Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

In leadup to LaHood’s plan, The Economist masters “US Passenger Rail 101”

It seems like every other story about High-Speed Rail or Amtrak wants to give its own version of events that brought American passenger rail to its current unfortunate state. Usually they’re either biased, misinformed, or just plain wrong. Trust The Economist, Britain’s largest consumer of tweed and fine cigars, to get it more or less right:

In the 20th century rail travel languished as Americans fell in love with cars and interstate highways. Jet travel made railways even less attractive. A thinly scattered population and government subsidies for road and air travel did not help. In 1970 Congress created Amtrak to take over the ailing rail passenger service. Over the years the semi-private corporation has been plagued by poor management and volatile funding. Except for the Washington-Boston line, trains have been mostly slow, unreliable and unpopular. By 2000 rail accounted for just 1% of all intercity commercial trips. On National Train Day in May 2008 Amtrak employees handed out bumper-stickers that read “I’m a trainiac”, apparently not realising the irony of placing such a message on one’s car.

Trainiacs have had a better stretch of late. Ridership on Amtrak has jumped by 18% over the past two years. In October Congress reauthorised Amtrak for five years, and included plans to advance intercity and high-speed passenger rail. The stimulus added cash and momentum.

Worth a read, if for nothing else than to get some perspective on US passenger rail from the other side of the transatlantic glass onion.

Filed under: Amtrak, International High Speed Rail

3 Responses

  1. Alex says:

    The article is great, though I disagree with the fact that most of the systems don’t link up too well. Why not connect Jacksonville to Orlando? Or Cleveland to Pittsburgh and Buffalo? At least to preserve some semblance of the possibility of a “transcontinental” high speed railway.

  2. Tom says:

    That’s because these are intentionally corridors, not a network. This does not mean that you cannot run trains between the corridors, merely that they will not be at high speed.

  3. Corridors are the worst enemy of long distance trains. We ought to surgically remove the brain of whoever started that nonsense. Corridors imply a local service, and are fine, if they are IN ADDITION to long distance connecting services. There are now, 2 trains a day, each way between Jacksonville and Orlando, although both run in essentially the same period of the day, Southbound in the morning, northbound in the evening, but neither at really good times to be of much use. Try going from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, oops, politicians cut that train, so it is your car or the Hound, or Airlines by way of Atlanta. Try going to NewOrleans, well yes, there is a train — by way of DC. High Speed in this country is a pipe dream that most Americans now alive will never see. Perhaps my great-grandchildren will, but for me, return a 60mph Sunset LImited, or Connection, and I will be happy as a bug in a rug.

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April 2009


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