August 4, 2004

Improving Amtrak Where it Counts

Category: Transit

top_logo_amtrak.gifMilwaukee: Amtrak continues to writhe in debt and taxpayer subsidies. A certain amount of this is ok, but at the same time Amtrak should be focusing on areas where it can actually profit as well as provide a popular and useful service.

This has been accomplished on a handful of routes, most noteably the NE corridor, but also on the short line between Milwaukee and Chicago, known as the Hiawatha, which has been growing immensely in popularity. Amtrak plans to increase both speed and frequency on that route, and has recently broken ground on an additional station at Milwaukee's airport - this is a particularily good move given Chicago's need for a third airport.

Why is it brilliant? Because it's the sort of improvement that will actually see use, and more importantly profits. Short distance travel by train (<300 miles), if the train is fast and frequent enough, is a far more convinient mode of travel than flying or driving, satisfying leisure and business travelers alike. It's critical that we invest in train travel where we can, and watch the succes of the Hiawatha as a prototype for numerous other short distances.

ED NOTE: Frankly, as tragic as losing the novelty might be, scrapping subsidies for some of Amtrak's long distance trains might be a good idea. They are essentially tourist attractions costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year and serve virtually no one as a practical form of transportation.

Posted by Nick at August 4, 2004 8:53 AM

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 Comments:

How did it become conventional wisdom that funding
highways with tax dollars is reasonable, but a much
smaller amount of railway funding is a wasteful subsidy?

Posted by: Mark at August 4, 2004 11:39 PM

I think you should also revisit this third airport idea. If you see Jon Hilkevitch's column in the Chicago Tribune today, you will note that Chicago already has a third airport -- Chicago-Gary, just across the state border in Indiana and far more convenient than Peotone ever could be. And close to good existing rail and highway links. And in a depressed area that needs the rejuvenation, not greenfield farmland.

You also need to be more unequivocal about supporting rail subsidies, as the previous post notes. In areas that support corridor service, rail subsidies are more efficient and less environmentally destructive than road -- pure and simple. Price out expanding the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and New York versus expanding the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, in both cases for the same amount of extra traffic. I can assure you the rail plan is cheaper by an order of magnitude, and it goes faster than a car anyway.

Posted by: Daniel at August 9, 2004 6:57 AM

The "rail access" to Gary-Chicago is rudimentary ... at present there is a new sign on the country trolley shelter at Clark Road on the west side of Gary. The airport is on the other side of the Toll Road ... I don't know how far or in how safe a neighborhood ... and I didn't see any taxis or shuttle buses meeting the electric cars.The Milwaukee corridor, on the other hand, would achieve the fastest running times ever if those 65 minute timings materialize. Years ago the Milwaukee Road was toying with a 60 minute timing, nonstop.

Posted by: Stephen Karlson at August 23, 2004 6:16 PM

Yeah, i think that Gary is a logical choice for a 3rd Chicago airport and with a decent rail link, it could do wonders for Chicago and Gary (which sorely needs it). But, it so happens that Milwaukee has moved forward with the idea and Gary continues to lag. One additional advantage that Milwaukee has is that it's closer to the high-wealth northern Chicago suburbs which generate a lot more air travel than the south-side. But there's no reason the Gary couldn't establish itself as another viable option!

Posted by: Nick Aster [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 16, 2005 11:18 AM