I always get a chuckle out of the rail advocacy that pops up from time to time. Here's another example, a lamentation of the decline of passenger rail since the 1920's:
But the most striking aspect of these antiquated documents is found in the tiny agate columns of arrivals and destinations. It is here that one sees the wheels of progress actually running backward. The aforementioned Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York's Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal's (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York's Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak's Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours.
That sounds sad, until you peruse a flight schedule. NYC to Montreal is less than 90 minutes (I've got an expedia page open in front of me as I write this). What would possess me to take a 9 hour (or even a 4 hour on some imagined high speed rail) trip when I can do it in less than 2 hours by air?
That's not an idle question for me; while I don't travel as much as I once did, I still fly a fair amount. From here to Dayton (where I fly when I go to corporate HQ) is under 2 hours, followed by a 1 hour car ride to get to the Cincom building. That building isn't in any city center, so no train ride would shave that final hour, and a train ride from here to Ohio would - even with 1920's trains - take hours out of my life. Would I rather spend those hours at home with my family, or on a train? That's the question the rail advocates really need to ask themselves.
This doesn't mean I'm anti-rail - on some intercity routes, it makes a lot of sense, and it would be sensible to upgrade the railbeds to support faster trains. The northeast corridor comes to mind. The upper midwest might make sense too, but given the industrial collapse of the cities there, it's a far more open question. In general, rail makes sense if the distances are short, maybe up to around 400 miles. Past that, air travel is simply easier, and given the expense of installing the upgraded railbeds (don't forget all the NIMBY lawsuits that would happen), a whole lot more affordable. Rail travel has been allowed to fade for a simple reason: it's been technologically surpassed. There's no market for a 12-14 hour ride to Chicago from NYC when the plane does it in under 2...
trains, rail, air travel