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Trump To Tell Amtrak to Ditch Trains for Buses on longer Routes.

I read that Trump wants Amtrak to withdraw long distance trains and for Coaches to be used instead. Strange that with most of the developed world switching to super fast trains and even building new lines, that the Americans are still stuck in the dark ages and think that road transport is the best form of surface transport.
https://www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/buses-to-replace-long-distance-amtrak-trains-under-trump-budget-proposal.html

Posted by
740 posts

Even in Europe no one takes High Speed Rail very far.. Paris to Rome is about 880 miles and most folks today take an airplane. To put that into perspective that distance from Detroit gets me into the Middle of Kansas or just into Florida. Heck I can travel 650 miles and not leave Michigan!
The reality is that the US is just spread to far for practical high speed rail. Add in that our rail system is owned by a number of separate freight railroads and things get harder.
And the US will never pay for High Speed Rail Nationally as most of the country is so far away from any given proposed line that they will never use it so thier representatives will not vote for it.
Counties in Europe are much smaller so then can start with a relatively short line or two and have a large enough population base within range of that line to get approval. But in the US any 800 mile line would still leave 40+ states not involved so the Congressmen from those 40 states vote no.
As for killing what we have currently. It is hard to complain about the budget then say we should subsidize a money losing train system that 99% of the population will never use.

I have traveled all over the US from north to south and east coast to west coast but I have never taken a train to get from point A to point B and I doubt I am alone in that.
Don’t get me wrong I love passenger trains but they are not practical in general in the US with a few noticeable exceptions. And unless the train can break even the question of why Michigan should help subsidize a train running up the East coast will be brought up. And Michigan’s congressional representatives will tend to vote against it.
And even in Germany and France a LOT of folks drive on the expressway.

Posted by
15545 posts

As has been stated, the U.S. is just too big to have an extensive passenger rail network.

For short distances.....Boston to NY or NY to Washington-- the train can make more sense than flying. But it is very expensive to take a train across the country--if you want to actually sleep--and takes a few days. You can fly it for much less and in only a few hours.

Perhaps Amtrak should stick to short trips and sightseeing journeys to make money. And on those short trips, upgrade to using the Acela high(er) speed trains.

In regard to surface transport, yes, America was designed for the Automobile. We love our cars. Is it the best, who knows, but it is much cheaper to operate a car in the U.S. than it is in Europe where gas alone is much more expensive.

Posted by
7050 posts

Just to put some context around this, the article isn't as explicit as it should be, but I bet it's referring to the most unprofitable rural routes in the system where the operating subsidies are higher than the norm (every route requires an operating subsidy, but there are some that are real outliers). There have been countless efforts to kill those routes but Congressmen representing those areas won't let it come to pass. It's similar to the post office in that it costs a lot to serve certain areas but the post office is mandated to deliver mail to them and any effort to close a tiny post office that serves a minuscule population is met with utmost resistance. Would high speed rail work everywhere in the US? The answer is "no" - it works where you have population and employment density like the Northeast Rail Corridor (DC to Boston). Even on that corridor, there is no truly uniform high-speed rail level of service because the tracks are shared with the freights, and passenger rail doesn't run on its own tracks. Amtrak is frequently delayed and is pretty much a third rate system. Acela isn't even worth paying for due to the marginal time savings relative to higher price.

Trump wants to ditch everything that doesn't make money because that is his sole criterion for public policy; he's purely transactional, doesn't understand the concept of public good or operating subsidies, and the fact that even the most successful train systems in the world (except for about three or so) require some level of operating fund subsidies. Having said that, no doubt that long distance buses are cheaper than running hard rail over a network and maintaining that network in areas where the ridership is pathetic. There could be a case made for moving people more cheaply in some areas. But rail is underinvested even in the most profitable corridor in the Northeast, which is a real head scratcher. The politicos would rather sacrifice substantial economic gains from having an efficient system on the most highly utilized and profitable corridor than to fund the tunnels that lead to Penn Station which is a real mess.

America was designed for the Automobile. We love our cars.

That's the typical rural-urban divide that doesn't take into account current trends in urban areas (or an ad from the car and oil companies, which incidentally helped dismantle rail to begin with). Need to look at actual data. Less and less younger folks living in urban areas are interested in owning cars. I only drive mine once a week or so, and could live without it. Cities of all kinds are redesigning their physical environments to accommodate multiple modes of travel. Where I live, electric scooters are everywhere for the short trips.

Posted by
1989 posts

To the other posters, China is already running high speed trains and has the longest routes in the world. To say that America can't do it because of the distance is laughable and why the state of Amtrak is what is it is. Even Acela pales to the high speed rail service in Europe. Our country would rather spend money on military than transportation.

Posted by
7050 posts

It is hard to complain about the budget then say we should subsidize a
money losing train system that 99% of the population will never use.

Over 17% of the US population lives along the northeastern corridor and the ridership on that corridor is high. I think some posters don't realize how heavily urbanized some parts of the country are. But the real Amtrak losses are of course on other corridors which are much less dense and have low (and declining) ridership.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_megalopolis

Ridership stats:
https://www.railpassengers.org/all-aboard/tools-info/ridership-statistics/

PS. Remember Obama's budget blue print for investment in high-speed rail networks throughout the country? A lot of that 2009 stimulus money went to the furthest-ahead rail corridors, including the high speed system in California which has just been pared wayyy back (and Trump wants to claw back billions of $ that went into that system).

Posted by
4637 posts

Exactly. China is about the size of the US and has many high speed rail-lines all over the country. But it has four times as many people as the US and interstate highways would not solve the problem. Neither in many areas of this country. There is very little willingness in this country to invest into infrastructure like Europe or China do. In many aspects we are already behind them. It seems to me that politics and ideology play bigger role than science in this country than in Europe or China.

Posted by
3295 posts

It seems to me that politics and ideology play bigger role than science in this country than in Europe or China.

That's the most spot-on comment I've ever read on this Forum!

Posted by
1224 posts

I would absolutely take trains around the US rather than flights if they were as good as what I've found in Europe. I love train travel!

Posted by
3240 posts

I think Heather is right on:

To the other posters, China is already running high speed trains and has the longest routes in the world. To say that America can't do it because of the distance is laughable and why the state of Amtrak is what is it is. Even Acela pales to the high speed rail service in Europe. Our country would rather spend money on military than transportation.

We travel on Amtrak regularly. We love the long distance trains as do a lot of people. The present President is doing everything he can to degrade the long distance lines. He's a former President of Delta, if that gives you a clue. They are chasing away those who are willing to pay the highest prices. It is a great way to travel cross country that is not properly marketed by Amtrak.

We need an infrastructure that is not solely based on the airplane or automobile. Things happen. The infrastructure needs to be there for when it is needed. Fewer and fewer people want to bother with automobiles. I'm one of them.

Posted by
23425 posts

The new gorilla in the room is the self-drive vehicle along with some of the advance technology for moving vehicles. It seems to me that except for the NE corridor, fixed rail could be just that - fixed. There is a need for rapid transit between major cities and population centers. But that mode is open for a lot of discussion. Personally think there is a major revolution coming in personal transportation but seeing over the horizon is difficult.

Posted by
2446 posts

Many thanks everybody who has contributed to my post thus far.

Regarding autonomous car transport:- yes this can increase safety by keeping vehicles a certain distance apart but in congested areas you will still have the problem of where to park all the private cars. Also note the traffic jams that occur at peak times getting in and out of major conurbations. You can see the live jams on Google maps by switching on the Traffic option from the menu bars at the top right.

Mention has been made of the lower population density in many parts of the USA compared to Europe & China. This can work in your favour as land is thus cheaper to acquire for building high speed lines and it is easier to avoid settlements where such trains would not stop.

In the UK they are just starting to build a new high speed line (250mph) linking London with Birmingham. Phase 2 will then provide 2 routes going further north - one to Manchester with a link to the west coast line to Glasgow and the other going to Leeds with connection to the East Coast Main Line to Newcastle and Edinburgh. It is extremely costly because of the high land prices and difficult due to the need to avoid villages en-route. Once open, it would surely attract even more people off the roads than the present 125mph trains on these routes due to the increased speeds. This has been the case in other countries which have introduced high speed trains.

In Britain, far fewer people use long distance buses/coaches because they are only going at about 60 mph and frequently get jammed on the motorways (interstates) and have to crawl into the centres of cities. The railways are far more popular despite the higher prices.

More information on HS2 in Britain:>https://www.hs2.org.uk

Info on the California High Speed Rail Project:>https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/california/

Posted by
7050 posts

Mention has been made of the lower population density in many parts of
the USA compared to Europe & China. This can work in your favour as
land is thus cheaper to acquire for building high speed lines and it
is easier to avoid settlements where such trains would not stop.

Sadly, there are issues (cost overruns, mismanagement, and retreats) even in the most politically supportive environments for rail, like California, where there was massive resistance for years even though the train was going through really rural areas in the Central Valley. I'll look forward to seeing how the entirely privately financed train from Houston to Dallas performs (assuming it gets fully built and operational in the near future). There are also links in the works along the Southern Florida coast.
https://www.curbed.com/2019/2/15/18225441/california-high-speed-rail-gavin-newsom

Posted by
23425 posts

...you will still have the problem of where to park all the private cars. ..... Not necessarily so. That assumes all of the self driving cars are in fact privately owned. There is another way to think about it. No private vehicles. Could be generic vehicles stored in garages. On demand call much like Uber. You want to go somewhere. You order it on a communication device like a smart phone, the vehicle arrives at your door, you ride to your destination, and it goes to a near by garage to await the next call. With computers the best utilization of the vehicle is obtained. Read somewhere that average US car spends nearly 2/3 of it's life setting still. Personally think that the private ownership of a private vehicle is nearing the end. - a couple of decades or less. Something like the transition from horses to cars.

Posted by
7394 posts

Frank, that’s exactly what I have been thinking. Once cars are self-driving, there’s no need to own one. It would be very easy for them to be on an on-call system. Garages of the future - will they even have them?

Posted by
5355 posts

One factor about Amtrak and even many of the other American train services is that they maintain very labour-intensive operational practices compared with modern rail systems elsewhere (eg staffed stations for one train a day, loads of staff on trains to manually open doors individually etc) which makes them grindingly inefficient. It is like they have preserved the 1930s in aspic. USA rail operations also have an especially bad accident record on international comparisons.

Posted by
7050 posts

This recent article in the NYT (see link below) got a host of ridicule in the comments section because it is heavily urban-centric to suggest everyone will drop their cars and use ridesharing services. I get it, but I don't expect people in rural areas who have to drive to anything and everything (including even the nearest hospital) - or those folks who need commercial-sized trucks for work and hauling things - to suddenly turn to Uber. Uber's own business model may be not live on - every ride does not pay for its full cost and is heavily subsidized by investors and the drivers (not sustainable in the long-term). I think the rideshare models will continue to evolve over time. But still, the trends are clearly shifting away from private car ownership, and it is doable in urban areas as those environments become more accommodating of other ways of getting around.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/opinion/end-of-cars-uber-lyft.html

Posted by
824 posts

@Heather - China is also the worlds fastest growing passenger air-travel market because affluent Chinese are tired of wasting their time riding trains great distances.

Rail travel has an advantage in narrow set of circumstances and a healthy transportation systems prioritize transportation options whose strengths outweighed those of the competition.

It's just too bad that the third largest city in the USA (Chicago) doesn't have dedicated express rail access to the third (O'Hare) and 27th (Midway) busiest airports in the world (like the other great cities of the world). Chicago can't even connect their two commuter rail hubs together so passengers can get from Amtrak, O'Hare or Midway to half the commuter rail lines without walking blocks through the rain and snow or standing in the weather to get a bus. If you really want to get peeved, google "Chicago Block37 Station."

My point is; effective, efficient and productive transportation isn't about a single "buzzword" idea; it's about picking the best solutions to meet the needs of the traveling public.

Posted by
6538 posts

I won't comment on the politics, but I'd like to point out that there are high speed trains in Russia, so you can't really use size as an argument. And I started thinking, what would the travel times be between major US cities with the same average speed as modern European high speed trains? Here are a few examples:

  • Los Angeles to San Fransisco: 2 h 30 min
  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas: 1 h 30 min
  • Chicago to Minneapolis/St Paul: 2 h 20 min
  • Chicago to New York: 5 h 10 min
  • Atlanta to Miami: 4 h
Posted by
33124 posts

There was reference upthread to the UK HS2 running at 250mph.

The maximum expected speed (only in certain areas, slower elsewhere) is expected to be 320 kmh which is 198.84 mph. Most higher speed trains in the UK now regularly do 110 to 125 mph over vast stretches. When the original plans were put in for the Virgin Trains takeover of the West Coast Mainline (still operated for the moment by Virgin Trains) the then Railtrack guaranteed 140 mph. So that's only 60 mph faster than the track was designed for, and the only thing holding back the West Coast Mainline is the signalling system.

Posted by
14580 posts

Agree! D'accord !

Admittedly, on the topic of covering long distances in the US I have taken the long distance bus, ie Greyhound, several times r/t from SF to downtown Los Angeles. or in the earlier 1990s Knoxville to Memphis, Atlanta to Montgomery, AL to name a few of the routes on Greyhound far more times than going by with Amtrak.

That does not mean at all that going long distance in the US the Amtrak option is precluded, say if I were in New Orleans and want to go Austin, take Amtrak, or if I have to, fly. Amtrak budget need to be enhanced.

The super fast trains...where in the world? France, China, Japan? Still, in Europe by day or night, the connections are fast enough, either with one transfer, say going from Cologne to Warsaw or direct, Hamburg to Vienna. True, the ICE is not as fast as the TGV.

Posted by
7209 posts

Did somebody above make a comment that most people prefer flying??? Surely not! Flying is hellish these days and until last week I didn’t think it could get any worse than Atlanta airport. Then I happened to fly through Chicago which made Atlanta look decent.

I’m rather doubtful that most people prefer flying. And if they do that’s probably because no decent train system is available.

Posted by
8590 posts

As long as the government, oil companies, and the airline and auto industries work together to keep fuel prices low, rail wont be competitive in the US. Amtrak doesn't have the lobbyists to get politicians to think long-term.

Posted by
9106 posts

You can add AAA to the mix. They actively lobby DC and state capitals to end subsidizes to Amtrak and other mass transit projects. Which is why I will never give them a cent. Road Side assistance coverage can easily be had from other organizations.

Posted by
276 posts

Tim... I most definitely prefer to fly over any land transport. I avoid certain airports like the plague though. Having a two week vacation why in the world would I pick land transport.

Posted by
11382 posts

https://delawarebusinessnow.com/2019/02/those-costly-long-distance-amtrak-trains/

Amtrak management is making noises about cutting back or axing its unprofitable long-distance trains in favor of investing in a Northeast Corridor route that pays its own way.

The Wall Street Journal reported the pressure comes from new Amtrak CEO, Richard Anderson, a tough-minded executive who formerly ran Delta Airlines.

Seems the President is being given too much credit

Posted by
14580 posts

In the Cold War days in the 1970s and 1980s I went from westGermany to Berlin, each time and back by flying, flew BEA from the Hannover to the westBerlin corridor, but once from the Hamburg to Berlin corridor. The two other choices were flying from Munich or Frankfurt, which obviously was more expensive.

Flight duration from both cities Hamburg and Hannover was about the same, ca. 35 mins, did this journey in 1971, '73, then '84, twice in '87, and the last time in that tense summer of '89, ie who was to know that the Wall would come down in Nov. That's a total of 12 flights r/t.

My impressions in the 1980s that the flying option was a complete waste of time when all aspects are taken into account.

I did it mainly because with the exchange rate with the $ vis-a-vis the DM was decent or even good along with the basic flight price, plus I had absolutely no desire dealing with the East German border types (Vopos or others) day or night, although I did meet American backpackers who did the ride into East Germany to access Berlin at night.

Not until 1992 was I able to get back to Europe and to the post-Wall Germany, the East Germans no longer existed, etc. The Russians were still there.

I had to get back to Berlin, inconceivable not to do so, so I took the train instead, ie none of this flying option, which then was a combination of the DB and the old Reichsbahn. Of course, the train with the rail infrastructure then was nowhere as fast as it is today, say going from Hamburg to Berlin on the ICE.

Posted by
4171 posts

Thanks for thinking of us, Agnes.

"...people in rural areas who have to drive to anything and everything (including even the nearest hospital) - or those folks who need commercial-sized trucks for ... hauling things..."

We chose to live where we do, but it is about 32 miles and about 45 minutes to the closest hospital as well as to downtown Tucson. The closest grocery store is about 36 miles and 40 minutes.

We're getting ready to do our annual trip to WA, via UT. Total miles -- 1620, driving a one-ton dually, hauling a 30 foot (including the tongue) race trailer. This is our kind of active retirement, totally unsuited to any kind of public transportation, electric or driverless vehicle yet designed.

A friend once asked me why when I live where I do (on a dirt road in a very quiet area with the 2nd most restrictive light regulations in the county due to the observatory we can see from our living room) I like to go to crowded, noisy, busy, well lit Europe and use public transportation.

Because it's different, yet familiar in some ways. Growing up in San Antonio, we walked to the grocery store and rode the bus downtown to shop. I was imprinted early on, I guess. I've taken the train in some parts of the US and I took the bus from San Antonio to Hampton NH and back. I've also driven in most of the US. To me, it's all good.

Since I like to drive, or to navigate when my husband drives, I really don't see the point of driverless cars. And I don't think I will live to see totally electric cars or the infrastructure to support them on the backroads I like to travel.

I think a robust rail system is possible in the US and I'd love to see one, but unless there are some amazing technological changes and some very significant attitudinal ones, I doubt that even our grandchildren will see any progress toward one.

Posted by
14157 posts

Interesting discussion. I live about 1.5 hours south of jvb in the Idaho Panhandle in a car-centric locale. Nearest grocery store to my town of 800 is 12 miles away. No Uber etc altho someone allegedly calling himself “YourPersonalLift” (my brother, haha) gave me a ride to the airport on Tuesday (40 miles away) but he was going to Costco and to do some birding and other errands as well.

Back in another lifetime I took the train a number of times from Central FL to DC ( both AutoTrain and Amtrak) with neutral to yucky trips but no recent personal experience. A nephew was going to grad school in WI and took the train home several times generally with delays of 6 hours or so as the Amtrak got shunted to a siding for the freight trains from the North Dakota oil patch to go thru. It happened regularly enough that I wondered why they just didn’t change the scheduled time to 6 hours later to cover it.

The issues I see as a resident of the Inland Northwest are

  • the lateness,

  • the fact that the nearest train station is in Spokane (also 1.5 hours away) and

  • the trains arrive and depart in the hours after midnight and I would NOT, NOT, NOT be comfortable in that area at that time of night whereas I would be comfortable at an airport in that time frame

  • (perhaps THE most important reason) the train doesn’t go where I want to go. My most frequent US destination is Yellowstone and a car is essential for touring that park even if there were a stop closer than SLC. They tried a shuttle bus system there a few years ago and it was a dismal failure. Very difficult to cover 300 miles of paved road with a useful system. Much easier somewhere like Zion that has one shorter Canyon to access many of the main sites.

I DO take trains in Europe and enjoy the experience of getting from city to city.

Editing to add: Cross posted with Lo. I agree with everything she says. I, too, enjoy driving. The 9-hr drive to Yellowstone is one of my favorites. I don’t have much call for city driving but I avoid it like the plague. I can manage to negotiate I405 in Seattle to get to family’s home in Edmonds but don’t ask me to drive downtown!! If I have to go thru SLC for some reason I’ll try to do it at 5A!

Posted by
2446 posts

Pam (above) mentions the Amtrak train getting shunted into a siding to let the freight trains go through. This would never happen in Europe. The freight trains get pulled into loops to let the passenger trains shoot through or the very fast passenger trains have their own dedicated high speed lines once clear of cities. You will also find 4 tracks in many places = 2 in each direction thus catering for express trains and commuter trains plus freight.

Mention has been made of autonomous cars and that we would not need to actually purchase cars. The trouble with that is the car has to come to your place to pick you up - so that is a wasted journey as it is taking up road capacity and using fuel. It is the same with taxis - the journey is pick you up is a waste compared to just getting in your own car and going wherever and then returning back to your home.

Great responses so far. Whether you are out in the sticks or in a congested city - keep it coming!