History and Stupidity of Railroads
Airplanes also are plagued by delays in bad weather. A storm in the Midwest will wipe out schedules in half of the US as planes back up and flights are canceled in San Francisco. With all the problems of flying, my wife has been wanting to take a train going into the big city. Right at first a train sounds like a good idea. Trains aren't so dependent on weather. They load in old stations in the center of town. They take 5 hours to travel the same distance, and for short to medium trips the total time is competitive with air travel. Trains have significant advantages over flying. The seats are larger and more comfortable. You aren't all crammed into half size seats like sardines in a tin can. You can get up and walk up and down to stretch your legs. You can go to the snack bar and buy a sandwich or soda if you get hungry or thirsty. You don't have the hair raising takeoffs and landings. The windows are larger so you can see the country as you go by. Your “carbon footprint” for a seat mile on a train is much lower than in an airplane. Overall a train would be the be choice way of travel for short and medium trips. It has numerous advantages.
But there is a problem. The train companies have abandoned passengers.
GETTING TO THE STATION: If you drive to the train station you won't have to pay the high parking prices of the airport parking garage. There is no parking garage, no lot, no place to park at all. You can't drive to the train station and park your car. There also is no off-site parking lots with bus service to the station. You might as well forget that.
SCHEDULES: If you want to take a train at a convenient schedule you are in luck, if you really enjoy 3 AM red eye departures. In our city they don't even open the train station until midnight. The passenger trains coming and going all run between 12:30 AM and 2:45 AM. Is that a convenient hour for passengers or what? Would any man or woman get up and drive to the station to leave on a trip at 2:45 AM if they had a choice? Does any airline or bus company schedule their trips at 2:45 AM for the convenience of the customer?
Trains have a lot of advantages over air transportation for short and medium distances, but the railroad companies have never used anything but history and stupidity for management. The railroads have whined for years that passenger trains were killed by automobiles and airplanes, but that is a very narrow and wrong claim. Passenger trains were killed by bad management of the railroads. For the whole century from 1850 to 1950 the railroad barons had enjoyed a monopoly position on transportation. Passengers had to put up with their crap or walk. Sure, on a few lines they competed with each other. You had a choice of rail lines between Chicago and New York City. But for most of the rest of the country there was only one train, and we passengers had to conform or walk. That monopoly arrogance still dominates the railroad today.
Before cars and air transportation were competing effectively, the trains had a monopoly attitude. Back when I was a child I remember going to the train station at midnight with my parents to welcome my uncle, aunt, and cousins who were coming to visit. How many parents with small children want to be out at the train station at midnight? Not very many. Not very many people without children would travel at midnight given a choice. By the 1960s passengers could choose airlines and buss that traveled in the daytime. Airlines and buss lines had to compete by offering convenience for the passengers. They didn't have the luxury of telling the passengers “My way or the highway.” By the 1960s, too many passengers had the option of taking the highway. Eventually the arrogance and monopoly management of the railroads drove off most of their paying passengers. Passenger trains went from a big profit market to a money losing legacy in the US.
In response to the demise of the money losing trains the US Government created a tax funded money losing monopoly railroad passenger service, Amtrack. Amtrack gets paid more per passenger carried than the price of an airplane ticket, If you read the Amtrack budgets and whining to Congress it looks very much like rail passenger service is a money losing business. The costs per passenger are much greater than they can charge for tickets. But the kicker in the whine is the “per passenger.” Most railroad costs are fixed per train, not per passenger. A train with twice as many cars carrying twice as many passenger costs little more than the same train with only a few half empty cars. Passenger trains lose money because the monopoly policies of the railroad minds have not changed. Their arrogance and poor service has driven off the passengers.
The only part of the US where passenger trains sill operate at a profit is the eastern corridor between Washington, DC and Boston, MA. Trains run in daylight, catering to passengers. It takes little longer to go by train from NYC to Boston than to fly, and has many advantages. The same comfort and convenience could make profits and serve the public in many other areas, but arrogant monopolistic thinking of the robber barons still dominates railroading. They still base their management on history and stupidity. In my part of the US, the trains are still being run as if long distance, cross continent travel is the only reason for rail travel. That was marginally the case a century ago when rails first joined California to the east, but the railroad barons have not progressed into the last half of the twentieth century. Trains averaging 50 mph cannot compete with a 500 mph airplane on a 2,000 mile trip. The idiots who run trains don't care, they get government subsidies to provide useless and unwanted rail service at 2:45 AM.
There is a big business opportunity here, and between many nearby cities. A “light rail” train could be operated back and forth between cities during daylight hours. Passenger trains don't need to be the same structural weight as freight cars which hold a hundred tons of freight. Each train could easily carry as many passengers as 2 or 4 of the airplanes that now fly back and forth between nearby cities. The crew of 1 train would be fewer and lower paid than the air “captains” who drive the buses of the sky. Less fuel cost, less crew cost, less terminal cost, and less security cost would all give the trains an economic advantage. Trains could easily provide benefits in passenger comfort and convenience that airplanes cannot. Trains could stop in 3 or 4 convenient places along the line through the city instead of making all the passengers drive 10 or 20 miles out of town to catch a plane. There are many advantages of rail transportation on short trips between nearby cities.
Car parking lots or garages could be provided near train stations. Parking lots are another profitable business that railroads today don't even provide. It would even be possible for railroads to allow passengers to bring their cars on the train for an additional fee. Having our car when we get there instead of having to rent one is a huge advantages the airlines could never hope to match. The cost of bringing the car along would only have to be competitive with car rental costs.
Travel time on a train would be less than total time for air travel on shorter trips. Travel time would be approximately equal to air or bus service for medium distances. Only for long distances does the airplane have a serious advantage. The greater speed of airplanes overcomes the 4 hour airport time in distances over 400 miles. Today's cross country Amtrack trains will probably never be feasible or economic. It just doesn't make economic sense to spend 4 days on a train across the country when you can be there today on a plane. But it does make economic sense to travel in greater comfort and safety on short trips when the total time is about equal.
Bob, for one, hates airplanes. I hate the sardine cans. I hate the cramped seats. I hate the confinement. I hate having to be crammed shoulder against shoulder with strangers in seats that are only designed to cram as many people as possible into a small space. I hate the personal insult of the security checks, and the “special” security checks. I hate not being able to carry my pocket knife, and to be searched like a common dog. I hate opening my luggage and finding it all disheveled by the baggage searching. When I'm going to the big city I would love to have a passenger friendly comfortable train to ride instead of the sardine cans in the sky. I want decent railroad passenger service. It is just not being offered today.