Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse 2

The editor of an automotive magazine (Auto Week) commented that auto makers should start building light rail systems in the United States.
One of the shrewdest things the domestic auto industry could do is begin planning to produce light-rail systems.
...

OK, light rail would be competition for cars and trucks. But if it's coming anyway, why not get a piece of the action?

Yes, I know Michael Moore mentioned the same thing a few months ago. But how dumb would it be to ignore a good idea just because it was supported by someone who usually doesn't have a clue

It's nice to know they really think that light rail is competition for automobiles. Apparently they are still worried about losing market share. As much as I like this idea in theory I think it would turn out horrible in practice unless:

A. They bought designs from existing light rail vendor such as Siemens
B. They allowed local transit agencies to appoint quality control inspectors
C. There is an adopted standard for vehicles agreed upon like in the era of the PCC

I'm sure you all have some ideas too...

14 comments:

Justin said...

"There is an adopted standard for vehicles agreed upon like in the era of the PCC"

Too many bad memories of the USLRV. *shudder*

I do not think the auto companies have the experience, and knowledge necessary to build quality urban rail vehicles. GM should be able to build FRA-Compliant DMU's though..

Randy Simes said...

Seems like a great idea. Automakers need to diversify their business portfolio, and manufacturing trains would seem to be easily folded into their existing business infrastructure. Win, win.

David said...

Startup costs could top half a billion, and then they'd have to deal with a mature market already dominated by Bombardier and Siemens.

GM should stick to making cars, and Michael Moore should stick to making movies.

Alon Levy said...

Just remember that a subway train costs about one fifth as much as the cars it removes from the road and lasts five times longer. Part of the high cost of cars comes from the longer chain of dealerships, but when the cost ratio is 1:25, GM will have to absorb huge losses in revenue, too.

I'm less sure about light rail, which tends to be car-friendlier. But a hint that it's still a bad investment for GM is that Bombardier Transportation has one tenth the number of employees as Toyota; Bombardier in general has one fifteenth Toyota's revenue.

jon said...

GM did make successful buses and locomotives before selling them off and putting all their eggs in the basket on SUVs and even bigger SUVs.

Count me as a skeptic to this idea, they havent been able to run a car company which they have experience in so why would they be successful with railcars?

Too many bad memories of the USLRV. *shudder*
Yeah this reminds me too much of Boeing expanding from planes and ended up building lemons.

njh said...

Alon:

So are you saying it would be bad for a car manufacturer to have a 50% increase in workers? That would be good for the economy though, right?

John said...

General Motors (Sweden) actually made streetcars. I rode in one at a railroad museum in Denmark. THere, right behind the motorman's area, was a small, blue GM nameplate!

Anonymous said...

first, the Beoing USLRV fiasco was a design stupidity because Boeing had too much freedom to do it wrong. OTOH, concurrently they were producing Subway cars for Chicago which are still in service rolling up the miles. What this illustrates is that CTA had a proven design and strict specs which Boeing built without any leeway for either bad design or inferior components.
That said, we have de facto standards to the extent that the Kinki Sharyo, Kawasaki, Bombarier, and Siemens cars are all proven in service in US environments from wintry Salt Lake and Buffalo to hot Dallas, Sacremento. If spec'd by the agency they can be made interoperable much as in NYC, they get cars from Kawasaki and Bomb which can be run together

arcady said...

You have to remember what PCC actually stood for originally: The Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee. The only way we're going to anything reasonable is if the light rail operators get together and jointly decide on some standards that codify best practices. I think at this point, there are finally enough agencies with common requirements for that to be feasible.

jon said...

i think we might see something like a modern day PCC if the "rapid streetcar" concept takes off... the skoda/inekon model wont really work for this operation... rapid streetcar needs a modern day version of the PCC with all its seating capacity and speed.

the skoda/inekon model is great as a free downtown circulator with standees traveling on short trips at slow speeds.

- -

rohr is another aerospace company that got into the rail transit business (original BART cars) and got into problems.

Alon Levy said...

NJH, I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about having 50% more employees. Train manufacturing is more labor-intensive than auto manufacturing per unit of revenue, but not per customer served.

arcady said...

A wonderful back of the envelope calculation: NYC has about 6400 subway cars, which last about 40 years each. Thus, in the average year, about 160 are replaced. Assuming an average cost of $2 million, this costs on average $40 per resident. Now consider the average new car, which costs $25000 and lives about 12.5 years. That's $2000 per year. If we assume two people per car, we get a per capita annual cost of $1000. Conclusion one: there's no way railcar manufacturing can save the auto industry, by a factor of 25. Conclusion two: subway systems save you a lot of money, and this is a good thing.

njh said...

Alon, ok; but for a stimulus you want to maximise jobs/dollar?

Matt Fisher said...

GM made streetcars for use in Sweden originally? What am I huffin'?