Monday, February 15, 2010

A Future of Fast Trains and Whiskey

Future train in whiskey ad
And what could be wrong with that? I stumbled across this delightful image on a Russian Livejournal, someone who calls himself Lord K. The overall theme seems to be 20th century images, most but not all of cool techno stuff.

I do not know the date of this ad, though I'll guess late 30s or 40s from the design of the locomotive, which looks much like spaceships illos of that era at Atomic Rockets. Surely it is pre-1955, based on the monorail technology - resembling a conventional track, complete with ties, instead of the Alweg style, wrapped around a concrete girder on pylons, that Disneyland made the iconic image of Futuristic rail transport. Disney doesn't have to answer for monorails after all; obviously they were already with us, or would be in the Future.

But whoever wrote the ad copy got something right. This was the dim and distant mid 20th century, when women apparently neither thought about tomorrow nor bought their own whiskey, but 'men who think about tomorrow' were thinking of trains going 200-300 mph.

Trust me, though - it is a lot simpler with two rails, especially for switches AKA turnouts.


Related post: Take a quick virtual ride on the Eurostar, at a mere 150 mph. (Average - the top speed must be faster.)

44 comments:

Citizen Joe said...

A space elevator may be single rail... and it would probably push 300 mph once outside the atmosphere... and if you're gonna have a highball when you're paying by the gram, it would indeed be best to use the lightest.

Jean Remy said...

Depending on how "high" you are, it is gong to be very "light" indeed.It involves a "ball".

Ba-dum, TCH

(If anyone has ever read The Adventures of Tintin, they will know what happens to whiskey when you turn the gravity off.)

And after this horrible series of puns I will mercifully slink back into the shadows.

Rick said...

Even a space elevator might want a double cable, for redundancy if one snaps.

I'm not a fan of elevators on technical and economic grounds, but what a wonderful way to travel! Leaning back in the cable car observation room, cocktail in hand, watching Earth quietly drop away ...

Rick said...

I'm aware of Tintin, but only rather glancingly.

I seem to remember speculation about champagne in microgravity, but before you slink into the shadows, what DOES happen to whiskey when you turn the gravity off?

Jean Remy said...

The problem with the elevator is the stupendous starting cost. I think it lives on mostly because it is easier to imagine something like a cable and a train. We have more familiarity with cables and trains that with rockets. Most of us have ridden a train or used a towing cable, after all. I rather doubt that anyone here has ridden a rocket, and we have more familiarity with rockets than the "general public" (I used quotation marks because I don't like generalizations like this, but here we at least are familiar with rockets as an intellectual exercise) To most people, then, it makes sense. Most people also don't quite grasp the distances and stresses involved. We're talking about tens of thousands of kilometers of fibers that are complex to manufacture, not to mention the need to move an asteroid massing thousands of tonnes as counter-weight. The effort to build something like that will take as great a manufacturing effort as thousands of normal rockets, and enough propellant for tens to hundreds of thousands of launches. For that project to even be considered you need to have to have a cheap way to get to orbit to start with... and if you have a cheap way to get to orbit, you don't need the cable. Before the cable starts to be commercially viable it would need to catch up to the tens of thousands of launches it took to put it in place. Looks great on paper, but it's one of those "if we can build it we don't need it" dilemmas.

The beanstalk will likely live on for a long time because of the romantic image of the train, and what is more romantic than a train to the stars? I would also bet you're more likely to be wedged in a skintight suit with a helmet close at hand, a small plastic bag with what few personal possessions you can afford to take up, and most likely be stuck in a small windowless closet.

I'm all for romance, but I wouldn't reserve my seat on a Pullman Car to orbit quite yet.

Jean Remy said...

Oh there was a funny moment when Capitaine Haddock (american name slips me) was getting drunk from his stash of smuggled whiskey. At the moment of the turnover maneuver the main engine is cut off. The whiskey in his glass promptly floats away as a spheroid. Hence a high "ball".

Jean Remy said...

Wait, a purported fan of rocketpunk who hasn't read Tintin's Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon? This is a lack you should repair post-haste. As far as realistic rocketpunk-era SF, the depiction of the lunar voyage and landing is nothing short of spectacular. This was published in 1953-54.

emdx said...

(Nitpick:) Capitaine Archibald Haddock’s glass of Loch Lomond scotch whisky would have quietly stayed within the glass, provided he did not shake it, thanks to that little pesky thing called “surface tension”, which would have had the whisky cling to the glass… (I wonder what would happen to a glass of mercury, though).

“Highball” comes from the railroad term derived from the time of “ball signals” (the last one is in New Hampshire: http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=288071&showexif=1) which consisted of a ball moutned on a rope strung between two pulleys, allowing vertical movement of the said ball. When the ball was hoisted at the top of the mast, the train was free to proceed, hence the term “highball” meaning “let’s go!”.

To this day, railroaders still say “highball $DESTINATION” whenever they get on their way.

* * *

A space elevator trip would prove interesting, yes, but going straight 36,000 km up is going to take some time. Toto, we’re not on the space shuttle anymore. At 2000 km/h, it’s gonna be 18 hours in sitting in a cramped cabin…

I will leave the sociofinancial mechanics of building a beanstalk as an exercise to the reader (and A.C. Clarke)…

* * *

Regarding monorails, they may look all glitzy and futuristic and all that, but they have extremely serious problems (that hall have been solved by conventionnal “bi-rail” systems more than 2 centuries ago) that prevent their widespread use.

http://emdx.org/rail/Monorail/english.html

And besides, the very high speeds achieved by conventional rail lately (574,8 km/h = 357.16 mph) make the maglev less and less attractive, given the monorail problems.

Lastly, evacuated underground tubes will have their speed limited at twice the orbital speed at the distance the tunnel is from the center of the Earth, provided the passengers do not mind travelling upside-down… :)

Jean Remy said...

Counter-nitpick: I think Haddock was toasting himself at the time, and he was probably too drunk to hold the glass steady, even if he wasn't. All in all the depiction of a constant 1g acceleration causing apparent gravity, which becomes non-existent when the main engine is shut off, as well as the lateral g's when the side thrusters are engaged, and then 1g deceleration slamming him, his bottle and the blob of whisky back to the deck are overall very well done. And this is just one minor scene.

Also the name Archibald is not 100% confirmed as canonical, due to... well copious amounts of Loch Lomond whisky were involved. It is mostly accepted though.

I didn't know about the whole highball thing however. Interesting clarification.

Lastly, I would love to see that upside-down train, but then I like roller-coasters.

Jim Baerg said...

"And besides, the very high speeds achieved by conventional rail lately (574,8 km/h = 357.16 mph) make the maglev less and less attractive, given the monorail problems."

I can see that the succss of high speed conventional rail reduces the incentive to bother with maglev, but what do the 'monorail problems' have to do with maglev? Some of the more plausible maglev systems I've seen discussed have dual rails.

Anonymous said...

That art and text screams late '30s to me. And Wikipedia confirms that King George V's Silver Jubilee was in 1935, so that puts a seven-year-old whisky on sale in 1941-1942 (Depending on how brewers count years in the cask. I don't really know). I'd guess this art was commissioned at least a year before the campaign started.

On a different note... Is that black licorice stuck to the side of the train?

Ian_M

Carla said...

The artwork style looks late Thirties to me, too. Age for a whisky refers to the number of years it has been matured in oak casks before bottling; for a blended whisky, the age is the age of the youngest component. I think it is possible to blend a whisky after the components have been in cask for a while. If that's correct (and don't quote me on it), the seven years could have started before the whisky was blended in 1935.

Thucydides said...

I'm as surprised as Jean that you weren't aware of Tintin's lunar adventure (especially since it was actually published as a two book series [Destination Moon, and; Explorers on the Moon]; most Tintin adventures were concluded in a single 64 page book).

My son now is busy reading the adventures of Tintin, and the series has been popular since the 1930's when it was first written (so Tintin is also is contemporary with your artwork!)

Rick said...

Sometimes I am amazed by my own ignorance!

Thanks to emdx for the cool links! Someone ought to make a cultural study of why monorails generate such ongoing public fascination.

Short of finding a source date, 'late 30s' seems a strong consensus. I have no idea what the black licorice is.

My instinct about space elevators is that, if viable at all, they are like any rail line, suited mainly to high traffic volume. You'd only build one if traffic to orbit is so heavy that the elevator is cheaper than the required shuttle fleet (or environmental impacts are getting severe, etc.). Which would be a really huge traffic volume!

The idea of elevators as a near future solution strikes me as a rather desperate response to the high cost of conventional orbit lift.

I tend to agree that there's not much real place for maglev here on Earth, since conventional rail can go about as fast as is useful at ground level anyway.

But in earlier discussion threads an interesting question was raised about other planets. The conventional railway truck/bogie is a very well developed technology, but at the heart of it all is wheels and bearings. Lubrication in vacuum or thin atmosphere could be problematic, tipping the advantage to wheel-less maglevs.

Jean Remy said...

The main blockage to maglev on Earth in network integration.

When the new TGV-specific lines were built in France, they still had to be of the same gauge as they needed to link to non-TGV lines while more TGV lines were being built. The difference between a TGV line and a standard line is in the way rail sections are linked. Standard lines bolt rails together with some space in between for thermal expansion, leading to the familiar RAT-TAT-TAT. At high speeds that gap would cause the train to fly off the tracks. TGV tracks are heated first to a certain level of thermal expansion, then set in concrete blocks to prevent contraction as they cool, leaving rail to rail connections seamless. So a TGV is able to reach its fast cruising speeds on TGV lines, but can still utilize standard lines, at normal train speeds. That makes it a very versatile train.

A maglev of course can *only* go on maglev tracks, so any previous rail network is not usable. They are neither flexible nor versatile, and cannot integrate in already comprehensive rail networks.

The Moon and Mars have no such networks in place, and as Rick said because of mechanical/maintenance issues maglev lines would make more sense anyways.

I think there are a few projects floating around about vacuum maglev lines running across the Atlantic and Pacific, but I see their costs as being far too great to even pretend to challenge airline traffic. The "Chunnel" was expensive and controversial enough that I don't see a project like that be anything other than a "pipe" dream.

Jean Remy said...

Thucydides:

I am very happy the Tintin legacy lives on. I cannot think of a source that inspired me to become a writer more than that. I originally wanted to be a comic artist, but I just don't have the drawing talent to pull it off.

Anonymous said...

Jean, Rob Liefeld never let a complete lack of talent stop him.

Go for the artistic career. You can't possibly be any worse.

Ian_M

emdx said...

Er… Nitpicks again…

The TGV is a Very Ordinary Train®. It has no exotic technology. A 1880’s mechanic looking at one will not have any ¿WTF? moments.

Oh, granted, the TGV can run faster; it has the power to do it. But that’s all that differentiates it from it’s slower brethen.

What makes the TGV is the track layout. Again, there is nothing fancy about it. A 1920’s section hand will not have any ¿DUH? moments about it, save for the continuous welded rails, perhaps (which are in use in many “low speed” lines throughout the world). The TGV track is laid with very slight curves so the trains can take them at very high speed. It is like an “interstate”-like highway (“motorway” for limeys, «autoroute» for frogs) with generous curves you can take faster than on country roads.

And, indeed, other trains than TGVs run on the high-speed lines; some days ago, I had a few beers with a friend who runs 200 km/h (125 mph) freight trains on the original high-speed line at night (he says that they are limited to 9 cars, though). Yes, ordinary boxcars hauled by perfectly normal locomotives, but that can go 80% faster because the track is made for it.

When I rode in the cab from Paris to Marseille, this was before the high-speed line was extended all the way. Even though we ran at 280 km/h on the high-speed line, the driving was relaxed like on an “autoroute” (since it’s in France, I’ll use french terminology*). But as soon as we hit the conventionnal line at 200 km/h, the driving was hecktic and very nervous. Like stepping from a 120 km/h higway onto a 80 km/h windy mountain road.

* * *

Maglevs have two rails, yes, but the way the train straddles the track (or the way the train is deep within the track), you end up with the same inflexibility thanks to the inherent switch complexity that is the downfall of monorails everywhere.

* * *

There are more than a few Tintin adventures that have been published in two volumes: Cigars of the pharaohs+The Blue Lotus; The Secret of the Unicorn+Red Rackham's Treasure; The Seven Crystal Balls+Prisoners of the Sun and, of course, the moon adventures.

Rick said...

I had to google Rob Liefeld to even know who he is, but now he starts out with a big strike against him.

Comics in general are terra incognita to me, which is why I never mention them. The reason, so far as I can guess, is an otherwise trivial bit of personal history. I was just starting to read comic books when we moved to a neighborhood where no local store sold any - I remember looking, and coming up empty.

Meanwhile I discovered Heinlein and written SF, and by the time we moved again I didn't think to look for comics, and never picked up the habit.

My impression of TGVs and other fast trains is what emdx says - that the main key is the line, building an alignment with very wide radii and banked for high speed running. And building entire new lines costs big money, in whatever denomination.

Though I'm sure there are a lot of engineering devils in the details to actually run at that speed with safety, reliability, and comfort.

But it is also true that TGVs essentially look and run much like electric trains of 100 years ago, just much faster, and at sustained high speeds.

Jean Remy said...

counter nitpicks, redux.

Yes, thank you for highlighting my point exactly.

I never claimed the TGV was anything other than a normal train. I in fact specifically pointed out one of the major design features was the continuous welded line sunk in cement, pointing out that the rail is heated to cause thermal expansion etc...

It's a Perfectly Normal Beast...

Hence it is superior in terms of flexibility because it can use normal tracks, if it goes a lot slower, allowing the TGV complete use access to the preexisting rail networks, exactly like a maglev cannot. My entire point was TGV > MagLev because it plugs into the normal network.

And I've gone from Nice to Paris, also using a combo of normal and high speed lines. The difference is exactly like driving on a potholed country road versus an autoroute. The change from rat-tat-tat to smooooooooooooooooth was rather spectacular. never had such a comfortable ride in anything, certainly not public transport. A far cry for sure from the diesel engine DREZINE lines in the alps.

* * *

Cigars of the Pharaoh + Blue Lotus is not really considered a two-parter, though they are closely linked in terms of story and timeline. There is no cliff hanger or "to be continued", at least nothing uncommon for a normal serial ("read the next installment of the Adventures of Tintin") The link between the two is closer than normal, but hardly to the level of the Lunar mission (we leave off with the Rocket streaking through the sky, the radio silent, and Mission Controller Baxter chewing on his tie. Dun dun duuuuun)

Anonymous said...

Rick - "I had to google Rob Liefeld"

I'm sorry. I should have warned people not to do that.

On the other hand, if you're in the mood for more bad art you could play the Greg Land drinking game. Google his name and take a shot every time you stumble across another photoshopped porn actress.

Ian_M

Thucydides said...

A few interesting train notes (since we seem to be on the subject).

Canada has made one try at high speed rail using the "Turbo-train". This was a locomotive powered by a gas turbine engine and a series of specially designed passenger cars. The project included a special suspension system which allowed the train to "lean" into the curves and a great deal of suspension travel. This level of complexity was chosen because it was (and is) simply too expensive to lay TVG or Bullet Train style tracks over the sorts of distances we have here (especially given the very low population densities, even on the Windsor-Quebec corridor). Since freight traffic needs to share the same road beds, it was also thought that the regular freight traffic would pretty much destroy any special tracks.

The project ended because the train was unreliable (apparently the leaning into curves function was erratic at best, and having the train "lean" when you didn't want it too was rather.....disturbing), and the turbine engine burned fuel at a very uneconomical rate. Low population density, low train usage in general and the great distances in Canada all conspire against passenger rail traffic in general. This might be overcome if the passenger service wasn't a government run operation, which has no incentives to improve. I have taken the train and been annoyed at layovers in Toronto lasting several hours, or sitting in the train dwadling along beside the Highway 401 (=Interstate type highway) and watching the traffic flashing past the train. Since Via gets a large percentage of their operating budget from taxpayers, they don't really feel it when I choose to drive or fly instead.

That being said, if there were a reliable fast train service I would be inclined to take it over being shoehorned into a jet or driving for hours on end...

Citizen Joe said...

If I had a reliable means of transportation at the end, I'd take a train over a plane. Mostly, I just drive though. That means building a transportation network at hubs. It also means that you gotta put all the important stuff close to the hub. I live in an urban sprawl so getting anywhere by bus is painfully slow. Additionally, all the important stuff is spread out so you can maybe do one thing per trip.

NYC has an excellent mass transit with its subways, buses and taxis, but parking is so restricted that you can't really bring your own car. That is a perfect destination for a high speed rail. Washington DC and Chicago are similarly prepared for high speed rail. I think that has a lot to do with the existing transportation technology during the growth phase of the cities. Many of the US cities grew up after the interstate system was put in with America's love affair with cars. So the cities grew around the idea that everyone would drive.

Anonymous said...

OK, first...the "black licorice" looks like a very poor attempt to depict cooling intakes.

Space elevators: a cool idea that fall into the "yeah, we could do that...but why would we WANT too?" category of fanciful stuff.

Tintin is great; I wish I had time to read more and more often!

Funny how people view the future...most of the time it's either a wildly exagerated version of their present, or a totally polerized view (i.e. paradise or disporia)...in 1980, I would have never thought that 2010 be pretty much the same, except for the all-pervasive information/communications capability that the internet gives us...in 1980 it was a major undertaking to communicate with someone halfway across the world; in 2010 we do it routinely...I'm doing it right now, without a second thought about it!

Ferrell

Citizen Joe said...

The extreme difficulty we have with getting out of our gravity well leads me to believe that we are the 'heavy worlders' of science fiction. It is much more likely for planets with less gravity to encourage space flight.

Rick said...

Taking Ferrell's point first, because it is a favorite hobby horse. It is amazing how our world of 2010 has almost nothing obviously Futuristic about it. Apart from all those people walking around with Star Trek communicator/tricorders.

I used to hear that the reason videophones had never caught on was that people didn't want to be seen by callers if they weren't dressed, etc.

Did it change with mobile phones because we use them in public, where we expect to be seen, or was it never true to begin with? Maybe older videophones were simply too expensive, etc.

Heinlein, I think, would alternate between being delighted by the social effects of our technology, and kicking himself for not thinking of it.

Though the cellphone use at the start of Between Planets still works, because it is so matter of fact, except that the modern teen reader might have no clue that it was futuristic when written.

In the same book the hero reflects that a preflight check showed he didn't have a bomb in his underwear. Score two for RAH.

Tilt trains have been tried many times since the 1950s, and so far as I know without much success. It is trying to get around the fact that for fast trains you need fast lines.

North America has a problem because our railroads are really slow. They were mostly built at a time when the land was very thinly settled, and minimizing construction cost was critical.

If you want to read some different geekitude, try The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways, by Arthur Mellen Wellington, a 19th century engineer. His concern was entirely with how to build solidly but cheaply, and in his perspective sharp curves were fine if they saved grading money.

emdx said...

Actually, the United Aircraft Turbotrain was not exactly a failure. As a tilt-train, it was, yes, but the fact that it remained in (spotty) service until 1984 is a testament to the soundness of the idea.

It also still holds the canadian speed record of ≈175 mph.

A film (in 3 parts, complete with 1960’s cheesiness) about the CN turbo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETYDiT4h4oU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qegIRh9DFHc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iLBP0qPg_k

As of tilt-trains in general, some are in service in Europe (Talgo-Pendular, X-2000, Pendolino, and even some TGVs were experimentally fitted with various banking systems), which is where everyone looks at, but no one seems to look at Canada, where the Bombardier LRC tilt-trains have been in continuous service since about 1982.

The LRC improvement over the UAC Turbo was that instead of being passive, the banking is controlled by accelerometers that actively insure that the floor is “level” in respect to the centrifugical force of a given curve.

(The funny thing is that I have seen the banking work at speeds as low as 40 mph, which is quite funny for a train that was designed to go at 125 mph — 200 km/h)…

Thucydides said...

The LRC tilt mechanism must be very subtle, since I haven't noticed anything untowards when riding it.

On the other hand, it is generally running rather slowly on the sections I tend to use, so perhaps it isn't even engaged at that point.

Rick said...

The Turbos worked, and so did some other tilt trains, but they didn't do so well (IIRC) at the goal of providing faster service on conventional lines. To do that you have to belly up to the bistro and build high speed lines.

Thucydides said...

A bit of a necropost, but here are some arguments against high speed rail (at least the versions being proposed):

ReasonTV
March 04, 2010

President Barack Obama has pledged $8 billion in tax dollars to build a national network of high-speed rail—trains that can carry passengers at speeds in excess of 150 MPH.

But the Supertrain fantasy was a mistake back in the 1970s, when it gave rise to one of the most expensive—and rotten—TV shows in history. And it's just as much of a wreck in the 21st century for at least three reasons:

1. The lowball costs. CNN estimates that delivering on the plan could cost well over $500 billion and take decades to build, all while failing to cover much of the country at all. Internationally, only two high-speed rail lines have recouped their capital costs and all depend on huge subsidies to stay in operation.

2. The supposed benefits. "We're gonna be taking cars off of congested highways and reducing carbon emissions," says Vice President Joe Biden, an ardent rail booster. But most traffic jams are urban, not inter-city, so high-speed rail between metro areas will have no effect on your daily commute. And when construction costs are factored in, high-speed rail "may yield only marginal net greenhouse gas reductions," say UC-Berkeley researchers.

3. The delusional Amtrak example. Obama and Biden look to Amtrak as precedent, but since its founding in 1971, the nation's passenger rail system has sucked up almost $35 billion in subsidies and, says The Washington Post's Robert J. Samuelson, "a typical trip is subsidized by about $50." About 140 million Americans shlep to work every day, while Amtrak carries just 78,000 passengers. There's no reason to think that high-speed rail will pump up those numbers, though there's every reason to believe its costs will grow and grow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xyUg4J7Sf8

Rick said...

Who knows what forces you will unleash when you disturb the dead?

The problem with the Reason critique, and many similar ones, is that it treats rail subsidies and politics in a vacuum.

As a comparison point, highways have generally had a built-in funding stream, and were planned by state highway departments without any specific economic justification having to be argued. It takes special political pressure to stop a highway project, just as it takes special pressure to start a rail project.

In effect, the public investment default switch is set to 'on' for highway investments, whereas it is set to 'off' for rail. One result is that highway subsidies were and are pretty much invisible.

The historical reasons are interesting, but a big one is that the railroads were so enormously powerful a century ago that they made Microsoft and AT&T look like mom and pop stores, and they were correspondingly hated.


You have aroused the evil power of meta. I don't think anyone has really discussed the fact that industrial capitalism as we know it is the child of the railroad industry - yet railroads are almost uniquely unsuited to market operation.

In most forms of transportation the vehicles are semi independent of the infrastructure they use. Airports don't operate the planes that fly in and out, canals don't operate barges, roads don't operate cars and trucks. But railroads have to operate their trains.

This makes a railroad much more 'monopolistic' than other inherent local transport infrastructure monopolies - rival barge companies can use one canal, but for rival train operators to use one railroad is so contrary to the nature of the beast that it was abandoned between the Stockton & Darlington in 1825 and the Liverpool & Manchester (1830).

If a rail network is rich enough, a true network, you can have nodal competition, but the system can't be built that way so it doesn't naturally evolve that way.

The railroad itself is the first economic enterprise I know of that required large scale central command and control. The East India Company provided no transportation efficiencies that individual shipowners couldn't match - though it did provide military and political efficiencies.

But a railroad had to be run like a railroad to deliver efficient transportation. And that was the culture that pervaded industrialization.

To a limited degree steamships pushed the same way, because of the need for coaling facilities and the practicality of regular schedules - 'Commodore' Cornelius Vanderbilt was the first really, really rich 'Murrican. But the railroads played a much larger role in shaping industrial culture.

See what arousing the dead can lead to?

Jean Remy said...

Zombie trains!

Jean Remy said...

On a more serious note.

I agree, rail lines tend to be monopolistic in nature, which seems to be against the idea of free market. On the other hand the government already holds many of the great monopolies anyway, notably police and defense. We've seen what happens when those services get subcontracted (I'm looking at you, Blackwater). The 'Murrican (at least in some parts of 'Murrican culture) idea that every aspect of life must be left to free-wheeling capitalism is I think not just bordering on obsession, it is foolish and self-defeating. The purpose of a government is not merely to enforce laws and borders, it is to care for the citizenry. If the nation does not care for the citizens, then why should the citizens care for the nation?

The current fear of "socialized medicine" is reaching near ludicrous proportions, and an Old European wonders whether to chuckle or bury his face in his hands. The rhetoric sounds so much like the reasoning behind the Viet-Nam war, that dreaded domino effect that supposedly would've spread communism through the entire world if it hadn't been held in check in a small jungle nation.

Like the healthcare reform, a government-subsidized railway is not about the Big Bad government trying to wrestle capitalism down into a state-run monopoly, it would merely add another *option*. In education, public schools do not remove business from private enterprise, but add another option, generally for the people who can't afford the inflated rates. An interesting fallacy about capitalism is that competition keeps the prices low. In effect it does not, and civil services are more often than not the cheaper option. Granted it is funded by taxes, so there is a hidden additional cost, but when you consider how much you get for your taxes (emergency services as well as education, art and of course police and national defense) it's still a bargain.

In this case it is a cheaper option that would compete, not with road travel (interstates are *also* government funded and subsidized) but are an alternate to air transport. In an era where strip-searching is quasi-mandatory at the gate, fast train would not only be cheaper, it'd be less of a hassle. Compared to a Greyhound bus they'd be close to paradise (yes I have a personal grudge upon the demon-spawned horror that is a Greyhound Coach, but I digress)

Lastly, Great Public Works have an impact beyond the strict bottom line. They are a showcase of technology and influence, an advertising campaign, if you will, for an entire nation. They are the proof that said nation is able to throw around high levels of power and technology. The Japanese and the French are proud of their fast trains, and rightly so.

Thucydides said...

Alas, the true nature of regulatory failure is that it removes options rather than increasing them.

Since any State enterprise has exclusive access to tax funds (and the armed power of the State to claim them) regardless of their success in the marketplace, they effectively force private competition out of the market or into specialized niches which are more expensive due to lack of economy of scale and the mismatch between supply and demand. A private school operator and his/her clients are effectively forced to pay for their educational choice and subsidize the public school system as well through their taxes. In Canadian healthcare and education, demand for high quality health services or education far outstrips the available supply,which drives prices out of reach of middle class people (the rich can afford private schools and "healthcare tourism").

As for costs, Canada's Finance minister is attempting to eliminate the massive deficit from "stimulus" spending. Since the average civil servant makes 17% more than their private sector counterpart, and 80% of Canadian civil servants have pensions vs 23% of private sector workers, you can see where the bulk of the cost savings will have to come from.

Rick said...

My political sympathies here are far closer to Jean, but I am not going to wade into any specifics of health care policy and the like.

Standard caution would be to avoid the entire subject with a 3 meter pole, but political ideas are in the scope of discussion, and libertarianism has a deep and complex relationship with 'Murrican SF, hard SF in particular.

Disclaimer that I flirted intellectually with libertarianism in college, but when it came to cases always remained what broadly I still am, a somewhat establishmentarian liberal Democrat.

That said. Political freedom arises out of the community - Robinson Crusoe answers to no master, but he is not free, merely in a political vacuum. In turn a free community entails personal freedom, but never absolute.

Historically, free communities have always reserved some things to community action - that is to say the political process - including some of the most important things, notably law and defense, and also public works. And have levied taxes to pay for them.

The original 'Murrican Tea Party was not bitching about taxes in general. It was about a tax levied outside the established and accepted political process.

So I do not regard high speed trains, or health care, or public schools, or for that matter backyard swimming pools for everyone, as illegitimate uses of public initiative and the public purse.

They may or may not be wise, but that is another matter, and one for the political process to resolve, because how else can it be resolved? But then, as in the line variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill, we're merely haggling over price.

Shorter me: There are two distinct arguments here, whether the government building high speed rail lines is proper or improper, and whether, if proper, it is a good choice. I think both, but they are two different questions, and the first one is a lot 'bigger.'

Jean Remy said...

"Disclaimer that I flirted intellectually with libertarianism in college, but when it came to cases always remained what broadly I still am, a somewhat establishmentarian liberal Democrat."

We all make youthful errors. I was very nearly a card-carrying member of the French Communist Party. My views shifted quite a bit to the right. In France even "Liberal Democrat" could be considered to the Right, or at least very centrist, in the Assemblee. Remember that when I was young the Parti Socialiste of Mitterrand lasted for 14 years. Back then Dassault Aviation and automobile manufacturer Renault were Nationalized. I hardly condone such broad governmental power (now) but I still believe essential services must be provided by something other than pure profit-based enterprises.

Rick said...

Communism and libertarianism have a good deal in common. They both have a conceptual clarity absent in more worldly philosophies, but they are better suited to angels or robots than to apes.

Rick said...

I should add that according to a transport blog, Old Europe has now decided that railroad re-privatization has worked so well in Britain that they want to do it too.

Go figure!

Lentulus said...

At least one Monorail, btw, has been in continuous service for more than a Century, so hardly Mr. Disney's fault. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuppertal_Schwebebahn

Rick said...

Welcome to the comments threads!

I still blame (mainly) Disney for making monorails so prominent in the zeerust future. The Wuppertal installation is just a cool one-off product of the Electric Age.

Damien Sullivan said...

More necro.

"I used to hear that the reason videophones had never caught on was that people didn't want to be seen by callers if they weren't dressed, etc.

Did it change with mobile phones because we use them in public, where we expect to be seen, or was it never true to begin with? Maybe older videophones were simply too expensive, etc."

I don't think that changed at all. Most people don't use cell phones as videophones. The main use of 'videophone', aka Skype, that I know of is in intimate families. Separated couples, or grandparents and grandchildren. Maybe some remote gaming sessions too. Key element is that they're all scheduled; you don't just take a Skype call out of the blue the way you take a phone call. At least IME.


US used to have 90-100 mph streamliners in the 1930s-ish. Not modern high speed (120+ mph) but competitive with even highway speedsters. But when federal gov't subsidized cars to the extent of an interstate highway system (and many other ways) and displaced passenger rail, the freight companies downgraded rail quality (and maintenance costs).

Rick said...

Bringing a cool old thread back to life!

You are exactly right about cell phones != videophones. I'll put my original comment up to sheer ignorance - at the time I did not have a mobile phone, and really knew nothing about them except, vaguely, that they had camera functions. So I probably just assumed they were used as videophones.

In the streamliner age the US had some trains that hit 100+ mph / 160+ km/h on straight stretches, but I don't think any scheduled speeds, station to station, approached that. For that matter, I don't know the station-to-station speeds achieved by TGVs or other high speed trains. Probably a lot closer to top speed than in earlier times, since they can approach top running speed along most of the dedicated line, not just short stretches.

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner runs between San Luis Obispo (where I live now) and San Diego at a decidedly stately average 40 mph / 65 km/h. For scenic value it is one of the world's great train rides, but just to add irony to its blistering pace, it runs past the space launch complexes at Vandenberg AFB.

Damien Sullivan said...

Yeah, I took that train last summer. The southern half is very nice, especially around San Clemente. More boring as you approach LA. Smooth ride though, I think Amtrak owns that track. Coast Starlight ("Starlate") was surprisingly bumpy, though at least they seem to have solved the "backing up for freight" problem I ran into in 2001.

Rick said...

The Surfliner continues north, on the same route as the 'Starlate', including the coastal stretch north from Ventura through Vandenberg.