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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

BobF at 2:38 PM [url]:

Acela -- A Casualty of Risk Aversion?

From the Boston Globe article on the Acela brake problems (22-Apr-2005)

Bombardier of Canada, the company that helped to manufacture the Acela, had to satisfy the Federal Railway Administration's "buy American" rules. This meant that parts for the train had to be designed for the United States. As a result, the Acela Express trains are twice as heavy as comparable European high-speed trains.
As I see it the issue is the constraints that lead to the trains being much heavier than the European trains. This is the price for risk aversion � it isn�t free. In the case of Acela trying to remove the risks by overbuilding creates its own problems and can increase the risk. Given their track record (sorry, I couldn�t resist) it seems that the Europeans made reasonable tradeoffs.

Listening to Tom Friedman on �The Connection� yesterday (25-Apr-2005) only reinforces my belief that we succumbing to our fears and trading faith in the status quo for participation in the future.

It�s interesting to think about �Buy American� in this context � it only reinforces economic inefficiency as the world flattens. Prefer American might be a more reasonable strategy. Heavier trains also reduce the energy advantage of using railroads over cars but I don�t know by how much it is for trains that make few stops.

30-Apr-2005: Correction? A letter in today's Boston Globe noted that the heavier carriages were needed because unlike France and Japan the US trains work on existing rails. I can understand the design tradeoff between building new infrastructure and adapting to what is available. A reminder to be wary of stories that confirm ones expectations. Was it the right decision? Perhaps yes given a political climate that wouldn't accept the capital costs of a new rail line through the crowded Northeast Corridor.

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