Amtrak To The Rescue?

Ridership is up on Amtrak, and the Wall Street Journal suggests that the sorry state of commercial air transportation is a likely cause. That makes sense, and the anecdotal evidence seems to bear it out. But I think that Amtrak needs a lot of help before it becomes much of a solution to anything.

Almost anywhere in Europe, and in many other parts of the world, you’ll find better rail transportation than we have in the United States. Our automobile culture nearly wiped it out decades ago, and Amtrak in particular has been faltering ever since.

According to the Journal story, even some airline executives now see the wisdom of better, high-speed trains to relieve the air transport system of all those short-haul flights clogging the runways. That’s great, though I wish they’d seen it sooner, before our rail system had deteriorated so much.

How much? Well, there was the ticketing computer meltdown over the weekend. And the engine room fire and the other train fire.

I guess it’s no use jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. We probably need to have some sensible plan to fix the train system and the plane system.


12 thoughts on “Amtrak To The Rescue?

  1. John

    Any rational transportation system would discount short-haul travel by airlines. Rail is definitely less carbon-intensive (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions) than air, so it would be great to serve more short-haul and medium-haul trips by rail. We’d have to decide to finally invest the money in rebuilding and enhancing our passenger rail system, something European countries have been doing for decades. We’ll have to figure out how to deal with the freight railways, who own much of the track outside the NE Corridor. We’ll have to figure out better state-federal partnerships, along the lines of some of what is working now.
    None of these are impossible tasks. We just need to decide, collectively, that they are worth doing. We had the best passenger rail system in the world 90 years ago. There’s nothing stopping us from having the same thing 10 years from now.

  2. Seth Howell

    It is very backwards for us to be one of the largest and most advanced industrialized nation in the world and have a rail system that is out dated by decades. Europe runs highspeed intercity and intercontinental trains at over 180 mph. These trains are highly sucessful and relieve large amounts of air and road congestion. One of the problems in the US is that we insist on Amtrak being profitable. This will never happen and is not in the best intrest of Amtraks riders. No passenger railsystem in the world makes a profit, in other countries the rail system is seen the same as the highway system, it is funded by the government to provide a service to its citizens. If we would take this approach we could solve a large portion of our transportation problems.

  3. S. Jones

    I agree with riders who have switched to Amtrak. The train offers a comfortable, reliable and generally efficient alternative to the dreadful traffic jams at our nations’ airports and interstate highways. I switched to rail several years ago, and haven’t looked back!
    Besides having better amenities, trains are also more environmentally friendly. In the long run we need faster high-speed rail at major urban hubs like the northeast, Chicago in the midwest, and los Angeles and the Bay Area on the west coast. But we also need to keep our long distance trains running to keep more remote areas economically viable.

  4. mark

    I was a HUGE Amtrak user prior to 9/11 and even more so now. It is a quirky, (many would say broke), system but once you learn how to use it, it can be quite pleasant. Why does it always take a ‘crisis’ for anything to get done in this country. The United States used to be forward thinking, now not so much anymore.
    Flying is not what it used to be and for me most of the time its very annoying. The great air and auto experiment has failed. Its time to take a lesson or two from Europe and Japan where the transportation system is sigificantly more balanced.

  5. mark

    Unfortunately years of neglect have left Amtrak with little to come to the rescue with. I use Amtrak for both leisure and business whenever I can but still HAVE to fly from time to time. It astounds me that folks out there still look down on the so called ‘Amtrak subsidy’ as if no other forms of transportation in this country receive help from the government. The so called ‘private airlines’ received a $70 billion bailout post 9/11. Its typical that the Bush administration overlooks that fact. The great air-auto experiment has failed. It’s time to take a lesson from the rest of the world for a change and revitalize our rail system.

  6. Susan

    With rising highway and air traffic congestion, the escalating cost of gasoline and poor airline customer service brought about at least partially by rising costs and traffic gridlock, I think American rail has finally turned the corner.
    It is time, if the United States is to remain competitive with Asian and European competitors to bring Amtrak into the high-speed rail era and restore our longer distance services to good health.
    Honestly, given the choice of good travel schedules and enough service to choose from, I’ll choose the train every time.

  7. John T Hatcher

    The tracks that were ripped up need to be replaced. A single line doesnt cut it.
    Passenger trains must have the right of way over freight trains.
    Schedules need to be kept and railroads must place a premium on trains being on time.
    Amtrak should have the right to preempt tracks and routes for passenger train service.

  8. casey jones

    let’s use an axample: let’s say you (and your roomate) had to get “first hand” information on an art project. the best source is in CHICAGO, IL and you are in Michigan. your roommate suggests renting a car to “get around” with. you suggest the train. fine. you both leave the apt. sharing the price of a cab. you get off at Amtrak, your roommate goes to the car rental agency. you go to the Amtrak ticket counter, get a ticket, get on the train, and in about four hours or so, you’re in CHICAGO. your roommate has text-messaged saying that he/she is stuck in traffic. you proceed to the art museum, get the information needed, take the bus back to UNION STATION, get on the train, and go back to MICHIGAN. the train gets in at midnight. you take a cab back to the apt. upon arrival, the telephone answering machine has a message; your roommate will start back to michigan in the morning. HAH! GO AMTRAK!

  9. Anonymous

    Some airline execs are committed? Hardly. Continental is committed to code-sharing with Amtrak, just like it was ten years ago when the code-sharing started. The other airlines, as the article makes clear, dislike Amtrak as much as ever.

  10. Tom

    We need to start building a modern passenger rail infrastructure now – not dismantle it further, as the backward Bush adminstration wants to do. With 50 years of public policy that favored air and auto travel, we strangled developement of a modern rail passenger system – and now we’re paying the price for it.

  11. RvW

    The missing ingredient for a rail renaissance is infrastructure. After the mid-60’s when most of the passenger trains were taken off a lot of supposedly redundant rail lines were taken up, 2nd and 3rd tracks were ripped out along important main lines. Today with the boom in freight traffic the private railroads are putting some of this back and making other needed upgrades to their lines. However this won’t be of that much help to reviving passenger rail. Public investment is also needed, particularly anywhere fast passenger service is wanted. Dedicated passenger only track is needed for trains running over 90 miles per hour. There needs to be much more demand for these improvements through public investment.

  12. trainmaster611

    Its amazing that there are so many uninformed people in this world.
    Amtrak could get about 800mpg per capita versus the average US automobile’s 46mpg per capita
    And on top of that, the lack of funding forwarded to Amtrak is astonishing. We pump billions of dollars into an interstate system that is only causing our feeble train system to recede instead of progressing towards a much faster, cheaper, and more efficient high speed passenger systems similar to those that they have in Europe.
    In 2004, Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, killed a plan for a high-speed passenger system by stating how much it would cost to build the system on the actual ballot and failed to list the costs and consequences of the alternatives.


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