28.4.17

RETHINK THE LONG DISTANCE TRAINS.

City Lab contemplates The Human Cost of Losing Amtrak.  Start in Mobile, Alabama, where the temporary suspension of Sunset Limited service after Hurricane Katrina reinforces that bon mot about the most permanent thing.
The loss of the Gulf Coast service left Mobile residents who don’t drive with fewer transportation options. While there’s an airport within a half-hour’s drive, it’s quite expensive to fly out of the city: A flight from Mobile to Orlando can cost up to $500. Meanwhile, bus lines have decreased service, too, due to budget problems.
Alas, back in the day, the accumulated delays on the Sunset, which ran between Orlando and Los Angeles, left that train as not the best vehicle for local travel, say, between Mobile and Pascagoula, or Pensacola and Tallahassee.  For a short time, concurrent with a World's Fair in New Orleans, there was a proper regional train, the Gulf Coast Limited, timetabled for day trips toward New Orleans.  There was no opposite-direction working timetabled for day trips away from New Orleans, and the train stopped running during the Clinton Administration.  Mobile also enjoyed a Birmingham connection to the Crescent Limited, the Gulf Breeze, for and from New York.  Because the Crescent runs as a day train between Atlanta and New Orleans, and when both trains are time, they meet near Birmingham, the intrepid train rider might be able to go Mobile to Birmingham to New Orleans by rail.  With these views out the window.


But it's the absence of air and bus service that I wish to address.  One reason that United Airlines reaccommodation of a Louisville-bound passenger resonated with travellers is he was dragged off the last Tri-Motor to Louisville for the day: apparently frequency and connectivity in much of the air network isn't that great, either.  Chicago to Indianapolis to Louisville has something to recommend it for improved railroads, and all the truck traffic on Interstate 65 suggest an unexploited opportunity to build an intermodal rail corridor capable of handling container trains and passenger trains given free rein to 110 or 125, the way it's going to be done on the Alton Route.

The article focuses on the overpurposed long distance trains elsewhere, such as Wolf Point, Montana, or Wishram, Washington.  "There is no Greyhound station, airport, or ride-hailing service like Uber in Wolf Point."  As we have seen, a cross-country Empire Builder scheduled for convenient timings in the Chicago - Twin Cities corridor and at Glacier National Park is not much of a transportation option for Wolf Point or Wishram when it's running late.

The people of Mobile would like their train back.  Perhaps something simple, dependable, several frequencies?  That's how most Germans and Britons travel, all the publicity for the fast flyers notwithstanding.  "New Orleans as hub of a regional rail network, with multiple day trains to Montgomery and Memphis and Houston, probably more so, but the freight railroads in that part of the country have plenty of traffic, prolonged recession or not."  But with the money running out to fix the roads, perhaps internal improvements in the form of intermodal-friendly fast tracks have a future.

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