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Freeways killed the railroad star

Started by Voyager, April 19, 2009, 10:45:10 PM

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Does anyone agree with this? Do you think that with the creation of the Interstate system and other highway networks that rail travel is now nearly obsolete? I find it sad, but then again I don't think I could live without the Interstates and freeways that we have now, since I have come to rely so much on them.
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Honestly, I think rail travel was kinda already headed down hill before the interstates, but the interstates certainly solidified the fate, at least until recently.

I do think that rail travel could make itself more viable by adding more high speed track, something that the US lacks (except the northeast corrdior/acela in the northeast). If rail becomes faster then driving, all of the sudden it becomes a very reasonable alternative to driving, even if it is a LITTLE more expensive. To me, time is worth money.


And to drive the high speed rail point home, the acela is a very quick, comfortable, and popular alternative to driving and flying in the northeast. There definitely is a market for more high speed rail in the United States.

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Yes, passenger rail was seriously maimed by the interstate system, and somewhat harmed by improving the US and state highway systems.  But some of the blame also belongs to jet travel and the failure of the railroads to adapt.  At the very least, the railroads needed to offer trains that moved faster than most highway traffic - at least 85 mph.  They could have tried to fill a gap between flying and driving.

Today, at least in the US, Amtrak should try and take advantage of the difficulties/irritants of flying.  I don't believe one has to worry about packing too much shampoo in a carry-on bag for Amtrak, nor if one placed their nail clippers in the check-in bag.  And why waist two hours trying to get through security - or at leas allowing that time - when that two hours could be spent actually traveling?  Many trips could be about half done in that time, especially at 100+ mph.

Another problem today is reliability.  Amtrak doesn't work for travel requiring moderately precise (within two hours) timing.  Then there are the times and places to pick up a train.  There are some stations I don't want to be around at 4AM due to the crime problems in the area.  Finally, there are routing problems.  Having to take a train to Chicago if you want to go from St. Louis to Indianapolis or Memphis doesn't work.


I think the main problem was that personal transportation is much more efficient than rail transport. That's why everybody choose the automobile over the trains. Besides that, not only the car, but also airplanes caused rail to minimize.

On the other hand, rail freight is much larger in the US than in Europe, where it plays only a marginal role in transport.


QuoteMore flexible, yes.  More efficient is arguable.

Well, I'm from the Netherlands, a country with congestion like Los Angeles, and a rather large rail network for passenger use. However, 90% of the trips done by car still take twice the amount of time with public transportation... even in rushhour. The problem with rail (and/or buses) are that they just do not offer door-to-door transportation. You almost always need additional transport to reach your destination, which adds up in travel time. Combine that with the very large suburban areas of low density in American cities, and it's easy to understand why people do not travel by rail anymore...

It's really not just about the construction of freeways that killed the railroads, but consisted of various factors like spatial development and population density, travel times and distances, affordability, alternatives such as freeways or by plane, and financial problems, the cost per mile exponentially increase by passenger rail when more people use it, in the Netherlands, the annual investment in public transport is twice as high as the roads, yet it carries 10 times fewer mileage, hence a 20 times higher investment per travelled mile.

QuoteAnd to drive the high speed rail point home, the acela is a very quick, comfortable, and popular alternative to driving and flying in the northeast. There definitely is a market for more high speed rail in the United States.

I don't even think that Acela would actually be counted as "High Speed Rail". I thought HSR should have a general speed of 150 miles an hour or faster, Acela has like 110 mph, which is more like a fast intercity train than HSR. French TGV and German ICE generally operate at 170 to 190 miles an hour.


Wasn't there a law in the late 1800's that imposed restrictions on US rail companies because they too much power at the time? This law was all good and well when rail had the virtual monopoly on land transport but it starting strangling the rail companies when faced with stiff competition, first from cars and trucks, then from aviation. Because of these tough regulations the rail companies couldn't compete with road and air.
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The construction of the US Highway system and paved roads started the end of the railroads.  A combination of the interstates and air travel finished them off.  However, if we could get high speed rail throughout the country, combined with the TSA it would kill air travel (cross-country and international flights would still be in demand, but there's no way the airlines could survive on that alone; there's too much competition in that industry now).  Has anyone seen the White House blog post on rail?
Please note: All comments here represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the official position of NYSDOT or its affiliates.


Well railroads aren't going to end, railroads are still much more efficient for freight than any other transportation (aside from boats). They can carry up to 2 km of cars at 130km/h here in Canada (with 3/4 locomotives) where trucks can only carry at most 2 cars at 110km/h.
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QuoteI don't even think that Acela would actually be counted as "High Speed Rail". I thought HSR should have a general speed of 150 miles an hour or faster, Acela has like 110 mph, which is more like a fast intercity train than HSR.

Amtrak calls it that because the Acela trains are capable of 150 mph or more.  However, only a few miles in Rhode Island is the train allowed to run that speed.  The Northeast Corridor runs on an alignment that was designed over 100 years ago.  Plus, freight trains and commuter trains also ply the rails of the corridor.  All true high speed corridors are passenger only.

IMHO I think that its amazing that Amtrak can get 100+ mph over such an infrastructure.  I read that several years ago, Amtrak had some officials from Japan's "Bullet Train" over here to ask for help on dispatching the corridor.  After looking at what runs on the Northeast Corridor, the Japanese couldn't figure out how Amtrak was doing it.  They thought that the mix of high-speed capable trains, commuter trains and freight was an impossible task!

I think that the market would be there for true high speed rail in the northeast.  However, getting a new right of way would be a tough proposition due to the high cost of construction plus rampant NIMBYism in the northeast.  A new Northeast Corridor would have to run through the same part of New Jersey that I-95 was supposed to go through and we all know how that turned out.
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I wouldn't blame any highway system for the downfall of railroads so much as I'd blame the simple fact that in postwar America all the experts in urban planning firmly believed that trains were an obsolete thing of the past and that cars were the way of the future. Which was decidedly shortsighted, but the term "sustainability" wouldn't exist for another 40-50 years at that point.
It was also coupled with the utopian idea that you could cure the ills in society by demolishing slums and replacing them with highways or housing projects - something which we now know simply isn't true; doing that merely displaces the problem and does nothing to solve it.
If you always take the same road, you will never see anything new.


Railroads hit a major decline in the 1970s due to outdated government regulation.  I can't remember which railroad tycoon coined the phrase, but "public be damned" became the battlecry that started the end of passenger service.  All the railroads wanted to do was haul freight, and were very happy to turn the passenger service to Amtrak in 1971 (except for a couple of holdouts, but they too eventually went to Amtrak). 

But, in the last few years, Amtrak's ridership has increased.  The federal gov't hasn't been giving Amtrak what it's needed to grow; just what it needed to survive.  If I understand correctly, the last budget of the Bush administration awarded Amtrak it's largest operating funds ever.  Hopefully that will get the ball rolling for a better Amtrak in years to come. :clap:
Runnin' roads and polishin' rails.


while a debatable point, with or without the heavy government regulation, i doubt that few railroads would have survived beyond the 70s anyway....

my favorite road, the New Haven, if stripped of its passenger service, was essentially one overgrown switching yard as its longest path was 250 miles...combine that with the declining New England industrial base that was its lifeblood, and the Connecticut Turnpike and airlines that started sapping away its passengers, and the New Haven was likely doomed anyway...

as to modern passenger trains, i have ridden Amtrak, and the on-time problem will never be solved as long as they are treated like the junior partner by NS, CSX, et. memory of Amtrak from 2005 was sitting for close to 30 minutes...supposedly, we had to defer to a slow CSX freight that took forever.   (also, it should be noted that if an Amtrak train is derailed on CXS or NS tracks, that commuters are to sue AMTRAK, not the host roads!)

As to Acela, it is one more lame revival of the Talgo train concept (every 20-30 years, some bright boy somewhere gets the idea of a pushme-pullyou high-speed passenger train).....The New Haven rails played host to the concept 4 times since the 1930s  and each time, the concept was found wanting for American travellers....

the 1930s saw the Comet which was fast, but lacked flexibility for any unplanned passengers (in that case, the NH had to run an extra train behind conventional steam, with the unplanned expense...and they were in bankruptcy at the time)

The 1950s saw THREE such trains attempted by NH management (who ran the road into the ground)...only one lasted for any length of time because it was essentially a gussied up RDC (Rail Deisel Car) setup....the others were off the rails in less than two years....

the 1960s saw the TurboTrain on the rails (which by that time were Penn Central rails) and that fiasco was an unreliable piece of junk, and gone within a few years

and now the people refuse to learn from the past..that is why it keeps getting repeated....<br /><br />Maintaining an interest in Fine Highway Signs since 1958....


i think Bush's idea was that if Amtrak needed to learn to start paying its own bills....i dont think he was opposed to Amtrak per se, just opposed to the funding needed to keep it going....

aside from the Northeastern Corridor, many Amtrak trains are seldom more than half-full  and other trains operate at inconvenient hours....who the hell wants to be in Cleveland at 2-4AM waiting for a train in one of the scarier parts of town??<br /><br />Maintaining an interest in Fine Highway Signs since 1958....

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