Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Airlines “can’t afford to carry every passenger who wants to fly”

Via the California High Speed Rail Blog comes this piece from the Washington Post about travellers switching to Amtrak. Inevitably, the article discusses the inconveniences and costs associated with flying these days. Unsurprisingly, many of these frustrated consumers are turning to Amtrak for their summer travel plans.

However, for those patiently awaiting the return of cheap flights: don’t hold your breath. The Post says this about the state of the air industry:

Amtrak’s growth has come as airlines are retrenching, trimming flight schedules primarily in response to high energy prices. The flight cuts started showing up this summer and will intensify through the year. Airlines are trying to recover higher fuel costs with higher fares and charging for snacks, luggage, in-flight entertainment, even pillows and blankets. The fees aren’t likely to go away soon either, analysts say.

John Heimlich, chief economist of the Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s Washington lobbying group, said the changes represented “positive steps” for carriers working their way back to profitability. He said airlines are sacrificing volume to focus on the profitability of remaining flights.

“We simply can’t afford to carry every passenger who wants to fly,” he said.

This underscores the need for trains, and particularly high speed rail. If airlines aren’t interesting in hauling John Q. Public from place to place in this country anymore, who is going to pick up the slack? Do we expect everyone to be okay with driving large distances only to have to deal with the hassle of a car at their destination? Do we start subsidizing the airlines more, ignoring the environmental issues inherent in air travel? Or maybe we just concede that long-distance travel is the exclusive domain of the wealthy who are willing to pay more for air tickets.

The obvious answer is none of the above. Rail needs to be a viable travel option here as much as it is in the rest of the developed world (or at least the developing world, please). It’s not a matter of posterity or nostalgia. Everyday Americans needs to be able to affordably get around their own country and trains are the most sustainable and civilized way to do so.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Travel Woes, , , ,

5 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    You mean Amtrak runs trains outside of the NEC? Now if Amtrak could just get them to run on time.

    This is an opportunity for Amtrak … the question is whether Amtrak can take advantage of it … like getting the train to run on time.

  2. Mike says:

    Amtrak is not in a position to guarantee the trains are on time. That’s a policy priority question. Amtrak rents time on the freight railroads almost everywhere outside of the NEC. The freights don’t cut Amtrak much, if any slack. If the governments wanted Amtrak to be on time, then they’d have to examine policy options for making that happen. Option 1, build more rails, Option 2, force the freight companies to place nice. Option 1 is expensive. Option 2 is controversial. Got a better idea?

  3. Densha Otoko says:

    Option 1 seems so obvious it hurts not to see it get more promotion. No private company wants to start a rail line, due to the incredible costs and the lack of an existing network, so the responsibility falls right to the government…which is what the government is for anyway. “General Welfare” and all–they need to just admit that it’s expensive and then launch right into a vigorous and comprehensive expansion of railways across the country. Making freight rail a little more compliant wouldn’t hurt, either.

  4. Allan says:

    Actually Amtrak enjoys priority over the host’s freight traffic and the host railroad can be penalized for delaying Amtrak … however, it is only for a specified window of time. When a passenger train misses that window, host railroads can and frequently do push Amtrak to sidetracks or force Amtrak to follow the slower freight traffic.

    It’s similar in the airline industry. If you miss your pushback or blockout time then you get moved to the end line.

    Amtrak must hit the windows or the schedule really gets messed up.

  5. hnkj says:

    Very nice information! Wow

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