So, I’ve been paying very close attention to the travel news and, in particular, that part dealing with statistics and here is what I’ve learned: For travel this weekend connected with the Independence Day holiday, Americans traveling out-of-town number 48 million; those hitting the roadways journeying 50 or more miles, 42 million or 87.5 percent; average price for a gallon of regular gas, $4.81; flight delays and cancellations could be as many as 200,000 and 24,000, respectively. Sadly, not a single mention of trains – not a one, anywhere.
With the numbers of delayed and cancelled flights – due, according to what I’ve learned, to staffing shortages, overbooked flights and weather-related factors – such could put a damper on some Americans’ travel plans.
Which makes one wonder why, domestically, strategic partnerships between the airlines and rail lines haven’t become more mainstream.
So, I was watching a program on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on Saturday (the name of which escapes me right now) having to do with winter rail travel in Switzerland.
So one of the show’s points that really left an impression on me was this arrangement whereby the program host’s (Jeff Wilson in this case) baggage went directly from the airplane he initially traveled on all the way to the place where he lodged, including on the train or trains he journeyed on, the baggage transfers all done seamlessly. This arrangement was all taken care of ahead of time, presumably, that is, prior to Wilson even boarding the initial flight.
Oh, and another thing I couldn’t help but notice was that for the rail part of the adventure, the train itself was not only electric but clean. From Zermatt to Zurich, wherever Wilson ventured, clean air was a prominent Swiss feature.
So, from and based on all of this, it begs the question why passenger rail here in the U.S. isn’t a bigger part of the domestic travel-makeup picture.
Could it be that in the minds of the bulk of the traveling public, that from a traveling standpoint, for their liking the passenger trains here just aren’t fast enough or is it that travel by that mode is either too cumbersome, too limited, or both?
That said, with sufficient monies invested, that all could change and, in at least one location (on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor) it has. “Acela” trains are modern and on some sections travel is at a top speed of 160 miles per hour (mph). The now 20-plus-year-old equipment is being retired and replaced with more modern and speedier and aesthetically-pleasing-looking trains. (The original “Acela” trains were limited to a top speed of 150 mph).
Meanwhile, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, work is steadily progressing on the country’s first high-speed passenger rail line. Anticipation is running high and the expectation is trains will be available for the public to ride on by the end of the decade. Moreover, the full build-out of the Phase 1 part of the project will allow passengers to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco – a distance of 520 rail miles – in under three hours, that is for the non-stop expresses if not for all trains moving between those two locations.
Not only could high-speed passenger rail offer a viable alternative to regional air travel in the same market or those similar to, but will do so minus the typical air pollution a conventional diesel-locomotive-operated rail service produces. With track and trains of the highest quality meeting world-class standards, the result will be nothing short of a travel experience that’s second to none: Unparalleled, nonpareil, one that simply cannot be matched.
Hopefully, in the years to come, the passenger train in the United States will become a much more valued and appreciated mode of travel instead of the underutilized – and grossly underfunded – service that it is today.
– Alan Kandel
This post was last updated on Jul. 4, 2022 at 10:47 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.