Right, even high speed trains aren’t competitive with air travel on long-haul flights. The question is whether high speed trains are competitive with air travel on short haul flights?
I don’t know the answer to this, but it’s a question that is worth asking. Chicago to New York in 4 hours or so is pretty competitive (in my view) with airline service, particularly if I can arrive at Penn Station as opposed to landing in Long Island or New Jersey and having to take a car into the city.
I can fly Boston to New York a lot faster than I can take the Acela. But on the Acela, the seats are a lot more comfortable, I can spread out at a table, I can bring a computer, I can do work, and the train stops in the city. That’s pretty good.
The question is not the initial cost—which, as the author indicates, is relatively trivial over a long period of years—but the ongoing costs of maintenance and service. Would a ticket on my Chicago-NY train be $250 or $1000? All of that makes a pretty big difference, I think.
Trains and airports are both very heavy front cost items. It would be nice to see a long term study of something say, an Atlanta to LA 40 year cost analysis for both.
On short haul traffic, such as New York to Washington, the bus will get you from downtown to downtown in about 6 hours for $16 each way(check it out on Peter Pan’s website).
Metroliner and Acela are “better” mostly because you don’t have to ride with the riff-raff.
They are much more expensive, and this is not counting the huge subsidy, perhaps $32 per passenger. So you pay $70 for the train ticket and the taxpayer pays $32, when you could have taken the bus for $16.
Even if the economics of the northeast corridor justified investment in intercity rail (more than running regional train service over interconnected commuter rail systems), they would not justify expansion nationwide. This is because of urban sprawl.
The time savings in downtown to downtown service is a consideration to people who originate and are destined for downtown, as in the old cities of the northeast corridor. But, new cities sprawl, and even old cities sprawl at their edges (their “outer ring”). Once you arrive at the terminal of the intercity leg of the journey, it’s probable you will change modes of transportation, e.g., rent a car. So, an airport in the ‘burbs is likely to be just as conveniently located as a downtown rail terminal.
Having said all of the above, there was a time I thoroughly enjoyed commuting to DC from midtown Baltimore on a commuter train. I very much like flying in Chicago Midway and taking the El downtown. And I like, when I’m traveling, to take advantage of the mix of transportation options that cities have mostly inherited from the past. I don’t know why it costs something like a billion dollar a mile to extend conventional railroad lines, but at such cost, it’d be unrealistic to think we would any time soon embark on new construction.
Oh, about the New York to Chicago run, at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, the New York Central initiated the 20th Century Limited (referring to not stopping at many intermediate stops). It left in the early evening, offered top notch dining car service, flew along the Central’s route at speeds in places of a hundred miles an hour, and got you into Chicago the next morning.
Assuming the speed of the 20th Century Limited could be doubled, we’d be talking of 8 hours. As compared to a 2 hour flight.
If spending another 6 hours on that trip is worth a trillion dollars to you, I’d say hang around the airport four hours and consider yourself rich.