May 21, 2008
Airports Lose Passenger Flights As Peak Oil Starts To Bite

In what is still the pretty early stages of the Peak Oil transition cities are losing passenger air service.

Financially strapped airlines are cutting service, and nearly 30 cities across the United States have seen their scheduled service disappear in the last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Others include New Haven, Conn.; Wilmington, Del.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; and Boulder City, Nev.

Over the same period, more than 400 airports, in cities large and small, have seen flight cuts. Over all, the number of scheduled flights in the United States dropped 3 percent in May, or 22,900 fewer flights than in May 2007, according to the Official Airline Guide.

For me the most surprising aspect of this trend is the level of traffic in January 2007 for airports that have now lost all commercial service. For example, Boulder City Nevada previously had 401 flights in January 2007 and now has none. Though big airports lost a much larger absolute number of flights. Chicago O'Hare lost 3,098 from 33,770 in January 2007 to 30,675 in January 2008.

The US Congress is in denial on the causes of high oil prices. Since less oil will be forthcoming we need to accept the need to use less of it. But rather than simply accept the need to use less fossil fuels in aviation some US Congress critters are trying to increase the amount of tax money allocated to subsidize commercial flights into rural airports.

Now, some lawmakers are pushing for more money for the air service program as part of a broader funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that is before the Senate. The House passed the measure last year.

This same Congress wants to sue OPEC for price fixing. This very same Congress puts obstacles in the way of Brazilian ethanol imports and also subsidizes US agriculture in other ways against foreign producers. But the hypocrisy is less important than the delusion underlying their stance: They at least pretend to believe that OPEC has control over oil prices. Almost all OPEC members are running at maximum capacity. They do not have pricing power.

Business executives face markets that force them to deal with reality. As a result more big cuts are in store for US passenger air transport capacity.

For now, we'll see more capacity-cut announcements. American said it will shrink its mainline domestic schedule in the fourth quarter this year by 11% to 12%. It had previously planned a 4.6% domestic reduction in the fourth quarter. American said it will retire about 75 jets Ė some regional jets, plus some wide-body A300s and some aging MD-80s narrow-body planes, the workhorse of its domestic fleet.

But I bet flights in China will continue to rise as the rapidly growing Chinese economy outbids the US economy for oil.

I'm actually encouraged by airline cutbacks and crashing sales of SUVs. People are making adjustments and using less oil. We need all that oil demand destruction, the sooner the better. Otherwise oil prices will need to go higher faster in order to force people and businesses to change their ways.

The latest new high for oil of $133.38 per barrel illustrates our need to start finding ways to use less oil.

Oil hits new record: U.S. light crude oil for July delivery rose as high as $133.38 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange before pulling back. Oil prices reacted to the weekly supplies report which showed a surprise drop in crude oil and gasoline inventories and a weaker-than-expected buildup in distillates, used in heating oil.

If you start making choices that lower your oil usage before you are economically forced to cut back then you'll be able to make less costly and less painful choices.

Update: Some people are excited by the prospect for rail. I'm watching for good articles on rail passenger traffic growth in the US and might do a post on it. While looking I came across an LA Times travel blog post about why Amtrak's pacific coast route The Coast Starlight runs so slow which is instructive about rail's pitfalls.

How bad is it? The Coast Starlight ran on schedule 50% of the time in December and 51.7% of the time in November, according to Amtrak statistics. While not great, the numbers are better than in December 2006 (25.8%) and November 2006 (23.3%). Since January, of course, trains have run irregularly because of mudslides, since cleared, that covered tracks in Oregon.

Construction issues: Years of track work by Union Pacific in Oregon and Northern California have contributed to delays on the Coast Starlight, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham. By late last year, a major portion of that work was finished, helping on-time performance, she explained.

Bottlenecks: Although the Coast Starlight gets priority, it runs on the same tracks as freight trains, said Graham and Zoe Richmond, spokeswoman for Union Pacific. And much of its route is on a single track. So if any train stalls, especially if itís not near a siding, it backs up traffic. Itís like being on a one-lane road without a shoulder. And of course, bad weather can also wreak havoc.

Breakdowns by freight trains, accidents with cars, or assorted reasons to inspect tracks can cause hours of delay each time. Adding a lot more double track rail sections and sidings would help. Upgrades of tracks to allow higher speed operations would help too. But passenger rail today has lots of problems. A train line that runs on time 50% of the time comes on top of the slowness of rail as compared to airplanes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 May 21 02:25 PM  Energy Transportation

Brock said at May 21, 2008 2:46 PM:

Maybe the US will finally get serious about trains again. Not just for passenger traffic, but also freight. Those longhaul trailers are efficient from a "just in time" point of view, but wasteful of fuel.

Come to think of it, "just in time" business practices may be on the chopping block entirely.

Lorne said at May 21, 2008 3:36 PM:

I just went through the process of purchasing a new car. Due to my work I drive 50,000 kms a year, about twice the kms an average person drives. My primary criteria was fuel economy but only to the point where it was cost effective and met functionality requirements. For some reason mileage for cars in Canada are listed in liters per 100km (apparently because it is more confusing then something straight forward like kms/liter). My minimum standard was 6.5 liters/100km (about 40 mpg) highway. Since 50,000 kms equates to 500 - 100 km increments this means every litre per 100 km over or under this figure costs, or saves, me 500 litres of fuel.

I assumed I would keep the vehicle for four years. I chose to use $1.50/litre as the average cost I would spend over this time period. I might have been low in my estimate since gas is currently selling for $1.31/litre in Canada (3.785 litres per US gallon, Canadian/USD have the same value). Using $1.50 though a car that burns 7.5 liters per 100 km would cost me $750 more in fuel per year. One that gets 5.5 liters would save me $750 in fuel per year.

I did most of my shopping on the internet and carefully compared fuel economy specifications. I decided I wanted to stay in the compact range instead of the subcompact size since I drive mainly highway miles I felt I needed to give some weight to comfort. The best mileage in this class is the Volkswagon Jetta diesel rated at 4.9 liters per 100km. The next best was the Honda Civic with a manual transmission at 5.4 liters/100k. The Toyota and Nissan were also in the same ballpark. The Chevy Cobalt was also close but after years of watching TV advertisements for them aimed at 18 year olds I felt they were too young for a 50 year old. I did not consider a hybrid because I drive mainly highway miles and there are little mileage advantages to owning a hybrid for highway drivers especially once the higher initial cost of the vehicle is factored in.

In the end I bought the Honda Civic. The reason I selected it over the Jetta diesel was that the Jetta cost $10,000 dollars more then the Honda (same problem with the hybrids). Since there was only half a liter improvement in fuel economy it would only save me 250 liters of fuel a year or 1000 liters over the projected 4 year life of the vehicle. Assuming again that $1.50 average price, fuel saving would only amount to a maximum of $1500 over the vehicle lifetime so fuel savings alone would not justify the $10,000 dollar price tag difference. Since both Volkswagon and Honda make vehicles of similar quality the Honda seemed to be a no-brainer decision.

Allan said at May 21, 2008 3:51 PM:


Take it from someone in the freight business, the rail freight is bursting at the seams and the railroads are adding capacity. If you use someone like Yellow Freight across the country ... it goes on rail!

One of the problems with Amtrak is that they use the freight rails ... and even tho Amtrak isn't supposed to be bumped to siderail for a freight train, it often is. I've ridden Amtrak and liked it. It just doesn't go many places that I need to go in any sort of timely fashion. And with the freight lines expanding running more trains, don't expect them to give Amtrak more slots.

As for the air freight business, most of the profit is now from international routes and most of that is coming from the China market. There are lots of stuff that people are willing to pay a premium to get faster. As long as they're willing to pay that premium, the planes will fly.

One more thing, I know that a lot of international flyers are avoiding any flights that have a stopover in the US where they have to switch planes. They don't want to deal with the hassles of our Homeland Security. You'd think that it would be a simple to keep them isolated and not hassle them but they still have to give fingerprints, etc. So they're electing to take direct flights where possible and the airlines are adding more to avoid the US market.

Randall Parker said at May 21, 2008 3:53 PM:


Your reasoning makes sense. Though I do expect the price of gasoline to go way up in the next 4 years. Also, the higher the fuel efficiency of a car you buy today the greater will be its resale value 4 years hence. Diesel engines last longer too.

Question: What's the price of gasoline versus diesel in Canada? In my neighborhood in SoCal a few days ago I saw gas for $3.999 per gallon and diesel for $4.899 per gallon.

Aron said at May 21, 2008 4:46 PM:

The future in one word young man: Railroads

Of course I've personally failed to make any money on the various obvious casualties (or beneficiaries) of high oil prices because I have been persistently surprised by just how high oil has gone. When I begin agreeing with peak oil, it will be a contrarian signal for all.

Brett Bellmore said at May 21, 2008 5:09 PM:

My last trip on Amtrak was nightmarish; We took the coastal starlight trip from Oregon to California, saw mostly the backs of factories, (I thought that was the highlight of the trip, but then, I'm an engineer.) were down in mountain valleys during the advertised sunset over the ocean, and the ride was so rough my wife got bursitis in her elbow from repeatedly bouncing off the wall while trying to walk to and from the dining car. Much of the time the track was in such bad shape we were moving at a walking pace. Overall, we could have rented a nice convertible, taken our time on a scenic drive, eaten at a top notch restaurant, gotten a room for the night at a good hotel, and reached our destination faster for less money.

Perhaps they've improved in the last few years, but you'd have to pay me to get me back in a train without extensive proof.

Maybe they should revive that research NASA did into powering airliners with beamed power. At least that doesn't require as much ground for infrastructure.

Oh, and by the way, I still think your security codes aren't remotely random. But that's just my impression, I haven't done a statistical analysis.

Allen Fuller said at May 21, 2008 5:11 PM:

I hope all of this gives a great boost to alternatives like algal oil, solar and wind for electricity generation, and more electric cars. The challenges are immense, but if the price signals are there, I believe investment will flow to alternatives and they may finally have a chance to go mainstream. Unlike some of the LATOC people I don't believe in a worldwide crash and massive die-off. I do think there will be economic hardship for a long period of time as we are forced to transition to alternatives, and as capital gets tied up in that transition. But my reasoning is that there ARE alternatives; we aren't doomed to living at pre-industrial levels of energy use once oil is exhausted, because we will find other sources that are more renewable and permanent. The main reason we haven't yet is the cheap price of oil; with that now just a memory, we'll see the alternatives emerge.

Clifford J. Wirth said at May 21, 2008 5:48 PM:

Global oil production has plateaued since 2005. Global oil demand is increasing at about 1.8% per year. Flat production and increasing demand has caused the price increases we see today. As soon as production declines in 2009 we will see $500 per barrel oil. Air travel and long distance car travel get very expensive and then end. Bus and train reservations will man travel in months or years. Where will you be when the music stops -- that is when travel ends? It is an important question, because that is where you will stay. Families will be separated by distance. It is all about Peak Oil:

aa2 said at May 21, 2008 5:49 PM:

The USA burns 950,000 barrels per day of oil for process heat in factories.
It burns 900,000 bpd heating homes and offices.
It burns 300,000 bpd to make electricity.

Natural gas is only 1/3rd the cost per btu I believe right now. And there are vast undeveloped natural gas reserves around the world.

It uses 8 million bpd moving cars around.
It uses 1.9 million bpd for truck transport.
It uses 1.3 million bpd in passenger airlines.

Ray said at May 21, 2008 5:54 PM:

Propeller driven aircraft may be ready for a big comeback. Some flexible propfan designs can travel at very high speed, yet use less fuel. (Prop planes cannot go supersonic of course)

As someone else stated rail is the way to go in the long run. The amount of abandonned rail right of way in the US is staggering. Unfortunately the legal hurdles involved in putting the tracks where they were are also immense. For some reason emminnent domain is now commonly used to seize homes for real estate developers, but is rarely used to allow tracks to be put on a pre-existing railroad bed. Often lawsuits would be required for every single piece of property that the railroad crosses just to put the tracks back where they were. Yikes.

Randall Parker said at May 21, 2008 6:46 PM:


I am interested to know how natural gas and heating oil stand as heating sources. So here we go.

Using page as a reference: It looks like $1 per gallon of No. 2 heating oil translates into $7.21 per million BTU. Okay, so next we need recent heating oil and natural gas prices:

Energy Sector: Light Crude (NYM) gained $4.19 on the day to close at $133.17 a barrel ($US per bbl.); Heating Oil (NYM) gained $0.13 on the day to close at $3.93 a gallon ($US per gal.); Natural Gas (NYM) gained $0.27 on the day to close at $11.78 per million BTU ($US per mmbtu.); Unleaded Gas (NYM) gained $0.09 on the day to close at $3.40 a gallon ($US per gal.).

That $3.93 for heating oil times $7.21 is $28.36 per million BTU for heating oil. So natural gas only costs 41% as much per million BTU.

Natural gas prices will keep getting pulled upward by oil. This of course bodes well for coal sales for electric power generation. Plus, it bodes well for wind turbine sales.

Fat Man said at May 21, 2008 8:13 PM:

"EU Looks to Cargo Trains To Ease Load on Trucking" by John W. Miller in the Wall Street Journal on June 5, 2007 at Page A6[sorry no URL]:

"Europe's dependence on trucks stems from the failure of its vaunted passenger-rail network to provide a cheap, efficient alternative for cargo. Between 1995 and 2005, the percentage of European goods shipped by truck rose to 73% from 68%, while rail's share fell to 17% from 20%. The rest goes by canal or, in the case of oil and gas, pipelines. In the U.S. in 2005, 42% of freight was moved by train and 33% by truck."

We might actually be ahead of Europe.

Allan said at May 21, 2008 8:54 PM:

Ray, you don't have to worry about planes going supersonic ... there aren't any civilian aircraft left in operation that go supersonic. Most civilian jets cruise at about .82 mach. The question is how fast are the prop planes you're referring to? Plus, jets are pretty efficient at high altitudes where props usually don't go. Lower altitudes cost more fuel.

As for abandon rail right-of-ways (ROWs), they were usually abandoned for good reason. Most of them are spurs for a single factory. The railroads are furiously double-tracking many of their cross-country routes to add more capacity.

Allen, in the grand scheme of things, not much oil is used to generate electricity so it won't do much to spur alternate energy like wind and solar.

Brett, I'm sorry that your last trip on Amtrak was so bad but that is part of the problem of Amtrak. They don't own their own tracks except in the NEC. They pay a fee to use the freight tracks and the fee is usually sub-par ... not enough incentive for the freight companies to upgrade their track to provide a smoother ride. My ride was smooth enough on most sections that I didn't have any problems walking around or eating in the diner car.

Fat man - And more freight is going to rail almost daily.

Hey Randall, I appreciate you trying to curb malicious comments by abusive users but how long is a "short while"? I posted over seven hours ago and your feature isn't allowing me to post again.

Fat Man said at May 21, 2008 9:04 PM:

The current spike in oil prices has been the latest blow to the airlines. I think about a half-dozen have shut down completely in the last few weeks. It is not surprising that some airports have lost service in the process. Some of them probably for good reason.

Wilmington, Delaware was on the NYTimes list. It is a city I know pretty well. My uncle lived there for many years. Its airport had about 2 flights a day, and it lost service. Thing was, I didn't even know there was an airport there. When we went to see my uncle, we always flew to Philadelphia, which is less than an hour away.

The busiest airport on the list to lose service was Boulder City NV. But that is probably less than a tragedy, it is only about 25 mi from the Las Vegas Airport.

Eventually, the airline system will reconfigure itself on an economic basis, if the Federal Government can keep its fingers off.

As for turboprop-airplanes. Check out this website for the new Q400 turboprop from Bombardier. They claim:

"... the Q400's cabin noise and vibration technology largely negate the jet's perceived comfort advantage. ... fast climb and a maximum cruise speed of 360 kts, largely negate the jet's performance advantages at least up to 400 miles. ... Significantly lower fuel burns, the result of the turboprop powerplant being more efficient, especially at shorter distances, help to give the Q400 the lowest operating costs per seat in the regional aircraft market."

aa2 said at May 22, 2008 1:44 AM:

Randall, Thanks for doing the calculation, 41% isn't as good as I thought for natural gas. But that is still a big jump nonetheless. Factories, offices and homes people can decide whether its worth it to run gas into their place, and switch over heating equipment.

Gas I'm sure will get pulled up to some extent by oil, but there is also a lot of untapped natural gas out there. The problem is the untapped gas is in the Middle East and Russia, so that won't easily get to North America. There are plans and projects going on building LNG facilities in North America though.

T. Boone Pickens thinks natural gas will be used in cars as well. And I read an article about nat gas cars catching on in Utah. But I view the gas to be used in mainly just heating. But globally its another story, as a great deal of oil is used for heating. On PeakoilDebunked there was a post that showed 5 million barrels of oil are burned daily to make electricity, and roughly guessed 15 million barrels a day are burned for heat.

I was going to say maybe coal and wood to be used for heating, but I don't know how much oil would be involved in extracting those resources then transporting them to the destination. It might be more effective simply to burn that oil involved.

Ray said at May 22, 2008 5:06 AM:

Here's a link for propfans.

Re: Abandonned railroads. In the midwest major routes are abandonned all over the place. Between St. Louis and Kansas City there were once at least three major routes: The Union Pacific, KATY, and Rock Island. Only the UP tracks remain in service. The Katy is a bike trail, while the Rock Island line sits idle with it's bridges and tunnels still intact. Similar abandonned right of way exists all over Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. A look at a pre-1940 map of railroads in the USA compared to today is educational.


Allan said at May 22, 2008 5:56 AM:

Fat Man - Turbo props are often used on short routes by commuter airlines and with good reason. They are more fuel efficient at the lower altitudes and you can't efficiently climb to a higher altitude on a short hop. Think of it this way, just as a car burns more fuel (in the same amount of time) accelerating than at cruise on a highway. The same goes for a jet. Taking off and climbing to altitude takes a huge amount of fuel but once at altitude it's far more efficient and the longer you can stay at altitude the more efficient the plane will be (just as you get better gas mileage on the highway than in the city). So for the long-haul routes, the jet engine is still the way go.

Maybe we'll get to some integrated transportation services. For example, you can get off your plane in Frankfurt, Germany and board a train. I know, cause I've done it. Wouldn't make sense for there to be a bus terminal in an airport ... then maybe you'd need even fewer regional flights. People in a small town could take the bus directly to the airport. Even better would be trains but then we get into the whole discussion of Amtrak again.

Anyone notice that American Airlines has started charging for checked baggage?

aa2 - Maybe I should clarify my remark. in the grand scheme of things, not much oil is used to generate electricity ... in the US. Most islands have good wind and should probably indeed invest in wind generation of power and only use oil as a backup.

But switching to NG isn't a great solution ... at least not for the US. With Russia and Iran having the largest proven reserves it doesn't help us in any way. Of course methane can be manufactured and that can be considered both as fuel source or as a methanol blend.

Another place to save some oil would be to convert our ocean freighters to nuclear power. I have a friend who is a merchant marine engineer and the amount of oil that a ship burns hauling freight is staggering.

Brock said at May 22, 2008 6:19 AM:

Comments above draw attention to why passenger trains and freight trains really shouldn't be on the same tracks. The requirements in speed, getting to places as specific times, not getting bumped, smoothness of movement, etc. are all very different. There really doesn't seem to be a "one size fits all" rail system that makes sense (any more than FedEx deciding to take passengers, for example). Alan or others involved in the industry may disagree, but that's my impression at this time.

Mot of what I meant by "getting serious" above referred to US politics. One of the reasons Amtrak sucks is because of the political games played in Congress that traded off efficiency and results for pork barrel politics. Congress and the States also need to streamline the eminent domain problems, as mentioned above.

Does anyone reading this thread know if underground freight is meaningful alternative, or is it a pipe dream? Here's an example of what I mean: North America has lots of open space left, but almost all of Europe and Asia seems to qualify as an "urban congested area".

jb said at May 22, 2008 7:57 AM:

Gah, the doom and gloom....

Travel will not stop. The system will not shut down, the nation will not collapse.

People will travel less. I agree. The price of airline flights will increase, the cost of driving cross country will increase, but businesses will continue to do it, and people will continue to do it, just less often.

Local tourism will increase, domestic tourism will probably increase at the cost of international tourism. But people will still travel. Travel costs are so small relative to incomes, people can easily absorb double the costs of travel. They may travel less, but they will simply save up for the important trips, and take fewer of the less important trips.

You people look at gas going up, and you extrapolate the future based on the present. That is a classic mistake that has been going on for hundreds of years. In the 60s, the Johnson administration hired experts to analyze the impact of computers on the economy. They came back and said that by the year 2000, there would be massive unemployment, because so many jobs would be computerized. Well, they were right - those jobs were computerized. Hmmm.. But yet we don't have massive unemployment.....

Please, please, please, please, please don't make the same mistake they did. Stop assuming that no one innovates or changes their behavior in response to a price change. Here are some facts to help:

1. The US is _by far_ the richest economy on the planet, well able to afford increased oil prices beyond any other country's ability. In other words, no, China will not outbid us for oil, because they can't afford to. They don't make enough money to pay for it, and the longer oil prices remain high, China's economy will suffer far worse than ours.
2. We have all sorts of telecommuting and transit options available that we simply don't take advantage of, because the cost/benefit isn't particularly high. As the cost increases, the cost/benefit ratio increases, and people will drive less and travel for business less (videoconferencing)
3. You can already buy an aftermarket MPG meter, trivial to install, for $160. Assume it improves your gas mileage by 10%. That pays for itself quickly as prices increase. But then, what about having an electric engine installed in your car? What? You can install electric engines in regular cars? YES! It costs several thousand dollars. But as the price of gas increases, the attractiveness of that expenditure increases as well.
4. We're already seeing the number of miles driven drop - people are walking more, biking more, combining trips. They are responding to incentives, and changing their behaviors.
5. You, me, everyone reading this are all idiots about the future. We are not well-read enough nor brilliant enough to predict every innovation, every brilliant new concept that changes the equation. Stop pretending that you are, and have some faith in the creative ability of humans to solve problems in novel ways. This has been going on this way for over 200 years. Why would it stop now????
6. The high prices of oil are causing so many new fields to be developed that we will be in surplus again later this year, or early next. Voila. It turns out that, just like the last 200 years, the laws of supply and demand work. Who would have thunk?

I can understand that people 50 years ago were frightened of change. They didn't have the last 50 years of history to learn from. But you all do. Every single one of you has witnessed fantastic changes in the way the world works. Perhaps you take it for granted, because you lack objectivity. It's time to take a step back.

We are living in a golden age, one that grows increasingly golden with each passing year. Incredible innovations in nuclear power, solar & wind power, nanotechnology, computing power, battery technology, medicine and composite materials accumulate in every-growing quantities with each passing year. FuturePundit blogs about these, all the time. Why do you all not connect the dots? Innovation is not just something that happens in new fields - it happens in existing markets and industries as well. All the time. In ways you never even considered.

Brian Wang said at May 22, 2008 9:00 AM:

Here is some of my research on public transit usage levels and the linked articles
have information on money spent on public transit

Here is my article on shifting from trucks to rail (or river freight) and
the congestion problem

Water shipping can be more energy efficient than rail which is more efficient than trucking.

40% of rail freight is used to move coal in the USA. So reducing coal usage would
help free up freight rail traffic. But long haul and short haul traffic is not interchangable.
Rail and highways are underbuilt and under maintained which adds to congestion problems.

The new airtaxis are more fuel efficient. (Dayjet, Eclipse planes)

There has been research at the DOE on making trucks and transportation more efficient. Freedomecar project
and projects for big trucks.

Allan said at May 22, 2008 12:26 PM:

JB - I agree with you. The world isn't falling apart and we'll find new ways ... but it'll all work out in the end.

Randall Parker said at May 22, 2008 1:06 PM:


I certainly think the high price of oil is accelerating the rate of innovation in energy technologies. But as an aide to FDR put it, "We all eat in the short run". The problem is that we are going to go thru wrenching readjustments before we turn the corner and the total amount of energy used in Western countries starts going back up again.

I used to wonder whether the energy technology advances could happen fast enough to deal with limited supplies of oil without hardships. Now I think the evidence is becoming pretty clear: No, the new tech isn't going to come fast enough. We are starting to go thru a period where living standards stagnate and probably eventually decline for a while before things start to get better.

Brock said at May 22, 2008 2:07 PM:

jb, we're talking about "adjustments" like switching more freight traffic to trains, not about the economy blowing up. I'm not sure what you read in the thread that I didn't that suggests otherwise. Randall is spot on, if you read the implied statement that our energy needs are HUGE, and that while nuclear, wind, etc. are all capable of replacing oil and coal eventually, they aren't being scaled up quickly enough for a smooth transition. It could be bumpy, with more downs than ups.

Regarding your point #1, even if China can't "outbid" the USA such that there's no oil to buy, they will bid up the price - and quite a bit. Their industry supplies the world and will be able to absorb a lot of price increases.

Your point #5 is a recipe for disaster. We can't predict the future perfectly, but if we don't even try to miss the easy problems we'll be in big trouble. Governments and large companies who know what they're doing spend millions every year on forecasting - not because it's perfect, but because it's better than walking blindfolded.

On point #6, Brazil's new big fields have suffered major delays, the US Congress is actually preventing drilling in new fields (and shale recovery) here in the USA and production is flat or down in Russia and OPEC. I'd love to be wrong, but please provide links.

cancer_man said at May 22, 2008 7:03 PM:

"The problem is that we are going to go thru wrenching readjustments before we turn the corner and the total amount of energy used in Western countries starts going back up again."


What basis do you have for predicting wrenching readjustments? You don't know the price of oil over the next 3 to 6 months to say nothing of the next 3 years. If so, give it a shot:
what will the price of oil be August 1st and December 1st this year? what will it be the summer of 2011?

Nor is the amount of total energy used per a year based much on oil prices since oil has been less important every decade.

Allan said at May 22, 2008 8:42 PM:


A website you might want to check out about Amtrak is

They're brutally honest.

Lorne said at May 22, 2008 8:51 PM:


Automotive diesel prices are $1.362/liter in Canada - $1.362 x 3.785 = $5.155/US gallon

Gasoline prices are $1.319/liter in Canada = $4.99/US gallon

1 Canadian dollar = $1.01 US dollars as of May 22/08

Kent Gatewood said at May 22, 2008 9:27 PM:

Is there one national blend of diesel, or is it like gasoline with many local varieties?

Ned said at May 23, 2008 7:19 AM:

Here are some comparative data on train travel in the US and Europe:

Country Start Finish Distance Train Travel Time
USA Boston Washington 707 km Acela 6:32
UK London Perth 722 km - - 5:55
Germany Hamburg Munich 774 km ICE 5:37
France Paris Marseille 778 km TGV 3:03

So the American train is slower, but, except for the French TGV, not dramatically so. Of course, this is Amtrak's flagship train in the Northeast Corridor - in my experience, the quality of the service drops off sharply when you travel in other parts of the country. I've traveled by train extensively in the USA, Germany and the UK, not so much in France - Ive never ridden on the TGV. In Europe, freight trains use the same rails as the passenger trains (except maybe for the TGV - does anybody know about this?). The major difference I've noted is the condition of the rail beds and right-of-way. In the US, there's usually a single bumpy track. The passenger trains are supposed to have priority, but a breakdown of a freight can back up the whole system on that line. In Europe, by contrast, the rails are smooth, all welded, multi-tracked and supported by concrete ties. Fast passenger trains usually go speeding by slower freights. Delays are pretty uncommon in Europe but seem to be the norm with Amtrak. The point is that there's nothing magic about European (or Japanese) rail systems - everything is off-the-shelf technology, readily available for purchase. The US has chosen to let its rail system languish for many reasons, including low population density, relatively cheap gas, a superb highway system and low-priced air travel. Raising US rail travel to the standard of Europe is just a matter of spending the money. Auto fuel taxes in Europe are much higher than in the USA, and this money is used to subsidize rail and mass transit systems.

Jerry Martinson said at May 23, 2008 11:52 AM:

Does the whole nation-wide Euro-style Amtrak concept make any sense? It costs so much to make a passenger rail system go faster than 79 MPH that I doubt it would make sense anywhere in the US for high-speed rail except for linear megalopolises.

It's often overlooked that the US actually has an outstanding rail transport system compared to Europe - for freight - and is now getting shot in the arm through private investment. Freight on trucks uses quite a bit of fuel.

Wouldn't it make better sense in the US for politicians concentrate on improving intermodal transport near big ports to reduce drayage rather than connect distant cities together with subsidized passenger rail?

If passenger rail should get subsidized, it would make better sense to concentrate on focus on adding passing tracks along work commute lines. A successful recent example would be the adding of passing tracks to the Caltrain line connecting San Jose to San Francisco. Now that there are passing tracks, for a lot of work commuters, the door-to-door times between the cities is faster or similar on the train compared to auto commute. The trains during rush hour now all fill to capacity. The incremental revenue from adding a train during rush hour on this line now exceeds the incremental costs by a wide margin. There is now quite a bit of real-estate development interest along the Caltrain stops - no doubt this has improved property values significantly in the areas near the stops. This was all done with plain vanilla 79MPH rated track - no blue-sky science project necessary. There is a certain amount of investment needed to get a limited-stop train service to work to reach a critical mass. One wonders if other areas could do this succesffuly as well.

Allan said at May 23, 2008 5:14 PM:

I too have ridden trains in Europe ... especially in Germany ... and in the U.S. The tracks are better in Europe and they do have more side-tracks for slower trains to pull over. And yes, TGV does have it's own dedicated lines to an extent. They share the lines with slower trains near the cities but out in the countryside they usually run on their own lines. The slower passenger trains might use them but I don't think the freight trains do.

I have to agree with Ned. I don't think I've ever seen fright trains as long and as heavily laden as ours when I was in Europe.

Our freight rail companies are running a lot of freight and it would be difficult to expand (usefully) Amtrak much beyond what it is now without running into conflicts with the freight trains. Yes, the freight companies are laying more track as fast as they can but how much will be available for Amtrak? ... And are they capable of handling 79 mph passenger trains. You have must remember there are different standards for freight and passenger trains at crossings, etc. ... And is Amtrak willing to pay a fair amount for rental fees? It costs more to keep tracks up to passenger standards than freight standards for speed and smoothness.

I'd imagine that most of our rail needs could be handle by 79 mph trains. However for those where high speed could get a good return, I'd say bypass the high-speed rail and go to maglev. Amtrak owns most the Acela's route and that is about the only tracks it owns. It cost a lot to build and to maintain them. Well if you going to have to build new tracks, let's go with maglev. HSR is yesterday's technology that reaching its zenith. Maglev is just getting started.

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