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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stay On The Motherfucking Ground

posted by on November 15 at 10:28 AM

For real, for real. No flying for me until 2009.

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Amtrak :-)

Actually, this is the first year in many that I won't be taking the train back to Iowa for Christmas. I have to fly.


Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 15, 2007 10:38 AM

Won't this just raise ticket prices?

Posted by Chris in Tampa | November 15, 2007 10:41 AM

Between this and the rising cost of fuel only the rich will be able to afford to fly.

The rest of us will be either on a bus or train.

Posted by monkey | November 15, 2007 10:43 AM

You're still at higher risk by driving than by flying - and actually use more fuel to drive unless you have a full car (e.g. 3 or more people, or get more than 70 mpg for 1 person).

Risk factors for driving are higher than for flying.

But the train is the most energy efficient and safest method of travel, and a bus is the second most.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 11:03 AM

Um, flying is in fact cheaper now than at any point in the history of air travel. That's why there's congestion. Bus and train can't come close to competing, and indeed flying more and more resembles riding a Greyhound. Flying was a far, far, more elite experience in the 60s and 70s.

This plan is window-dressing, though. Real easement of congestion won't happen until regulations start requiring larger planes, and pushing smaller ones to less-desireable airports. The real congestion is GROUND congestion, not air congestion.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 11:07 AM

I'm taking the Coast Starlight to LA this year. Yay for 36-hour travel time, infamously brusque Amtrak employees, and what the train smells like by the end of the trip!

I actually do really enjoy it in spite of all that.

Posted by leek | November 15, 2007 11:51 AM

If it stopped in Vegas, I'd take Amtrak.

Posted by Gomez | November 15, 2007 12:15 PM

i have fond memories of taking amtrak. that fart smell that accumulates in the cabin at the end of the trip truly stays in your brain.

Posted by dirty girl | November 15, 2007 12:32 PM

@8 - i think you meant in planes.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 12:40 PM

Oh great, I'm taking a red-eye tonight.

Posted by N in Seattle | November 15, 2007 12:54 PM

Isn't this actually good news, though? I realize the profit margin on seats isn't that high, but I've always thought airlines overbooking policies were total bullshit. Any other industry selling you goods it can't deliver on, per policy, wouldn't last long.

Although, I am a little uneasy with Bush making any decisions regarding air travel considering his administration had NASA bury it's findings on dangerous runway congestion.

The train? The train COULD be good, but it isn't. Right now there's a Starlight Express sitting on the tracks somewhere in southern OR while a 1,000 car fright train rolls by at 2MPH. Fuck the train.

Posted by Dougsf | November 15, 2007 12:59 PM

I meant real trains like the ones in Europe and Japan, that can cross the US in under 12 hours.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 15, 2007 1:39 PM

You mean imaginary trains, then.

We're not in "Europe", whatever that is, or Japan. There are no trains like that in the US. They could be built, but at what cost? Entirely new rails and rights of way? Bullet trains don't run at speed on beat-to-shit American freight rails.

And if they did build it, who would ride? Twice the time for probably ten times the cost? Almost no one.

There is no conceivable scenario for practical cross-continental travel to replace air. What would be practical is local service between large cities, if they were close enough together. Almost nowhere in the US are they close enough together. If Vancouver and Kelso and Centralia and Olympia and Tacoma and Everett and Mount Vernon and Bellingham each had a million people, then it would make sense to run more trains.

But as Dougsf points out, freight runs the rails. To turn it around, though, it doesn't make any sense holding up the paying freight movement of the entire country for fifty people having an Amtrak experience.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 2:33 PM

They've been trying to get high-speed rail service between LA and SF for nearly a decade - which I think makes sense - and recently came really close before the state budget didn't have room for the infrastructure this time around.

They are going ahead with a terminal in SF, but we'll see what actually populates said terminal in the end.

Posted by Dougsf | November 15, 2007 2:41 PM

Both 8 and 9 misspelled Greyhound bus.

Posted by Gomez | November 15, 2007 3:07 PM

Fnarf, Darling - you know I adore you, but you really need to brush up on your knowledge of Amtrak.

For one thing, 28 million people took Amtrak last year - a record that keeps climbing, year after year.

The average long-distance train has between 300-500 passengers on it at any given time. Most of them are not travelling the entire length of the route, but to intermediate stops along the way - places that are no longer (or never were) served by Air or bus.

Lastly, those freight railroads, with their terribly valuable freight, agreed to give Amtrak trains priority when they were relieved of the burden of carrying passengers back in '71. Some - such as the BNSF - are able to compentently handle both freight AND passenger, and get both to their destination mostly on time. Others, such as the Union Pacific, are not as adept, hence the Coast Starlight's woes.

There is a role for rail to play in the US. Both short run regionals (as in California, Illinois, the Northeast Corridor and the Pacific Northwest) and the long-haul trains. They make good economic and ecological sense.

So There.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 15, 2007 5:29 PM

I am aware of all of that, Mrs. Vel-Duray, but "having a role to play" is not the same thing as "offers a viable alternative to air travel".

Almost all of those 28 million (fewer than just Sea-Tac alone) are in the Northeast Corridor, where trains ARE a viable alternative, especially when you consider the hassle and time of getting to and through the airports. But elsewhere, like here in the Northwest, Amtrak's role is trivial. Nice, and worth continuing to subsidize, but trivial.

How do I know? Look at how many trains a day run to Portland and Vancouver. Compared to flights and cars. And that's about the maximum distance for train travel to be realistically useful in the US -- I've done both many times, and they're great. But they're not going to take the load off of air travel.

Posted by Fnarf | November 15, 2007 5:51 PM

Why, of course, Darling Fnarf, I freely admit that rail will never play the role that airplanes do - nor would anyone want it to, due to the reasons you describe. Although, interestingly enough (for dorks like me, at least) if included among U.S. airlines, Amtrak would rank 8th in the number of passengers served.

Although I do think, with more investment in rolling stock, and track improvements, rail could play a bigger role in helping both city-to-city, and city-to-town pairings.

Even here in the NW, they sell out the Cascades as soon as they add a new run. But they can't add any runs until they get more trainsets. It's really the old chicken and egg thing, isn't it?

As for the long-distance versus the NE corridor boardings, 2/3 of the boardings in 2006 originated or ended in the NE corridor, and 1/3 originated or ended outside the corridor. The two are not mutually exclusive, however - much cross-pollenization exists.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 15, 2007 7:43 PM

Every time I've looked at taking the train on a long-distance trip, it's been cheaper to fly. I don't understand why anyone rides it -- who wants to pay more for slower service? Is it just nostalgia buffs and people who are afraid of flying?

Posted by Orv | November 15, 2007 8:58 PM

Yes, Orv - that's it exactly.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 15, 2007 9:11 PM

My tickets to LA for the week of Christmas cost $114 each way, cheaper than almost any flight I could conceivably get unless perhaps I'd booked something in mid-summer.

It's true, though, that for non-peak-travel periods, flying is pretty much gonna be cheaper. And I'm pretty plane-phobic which explains my willingness to put up with the Amtrak hooha.

Posted by leek | November 15, 2007 10:42 PM

But if you're on business, you can't take a train to LA -- even without delays, which is unheard of, it takes freaking forever. A business person can fly down to LA and back on the same day.

As for the "Europe, Europe" crowd, I wonder if you are aware of the massive explosion of cheap flights in Europe in the past decade? You can fly from anywhere to anywhere for almost nothing, $20 sometimes -- fares of UKP 0.99 are not unheard of. Air travel has increased something like 1000% there in a short period.

Posted by Fnarf | November 16, 2007 7:20 AM

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