Here's a perspective from the Chicago Sun-Times.
It is, I hope, widely understood that the carbon footprint of flying is very high. What might not be as widely understood is that the shorter routes tend to be the least efficient routes. On a short flight, the extra fuel-consumption of take-off and landing is shared out among fewer route miles.

And further, aircraft are less efficient flying through the denser air closer to the surface, and more efficient when they reach "cruising altitude". And of course, when flying from, say, Atlanta to Charlotte NC, or Columbus OH to Chicago, you spend the bulk of the flight either climbing to cruising altitude or descending from it.

And under present conditions, HSR [high-speed rail] demand focuses on trips of one to three hours, which are all short-haul flights in terms of flying. So not only can HSR be powered by sustainably generated electricity (either from the outset for 220mph Express HSR, or as part of ongoing upgrades, for 110mph Emerging HSR) ... but the flights they will replace are those that have a higher carbon footprint per route mile than the average for flying.
The environmental considerations are a plus for the trains. The relative inefficiency of those puddle-jumper planes sounds about right.
The commuter airline business model is unsustainable. And in the time it takes a passenger to make the schlep from security to one of the distant terminals, a passenger train leaving from a suburban Atlanta station could be as far as Columbia, S.C. enroute Raleigh or Birmingham enroute New Orleans.
Airlines have a boarding process, through one door. (I'm having flashbacks to those pigs toiling up the ramp in The Jungle.) Railroads have uniformed train crew at several doors, and All Abooooard!

The article takes a long time to note that connecting either of the Chicago airports to a Midwestern high speed rail network is difficult, because both airports are a long way from the most logical corridors.

The Milwaukee airport is another matter.
Mitchell has emerged as one of the country's fastest-growing airports by becoming a flashpoint for discount competition. It reported record passenger numbers in each of the last three months of 2009, a year when many other big U.S. airports saw steep declines.

Helping drive Mitchell's popularity is AirTran Airways, which believes the airport can be bigger still. The discount airline says it can help turn Mitchell into a long-sought third Chicago airport, joining O'Hare and Midway.

Sound crazy?

Not so, says AirTran, which has steadily expanded its Milwaukee hub the last five years.

"Part of our strategy is to reach down into that northern Illinois area," AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro says. "Within 60 miles of Milwaukee, there are about 3½ million people. Part of the market certainly extends into northern Chicago. So we think there's a lot of potential from north Chicago."

Mitchell Airport director Barry Bateman estimates that nearly a million of Milwaukee's 8 million passengers come from Illinois.

AirTran isn't the only carrier operating out of Milwaukee that has its eye on travelers from Chicago's north suburbs and has thoughts of making the airport one they'd embrace. Midwest Airlines, which also operates a hub at Milwaukee, does, too.
And six or seven times a day a Hiawatha calls at the airport. Seventy-eight miles and 74 minutes away from Chicago, 60 miles and 52 minutes away from Glenview. Sometime in the near future, 46 miles and 31 minutes away from Watertown. (Don't get me started on that "emerging" HSR. Give me 15A and 15B and a rake of nine coaches, a Super Dome, a cafe car, a parlor, and a Skytop Lounge -- or anything you see in these pictures -- and I'll get those Air Tran transfers to Glenview in 40 minutes.)


David Karlson said...

The only problem with your MKE to Glenview Choo-Choo is that they DON'T have the Parlor, Skyview or dining car. (Or a pretty FA to sell you your choice of adult beverage). I would hop that oversite would be corrected. And I still don't like the ongoing operating costs that won't be covered by Zippy's stimulus money.

Stephen Karlson said...

Fine, let's privatize the highways and treat the subsidies to aviation as the tax breaks for the rich that they are. Under those circumstances, my Hiawatha will cover its full costs out of fare receipts, and it won't take any stimulus money.

Did you know that Congress and the state departments of transportation are reluctant to appropriate any money for trains to operate diners and First Class cars (that is, outside of routes that serve D.C. or state capitals?)

David Karlson said...

Now hold on there professor. The feds collect an excise tax on every passenger ticket the airlines sell, and charge Rush Limbaugh something like $0.20 per gallon of gas that he puts through EIB-1. Those taxes are supposed to go toward funding the air traffic control system and for improvements to the airports and airways. Unfortunately, the "Aviation Trust Fund" is as real as the "Social Security Trust Fund" and those taxes that are supposed to go toward the aviation infrastructure are comingled in the general fund and squandered by congress.

While I agree that riding a train to nearer destinations like Chicago or Madison can make the trip much easier than driving, the current plan for the Milwaukee to Madison rail line doesn't get me anywhere near the capitol and it would be easier, cheaper and less expensive to drive, even in my Eddie Fitz II.

If we are going to spend all this money, is it too much to ask that the new rail lines actually make the trip more convenient and that the ongoing revenues cover the expenses? And, does it really make sense to spend $800,000,000 to create 55 permanent jobs?

Stephen Karlson said...

Neither the highway trust fund nor the air transportation taxes come anywhere near covering the full costs of the road network, as research by state departments of transportation, including the one in Texas, has revealed.

$800m for better connectivity between Wisconsin cities and the Milwaukee airport and Chicago is likely to be a lot cheaper than adding yet another lane to I-94.

The national government is making a mistake talking about 55 jobs, and almost everybody who focuses on the train service is looking at Milwaukee to Madison in isolation. The real value is in those trips through Milwaukee, and in bringing the college kids and the lobbyists to Capitol Hill via the Yahara station.

And if you had to pay tolls for the use of the interstate, and took into account the full costs of running your car, the train would be cost competitive. (One of these days I'm going to find a column that compares the full cost of a new train with the avoidable cost of running a car and take the virtual red pen to it.)