Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Airlines continue downhill spiral: The time is now for high-speed rail.

It should be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to the news or has had to book a flight recently that the days of bargain air travel are probably coming to an end soon. Fuel prices are hitting the carriers hard, and consumers are already seeing the ramifications. Almost all of the airlines have started charging extra money for checking a second bag, and some have even tacked on a fuel surcharge to frequent-flyer tickets. Is that enough? Can we keep this cheap flights bubble from bursting with just some extra charges and inconviencies for consumers? Of course not.

The New York Times is reporting that airlines are cutting flights to levels not seen since the post-9/11 period. Fares are on the rise too:

Over all, the cuts will reduce flights this year by American carriers by almost 10 percent, industry analysts estimate, with even deeper cuts in store for 2009.

Air fares, which are up about 17 percent this year on average, may rise as much as 40 percent within the next four years, Mr. Chase predicted.

What this all adds up to is the probable death knell for cheap air travel. Flying may soon go back to being a mode of transportation reserved for the wealthy or those needing to travel long distances. Though certainly unfortunate for consumers in the short-term, this isn’t such a terrible thing for American transportation, if we play our cards right. America needs to take this opportunity to create a transportation choice that is more environmentally friendly, convenient, and affordable than flying or driving. This choice is high-speed rail, and we, as rail advocates, (yes, I know that includes most of you reading this as well) need to be pushing hard for this. Because despite increased Amtrak and public transportation ridership, many just aren’t getting the idea. Nowhere does the New York Times article mention trains as an alternative to flying, and this article, explicitly about alternatives to flying, simply advocates telecommuting and lighter planes:

… [O]ne obvious investment possibility would be companies who provide video-conferencing and video-conferencing infrastructure; Webex was acquired last year but there are other fish in that sea. Another potential investment, although still a few years from being realized, is small, very light jets flying between the country’s underused community and regional airports – or per-seat, on-demand regional business travel on small, light jets, already being offered by a Florida company.

Community and regional airports are never going to be pratical or affordable solutions to our transportation crisis. Small planes are still planes, they’re still polluting, except now they’re just serving fewer customers. Sounds good. And telecommuting may be attractive for businesses, but no one’s going to want to substitute a teleconference with grandma for an actual visit (Well, that depends on how you feel about your grandmother, I suppose).

European countries have been preparing for the end of cheap oil. We haven’t been, and soon middle class travelers will be left with very few options.

H/T to the California High-Speed Rail Blog for this story, and, of course, a thumbs-up to them for promoting this country’s most exciting HSR project. California is addressing the transportation crisis, let’s hope a new presidential administration and legislation like HR 6003 can do the same for the rest of the country.


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

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June 2008