Why No US Rail System?

Richard Branson of Britain has apparently merged his Virgin Airlines with rail travel in Britain. Why don't the failing US airlines do the same thing in the US? People have often told me that airline companies have blocked the development of a national rail system. Branson shows that airlines can better profit by adopting raillines into their businesses.

How much of US air travel would work better if either replaced by rail travel, or coordinated with it? Why don't all US airports connect with a regional railline, that in turn connects with a national railline? If I want to travel from Detroit to Paris, why must my trip begin with a one-hour flight from Detroit to a hub in Chicago? Why instead doesn't it begin with a two-hour train ride from Detoit's airport to Chicago's? Can't trains better provide comfortable passage than airlines? Can't these hypothetical raillines spread out the preposterous concentration of airport drop-off, pick-up, and parking that now focuses at the airport? Why does my travel options between Detroit and Chicago amount to a four-hour drive versus a one-hour flight... plus all the parking and delay and checking hassles at both ends of the flight, which both occur at least 30 minutes away from my actual origination and termination points?


Tom Philpott said...

I'm all the way there with you on this one.

Tom Philpott said...

I'm all the way there with you on this one.

Nadir said...

Ummm, I don't know that Paul's arguments amount to a hill of pintos, but our mutual buddy, Lee, and I were lamenting Detroit's lack of a regional rail system just the other day.

Lee moved from his crime infested inner-city neighborhood beyond the suburbs to the country -- Ypsilanti. He now enjoys a good night's sleep without crackheads ripping him off (presumably Ypsi's crackheads haven't found him yet), but is bored to tears. Lee says he now feels like he spends more time in Detroit than he did when he lived there.

While we were talking, I was on my way from my outer suburb into the city. I am spending more time commuting into the city than ever before. Both of us wished we were in the city, but neither of us would consider moving if Detroit had a rail system.

Money would flow into the city from the suburbs and from the city to the suburbs with a light rail system that, like Chicago's El, traveled down the medians of the major freeways and on inner city routes.

To agree with Paul, connections between Ypsi, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and into Chicago would be awesome. A three hour train to Cleveland or seven hour train ride to (what I hear is) beautiful Northern Michigan would improve economics and tourism.

In fact, it was perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche who proposed converting closing US auto factories to light rail manufacturing. I think he's got something there. Start in Detroit. This would bring needed jobs and a rail system that would revitalize the economies of the city, its suburbs and the state as a whole.

A renewed national rail system would be beneficial as well. No doubt, Paul.

Paul Hue said...

Nadir: A modern rail system would make these travel times much shorter than you mention above. I think it is essential that such a system connect with airports, so that travel merges air and rail rather than keeping them separate. Atlanta did a wonderful job of this. Whenever I had a friend come visit me in Atlanta, I never drove out to the airport, to fight for parking. Instead I drove to my nearest MARTA station, parked for free, read while I waited for me train, read on the train, then disembarked INSIDE the airport, where I met my friend. Then the two of us paid $1 to return to my car. My friend would usually think we were taking an intra-airport tram to a parking lot. I also used this when I traveled, parking for free in a well-lit lot, and never having to hassle friends for rides and pickups, or pay for a shuttle.

Few discussions of rail systems include an airport component. NYC gets high international marks for its rail system, but few think to note the the glaring failure of that system to connect with the any of region's three enormous international airports. A recent connection made to one of the airports was very lame, and served to only underscore the problem to any thoughtful observer. Nobody arriving in any NYC airport, or attempting to reach one, would conclude that the city had a good transportation system.

Paul Hue said...

Have we talked about the much greater potential for comfortable travel on a train? Even in cases where it would take longer than a flight (even after accounting for all the extra before and after extra flight time), imagine various cars with movie theaters, live music, bars, etc. And how'd you like to go to a train station at 11pm in any of a variety of Detroit subburbs (perhaps with a train switch at the Detroit metro airport train hub), then wake up at 7am in downtown NYC?