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Will High Speed Rail Kill Walmart?



Meeting: Tuesday, Zoom, April 9th, 7 pm (central),


 

Faster Headlines


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The Japan Times
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Up in the Air:

AirlineGeeks
 

Congratulations - 2024 Central Japan Railways Interns:


Both Alex Varner and Lauren Downham has accepted offers to be the 2024 summer JRC interns. Both Alex and Lauren joined the WIHST group last fall; and will join interns from Texas A&M and from the northeast in an online course followed by a visit to Japan to see every aspect of Central Japan Railways operations.


Congratulations Alex and Lauren!


 

The T-Flight Maglev in China


On February 28th, China claimed to have reached a speed of 387 mph (622 kmph) with their T-Flight Maglev.  The first thought is that they have copied the SC Maglev, however, this seems uncertain.  The T-Flight appears to have more in common with the hyperloop than the SC maglev.  Specifically, the T-Flight is designed to operate in a semi-vacuum tube with pods, rather than as a traditional train.  These pods appear to be only 2 cars long and carry at total of 50 passengers. 


The exception is the track resembles the SC Maglev, with what appears to be electric magnets encased on the sides of the track with an induction rail in the middle.  However, CASIC has not released any details on the propulsion or levitation technology nor are media news services mentioning a superconducting vehicle.  On the test vehicle, there appear to be no superconducting coils, but the coils may be buried within the vehicle.  After a thorough search, this is the only video released of the test run.



The question is the low-atmosphere tunnels.  During many studies with the hyperloop at the University of Wisconsin, levitation and propulsion were determined to be feasible.  However, how to maintain a low atmosphere for hundreds of miles is an issue.  Especially concerning is how vehicles would enter and exit the low atmosphere tubes, and more importantly how would emergencies be handled.  For example, should a pod become disabled in the tube would the whole system have to be depressurized?  Additionally, how will passengers be kept safe from shockwaves when an explosive decompression of the system occurs (such as by a tube rupture). 


Finally, an issue with the T-Flight is its low capacity and cost.  To maintain a low atmosphere, the tubes must be narrow.  As a result, the vehicles must be slender, which restricts capacity.  Further, a hyperloop tube system is likely to be even more expensive to build and maintain than the SC Maglev, resulting in high capital costs spread over fewer passengers. 


In summary, the T-Flight as designed now will not be a threat to the SC maglev.  In the current design, it will eventually fall to the same fate as the hyperloop in the United States as the economics and safety cannot justify building a system.  Still, the T-Flight may be powered by the same superconducting technology as the SC Maglev.  As a result, the T-Flight may be transformed to a traditional train once the Chinese realize how unfeasible the current design of the T-Flight is and become a competitor to the SC Maglev.



 

Will High-Speed Rail Kill Walmart?


It is easy to see the relationship between transportation and business development. Using the state of Illinois as an example, the first towns were founded along major rivers, such as Cairo, Peoria, Alton, and Cahokia [not a modern town, but Cahokia was the most populated city in the world in 1000 AD].  Then in the early 1800s cities in Illinois developed along the Fox and Illinois Rivers. The port in these cities then became the center of the city. This is why Wall Street in New York developed next to the piers on the Hudson River. Similarly, Union Square developed in San Francisco next to the ports, as well as the Financial District in Boston, and Canary Warf in London.  Wherever the transfer of goods takes place, the supporting businesses, such as finance, develop near it.


The building of the railroads lent to new cities being developed in Illinois.  Radiating from Chicago, cities popped up where the railroad stopped, and trading would take place right next to the train station. After all, it was easier to meet the goods coming off of the train, rather than taking the goods and moving them again to a trading area. It was even along these train stations, that we saw the first catalog companies develop, such as Sears Roebuck & Company. Later new shopping districts would develop next to these train stations, such as Fifth Avenue in New York, or Denver's 16th Street Mall.


Then in the 1950s the interstates and airports were built.  While the airports provide the same centralization of trade…the interstates and expressways had the opposite effect and decentralized the city.  Trade could occur in multiple areas now.  Initially, around these expressway crossroads, you would find the development of shopping malls and office buildings, such as Woodfield Mall (Schaumburg, IL), or the Mall of America (Bloomington, MN). 


Over time you would see businesses develop around nearly every expressway exit.  Specifically, McDonalds, Super 8 motels, Walmart, and Costco.  The reason for this development is the expressway allowed easy access to other parts of the state, and the expressway interchange was the point where a large number of people transferred from the fast highway speeds to the slower roads. Additionally, the expressways allowed for more efficient transport of goods.


At the same time that big box stores were developing around expressway interchanges, the largest department stores in the world began to struggle because they were located in the central business districts of cities far away from the expressways.  For example, Sears, Woolworths, and Montgomery Ward.  These companies were based around the idea that most business took place in the city center. Granted Sears and Montgomery Ward did make the move to shopping malls, but they failed to make the move to expressway interchanges as Walmart did. 


Of course, the question is the role of the internet in the loss of these companies, however, if you look at the location of Amazon fulfillment centers, they are taking on the same location habits as Costco or Walmart by locating near major interstates. So even in the age of the internet, being close to where your customers travel is key.  Otherwise, if you are not where the customer flows are, your competitor will.


The question is, what happens when a new, and faster transportation system is introduced? In the past when a faster transportation system was introduced old businesses struggled, and new businesses were developed. We haven't had a new high-speed transportation system in the United States in the last 70 years, so we have forgotten this point.


However, what if we build a 200 mph+ high-speed rail network? People will likely choose to go 200 mph rather than drive at 70 mph. So, we would see people move from expressways to the new high-speed rail network. The good news is congestion would be reduced on the expressways; the bad news is that businesses at the expressway interchanges will see fewer customers going by and struggle.


Where high-speed rail will condense people together.  Instead of a continuous flow of individual cars going through an expressway interchange, passengers will be consolidated together on a train that carries anywhere from 400 to 1400 passengers who will all arrive together and be funneled through a station, leading to new business and trade opportunities at and near the station.  In Japan this led to the development of brand-new super stores right next to the train station, for example, Bic Camera, and Yamada Denki.


This leads to the question what would happen to Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Costco, and most importantly the hotel chains and restaurants at expressway interchanges if a high-speed rail system would be built in the US? Could we see Walmart die, just like Woolworths?


Denki | Youtube

Map of BIC Camera Stores (link takes you to Google Makes)



 

The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high-speed rail and high-speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.











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