(All numbers given in his commentary are accepted figures, reported numbers, rounded numbers, estimates based on facts, or averages of numbers found in research on the internet. They are chosen for as much accuracy as possible.)
For decades we have heard that “Europe has fast passenger trains” and that “China is building 200 MPH trains” and that America is a backward nation because we do not have high-speed passenger trains like the French TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse (train of high speed)) and the German ICE (Inter City Express) passenger trains.
So let me tell you the truth since you will never hear it in the general media: Passenger trains are a 19th century technology; automobiles are a 20th century technology; and jetliners are the dominant 21st century technology. Each is more efficient than the previous, particularly with more and more efficient jet engines and plane designs.
Which system do the world’s people, and Americans, prefer for long-distance travel? The answer is obvious. Airliners globally are running with average 82% passenger loads since there simply is no good alternative to a smooth 550 MPH ride on a jet. So people around the world are flying like never before, including Europe, and including the United States with its sprawling landscape that requires jet travel. But, oh, how the train lovers love to show us these shiny European trains speeding through the countryside. But what is the truth about them? Is anybody really riding them? Well, let’s take a look:
Those advocating high-speed passenger trains are environmentalists and socialists since these trains are virtually all built and run by the government which empowers environmentalists and socialists. This happens because private companies won’t build these trains since they are so inefficient and lose so much money.
Remember the Golden Rule: PASSENGER TRAINS = SOCIALISM. Period. End of story. They are inefficient, money-gulping systems planned, built, maintained and operated by governments the world over, which is why they are hyped in the global media every minute. This gross inefficiency also explains why private companies will not build and operate them.
Virtually every passenger train system around the globe needs taxpayer subsidies, most of them very large. In the US even Amtrak’s much-vaunted and heavily traveled Northeast Corridor (NEC) from Boston to New York to Washington is alleged to make a profit, but that is false. Its alleged profit does not include the steep capital cost of maintaining this system, which is a separate accounting item that puts NEC deep in the red. Yet these NEC trains have a captive ridership audience of the wealthiest and most liberal pro-train people in the US but still they cannot turn a profit.
In the famous May 2015 derailment in Philadelphia on the NEC the Amtrak train had just a 39% passenger load even though it was a weekday train. This means that 6 out of 10 seats were empty on a busy weekday on this allegedly crucial transportation corridor. Shouldn’t the passenger load have been 90% or 100% if these NEC trains are allegedly so important?
Yes, but socialists advocate these trains not to move people anyway but in order to do what socialists do best and intentionally – spend taxpayer money, which empowers them and the government. Building and maintaining these trains empowers the Democrat party and the politicians who allocate the money; it empowers labor unions and unionized employees who build, operate and maintain these systems and then give campaign money to the politicians who give them jobs; and it empowers college professors and other media activists and environmentalists who promote these trains.
Example: In the US, in Oregon and Washington state a highly-touted regular-speed passenger train system funded by Amtrak and the two states covers 467 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia south through Seattle to Portland and Eugene, Oregon, but carries only 2,300 passengers per day average. That is the same number of passengers that you would find on two rush-hour commuter trains going into New York City, and covering 20 miles.
This Washington-Oregon system now consumes $25 million per year in state subsidies ($30 per passenger per day) and is in the process of gobbling up a whopping $800 million in capital improvement funding. Meanwhile 99.7% of the people who live in these states will never ride these trains.
So are these trains, and particularly high-speed trains, something new and bold? Are they the Magic Bullet of 21st century travel? The answer is no. To make the point, let’s consider Europe where a continent-wide network of passenger trains exists today:
The very-high-speed Euro passenger rail lines like TGV and ICE are separate from existing lines. They are environmentally disastrous for the relatively small number of passengers that they carry, blasting new corridors, tunnels and bridges through the countryside with trains screaming through at all hours, which has caused decades of complaints from small-town residents in once-quiet rural areas. Meanwhile American environmentalists are trying to stop the construction of oil pipelines which are buried underground, which remain silent and which require no government subsidy.
And yes, these high-speed Euro trains can save an hour or two over existing trains on the same routes between cities, but that time is saved at enormous cost and environmental damage, including huge amounts of money and energy needed to build and maintain the tracks in the first place. The famous Bologna-Florence line in Italy cost $163 million to build…. per mile… and you can just imagine how much of that was stolen in state corruption. And then these TGV-type trains are generally patronized only by upper-income travelers who can afford the expensive tickets.
The much-publicized, subsidized Thalys high-speed train between Paris and Brussels, Belgium only saves one hour over the 1970s-era Trans Europe Express train. Big deal, as if the Europeans are in some big hurry… you know, the same Europeans who take three hours for lunch every day. The entire Thalys system, which covers parts of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, carried 6.7 million passengers in 2013, and we are supposed to be impressed. Yet our American airlines – which earn a profit, get no government subsidy, and have no media hype and no artificially high gasoline prices (200% to 300% gasoline tax in Europe) forcing people out of their cars – carry 6.7 million passengers every 3.3 days.
German ICE trains, which cover the whole nation on all major intercity routes, reportedly carried 77 million passengers in 2009. That is only 2.5 times the number of annual passengers today on Amtrak’s decrepit system. At the same time America’s private-sector airlines moved almost 10 times as many passengers as ICE did in 2009.
These high-speed trains demonstrate what is known as the Law of Diminishing Returns, which is what Europe has been applying over the last 50 years to its passenger trains as Euros increasingly are driving or taking fast inter-city buses or flying. Here is how the Law works:
The construction of the original train lines had an excellent investment return economically and time-wise since it made speedy rail travel possible when the alternative was plodding horses and carriages. But today this Law of Diminishing Returns means that these expensive new high-speed trains add less and less value (they have a diminishing return economically and time-wise) to the trip for their high cost over existing trains.
These fast trains use more energy or much more energy per passenger than buses, lower-speed trains, driving or even flying since the faster they go, the more energy they use. This also demonstrates the Law of Diminishing Returns – you get less and less time savings for more and more energy input.
But most importantly is the issue of ridership loads. I have seen dozens of videos on YouTube of the interiors of these high-speed trains and other European trains. These videos show trains running with few passengers or largely empty or empty, which demonstrates an important point – that the value of Europe’s trains is vastly overstated. And this comes after 150 years of pro-train policies all over Europe.
In more than 50 videos from all over Europe I have seen major urban stations and platforms with small crowds or no people whatsoever, and station platforms in town after town after town with hardly any waiting passengers or no waiting passengers at all, no food vendors, no newsstands, no porters, no ticket agents, nobody, empty. The scenario is clear: These trains represent the past when everyone relied on trains, and now the trains are largely not needed.
I have seen two separate videos of spotless, shiny, brand-new 8-car German ICE trains loading up with sparse crowds of around 30 people at the main terminal in Berlin. And while Euro trains can be crowded at times, like on weekends and holidays, you wonder: Shouldn’t hordes of Europeans be shoving their way onto every train every day and taking every seat if the media frenzy is true about the critical nature of European trains?
Of course. In dozens of hours of videos shot from engineers’ cabs all over Europe I have seen few or no passenger trains approaching from the opposite direction. Wouldn’t you expect trains coming every five minutes if the Euro system were so important and moving so many people, as you see cars coming constantly on the highway?
Look at this video from 2009 of a major train station in Vienna, Austria. The video is more than one hour long and the station appears to be brand new. Yet there are hardly any people in it. The ticket windows are practically abandoned. I saw a second video of the same station with the same small crowds.
Check out this video of a brand-new double-decker daytime TGV train going from Barcelona, Spain to Paris. It is virtually empty. The elite TGV-only passenger lounge in the Barcelona terminal is empty. A Paris to Barcelona TGV video is much the same. Yet we have been led for decades to believe that every one of these amazing trains is chock full of eager European travelers speeding between cities.
I watched a 49-minute video of a branch-line train running into the hills out of Innsbruck, Austria, and not one single person was waiting at the many stops along the route. On a similar line from Fulda to Gersfeld in Germany there were zero passengers waiting on a 35 minute trip, with 7 stops. Repeat this all over Europe and you can see a huge problem, i.e., Euros just keep dumping money into these useless train lines. This is one of the reasons that Euro economies are so lackluster; because they are wasting away so much valuable capital on little-used or un-used public-works projects.
When you see big numbers for rail ridership in Europe it often includes urban subways and suburban commuter trains which carry big crowds during the working day and which pump up the ridership figures significantly over the inter-city trains. And don’t forget that tens of millions of train tickets all over the world are sold to railroad crusaders who want to go for a train ride. Rest assured that millions of German ICE tickets are purchased by German train lovers, and by train-crazy tourists from all over the world. Ditto Amtrak tickets. These are not reasons to maintain an expensive and inefficient train system.
But it gets much worse. Euro train ridership is artificially inflated in three other crucial ways – by hundreds of millions of rail passengers forced out of their cars by high gasoline taxes intentionally imposed by Euro governments; these same passengers then are lured onto trains by government ticket subsidies financed by gasoline taxes and by other high Euro taxes as well; while Europeans have a pathological mentality that trains are the greatest thing on earth.
Meanwhile passenger trains have been promoted and romanticized relentlessly in a decades-long global media propaganda campaign. The reason for this obsessive media coverage is clear: PASSENGER TRAINS = SOCIALISM ON WHEELS (government built and operated). These trains are portrayed as saviors of the world when they are nothing of the sort. It is just more narcissistic socialism, i.e., only government and socialist intellectuals and their ideas can save mankind.
In short Euro passenger trains are being imposed on the people in every way but still the crowds are often absent. The average passenger train load in Europe is reported at a paltry 40% even after coercive government policies in every nation heavily favor trains. Nikitas3.com believes that this number would be 10% without those policies. Even the Wikipedia page for the German ICE system shows a photo of one single passenger surrounded by 20 empty seats. This is not a coincidence.
How about those “crowded” European train stations? OK, then imagine that the station in Zurich, Switzerland has 1,000 travelers in it. First, some of them are suburban commuters, not long-distance inter-city train passengers. Second, imagine there are 20 train departures in the next hour. That is 50 people average per train (1,000 travelers divided by 20 trains = 50 travelers per train). If each train has 600 seats, then 50 passengers is a lowly 8% load per train, or 11 out of every 12 seats empty. See how the numbers reveal the truth?
This all demonstrates how ineffective these government policies are, as they are everywhere around the world. At the same time average airline passenger loads are 82%, and with zero government/media advocacy or funding.
In truth the European inter-city passenger train network is a throwback to the time before superhighways, modern cars, efficient inter-city buses, and cheap airline travel. If you want to find the crowds then go to European airports.
Here is the Nikitas3.com recommendation for Europe to scale its passenger train system way back to create a much more efficient network. These proposals will save money and energy, and will lead to tax reductions and cleaner air:
*First and foremost all of these famous inter-city passenger trains, including TGV/ICE trains, should be cut back in frequency to where they are running at capacity or close to capacity on every run. This step alone could cut overall Euro train departures in half. TGV, for instance, runs 34 trains a day from Paris to Lyon. This number could be cut substantially and still move the same number of passengers.
Frequent train departures with high percentages of empty seats are wasting energy and money because trains must carry a certain percentage passenger load to have any value at all (i.e., an empty train wastes all of the energy that it consumes and all of the money that it costs to run it.)
So when environmentalists and train activists tell you that passenger trains are so wonderful and energy-efficient they are basing that optimism on 100% passenger loads and giving you the rosiest projections possible; they are ignoring the overall cost and energy consumption level of passenger trains, including building and maintaining the infrastructure; and they are presenting the most idealized picture possible about train travel. Yet the glamorization of rail travel is absurd in the first place. Train trips, like any trips, can be difficult and tiring. You just get to pay much more for them in Europe.
These activists also can never explain why passenger trains globally virtually never make a profit while airlines usually do.
*Second, Euro governments should reduce taxpayer ticket subsidies that lure riders onto the trains, and then reduce the gasoline taxes and other taxes that subsidize the tickets. They should let the people decide on their own how to travel. This gives people their money and their freedom, and this step alone will create a vastly more efficient transport system since people are smarter and make their own decisions much more wisely than governments.
*Third, Europe today has tens of thousands of miles of regional, secondary, commuter and branch rail lines serving small numbers of passengers at enormous cost. I have seen many of them in videos. I call them “ghost trains” because they carry few or no passengers and there are few or no passengers waiting on the platforms. These lines should be shut down as a major step to moving toward a more affordable, efficient transit system and reducing taxes. Travelers on these lines can easily use cars or buses and their tracks can be torn up.
*Fourth, Europe has hundreds of little Toonerville Trolley vanity trains with few passengers and very high costs. Unless they specifically serve the tourist industry these also should be shut down.
These four steps would cut transportation budgets significantly, save energy, reduce waste, reduce the number of trains and empty seats, encourage travelers to use other modes of travel and, very crucially, would open up large amounts of track space on the European rail network for hauling freight, which is profitable and critical to the European economy. Only 30% of trains on the European network haul freight today. In America that number is almost 100%.
Important note: If the Europeans trans-loaded millions more truck trailers annually onto more frequent European freight trains, as is common in the US (where 14 million trailers per year travel on railroad cars), many millions of trucks would be removed from European highways every year. This would reduce truck pollution and congestion, which is a serious problem in Europe, and it would free up highway space for car travelers and inter-city buses. It also would use the existing Euro rail system much more efficiently, and save energy since freight trains are three times more fuel-efficient than trucks.
These suggestions are intended to make the bloated, inefficient Euro train system more amenable to taxpayers, to energy efficiency and to common sense. And what could Europe do with the money that it saves, say $50 billion per year or more?
Answer: They could start to repay the United States for the tens of trillions of dollars that we spent on US military forces and hardware in Europe to defend Europe from Soviet communism. And the time for that repayment starts today.
Then it is important to remember that European passenger train systems are almost always government-run bureaucracies that are notorious for featherbedding and waste that we can never even begin to know about. Thus with all of these factors added up you can see why train tickets in Europe can be very expensive.
On the other hand you can fly around Europe cheaply on private-sector airlines, like from Rome to Berlin (941 miles, 2 hours flying). Here is an AirBerlin flight that I found immediately on the internet (US dollars): Fare is $96 plus $69 taxes = total $165 round trip. (Look at that 72% tax. And some of that money goes to subsidize the trains, which is classic absurd socialism – the Euros tax efficiency (airlines) to subsidize inefficiency (trains)). So without taxes, the plane fare would be $48 each way.
Meanwhile train tickets are subsidized by Euro governments, not taxed. The Rome-Berlin train ticket is listed on the internet for $206 just for a single adult seat one-way on a 12-hour overnight trip (it makes you groggy just thinking about it). A sleeper cabin is $500 or more. And then you may choose to buy meals which adds to the cost. And rest assured that all food on these trains is expensive, including beer or soda.
Then if you include the taxpayer subsidy, and then add on the tax that you pay for airline tickets, those prices could almost triple. The tax alone on the sleeper cabin would be $360 if train tickets were taxed like airline tickets.
Versus $48 on the airplane, in two hours. Stunning, isn’t it, when you see the actual numbers… And this, friends, is classic socialism which pushes up costs dramatically for virtually every service it offers. Meanwhile the same socialists tell us that free-market capitalism is robbing us all. That is the opposite of the truth.
Then get this – the “high-speed” daytime Rome-Berlin train takes 4 hours longer (15.5 hours, average 61 MPH) than the night train (11.5 hours, average 82 MPH) and you also have to change trains in Munich on the day train (no change on the night train). A 1st class seat on that high-speed train? $660 US dollars. Wow. Throw in the government subsidy and the equivalent of the airline ticket tax and it could be more than $1,500 per seat.
We also know that the success of budget air travel in Europe comes from DE-regulation, i.e., even the Europeans got the government out of the airline business, lowering costs dramatically, while trains have remained wards of the states, with the dismal statistics and sky-high fares to prove it.
Then imagine that you have a father, mother and three children traveling from Rome to Berlin. You could drive with a few tanks of gasoline ($90 total for gasoline in April 2015 with prices in the US, where the government does not artificially increase gasoline prices), while the cheapest overnight train tickets are going to cost your family up to $850. Daytime 2nd class high-speed train tickets for the family would be $1,800. And if you took the subsidy away the ticket prices could go much higher, perhaps more than $1,500 up to $3,500 or more. Add the equivalent airline ticket tax and the prices go to $2,300 to $5,900.
Versus $90 for gasoline. And then remember that these wild-eyed train fanatics will gladly spend long hours or even days on a train, at much higher cost, energy consumption and time than flying or driving since these people are not interested in transportation but are slavish advocates of trains. This is why we should ignore them and their so-called facts and figures, which are all manipulated to their point of view yet which all have been accepted for decades as gospel.
The socialists, however, love their expansive, expensive, inefficient passenger train empire. They do not want efficiency since the Golden Rule says that socialism thrives on INefficiency. They will never abandon any passenger rail lines without a fight as Euro taxpayers shell out more and more to keep them open. The socialists often employ emotional tactics, i.e., the trains save energy (false), they are part of Euro history (big deal. So was World War II), etc.
Except that Europeans today don’t use their passenger trains at anywhere near the level that we are led to believe. Only 6% of Europeans who are traveling between cities use trains. Yet from the hype you would think that 75% of Europeans use trains. But in point of fact 75% of inter-city travel in Europe is by automobile.
At the same time Euro gasoline is taxed heavily and much of that tax money actually goes to finance the passenger trains, which is a raw deal for Euro motorists. Thus tens of millions of inter-city rail passengers annually would be driving if their governments weren’t rigging the system against cars. It is classic socialism; the people’s behavior is controlled by the government through the way that it taxes and spends the people’s money. Reducing these gasoline taxes would help Europeans move more efficiently by their own chosen method.
These Euro train systems, and particularly the fastest ones, are enormously costly to build, operate and maintain, which is why they can virtually never make a profit. These systems have highly-paid, unionized, public-sector workforces operating expensive and technologically complex electric locomotives, passenger cars, track, signaling, power and dispatcher systems. The maintenance of precise high-speed track switches, for instance, or of the overhead spider-web of electrical catenary wires on this continent-wide system is tremendously expensive.
But if a train runs below a certain passenger load it is wasting energy and money over the alternative means of travel. Virtually all European trains, including TGV and ICE trains, run with uneconomical passenger loads and they lose money by the fistful, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year per country, which is made up in taxpayer subsidies.
When you see videos of sleek European passenger train whizzing by at 120 MPH you should ask four simple questions: How many passengers are actually riding that train? How much energy is that train using per passenger? How much is it costing per passenger to run that train? And what would be the cost and energy consumption of alternative means of travel like buses, cars and planes?
This is simple common sense, and the answers would probably shock you and explode the carefully constructed myths of the global passenger train cult, which is truly a mesmerized cult that ignores all facts and reality. And only when you know the answers will you start to look at these European passenger trains, and all passenger trains, rationally.
Even with some Euro/Japan train systems under private management they remain very costly and in need of big taxpayer subsidies since passenger trains are by their very nature inefficient and their fixed costs, including labor, are very high.
Meanwhile passenger train activists will never tell you that America has the best railway system in the world, that it is privately-owned, takes only occasional and small government subsidies, and that it carries only freight, earns revenues of $55 billion annually, and makes a profit. It has 140,000 miles of track, 23,000 locomotives, 1.6 million freight cars, and it moves 1.9 TRILLION ton-miles of freight per year. The four major railroads are Union Pacific and BNSF west of the Mississippi and Norfolk Southern and CSX in the East.
These passenger train activists also never tell you that Europe’s highways are crowded with trucks because Europe spends taxpayer money heavily on money-losing passenger trains with lots of empty seats, not profit-making freight trains. In India, for instance, freight train profits subsidize passenger train tickets for poor Indians.
Perhaps the Euros could run more fast passenger buses between cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam in Holland, just 80 miles apart, instead of expensive Thalys trains that save 30 minutes of travel time at enormous cost and environmental disruption. These buses also should be freed from high motor fuel taxes to encourage them. Buses are 6 to 8 times lighter in weight per passenger than passenger trains and therefore vastly more fuel-efficient.
Japan’s highly-touted government-operated Bullet Trains opened in 1964 but were losing so much money that they were put under private management back in 1987. Much of the rest of the Japanese system has been privatized recently but still it needs boatloads of taxpayer money since its built-in costs are extremely high. These super-expensive trains are one of the reasons that Japan has the highest national debt ratio in the industrialized world.
In the US Amtrak is a sterling example of waste. For example Amtrak’s Southern Crescent was traveling from New Orleans to New York in Autumn 2013 with 207 passengers, while its 2 locomotives and 9 passenger cars combined weighed more than 1,000 tons without passengers, i.e., the train weighed about 5 tons per passenger. This is typical for many Amtrak trains.
Those 207 passengers represented a 28% passenger load for that train, a terribly low ridership figure, with almost 3 out of every 4 seats empty. This is why taxpayers needs to subsidize every single Amtrak passenger (just 31 million Amtrak tickets sold per year) for $50 per one-way ticket while US airlines carry 750 million passengers per year with zero subsidy.
Those same New Orleans-to-New York passengers could have flown on one Boeing 737 which weighs 60 tons without passengers, or about one-third ton per passenger. And rather than 30 hours on the train, they would have arrived in less than 3. So the Amtrak train was moving 15 times as much weight per passenger as the 737 at 10% of the speed, yet we are told that passenger trains are efficient carriers that save time and energy. Nonsense. Meanwhile the average American automobile with just a driver weighs 1.6 tons per passenger; with a driver and one passenger it is .8 tons; with a driver and two passengers it is .533 tons.
In another recent case an Amtrak train in Kansas was reported to have had only 128 passengers with two locomotives and nine cars, or a train-to-passenger weight ratio of 8 tons per passenger(!) That would be like moving one single passenger using five Toyota Camrys. This is common and this is why Amtrak can never make any money and should be shut down – because it is moving so few people at such high levels of energy consumption, much higher than driving. Meanwhile Amtrak is using taxpayer subsidies to draw passengers away from private-sector non-subsidized cars, and intercity bus lines and airlines, which is patently unfair to those private businesses.
I saw a ridiculous video on YouTube of an American female touting a high-speed train ride between Madrid and Barcelona, claiming that the train “emits 4 times less emissions than flying”. Yet there is no honest way to make a statement like that. To make the case either way you have to consider all of the energy consumption of the train, like building and maintaining the infrastructure and high energy consumption at high speeds, along with overall passenger loads, energy consumption per passenger, cost per passenger, etc. and then measure those against the same numbers for cars, buses and planes.
These are all measurable factors that environmentalists ignore when discussing trains since these factors usually make trains look bad. No, the ecologists just tell their followers to repeat certain numbers that make trains look wonderful.
Nikitas.com has suggested the development of high-speed 200 MPH jet helicopters to move travelers quickly between medium-distance cities (250 to 400 miles). Running with a full passenger load, the helicopters would only be about 1.5 times the size of a Trailways inter-city bus and would weigh .25 tons per passenger, or 32 times less weight per passenger than the Kansas Amtrak train. Ticket prices, therefore, would be much lower than Amtrak, and speeds much higher.
But the real energy efficiency of air travel is accounted for in the fact that airplanes don’t require hundreds or thousands of miles of steel rails (482 tons of steel per mile of track), millions of spikes, track plates and crossties, millions of tons of stone roadbed material, along with overhead power wires, signal systems, bridges and tunnels all of which require astronomical amounts of energy to manufacture, transport, install, maintain and replace.
Very importantly, flying saves time too, which is a critical and valuable commodity in our modern world. Environmentalists conveniently ignore the time advantage of air travel, but stress it obsessively when they are arguing for fast passenger trains.
And by the way, why are Europeans so obsessed with fast trains in the first place? These are the same Europeans who work 31 hours a week, retire at age 52, and take the whole month of August for vacation but suddenly they need to save an hour on their train trip? What a joke.
And also, by the way, trains make a lot of noise, which causes harm to tens of millions of people along their routes. European railroads have installed thousands of miles of fences to dampen noise to nearby homes, with many of the fences covered with ugly graffiti. Then there is often loud screeching when trains round sharp curves, and when braking to a stop, or from whistles and horns. This harm to the human environment is conveniently ignored by train lovers.
Train travel also can be visually grim. Despite the scenic utopia promised by activists Euro trains, and Amtrak trains in the US, pass through some of the bleakest landscapes imaginable including the back sides of cities, huge train yards at every city (especially in Europe where even small cities can have sprawling rail yards), under dark urban highway and rail overpasses, through gloomy tunnels, or past industrial installations, power plants, factory buildings, scrap yards, deserted structures, bad neighborhoods, along busy highways, etc. Graffiti in Europe and in the US flourishes wildly near the train tracks, making the situation for riders even worse.
Even when trains pass through delightful small towns they run along the back alleys, parking lots and dumpsters. On the other hand, if you want to see the beauty of a small town then you should drive down the main street… in your car.
Just remember the Golden Rule: Car travel is in most ways superior to train travel. You can go when you want, where you want, stop when you want, go directly to your destination, take more stuff with you, visit out-of-the-way places, etc., and in most cases it is more energy-efficient than trains. If you want to see the real Europe, travel by car. Ditto the USA. It is generally cheaper than train travel, particularly for two or more people.
In California a high-speed passenger train line is starting to be built between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is now projected to cost $98 billion (up $30 billion from a few years ago) but Nikitas3.com predicts that it will end up costing $175 billion knowing how corrupt California is today as it is dominated by the Democrat party. This train route will cover 520 miles to serve out-of-the-way cities while the direct flying route from LA to San Francisco is 350 miles. So how do you save energy and time covering 1.5 times the distance?
You don’t, which is a fact that environmentalists ignore. Because this project is not about the environment – it is about socialism and spending taxpayer money to empower the Democrat party. It will end up wasting vast amounts of both money and energy.
And rest assured that this train will have high ticket prices and will require big California taxpayer subsidies, and eventually a call for federal subsidies to keep this boondoggle alive.
We Americans use our cars for 84% of inter-city travel while Europeans use their cars for 75%. So train advocates ignore the reality of Euros’ extensive car travel. Still Europeans drive 75% of the time even though they get hit with crushing gasoline taxes. Because cars are vastly more convenient than trains, are generally more energy efficient, and always more direct from door to door and so the Euros use their cars even at very high cost.
Now imagine that you were buying a French TGV train ticket from Paris to Lyon and that it cost $200, which is the upper price for a weekday ticket. But then imagine that the ticket agent said that you had to pay the full fare including the government subsidy, and that the ticket therefore was $400 or more. You would surely think twice about riding the train, but then again this is how subsidies and taxes cover up the true cost of Euro train service and lure tens of millions of riders onto inefficient trains. Most Europeans ignore the fact that they are paying lots of money for these trains through their taxes.
Train activists also like to say that Europe is compact, and distances are much shorter than the US and so Europe is better suited to rail travel. The entire nation of France is 20% smaller than Texas. Yet the people of Texas travel freely even though Texas has not one single high-speed train line criss-crossing the state. Texans get in their cars or ride buses or they fly. No problem. France can do the same.
Then we are led to think by the activists that these high-speed Euro trains are attracting passengers out of their inefficient automobiles and saving energy and the environment, and therefore that they are the transport system of the future.
Wrong. These high-speed trains are generally drawing higher-income passengers out of existing lower-speed trains serving the same routes. And these passengers need to be richer since their TGV/ICE ticket prices are much higher to pay for these super-expensive trains. This system therefore serves wealthier people. It is classic socialism to help the rich at the expense of everyone else.
It gets worse. By drawing passengers out of lower-speed trains, it does three negative things – it leaves the lower-speed trains with fewer paying passenger, and thus more need for taxpayer subsidy (or lacking that, less upkeep); it puts more burden on European taxpayers to maintain two separate systems, including the extremely expensive TGV-type trains; and it uses much more than twice as much energy per passenger than the lower-speed trains since both systems are still running, but moving roughly the same number of passengers but moving one group at high speed, high energy consumption and high cost.
For instance, the high-speed train proposed for California will use government subsidies to draw people out of buses, cars and planes and even existing Amtrak trains that are more efficient and energy-efficient first and foremost since those buses, cars, planes and Amtrak trains are covering just 65% of the distance of the proposed high-speed train.
The track maintenance alone on high-velocity train lines is very expensive and energy-intensive since the tracks must be kept up to exacting standards. Rails degrade faster under high speeds, adding significantly to the cost and inefficiency of the system.
This requires that the entire 289 miles of TGV track on the most famous line between Paris and Lyon, France – only 52 miles longer than the 237 mile trip from New York to Washington – be inspected every night by specialized monitoring vehicles. Just imagine how much that costs just for inspection, but not for any maintenance at all. At the same time the air through which a plane travels never has to be inspected, aligned or repaired.
This all shows precisely why air travel is less expensive and more efficient or much more efficient than passenger rail travel – because it is faster; there are no train tracks to maintain; jet engines are very efficient and becoming more efficient every year; and air crews are paid for much shorter hours for the same distance covered so the labor cost savings can be passed on to passengers. This is why airlines make profits all over the world and passenger trains do not. Even poor Third World nations are finding air travel cheaper, faster and more efficient than trains.
Thank goodness we Americans love our airplanes. And by the way Euros do too; they actually fly more than they use trains for long-distance travel, contrary to the pro-train mythmakers.
Then, of course, the rail activists tell us that these ICE/TGV trains go really fast on their own special tracks, and some videos show the train speedometer going up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 MPH).
Yet that consumes a lot of extra energy at this top speed, which is only a maximum speed that is at the outer limit of train safety, and is only on occasional stretches of dedicated track. No, the train activists never show you the same trains running at much slower speeds on non-dedicated track; or slowing and then stopping to pick up passengers at stations along the route; or slowing when changing tracks or routes; or slowing for yellow signals or stopping for red signals; or slowing down for track work zones; or slowing for long stretches to enter or leave cities or towns at 10 MPH. No, we are supposed to ignore all of that and believe the hype that the whole trip is 200 MPH. Yet the fastest TGV trip in all of Europe from Paris to Lyon only averages 140 MPH.
eanwhile jetliners fly at more than 500 miles an hour for the whole trip, and would fall out of the sky at 140 MPH since they would be going so slow. We also see private-sector airlines offering discount fares out of their own pockets, while cut-rate fares on Amtrak or Euro passenger trains are subsidized directly by taxpayers, as all fares are.
This proves yet again that socialism always produces the opposite of its projected effects and presents us with misleading facts and perceptions. It also proves the Golden Rule: Beyond a certain low threshold point socialism always produces inefficiency, waste and high costs.
Two million Americans per day on average make intercity trips on airplanes, and the private-sector airlines make a profit moving these passengers. On the other hand Amtrak needs a $1.5 billion annual taxpayer subsidy to move only 82,000 passengers per day average. And that subsidy does not even account for the fact that Amtrak is allowed to use private freight railroad tracks without paying anywhere near full price for those ‘trackage rights’, another government reward for Amtrak’s atrocious service.
Then Amtrak can hardly move a few hundred passengers a few hundred miles without some sort of derailment, discomfort, equipment failure, cancellation or delay on its ancient equipment manned by rude and incompetent workers making sky-high union salaries. You also might notice that when Amtrak trains fail that passengers are moved to buses. Yet if an inter-city bus breaks down its passengers are never moved to Amtrak trains.
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