Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Randall O’Toole launches renewed attack on high speed rail (yawn)

There are so many things wrong with yet another O’Toole screed against high speed rail. I am sure you will want to review and comment on his fallacious and false commentary running in the Gwinett Gazette.

It’s not personal, honest. Times are hard and I am personally delighted that Randall has found a secure position as a paid mouthpiece for highway and airline special interests. Here is a sample of his labors.

As of this writing, $99 will get you from Washington to New York in two hours and 50 minutes on Amtrak’s high-speed train, while $49 pays for a moderate-speed train ride that takes three hours and 15 minutes. Meanwhile, relatively unsubsidized and energy-efficient buses cost $20 for a four-hour-and-15-minute trip with leather seats and free Wi-Fi. Airfares start at $119 for a one-hour flight.

Who would pay five times the price to save less than 90 minutes? Those wealthy enough to value their time that highly would pay the extra $20 to take the plane. The train’s only advantage is for people going from downtown to downtown.

Who works downtown? Bankers, lawyers, government officials and other high-income people who hardly need subsidized transportation. Not only will you pay $1,000 for someone else to ride the train, but that someone probably earns more than you.

Trucking interests were represented at last weeks Texas HSR Corp. and the National Multimodal Steering Committee joint meeting in Little Rock. It is a group firmly rooted in the 20th. century and determined to force the defeat and destruction of anything that might interfere in their own perceived best interests.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

10 Responses

  1. EvergreenRailfan says:

    Him again. Randall O’Toole seems to be willing to trash any example that works to keep the highway interests going. I mean he loves to debunk Portland’s MAX Light Rail system, but he has gone international going after HSR in Europe in one column. Railcars last a long time, probably one of the reasons highway interests continue to go after any kind of rail. Some of the last coaches built for Intercity Rail pre-Amtrak continue to run in local service in North Carolina, over 4 decades after Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern had taken delivery of them.

  2. HockeyFan says:

    Being a paid columnist is a good gig if you can get it, but after decades of writing pieces that make you believe you’re smarter than everyone else it makes the brain lazy. E.g. George Will.
    O’Toole’s piece is a classic example of heads I win-tails you (rail) lose.
    Compared to Amtrak, the bus is slower, more cramped and subject to the same delays as everybody else on the road, which can be substantial on I-95. He criticizes Amtrak as too expensive, yet air fares are higher still. The airlines are faster, but not that much faster when you consider the laughable options for getting to/from the airport. Taxi to Dulles or JFK? Snowstorm? Last minute flight? Please.
    Bottom line: there is a reason that Amtrak for years has had a majority of NEC corridor business vs airlines.

  3. Chris Robbins says:

    O’Toole fails to see the environmental and fiscal benefits of rail, especially high-speed rail. As information about such has been available to everyone for a couple of decades now, I think he’s either stupid, ignorant, or full of baloney. Don’t forget to write your congressmen and senators in support of the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, this is indeed laughable.
    As someone who has traveled between DC and NY many times I feel qualified to comment on this, the train is well worth the price.
    I hate when people seriously compare buses to passenger trains.

    Would *he* take a bus from DC to NY?
    If you’re over 5’2 it’s going to be uncomfortably cramped, and they’re almost always late.
    I would really love to see a smug person like him waiting in the rain on Canal Street in Manhattan for 45 minutes for a bus to DC to show up.
    Is it worth the $40 you save?

    Also, the buses are less frequent, many of these bargan carriers only leave a few times a day.

    And the airports are both isolated.
    From JFK you can take a cab for $45, or take the Air-train shuttle tram to Jamaica station and get a train to Penn station, for a total cost of about $15 and an hours time.

    Not to mention that those discount bus lines are discounted because they don’t pay to use terminals, instead they have to pick you up on a street corner — they’re cheap for a reason.

    Greyhound which pays to have it’s own slots at the port authority and other major bus terminals ha a price comparable to Amtrak, except it’s still slower and has less room.

    And they use far more fuel.

    I’m not anti-bus, but let’s be realistic here.

    It requires more resources to operate a bus line – think about it like this.
    For every 30 or so passengers, you need one driver, and one “engine”.
    What’s the ratio for a fully-loaded passenger train?
    It uses, what three times the amount of energy, and transports 10 times the people?
    And how many staff are on a typical train? Six?

    And considering that none of these bus operators have to pay to maintain I-95 doesn’t help the comparison either.

  5. Cal says:

    The only thing this ‘tool” waits for is his limo.This a Bush/Chenney insider

  6. Allan says:

    Are his numbers correct? Ad hominem attacks serve no purpose and do not advance your arguments.

    Just sticking to the trains, $50 to save 25 minutes doesn’t sound like a bargain to me unless I’m in a real hurry or the sked meets my needs.

  7. Tim Lynch says:

    “Ad Hominem attacks”? I hear this every time I tell a Republican the truth. Tell us more about you Allan?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Those numbers are indeed correct.
    And I don’t know of ANYONE who would seriously compare the DC-NY buses to trains.

    I’m not opposed to them — I’m glad that they exist as an option, they’re great for students, or poor people.
    Indeed I have used them many times.

    But whenever I hear one of these think tank idiots glowing about how convenient the inter-city buses are, I can just smell the insincerity on them.

    In terms of the Acela, people aren’t just paying for the slightly higher speed, they’re paying for the nice accommodations.
    There’s plenty of room to lounge-around, charge your laptop, get a few drinks, or take a nap.
    And you don’t feel as claustrophobic on a train because there’s more breathing room, so you don’t arrive at your destination antsy to get out.

    I have used the Acela several times (my employers paid for it), and it was really nice.

  9. Allan says:

    Tim, you’ve obviously never been judged by your arguments. Ad hominem attacks will cause you to lose every time.

    Anon, I agree that I would choose a train over a bus simply because I’m a tall guy and the train offers more leg room.

    I choose a train over a plane for the same reason unless I’m going business class and I need to get there in a hurry.

    Unfortunately, my train options are severely limited. This is just one of the reasons I support using the money to add additional routes and upgrading the tracks to hand “fast” (90-100 mph) rather than HSR.

    If you want true the best high speed, then build a maglev … despite the myths, the construction costs are about the same. Maglev will save you a considerable amount in operating and maintenance.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree, Allen.

    High frequency, high reliability commuter rail lines that are common in the tri-state area, operated by Metro-north, LIRR, and NJ Transit are wildly popular.

    I don’t believe they go over 70 mph, but they have frequent service and are very reliable.

    If this kind of service was available around the country, I’m sure people would use it.

    Every city should have good fast commuter rail service.

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