Reduce potential terrorism with high-speed rail?

Please understand that I am not trying to make light of anything that has happened.

An officemate who was stranded in Baltimore, made it back to our Chicago office yesterday after a 20 hour Amtrack “adventure.” I have long supported high speed rail, and understand that limited experiments are currently underway, primarily along the east coast. Before this incident, I felt our nation’s air system was a very expensive, highly subsidized luxury.

The events of 9/11 hve caused me to think of this in different ways.

Would it reduce some of the potential threat of recurrence, if we were to explore lifestyle alternatives to our current system of travel? How bad would it be if air travel were significantly more expensive to pay for additional security, or if flights were less frequent to allow for more thorough security?

We seem to accept it as given that we should be entitled to travel wherever we want by air, essentially whenever we want, and at the lowest cost possible. I personally think it might not be a bad idea to explore alternatives, specifically high speed rail.

Now is the time to begin a massive railroad developement program, high speed or not.

Commuter rail, to hold down gas prices.

Passenger rail, for mid- to long- distance travel.

De-Regulation of railroads.

Likewise, tax breaks for railroads.

Upgrade Amtrack.

Construction would boost our economy.

Rail Now!

I’m all for high speed rail but to address your question, it’s not going to reduce terrorism. Can you imagine the ease of sabotaging a rail line, a freaking train track? You’ve got miles and miles of line that could be hit anywhere and then a train travelling at great speed comming over them. That would be infinitely easier to take out than a plane.

It’s a good method of transportation for some reasons but to combat terrorism is not one of them.

But I don’t exactly see anyone redirecting a California bound train out of Boston and driving it into the side of a building in Manhattan.

I can see someone deforming a track just enough that the train derails!

But I don’t exactly see anyone redirecting a California bound train out of Boston and driving it into the side of a building in Manhattan. **

Oh, so the plane that plowed into Pennsylvania without taking out a building wasn’t terrorism?

Non-suicide events like the initial World Trade Center garage bombing weren’t terrorism?

      • I think in the US, the only two things that high-speed rail would eliminate are huge sums of taxpayer money and lots of lesiure travelers.
  • Planes go anywhere there’s an airport, busses go anywhere there’s a road. Trains are tied to expensive permanent-route tracks, their speeds are far slower than aircraft and their person-per-hour capacities are far below what already-existing busses and roads can handle. It’s a waste of money: Amtrak’s lack of profits is proof that most people don’t want to take the train.
  • And please note:
    We shouldn’t be altering our lifestyles to suit terrorists.
    We should be killing terrorists.
    The terrorists are the problem, not the airplanes.
    Eliminate the problem.
    - MC

MC, if most people don’t want to ride trains, how do you account for the fact that 70% of the air or rail travel between New York and Washington DC is by Amtrak? Or, in other words, twice as many people take the train than fly between those two cities. Or the fact that ridership on the California rail corridors is in the hundreds of thousands a year and constantly increasing. In California, the land of the car nut!

We’re NOT talking about people taking trains for three or four days between LA and New York; clearly that’s what flying is for. But for someone traveling between two cities 500 or fewer miles apart, a train going 100mph or so would actually get them there faster than flying when you count the drive to and from the airport and having to be there an hour before flight time – and that was BEFORE Tuesday. Now you may have to be at the airport two or more hours before a DOMESTIC flight! And bringing trains up to 100mph can be done a hell of a lot more cheaply on existing freight tracks – many trains already go up to 79mph – than the billions we spend on land-eating new roads and airports.

Anyway, what’s wrong with providing the traveling public an ALTERNATIVE?! Nobody’s suggesting getting rid of flying, even between those cities less than 500 miles apart, just giving the people a choice. Isn’t having a choice supposed to be a good thing?

Minor quibble, presumably folks will have to drive to and from train stations. From my house, I can get to O’Hare quicker than Union Station. OTOH, US is a short walk from hy office. To the extent trips begin and end in major downtowns, yes trains have this advantage as well.

Other than that, I fully agree.

      • The NY-DC Amtrak run is the only route that consistently turns a profit—all the others have almost always lost money. Amtrak only ever turned a profit one year ('72 or '73), most other years it lost between 600-800 million dollars. One year recently it somehow lost over a billion dollars a year, while running mostly empty trains. If you think trains are nifty, spend your own billion dollars on it and let me know how it goes.
  • Previously I posted in error: I should have said “Amtrak’s lack of passengers is proof that most people don’t want to take the train”. Could go either way though… - MC

I wish I had the option of taking train (there is no longer any passenger rail service out of Calgary). When I had to travel between Montreal and Toronto, I would take the train at every opportunity. Elapsed time from downtown to downtown was almost identical to getting to airport, waiting for plane, waiting for plane to take off, flight time, waiting to land, waiting for offload, waiting for baggage, waiting for taxi into downtown, taxi ride into downtown…

Trains are infinitely more comfortable, you can actually get up and walk around to stretch your legs without a becoming a risk to everyone.

“while running mostly empty trains”

Cite?!? Try getting a sleeping compartment – and sometimes even a coach seat – in the middle of the summer travel season or around Thanksgiving, then tell us again that the trains are mostly empty.

As to Amtrak profitability,

  1. Amtrak has to pay the freight railroads rent for using their tracks, and the railroads have to pay 100% of the cost of building and maintaining those tracks, including higher property taxes (which then go to pay for roads and airports, the competitors!)because of the rail-related improvements. Whereas the trucking companies, bus lines, and airlines are provided government-owned property-tax-free roads and airports that are financed by taxes to the sum of several billions of dollars a year. The federal government spends twice as much to spread salt on the Interstate highways in a year than Amtrak gets from the Treasury IN TOTAL for a year. Oops, I forgot, money for roads is an investment, while a single red cent for Amtrak is a subsidy. Silly me. :rolleyes:

  2. No passenger rail system on Earth makes a profit. The Europeans and Japanese are famous for their fast and well-used trains, but they still spend billions a year from the general tax revenue to finance their train systems. It should be noted that Amtrak covers more of its budget from fares than any other passenger rail system in the developed world, around 80 percent!

  3. The New York, Chicago, Boston, etc. subway systems don’t make a profit, nor do the commuter rail systems in the same cities. I really don’t think we’d want to face the traffic of five MILLION New Yorkers, a half-million Chicagoans, etc. driving to work if the subways were shut down because they didn’t satisfy the high and sacred duty to make a profit. :rolleyes:

Have a cite for that? I seem to recall it was 70/30 the other way.

What about maglev technology? Rail travel would be much more attractive if the trains traveled at close to 300 mph.

Rail systems are just as prone, if not MORE prone to terrorism. Just ask any of the victims of Aum Shinrikyo’s sarin gas attack in Tokyo. You don’t even need to hijack them, just drop your gas bomb as you leave the train.

“What about maglev technology? Rail travel would be much more attractive if the trains traveled at close to 300 mph.”

What about it?! German and Japanese companies have tried to make a go of it and haven’t. The German consortium (Transrapid, IIRC) is now trying to palm off maglev on our federal transportation department. USDOT projects that two demonstrator projects (1) from the Pittsburgh suburbs and airport to downtown Pittsburgh and (2) from Baltimore to Washington via BWI, would cost several billions EACH. And both of these proposed lines are pretty short, the Pittsburgh one especially so.

The Europeans and Japanese have built excellent rail systems without maglev, at a fraction of the cost with proven technology. And while those trains’ speeds of 150-180mph aren’t enough for transcontinental travel, that’s not what anyone is proposing for high-speed passenger rail in America. There are several sets of U.S. cities that are no farther apart than distances successfully covered by European and Japanese trains:

  1. The Northeast from Boston to D.C., which already has heavy train usage.

  2. California, which already has busy intercity train lines:
    *in the Bay Area from north of Los Angeles through that city to San Diego,
    *from San Jose through Oakland to Sacramento, and
    *from Oakland and Sacramento through the San Joaquin Valley to Bakersfield.

  3. The Midwestern cities centered upon Chicago, which states have already spent and are spending several million dollars for a 110mph train system due to open its first three lines (Chicago to Saint Louis, Detroit, and Madison via Milwaukee) in 2003.

  4. The so-called Texas Triangle, linking Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

For the money spent on one maglev line, all the above lines could be built to the standards of the TGV or Shinkansen. And 150mph is certainly competitive over a distance of 500 miles or less when one considers an hour or more wasted at the airport.

Trains are definitely good, and were before last Tuesday. I love the fact that I can take the metro to the train station in downtown Montreal and take the subway away from the train station in downtown Toronto, instead of having to dick around with one million kinds of transit and lots and lots of money to get to Dorval and from Pearson. I also appreciate how little it costs and the fact that it seems to be on time a lot more. Not having to breathe recycled air from other people’s lungs is good. So is being able to, like, stop if there’s an emergency. And it’s good for the soul not to be using huge amounts of fossil fuels.

Mind you, if I were having to get to San Francisco, I’d probably fly like everybody else. But for your eastern Canada and your New England, it’s the train for me.

Re the 70/30 split, manhattan, you’re probably thinking of Boston-New York, where the split HAS been 30/70 favoring air because that stretch has fewer trains and, until the last year or two, was not electrified and couldn’t support high speeds. The New York-DC stretch as a whole, including intermediate stops, is 70/30 favoring Amtrak.

“Amtrak handles about 44% of air-plus-rail traffic in the New York-Washington city-pair market; this figure rises to about 70% if we include intermediate points – such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and Wilmington. However, Amtrak’s share is impressive even as a percent of total travel: Amtrak has 23% of all Philadelphia-Washington travel, 16% of New York-Washington and 13% of New York-Albany, the latter despite an average speed of just 58 mph (vs. 76 and 66 mph, respectively, on most New York-Washington Metroliners and conventional trains). The auto market share is 70% in the two shorter markets, 50% New York-Washington.”
Some other Amtrak ridership figures:

In fiscal year 2000, Amtrak carried 12.9 million passengers in the Northeast and 22.5 million passengers total.

“More than 1.5 million passengers rode the [Pacific Surfliner] route during fiscal year 1999, second busiest in the Amtrak national system.” The Pacific Surfliner, formerly the San Diegan, runs daily 4 round-trips from Santa Barbara through L.A. to San Diego and 11 round trips from L.A. to San Diego.

Ridership on the Capitol Corridor from San Jose through Oakland to Sacramento is approaching one million a year and growing.

“In 1999, 565,000 passengers traveled aboard Cascades,” the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene corridor. “Ridership on the Cascades is up 6.5 percent year-to-date.”

“Amtrak’s ten busiest train stations in 2000 were:
Rank City/ Station Number of Boardings
1 New York, NY 8,354,431
2 Philadelphia, PA 3,858,811
3 Washington, DC 3,384,998
4 Chicago, IL 2,240,013
5 Newark, NJ 1,374,051
6 Los Angeles 959,192
7 Trenton, NJ 958,727
8 Baltimore, MD 916,840
9 Boston, MA 905,580
10 Princeton Junction, NJ 869,783”

Remember that outside the Northeast and California, most routes only operate one round trip a day. Amtrak’s budget doesn’t allow for them to run more trains than that, because they don’t have the capital to buy the additional cars. That is especially the case for sleeping and dining cars that can be used only on long-distance trains, as opposed to coaches, cafe, and lounge cars that can be used on the busier corridor routes and are also manufactured for the various commuter rail systems.

What a joke of a stat. Who the hell would take a plane from DC to Baltimore? No one. By the time you even got to airport you’d have been drunk in Baltimore.

Getting to Wilmington and Phili aren’t much longer either, around 1.5 to 2.5 hours. I don’t think many people would realy want to take a plane for such a distance.

I’m also wondering if they are using the comuter stats where 12000 people ride from Balt to DC everyday.

Plus it’s cheaper to take a train from DC to NYC though it’t even cheaper and not much longer time wise to take a bus.

I still don’t think trains are worth anything, at least not passenger wise, hauling stuff sure but not people.

Check my thread against Amtrak in the Pit is was the WORST experience I ever had. Amtrak is even ruder than the airlines.

That aside, I was wondering since people are saying it’s taking them 4 or 5 hours to check in at the airport with the searches, going from Chicago to St Louis or other short stops makes sense as it is only 5 hours between the cities and you would have spent that time waiting.

A good train route, Chicago to Seattle and that in between is heaven a bad one Chgo to NYC is a nightmare.