Do We Really Care About Trains?

The train from Beijing to Shanghai goes 200 miles per hour. Amtrak’s Acela Express train from Washington D.C. to New York goes half that on a good day. But our erstwhile stimulus package of 2009 has a lot of money designated to make us slightly better than mediocre in rail.

They are upgrading the service between Chicago and St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Miami to Orlando and Tampa, and that hot rail market between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Train travel is fun. Security is not as annoying as at airports, and fares are pretty reasonable. My question is whether we can afford the cost of upgrading a third rate passenger rail system to a second rate one. Our interstate highway system is excellent, air transportation is still high caliber, so do we need to spend billions on passenger rail?

Anyone for buses?

Question: Do you care about high speed rail?

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16 thoughts on “Do We Really Care About Trains?

  1. AvatarJeremy Kennedy

    Yes we should care, the rail market has been neglected for decades from further advancment in the states. It is by far the most economical way to travel and haul freight. Not every one has the money to pay for the outragious ticket prices of a flight nor do they have the transportation to get from city to city. So invest and keep investing.

  2. AvatarSarah

    I agree with Jeremy, we most definitely should care. Though you or I may not think it’s the best idea to travel by train, it does allow people that would otherwise not travel a great opportunity to do so. Writing articles like this really make you seem out of touch. I would expect Rush Limbaugh to throw something like this out there.

  3. AvatarGil Martello

    If you want a 200 mph train the roadbeds for them would require that we totally rebuild the ones we have now, which are inadequate for high speed. Then new contracts would be required with the rail unions to minimize train crews and outdated work rules. Then you would have to convince people to ride them and get them out of their cars. I think our new governor, John Kasich, had the right idea, new rail sytems are a boondoggle.

  4. AvatarMike

    HS rail might be a good thing, but not worth the cost IMO. If it is picked up and built by private industry then so be it. If the government is involved in ANY way, it will end up like AMTRAK, mega bucks in the hole, and us left to bail out another management failure. I say keep the highway system up to par, it is still the easiest and cheapest way to travel in thei country as far as I’m concerned.

  5. AvatarDan Dow

    A while back i heard a radio commentator discussing modifying tractor-trailer trucks to ethanol. His suggestion was to modify them to trains. Considering the amount of fuel consumed by trucks, a train comprised of 50 cars could haul as much cross country as 100 trucks for 1/2 the fuel consumption (that’s opinion, not a scientific study’s conclusion). Add to that the fact the number of highway accidents that are caused by truckers, and having trains instead of trucks haul goods cross-country makes a lot of sense. They wouldn’t have to travel 200 MPH; 100 MPH is faster than (most) truckers drive anyway.

    Yes. Upgrade the railroads and begin phasing out the cross country truckers.

  6. AvatarT. Bitsky

    Not only should the US care about trailing the rest of the world technologically EVER, we should care about the jobs that an upgrade to the US rail system would (and will) bring.
    It’s time for some in this country to start looking at the bigger picture.
    And California is very grateful to John Kasich…..the funds he moronically refused are going to California. Of course, Ohio doesn’t need jobs so they can afford Kasich, right?

  7. AvatarRichard Rudy

    You’re so right, Lloyd. US trains are decidedly third-rate, and there is NO point in spending a lot of money to improve them to second-class. Intercity train travel is fun, I suppose, if you can “take it as it comes”. If you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. And don’t mind sharing your ride with rude or noisy fellow travelers.

    It’s true: highways and airways got to their superiority over rail travel largely by government subsidy. But that was then and this is now. I see no reason to repeat the mistake with high speed trains.

    High speed train travel is the shimmering chimera pursued by big-government, make-no-small-plans people who thrive on spending other people’s money on grand social engineering projects. And make no mistake, that’s what “high speed rail” is all about. It’s people who don’t want, need, or value independence in their transportation instructing the rest of us how we should travel. Telling us, as usual, that they know better how we should move around. And they’re prepared to spend a lot of our money to prove it to us. Let’s be environmentally aware, let’s be part of a community of travelers instead of anti-social drivers, let’s pretend we’re making a difference. And for God’s sake let’s do what the Europeans do; they’ve really got it going on. Pay no attention to spending more billions that we don’t have on a system that very few American’s will use.

    It’s sort of like the government’s push for ethanol as a motor fuel. Great idea! You know, keep the money at home, less dependence on the sheiks, dinosaur guts bad, corn good, blah, blah. Then after hundreds of billions in subsidies the mavens (like Al Gore, one of the biggest boosters of ethanol as an environment-saver) decide that maybe this wan’t such a great idea after all because, let’s see, it uses more energy to make than it delivers, it drives up food prices, it deforests land, and glory-osky, without government subsidies, nobody would use it. But I digress.

    Question: who besides a railfan will ride on a train for three or four hours on an inconvenient schedule when you can fly from Midway to St. Louis in little more than an hour, almost any time you want, for around a hundred bucks?

  8. AvatarAJ Reynolds

    My son and I have taken train trips for several years. We have been to several points in Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and even to Washington DC. We do it for the nostalgia and for the sights not seen from a road. It is not for saving a few bucks on travel. Across the US, personal travel was phased out during the years from 1950 through 1970 as roads and cars got better and more reliable.
    Do I care about high speed rail? Not in the least. Do I want part of our heritage preserved and maintained? You Betcha!!

  9. AvatarJim Whitney

    I am sure there are other similar routes in the U.S., but I have always thought there should be a “bullet train” from L.A. to Las Vegas. I have made that drive perhaps 100 times and it is always packed with people going to and from, horrific crashes happen often, if anyone were traveling at a safe speed it takes over 4 hours each way, and most importantly it could (and should) be subsudized by the hotels and casinos! A win-win for everyone.

  10. AvatarBen Guthrie

    I new a guy who was (telegraph) dispatcher in Fort Wayne for the Nickel Plate road. He told me the speed record for a Fort Wayne-to-Chicago passenger run was 115mph average, back in the day of good tracks & steam power.
    CSX advertises that they move a ton of freight just under 500mi on 1gal fuel. They need to talk about how much they need to charge to restore the infrastructure they operate on. I don’t think passenger service can fund the restoration.

  11. AvatarDaniel Richter

    So far, all that’s been proposed is a patchwork. Milwaukee to Madison? Tampa to Orlando? Come on. The infrastructure would be hundreds of billions if not trillions to build a nationwide system and we’re broke. We can’t even keep up the infrastructure we already have. We can’t seem to finish the upgrade to the Air Traffic Control System (Can anyone tell me why that’s going to cost $2.5B) and rail would provide an alternative, but what do you do when you get there. The airports have rental cars, etc. but the train stations, usually located in not so nice parts of town, have cabs if you’re lucky. Nice part is that it does take you into the city if that’s where you need to go vs. the airport on the outskirts or, in the case of the new Denver airport, worse. Would people use the train if they could get from NY to LA in 24 hours (with stops, etc.) vs. 5 hours on the bird? Amtrak is packed (and profitable) in the northeast corridor, but that’s the only place they (we) own the tracks so it’s reasonably efficient, but not reasonably priced (I can fly for half the price). It took 9 hours for me to get from Baltimore to Pittsburgh on Amtrak since we were on the freight train tracks west of Harrisburgh, PA but I can drive it in 3-1/2 and fly in an hour (plus getting to the airport, security, etc.). The subway system in NY is profitable and the commuter trains there (LIRR, NJ Transit, Metro North) are packed. In Baltimore, our rail “system” and I use that term loosely is terrible. It’s again, a patchwork and was too expensive to build and poorly planned. I like trains, so I’m biased and as much as I would love to see us have a first class, or maybe even a second class nationwide rail system, I don’t think we can afford it and even if we could, I don’t know that there is enough business to warrant it.

  12. AvatarDave Pence

    The rail infrastructure in this country is in dire need of overhaul. There are several problems we face in this country. The size of the country (Huge)and the population density (sparse) High Speed rail would never produce a profit for the railroads until petroleum prices skyrocket beyond what they are now in Europe. I think the law of diminishing returns applies here. We need a solid,safe and dependable rail system for freight and passenger service. We do not need 300 MPH trains to service low volume routes. We in this country have let the rail system degrade since the end of WW II. We will do the same to the interstate system as well.

  13. AvatarRobb Weinstein

    It is not a question regarding caring about trains, but what problem are we attempting to fix and can we afford it?

    Two states besides CA had the initiative and understanding to not whore themselves out to just say no to the federal funds.

    Our fine legislator in CA thinks they have a bottomless amount of money to spend which is why we are $28B in the hole.

    LA to SF is a joke. They will spend almost $10B for track to nowhere without the any trains at all.

  14. AvatarDon Rozino

    Let’s see…

    Spend hundreds of billions of dollars that we don’t have to upgrade our trains and put hundreds or thousands of truckers out of work? Doesn’t make much sense to me!

    When we crash the US currency, we will all be in bigger trouble than running a 3rd rate rail system!

    It just doesn’t make simple economic sense! It’ll be another loser like the Pittsburgh tunnel under the river that leaks! Big waste of money!

    Wake up fellow Americans… we need to cut spending and downsize the Federal Government… not inflate our dire predicament!


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