I have often ridden the Amtrak trains from NYC to DC when lobbying Congress or other political matters. Last night there was yet another Amtrak crash in the Northeast corridor which is the heaviest passenger travel train service in the US. ‘WE JUST ROLLED AND ROLLED’: Five dead, more than 170 hurt — 6 critically — after NYC-bound Amtrak train derails while passing through bend in Philadelphia: yet another passenger train disaster. The most profitable part of the train business is transporting immense amounts of oil but this is also a hazard, for example recently there was Another fiery oil train derailment in Illinois. The US train system is quite antiquated compared to say, China. It totters along with improvements moving at a far too slow pace so it has heavy use while it has been allowed to degrade over time.
Today’s fatal Amtrak Acela Express crash happened at this 150 year old sharp turn in the tracks in the heart of Philadelphia where the rail yards were built before the Civil War. Back then, trains moved relatively slower so sharp turns didn’t matter much. Philadelphia has always been a problem for high speed trains due to sharp turns created so many years ago.
The Acela Express is the nation’s fastest train, maxing out at 150 miles per hour and covering the trip’s 226 miles in two hours, 45 minutes.
Amtrak uses other come-ons to lure Acela riders: hourly departures, travel times under three hours, Quiet Cars, Wi-Fi, seats more spacious and comfortable than some airline’s first-class offerings and a cafe car. In first class, servers bring food and drinks to riders at their seats.
Between Boston and Washington, Acela covers 454 miles (731 km) in 7 hours, an average speed of 65 mph (105 km/h). Amtrak has a long-term plan that would reduce travel time to 3 hours by the year 2040, reaching speeds of up to 220 mph (350 km/h) primarily by acquiring more modern trains and reducing or eliminating congestion with other trains on the NEC.
Acela has helped Amtrak capture a 75% share of air/train commuters between New York and Washington in 2011, up from 37% in 2000. Due to this competition, some airlines have even canceled service between Washington and New York. Between New York and Boston, the Acela Express has up to a 54% share of the combined train and air market.
The great thing about train service is how you go from the center of one city to the center of another city. Most airports are outside of cities and you have to travel an extra hour or more in the Northeast to get to the center of a city so although the planes might fly faster, getting from city center to city center it takes much longer and a change of vehicles, etc.
300 MPH Maglev Trains Pick Up Speed Around The World especially in China. China has long surpassed all other countries when it comes to building high speed rail systems. Europe used to lead in this with around 10,000 miles of tracks but China has over 12,000 and rising rapidly. The US and EU were quite upset about China’s proposal to build these systems across Asia through Russia and into the EU and the proposals to increase these tracks into India and Southeast Asia.
I was recently reading the comments of readers at this story when I saw a long screed about trains service in England: Consensus-smensus: 97% of UK voters hiding in the deep ocean | Watts Up With That?
You used an anecdote about ‘Mid Staffs.’ to condemn the entire NHS, so you cannot object to my using an anecdote to respond to your defence of the privatised railways.
I live in Falmouth, Cornwall, and was to give a lecture in Newcastle. Another organisation asked me to provide another lecture on another subject in Sunderland on the day before: this would minimise costs. I agreed because there was a train from Truro direct to Newcastle that would get me to the Railway Hotel in Newcastle with time to book in, to change, and to be transported by car to the venue in Sunderland in time to set-up for the lecture.
Before traveling, I learned by accident that the Falmouth Branch Line to Truro would not be working that week. Had I not fortunately learned this, then I would have not discovered it until I was at a Falmouth station and it was too late to drive to Truro to catch the train to Newcastle.
I had booked a seat with a table and electricity socket on the modernised Truro train so I could operate my laptop while traveling to Newcastle.
The train to Newcastle stopped for over an hour before reaching Exeter. This was said to be because of problems with the railway signals.
The delay put the Newcastle express train behind a scheduled slow train that stopped at each station. This steadily increased the lateness of my train to Newcastle.
When the train to Newcastle reached Birmingham its passengers were told the train would go no further and we would have to detrain. This was because a train company is fined for each time a train arrives late at a station but is not fined for not arriving.
The ‘dumped’ passengers discovered that another train was coming from London about 2 hours later and it would progress to Newcastle, so we changed platforms and waited for it.
When the train from London arrived it was already full but we ‘dumped’ passengers needed to reach Newcastle so we crowded on board and stood filling the carriages’ aisles. Those who could sat on their luggage.
It became clear that I would arrive in Newcastle about 30 minutes before the scheduled start of my lecture in Sunderland. So, I took my case into the toilet that was filthy from hours of use by excess passengers, unpacked my case, changed for the lecture, and repacked my case.
Arriving in Newcastle I raced to the Station Hotel, left my luggage at reception saying I would register when I returned, met the car driver who was greatly relieved that I had at last arrived and who raced me to the lecture venue in Sunderland.
I arrived at the lecture hall ~4 minutes before I was scheduled to start, loaded the computer, put my notes on the lectern and started on time.
I will never again undertake a journey for a needed arrival deadline by using the privatised railways.
The key here is the bureaucratic rule about on time arrivals. To keep from being fined, trains dump passengers at isolated stations! Instead of fixing this problem, the system keeps the rules running claiming it means more trains are ‘on time’. But if they never arrive, this is a huge problem much much bigger than not being on time. Poor Richard simply decided to never use the service again due to this stupid rule. Of course, if he and everyone on just this one train were to raise a huge ruckus and go to London to demand the rule be rescinded, it would change. Instead, he leaves the system and I don’t blame him.
But nothing is ever fixed if no one demands fixes. I always marveled at this problem. Way back when the 2000 election floundered due to being too close to call, before the Supreme Court ruled that votes for President DO NOT MATTER…I rushed to DC to warn Congress that vote counting had to be very good and very careful, whoever wins. I was the ONLY PERSON running around the halls of Congress that day. It was most astonishing.
I went to many a Congress person, in the Senate and in the House, and warned them about counting the votes. I also had a proposal called the Uniform Voting Act whereby everyone had to use the same system to vote. As I left DC, NPR had a story about my proposal and even read it on the air which showed that someone in Congress gave it to the radio station just one hour after I left.
But when the Supreme Court ruled that votes don’t matter anyways so why bother counting them properly, Congress critters notified me that my proposal was dead because NO ONE CARED. The NYT said they would do a big story about me concerning my Uniform Voting Act…and then cancelled it saying, ‘Who is interested in this anyways.’ Our train system is woefully behind China’s system. Our ship building ability is collapsing compared to China. Our manufacturing base has been hammered while China’s has grown greatly. China has a big trade surplus and a huge civilian navy and we have the world’s biggest trade deficit and our civilian navy has vanished.
Here is a right wing study about high speed rail: High-Speed Rail in Europe and Asia: Lessons for the United States
From a financial standpoint, only two HSR lines in the world are profitable: Paris-Lyon in France and Tokyo-Osaka in Japan. A third line, Hakata-Osaka in Japan, breaks even. The majority of high-speed rail lines require large government subsidies from both general taxpayers and drivers. Even with generous subsidies, traveling by high-speed rail is still more expensive than flying for 12 of the 23 most popular high-speed rail routes in the world—regardless of whether the traveler purchases a ticket in advance or only a week before travel. Flying would be cheaper on some other routes if they were served by discount airlines. For routes that are less than 150 miles, intercity coach buses are much cheaper and take only slightly longer than high-speed trains. The evidence suggests that HSR can only be competitive on routes that are between 200 and 500 miles in length…
While operating costs vary, the cheapest European rail line costs more than $50,000 per seat to operate annually. And U.S. rail ridership is not guaranteed. Rail experts estimate that a U.S. HSR line would need ridership of between 6 million and 9 million people per year to break even. Compare that to the high-speed Acela service, which despite operating in the busy Northeast Corridor averages only 3.4 million passengers per year. To make matters worse, the popularity of rail travel appears to be declining throughout the world. In most countries high-speed and conventional rail service represent less than 10% of all passenger-miles traveled by land. This is a decrease of almost 10% over just the last 15 years.
Airplanes are extremely noisy. Convenient for fliers but a major annoyance for people on the ground. When planes crash, many times everyone dies on the plane and too often, a number of people on the ground. This doesn’t happen often when you look at miles traveled but when bad things happen, they are very much worse than any other transportation system. Cars are unsafe due to drivers. The ideal system would be for cars to be running on highways on electronic paths in automatic cars which operate like ‘trains’ and then reverting to driver operated on the city streets. This would cut down accidents greatly. Traveling in one’s own private vehicle is best when you don’t have to transfer luggage or oneself from system to system.
This idealized way of travel is much safer, less obnoxious than either trains or planes.
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