2.2.10

TRAINS ARE USEFUL BECAUSE THEY MAKE INTERMEDIATE STOPS. Tonight's Passenger Rail roundup starts with a Wendell Cox polemic. He gets the sub-headline right. In some corridors, 'high-speed' rail won't be much faster than trains in the 1930s. We know that. Mr Cox, however, misses the opportunity to make the case for relaxing some of the safety regulations that make faster passenger trains less cost-effective than they have to be. Instead, he makes a number of arguments that don't withstand scrutiny.

Ridership in [European] markets has been bolstered by high gasoline prices and one-way highway tolls of $40 and $100, respectively. These and other foreign routes have attracted much of their ridership from a strong core of rail passengers that does not exist in the U.S.
When I want to be provocative, I provide the following formula for jump-starting high speed rail in the United States: a carbon and infrastructure tax of about $5 per gallon of gasoline, and time-of-day tolls on all Interstate highways. That strong core Mr Cox hints at is a response to incentives. My formula is deliberately provocative.

High-speed rail does little to unsnarl traffic jams because most highway congestion is within urban areas, not between them. It also has negligible impact on airport congestion. The world's strongest high-speed rail market, Tokyo to Osaka, is also one of the world's largest airline markets. Even with high-speed rail, there is still frequent air-shuttle service between Paris and Marseille.
The air shuttle doesn't do passengers in Avignon or Montpellier or Aix-en-Provence much good, but the TGV can serve those communities with a fast service that can load and unload through more than one door and be underway again in two minutes or so. To address highway congestion, the intercity train operators must coordinate their schedules with the regional train operators. Without any special efforts, Metra weekend suburban trains, which when I moved to DeKalb tended to be lightly-loaded three-car rakes, have turned into nine-car rakes frequently delayed by heavy passenger loadings. All Illinois does to discourage more driving is not build more roads. Better connectivity between Metra and the expanded Amtrak service is desirable.

The administration is planning on giving Florida $1.25 billion to build a Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail line. The train on that route is expected to hit speeds of 160 mph and to make a trip between the two cities in about 45 minutes.

This will be helpful if you happen to live in the Orlando Station and have business in the Tampa Station. But most travelers will be better off driving.

It's about 90 minutes by car, though it can be less depending on your home and destination. Once you factor in the time it would take to travel to the station, park, walk to the platform, and wait for the train to depart and also pick up a rental car on the other end, driving would probably be faster.

I'm not sure that argument generalizes to other corridors, such as the Chicago network or California, where a lot of the air travelers pick up rental cars at airports and where the passenger services, even at 1938 Hiawatha speeds, are time-competitive with the puddle-jumper aircraft.

Owen at Boots and Sabers gets part of the argument right.

As I’ve said in the past, I have to go to Madison on a fairly regular basis. I would LOVE to pay a couple of bucks to sit on a train and read, work, or nap as I get there. But given that the train would not drop me off where I actually need to go, requiring me to rent a car or cab it (plus parking, waiting for the train, etc.), the whole experience would be more hassle and expense than just jumping in my car and driving over there. But even if I rode the train, do y’all really want to subsidize my ride? I can certainly afford it, but why pay my own way of some suckers with float the bill?

The comparison with the Hiawatha line isn’t accurate. I’ve ridden that line many times. The drive to downtown Chicago is longer and traffic worse that makes the train more reliable. There are no such concerns between Milwaukee and Madison. Also, the concentration of likely destinations in downtown Chicago and ready access to cabs and the Metra make it convenient. But even in that case, 90% of the people on that train can afford to make their way to Chicago on their own and the rest of us are subsidizing their commute.
The issue isn't necessarily Milwaukee and Madison: the traveller in the Lake District with business in Chicago or possibly an international flight from O'Hare benefits by the train service, and that traveller is having his automotive commute subsidized by the taxes that provide for the interstate highways. The editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ought keep that intermediate stop traffic in mind.
Madison in particular will have to find a way to link the rail line's airport stop to the places people want to go, such as the University of Wisconsin and the Capitol. And the number of stops between Milwaukee and Madison probably should be reduced from three to two to provide better speed and efficiency.
Do you jettison Watertown or Oconomowoc or Brookfield? The Airport stop actually stimulated traffic on the Hiawatha service. Perhaps a commuter could drive from Brookfield to the airport and ride the train into Chicago from there. On the other hand, the mayor of Madison (via Political Environment) is on record as favoring the Yahara Station to provide somewhat easier access to Capitol Hill, the University, and the Kohl Center.
The Dane County Regional Airport has parking, access to rental cars and, of course, the airport itself. But another location around First Street is much closer to the downtown, has potential for transit oriented development, and could be the spark that kicks off an exciting redevelopment of the whole East Washington Avenue corridor.

The two stations would complement one another. For example, parking would be hard to provide around First Street, but there's plenty of room at the airport. And a First Street stop wouldn't slow down the train's schedule because it needs to pass through that point anyway, and a brief stop there could be subtracted from the time it would otherwise spend at the airport.

The time will come when rental-car agencies will provide rental desks or shuttle service to passenger train stations. The Milwaukee Airport train station is actually closer to some of the rental companies' parking lots than the airport terminal is.

The terminus at the Madison airport is supposed to be temporary, pending construction of a faster service to the Twin Cities. But Rochester and Red Wing and La Crosse and Eau Claire are sparring over who gets to be the intermediate stops.

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