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Andrew

High Speed Trains

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It is my understanding that a typical service life of a high-speed train-set is around 30 years.

 

But, then why is it that in Japan, all of the shinkansen high speed train-sets always get replaced after twenty years?

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Think about the service they see, how many passengers per day, and how many trips they do in a day. Then think about the materials used in the construction, and the wear rates for all of them. Then come back and tell me why they should keep them in service for another ten years...

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It is my understanding that a typical service life of a high-speed train-set is around 30 years.

 

But, then why is it that in Japan, all of the shinkansen high speed train-sets always get replaced after twenty years?

 

The Acelas are getting replaced a little after 20 years as well...

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Something's theoretical useful life and it's sensible life are different things.

 

Take an automobile for instance: the only part on a car that can not be replaced with reasonable ease is its body structure- therefore a car that remains rust free and has a very solid structure like a Mercedes can last as long as you are willing to replace parts. But does it make sense to, for instance, over a three year period, spend $15k to replace the engine, transmission and rear axle on a forty year old Mercedes when you can replace it with a safer, faster, more comfortable, more luxurious and much more efficient (say twice the fuel economy) model for $40k?

 

Secondly, you seem to be assuming that the only reason they are replacing them is wear. Perhaps it offers superior capacity, amenities, efficiency, comfort, or some such like that? Especially consider that superior uptime results in capacity improvements.

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Even trains that live 30 years or more have a mid-life overhaul, which typically involves taking everything apart and not just fixing stuff but replacing a lot of old stuff by new. Typically power electronics etc will be replaced by state of the art systems. Technology has made so much progress over the last 20 years that atempting to fix the old stuff is not really always a good option.

A new build is essentially a production-line style activity. You can streamline and automate to a high degree, especially if you've got a bigger order of identical or near identical units.

Maintenance on the other hand is often more individuated and artesanal. Every type of damage is different. You can never really know what you're going to find until you've actually taken the thing to bits. This makes it difficult to budget, or predict how long your train will be out of service.

This is why it can make sense to build new rather than do major repairs.

 

There may also be finnacial reasons. Maintenance is Opex whereas acquisition is capex. I don't know what Japan is like, but in some countries capex is favored over opex for tax reasons.

Edited by cirdan

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