There is a case for rail in the United States. It works in the Northeast Corridor, and it might well be possible to grow it organically to other areas--south from Washington, west from New York. Perhaps it will even work in California. But to make it work, we need to get away from demonstration projects, and start with the projects that make good economic sense. If we do a couple of those, we may inspire more imitators across the country. But if we insist on building trains to nowhere because they're so darn easy to build, we're not going to inspire anything but contempt.In Florida, which currently makes do with the remnants of Seaboard Coast Line's Silver Meteor and Silver Star, and is awaiting a return of the
First provide a rudimentary service, with reliable connectivity and convenient frequencies.
If you are going to install one, you should be reasonably certain that there will be people around with an interest in riding your train. After all, a train running mostly empty emits a lot of carbon.Then start adding cars, followed by frequencies. Thus does the Hiawatha go from four round trips of three cars each to seven round trips of six cars each, the Downeaster return Passenger Rail to Brunswick, and the Bay Area and Beach Boys corridors of California get new cars.
I am a fan of train projects when those projects start with a problem that might be solved by a train, and then work forward to the train. The problem is that in America, those routes are difficult to build, because they're places where there's already a lot of stuff. Rights of way are expensive and time-consuming to obtain, and the project is bound to be blocked by well-organized NIMBYs.
And so the idea seems to have become to build trains where it's possible to build trains, and hope that development follows. But trains succeed where they are better than some alternative form of transportation. In the case of Tampa to Orlando, they're worse than a car, and there isn't even any air travel to replace; in the case of Fresno-to-Bakersfield, it may be better than a car for a few passengers, but there are too few passengers to make the trains better than cars for the environment.