24 Oct

Small growth for US rail?

Wired reports on a recent 111 MPH test run between St. Louis and Chicago on Amtrak.

If the most recent run of trials are successful, Amtrak passengers traveling on that route will see trains hit 110 MPH as soon as Thanksgiving. The end goal is to bring that speed of service to 75 percent of the tracks between Chicago and St. Louis in the next three years, reducing the travel time between the two cities by 90 minutes.

I keep pointing out that although Ohio famously opted out of rail, that Chicago and St. Louis, and Chicago through to Detroit, is slowly becoming an interconnected rail area. From Chicago to Detroit they’ve slowly been upgrading tracks to allow 110 MPH rail. Now the same is happening.

The idea is for Chicago to become a major passenger rail hub for the midwest. And once 110 MPH is normal, to increase the speeds.

A good idea, because once you start getting reliable, multiple day service above those speeds, rail completely pwns air travel for ease of use when you add in the time needed to get to an airport early, TSA hassles, and inability to get work done while on the plane.

Signs of growth for US rail travel:

Amtrak’s consistent growth, despite the forces unceasingly allied against it in US politics. Here’s the last 10 years of growth, 49%:


Amtrak loses money, but is losing less each year. When bolted together out of the scorched remnants of 20 different railways in the early 70s, with differing stock, routes, institutions, and so forth, at the height of car-focused America, it was a loser of a Frankenstein. The routes that were making money are usually ignored by anti-rail people in order to focus on the large, long routes Amtrak has to (well, until very recently) legally run and can’t abandon, because it’s run by congress. In fact, the suggestion is the Acela (actual, high speed rail, which turns a profit) should be *taken* away from Amtrak and privatized.

Here’s a map of all of Amtrak’s lines and which ones make a profit and which ones do not. Click around and you notice two things, the North East rail components all make a profit or are close to it. Secondly, Amtrak/Congress don’t think of short routes between major metro areas, but in long hauls. Stop trying to connect Chicago to LA, and you might profitable lines in the Chi-St. Louis and Chi-Ann Arbor areas with 110 MPH service.

But either way, it’d be interesting to see a simulated growth chart and profit loss estimate run into the future based on the figures we’ve seen over the last 10 years, vs the idea of rail that’s been slowly formed up in many people’s heads that came about from 1970-1990, when the argument against Amtrak was pretty firm (no growth in ridership, little to no profit on any lines).

And a new, what looks like serious, private rail program that will set itself up to run between Orlando and Miami:

The All Aboard Florida project promises not just to revolutionize travel between the two cities — there will also be intermediate stops in downtown Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — but to transform a long-vacant piece of downtown Miami.

FECI, the real estate arm of the conglomerate that also owns the Florida East Coast freight-rail company, will build a new, landmark station and a potentially massive mixed-use development on nine acres of fallow land it owns just north of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. FECI will also own and operate the new train service, All Aboard Florida, executive Husein Cumber said.

In Japan and South Korea, the ability to develop the real estate and rent it at train stops creates a great deal of wealth that allows for further reinvestment. This will be interesting to watch.