Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

To airlines: Don’t fear the trains

A [very interseting] article on Streetsblog yesterday off-handedly mentioned Ray LaHood keeping mum about any threat that high-speed rail might pose to the airlines. A link was provided, and I clicked through to find a post on a blog called “Things in the Sky.” It’s certainly well-written and interesting, but, naturally, holds views rather divergent from TFA. And geez, take a look at some of the other posts. How come no one talks about rabid “plane-fans”?

Things in the Sky points to the huge decrease in Madrid-Barcelona plane traffic after the high-speed line went into service. Here’s what they say about what HSR might do to America’s air carriers:

Some airlines here in the States could definitely be hurt by a high speed rail expansion. Any further improvement in the Northeast Corridor could negatively affect the Delta and US Airways shuttle operations, and I agree with Marshall that Southwest would get hurt (I think the intra-Texas and intra-California routes especially).

If this is ends up being an expansion of Amtrak, I’m very worried when it comes to competition with the airline industry. The air carriers are motivated by profits and losses (as they should). If a route isn’t performing well, the airline will adjust accordingly by either eliminating the route or trimming capacity, and the opposite happens on successful routes. Meanwhile, a government-funded train system with guaranteed funding can continue operating despite being unprofitable, making true competition difficult.

Let’s just ignore for now the many times that airlines have received large bailouts from the federal government. And yes, high-speed rail and trains in general should be supported by government; the service rail provides to communities large and small is more equitable, clean, and efficient than air and car travel. The mistake that air carriers in the past, including, as the blog mentions, Southwest, have made is that they view high-speed rail as competition rather than an opportunity. Let conventional/high-speed rail take over these short/medium haul routes and make sure that there are connections to the airports. This way, passengers can be funneled into the more profitable long-haul routes and the carriers don’t have to subsidize the connecting flights.

And airlines are realizing this. As our friend Robert Cruickshank points out over at the CAHSR blog, none of the major carriers have opposed either the SF-LA project in California or the renewed Texas HSR plan, which Southwest helped kill years ago. European carrieres, such as Air France/KLM are even looking at getting into the HSR business themselves. If airlines find that they are hurting because of high-speed rail, they will have no one to blame but themselves. No one’s saying that trains will replace planes across all routes. What TFA and other progressive rail advocates are working towards is a situation where one can take the train across distances where rail makes sense and flights across distances where planes make sense. Let’s work together to make sure these systems connect rather than inconveniencing travelers through unnecessary competition.


Filed under: United States High Speed Rail

A response to Mr. Rose’s “targeting” proposal for federal HSR funds


This post started off as my response to a reader in the thread below dealing with the BNSF CEO’s concept of “targeting” all the HSR stimulus money into a single project.  It is a very good discussion and I thought I would move my thoughts to the front page for wider consideration.

Rose’s position is similar to some political positions which support the concept while imposing conditions making its implementation impossible. It’s like the guy for Georgia who thinks the time has come for HSR and it should pay for itself. (I plan to post on this idea soon.)

America’s railroads were built on the basis of a public-private partnership. The corporations generally got land and tax breaks in exchange for the promise to provide a necessary transportation service.

An earlier poster observed the advantages of “targeting” the northeast corridor. While this has some advantages, the idea also exposes an interesting aspect of Rose’s formulation.

Pouring $13 billion into the Washington-Boston corridor is a political impossibility. This geographic region represents everything middle America hates. Those of us who follow rail transport instinctively feel slighted by the neglect of our long distance trains.

Satan will ice skate across Hell when the northeast corridor gets $13 billion.

Let me clarify that I am not speaking to the merits of the above post concerning the northeast corridor. It has a powerful basis in fact.

These decisions are always political and politics is the science of the doable. Spreading the money around like peanut butter is politically easy and we need to be aware of this.

I think spreading the money across a regions, such as the Midwest High Speed Rail Association routes, makes very good sense. That may be too narrow, from the political viewpoint.

For most Americans, health care and the Middle East are first order political priorities. For airlines and highway interests, killing competing forms of transportation is more important than anything – anything. They will stop at nothing.

It ought to be noted that BNSF is probably not an enemy of Amtrak or HSR. They are not friends either.BNSF owns a business and rightly expected to be compensated for use of its facilities.

Expect the enemy to favor HSR in principle and propose the methods that result only in our demise. Our goal must be to get Americans on trains and that means making trains available.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

Passenger Train Journal Sunset Proposal

NOTE TO READERS: The posts in “comments” are very informative concerning the specific PTJ conception of the Sunset.

Passenger Train  Journal enters the expanding conversation over “fixing” the Sunset route in its latest issue by making a few suggestions of its own. My understanding is that the Orlando arrival is early morning and departure is around 11 PM. This has the effect of putting Jacksonville train times at the middle of night.

I am presuming a late afternoon departure from N. O. and early morning out of San Antonio. Again, the out of luck city, I am willing to bet, is Houston.

I am presuming a mid-morning EB run from New Orleans. It would be sheer speculation on train times at Los Angeles. It would be great to hear from somebody who has seen the issue and, respecting PTJ’s copyright, lay out the essentials. After all, it’s their proposal.

Amtrak has spent a lot of time and energy on the Sunset and is suggesting a remedy that gives the entire route daily service. I think we need to give the Amtrak idea preference, but that could be wrong.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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May 2009