23.4.09

CONNECTING TRAINS. Chris Lawrence weighs in on Passenger Rail.
My view, as always, is that all of these promised lines are of little value if they are not connected to the transportation system that most Americans already use: airports and their associated amenities like safe long-term parking and the rental car counter.
A flyer who is able to use BWI or EWR or MKE might be able to dispense with the long-term parking and the rental-car counter. There's room for further improvement.
And one federal law we ought to change, to hasten the integration between high speed rail and air travel, is the prohibition on using federal passenger facility fees on building rail stations at airports. The smart airports will build rail stations so they can keep the profitable long-haul flights and shift the short-haul flights to rail. Unfortunately, federal law prohibits that, and hopefully that will change.
Particularly with plans such as the Twin Cities service calling at the Madison airport. What's next, the Fox Cities extension stopping at Wittman Field? (That's actually less outrageous than avoiding downtown Madison as the Twin Cities service envisions).

The strength of the train is in supplanting short-haul air travel (distances less than 500 miles). A Hiawatha gets from Glenview to Milwaukee Airport in the time it takes for an O'Hare departure to do boarding process and safety inspection and taxi-out and prepare for take-off. Downtown to downtown, it's not unknown for the drive to O'Hare or to Lake-Cook Road to consume an hour.

That strength is reinforced by short-haul train travel (on the Northeast Corridor, think New Haven - Philadelphia or Schenectady - Rochester, in the Midwest think Champaign - Homewood or Kalamazoo - Royal Oak.) Something similar is at work in Spain, where the high speed trains function more like a regional rail.

The AVE [it means bird, it's an acronym for Lightweight, Rapid, Comfortable or something] was originally designed to compete with the airplane for commutes between major cities around 300 miles apart. But the biggest, and least expected, effect of the AVE has been on the smaller places in between.

Perhaps the most striking example is Ciudad Real, a scrappy town 120 miles south of Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha which, Mr. Ureña says, "had completely vanished from the map." In medieval times, the town was a key stopover point on the route between the two of most important cities of the time, Córdoba and Toledo. But the railway and the highway south later bypassed the town, and Ciudad Real began to wither.

Now it has an AVE station that puts it just 50 minutes away from Madrid, and Ciudad Real has come alive. The city has attracted a breed of daily commuters that call themselves "Avelinos." [That conjures impressions of flying pigs, but I digress] The AVE helped attract a host of industries to Ciudad Real, and the train is full in both directions.

(Via California High Speed Rail). In Spain, however, the Avelinos do not have to contend with flying pigs of another kind, or stack trains, or coal trains, or, being located west of the Bug River, serious freight trains. There's no reason a memory-pattern passenger service couldn't be mixed with freight trains, particularly the intermodals and the auto-racks.

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