US Rail System Transportation?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Modern Imperialism, Apr 30, 2019.

  1. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    Let’s say after ww2, the United States builds a national railroad system alongside the interstate for public transportation. The railroad system is more modern and separate from the old one that is now used for transportation of resources and economics only. It only goes from and to major cities or state capitals. Each state in the main 48 states has at least one train station center. A state like Wyoming would only have one go through its capital. The northeast coast, California, and Florida are given multiple smaller tran systems within their region and cities due to the population and situation there. You pay to use the train like the airport but it is much cheaper and easier to do.

    Is this possible? How would it work? What impact will it have? Is America size and terrain too much for even this? How would train travel in America develop if something like 911 still happens? Would immigrant populations be more spread out? For this pod, the rail system has to be at least good enough to get you from city to city without taking forever. The train ride to one city to an other must at least be less or around the same time as a car ride there but preferable shorter.
     
  2. sdgottsch Well-Known Member

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    I think you are attempting to change is what the market forces and federal gov't backed railroad monopolies instituted. Basically you are forcing the Vanderbilt's and Gould's to go from a market based rail-line development to a mandatory system. The way the US federal gov't worked back in the post Civil War period was to allow an "anything goes" federal gov't subsided development to conduct the Manifest Destiny. In the 1940's and 1950's though, you had an interesting shift to a "freedom to drive anywhere mentality" as well as a big change to airline travel. The survivors of WWII wanted that freedom and the National Interstate and Highway system brought about that western US. Please remember, the time it took to take passenger rail from Chicago to New York was almost an entire day where as airline travel (while more expensive) was in hours. I don't think you'll find this issue anywhere else in the world and that is why a National Railway system found in England just won't work here in the US.
     
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  3. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    US tried nationalizing the Rail Roads in WWI it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, not repeated for WWII.

    RRs only would have a chance with a vast cutting back on the regulations that the ICC had been squeezing the RRs with since 1900.

    Few realize it today, but the USA has about the best Rail Freight system on the Planet, while passengers went elsewhere.
     
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  4. Riain Well-Known Member

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    What's wrong with Metro and Commuter rail in the US, other than maybe a lack of tracks to meet potential demand?

    IIUC the big gap in US rail is intercity passenger services. The best way to address this gap is to recognise the niche for this type of service as city pairs of 1 million between 200-500 miles apart where driving becomes a real effort but the bulshit surrounding flying makes it a hassle over this short distance. Once this identified then this niche can be steadily improved and good service brings in good patronage.
     
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  5. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    The US railroad system has focused almost solely on transporting resources not people. Our railroads now are not really for civilian use. A flight that take hours can take days on a train because they aren’t really made for people anymore.
     
  6. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    What if the make it part of the interstate program and build it more from scratch? The current railroads are converted to commercial or government use only while a new separate civilian railroad transportation system is built alongside the interstate system for public and civilian use only?
     
  7. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Everything. (By "metro and commuter rail" I assume you mean rail centered on single urban centers or polycentric areas, rather than intercity rail). I don't really want to get into the weeds too much, but if you start poking around urbanism a bit you learn that American systems have a lot of problems (not that systems elsewhere are perfect, but they generally have fewer problems). I recommend poking around Alon Levy's blog a bit, he's sharp and discusses these issues a fair bit.
     
  8. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    That's a huge amount of money. The 1956 Interstate Highway system was 90% funded by the Federal Government, partially funded with a three cents per gallon Tax from the Highway Revenue Act. Estimated cost was $27Billion

    Automobiles and Trucks could handle the up to 6% grade without much trouble, but that's an insane about for a railroad.


    If you look at a railway map from the WWI era, when the USA had the maximum amount of railroad trackage, that where you have the smoothest gradients, fewest curves. That's where Railroads have to go, unless you plan on a crazy amount of inefficiency from helper engines

    Even a slight grade with a curve can quarter the pulling power of a locomotive
     
  9. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    It can be a really slow transition? In the 40s and 50s they build these in the northeast. The 60s the Midwest and Florida. Texas and California in the 70s. The southeast in the 80s. This connects all the rails east of the Mississippi River. This includes Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. In the 90s they fill in the gaps everything east of the Rockies and the expand in the northwestern coast. The only area looped around out east and mostly avoided is Appalachia who only has one rail through West Virginia. In the 2000s they start expanding into the Rockies to connect both coasts when demand for railroad travel increases after 911. This is followed by increased federal support and funding. The old railroad system is only converted to federal and commercial use after the new civilian one is completely done in that region. By the 2010s they start building ones for shorter distance in regions that have a lot of large urban areas close by.
     
  10. SsgtC Ready to Call it a Day

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    Except the "bullshit around flying" didn't exist before 9/11. Before 9/11, you could show up for your flight 30-45 min before departure and still make your flight. So rail has no advantage there at the time you'd be trying to develop your rail network.

    Except by the time you do, aircraft will have completely supplanted rail as the preferred means of travel. By the 1960s, long distance train travel was dead. No one wanted to take 24 hours to get from NY to Chicago when a plane can do it in an hour and a half.

    Say you do go with a very slow development. By the time you're done, you've now built a multi-trillion dollar rail network that is completely and utterly useless. Cars and planes have rendered it obsolete before it was finished.
     
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  11. Mark E. Well-Known Member

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    The only way you can keep long distance passenger railroads active in the US is to butterfly away development of jet air travel. Also, keep down performance of high performance cars and Interstate highways. Bonus points if you can jointly do it by outlawing Thomas Midgley's leaded "Ethyl" fuels over a lead poisoning awareness. Keep in mind, rail travel was still in the lead in the early and mid fifties.

    But even so, you would only be adding a few decades to the prominence of passenger rail.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
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  12. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    "When the post office made a controversial policy change to process mail in large regional "sectional centers," mail was now sorted by large machines, not by people, and the remaining railway post office routes, along with all highway post office routes, were phased out of service. In September 1967 the POD cancelled all "mail by rail" contracts, electing to move all First Class mail via air and other classes by road (truck) transport. This announcement had a devastating effect on passenger train revenues; the Santa Fe, for example, lost $35 million (US) in annual business, and led directly to the ending of many passenger rail routes."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_post_office#Decline_and_withdrawal
    Passenger traffic had been losing money for some time, kept afloat by mail contracts and express freight. REA had its own problems, it's fast refrigerated service was finding it hard to compete with trucks with reefers.
     
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  13. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    Would really do nothing to stop autos in the '30s to70s.
    TEL was just the cheapest octane boost, there are others to keep the horsepower wars going in Detroit
     
  14. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

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    It can take days on a train because it is over 2,500 miles from New York to LA. Even if you average over 100 MPH that is over a day.
     
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  15. SsgtC Ready to Call it a Day

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    Oh from the railroad's perspective passenger travel was dead long before. But even from a consumer perspective, by the 60s rail travel was finished. By the 60s, you traveled by train if you couldn't afford a plane and didn't have a car.

    This is something that can't be stressed enough. Whenever I see people propose these "national passenger rail network" threads, one of the things in reminded of us that a lot of people really don't get just how big the US actually is. People see the numbers, but it really doesn't register with them that the US is almost as big as all of Europe combined (3.9 million square mi vs almost 3.8 million square mi). And the US has a population density of just 92 people per square mile, while Europe as a whole is at 143.
     
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  16. Mark E. Well-Known Member

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    Go back a couple of generations and women born before 1920 often did not have driver's licenses because it was not "lady-like." While jet planes spelled the doom for long passenger rail in the mid-fifties, the postal service kept the passenger lines quite viable into the early sixties. If you up the average speed of a typical rail line from 40 mph to 90 mph, you can make it from Chicago to Memphis or Kansas City in 4-1/2 hours or Chicago to New Orleans in nine. Along the eastern seaboard or Great Lakes, passenger rail could be very viable when you consider the hassles of flying. So, how do you create an integrated air-rail system? Establish a seamless transfer between air and rail hubs. The problem, in most cities, Union Station was built downtown and allowed to deteriorate as the airports took the business. It would take a big, big costly infrastructure project, but if New Union Station was built under the airport terminals, you could have a good public transportation network.

    Let me give a personal example. A couple of years ago, I flew from St. Louis to Nashville and back. Highway distance, 350 miles. All direct flights were booked, so I had to connect through Atlanta. On the return trip, the connection through Cincinnati was delayed, so I had to stay overnight and eventually connect through Detroit (believe it or not). That is a very inefficient air travel arrangement.
     
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  17. Johnrankins Well-Known Member

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    Meanwhile a train is likely to make multiple stops between St. Louis to Nashville. It takes at least 18hrs 45 min on a weekday. Trains make stops and they can be delayed as well so greater speed wouldn't help all that much. https://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak
     
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  18. SsgtC Ready to Call it a Day

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    You and I have very different definitions of "viable." Passenger rail lost money for the railroads from almost immediately after WWII until the formation of AMTRAK. It was only kept alive with a massive government subsidy (mail contracts). In no way, shape or form is that viable.

    To more than double track speed, is A: unrealistic and B: requires butterflying WWII. Why? Because from 1939 until 1946, all but the most critical maintenance was deferred on the railroads as the materials needed (namely high grade steel) were needed for the way effort. By 1946, the US National Rail Network was beat to hell. Rehabilitating it led to numerous bankruptcies, mergers and government bailouts. Average track speed was so low because it wasn't safe to go any faster. Try pushing it higher, and your chances of a derailment dramatically increased.

    And you can't use flying today as an argument for why rail should have been developed 60 years ago. As I replied earlier to Rian, up until 9/11, you could show up for a domestic flight 30-45 minutes before departure and still have plenty of time to check in, clear security and board. In the 60s, "security" was literally asking if you had anything dangerous on you and then waving you through.

    And honestly, spending nine hours on a train is not appealing. No matter how much you try to spin it. I can fly from Chicago to Berlin in 9 hours. People don't want to spend half their vacation traveling. They want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. And you can absolutely forget attracting business travelers. They can't afford to spend that long traveling. So your only market is leisure travel. And considering planes and trains are very close in the cost of a ticket, and a plane is anywhere from 2 to 5 times (or more) faster, no one is taking the train.
     
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  19. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

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    People ask 'why not like Germany' well, ask instead how good the passenger rail service is between Mannheim and Saint Petersburg, for a similar US Amtrak distance
     
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  20. SsgtC Ready to Call it a Day

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    Excellent example. Exactly one rail connection and it takes thirty-eight and a half hours. Just over 2,300 kilometers or 1,400 miles. So half the distance across the US. Or roughly the distance from Los Angeles, CA to Dallas, TX. It takes Amtrak less than an hour longer to cover the exact same distance.
     
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