The Daily Parker

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China launches overnight Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong service

Imagine an overnight train from New York to Miami that takes 12 hours. China just opened a $165 train that does about the same thing:

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas. It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours. The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

I will grant two things that make this a difficult problem for the US: the fifth amendment and our psychotic relationship with cars. The first requires that the government provides just compensation for any property it takes, and buying the land to create a grade-separated high-speed rail line would not be cheap. China just kicks people off their land.

The second is that we've spent a century subsidizing cars and building our physical environment around cars, which prevents even reasonable people from understanding the basic economics behind highways. (Or, if you're the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the basic understanding of how traffic works.)

Still, it frustrates me to no end that we're not even discussing it.

In the early autumn I'm going to get on a train in London, change in Paris, and get off the train in Marseille, which will take about 7 hours, depending on how tight I want to make the connection between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. I'll get to St Pancras about half an hour before the train, very likely from a hotel a few blocks away, and when I get off the train in Marseille, I'll have another walk of a block or two to that hotel. Contrast with my flight home from Marseille, which, including half an hour by transit to the Provence airport, customs, emigration in France and immigration into the UK, will take about the same length of time. And then I'll be at Heathrow, an hour from central London.

I once made it from central Richmond, Va., to a friend's apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan, in just over 5 hours, door to door. So I know the US has the ability to build real high-speed trains. But will I ever see one in my lifetime?

Comments (4) -

  • Yak

    6/22/2024 3:15:41 AM +00:00 |

    I don't think trains are "sexy" enough for Americans to acknowledge their benefits. We want EVs and solar farms, not technology from the 19th century. That doesn't mean *I* feel that way, only that I suspect many Americans do, which likely derails any logically sound rationale for upgrading our rail service.

  • The Daily Parker

    6/22/2024 12:56:53 PM +00:00 |

    @Yak: You're right. If we make them bigger and shorten the bed by 50%, people will buy them. Oh wait, that's pickups.
    @Harper: Good point. I'm likely staying in Holborn or Bloomsbury the night before, so I'll have a chance to check out the mess at St Pancras earlier. Also it'll be a Saturday morning; would that make a difference?

  • David Harper

    6/22/2024 4:41:53 PM +00:00 |

    I’m not the best person to offer advice on the current situation. The last time I travelled by Eurostar was in 2019, when the U.K. was still in the E.U. and the border control checks at St Pancras were done in under ten seconds.  I’m sure that Eurostar has up-to-date information at its web site.  I would also check, which is a rail travel web site written by an independent expert.

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