Autonomous vehicles are going to kill high-speed rail

Gavin Newsom is a conniving politician.  Last year he was opposed to the choo choo to nowhere—trying to pretend he was a fiscal conservative.  Once the race for Governor became clear, he approved this $200 billion boondoggle—since it would pay off his union and crony capitalist donors.  Now his problem is how to fund it.  Then his real problem, how do you force people to spend upwards of $200 one way to use an unreliable government transportation system?

“No, it doesn’t, because of the coming autonomous cars. Note the qualifier above – from urban center to urban center. San Francisco has one of those, but that’s not really where people go – they just go to the general Bay Area. And Los Angeles, well, the defining point of the place is that there’s no there there. It’s a vague area, not a specific center.

A rail system has difficulty with a spread-out population going to another spread-out area, because it’s only terminus station to terminus station. People still need to get from their starting point to that mainline station. In the two areas, that’s something that can take hours by itself – and that’s where the self-driving car wins.

Autonomous vehicles allow point-to-point travel, from specific block to specific block. If it’s truly self-driving, then it’s actually the same as having one’s own train carriage while moving point to point, rather than feeder line to departure terminus to destination terminus through another feeder line. Any system of properly autonomous cars will make Oakland to Anaheim a car trip, completely bypassing whatever that high speed train set does.”

We know the train is a bit behind schedule—25 years.  By the time it is completed, if ever, it would belong in a museum and folks will laugh at the corruption and silliness that built an out moded system.  Sadly, too few of us will be here to laugh—some will die, most will leave the State for their own sanity and fiscal strength.

google car

Autonomous vehicles are going to kill high-speed rail

by Tim Worstall, Washington Times,  11/12/18

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It’s no great surprise someone is already predicting self-driving cars will soon be used as mobile brothels. Anyone who has ever watched any teen movie ever will also predict that they’ll be used for the same activity without the cash intervention as well. Keep in mind there’s reasonable historical evidence to tell us that the Model T led to a decrease in the incidence of virginity at marriage.

However, that’s not the really big change that truly autonomous driving is likely to bring, something the research paper doesn’t quite bring out given that they’re trying to look at the changes in the urban landscape. What the car you don’t have to drive is truly going to kill is high-speed train networks.

In the annals of transport systems, it’s generally agreed that urban rail networks are essential above a certain population density. You’re simply not going to get the mass of people in and out of Manhattan or Central London without such a system. For distances more than 500 miles, the airplane is really the only competitive choice for anything other than very leisurely leisure travel.

It’s the bit in between where the long distance train might have a chance.

The standard European rule of thumb is that from major center to major center the train competes with air up to 200 miles or so. If it’s a high-speed train, the TGV or the Japanese bullet train, trains are competitive over longer distances, up to 350 to 400 miles maybe. Longer than that, airplanes are generally the winners. London to Paris by train is just fine – London to Rome, not so much.

Given that San Francisco and Los Angeles are some 400 miles apart, that rail link has a chance, right?

No, it doesn’t, because of the coming autonomous cars. Note the qualifier above – from urban center to urban center. San Francisco has one of those, but that’s not really where people go – they just go to the general Bay Area. And Los Angeles, well, the defining point of the place is that there’s no there there. It’s a vague area, not a specific center.

A rail system has difficulty with a spread-out population going to another spread-out area, because it’s only terminus station to terminus station. People still need to get from their starting point to that mainline station. In the two areas, that’s something that can take hours by itself – and that’s where the self-driving car wins.

Autonomous vehicles allow point-to-point travel, from specific block to specific block. If it’s truly self-driving, then it’s actually the same as having one’s own train carriage while moving point to point, rather than feeder line to departure terminus to destination terminus through another feeder line. Any system of properly autonomous cars will make Oakland to Anaheim a car trip, completely bypassing whatever that high speed train set does.

Which technology a new one displaces is always a bit of a guess, but here there are two obvious answers. Sure, the self-driving car will be used for sex, just as the internet, then mobile phones, then apps, have been. But the one technology that the autonomous car will kill is the long-distance train set.

So it’s a bit of a pity that California is just spending the large end of $100 billion on building high-speed rail, isn’t it?

Tim Worstall (@worstall) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute. You can read all his pieces at The Continental Telegraph.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.