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.