Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Airlines back HSR

This is not really a surprise, but the timing could hardly be better. In the midst of a lengthy and worthwhile story about recent increases in Amtrak ridership (even beyone the Northeast corridor), New Jersey’s Courier News reports that the aviation industry in America has much the same outlook as Europeans.

But some big names in the airline industry are supporting Amtrak by calling for the U.S. to do what governments in Europe and Asia have long done _ building high-speed train lines for short-distance travelers and freeing up runway space for long-distance flights.

“You have to begin to put the infrastructure in place to put in high-speed trains,” says Gordon Bethune, who retired in 2004 as chief executive of Continental Airlines Inc. “It should be a national priority. If the French can do it, why can’t we?”

Another airline-industry legend Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines parent AMR Corp., says improvements to Amtrak’s network in the Northeast are one of the best ways to reduce aviation gridlock.

Since Amtrak introduced higher speed Acela trains in 2000, the railroad’s share of the 10,000 daily plane or train passengers traveling between Washington and New York has grown to 54 percent from 45 percent. The Acela runs as fast as 135 miles per hour between New York and Washington. It reaches its top 150 mph speed on a small part of the route between New York and Boston. Amtrak’s share of the Boston-New York air-rail market is also up, but by a lower amount.

Chris Gremski, who manages travel for the New York-based Open Society Institute, investor George Soros’s charitable foundation, says a significant number of the foundation’s employees have switched to Acela from air shuttles between New York and Washington. Airport security lines and flight delays are wiping out the time savings of the plane, he says, and Acela is cheaper (the one-way nondiscounted fare for the New York-Washington Acela is $199, compared with $324 for the air shuttle).

Mr. Gremski says some employees also are using the train because they think it is more fuel-efficient and less polluting than the plane.

But there are definite limits to how much more Acela can do. Alex Kummant, Amtrak’s president and CEO, said in a presentation recently that Amtrak is constrained by the size of the Acela fleet, which numbers 20 trains. If he had his druthers, Mr. Kummant said Amtrak would be able to add cars to Acela trains to meet demand, rather than being limited to 304 passengers by Acela’s fixed complement of six cars and two locomotives.

This one is loaded with good information.

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Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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