Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Trains in Spain Give Spain a Pain

Just look at China.  Why can't we have high-speed rail like China?  This blog has been trying to answer that question with articles that suggest that China having high-speed rail is not all it's all cracked up to be, and they are beginning to have serious second thoughts.

Now, here's a similar story from Spain, reprinted in THE WEEK.  What we're learning is the answer to a similar question, Why can't we be more like Spain with all their high-speed rail? Look how wonderful that is.

Well, no.  Not so wonderful.  Spain, a nearly bankrupt country seeking to be bailed out by the European Community, threw billions of euros at their high-speed rail project.  I suspect that they were just as intoxicated with this glitzy rail pornography as we are in California. 

Can't we learn from them also?  Isn't it obvious that these grandiose infrastructure dreams should be no more than that, dreams?  Even the Chinese oligarchy will come to realize what a foolish mistake the are making (or maybe not; after all, it's China) and Spain is now coming to this same realization. 

High speed rail costs too much. It becomes an enormous drain on the entire economy and then there is always infrastructure builders' remorse.  Perhaps not too much if there is already in place a fully developed rail network that is highly integrated into the culture of that country, like France or Germany or Japan. In those countries, HSR is the icing on a fully baked rail system cake and furthermore, those countries don't mind subsidizing these trains since they perform a tourism and premium/first class travel service for that high-density populated region. In Spain, they are commuter trains, but only for the professional middle manager business classes who can afford it.  What about everybody else?

To start from scratch, as Spain did, as China did, and as we intend to in the US, is a huge mistake.  Isn't that obvious yet?


January 28,2011

A bankrupt country with snazzy trains

Cristina Vazquez

To look at our infrastructure, you'd never guess that Spain was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, said Cristina Vazquez.  

Over the past few years, we've "spent unprecedented sums" on transport improvements.  The results are impressive.  We now have the most miles of highways in any European country, and with the opening of the Madrid-Valencia high-speed train service, we've just beaten out France to boast Europe's largest high-speed rail network.  But there's a downside to winning those bragging rights.  We "wasted a fortune" of 6 billion euros on a train that will carry only 3.5 million people a year, mostly to and from Madrid.

Compare that, for example, with the 400 million people in Spain who use commuter rail each year. The problem, sustainable-development advocates say, is that Spain has been acting "like a nouveau riche country," throwing money at flashy projects rather than figuring out how to get the most out of its transport budget. Proponents argue that trains would be better for the environment, but since the tickets for high-speed rail cost so much, most people still take their cars.  "the big difference between Spain and other European countries," says one developer, "is that the others plan services, while we just plan spending."