Dean Clough

February 17, 2023

Portico Darwin: Planes and Trains


1 Minute Read
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Today, for the weekend, we can laugh about the airline business, and cry about trains, or at least, one route in particular.  Here's a mercifully short post, but a troubling one, at least to this transportation nerd.  As I occasionally do, I am liberally stealing plagiarizing borrowing from two different sources, which I cite.  You don't think I could do this kind of research myself, do you?

Fly Me to The Mall
This is from Semafor, a new-ish news source that I have recommended in the past, and still do.  It seems our understanding of the airline business might be a bit askew. 
Carriers once closely guarded the details of just how profitable their frequent-flier programs were.  But during the pandemic, they pledged those loyalty programs as collateral for new loans, forcing them to open the books.

So now we know:  Airlines make more money from credit cards than from flying planes.
This explains the barrage of plastic offerings onboard many airlines, and I speak not only of the food.  What a wonderful and completely fucked-up capitalistic world in which we live!

The Last Mile is The Longest
There are Adler Resorts.  There is the subject of nut-job Republicans, and lately, The Psycho Woke.  There is music, and there is travel, and by extension, eating and drinking. 

And then there is one of my other favorite subjects, high speed passenger trains, the lack thereof in the US, and the exorbitant costs involved with doing anything with rail here, high speed or not.  Remember, it costs something like 2 or 3 times more (at least) to build a mile of light or high speed rail in this country than it does in, oh, I don't know, a bastion of efficiency like Italy.

So it frankly broke my heart to hear the latest news of more of the same; this is from The San Jose Mercury News.  And it's worse, because it hits close to home:  our SF Transit Center, A.K.A. as Salesforce Tower.  You see, in its basement, this skyscraper (one of the tallest on the West Coast) has a ginormous, multistory and currently empty train station shell. 

It is intended to be the northernmost terminus for Caltrain (a commuter passenger railroad here) and the LA - SF high speed rail line.  But doing so will require a 1.3 mile extension, from the current end of the line, which is a bit farther south down our waterfront, at 4th and King Streets.

OK - what could running a train tunnel for barely a mile cost?  A bit more than 5,280 feet?  OK, it's an urban area, so it's going to be costly.  Surely, $1 billion or a smidge more should be enough?  Right?  Even a billion a mile seems . . . completely obscene.  

Until you hear the actual budget for putting 4 ribbons of steel in a hole in the ground, with some electrical wires running above them, for a distance most can walk in 30 minutes or less.  The current estimate for extending rail into central SF is:


I'll just let you ponder that for a few minutes.  1.3 miles of track.  6.7 billion dollars.
I can express myself on this subject pretty simply: 

Our inability to build infrastructure in the US, at anything resembling a reasonable cost, really sucks.

But have a great weekend, regardless.


Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Entire, giant airlines that are really just fronts for credit card offers?  About a mile of railroad track costing almost $7 billion? 


Featuring that wonderful song and many more, here is Patsy Cline and a fine collection of her classics, on Gold.

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.