Saturday, December 31, 2011

This is what High-Speed Rail guys do; who's got the biggest one?

When it comes to high-speed rail, all sorts of metrics are bandied about.  For example, when talking about ridership, the count often is the number of passengers, rather than the number of passenger-miles, a much more meaningful measure that permits more honest comparison with other modalities (and other countries).

Here's another measure, miles of track.  That is more confusing than amusing, or meaningful.  Being the Financial Times blog, the measure in the comparison chart in this article is in kilometers rather than miles, but that's not important.  

Are these dedicated tracks used only by HSR, or are they shared tracks, such as with the Acela? It makes a difference.  Are they the number of kilometers that their HSR trains run on, regardless of whether they are also used by regular passenger service or freight?  We don't know.

Then, should one judge one nation's HSR system against the others by miles of track used, or should there be other numbers in that equation such as actual passenger-miles racked up per year, or what percent of inter-city transit each modality gets used, highways, airways and railways, and measure that against actual populations per country.

It is possible that although China has the most miles of track (by whatever measure), they also have the most people, and therefore France may have more HSR miles per capita than China?  I don't know that, but there are no such comparisons being made. Or, say, as with Russia, which has the largest land mass, the number of miles of HSR track per square miles of country. 

Then, there's the question of area, or as the article suggests, as it states the obvious, Belgium will never have a "larger" HSR network than France, "let alone China."  All that this point suggests is what we are trying to say here, that all such comparisons are meaningless. 

How about comparing per capita dollar investment?  How about operational cost expenditures?  How about fare-box volume? How about number of locomotives and passenger cars?  How about counting only trains that exceed, say, 175 mph?

My point here is that these nation to nation comparisons are useless. There are no appropriate metrics unless one combines a large number of factors, ratios and percentages for each nation into what becomes a very complicated equation.  And, that's not what this is.  Miles or kilometers of track, by itself, doesn't mean much.

And if we did have a comprehensive comparison, what would we know that is useful and beneficial?  Is all this what the President means when he says he wants to "win the future with high-speed rail ?"   Mine is bigger than yours?

Who would be the "winners," who would be the "losers," and what difference would that make?  If California builds this HSR monstrosity, would we all run around with one of those huge styrofoam hands with an index finger pointing, and the #1 on it?  Would that make us #1?

Chart of the week: high-speed rail
December 30, 2011 6:30 pm 
by Rob Minto

All countries would like to be able to move people about quickly, cleanly and (relatively) safely. Hence the attractions of high-speed rail. The downside is that it is very expensive to build, and there can be tough political decisions over where to run the track.

With those concerns in mind, it comes as no surprise that China is the country building the most, despite the recent fatal crash. But which other countries are investing in high-speed rail? Chart of the week finds out.
It’s been a bit of an on-off year for high-speed rail in China. First there was the crash in July that put expansion plans on hold, then the government announced in December it would push ahead with plans. But despite all this, China has by far the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, with 37 per cent of the total track.

And if we look at where high-speed rail is under construction, EMs count for over 60 per cent of the total track being built.

Of total planned high-speed rail lines, it’s about 50-50 between the developed and emerging world. However, given the debt crisis in Europe, it would hardly be a surprise if some of those projects were cancelled.

Of course, comparing high-speed rail roll-out between countries is a tricky business – needs vary according to population, geography and size. Belgium is never going to have more kilometers of high-speed rail than France, let alone China, for example. But bearing this in mind, the chart below shows the share of high-speed rail as current, under construction, and planned for key countries. Turkey is perhaps the biggest surprise, with 235km of high-speed rail in operation, another 510km in construction and over 1000km planned.

Source: International Union of Railways

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