December 30, 2005


Rail rivals roll past U.S. (John Tagliabue, DECEMBER 30, 2005, The New York Times)

As countries like Italy and Spain - and emerging markets like China and Russia - open their pocketbooks for huge high-speed rail development, the United States remains on the sidelines, risking to lose out on new technologies for propulsion and vehicle control.

For those who thought railroads were basically 19th-century technology, think again. Thanks to miniaturization, these powerful new trains have motors built into the axles of every second rail car, rather than concentrating the pulling power in the locomotive, as was done in traditional pull-push trains.

The new technology makes the trains lighter and enables the trains to go faster, to brake and accelerate more easily, and to cause less wear on rails and wheels. It also frees up locomotives for up to 20 percent additional seating space. The newer generation of very high-speed trains has other breakthrough features, including so-called eddy current brakes, which employ electromagnetic fields rather than brake disks to slow and stop.

Nothing that high enough gas taxes wouldn't solve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2005 12:00 AM

As countries like Italy and Spain - and [...] Russia - open their pocketbooks for huge high-speed rail development...

Three nations that are noted for being poised for devastating population decline - why on Earth would any of them spend billions on mass transport ?

...the United States remains on the sidelines, risking to lose out on new technologies for propulsion and vehicle control.


Why don't we let them spend billions to work the kinks out, and then just buy the mature tech from them ?

Or simply copy it ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2005 9:00 AM

Of all your arguments for trains, this has to be the most pathetic. "Hey, we're losing out to Italy on the chance to spend billions on a boondoggle." On second thought, I see how this brings together your perverse love of trains with your "break the windows" economic fallacy. It's a twofer!

And we can defeat Russia while we're at it. It's a threefer!

If only we could tie Eric/Julia to the tracks...

Posted by: David Cohen at December 30, 2005 9:21 AM

Advanced countries don't manufacture anything.......(or some similar line).

Posted by: ed at December 30, 2005 10:07 AM

This year Federal, state, and local spending on roads should come to about $66.3 billion. Taking some of that to revivify passenger and freight rail while letting the interstates deteriorate could improve things for some. Population centers like NYC and Chicago could use it to lessen congestion.

That leaves the rest of the population waiting for light rail, buses, jitneys, scooters, Segways, livestock and such to get around on the remaining roads as gas taxes to fund them get to $15-$20 per gallon.

At some point Commissar Judd will have to compel people to migrate to population centers to increase efficiencies. A carless society perforce will require depopulating most of the U.S. Such is the price of Building Socialism. If oj were a cafe` Lefty living on the Upper West Side, his seemingly absolute antipathy to personal transport would be easier to swallow. But coming from a New Hampshireman? Fuhgedaboudit.

oj, please tell us just how, apart from raising gas taxes, the carless society you envision will come into being. If you were the Beloved Leader what would you do during your first Five Year Plan?

Full disclosure: I always take the train from the 'burbs to Boston not because it shows Right Thought but simply because driving even in a minor population center like Beantown is a drag.

All best,


Posted by: Ed Bush at December 30, 2005 11:01 AM


Though the technology is cool, the idea that we hike taxes & spending is the wrong solution.

IF there is a business model where this makes a profit, then it will get done. I often wonder why the freight companies don't look into this.

Next, here in the US, trains of this sort compete with planes, not cars (as much).

I could buy into your gas tax increase, but only if we get personal accounts or some other permanent tax swap with it.

Posted by: Bruno at December 30, 2005 11:15 AM

We'd be shipping by rail instead of by semi if the unions hadn't sabotaged the railroads. If oj wants to break the rr unions and the teamsters and build rails for long distance transport, that's fine by me. Get those annoying big rigs off the highways, so I can have more of the road to myself.

Save mucho petrol that way too.

I'll use trains for my personal transport when there's one in my garage waiting for me to use at will. Until then, I'll stick to my Chrysler Concorde.

Posted by: erp at December 30, 2005 11:34 AM


Yes, it's embarrassing to have them do anything better than us. We ought to beat them even in soccer.

Posted by: oj at December 30, 2005 11:40 AM

I'll use trains for my personal transport when there's one in my garage waiting for me to use at will.

Erp's got it, I think. Rather than try to argue with Orrin -- always about as useful as pounding your head against the pavement -- let's just take up a collection and buy him his own train, that he can ride whenever he wants. I'll predict you never hear another word about trains after that.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 30, 2005 12:06 PM


The highway system loses money, but we keep it.

Posted by: oj at December 30, 2005 12:10 PM


Your parents never bought you trains? No wonder you're always so cranky....

Posted by: oj at December 30, 2005 12:17 PM

the u.s. is working on a trackless trains.

Posted by: casey jones toe at December 30, 2005 1:24 PM

re: trackless trains

For passengers, they're called "buses", in Idaho and Wyoming and Montana, they're called "triple tandem trailers". (I hear they have even longer ones in Australia.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 30, 2005 1:39 PM

Ha, these trains will be obsolete in 5 years thanks to the MIT stackable cars. This is a worse investment than the Airbus superjumbo.

Posted by: pj at December 30, 2005 2:02 PM