13.10.09

AVOID THE STRAIN, TAKE THE TRAIN. Travellers lose more time at the airport than they gain in the air.
A new report just out by the Brookings Institution documents the crisis of crowding and congestion at the nation’s airports and the serious numbers of delays that result. Throughout the 20th century, American travelers have been enamored by the opportunity of speed and convenience that air travel has provided, but that convenience has almost vanished in the face of frequent delays and lengthy wait times before boarding. A major problem is that so many trips of 500 miles or less are served by air when there should be high-speed rail for corridors of that distance. The Brookings report therefore urges more national investing for high-speed rail.
Although the article suggests using rail to relieve airway congestion is a novelty (the highway congestion argument is generally a case for faster and more frequent commuter trains rather than bullet trains) there's a legend about a consulting report some University of Wisconsin economists did for Milwaukee's airport authority. In those pre hub-and-spoke days, most Milwaukee flights also called at Chicago. The best optimization analysis led the economists to recommend that an eighty mile runway be built from Milwaukee to Chicago. With half the domestic flights being 500 mile or shorter trips, each transporting 200 or fewer passengers, the potential for providing capacity in the form of trains rather than additional runways or traffic control systems is there. On the other hand, the trains are going to have to cruise at higher speeds than 110 on those longer trips, and that might mean dedicated passenger-only tracks. The latest Railway hit the mailbox this afternoon, and a short article suggests that Britain (like the rest of Europe west of the Bug River, home to small freight trains) build its high-speed lines for passenger only.

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