I seriously doubt a Dallas to Houston train set

It’s private money so why not and good luck to them. Yet still I doubt it:

Now there are only six trains per week from Houston, three headed west to Los Angeles, three east to New Orleans. The service to San Antonio leaves at 6.55pm and arrives at 12.05am: a 225-mile journey that can be made more cheaply, quickly and frequently by bus.

Yet if a private company succeeds in its bold ambition, the city famous as the hub of big oil will one day be a beacon of public transportation: connected to Dallas with Japanese-style bullet trains zipping at 205mph on new track to new stations.

Train travel is, by it’s very nature, point to point. And yet Dallas and Houston are both sprawling megapolii with no actual one point which is the city nor the centre.

Unconvinced to say the least.

55 comments on “I seriously doubt a Dallas to Houston train set

  1. Nobody takes the long-distance buses in the US except for discharged soldiers, recently released or escaped prisoners, Mexicans, students, and the occasional idiotic tourist. If you ever want to see the biggest collection of weirdos in existence, hang around at a Greyhound stop for a while.

  2. “It’s private money”

    Its not private money. At best some private investors will be willing to drum up a couple million of OPM in order to prime the pump at the public subsidy trough.

    Its never private money.

  3. “Tim Newman
    March 14, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Nobody takes the long-distance buses in the US except for discharged soldiers, recently released or escaped prisoners, Mexicans, students, and the occasional idiotic tourist. If you ever want to see the biggest collection of weirdos in existence, hang around at a Greyhound stop for a while.”

    And soldiers stopped taking the bus anywhere except in movies 30 years ago. They can all afford to fly now.

  4. Yeah. Rail as an alternative to air makes sense because air travel involves the same issue of getting to a single place… but with the problem of needing to be there for ages and, generally, that place not being very central.

    Mind you, in Oz they can’t even get past talking about rail from Sydney to Melbourne, despite it being one of the busiest air routes in the world and both cities having airport problems (capacity and curfew at one end, access at the other). The can’t be many better routes suited to high speed rail… but the land values at both ends are, alas, astronomical.

  5. The interesting part is that going by current reputations it’s in no way at all surprising to see such a proposal involving Houston and Dallas. They have both been moderately successful in building light rail/tram systems recently. Contra to stereotypes, Texas actually has some of the better public transport in the US (after NYC).

  6. Metropoleis, if you’re going to arse about pretending to use classical plurals. You really are the Ritchie of classical language, Tim.

  7. Chris>

    You do realise you’re talking about a completely different word, right? Bishoprics aren’t relevant, Tim said megapolis, not metropolis. Pendantry of a very low order, there.

    And total getting-the-joke fail when it comes to the ending.

  8. Is Davedave the “Rice Crispies are an Anti-semitic trope” Dave or yet another?

    Rail travel is a great idea. In theory. I think it is like wife swapping, fondue and disco in that the theory is much better than the reality.

    In the meantime, you might remember the Chinese guy who killed and ate another man on a bus in Canada a few years back? He has just been let out. Just last week I believe. Oh, the joys of long-distance bus travel.

  9. In the US rail is for freight, not people (excluding commuter routes from the suburbs of large cities like NY). And Houston is “20 miles of suburbs with no centre”, as a colleague of mine once aptly put it

  10. Rice crispies aren’t antisemitic, they’re just snap, crackle, and populism.

    But yes, same me , different device.

  11. Why are people so obsessed with passenger rail? It’s a lovely 19th C. technology that belongs right there, in the 19th C..

  12. I could get on board (literally) with trains that do 300mph city to city, personally. Used the TGV in France a fair bit – just hire a decent car the other end. It beats driving (on motorways, my preferred method of traversing France is through the little villages and towns). But the cost is usually prohibitive (so subsidised), and I’m in a minority (it seems).

  13. I’ve also done a fair bit of Greyhounding in the States (Amtraking was better). You meet a few weirdoes but I never had any trouble, not even a hint. Mind you, I was younger then.

  14. Problem with 300mph is the fuel consumption. 200mph is the current reasonable max. Roll on cheap solar and/or low pressure tunnels.

    Personally I’d rather take a sleeper train for 12 hours than fly for about 5, plus spend another few hours at each end for secunty and transfers.

  15. Inty>

    You failing to find weirdos on the Greyhound reminds me of the old adage about how if you look around the poker table and can’t spot the mug, it’s you.

  16. In my experience TGV travel is not prohibitively expensive. Compared to U.K. prices it’s very cheap. Paris -> Provence for under €80, first class. That’s about 650km in under three hours. Way cheaper than driving once tolls are factored in.

  17. TGVs are heavily subsidised. Tickets are quite cheap, the total bill is rather larger. (I think its great the French want to spend their money on something I like, but they’re spending big-time.)

    BTW, you can often get really good discounts on TGV prices by buying a ticket through to Germany and only using the bit in France, and/or adding a bus ride to get an overall discount for a mixed-mode ticket.

  18. “Nobody takes the long-distance buses in the US except for discharged soldiers, recently released or escaped prisoners, Mexicans, students, and the occasional idiotic tourist. If you ever want to see the biggest collection of weirdos in existence, hang around at a Greyhound stop for a while.”

    I did this 15 years ago. Skint travelling. San Francisco to Portland via Oakland was particularly memorable.

  19. The Thought Gang said:
    “in Oz … rail from Sydney to Melbourne … can’t be many better routes suited to high speed rail… but the land values at both ends are, alas, astronomical.”

    That looks like a Catch-22. For high speed rail to be viable, it needs to connect two places with a large, concentrated population, so that there are lots of people within easy reach of the terminii. But places with a large, concentrated population have very high land values.

  20. It’s never private money. Even if they can build it with private money (presumably on the cheap, by reopening a mothballed track), the operations will require subsidy. The only railway company in Europe that operates without subsidy is Eurotunnel.

  21. Many years ago we booked the train from Seattle to Vancouver. What turned up was a Trailways bus. Perhaps that says it all about rail services in the US.

    The Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Calgary was much nicer!

  22. Andrew M>

    Eurotunnel operates without ongoing subsidy because of the unique way its construction was funded. Effectively, gullible investors were rooked out of an extra bit of tax to pay for it.

  23. Richard – “But places with a large, concentrated population have very high land values.”

    So the rule with railways is not so much “you shouldn’t start from here”, but “you should have started 200 years ago”.

    Think how much the train to Paris would have cost if they had to buy and build something like St Pancras from scratch? It is no wonder that a lot of really nice fast trains in places like Spain are so far from the centre of the nearest city that you really feel they could do with a train link to town.

  24. @Richard

    Australia manages to have sprawling cities *and* astronomical land prices. It’s impressive! I think you can travel 100 miles in a straight line and never leave Melbourne… and find house prices that would make anywhere outside of the English South East blush all the way along.

    So any HS rail plan needs a load of value capture in the ‘in between’ settlements to pay for epic tunnels under vast stretches of Sydney and Melbourne.

    That’s what the latest plans rely on… so the real Catch 22 is that the economic plan for it requires stopping at regional towns.. which is entirely contrary to the point of a high speed connection between the two cores and instead of a dedicated connection to compete with the air option, you just get a glorified regional rail service.

  25. The problem is that 7 years of progress in IT, old fogies dying off who don’t use Skype, Jira etc, and a load of industries waking up to this and you’ll see less and less demand for travel. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for face-to-face, but “commuting” huge distances is going to diminish.

    On top of that, “205mph” is peak. You can’t run at that speed in the suburbs.

    And, who cares about time sat on somewhere if you’ve got wifi and a table and can get there at a reasonable hour? So, go the luxury coach route. Coach with nice seating, tables, wifi, free breakfast, coffee. Leaves at 6am, arrives around 10am. Multiple pickups and dropoffs. OK, some people really need to go to one place and be back by the afternoon, but how many? And they can fly.

    “Texans have told us that they will leave their cars and trucks behind for a safe, predictable, comfortable and productive trip.”

    Have you told them what it will cost? How long after their meeting with a client they’ll have to wait for the next train home? Few people ever mention this about HST – it might go blisteringly fast, but they often don’t have enough sets to mean there’s a train waiting for you.

  26. SMFS>

    Our host is quite insistent, though, that railway lines don’t act as a GDP multiplier in that way.

  27. That’s what the latest plans rely on… so the real Catch 22 is that the economic plan for it requires stopping at regional towns.. which is entirely contrary to the point of a high speed connection between the two cores and instead of a dedicated connection to compete with the air option, you just get a glorified regional rail service.

    If you’re going to dig a tunnel, what’s the marginal cost of adding another track for the slow train?

  28. I suspect I’ve done getting towards 10,000 miles by Greyhound in the US. Most instructive: you get to talk to all sorts of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Though their conversation was less fluent than you’d get on, say, the London to Carlisle bus, whereon gabby Glaswegians can entertain you for hours.

  29. I did once go by Greyhound from Houston to New Orleans back in the 80s as a tourist because I wanted to tick off being on a Greyhound bus. Don’t remember much about the journey except it was pretty boring.

    Speaking of plurals, can I just say that there are several glans penii commenting on this blog.

  30. Greyhound people?

    “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.” – GC

    I suspect YOU were the Greyhound weirdo to some.

  31. Davedave,

    “Will tech lead to less travel, or just more communication in total?”

    Both. The surplus created by not travelling allows us to do more productive things. That includes communicating.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a place for face-to-face communication, and sometimes, you need more communication to cover the loss of face-to-face, but there’s lots of work happening in these areas because if you can crack it, you replace hours on a train, a load of ticket cost, maybe even staff having to need to live in expensive areas with pennies of computer stuff.

  32. Conventional diesel-electric passenger trains in the U.S. do over 100 mph routinely. High-speed trains is a gimmick to me, drastically raising the cost. 1.5 hours Dallas to Houston is not likely better enough than 2.5 hours Dallas to Houston to most riders at much higher cost. Though there will be some joy riders.

    Actually, only joy riders. Trains as city to city transport has been dead for many years. You have to have a car to get to the train station. If you have a car, you just keep going to where you want to go. Dallas to Houston by car is 3 hours. (It could be less if the U.S. didn’t have arcane speed limit laws.) Cost for petrol about $20. Departure time: flexible, on your schedule.

  33. I’m suggesting the same tech that can substitute may also increase the amount sensibly necessary.

    Making up numbers for illustration, if ‘tech’ increases GDP by 100%, we’d perhaps expect the necessary travel to carry on the increased business to double as well, while ‘tech’ cuts it back by some other percentage.

    Having established the possibility, the question is of what the numbers will turn out to be in practice.

    That aside, we’d probably expect more leisure travel, too.

  34. You meet a few weirdoes but I never had any trouble, not even a hint.

    Nor me. I think they thought I was some sort of quaint museum piece from England.

  35. I expected the bus to be cheaper than the train, but was surprised by the statement that the bus is also faster than the train for city to city. It’s the other way around in the UK, you pay money for speed on a train or you pay time for cheapness on a bus.

    Where I live though, Dr Beeching’s efforts have taken it to parody level. I can drive two hours to get to my home town, or take a train that has to set off in the wrong direction because the main line was ripped up and takes six hours with three transfers, or take a bus in eight hours with two transfers.

  36. I’m a big fan of trains, not so much of coaches. When I think ‘coach’ I think of motion sickness and shitty National Express trips.
    It takes just over 2 hours between London and the north west on the train and 5 or 6 on the coach.
    Sydney & Melbourne public transport is rubbish. Of course there are developing cities with less infrastructure but at least in those you can afford a taxi.

  37. “Sydney & Melbourne public transport is rubbish.” Oh come on, the trams in Melbun are lurvly.

  38. BiW,

    “And, who cares about time sat on somewhere if you’ve got wifi and a table and can get there at a reasonable hour?”

    I agree but having been involved in many studies. one of them Government led, on how to get decent mobile and/or wifi on to trains it is very difficult and expensive outside suburban and urban areas.

    Slightly OT but talking about getting to places quickly, I’ve just been listening to an interview with a guy who reckons that if the USA lifted its politically inspired ban on supersonic flight a market would quickly develop. Top end at first but eventually down to the rest of us.

  39. It’s difficult to get decent mobile on trains in the Netherlands, with all its advantages in terms of flatness. The UK with deep cuttings and tunnels is just even more difficult.

  40. However, how much would it cost to lay fibre along the track, not even ducted? Back in 2000 it seemed a step too far but now?

  41. In urban areas we used to work on US$100/m when doing business plans, most of the cost of that is the digging and making good, fibre is marginal. I think the most expensive I came across was Zurich and that was something like $150/m. I reckon with all the working restrictions it could be more along the railways. Anyway, Network Rail already has an extensive fibre network but that isn’t the problem, its getting consistent RF in to the train and then distributed.

    The ToCs are reluctant to conceded space on existing trains for equipment as they are already over crowded and it needs a bit more than a home wifi hub. Modern trains are even harder because they are almost a Farraday cage and the whole business is made even harder at the speeds they travel.

    As I’ve said before, Government and industry is desperate to solve this problem, nobody’s willing to pay the high cost.

    .

  42. I like teasing North East lefties that many small towns have no rail stations because of leftie policies ( Blyth, Houghton, Consett, Washington, Ponteland, Wingate, Ashington ). Subsidised mining and ship building meant workers could afford cars a decade earlier than other parts of the UK, so when Beeching ran his passenger numbers, those were the lines that got closed.
    Totally made up, not checked, but saying it annoys them.

  43. ‘if the USA lifted its politically inspired ban on supersonic flight’

    Politically ??? What are you talking about? The ban was implemented to curb sonic booms.

  44. Because Foncorde was winning the race and also greenies didn’t like it. Read/listen to the guy.

  45. Will tech lead to less travel, or just more communication in total?

    VR will kill travel over the next 20-30 years. Why spend a couple of days traveling when you can just rent a VR drone and jack in?

    Last year, I flew across the Atlantic, did an afternoon’s work, then flew back. About $10k in flights, plus two nights in hotels, rental car. food and expenses. Could have done it from my desk if I had a VR bot at the customer’s site.

    Not to mention that everyone will be able to get a front-row seat at a sports stadium. Everyone will be able to get a front-row seat at gigs. Everyone will be able to get a front-row seat in the theatre. No more need to actually travel there for it.

  46. Bullshit. The ban was implemented to stop sonic booms. Period.

    You presumably also believe that the F-111 will be much cheaper and available much sooner than the TSR-2.

  47. You meet a few weirdoes but I never had any trouble, not even a hint.

    Yeah, I went coast-to-coast on the Greyhound bus about twenty years ago. Met a lot of interesting weirdos, but there was never any trouble. That said, the bus driver did refuse to let the drunk, just-released prisoners on board at one stop.

    Don’t think I’d do it again today, though.

  48. Property prices in Sydney and Melbourne don’t have to be a problem for High Speed Rail in Australia.

    The E3 Series “mini Shinkansen” (which stops about 100 metres from my front door) run perfectly happily at 275kph on the dedicated tracks. They have a standard loading gauge and fit on normal standard gauge tracks for the run between Fukushima and Shinjo.

    There’s no reason why a similar system could not be introduced. Run on the existing tracks at express speed when entering and leaving Sydney and Melbourne, and then branching on to their own dedicated track for the true high speed run.

  49. Davedave,

    “Making up numbers for illustration, if ‘tech’ increases GDP by 100%, we’d perhaps expect the necessary travel to carry on the increased business to double as well, while ‘tech’ cuts it back by some other percentage.”

    Why?

    I’ve cut down my mileage hugely. I don’t travel to Bristol to buy books, DVDs and coffee. It all gets delivered. I write software from my local little office. I holiday as much as I ever did.

  50. Edward M Grant,

    “VR will kill travel over the next 20-30 years. Why spend a couple of days traveling when you can just rent a VR drone and jack in?

    Last year, I flew across the Atlantic, did an afternoon’s work, then flew back. About $10k in flights, plus two nights in hotels, rental car. food and expenses. Could have done it from my desk if I had a VR bot at the customer’s site.

    Not to mention that everyone will be able to get a front-row seat at a sports stadium. Everyone will be able to get a front-row seat at gigs. Everyone will be able to get a front-row seat in the theatre. No more need to actually travel there for it.”

    Two things: firstly, it’s not so much about replacing a person with a camera, as reworking the process. So, workflow for say, approving graphics now for a brochure or website is that no-one comes together. Worker pushes to server, manager approves and sends to client. Client sketches some notes, sends it back. If needs be, they get on Skype and discuss. New revision, same process, client is happy and clicks an approve button. I’m not saying it works for everything, but this is happening more and more.

    As far as travel goes, the real sticking point here is bragging rights. Most visitors to galleries are only going to tell their friends that they went. I rarely do them, and only care for sculpture, but you see the way people are “ticking off” the famous stuff.

  51. BiND,

    “I agree but having been involved in many studies. one of them Government led, on how to get decent mobile and/or wifi on to trains it is very difficult and expensive outside suburban and urban areas.”

    You’re not wrong, to be fair. I take the bus to Oxford sometimes and it’s patchy. But it’s still useful.

    I would the government paid for more cell towers than things like HS2, though.

  52. As far as travel goes, the real sticking point here is bragging rights.

    And how much are people willing to pay for that?

    Travel prices have decreased over the last few decades due to economies of scale. They’re about to go into reverse. Just as one obvious example, every business class flight I don’t take is about $4k the airline needs to make from the other passengers on that plane.

    We’ll soon be back to 1960s levels of airline travel, where every seat cost about as much as a business-class seat today. And that’s before you consider that more and more countries are going to be closing their borders to riffraff.

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