It is difficult to compare the passenger rail system in the United States with that in Europe. One has efficient and popular high-speed trains running on tracks that cross the continent. not the other
In fiscal 2022, Amtrak served 22.9 million passengers. That number is down ten million from 2019 when 33 million people rode Amtrak, a 30% decrease. By contrast, in 2022, the TSA screened some 736 million US air passengers as air travel returned to near pre-pandemic levels.
Green advocates want to replace passenger planes with trains. But based on the data, one could argue that the opposite is actually happening.
There are many reasons for this. There is limited service between cities (Amtrak says it runs 300 trains with around 87,000 passengers per day), freight is often prioritized over US passenger service, and trains and facilities are often outdated. . The Pacific Surfliner in California, for example, runs on a single track for long stretches, requiring service-limiting changes.
But Amtrak isn’t helping their cause with constant delays and service interruptions. I enjoyed the comfort and space of the Surfliner, but was frustrated by an extra hour of delay on what should have been only an hour ride to Ventura. Many are familiar with Amtrak delays, particularly on the heavily trafficked East Coast corridors where travelers rely on trains.
In Southern California, since September 2022, passengers have had to leave Amtrak trains to catch a bus and then take another train to their destination. There appeared to be some movement on the hillside and the tracks taken by the panoramic Surfliner, so the hillside had to be stabilized.
A media advisory announced good news: Pacific Surfliner’s weekend service between San Diego and Orange County without a bus connection will finally resume on Saturday and Sunday on February 4. The bad news: The slopes will be closed on weekdays for construction, which is expected to be finished sometime in March.
If you do not have a car, or simply do not want to drive, you will have to endure a long odyssey by train and bus. The 135-mile drive from Van Nuys to San Diego takes about two and a half hours by car. Before the latest delays, it took three and a half hours on the train. Now, according to the Amtrak schedule website, a train leaving on Thursday, January 26 at 9:09 a.m. from Van Nuys would arrive at 1:20 p.m.
It’s a shame, really, because the Pacific Surfliner offers travelers a spectacular view of the Pacific. It follows a 351-mile coastal route through San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties.
Meanwhile, as a result of recent storms, roads north of Goleta (just north of Santa Barbara) are closed for repairs and construction, and bus service provides connections to San Luis Obispo and the Bay Area. Service is supposed to be restored north of Los Angeles in mid-February.
Unfortunately, this appears to be the latest proof that Amtrak is not a reliable alternative to the car, bus, or plane for tourists, commuters, and commuters.
If Amtrak’s service were fast, efficient and reliable, it would have the potential to take thousands of cars off the road in the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor alone. It would also be an ideal way for US and international tourists to visit Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego without a car or guided tour bus.
In addition to service delay and cancellation issues, there have been at least ten fatal accidents involving Amtrak trains since 2011, including two in the past year and a half. On September 25, 2021, the Empire Builder derailed in Joplin, Montana, killing three and injuring 50. On June 27, 2022, the Southwest Chief derailed near Mendon, Missouri, killing three passengers and the driver of a dump truck and sending 150 to the hospital. .
Most recently, on January 19, 2023, a disabled vehicle was struck by an Amtrak train near Vacaville, CA, killing one person. Such incidents are all too common. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, more than 400 people are killed each year at railroad crossings from trespassing on railroad property.
Amtrak was allocated $66 billion dollars in the bipartisan infrastructure bill to address some of these problems. The $66 billion “represents the largest investment of its kind since Amtrak was founded in 1971,” Amtrak Chief Executive Officer William Flynn noted. He said $44 billion would go to the Federal Railroad Administration for state grants and rail projects, with $22 billion for fleet acquisitions and various improvements.
Yet even with this and other federal largesse, one publication claims that Amtrak is resigned to “perpetuating a billion dollars a year.”
Even $66 billion will hardly address the demand for more trains, less planes from green activists. The 2019 Green New Deal called for the US to “build high-speed rail on a scale where air travel is no longer necessary.”
Trains generate less carbon than planes per passenger. And high-speed trains can take passengers door-to-door as fast as airplanes on certain routes, such as Beijing/Shanghai, London/Brussels, and the BosWash (Boston/New York/DC) corridor when traveling to and from the the airport is included.
This is true even for Amtrak’s anemic Acela, which averages 68 mph compared to European and Asian trains capable of 200 mph. Even the biggest supporters of American railroads will admit that American rail service hardly resembles that of France, Germany, or Japan.
If the United States is serious about building a truly national high-speed rail network, many more billions of dollars must be spent. But considering how the car and plane currently dominate American travel, if you build it, will they come?