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I think this is a great diary and a terrific step towards understanding the relative systems. But as Dodo and others point out, it is really hard to compare the various transport systems. For example, what about the new airports built within the last decades that are 25-50 km outside of the city center? For the new suburbs developed nearby, they're great, but for the old suburbs on the other side of the city, they're horrible.

Horrible from the viewpoint of time and also of energy and CO2. The time calculation can't assume that you start by standing at the station platform, you have to start from home--where-ever that might be. Then you have to somehow take into account routine delays on rail systems and compare them to less frequent, but more lengthy delays in air travel. A hailstorm in Denver last week caused aircraft damage forcing 1000 people to stay overnight in the airport, for example.

And then there is the assumption that you "need" the "high speed" part of the solution. Air travel is inherently fast--unless we return to dirigibles and DC-3s. Rail travel can be fast, if you spend the money on the right of way and the equipment and the maintenance and the operating energy.

In my view, the best indication of how transportation will be can be gained by looking at the situation in places where the relative cost of fuel is high. Places like India, for example. India has thousands of trains--isn't it the biggest employer on earth, or second only to the UK medical system or the US army or something? Those trains don't go fast, and they don't have sleeper cars (well, maybe they do), and they have plenty of passengers who rely on them for slow, moderately reliable transportation. Which is what it boils down to if you really get to the point of high energy cost...

by asdf on Thu Jul 21st, 2011 at 12:08:53 AM EST

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