Only question is when. With a real big [?]

      Young Finns tell me their favorite countermeasure to their dreadful winters is waving down at HSR’s all the way across Europe from the time their jet clears the tower on its way to Spain. And really don’t like to be the one to do this, but look at it as necessary caution:

      Whatever Swedish is for “Lot of that going around.”


    3. No, the cost is overstated. It’s quite deliberately sandbagged, and Alon explained why.

  5. Alon;

    You have any major objections to a high speed rail stop in Mount Vernon or Burlington so we can connect around 200K souls from San Juan, Island and Skagit Counties to your high speed rail spine? Because that’s a major roadblock to getting my support.



    1. The stop couldn’t be in their centers, because express trains would need to be able to pass them. But a stop in the periphery of the built-up area, around Avon, shouldn’t be hard to construct. It also shouldn’t be hard to time a bus connection to Mount Vernon and Burlington; my guess is that there’s enough traffic to fill an hourly local train and an hourly express, and hourly timed transfers happen at many small-city bus networks in the US. I doubt the ridership coming out of Skagit County would be high, though. 200,000 is really not a lot of people.

      1. >> I doubt the ridership coming out of Skagit County would be high, though. 200,000 is really not a lot of people.

        Exactly, and the 200,000 number is a bit generous. That is basically everyone in Skagit and Island County, which includes plenty of places that are closer to Everett, or places that are just too far out there to bother with this train at all. Their just aren’t that many people in Burlington, Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes (way less than 100,000). Many of them would just ignore a high speed train, because it isn’t that far to the biggest destinations (Everett, Seattle and Vancouver BC). If you’ve already driven a ways to get to Burlington, you might as well just keep driving. So that means the only people who would be excited about this are those headed to Portland, and there just aren’t that many people who are headed there.

        Even Bellingham is a stretch. But Bellingham has a university, and is far enough away from Seattle to save significant time with a high speed train.

      2. I could see a market for a high speed train

        a) Connecting folks from Seattle to the San Juans through a good Skagit station & good Skagit Transit or privately operated shuttle connection

        b) Connecting San Juan, Island & Skagit counties to Seattle the way the airporters do

        c) Connecting San Juan, Island & Skagit counties to Portland and certainly Vancouver, BC.

        But no stop in Skagit means I help lead the opposition to this. You ARE taking our farmland and tax money for something even I’d ride only twice maybe three times a week to the Sound Transit District (or Everett-Seattle-Tacoma if you prefer) and 3-4 times a year to Portland & Vancouver, BC………………….

      3. But no stop in Skagit means I help lead the opposition to this. You ARE taking our farmland and tax money …

        Well, Joe, there’re people in every other county who’ll say the same thing – and then pretty soon, the high-speed train isn’t so high-speed anymore. That’s the exact argument people are using against every infrastructure project everywhere.

      4. Farmland holdouts in California’s Central Valley are one reason for the CAHSR project delays and costs increases and that’s even with stops serving those areas. The amount of land required for HSR is minimal compared to the freeway that’s already there.

      5. With respect to all above, I’m just telling you what the Skagitonian line will be… for starters. I will take the side of my fellow Skagitonians and my Whidbey & San Juan neighbors long before the side of folks who if they had their ideological way would not even bring light rail to downtown Everett. This debate is just becoming a sad repeat of the ST3 debate that gave more than just me long nights.

        Maybe time to shelve this project and worry more about fixing the current rail spine we have with incremental improvements? Which is something that’d leave money on the table for other transit improvements (like regional mobility grants and electric bus grants) and we’d all support.

    2. A station, perhaps… but not regular service.

      In Japan… a country with MUCH larger population centres and much better ridership, they only stop at a few stops.

      Consider the crowded Tokaido line. Between Shinagawa (Tokyo) and Osaka station, there are 14 stations.
      Yokohama, Odawara, ATami, Mishima, Fuji, Shizuoka, Kakegawa, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi, Mikawaanjo, Nagoya, Hashima, Maibara, and

      They run about 12 trains / hour.
      9 trains only stop at Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kyoto.
      2 trains also stop at either Shizuoka, Toyohashi, or Hamamatsu
      ONLY 1 train stops at every station. It leaves hourly.

      As a result, 80% of stations have 90% of trains passing by. And these aren’t small population centres. Hamamatsu and Shizuoka have 700,000+ people in them and they only get a fraction of trains coming through.

      Also, this line was built in 1964 when trains were slower. Newer lines have far fewer stations.

      There’s a reason planes don’t stop to pick up passengers on the way from Seattle to Miami.

      I’d personally put a station in Mount Vernon, Bellingham, Everett, Tacoma, and Olympia… but I’d only run max 25% of trains there. Most trains would be Vancouver – Seattle – Olympia, Portland…. and maybe Everett and Tacoma, depending on traffic and time of day.

      I just don’t think that Mount Vernon residents are ready to see 3 out of 4 trains not stopping at their station. In Japan, they’re used to seeing the majority of trains not stop… but then again, you wouldn’t expect a train every 6 minutes if you’re in a small city.

      If they run trains every 30 minutes, you’d have 1 train every 2 hours from places like Bellingham, Mount Vernon, etc. Realistically, that’s probably more than enough.

      1. “If they run trains every 30 minutes, you’d have 1 train every 2 hours from places like Bellingham, Mount Vernon, etc. Realistically, that’s probably more than enough.”

        Perhaps acceptable. Perhaps. Something worth polling about.

        I’d prefer 1 train every 2 trains. You can just make a transfer for speed at Bellingham or Everett.

        But no service for Skagit, no Skagit support.

        That said, I support instead improving what we already have. We do NOT NEED high speed rail, we NEED to fix what we have, improve rural & suburban transit, and get ST3 done.

      2. “We do NOT NEED high speed rail, we NEED to fix what we have, improve rural & suburban transit, and get ST3 done.”

        That’s what I’ve been saying. We don’t need 125+ mph trains for Seattle to Vancouver and Portland and marginally Vancouver to Eugene. We just need serious no-excuses 90-110mph incremental imrprovements. The travel time is less important than frequency and reliability. We’;re competing against a 65 mph freeway, and half-hour flights that have a 1-2 hour overhead at the ends (assuming 1 hour security/checkin and 30-60 minute trip to the airport).

        However, there’s no reason to stand in the way of a study, or determining the political will for it. Studies give us a credible estimate of what the benefits and costs would be so we can evaluate it in a more informed manner and counter wildly inaccurate assumptions. An HSR would certainly improve the quality of life and efficient movement in the region, but will it really improve a larger cross-section of trips than other transit improvements, and what projects will be displaced if we pursue it? As for a concrete build proposal after the study, I’ll be looking for frequency, multiple service patterns (for smaller cities), and ticket prices compared to other travel options.

  6. Developing a right of way that could ensure no delays, minimal on grade crossings, and a system for faster passenger boarding, along with high speed internet itself could bring our passenger rail system into the 20th century. Such a system likely could operate at about 100mph. Stopping at small towns brings a lot of political support and passenger traffic.

    Moderate speed, comfort, and on time performance would help a lot. True high speed rail could come later. I quit using Amtrak from Centralia to Seattle and back because it was always late, at least more often than not.

    1. Agreed. The trains are very rarely late now. We took the 11:30am train south to Portland on the day of the derailment, and even that was on time.

  7. I don’t see much practicality in questioning the cost numbers at this point. Given the region’s history of not accurately estimating rail construction projects nor providing adequate contingencies, I would not like to add this chapter to that book. More specifically, tunnel versus just-above-surface options are genetically probably at least 3 or 4 times more expensive per mile and that decision would more than cancel out any dispute in methodologies. At most, the only thing that seems to be appropriate is to merely check the math and adjust but only if appropriate; not redo the study.

    I would also point out that most of the rider travel on a Cascadia line will no more than 200 miles — maybe half will be less than 100 miles if an intermediate Station strategy is pursued. In that case, designing for speeds above 85 or 90 mph becomes an expensive upgrade for not much travel time improvement (keeping in mind that a rider will still need to take the same amount of time to get to and from each station and wait for a train no matter how fast the actual train is).

    To me, the study suggests pursuing a dialogue for dual-purpose shorter-distance services from Seattle to places like Olympia or Centralia, Mount Vernon or Bellingham, and Ellensburg or Yakima — as well as one on how to elevate reliability as a goal (as opposed to mere speed) for services to cities further away.

    1. It’s not a dispute in methodology; they made a unit conversion error and are overstating operating costs by a factor of 2.6.

      Construction costs are a different matter, but the study itself notes that the alignment they looked at was sandbagged with tunnels in order to be the same as a higher-speed maglev alignment. This is not a study that aims at cost minimization.

      1. If I take Fig. 5-10, assume all elevated, and assume seven major stations, and multiply their per mile costs by 310 miles, that runs out to $12b to construct from Vancouver to Portland, not including engineering. I didn’t worry about whether somebody misused the conversion factors within the report, just took their per mile numbers.

        Or is that too simplistic?

        I will say that Sound Transit’s elevated trackways average $200m or more/mile including signals, land, engineering and trains, or far above the cost figures in the HSR report. So I’m inclined to think the report’s capital cost as high as $140m/mile (which Alon dismisses) isn’t wrong.

      2. Sorry, my counting is bad, more like $10b using those inputs. But that seems awfully low.

        My guess is tunneling would be demanded for 30 miles or so of urban alignment, and virtually all the rest needs to be elevated through suburbs and towns. Surface looks plausible in a few miles of Cowlitz and Skagit counties. Tunnels for Seattle urban transit are $600m/mile including stations, and signals.

        (You can see why we didn’t cover this state report in the newspaper — I can wait for the next version and a more solid set of numbers.)

      3. Mike: how are you getting $12 billion for all-elevated? At the average all-elevated cost the project would be around $50 billion. $12 billion would be a reasonable cost in France for mainly at-grade construction, with some elevated segments and maybe a short tunnel or two.

        But my contention is that this character of construction is plausible. You have a short tunnel to reach Seattle and then go next to I-5, and drop to grade north of Everett, with another short tunnel in the mountains south of Bellingham. Then north of Bellingham you’re at-grade again, and in BC you have one major elevated segment (the river crossing). South of Seattle you have existing ROW almost all the way to Tacoma, then some takings and some viaducts, and then at-grade construction from Tacoma almost all the way to Portland.

    2. Al, what’s comparison with highway projects around the State? And the country? Because I’ve got a feeling that condition of our country’s every piece of civil engineering is about the same rapidly shortening distance from collapse.

      So I’d be careful about too much confidence in any existing stats. Would rather start thinking about what’s likely to fall apart beyond repair first, and first thing to do about it. We could be coming into a time when we can get more things moving, sooner and faster on rail, than on what’s left of our highways.

      Really no joke about the Chinese. Very good chance they’ll be exactly the people who’ll be building us a railway system, to the extent we can’t. Or a highway system. Or both. Though would rather the rebuild I see ahead of us finally put our own people to work at wages we can finally run an economy on.

      And maybe best thing of all: World’s largest national defense budget finally being used true to its name. And not just for metaphor. Because we’re going to have to rebuild more military targets on our soil than any foreign enemy ever has, or ever will hit.


  8. The huge problem with this proposal and how we are talking about HSR here in WA and he US in general is we are following the California model. It should not be treated as a stand alone system to be built as one giant multi decade capital program. It should be an end goal that is merely a part of a larger regional plan incorporating passenger rail services to all of the satellite cities, with incremental improvement along the way. We shouldn’t be talking about dedicated HSR between Portland and Vancouver when we don’t even have a quality passenger service running between Olympia and Seattle yet. Can we avoid falling into this trap?

    1. California’s latest State Rail plan envisions an integrated statewide network of intercity & regional rail and buses that provides seamless travel to all cities. California already has a well used passenger rail service in its metropolitan regions. HSR is a key piece of that vision but not the only piece. WA doesn’t have a vision that holistic.

      1. I’m familiar with the state plan. It’s a collection of what the many different parties want to do. I’ve suffered Caltrain and Metrolink. The problem is all the spending and thinking is inside out. California should be bringing together rail investment and management into an agency with continuous, sustainable level of funding that will prioritize spending on impact instead of spending so much money on connecting north and south while it still hasn’t electrified and improved Caltrain, ACE, and the Capitol Corridor, or Metrolink (though Metrolink seems to have some kind of allergy to the mere idea of electricity).

        I would hope here in the NW or at least Washington we could do this. But nobody is talking about creating the WSDOT equivalent for railways and a statewide plan. We shouldn’t be reading studies from the government about HSR to Vancouver. We should be a railway system. The train I one day take to Kennewick should be part of the same system as the one I catch to Bellingham and they should all be compatible. None of this special incompatible HSR nonsense. HSR should just be a future order for faster trainsets and future construction of some express routes if/when needed like in Europe. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem sexy to people.

      2. I suppose the shorter way to say what I’m trying to say is to point to the image at the top of the post of a French high speed train mixed up with regular trains of all kinds on regular track and that was built as part of the overall system. I hope we can look more to that model and start building that system.

      3. “California should be bringing together rail investment and management into an agency with continuous, sustainable level of funding that will prioritize spending on impact instead of spending so much money on connecting north and south while it still hasn’t electrified and improved Caltrain, ACE, and the Capitol Corridor, or Metrolink”

        There’s another factor on the other side. California HSR is trying to compete with airplanes for intra-state trips. That reduces its carbon footprint and avoids the need to expand airports or build another freeway. The train isn’t just for the current number of trips but to accommodate population growth and increasing human connectivity (which is rising in tech areas in spite of social-network apps and VR protypes). Just as people drive to the airport, they can drive to HSR stations until the local trains are electified and made more frequent. In the meantime they’re not on airplanes, which is a step forward in itself. Airplanes should be for cross-country and overseas trips, the way the Interstates were intended for interstate travel, not metropolitan travel.

      4. “Unfortunately that doesn’t seem sexy to people.” – or logical. Rail investment in Washington outside the I5 corridor makes no sense to me. Classic mistake of picking a mode before picking a corridor.

  9. wait, “$80-140 million per mile” is too much, but we are about to pay almost a BILLION per mile for ST3…. *shakes head*

    1. ST3 rail does not come out to $1B per mile; not even close. ST3 costs $20B in 2016 dollars and includes not just 62 miles of rail, but also 37 new stations. So even ignoring the station-intensive reality of light rail compared to station-sparse nature of HSR, an apples-to-apples dollar comparison would make it $330M per mile BUT WAIT…the $20B for ST3 is not just rail. It is not even close to just rail (there are billion$ for parking garages, bus routes, education funding, and more), though I can’t find the specific break-down.

    2. For illustration, the Everett project is 16.3 miles for $3B, or $184M per mile, and that includes six stations and parking garages for thousands of cars, and much of the segment is elevated. The West Seattle segment is $319M/mi, but includes 5 stations (just taking the stations out of the equation would make the rail closer to $200M/mile for West Seattle), a difficult bridge crossing, and buying up central Seattle real estate.


    Erentz, I’m finding it harder than I expected to get a yes or no answer about the TGV itself sharing track with freight. Link indicates not.

    I’m afraid we’ve gotten so used to really bad roadbed conditions for so long we accept them. It’s not just discomfort. Worn rail wears out trains. And freight trains give the tracks a hell of a pounding. So for our speeds, nothing against sharing right of way owned by a freight railroad.

    Just not same tracks.


    1. There is currently no use by freight on most LGVs. The only regular use of LGVs for freight was mail trains, which apparently no longer run.

  11. I have a very difficult time believing that because there was a formula error in one table, that same error was present in every other calculation used for an entire study. How do we know there were km to mile conversion factors used at all?

    Given that infrastructure costs are significantly higher here than other parts of the world, I think cost estimates being higher than a European equivalent would point to the estimate being correct, unfortunately.

    1. As you point out, US costs are almost always higher than in other rich economies. Assuming that we can get costs to match our peers without concrete proposals to do so is at best irresponsible wishful thinking. Compounding this by cherry picking France’s costs which are generally the lowest among rich nations suggests an attempt at deliberate obfuscation.. Germany’s are higher, the Netherlands close to twice that, and the UK seems set to spend over UKP100 per mile on HS2.

    2. Look at table 5-1. The ratio of the cost per seat-mile in table 5-10 and the cost per passenger-mile in table 5-1 is 0.12, implying 12% train occupancy on average. But then table 5-5 says the expected maximum train occupancy is 30%. And because of where the major stations are located, big differences between average and maximum train occupancy are impossible.

  12. What people on low income?

    Will there be price for people are disabled & senior

    1. Is there a price for people on low income for flights?

      Remember that high speed trains are essentially like medium-distance flights. They serve the same purpose. They’re priced accordingly, far more convenient, and offer a lot of economic value… and I’d expect a similar price model. This isn’t a choo-choo train, It’s flying close to the ground.

      I mean no disrespect, by the way, but In general, those on fixed income don’t fly much. Seniors will likely get some price breaks, but there are less expensive alternatives to the train as well. Long-distance bus travel works.

      I’ll go back to Japan, where there’s a mature market and LOTS of silver hair. Many on limited budgets there will either look for deals on a LCC flight for longer trips, or book a trip with a bus service. Buses still have their place and are ubiquitous in Japan, the land of the bullet train. They’re cheaper and go places where rail doesn’t. High Speed Rail is most effective when used as a spine, for connecting major cities, like Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

      If you want to take a trip out to Wenatchee or Leavenworth, you don’t expect a High Speed train. Likewise, to places like Seaside, OR, or Kelowna, BC.

      There are currently two models of HSR… the European model, which is run like the airlines… with bookable seats and deep discounts for planning way ahead and the Japanese Model, which has prices that are pretty much set, and don’t change… where you can walk up, pay a fare and grab any train you want ( or pay extra to reserve a seat ). They treat it more like public transit than market-driven demand pricing.

      I prefer the latter as it favors residents. Tourists who plan out a vacation prefer the former, as they book their $15 fares months in advance along with their airline tickets.

      A hybrid model would offer books of tickets ( or multiple fares ) at a bigger discount.

    2. There isn’t even a concrete proposal yet; just a concept to study. At this stage the most we can expect is a base ticket price. A detailed fare schedule would be decided much later. At most, if discount tickets for seniors/disabled were a primary goal of this project, then there would be a funding set-aside to back up; e.g., a guaranteed 50% discount. But the primary goal of this project is general regionwide mobility. For the low-income, I would rather see the state fully implement the inter-county buses that already exist in skeletal form; e.g., hourly service between Bellingham, Mt Vernon, Everett, Island County, etc, including weekends. That would do more to improve the overall problem of low-income mobility because most overall trips are between one or two adjacent counties, not Seattle to Vancouver or Seattle to Portland, and even if you go that far on a chain of buses and it takes twice as long as HSR, the fare will still be much cheaper than a discount HSR ticket can be.

    1. More evidence that this isn’t a real study, but some kind of dishonest sandbagged fakery. Because that’s nonsense. Maglev costs a lot more, as China, Japan, and Germany have proven.

  13. Thanks for debunking this crooked, dishonest, sandbagging hit-piece lie-fest of a “study”. It is necessary to debunk this sort of dishonest garbage.

Comments are closed.