Private railroad operator Brightline has started modestly-high-speed service in South Florida, and has agreements in place to start Los Angeles to Las Vegas service by the end of the decade:
Launching with no federal help, the modern debut of private passenger rail connecting two major metropolitan areas will come to fruition when Brightline riders arrive in Orlando from downtown Miami. The Federal Railroad Administration expects to sign off within days, triggering a three-week testing period before Brightline carries passengers. The company will then set its sights on a $12 billion high-speed railway from Las Vegas to Southern California, a massive undertaking that could put trains traveling at 300 km/h on America’s tracks by 2028.
After operating much like a commuter service through South Florida, the Orlando station will be the nation’s first non-Amtrak passenger train connection between two metro areas in four decades — a project with nearly $6 billion in private investment. Although not a true high-speed operation, the Brightline Florida service will surpass speeds of 200 km/h in some areas — the nation’s fastest train outside the D.C.-Boston region.
Five years after Brightline opened its 67-mile service between Miami and West Palm Beach, passengers fill the five-car trains for sporting events and festivals while commuters use it to get to jobs. Students receive discounted passes for educational excursions.
Brightline uses business tycoon Henry Flagler’s original Miami train station and his Florida East Coast Railway, built in the late 1880s. The station had fallen into disrepair and was surrounded by parking lots. The raised platform is now the hub of 1.5 million square feet of development, with office, commercial and residential spaces built by Brightline’s owner.
The 425 km electrified rail line from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, where it would connect to downtown Los Angeles via commuter train, is estimated to cost $12 billion — three times the price tag envisioned in the mid-2000s. Brightline submitted a 4,000-page application in April for a $3.75 billion federal grant from the infrastructure law.
If you can get from LA to Vegas in 2 hours, you can charge more than the airlines charge, but you can also charge less. That's about the same distance as Paris to Lyon, which the TGV currently makes in about that time, for about €50 in second class. And an electric train over that distance produces a fraction of greenhouse gasses per passenger than a car or airplane.
Notice that this can only happen with massive Federal subsidies. But that's exactly how all major transportation projects work in the US. Remember the Interstate Highway System, that provided some $500 billion (2023 dollars) in subsidies over 35 years for cars? Not to mention all the other road projects that gave us the ugliest infrastructure in the history of the world.
I hope people use these trains. And I'm really waiting for my 40-minute Chicago-to-Milwaukee train.
I tried something different yesterday after watching Uncle Roger's stab at adobo:
Ng's basic outline worked really well, and I got close to what I had hoped on the first attempt. Next time I'll use less liquid, a bit more sugar, a bit less vinegar, and a bit more time simmering. Still, dinner last night was pretty tasty.
Much of the news today, however, is not:
- US District Judge Tanya Chutkan set the XPOTUS's Federal criminal trial for next March 4th, two years earlier than he wanted it.
- Writing for The Guardian, Margaret Sullivan blasts Republican presidential wannabe Vivek Ramaswamy as "a demagogue in waiting," and a distressing preview of Millennial politicians.
- The MiG pilot who ejected during an airshow on August 13th blamed the non-flying observer in the back seat for pulling the ejection cord on his own.
- Chicago has struggled for 15 or more years to get critical repairs to our international dock on the South Side.
- Elizabeth Spiers has a pretty good idea why Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis's 2006 book The Blind Side and the 2009 film of the same name, is pissed off at the white family that didn't actually adopt him.
Finally, via Bruce Schneier, a couple of kids with $30 worth of radio equipment managed to stop 20 trains in Poland by exploiting a mind-boggling weakness in Polish train dispatching equipment. Despite some media sources calling this a "cyber attack," it was nothing of the sort. The instructions for how to do this have existed for decades.
While I fight a slow laptop and its long build cycle (and how every UI change seems to require re-compiling), the first day of the last month of summer brought this to my inbox:
- Who better to prosecute the XPOTUS than a guy who prosecuted other dictators and unsavory characters for the International Criminal Court? (In America, we don't go to The Hague; here, The Hague comes to you!)
- After the evidence mounted that Hungary has issued hundreds of thousands of passports without adequate identity checks, the US has restricted Hungarian passport holders from the full benefits of ESTA that other Schengen-area citizens enjoy.
- The US economy continues to exceed the expectations of people who have predicted a recession any day now. (Of course, every dead pool has a guaranteed winner eventually...)
- After an unprecedented 31 consecutive days enduring temperatures over 43°C, Phoenix finally caught a break yesterday—when the temperature only hit 42°C.
- Jake Meador explores why about 40 million fewer Americans go to church these days than in 1995.
- Remember how we all thought Tesla made cars with amazing battery ranges? Turns out, Elon Musk can't do that right, either.
- American car culture not only gives us unlivable environments, but also discourages the exploration that people in other countries (and I when I go there) do all the time.
- We should all remember (and thank) USSR naval Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who vetoed firing a nuclear-tipped torpedo at an American destroyer during the Cuban Missile Crisis 71 years ago.
Finally, Chicago historian John Schmidt tells the story of criminal mastermind Adam Worth, who may have been Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for Professor Moriarty.
Here is the state of things as we go into the second half of 2023:
- The government-owned but independently-edited newspaper Wiener Zeitung published its last daily paper issue today after being in continuous publication since 8 August 1703. Today's headline: "320 years, 12 presidents, 10 emperors, 2 republics, 1 newspaper."
- Paula Froelich blames Harry Windsor's and Megan Markle's declining popularity on a simple truth: "Not just because they were revealed as lazy, entitled dilettantes, but because they inadvertently showed themselves for who they really are: snobs. And Americans really, really don’t like snobs."
- Starting tomorrow, Amtrak can take you from Chicago to St Louis (480 km) in 4:45, at speeds up to (gasp!) 175 km/h. Still not really a high-speed train but at least it's a 30-minute and 50 km/h improvement since 2010. (A source at Amtrak told me the problem is simple: grade crossings. They can't go 225 km/h over a grade crossing because, in a crash, F=ma, and a would be very high.)
- The Federal Trade Commission will start fining websites up to $10,000 for each fake review it publishes. "No-gos include reviews that misrepresent someone’s experience with a product and that claim to be written by someone who doesn’t exist. Reviews also can’t be written by insiders like company employees without clear disclosures."
- A humorous thought problem involving how many pews an 80-year-old church can have explains the idiocy behind parking minimums.
- Chicago bike share Divvy turned 10 on Wednesday. You can now get one in any of Chicago's 50 wards, plus a few suburbs.
- Actor Alan Arkin, one of my personal favorites for his deadpan hilarity, died yesterday at age 89.
And finally, the Chicago Tribune's food critic Nick Kindelsperger tried 21 Chicago hot dogs so you don't have to to find the best in the city.
Every time I travel to a country that competes seriously with the US, I come back feeling frustrated and angry that we consistently lose. In every measure except our military, on a per-capita basis we keep sliding down the league tables. We have more people in prison, more people in poverty, worse health-care outcomes, more health-care spending, more regressive taxation, worse environmental regulation, and more crime (and more gun crime) than most our peers.
We also have horrible infrastructure. For a book-length list of reasons, we've spent the last century building out a car-dependent environment that contributes to all of the problems I listed above. (Oh, right: we have by far more road deaths than any of our peers, a direct result of our built environment and car fetishization.)
City Nerd really drives home (ah, ha ha) how our infrastructure priorities continue to degrade our economic power by making travel unnecessarily difficult. In today's video, Ray Delahanty explains why Spain (GDP: $1.5 T, rank 15) has half-hourly trains to whisk people from Madrid to Valencia (359 km) in under 2 hours, while the United States (GDP: $26.9 T, rank 1) can't get people from New York to Boston (362 km) in under 3½—and for 4x the rail fare:
Some things Delahanty doesn't mention: First, we've built so many roads that we can't even maintain all of them, even with a $1 trn infrastructure bill that struggled to get through Congress. Second, even if we wanted to upgrade our rail network (for example, to electrify anything outside the Northeast Corridor), governments or transit districts will have to buy existing rights of way or the land to create new ones, because private companies own almost all of the railways in the US. (Notably, of the three heavy-rail lines in Chicago with public ownership—the Rock Island district, the Metra Electric, and the South Shore Line—two are already electric and there are plans to electrify the third.)
Look, I'm not a socialist; I believe in private property. But as I've said often, governments can do things private interests can't or won't. We put 14 people on the Moon and we won World War II. We could, if we collectively wanted, get the US out of the 20th Century on so many issues. Transit infrastructure would be a good place to start. The more I travel and see how our European peers do things, the more I wonder if I'll ever see my own country get back on par with them.
More photos from three weeks ago. Linzer Gasse, Salzburg:
Along the train line from Freilassing to Berchtesgaden, approximately here:
Berchtesgaden, near the border of Schönau am Königsee:
And just a little ways farther up the Köningsseer Ache:
More photos. The Czech countryside, approximately here:
Hafnersteig, in Vienna's Innere Stadt:
The Schloss Belvedere, with (I am told) an Apollo capsule:
I finally got 15 minutes to start going through some of the 740 or so photos I took in Europe three weeks ago. (It turns out, when you go on an 8-day vacation, stuff piles up while you're gone.) Here are a few from Prague.
Senát Parlamentu České republiky:
Prague, from Pražský hrad:
More coming this weekend.
We lost three people last week whose deaths have made the world ever so slightly better on balance. Religious swindler Pat Robertson went first on Wednesday. Then Saturday, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the "Unabomber" for his terror campaign against university professors in the 1990s, killed himself in his jail cell:
Kaczynski was found unresponsive in his cell around 12:30 a.m. ET and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Kaczynski was previously in a maximum security facility in Colorado but was moved to a federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina, in December 2021 due to poor health.
Kaczynski, who went nearly 20 years without being captured until his arrest in 1996, was considered America's most prolific bomber.
Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski placed or mailed 16 bombs that killed three people and injured two dozen others, according to authorities.
Finally, yesterday the world lost Silvio Berlusconi, the corrupt former prime minister of Italy whose entry into politics to stymie the many legal cases against him may have inspired the XPOTUS to do the same:
Liberal politicians, and the prosecutors he demonized as their judicial wing, watched in dismay as he used appeals and statutes of limitations to avoid punishment despite being convicted of false accounting, bribing judges and illegal political party financing.
His governments spent an inordinate amount of time on laws that seemed tailor-made to protect him from decades of corruption trials, a goal that some of his closest advisers acknowledged was why he had entered politics in the first place.
One law overturned a court ruling that would have required Mr. Berlusconi to give up one of his TV networks; others downgraded the crime of false accounting and reduced the statute of limitations by half, effectively cutting short several trials involving his businesses. He enjoyed parliamentary immunity, but in 2003 his government went further, passing a law granting him immunity from prosecution while he remained in office — in effect suspending his corruption trials.
By the time he finally resigned in 2011, amid a fractured conservative coalition and general national malaise, a good deal of damage seemed to have been done. Many analysts held him responsible for harming Italy’s reputation and financial health and considered his time in power a lost decade that the country had struggled to recover from.
On a totally different topic, while I traveled last week I read Death of the Great Man by psychiatrist Peter Kramer, a book journalist James Fallows recommended back in April.
OK, maybe not a totally different topic. You should read the book, though.
Just a few stories I came across at lunchtime:
- In an act that looks a lot like the USSR's scorched-earth retreat in 1941, Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up the Kakhovka Dam on the Dnieper River, which could have distressing follow-on effects over the next few months.
- A former Chicago cop faces multiple counts of perjury and forgery after, among other things, claiming his girlfriend stole his car to get out of 44 separate speeding tickets.
- James Fallows explains what probably happened to the Citation jet that crashed in rural Virginia over the weekend after two F-16s scrambled to intercept it over Washington.
- Molly White explains the SEC's case against Binance.
And finally, giant-sized coconut crabs may have stashed away the remains of lost pilot Emelia Earhart, and scientists think they know where.