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TinotopiaLog → Long-Haul Trains in the U.S. ( 5 Feb 2003)
Wednesday 05 February 2003

Long-Haul Trains in the U.S.

There is talk, again, of cutting Amtrak’s heavily-subsidized, money-losing long-haul routes.

This is a good idea, but a better one would be to cut the subsidies to zero and to allow Amtrak to hire out operation of those routes, and the right to set prices, to anyone who wants to take a chance. One of the biggest obstacles to rail travel in the United States is that, unless you have the capital to lay your own tracks, you’ve got to run over the lines of railroads that carry mainly freight. They are not particularly interested in negotiating with start-up passenger railroads.

Amtrak, though, already has contracts in place with the track-owners, contracts that presumably provide a profit for the use of the tracks. The private rail-operators could pay Amtrak for the use of their agreements with the track-owners, and then charge passengers whatever they needed to in order to make some money.

I believe that as many as half the people on your average Amtrak long-haul route would be willing to pay much higher fares to travel; you don’t go by train in the U.S. if you’re actually trying to get somewhere, since it takes literally days and often costs more than it would to simply fly. They’re travelling by train because of the unique experience that American long-distance trains offer, and they’d continue to do so if the price doubled. They wouldn’t travel in such numbers as they do today, but that’s not a problem if you simply cut the schedule.

Long-distance train travel in the United States is not really a viable means of transportation any more (except possibly in a few cases, which I might write about later). It’s time to stop thinking of it as essential transport and to start thinking of it as entertainment and as a tourist attraction in its own right, and to price it accordingly.

Posted by tino at 00:55 5.02.03
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