February 3, 2004

Support for High Speed Rail

Category: Transit

Chicago: Our nation's lack of decent intercity train service continues to both baffle and dismay me. Even so, support coninues to build across political and economic boundaries, shattering the myth that only geeky euro-wannabe types support inproved rail service.

Take today's article in Crain's Chicago Business entitled "High-speed rail could ease strain on congested skies". The article promotes Chicago as the logical hub for an as-yet-to-be built midwest high-speed rail network. The reason I post it is to show that business, and in this case Chicago's premier business publication, is in favor of the establishment of a midwest high-speed rail network. Furthermore, without business traveller support it will never get built, and arguably, if it's not built, business will probably suffer.

Personally, I'd like to see an "Apollo-scale" project set forth at the presidential level, but that's probably pie in the sky at this point.

[article here - requires registration, sorry!] [midwest high speed rail coalition]

Posted by Nick at February 3, 2004 5:12 AM


Such a proposal would get plenty of support from business travelers. The opposition will come from the airlines, environmentalists, motorists, and property owners near the rights-of-way that such links require.

Airlines will chop competing fares and hold them down until high speed rail is forgotten or, if built, bankrupted.

Property owners will keep right of way acquisition in court as long as possible, holding out for routing "not in my back yard" or until they extract exorbitant prices for their property.

Environmentalists will make sure that no mud puddle or tree is disturbed by the intrusion of such a manifestation of industrialized society.

The road and motorist lobbies will object to the grade crossings required when roadways intersect the tracks. Overpasses will be required, at great extra expense.

Lack of decent intercity rail services is not baffling at all, if you just perform the thought experiment of trying to set up a line, say between Minneapolis and Chicago. Think of the environmental impact studies alone -- years of contentious delay.

Posted by: Person of Choler at February 10, 2004 3:50 PM

Yeah, there's a load of beurocratic nonsense that holds these things up, but...

I think you'll find most environmentalists very much in favor of high speed rail, as it's less poluting, takes less land (think airports), and is more efficient than short distance flights, etc...

The airlines might fight it in certain arenas, but they'll never be able to compete in the 300 mile range. For example, I don't think the airlines would stand a chance competing in the texas-triangle market against good rail service(one reason AA and Southwest constantly lobby against Texas train travel)

My comprimise solution for that is to get the absurd Wright Amendment repealed, thus gaining Southwest's backing. Anyway, that's a long tanget. Read about it here if you like:


Posted by: Nick at February 10, 2004 6:24 PM

I did read the Dallas article (it is interesting, thank you for pointing it out) and it reminded me of another impediment to fast rail: idiotic laws passed by legislators influenced by airline, highway, municipal, and real estate interests.

Posted by: Person of Choler at February 11, 2004 7:22 AM

I was thinking... there might be a way to at least get around airline lobbying. Codesharing!

We all know that short-distance flights are horribly inefficient and unprofitable, but airlines keep them around because eliminating them would also eliminate passengers for their profitable, long-distance connecting flights. I.e. if I want to fly from Kalamazoo, MI to Los Angeles (via Chicago), and United Airlines discontinues the Kzoo-Chicago leg of it, I might use American Airlines instead - but then I'll *also* use American for the Chicago-L.A. leg, and United has lost me as a customer.

So instead of trying to out-lobby the airlines in the short-distance market (which I think is hopeless), what if the midwestern high-speed rail company could work out a "codeshare" agreement with the airlines? The airlines could buy blocks of seats on the trains and sell them to their customers as "connecting flights".

- The airlines win by finding a much more cost-effective way of moving their passengers over sub-500 mile distances;
- The rail system wins by selling a whole bunch of tickets - essentially having a whole bunch of would-be airline passengers funneled right to them!
- The passengers win by having more reliable "connecting flights" (fewer weather-related cancellations), *much* more comfortable seats and by arriving right at the heart of their destination (rather than the airport). Oh, also the overall ticket price would end up being lower. Although, in some cases, a connecting train ride would take somewhat longer than an actual flight over the same distance.

Of course, the catch is that there have to be convenient train stations inside the major airports (or very, very close to them), but given the proposed alignment for the midwestern high-speed rail, it shouldn't be too difficult to arrange (the trains can be routed right by the airports in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Mpls - St. Paul, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Cleveland).

Posted by: Qualimony at March 9, 2004 6:58 AM