Holidays by Train
What does leisure travel look like in a world where driving and flying are prohibitively expensive, and rail travel is more abundant and convenient?
It does not look exactly like today’s travel patterns except by train. Where people choose to travel is influenced by cultural expectations that are themselves influenced by available technology, prices, and marketing. Companies and outfits providing transportation also market the destinations for it, whether it’s a private railway selling real estate in the suburbs on its commuter lines, an airline advertising the resort cities it flies to, or a highway authority promoting leisure drives and auto-oriented development. The transition may annoy people who have gotten used to a set of destinations that are not reachable by sustainable transportation, but as the tourism economy reorients itself to be greener, new forms of leisure travel can replace old ones.
Historic and current examples
Railroads were the first mode of mechanized transportation, and heavily marketed the destinations one could reach by riding them. The involvement of some railroads in suburban development, such as Japanese private railroads or the original Metropolitan Railway, is fairly well-known to the rail advocacy community. Lesser-known but equally important is rail-based tourism. Banff and Jasper owe their existence to transcontinental railways, Lake Louise was founded as a montane resort on top of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Glacier National Park opened thanks to its location next to the (American) Great Northern. Even Niagara Falls, for all its unique natural beauty, benefited from heavy marketing by the New York Central, which offered the fastest route there from New York.
Other than Niagara Falls, the North American examples of rail-based tourism are all in remote areas, where people no longer travel by train. Some may drive, but most fly over them. The American system of national parks, supplemented by some state parks like the Adirondacks and Catskills, has thus reoriented itself around long-distance leisure travel by car. This includes popular spots like Yellowstone, Bryce, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite in the United States, Schwarzwald in Germany, or the tradition of summer homes in outlying areas in Sweden or the American East Coast.
The airline industry has changed travel patterns in its own way. Planes are fast, and require no linear infrastructure, so they are especially suited for getting to places that are not easy to reach by ground transportation. Mass air travel has created a tourism boom in Hawaii, the Maldives, southern Spain, the Caribbean, any number of Alpine ski resorts, Bali, all of Thailand. Much of this involves direct marketing by the airlines telling people in cold countries that they could enjoy the Mediterranean or Indian Ocean sun. Even the peak season of travel shifted – English vacation travel to the Riviera goes back to the early Industrial Revolution, but when it was by rail and ferry the peak season was winter, whereas it has more recently shifted to the summer.
The politics of vacation travel
In some cases, states and other political actors may promote particular vacation sites with an agenda in mind. Nationalists enjoy promoting national unity through getting people to visit all corners of the country, and if this helps create a homogeneous commercial national culture, then all the better. This was part of the intention of the Nazi program for Autobahn construction and Volkswagen sales, but it’s also very common in democratic states that aim to use highways for nation-building, like midcentury America.
If there’s disputed land, then nationalists may promote vacation travel there in order to instill patriotic feelings toward it among the population. Israel has turned some demolished Arab villages into national forests, and promoted tourism to marginal parts of the country; settler forces are likewise promoting vacation travel to the settlements, cognizant of the fact that the median Israeli doesn’t have strong feelings toward the land in the Territories and wouldn’t mind handing them over in exchange for a peace agreement.
Politics may also dictate promoting certain historic sites, if they are prominent in the national narrative. In the Jewish community, two such trips are prominent, in opposite directions: the first is the organized Israeli high school trips to Poland to see the extermination camps and the ghettos, perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust in the public; the second is Birthright trips for Jews from elsewhere to visit Israel and perhaps find it charming enough to develop Zionist feelings toward it.
So what does this mean?
I bring up the politics and economic history of leisure travel, because a conscious reorientation of vacation travel around a green political agenda is not so different from what’s happened in the last few generations. The big change is that the green agenda starts from how people should travel and works out potential destinations and travel patterns from there, whereas nationalist agendas start from where people should travel and are not as commonly integrated with economic changes in how people can travel.
The point, then, is to figure out what kinds of vacation travel are available by train. Let’s say the map that I put forth in this post is actually built, and in contrast, taxes on jet fuel as well as petrol rise by multiple euros per liter in order to effect a rapid green transition. Where can people go on vacation and where can’t they?
Intercity leisure travel
By far the easiest category of leisure travel to maintain in a decarbonized world is between cities within reasonable high-speed rail range. Tens of millions of people already visit Paris and London every year, for business as well as for tourism. This can continue and intensify, especially if the green transition also includes building more housing in big high-income cities, creating more room for hotels.
High-speed rail lives on thick markets, the opposite of air travel. Once the basic infrastructure is there, scaling it up to very high passenger volumes on a corridor is not difficult; the Shinkansen’s capacity is not much less than 20,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Many people wish to travel to Paris for various reasons, so the TGV makes such travel easier, and thus even more people travel to and from the capital. A bigger and more efficient high-speed rail network permits more such trips, even on corridors that are currently underfull, like the LGV Est network going toward much of Germany or the LGV Sud-Europe Atlantique network eventually connecting to much of Spain.
Germany does not have a Paris, but it does have several sizable cities with tourist attractions. A tightly integrated German high-speed rail network permits many people in Germany and surrounding countries to visit the museums of Berlin, go to Carnival in Cologne, attend Oktoberfest in Munich, see the architecture of Hamburg, or do whatever it is people do in Frankfurt. The international connections likewise stand to facilitate German travel to neighboring countries and their urban attractions: Paris, Amsterdam, Basel, Vienna, Prague.
Intercity travel and smaller cities
Big cities are the most obvious centers of modern rail-based tourism. What else is there? For one, small cities and towns that one encounters on the way on corridors designed to connect the biggest cities. Would Erfurt justify a high-speed line on its own? No. But it has an ICE line, built at great expense, so now it is a plausible place for travel within Germany. The same can be said about cities that are not on any plausible line but could easily connect to one via a regional rail transfer. When I fished for suggestions on Twitter I got a combination of cities on top of a fast rail link to Berlin, like Leipzig and Nuremberg, and ones that would require transferring, like Münster and Heidelberg.
Even auto-oriented vacation sites can have specific portions that are rail-accessible, if they happen to lie near or between large cities. In North America the best example is Niagara Falls, conveniently located on the most plausible high-speed rail route between New York and Toronto. In Germany, South Baden is normally auto-oriented, but Freiburg is big enough to have intercity rail, and as investment in the railroad increases, it will be easier for people from Frankfurt, Munich, and the Rhine-Ruhr to visit.
Farther south, some Swiss ski resorts have decent enough rail connections that people could get there without too much inconvenience. If the German high-speed rail network expands with fast connections to Basel (as is planned) and Zurich (which is nowhere on the horizon), and Switzerland keeps building more tunnels to feed the Gotthard Base Tunnel (which is in the Rail 2035 plan but with low average speed), then people from much of central and southern Germany could visit select Swiss ski resorts in a handful of hours.
The green transition as I think most people understand it in the 21st century is an intensely urban affair. Berlin offers a comfortable living without a car, and as the German electric grid replaces coal with renewables (slower than it should, but still) it slowly offers lower-carbon electricity, even if it is far from Scandinavia or France. Small towns in contrast have close to 100% car ownership, the exceptions being people too poor to own a car. But the world isn’t 100% urban, and even very developed countries aren’t. So what about travel outside cities large and small?
The answer to that question is that it depends on what cities and what railroads happen to be nearby. This is to a large extent also true of ordinary economic development even today – a farming town 20 km from a big city soon turns into a booming commuter town, by rail or by highway. Popular forests, trails, mountains, and rivers are often accessible by railroad, depending on local conditions. For example, some of the Schwarzwald valleys are equipped with regional railways connecting to Freiburg.
Here, it may be easier to give New York examples than Berlin ones. Metro-North runs along the banks of the Hudson, allowing riders to see the Palisades on the other side. The vast majority of travelers on the Hudson Line do not care about the views, but rather ride the train to commute from their suburbs to Manhattan. But the line is still useful for leisure trips, and some people do take it up on weekends, for example to Poughkeepsie. The Appalachian Trail intersects Metro-North as well, though not many people take the train there. Mountains are obstacles for rail construction, but rivers are the opposite, many attracting railroads near their banks, such as the Hudson and the Rhine.
Conversely, while New York supplies the example of the Hudson Line, Germany supplies an urban geography that facilitates leisure travel by rail out of the city, in that it has a clear delineation between city and country, with undeveloped gaps between cities and their suburbs. While this isn’t great for urban rail usage, this can work well for leisure rail usage, because these gaps can be developed as parkland.
Where’s the catch?
Trains are great, but they travel at 300-360 km/h at most. An aggressive program of investment could get European trains to average around 200-240 km/h including stops and slow zones. This allows fast travel at the scale of a big European country or even that of two big European countries, but does not allow as much diversity of climate zones and biomes as planes do.
This does not mean trains offer monotonous urban travel. Far from it – there’s real difference in culture, climate, topography, and architecture within the German-speaking world alone, Basel and Cologne looking completely different from each other even as both are very pretty. But it does limit people to a smaller tranche of the world, or even Europe, than planes do. A Berliner who travels by train alone can reach Italy, but even with a Europe-scale high-speed rail program, it’s somewhat less than 4:45 to Venice, 5:00 to Milan, 5:30 to Florence, 6:45 to Rome, 7:45 to Naples. It’s viable for a long vacation but not as conveniently as today by plane with airfare set at a level designed to redraw coastlines. Even in Italy, there’s great access to interesting historic cities, but less so to coastal resorts designed around universal car use, located in topographies where rail is too difficult.
The situation of Spanish resorts is especially dicey. There isn’t enough traffic from within Spain to sustain them, there are so many. Germany is too far and so is Britain if planes are not available at today’s scale. What’s more, people who are willing to travel 7 or 8 hours to a Spanish resort can equally travel 5 hours to a French or Italian one. The French Riviera has gotten expensive, so tourism there from Northern Europe feels higher-income to me than tourism to Alicante, but if people must travel by train, then Nice is 4:30 from Paris and Alicante is 7:30, and the same trip time difference persists for travelers from Britain and Germany.
Is it feasible?
High carbon taxes are not just economically feasible and desirable, but also politically feasible in the context of Europe. The jet fuel tax the EU is discussing as part of the Green Deal program is noticeable but not enough to kill airlines – but what environmental policy is not doing, the corona virus crisis might. If low-cost air travel collapses, then much of the market for leisure travel specifically will have to reorient itself around other modes. If Europe decides to get more serious about fighting car pollution, perhaps noticing how much more breathable the air in Paris or Northern Italy is now than when people drive, then taxes and regulations reducing mass motorization become plausible too.
The transition may look weird – people whose dream vacation involved a long drive all over Italy or France or Germany may find that said vacation is out of their reach. That is fine. Other vacations become more plausible with better rail service, especially if they’re in big cities, but also if they involve any of a large number of natural or small-town destinations that happen to be on or near a big city-focused intercity rail network.
Isn’t the greenest option to concentrate vacation travel within a local area? If people in Berlin take their vacations in Brandenburg or maybe on the Baltic coast, doesn’t that have the least impact since you can reuse commuter and regional infrastructure?
Yeah, but what if they don’t *want* to vacation there?
The connections from Berlin to the Baltic have if anything gotten worse since the heyday of Baltic tourism in the Belle Epoque….
What happens to islands which can’t be easily connected to the Mainland and depend on tourism: Hawaii, Azores, Okinawa, etc?
What about religious pilgrimages to Rome, Mecca, Jerusalem, Varanasi, etc?
If in the long run we build a high speed rail line from Europe to India why couldn’t there be an extension to Mecca for the Hajj so that Muslims from Europe and South and Central Asia can do the Hajj and get there without causing massive carbon emissions by flying.
The Saudis are already building HSR to Mecca. The problem in linking the Turkish and the Saudi HSR networks is more political than geographical…
Pilgrimages existed in times when travel was much more hazardous and slower. Some even consider a deliberately slow mode of going there part of the spiritual experience. Compare the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela…
The former are hard, yes. As for the latter, it depends:
– Varanasi is the easiest: about 98% of world Hindus live in South Asia, so a good Indian high-speed rail network with some international connections to Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal takes care of them.
– Mecca is hard to reach by train, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it can be connected to much of MENA by train. Moreover, Hajj is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage, so taking the hit and letting each Muslim emit a couple of tons of CO2 in a lifetime isn’t terrible.
– Jerusalem is hard to reach but only because of Israel’s total unwillingness to do the bare minimum required for peace with its neighbors. The Levant is densely populated and has pretty good urban geography for a rail network. If we ignore the international penalty and the third-world penalty then HSR going up to Turkey and hooking up to the Turkish network and another line going down to Cairo both become feasible.
– Rome is completely trivial to get to by rail from anywhere in Europe at the trip time a pilgrim expects, even today. The rest of the Christian world is of course a much bigger problem, but in Africa the problem is less “no direct HSR” and more “something like half the people don’t even have electricity.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haramain_high-speed_railway It is already possible to reach Mecca by train. The problem is getting to KSA….
There are trains that run right up to the Jordanian border, and Jordan keeps talking about building their half of the line (though that line doesn’t actually connect to the Haramain anyway). Even if they did, though, that just creates the problem of getting to Jordan, which is technically connected by rail to the Eurasian network – but that connection is on a line that runs through Syria, and I’d be pretty confident that a line through Damascus and Aleppo is not in working order at the moment.
Hopefully there’ll come a time when Syria is once more passable for “normal” travel…
You can book airline tickets on your smartphone that gets recharged from a solar panel.
I don’t think Alon meant that it was impossible for people in Africa to book a plane ticket. Just that for millions of Africans, plane travel isn’t exactly in their budget…
The people on pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem though aren’t just Europeans. Rome especially is the place to go on pilgrimage if you’re a catholic, and there’s more of them now in Latin America than there are in Europe.
Again, especially in Catholic Christianity it being hard to get there can be part of the “spiritual experience”. Plus holy relics and apparitions of the virgin are a dime a dozen in the Catholic world. LatAm has its own Mary in Mexico and probably more…
Only one! Bah, there’s three here (including one of colour; hmm, no that saint was Saint Sarah reputedly the Maries’ servant) in the Camargue delta:
I see (Wiki) that in 1720 it was spared the plague, and presumably the annual gypsy pilgrimage/music festival in summer has been cancelled this year? Sadly the train from Arles was discontinued a long time ago.
Interesting to note that these three Marys were early boat-people, sailing across the Mediterranean fleeing persecution. Long journey but at least low carbon miles.
Many notables have vacationed there from Vincent Van Gogh, Tori Amos, Mick Softley and the Bobster himself amongst many other musicians but these three wrote songs about it. Vincent painted the Saintes-Maries church:
And thirteen of the twelve apostles are buried in Germany…
In the Middle East, you could maybe build up a network between Saudi Arabia, its Gulf neighbours (Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, perhaps Oman) and Jordan, and Israel could possibly have connections to Jordan and Egypt (maybe even Lebanon?). Even if there aren’t through-trains from Israel to Saudi, it should be possible to transfer in Jordan. But the lines don’t exist and mostly never did (there was the Hejaz railway from Damascus to Mecca briefly, but the only bit of that that is still functional is a small amount around Amman).
But to connect either Jerusalem or Mecca to the main Eurasian network in Turkey or Iran, you’d have to go through either Syria or Iraq. And Egypt’s only African land borders are with Sudan and Libya. None of those four countries are going to be attractive for through-travellers if they have the option of flying over. It used to be possible to reach Israel by land by taking a (very slow) train from Turkey to Amman in Jordan and then crossing the border by road, but that train ran through Syria, and the line is obviously closed now. And you couldn’t get back anyway, because Syria’s borders were closed to anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport.
There are no serious options; the least unserious is a tunnel under the Persian Gulf connecting Iran to Khasab (an Omani exclave that is the closest point to Iran) – there was an agreement to build a gas pipeline between Iran and Oman back in the days of the JCPOA and general improved relations with Iran, so this is not completely outside the bounds of the politically possible. It’s economically utterly implausible, though – it would be phenomenally expensive and time-consuming to get a train from Europe to Israel that way, for instance, and a train that went through Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran is not going to happen even if every individual border is open.
It’s easier to change politics than geography.
A couple of points:
First off, I think trips to nonmetropolitan destinations won’t decline, but they will become more concentrated. In the context of the Western US, which I’m most familiar with, this means more trips to Big Sur, Yosemite, Zion, and so on, but less to random spots in deserts and national forests. Basically, if a destination has enough critical mass for good transit service and geography that allows it, people will go there instead of more dispersed areas. It’s already the case that getting around within Yosemite and Zion is mostly done by bus and trail, and it isn’t hard to imagine frequent bus service being added in from Merced HSR and Las Vegas HSR, respectively. Similarly, the nature of Big Sur lends itself to frequent busses between stations in San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Especially as most tourists to these destinations are already flying into cities lime Vegas and LA and renting a car, shifting them onto targeted transit corridors is easy. You already see this happening in places like Switzerland, where tourism is concentrating in natural hubs like Zermatt and the Berner Oberland but much of the rest of the country is comparatively passed over because it’s so easy to get to these places by rail. Taiwan, another transit-heavy natural tourism destination sees agglomeration of rail-tourists around its marquis destinations like Alishan, Kenting, and Taroko while much of the rest of the country is passed over. Places that might benefit from this in Europe might be the Rhine Valley, all of the Alps, essentially the whole Mediterranean coastline, the Basque Country, and the Loire Valley for starters. Just an effect to consider…
Second, I just don’t see air travel dying under a carbon tax regime, nor should it. Carbon taxes are desirable, but by their nature they’ll shift demand away from the things that can be replaced most easily and/or people are willing to give up. I see this as cars and fossil fuel generated electricity mostly, provided alternative infrastructure exists. I don’t see people wanting to stay in an 1000 km radius of their homes and intercontinental travel just isn’t going to die. Say a $300/ton carbon tax is implemented. On a 787-9 from Los Angeles to London, that adds surcharge of $600. On an a321 from London to Malaga, that’s a surcharge of $115. Those figures are high, but they maybe take us back to the air travel volumes of the early 2000’s, not the 1950’s. Not long ago, people willingly paid $1,000 to get from LA to London, and nowadays, it costs $400. Passenger volumes might fall 30 to 40 percent, but I expect tourism by airplane is here to stay.
From what I hear, top destinations like Yosemite are already overcrowded, and there’s a limit to how many more tourists you can force into them…
I’d just like to second this comment that “I just don’t see air travel dying under a carbon tax regime, nor should it.” Leisure travel is an uncommon occurence (once/year?), which makes unusually high-costing trips much more palatable. High carbon taxes will eliminate car-commuting, eliminate business air travel, and depopulate the boondocks long before leisure flights become scarce. Besides, although electric airplanes seem impossible this century, high-speed zeppelins are a relatively well-understood technology, and there’s always biodiesel jet fuel.
How high speed can a zeppelin become? I think the limit for economically achievable speeds is if anything lower than for rail…
And you don’t understand how marginal many leisure trips are. People are often flying with their kids to the place where a given vacation (usually two weeks) is the cheapest all things considered. Currently the marginal effect of a longer flight to Turkey or Greece is overcompensated by the lower wage level. And the flights aren’t necessarily more expensive. Heck, even a three week holiday in Nicaragua can be cheaper than three weeks in Germany if starting in Germany and staying in “private rooms” (I.e. Not dorms or campsites) because the 500$ flight is a drip in the bucket compared to 50€ hotel rooms in Germany vs 5$ ones in Nicaragua…
I think the best chance for a big breakthrough in air travel is with biofuels. Electric propeller airplanes are mainly for short haul trips, exactly the type of trip that should be replaced by trains. In some cases they make more sense (extremely rugged terrain, not a huge market, etc.) but in general, I don’t see them (or zeppelins) replacing travel from, say, New York City to L. A.
Unless you take a plant which requires no or next to no fertilizer (“peak phosphate” is not far off) and of which the entire matter can be burned, I think Power to Liquid looks more promising…
A lot of the tourists in Yosemite are from Europe. Or rich boomers… Americans don’t get paid time off…
Leisure travel is pretty free in choice of destination. Most of the flights to Antalya aren’t actually ask that interested in Turkey per se. It’s just that two weeks all inclusive plus flight is cheaper than any place with comparable climate in Italy. If the flight changes from a financial non-factor to the biggest financial factor, price sensitive leisure travel shifts…
In some cases, but as a general rule, those are short haul trips to start with. I don’t see most Americans going to Hawaii or Italy happily replacing that with Myrtle Beach or Santa Fe.
Way more Americans travel to Florida for vacation than to Hawaii, no?
Yes but it’s regional. There’s a divide basically at the Rocky Mountains, so I suppose I’m using my experience as one of the ~20% of Americans west of the Rockies. Even east of them though, I don’t see New Yorkers switching from a 2 hour flight to Miami to a 9 hour HSR ride, even if each person has to pay an extra $100 in carbon taxes. I also don’t see people just staying local and vacationing in Atlantic City or whatever.
Often an extra 100$ per person means no holiday whatsoever…
wikipedia can be your friend
Now ATL-MCO is mostly connecting traffic, but still the distance is eminently within the reach of HSR and Virgin would be a fool not to have that route in their long term plans once the stuff they are currently working on openly (Las Vegas- LAish & MCO-MIA) is fully built and earning an operational profit…
Don’t forget how free even to choice to travel can be! People just flying across the continent to Lisboa or Paris over the weekend didn’t happen much before the advent of the low-cost carriers.
Yeah, my brother says his friends are now considering visiting him in Berlin much more than they used to since the new high speed line opened….
8 hours or even longer is fine by comfortable modern sleeper trains.
The other option is a working from home day on the train. If you can get a direct train from London and there’s 4G internet the whole way I don’t see why you couldn’t “work from train” for a couple of days.
Flying is too bitty to get work done really.
That’s a bit much. Very few people have the flexibility or desire to spend a couple of days on a train to get somewhere, or even take a night train for what it’s worth. Spending a few hours on a plane is just a better proposition 9/10 times. Especially if you can depart at 8 pm and arrive at midnight or something, mitigating the whole “you lose a day travelling” argument.
London-Beijing should be doable by high speed rail in ~30 hours each way vs ~14 hours flying and ~20 if you go with a cheaper airline in the Middle East.
If you did a days work on the way out and a days work on the way back you’d be ahead in terms of productive time with flying.
If you’re the type of person who’s work consists primarily of sitting behind a laptop, which is hardly most people. Besides, air travel is such a small portion of overall global emissions, I doubt spending $100 billion on shifting China-Europe trips to high speed rail gives you the biggest bang for the buck. There is much lower hanging fruit.
I don’t think there’s many jobs (aside from entry level customer facing stuff like bar work) where you can’t give someone at least a days solid work to do on a laptop. Even if it’s training or a report or something.
You forget that the Chinese leadership is very aggressive about their whole “belt and road” stuff. If you can get a cargo train from Beijing to Duisburg in three days, that’d massively cut the emissions of global sea trade…
This isn’t just China – Russia is heavily investing in high-speed freight on the Trans-Siberian in order to compete with shipping (which is very GHG-efficient for freight, just polluting because of high-sulfur fuel). I think the current aim is China to Germany in a week.
I think the carbon emissions from HSR would be higher than from ships. Ships are very efficient…
Ships don’t run on wind or sun or geothermal energy…
And nuclear ships are not currently used for civilian purposes…
The big problem with the China-Europe landbridge is geopolitical… There is no route that doesn’t have to cross a major body of water which avoids Iran AND Russia. And Europe has had a dicey relationship with both in the last few years. What if either is embroiled in civil war or revolutionary turmoil?
Ships uses much less energy than trains do. It is possible that eventually rail will become sufficiently electrified to beat ships in terms of carbon emissions, but that’s a long way away.
The Transsib is already fully electrified.
Are there major Chinese long distance freight lines where Diesel dominates?
In Europe, of course, most freight is carried on the electrified network, so much so, that non-electrified lines are a significant barrier to freight as changing locos is not worth it….
Even electrified lines use fossil fuels indirectly…
We’re already decarbonizing electricity. And if there weren’t ideologues slamming in the brakes, much of Europe could phase out coal by 2025…
Much harder to phase out natural gas, concrete manufacture, etc.
What’s that got to do with rail vs. boat?
Rail requires more energy and more materials than boat.
At some point, the potential cleaner nature of rail energy will probably make rail cleaner overall than boats. But we don’t know exactly when that will occur.
Rail is also MUCH faster than boat… And it can go anywhere on land…
Pretty much this entire post is about ignoring the value of speed…
Propaganda value aside, there seems to be genuine transportation value in being faster than by boat from Beijing to Duisburg but not as expensive as a plane…
I still don’t buy it. As Alon says, the future is not retro. If you want to decarbonize long distance air travel, you’re going to have to come up with a solution that offers similar or shorter door to door travel times, not expect everyone to spend multiple days on a trail.
The Concorde did not usher in a new age of supersonic travel, did it now?
“By 1976, social pressure over concerns with the plane’s noise and sonic boom led to the cancellation of virtually all orders for Concorde, leaving British Airways and Air France as the only airlines to fly the SST.”
I guess that’s why later SST projects (none operational yet) have focused on ways to minimize the sonic book.
Social pressure? Hardly any of the public had ever experienced what it was like.
No, it was political pressure by the American planemakers who got the Feds to ban Concorde. You can be sure if the Americans had successfully developed their own supersonic pax jet, that wouldn’t have happened. Once they did it, the world airlines knew the game was up and started cancelling.
The Concorde was a fuel hog. There just aren’t enough people who pay a premium to travel NYC-LON an hour or two faster to make it viable…
There ARE enough people who pay a premium to fly NYC-LON in a hotel room to make THAT viable….
Concorde saved maybe 3 hours from what was otherwise a 9 hour trip (including security, baggage, etc). In return, you had to sit in a very cramped and extremely loud seat, as opposed to the first class seat you’d have in a regular plane for the same price. So even the comfort/convenience benefit is not clear.
And yes, it burned 5 times as much fuel per passenger as a regular plane. I don’t think a reasonable carbon tax will eliminate plane travel (unlike Alon) but it would make Concorde’s business model that much more difficult.
“Eliminate air travel” and “reduce leisure air travel by 99%” are two different things…
If you’re just taking the route-distance and dividing by speed, then a London-Beijing flight would be about nine hours (8135km by a great circle route, and planes cruise at about 900 km/h). Actual flights take much longer, as you note with your 14 hour timing.
Your 30 hour train is a route-distance (9000km is about right given actual geography – the great circle route flies over a lot of water) divided by 300km/h, but that’s as unrealistic as the nine hour flight. 200 km/h is a more realistic average speed, which suggests something more like 45 hours.
A good rule of thumb is that high-speed trains take three times as long as flights; if they’re not reasonably close to that, then you got your numbers wrong – in this case, you’re comparing a real-world flight time with a theoretical rail time derived by taking the distance and dividing by the maximum speed.
It’s not impossible to reach an average speed of 300 km/h tho…
For any trian over 15 hours you should start thinking the cruise ship model: move at night for 10-12 hours. Stop at some tourist trap destination (might be some city that already exists, might be something created for the purpose) for the day and move on at night. People get off and do whatever.
Note that platform length is not a concern. Tourist trap is part of this business model, if you are making some random city your tourist trap you buy land outside of the city and rent retail space to businesses that want to sell their junk. Tour buses will also pay a price to get close. Since you are building new anyway you use low floor cars and only need more than a sidewalk for the few cars reserved for the disabled.
This train probably doesn’t start in London, it starts in Poland or something and you take a regular train to get there.
Interestingly that one private cruise-train in Canada does the opposite. People are in the train by day and in hotels by night…
The Royal Scotsman stops during the night, with passengers in their sleeping cars trying to sleep without the rocking of the train. Belmond is operating a few other trains (see WP) that are already working on the ‘land cruise’ model.
The ÖBB Nightjets sell out their most expensive categories first. Which goes against all hypotheses that argue that train customers are above all price sensitive…
Doesn’t Nightjet make up a small percentage of rail travel in Austria?
And really price sensitive travelers generally take the bus.
Actually ÖBB is one of the railroads in Europe with the highest percentage of their revenue in night trains. And they certainly have a pretty high revenue per passenger km… So it’s no wonder they are buying new rolling stock and want to expand…
I see that FlixTrain has pulled out of running services in France (complaining about high access charges but probably as much related to impact this year of covid-19) and one of its proposed routes was an overnight train Paris-Nice. I am not sure they are sleepers. Presumably not, for this cheap end of the market? Seats can be tolerable as long as they recline well. Especially as this is really parasitising the bus market, and I would definitely take the overnight train versus the very long bus ride.
Flixtrain apparently wishes to get out of its contract with RDC. Something is being planned by them, but what I do not know… And they have run the Lörrach (near the German-Swiss-French Tripoint) Hamburg auto-shuttle with sleeping accommodation… Or rather sold tickets for it…
»8 hours or even longer is fine by comfortable modern sleeper trains.«
Alon should make a post about how night trains won’t save the climate.
Assuming a 15-couchette train (leaving no room at the platforms for the locomotive) with 10 compartments per carriage and an even mix of 4 and 6 berths per compartment, that’s 750 beds per train.
How many trains per night does one need on a given route to provide the capacity approaching a measurable share of existing (pre-corona) air traffic? How many platforms does one need at the stops and termini?
If the longer distances are taken only by night trains, we end up with the end of travel, not a shift from air to rail travel.
Wait, I thought the problem with night trains was that they had TOO MUCH capacity, having many berths stay empty while airlines can downgauge…. Now you’re saying they have too little capacity? How does that fit into the picture?
The 3 South Florida airports together have ~7 million passengers per year to the 3 NY area airports. That’s 19000 per day, or 26 trains of 750 people each. Double that for the remainder of the Northeast Corridor, and you have 52 trains. Let’s say all these trains need to depart in a 2-3 hour window, that makes for a pretty busy track pair with not much room to expand service.
Well once we have THAT problem, we can easily quadruple track it all and equip it with AGT….
How do they manage to have such dense traffic with vehicles that have less capacity btw?
Presumably that’s because the flights are spread throughout the day, and you’re replacing them all with night trains, which get crammed into a narrow window?
Surely price conscious customers can be enticed onto less attractive departures by lower fares….
Perhaps, but if you’re proposing overnight travel, you really couldn’t have any departures before 7:00 p.m. or after 1:00 a.m. Assuming some concentration towards peak times between 8:00 pm. and 10:00 p.m., that’s still a train every 15 minutes between the NEC and South Florida and doesn’t even begin to address other city pairs like NEC-Orlando, NEC-Tampa, NEC-New Orleans, Chicago-FL, etc., etc., etc.
Airplanes have such capacity by spreading it between three (or more) airports on either end… The skies themselves are spacious
Google says it’s 1,500 miles between Boston and Miami. ten hours at an average speed of 150. Tolerable daytime trip since you can get up and roam around anytime you want. Or 1,400 from Chicago. Perhaps twice a day because normal people will still fly.
If a line was built directly, but I’d be very skeptical if a line along the Carolina Coast was worthwhile. Otherwise, everything is going through Atlanta.
There are viable sub-trips along that route…
If you are going to ban airplanes there is enough demand for TWO lines through Georgia. people who want to get from the Northeast to Florida won’t be getting on of off the train in the Carolinas or Georgia and don’t care if it doesn’t go through Atlanta. Having it not go through Atlanta means people who want to get to or from Atlanta can get there. Or the ones from the Midwest who would likely be passing through there.But then I don’t see why anyone would ban airplanes because if everybody is driving electric cars the petroleum refineries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania can be converting garbage and sewage sludge to into synthetic jet fuel and you don’t have to build HSR from Chicago or Boston to Miami. Or whatever we are dumping into ethanol plants to make ethanol to add to the gasoline we won’t be using anymore.
Electric cars still crash, produce noise, require space and so on.
And wouldn’t converting the garbage into bio-polymers replacing oil derived plastic be much more worthwhile?
I own a lot of New York Central and D&H timetables, brochures, and print ads dating back to the 1890s, very heavy advertising for Niagara Falls and the Adirondacks.
I just recently wrote a article for my rail organization’s news letter calling for New York State (Empire Development Corporation “I Love NY”) to plan out a promotional tourist campaign for its PRIIA Section 209 state-supported Amtrak service, including travel packages for various destinations served by the Empire Service, Adirondack, and Ethan Allen.
My reasoning is that there is an opportunity here, because regional and instate travel is more likely to return faster, being safer by the public, than long-distance or international travel. Also, tourism is a big industry in New York State, and has been it hard. Most hotels in Saratoga Springs are shuttered, my hotel is still open, but me and everyone else except for a few font desk workers have been out-of-work for weeks, business collapsing to nothing in the first week of March. I was one of the last to be let go, for a week the only guest was a Skidmore College student from South Korea who was stranded.
I have been involved with (very limited) in examining tourist-oriented rail travel in New York State, and it works fine in places like Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Buffalo which have good public transit, taxis, and walkable neighborhoods, but is problematic for destinations served by the Adirondack.
For example, Ticonderoga has two great attractions, the Historic Fort and Star Trek Original Set Tour; but no public transit or taxis and phone calls to the local Best Western indicated no shuttle service either. You can walk up from the train station to the fort easily, but the village is a two-mile walk. Be fine for a young fit person who loves walking and travels light, but not for most other people. Hard to recommend for train travel without a local shuttle.
In my article I cite the efforts of railways in Japan as an example to emulate (the private railways put put Metro-North to shame) and I really love some of the TV adverts they have done. NHK World today has the great “Japan: Railway Journal” and “Train Cruise” shows. British Rail also did some good video work, both 30-sec (Away Day and Age of the Train) TV spots and longer documentaries by British Transport Films. In the day of YouTube, both work well.
Tobu Railway features a family from Tokyo visiting Kegon Falls
JR Hokkaido Romantic Getaway
Journey Inter City (1972)
NHK World: Train Cruise
FWIW, New York might gain some baggage car buying options when the Amfleet replacement order currently out for RFP works its way past the first-up national/Northeast Regional share (inclusive of any state routes like Virginia wholly parasitic to the NEC). NYSDOT/VTrans for the Empire Corridor, PennDOT for the Keystone Corridor, and NNEPRA/MEDOT for the Downeaster (remote maintenance base for Downeaster is Albany) are second in line to make their moves, with national long-distance fleet and Amfleet II replacements last in sequence. The default cab car configuration in the PRIAA specs for replacing the Keystone/Pennsylvanian’s Metroliner cabs and the Downeaster’s NPCU cabbages is a half-coach/half-baggage configuration with cab-facing end of the car having a small baggage room and a smaller crew break room in it behind a false wall. The base configuration then has custom-order capability to chunk out to one-third coach / two-thirds baggage storage by trading out a modular snap-in section…or doing up the entire car as baggage should NNEPRA opt for 1:1 capacity match with their retiring cabbages. PennDOT’s going to be making use of that half-bag space any which way because all their schedules are cab car equipped for the Philly reverse and that config is the order default for cabs. So will the Ethan Allen Express because the Rutland-Burlington extension coming online Summer 2021 bakes in a Rutland reverse move for reaching north.
Where it gets more interesting for the likes of New York is that the modular chunking of the cab configuration with snap-out sections and false walls is optionally catalog-orderable in the trailers too. So while the Empire Corridor won’t be using any cab cars except for the trace couple units assigned to the Burlington-extended EAE, they will be able to shop for similar half-coach/half-bag or greater configurations on portion of their PRIAA-paid fleet based at Albany Shops (likely branded in special NY livery a la the new Midwest and Caltrans fleets). While these half-bag configs aren’t going to have roll-up doors for large items or heavy-loading mounts like the dedicated Viewliner II baggage cars, it’s plenty good for bringing aboard bikes/skis for a vacation trip or some college kid carrying all their worldly belongings to/from home in a giant human-sized duffel bag. Shoo-in fit for equipping the Adirondack which sorely needs a bag car, and arguably a perk they can make hay on for regular Niagra or Toronto Empire Service if properly promoted. And very little unit premium from the standard coaches because the modifications are all-interior in the snap-out sections, and indeed can be changed around midlife in cars to different partitioned interior configs. I could easily see NYSDOT custom-ordering enough half-bags in that configuration when it’s their turn to dip on Amfleet replacements, and equip the rear trailer on every single Empire train on the schedule with one of those in a capacity match for what PennDOT will be netting by default with its vanilla cab cars.
What they ultimately make of it is all up to the service execution, but the coming physical-order options will get a whole lot more flexible for perma-targeting the weekender demographic on corridors like the Empire. Biz-traveler centric Northeast Regionals are unlikely to dip on that until the statie equipment orders like New York show proof that there’s solid business bona fides in it, but as described the modular interior sections are reconfigurable so pivots can be made anywhere across the East Coast base fleet at any time if demand merits.
Checked luggage doesn’t work with short station dwell times. Have everybody carry their luggage onboard and carry bulky or oversized stuff on separate trains if need be…
A baggage car for the Maple Leaf for sports equipment would be a good idea, giving you two frequencies with such service NYC-Buffalo, including a morning up and late-afternoon train down (Maple Leaf) and a evening up and afternoon train down. Bikes on trains is a initiative which seems like its coming soon, likely by removing seats in cafe car.
So you’ll ad another ten to twenty minutes to every stop to have the luggage loaded and unloaded. Why?
Checked luggage works OK if it’s a small number of bulky/oversized items and the staff to load/unload are well-organized on board and at each station – you can move a couple of trunks and a pair of skis pretty easily in a normal dwell time. It just needs to be set up such that passengers can only use it for items that couldn’t be brought as regular luggage – either very large, heavy items like a trunk, oversize items like skis, or items too dangerous to be allowed in the passenger areas, like guns. Perhaps allow disabled passengers to use it for regular suitcases?
Bikes, on the other hand, your best option is to put one or two bike places in every (or every alternate) car and just let passengers bring their bike themselves rather than having to check them in and out.
Why don’t railroads in countries with significant passenger rail service have checked luggage?
Because it’s a huge hassle, involves lots of staff, and is therefore so expensive that passengers won’t use it.
Eurostar has it.
Eurostar also has weird security theater….
That’s more or less what you’ll get with these modular bag configurations. It’s within the constraints of the livery mounts for the standard coach carbody, so no roll-up doors or palate-loading accommodations like the Viewliner II bag cars. You’re talking handoff of bags too large to fit in the overhead compartment, bikes/skis/sporting equipment, and quite possibly some quiet kennel accommodations in the back room for taking your pets along. Since these are corridor routes like standard Empire slots and not LD’s the lion’s share of utilization is going to be carry-on extras with quick handoffs in the vestibule for all extras that aren’t going in the above-seat luggage racks. Since it’s going to be there any which way in the default cab car configuration for the Keystones et al. and costs little extra to do up in trailer form for the Empire, etc…utilization squarely targets the fattest but least-invasive slice of the bag service audience and won’t go anywhere near as deep in accommodation as the LD trains. It’s actually a significant net downsizing of the Downeaster’s current baggage service to switch to the cab-coach-bag cars from the cavernous NPCUs’ bag bays. The only reason that route is such an outlier at offering full checked baggage is because it needed a cab car and those hollowed-out ex-F40 loco ‘cabbages’ were the easiest/cheapest equipment available at the time. Actual utilization doesn’t merit that level of service, so they’ll be right-sizing their accommodations down to the widest but *shallowest* share of that market with their replacement stock.
Efficiently managed this shouldn’t negatively impact dwells. Since on a Keystone the bag rooms are going to be in the trailing cab car, designate the adjacent vestibule as the marked entrance for anyone checking a bag ticket from their smartphone app. Help available for carrying on at stations with an on-duty attendant, but the handoff happens onboard in the vestibule so there’s no expectation of extra carrying help at stops where none is available. If the discount Albany coach bus lines have been able to do it this way for generations with their underside bays, I don’t see how a train with a bag room inside one coach is going to completely impale its scheduling on similarly skeletal accommodation. It’s only a problem if you completely overdo the level of service beyond that fattest/shallowest slice of demand or somehow execute the boarding sequence with superlative cluelessness. On the Empire Corridor, for instance, converts from the coach buses that’ve been doing this practice forever are large share of the potential growth audience for the train, especially the biz class and family tiers well willing to pay a little more for the extra comfort of the train ride as frequencies/schedules get better. The framing for the bag perk doesn’t need to overthink itself in the slightest to usefully tap that source of demand when the most familiar example to customers on that corridor is the no-frills Greyhound or Bolt bus that’s always done it with minimal overhead.
Mountains may be obstacles for railroad construction, but you still have to build through them eventually. Once you’ve done that, it’s not that hard to put a station in the middle of the pass. Here in the LA area, there’s a natural greenbelt to the north because it’s hard to cross the mountains…but BNSF and UP still have to get to San Francisco, so there are already Metrolink & Amtrak stations up in Palmdale and Victorville. (In the LA case, the only tourism I know of involves RV-ing out in the desert, and even that’s second-hand. Nevertheless, in a no-flying, no-driving hypothetical, the change in climate/biome might get a lot more interesting.)
Moreover, a lot of mountainous areas in the US have extensive legacy lines due to a historic mining operations (this is trivially true in Pacific South America — the rail lines have all been abandoned except where they continue to serve mines!). For example, Scranton, PA; Royal Gorge, CO; and much of West Virginia all have extensive rail lines that have already or could easily be repurposed for leisure travel. I know Scranton has put in considerable effort to develop tourism based on its industrial heritage (to mixed success.)
In the second paragraph you got a “reach” with an extra e.
Not anymore ;). But thanks.
Which alpine mountain resort is anywhere close to Munich airport, Vienna airport or Zurich airport (the main intercontinental airports and incidentally all Lufthansa Group hubs)?
As for “nothing on the horizon” for faster Germany-Zurich travel times, that’s only semi accurate as the line via Lindau is being electrified and Lindau is getting a new through station enabling Munich-Zurich travel times competitive with aviation. It ain’t hsr, but it ain’t nothing…
Zurich airport to Chur is ~2hrs. Arosa/Davos/etc. are at most another 2hrs. Do you consider Arosa a resort? Wikipedia says exactly three of its residents work in a primary industry.
But that means you have to add a substantial trip after flying in before you can hit the slopes. And that’s in addition to the hassle that is carrying skiing gear by plane…
In my experience the typical skiing trip is either by motorcar or by bus. At least in the alps. And that despite congestion and whatnot. The low hanging fruit to me seems a “ski delivery from doorstep to hotel room” service in addition to the train ticket…
I can’t speak to mode share breakdowns but taking the RhB to St. Moritz in late winter shows a substantial number of the passengers appear to be skiers.
Those are probably mostly Swiss people, as I have never been to Switzerland, I can’t speak to that…
Most of swiss ski resorts have rail access. Zermatt does not even have access by road, you have to park in Täsch and then take the train. From Zurich airport, you can take a direct hourly train in 1h22 to Flumserberg a quite decent ski resort. Verbier, favourite resort for British tourists is easily accessible from Geneva airport in a little more than 2h.
Leysin a much smaller resort has a project to extend the railway of 1km up to the start of the main gondola. That would allow people to be on the slopes in less than 1h from Lausanne and less than 2h from Geneva airport.
In France, night trains to Saint-Gervais, Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Briançon used to be very busy during winter weekends, now it’s more by TGV. All 3 stations have connections by bus, funicular or train to the largest French ski resorts: Chamonix, Courchevel, Les Arcs, Val d’Isère, Serre Chevalier. As far as I know it’s still very common to take the train for ski holidays there, especially from Paris. Bourg Saint Maurice is even served by Eurostar and Thalys in winter.
Serfaus even built a subway…
What about new lines whose purpose would be virtually exclusively for leisure? This goes from trivially low hanging fruit like re-connecting Neuharlingersiel, Harlesiel and so on to the railroad network (those villages are the ports serving the carfree East Frisian Islands which are major tourism draws) to much more difficult stuff like a Korea-Jeju tunnel (serving what is currently the world’s busiest air corridor) to pie in the sky stuff like a tunnel from Mallorca to the mainland…
Does Los Angeles-Las Vegas count? Because that’s under semi-active development. And Tokyo-Niigata was developed in part for encouraging tourism in Niigata, though of course it also serves to connect people in Niigata to the capital.
Mallorca is hard to impossible and it’s more likely that Mediterranean tourism should just shift to the Riviera, Barcelona, and maybe Genoa if it wants to reinvent itself as Italy’s Nice rather than Italy’s Marseille.
I think there’ll always be non-negligible travel to Mallorca. Even absent the binge-drinking set, the island apparently has breathtaking nature in the hinterland…
Yes. That was my last holiday by air, and I’m very glad I went, it’s a stunning island (the binge-drinking package holidays are confined to a small fraction of the island and easily avoided).
The cheap binge-drinking in the sun can transfer to the Costa del Sol most obviously – Malaga is on the AVE network (2h 20m from Madrid, 5h50 from Barcelona; it should be plausible to run a sleeper from as far as Amsterdam or Köln; certainly from Paris).
The Balearics are about 200km by sea from Barcelona or Valencia; too far for a fixed crossing, but close enough for a ferry for those who affirmatively want to travel there (there are regular ferries from Barcelona to all three main islands), though I suspect that even with reasonable carbon taxation, there will be plenty of demand for the short flight. It would certainly be much lower carbon to take the train to Barcelona and fly from there than to take a flight across half of Europe – and Barcelona is always going to be well-connected.
200 km might some day be within the realm of possibility for electric aviation….
Sure. But not at the sort of volume that the Balearics currently get. As a lower volume, higher priced destination, sure.
They’ll cram the plane to the gills. By that time even FAA rules on “every passenger a seat” might be abolished… And for 200 km and a cheap(er) ticket, people are willing to self-torture quite a bit…
The limitation on electric planes is weight rather than volume; cramming people in won’t help.
What they might be interested in is cutting down the cabin luggage limit and not carrying hold luggage at all (it could be carried by a ferry and transferred to your hotel). Fly with just a basic overnight bag and then have your main suitcase arrive the next morning.
The other problem is that if there’s a significant price differential between flying and other transport anyway, then flights are going to become more and more upscale – which means less price sensitivity, so better to provide a business-class or better experience and raise the prices even higher. The people who care about another €200 on the price aren’t flying anyway at that point.
A seat adds weight. And a surprising fraction of the weight of a plane is stuff like fuselage, wings, engines and fuel – stuff that is rather insensitive to the number of pax (except the last one, of course)
JR East runs their own ski resort at Gala-Yuzawa, with direct trains from Tokyo during the peak months.
It’s off a branch from the main Joetsu Shinkansen though. If your HSR passes near enough to a tourist spot you could run a short branch, but the hard part would be figuring out how to slot those trains into the network.
Like the special Eurostars that run only in peak summer on weekends from London non-stop to Avignon. And I believe there are equivalents in winter for some ski-fields in the French alps.
Traveling by train is especially attractive to families as there’s just so much more one can do to keep the children happy…
Another thing that seems to have been overlooked here is the potential to combine trains and bicycles. In theory no mode of transportation is more amenable to the bicycle tourist, because there are many stops and there should – at least in theory – be more space for a bicycle than on a plane. The – understandable but paradoxical – desire of many tourists to get away from other tourists is also much easier to fulfill if one has a bicycle which can carry one a non-trivial distance. One could experience much more remote parts of a national park on a bicycle than just doing the “standard tour” from the railhead…
Glacier National Park opened thanks to its location next to the (American) Great Northern.
A very neat trick rich people pulled off. Get the government to take over the land you never planned on developing and then in perpetuity and at taxpayer expense, pay for your views and isolation. Very neat trick.
Which is why railroads should be owned by We The People so that their benefits accrue to everybody.
We did, across the Midwest and Northeast anyway. The free market zealots made us sell it off.
Free market ideologues are the worst…
That’s basically the entire National Park system – ecotourism for very rich people back before the word “ecotourism” existed, plus maybe some hunting grounds for the Teddy Roosevelts of the world. It was not supposed to be part of mass car culture back in John Muir’s day.
In Germany there is sometimes NIMBY opposition to the creation of new national parks…
It was a mix; but I would say the early U. S. National Park system was more “eco” than “tourism”. The goal was preservation first, while also allowing people to visit. Yellowstone was the first National Park, and they specifically didn’t want it to be like Niagara Falls (overdeveloped). They also banned hunting (which, along with the bans to logging and mining, upset the locals). At first you could only get there by wagon train — the railroad didn’t get there until about 20 years later. The initial budget for the park was very small — much like a preserve. They didn’t even have enough money to prevent poaching, let alone encourage or develop tourism.
Mackinac National Park was the second national park (now that’s an interesting trivia answer — it was later removed from the parks system). It was built mostly to stop overdevelopment, as tourists were flocking to the area. Sequoia National Park (the second of the remaining parks) was set aside to preserve the trees. Yosemite (the third park) had land set aside specifically for preservation before it was a park in response to growing commercial development. Early proponents of the park system were mainly interested in preservation, not tourism and certainly not hunting.
Of course the railroads wanted tourism, and they had influence as well. But in general it would be an oversimplification to suggest that the parks system was built to promote tourism or development. The antiquities act — arguably the most important part of the parks system — gave the President the power to create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features without Congressional approval. That was signed by Teddy Roosevelt (back in John Muir’s day).
Now the Canadian system was different. To quote Wikipedia, the major motives behind the creation of National Parks in Canada were profit and preservation. The railroads were front and center in that effort.
The U. S. National Park system grew over the years, but it wasn’t until the 1920s (the start of American car-culture) that it really took off. It actually grew during the depression, as Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) promoted tourism and conservation inside the parks. The parks grew in popularity after the war. This period (from 1933 to 1964) saw a gradual shift from preservation to recreation (along with automobile use).
I think it is also worth noting that public lands in the U. S. are fairly complicated. There are about 50 million acres of land in the National Parks, and 200 million acres of National Forest. The Bureau of Land Management holds about 250 million acres, and the Fish and Wildlife Service holds 80 million. The Wilderness Act (of 1964) can be applied to any of those lands, the largest of which is National Park land. So even though National Parks are definitely touristy, they have the most land set aside purely for preservation, and most National Park land is Wilderness.
Well yes, it only lasted 20 years, not even into the 19th century. We claim the world’s second national park (I suppose “still functioning”) founded in 1879: the Royal National Park begins just deux pas from Botany Bay and is what stops Sydney from sprawling southwards to merge with Woolongong! Another trivial pursuit Q&A: it’s where DH Lawrence wrote Kangaroo (well, in the tiny coastal town of Thirroul just south of it).
There’s a transit link too: “Its original name was just National Park, but it was renamed in 1955 after Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia passed by in the train during her 1954 tour.” The train delivers you to the western edge of the park (at several stops) from where you can take any number of walking trails. This is a rather fabulous bit of natural heritage which more visitors to Sydney should take a day out to see, especially if they don’t have the (lots of) time to see the real Australian bush.
Oops, … 20th century.
>The involvement of some railroads in suburban development, such as Japanese private railroads or the original Metropolitan Railway, is fairly well-known to the rail advocacy community. Lesser-known but equally important is rail-based tourism.
Japanese private railways have built tourist destinations anchored at the far end as an amenity and attraction (which Hankyu is also a prime example), and many lines were first conceived to reach existing ones. Operationally, this helps guarantee more balanced bi-directional, then all-day ridership, and rural / far end frequency.
* In some cases, such branch lines even serve to terminate and turn back short distance trains (viz Seibu)
Ooh! I guess this also describes Coney Island, developed as a seaside resort by excursion railroads from the developed-in-the-19th-century parts of Brooklyn. But then the heyday was in the early 20th century, like Luna Park, developed by people without a railroad connection (by then the rail lines were being operated by the BRT/BMT), and within a few decades urban development reached that area anyway.
I’ve done a fair amount of hiking and backpacking, and the transportation decisions often come down to what is available locally. In Europe, I’ve found that if there isn’t a train, there is a bus. While the Alps don’t have as much wilderness, this actually makes it easier to travel. Hut to hut hiking is easier than full on backpacking and there are usually small towns that have affordable lodging close to the mountains. My wife and I have done a fair amount of hiking in Europe (including areas not as well known) and never missed having a car.
In the U. S. and Canada it varies. More than anything, it is about all the pieces coming together. In Zion, for example, they have shuttle buses within the park and just outside it. Not only does it mean that you can leave your car outside the park, but you can have fun one-way hikes. But train travel to those areas is very poor. In some cases there are buses that travel from the nearest big city (e. g. Las Vegas to Zion) but even if train travel to Las Vegas was good, you may want to visit another park (e. g. Bryce). Bryce has good shuttle bus service inside it as well, but getting between the parks is challenging (and you need to complete the loop). We end up flying and then renting a car or just driving the whole way.
It is ironic that railway companies built and promoted the Canadian Rockies Parks, and so far as I know, only travels to Jasper. The train to Jasper is either high-end guided travel (that sometimes involves a plane trip back) or the opposite. The affordable train from Vancouver to Jasper leaves Vancouver at 3 PM, arriving at 11 AM the next day — and that assumes there aren’t delays. So not only is it a very long trip, but you spend much of it in the dark (even though it travels through some of the prettiest landscape in the world). It just isn’t appealing (like much of North American rail travel).
A big downside to starting a hike by car is that it always has to be either a circle or a “there and back again”. If you’re using public transit, you can actually do trips that are net double the length, because you don’t have to turn around to get back home…
Yeah, exactly. That is another reason why shuttles are so nice. The same is true for a bike, although sometimes you can complete a loop that would otherwise be very long by dropping off a bike.
Bikeshare in national parks!
That would only work with fixed stations, not with “free floating”….
In your experience, do significant numbers of people take these buses to Bryce, Zion, etc.? Because my impression is that they exist but 95%+ of travel to these parks is done by private car, and even Yosemite is probably 90%+ car even with buses from Central Valley cities and a nontrivial number of carless San Franciscans.
If they didn’t get used, would they exist?
The vast majority of people drive to the park (or more often, fly to SFO/LAS, and rent a car), then park it outside the main park and use shuttles for most of their visit. In Zion, at least, private cars are banned from the core of the park itself, and I believe a similar policy is supposed to be implemented at Glacier. That said, those trips from major metro areas to the parks which are done by cars are really easy to shift to public transit if somebody were to really invest in it. In Yosemite’s case, I think it would be reasonable to ban cars from the valley and finance a Merced-El Portal rail link with visitor fees.
I never understood how motorcars are somehow compatible with national parks which are supposed to perfect nature…
I suspect increasing number of cars going to National Parks in Western US are electric.
And California grid is over 30% renewables (and increasing) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
They’re not supposed to be perfect nature. They’re based on Belle Epoque ideas of wilderness among Americans. “Where man visits but does not stay.” It’s taking a lot of work to make that idea of wilderness work in the context of modern ideas of endangered species protection, or climate change. For example, it was a big lift to get American government agencies to protect ecologically sensitive areas that were close enough to urban development they could never really be wilderness, and I’m pretty sure it only happened because suburban NIMBYs liked the idea of making it harder to build new housing.
I meant to type “protect” not “perfect”…
>> They’re not supposed to be perfect nature …
You have competing interests whose power has ebbed and flowed for a long time. There are people who want it as wild as possible (for scientific or aesthetic reasons). You have those that want to preserve it for recreation, and thus want to bend the rules a bit. Then you have those who want to profit from the recreation, who want to bend it a lot.
As I wrote up above, the “wild folks” really were behind much of the actions way back when. Yellowstone would have had more logging, mining and hunting. Yosemite was likely to become like Niagara Falls (not at all wild). But then it seemed to trend the other way. Mount Rainier had a golf course and a rope tow. Olympic National Park still has a ski lift — an abomination, in my opinion. Roads were built to enable easier access to the very thing they were trying to preserve (oh, the irony). The comic strip Funky Winkerbean had a long running bit about “Asphalt National Park”.
Which brings me to the 1960s. At this point, the pendulum swung back. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the Wilderness Act, and its role in preserving, well, wilderness. It also went along with a general mindset, both with policy makers, as well as the general public. I was shocked that so many in Europe, for example, cut switchbacks, or pick flowers. The point being, I don’t know if there is a wilderness ethic in Europe — I’ve never seen it, either in the actions of everyday citizens, or the policies of governments (correct me if I’m wrong here).
It is worth pointing out that most U. S. parks are quite remote, in contrast to the Alps. The Alps are areas that have been inhabited by locals for centuries. The alpine region (for which the mountain range is named) were formed, in part, by herding. Otherwise — like most of the world — you would have a smaller region between treeline and ice. In the U. S. (and Canada) there were some indigenous people in various parks, but in most cases, very few. There was little in the way of railroads, as early access was via wagon train. As time went on, that switched over to the automobile. Some of the terrain would probably be amenable to a spur train line (Yellowstone for example). Other territory is simply too rugged. Yes, you could build a train line, but it would be very difficult to build, especially if you wanted access to the same places as are currently accessible by car.
I think in the U. S. (and Canada) the best you can hope for is some combination of train and bus (with Zion as the model for the latter and Glacier* for the former). Gondolas are a mixed bag, I would say. On the one hand, they are likely better for wildlife. On the other, they offer worse aesthetics. Building them and then doing nothing in the way of carving out ski runs could make sense in a lot of places, but so far as I know, no one has done it. It is pretty easy to preserve the status quo, which means that things that would actually improve the environment (e. g. bike paths) are often hung up in court using environmental rules (more irony).
* I’m referring to U. S. Glacier National Park. I think there are three national parks named “glacier”. I’ve been to all three, and while the U. S. one is very nice, I would put it third, behind the one in Argentina and the one in Canada.
This is the constant battle in the western world. In Tasmania the tourism industry, not to mention the timber industry who loves a vast cache of first growth mature trees, is always trying to get roads built into the famed national parks and build luxury ‘eco-lodges’. They have mostly lost that battle and now want to build the eco-lodges in the most inaccessible places and helicopter their rich tourists in. The most accessible area is the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and its famous walk. It is north-south and at both ends there are mini-buses for drop-off/pick-up. It joins the truly fabulous and untouched Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers NP which joins the even wilder Southwest NP. There is one road to the infamous hydro scheme on Lake Gordon on its mid-eastern side but otherwise there are zero roads, not even ‘forester tracks’. This was where the protests (eg. to save Lake Pedder) eventually brought real protection at the federal level and gave birth to the first (or second after Germany’s?) Green political party in the world. The best walk requires wading across deep creeks. It’s also not for the faint hearted due to the changeable wet & cold. When I passed by the Lake St Clair entrance, they had just closed the trail due to sleet and cold, in peak summer!
It remains on my bucket list. These truly wild areas (no roads, no towns, no farms, just ancient untouched forests and environments; the SW Cape is claimed as the world’s only remaining virgin wet deciduous forest) show off some Australian features: they are diversity hotspots with some >50% of species, flora & fauna, being endemic.
Alas, you do have to fly to Tasmania (there is a ferry from Melbourne), and equally for the rest of the world you have to take the longest commercial flights that exist. It’s not natural territory for Greta T.
I think the Wadden Sea is the closest Germany gets to “wilderness”. Many of its islands are car-free, but tourism is intensive and there is even an oil platform in the Wadden Sea…
Thanks for the info. New Zealand is on my bucket list, and it sounds like checking out Tasmania would be worth it as well. But you are right, the carbon footprint for either place is pretty big, just because you have to get there.
Yeah, in general I would say most people use a car to get to the park. Those that do arrive by bus are mostly part of a group tour — often from other countries.
It is really too bad, since it creates a reverse “last mile” problem. The parks people are trying to get people out of their cars, but since most arrive with one, that’s a tough sell.
Interestingly enough, in our last out-of-state trip, we had public transit at each park. We flew from Seattle to Las Vegas, then rented a car and drove to Zion. Zion doesn’t allow driving in the main part of the park (the valley). It also has a nice town shuttle that goes up and down the road. This works for both getting to the park from a hotel, and going to someplace farther away for dinner. To get to the more remote parts of the park requires a car, although in this day of Uber/Lyft, I think you could use that. This would enable a very nice one-way trip by my estimation. I think if Zion had good bus service from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, it would be an excellent park for public transit.
Then we drove to Bryce. It too had shuttle buses, although they also allowed cars on the same roads. There is a huge parking lot a couple miles outside. I think most people drive to that lot and then take the buses, just because parking in the most popular areas (Sunrise Point, Sunset Point) is so difficult.
After that we drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is the more touristy side, and again they had buses mixing with cars. I meant to write up a little post about the three different national park public transit experiences on my local (Seattle) transit blog, but never got around to it. In general, the Grand Canyon was the worst and sorely needs to be restructured. That being said, we were able to stay outside the park (at an affordable place) and take the shuttles into and within the park. It was pretty crazy to see our rental car sit idle most of the time.
I think those three could definitely use better city-to-city and park-to-park bus service. These are very crowded parks and my guess is the sort of thing we were doing was quite normal. Furthermore, even if we had to pay for a cab from one park to another, it might have worked out, since renting a car adds up. It is tougher to visit the more obscure, out of the way places, but in that last trip, we hardly did that.
Locally, Rainier National Park has some shuttles, including ones from the nearby town, but they were pretty poor (with half hour headways at best). Since the park is relatively close to a lot of people, my guess it is mainly used by those who arrived, saw a sign saying the (huge) parking lot at Paradise was closed, and then used the shuttle. (Paradise is a very popular sub-alpine level part of the park). I don’t think there is much in the way of transit to any corner of the park. The other two National Parks don’t lend themselves very well to public transportation. Olympic National Park has maybe one area that would work — Hurricane Ridge. It isn’t too far from a nearby town, Port Angeles. This again is a case of not having good transit to that town. As the state starts developing electric ferries, I could see a passenger ferry from Seattle to Port Angeles followed by a bus up to Hurricane Ridge. That would be a blast and likely be a good boost to the former logging town. North Cascades National Park is the least developed of all the parks — there is no big visitors center with sweeping views (and gift shop). I could see running a shuttle from surrounding towns, but you would probably have to establish a much better city-to-city bus network first.
Seattle has started running some shuttles to some of the nearby hiking areas. In my opinion, they don’t go to the best places, but the places they do go to (since they are only a few miles out of town) are extremely popular, so the shuttle buses are a good idea. The challenge is dealing with a fixed schedule for something so weather dependent. This would especially be the case if they went further up the road, and covered the very popular hiking areas close to Snoqualmie Pass.
Maybe something for Flixbus to pick up…
Examples of train to ski direct connections exist in northern Italy too. Check this little thread I did a while ago on twitter:
Legacy rail networks are pretty granular both in the Alps and the coast in many European countries. Some very popular places, like Cinque Terre have always been train-based and many beach resorts can be accessible with local or even long distance train (the whole adriatic coast and the upper tirrenian coast for example)
Car traffic has become so much of a problem in the Dolomites that proposal for new rail lines are flourishing, like rebuilding the rail to Cortina and Toblach and even a brand new rack railway:
Other legacy lines have been extended to reach mountain resorts in Trentino (Trento to Marilleva rail).
It will be way more difficult to keep acces to the plethora of cottage resorts in places like Québec without a car. With all the cheap hydropower they should better work on some form of electric cars if they want to keep the whole cottage industry up. Otherwise we will have whole regions, like the Laurentides, emptied out…
Cheap hydropower (and a lack of coal) were among the main reasons why the alpine railways were among the first to electrify. That and the better climbing capabilities of electric locos plus the issues with tunnels…
I just happened to read this (below) last night, from Jacob Meunier’s On the Fast Track:
The South Tyrol has nailed it terms of public transport in a rural / small town region. My family and I have been visiting for years usually by train from London. Never hire a car when there, no need. A region wide travel card is only 4 euros a day if you buy a weekly one. Buses penetrate the most isolated valleys from railheads. Every year there are small incremental improvements. And yes you can travel at no extra charge on some cable cars deemed essential public transportation although many cable cars don’t have that designation.
Why is the German speaking Alpine region so good at this?
Is it that they electrified more marginal lines early on and shutting down electrified lines has a bigger political hurdle to it?
There’s actually a mindset, not related to language or ethnicity, which seems to be correlated to the old
Austro-Hungarian empire. Hear me out. Hungary, Czechia and Austria ( of which the South Tyrol was part before 1918) all continue to maintain fairly dense rail networks complemented by reasonable bus networks. Travelling in these areas I see a lot of commonalities in the way public transport is presented – the timetable on offer, the publicity design, the reach and so on. Maybe it’s a cultural left over that survives because it was actually a good and therefore popular way of doing things. It remains because it came to be expected and demanded by the populace as a given right. Who knows.
What does leisure travel look like in a world where driving and flying are prohibitively expensive
Only happens in masochistic Puritan fantasies. One in which we forget about the Fishcer Tropsch process(es) to make synthetic net-zero fuel. Right now, people who look at total cost of ownership not just monthly payment, want electric vehicles. Volkswagen, the world’s largest manufacturer has announced their last retooling for internal combustion engine cars will be in 2026 which means the last ICE cars rolling off their assembly lines will be in 2031 give of take a model year. Somebody figures out cheap carbon dioxide sequestration synthetic fuel might not be the choice.
You’re forgetting the effect of emitting the CO2 at higher altitude, which makes artificial fuel not net-zero…
Suck more carbon dioxide out of the air. No one is stopping you from putting on a hair shirt and taking a staycation on back porch.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding the New York analogy, but some Hudson-like non-urban local-ish travel destinations from Berlin: Buckow / Märkische Schweiz, Spreewald, much of Mecklenburgische Seenplatte
DB has a website and app promoting some destinations like this: https://www.dbausflug.de/Touren
Or even exotic locales like Spandau….
The New York analogy is that the Hudson itself is incredibly pretty – it’s an extremely wide river (because it’s a brackish tidal estuary and not a freshwater river) and both sides are hilly, so there’s interesting terrain to look at on the way. At least what I’ve seen around Berlin is pretty unremarkable looking from the train, although maybe I haven’t taken the trains far enough out of city center to see the interesting parts?
Yeah, and I bet it is spectacular in the fall. I’ve only been up a little ways, on the New Jersey side, and it is quite pretty. We also visited the U. S. Military Academy, at West Point. It has an excellent museum, that pulls no punches when it comes to criticizing the previous acts of the U. S. military. Definitely a worthy outing.
The Spreewald is nice.
Other than that it’s mostly soft rolling glacial hills… And sand. Lots and lots of sand…
As someone essentially in this position (I have acquired a bunch of problems with my legs in the last decade which means I can’t sit still for long in limited legroom, so I have to pay business class fares to fly, while I can travel in second class on most trains because there is more legroom and more ability to get up and stretch my legs – so the price position for me is much like it will be for most people in your scenario), I can say a few things.
First, cheap flights (I last flew on one in 2012) tend to be very restricted as to time – often you’re forced into the 6 am takeoff or something for the cheap fare. If you want to fly at your convenience, then you’re not getting €50 fares, but €200 fares. Add on a typical two-hour check-in for most low-cost carriers, and the very cheap flight does often result in a lost “travel day” for holidaymakers. If you’re flying to a beach in Spain or Greece or Turkey for a couple of weeks, then you take the cheapest flight and accept that you’re going to lose a whole day. This is different for city breaks, where you really want to fly out after work on Friday and fly back late on Sunday, or add a day at one end or the other. I think we’re definitely going to find that
Second, trains can cover a lot of ground if you’re accepting on a lost day. I’ve made it from my home in Manchester to arrive in both Vienna and Venice the next morning. Berlin is also possible. You can’t quite manage Lisbon, but that’s more a case of missing connections – there isn’t a Paris-Hendaye train at the right time to make the connection – than a physical impossibility. You can reach Hamburg in a day, but there isn’t a sleeper on from there any more; if one comes back into Scandinavia, then you could be in Stockholm for lunch.
Third, just because there aren’t mainline / high-speed stations at resorts, there are often local stations. There’s no reason people can’t get a train to Sevilla or Malaga and then take a local transfer to specific resorts. Many people have a coach hired by the package tour agency to transfer from the airport to the hotel. Why not from the station instead – either the mainline one, or maybe after a local transfer?
Fourth, there are a bunch of relatively small gaps in the current high-speed network (mostly across international borders), and many trains don’t cover long distances, so you often find yourself with long waits for transfers, or there isn’t a night train when you want one, and you end up having to overnight in a location. Many of those are resolvable, either by building more track, or by just running through trains or better connections.
All I would say is that leisure travellers tend to be more price-sensitive and less time-sensitive than most business travellers, so if we can get pricing right, I think trains will be pretty competitive for the trans-European vacation business that is currently low-cost flights.
There are some destinations (islands, most obviously) that are going to be more isolated without cheap flights – especially if its fossil fuel taxation / reduction that is driving the change. Ferries exist, but they’re pretty fossil fuel dependent themselves, so I really don’t see an efficient way to get to any of the various Mediterranean islands that are major beach destinations.
It’s obvious that holidays from Europe to the Caribbean are going away entirely. Even if we can find a low-carbon way to move shipping (sails?) then it’s still at least a week on a liner to cross the Atlantic, and literally sailing is more like two to three weeks – which is not just time-consuming, but also really expensive, because you have to pay the rates of an expensive hotel while on board ship. No-one’s doing that for a week or two in the sun.
Americans may well still go to Caribbean resorts – if you can get to Miami in a day from anywhere west of the Rockies, and then sail to most islands in a second day (or sail-rail-sail), then that’s plausible for a two to three week holiday, but only if reasonable paid time off allowances become the norm for US workers.
Again, that just isn’t something Americans at least will accept. Nobody is going to give up a day to get to Miami and then get on a boat, of all things, when you could just pay an extra carbon tax and fly. People don’t just go to a single beach destination for a few weeks and sit around, and this still doesn’t address intercontinental travel like Americans visiting Europe, who aren’t going to tolerate boat travel and then slow point to point journeys. The average American abroad does something like fly to London on a Friday night, sees London in 2 days, Paris in 3, the Swiss Alps in 2, and then flies home the following Sunday from Milan. Mass tourism isn’t ending and people aren’t just going to slow down their travel to fit the limitations of electric ferries. Air travel is the last thing to be decarbonized, and that’s okay. Focus on the other 95% of emissions first.
I think that’s true for intercontinental flights.
I’m much less convinced for some of the shorter journeys. London to Paris is faster by train than flying anyway. Paris to the Alps is a short train ride (and the views of the Alps are great by train), and Milan is only three or four hours by train, depending where in Switzerland you’re going.
If Miami is an overnighter in a reasonably comfortable train compartment from New York or Chicago and either of those is a couple of hours from most places, then, even if people won’t take the boat to Jamaica or Puerto Rico, I suspect that a $500 train fare can complete with a $750 flight for holidays in Florida.
Perhaps not from the Pacific coast, where it’s a much longer journey.
I think an issue not to be discounted is luggage. If people can get their luggage taken care of from door to door, they’ll gladly take the train. It’s one of the reasons people pay extortionate (I.e. More or less land value appropriate) airport parking fees even in the presence of good airport serving public transit…
Interesting, because that’s the exact opposite of my personal preferences. I never want my luggage to go out of my sight, and I hate checking luggage in.
Even when I could fly, I always tried to pack for a cabin bag only and to just take it everywhere with me.
I’m not saying you’re wrong – just that this is very much far from universal.
I worked at an airport for a while. MANY families had one parent away to “park the cars” while the queue had already reached them (I can’t check anybody in that I haven’t personally seen). So it is not an issue of 100% of people (I similarly like to have important stuff in carry-on after one too few experiences on Nicaraguan buses where “checked luggage” is put on the top of an old school bus) but an issue of a significant minority…
I don’t know if you need to take care of it so much as offer less limits. Instead of charging extra for a suitcase with a 50 lbs limit, provide space for a large trunk which can fit a bigger kitchen sink. Those who don’t travel light will be glad to have much larger limits. (if you travel light you won’t understand this comment)
True, but I once took the Paris-Madrid nighttrain (now discontinued) leaving Paris-Austerlitz about 7pm and arrives mid-morning (9-10 am?) in Madrid. Spent the day in Madrid and caught the nighttrain to Lisbon at about (midnight?) which arrives very early (6am?) in Lisbon. It was good. Three of the great European cities in what seemed like the same day! Saved a night at a hotel; no, two nights! (Actually, confession: it was more like 3-4 nights as I had spent a day in HK then overnight to, and the day in Paris, en route from Oz).
As an aside, people often say they don’t want to arrive tired in a destination city but I find arriving by overnight train, I have a heightened perception and a weird kind of energy (probably the relative amounts of serotonin and dopamine etc; btw, only endogenous drugs involved! except perhaps caffeine). Having a very early morning breakfast at a grand railway cafe/bistro (not a bloody American chain like you’d get at the airport) is a terrific start to exploring the city, which of course is all around you. Unlike the awful trudge thru airport controls, luggage retrieval and the trudge to the city proper–it’s this involuntary crap that takes your will away by the time you arrive. I’ve done it all over Europe and it is definitely the way to arrive.
If France actually builds that connect I’m proposing from Bordeaux to Zaragoza then you can have Paris-Madrid day trains, leaving Montparnasse in order to avoid overburdening the LGV Sud-Est.
I also read in Jacob Meunier, that the track Bordeaux to Dax was routinely used to test experimental fast trains in the 50s-60s, because it is the straightest, flattest, longest track in France (and Europe?). It goes thru the giant plantation forests of Landes.
Forgot to add: that Paris – Madrid night train took the west coast route, as po8crg described (they swap locos and crews at Hendaye, or something–but not trains as you remain on the same train; was this a gauge-change train?). Logically it should leave from Montparnasse but uses Austerlitz –not to be confused with the Train Bleue which used to leave from Austerlitz for the Riveria, thus the eponymous restaurant still at Gare de Austerlitz.
Pre-TGV, the trains to the southwest used Austerlitz. Montparnasse was for trains to the west, like to Nantes; it and Saint-Lazare were run by the same company (Ouest), which used them as reverse-branches to offer both Right Bank and Left Bank service. One of the reasons cited against plans for an RER F connecting these two stations is that their Transilien networks both go west, so an RER connection would be teardrop-shaped instead of linear like the RER A, B, D, and soon-to-be E. That’s why my crayon does expensive things like Montparnasse-Nord.
The “elipsos” it was called, and it was indeed a gauge-changing train. Gauge-changing unpowered carriages were in production from 1964 (Talgo III), while powered carriages in multiple units are a more modern technology.
There were direct services from Paris Austerlitz to Madrid and Barcelona – I believe that they both ran to Bordeaux and then the Barcelona train went through Toulouse to cross the border near the Mediterranean coast, while the Madrid train crossed at Hendaye/Irun and went through the Basque Country.
Montparnasse is not connected to the conventional (non TGV) line to the southwest of France, only to the West; Austerlitz is the Paris terminus of the Southwest conventional system. But LGV Atlantique, which branches to cover both systems, is terminated at Montparnasse, so TGVs to the southwest all leave from there, even though a conventional train to Bordeaux would leave from Austerlitz.
AIUI, the under-construction Spanish “Basque Y” includes a connection from San Sebastian to Irun and from Vitoria through Burgos to Venta de Baños (the junction with the Valladolid-Léon line). That would mean continuous high-speed standard gauge track from Madrid to the French border, so a TGV could run from Montparnasse to Madrid using the non-LGV track between Bordeaux and Hendaye/Irun.
I don’t know where LGV SEA Phase 3 is up to at the moment (which would include the through-line from Bordeaux to the Spanish border at Hendaye/Irun), but even with a gap in the LGV on the French side of the border, they’re running through trains to Barcelona from Paris, so why not do the same to Madrid?
The issue will most likely be one of wether the two states can agree to let each other’s railroads run on each other’s network…
They already are on the Mediterranean side. The Paris-Barcelona service alternates between French and Spanish trains
Well, as I said more than 50 years ago they were running test trains at 300+km/h on that stretch of track. Of course they weren’t full size trains and weren’t running them all day every day. I don’t know what it is rated for today but it isn’t slow track and it is dead straight. Has to be the cheapest possible upgrade to LGV, and I assume why it will be done before the Toulouse line.
BTW, to make it a convenient overnight train they must have run those trains quite a bit slower than their potential … so as not to arrive before 5 am or whatever.
Liberalization will sweep away that issue. Covid permitting, SNCF will start running Madrid-Barcelona services in December 2020.
There are some barriers even in a supposedly “liberalized” market…
I’m still particular to a direct Paris-Toulouse LGV and a Pyrenees Base Tunnel. But apparently the great circle route between Madrid and Paris actually goes via the Biscaya…
Why? Paris-Toulouse via Tours and Bordeaux requires much less new construction, and barely any longer. And Paris-Madrid via Tours, Bordeaux, San Sebastian, and Zaragoza is just as good as any route through Toulouse. A LGV from Narbonne to Bordeaux should be all Toulouse needs.
Paris-Toulouse is France’s busiest pax air route…
Yes (because all other city pairs now have TGV.) It’s obviously worth serving with HSR. That said, running trains from Paris to Toulouse via the already build Bordeaux line would take 3:00. Spending billions on a brand new line through Limoges would only save 20 minutes. It doesn’t make sense to do.
(This thread has branched quite a bit; this response is addressed at Alon’s comment above)
France is building the Bordeaux-Dax segment and will eventually come around to some decent connection from there to the Spanish border, but I don’t see the Spanish government building an extremely expensive line that wouldn’t actually serve Zaragoza nor San Sebastián. It would also give Pamplona poor connections to the rest of the Basque-speaking world (particularly to Bilbao) so the regional governments are also a no.
The picture might look different if the EU foots the bill, of course.
Oops, sorry for the badly formatted comment. Still getting used to HTML…
Doesn’t seem so unlikely to me. If it ties into the Basque Y and the Madrid-Barcelona Mainline, it offers service from all the main cities of the Basque Country to Catalonia, Pamplona, and Zaragoza which is valuable. Being able to run Paris-Bordeaux-San Sebastian-Madrid in 5:00 is just an additional benefit. Although it is annoying that they connected the Basque Y network onto the line Northwest out of Madrid instead of routing it through Zaragoza in the first place.
I think the lowest hanging fruit for Spain isn’t any individual new line, but beating planes decisively on BCN-MAD….
I’m not seeing how this will work in big continent spanning countries like America, Canada, Australia, and China, even though China has a very extensive rail net. America is going to be especially hard hit because most Americans do not have that much vacation time a year, so loosing time traveling isn’t an option even if they are going a relatively short distance like Boston to Miami rather than say Boston to Los Angeles.
Going down from 50 to 46 work weeks per year is pretty useful for the green transition! You have more leisure time but no 200 square meter house with a den.
I don’t think increasing vacation time will increase people’s endurance for slow travel, especially if they are doing a big intercontinental trip of a life time. There will need to be at least need to be air travel for intercontinental trips. Regarding the lost of the 200 square meter house with a den, Americans pretty much always favored money and goods over leisure time when fighting for stuff for most of American history given a choice between the two.
The upper classes favored stuff that kept people docile. Someone who’s worried about a mortgage or a motorcar is much less likely to rise up in rebellion…
Oh come on…
Why do you think people like Thatcher like “rent to own” schemes?
Thatcher also phased away the mortgage tax deduction (unlike Reagan, who rejected such phaseout even while the US was phasing out the deduction for all other forms of interest payment). I think the rent-to-own scheme was specifically a replacement for public housing, not private rentals?
A worker in public housing has a stake in how government is run.
A person who has to pay a mortgage has a stake in not upsetting “the economy”. It’s a clever little trick. Give everybody their damn picket fence, their VW fucking Käfer and voila, docile idiots…. (In the ancient Greek sense of the term “idiot” = politically uninvolved)
But in New York, public housing residents are about the least listened-to constituency… politicians listen to small-time landlords, from which class the soi-disant leftist mayor is drawn.
Not every city can be a “Red Vienna”…
Alon: “I think the rent-to-own scheme was specifically a replacement for public housing, not private rentals?”
Exactly. It was to provide an excuse not to build any more public housing–which blights UK housing to this day. A funny anomaly that this kind of thinking came to Thatcher via a Viennese economicist! I assume Hayek was appalled at Red Vienna.
The Austrian fascists shelled some public housing in Vienna with artillery in the 1930s….
People liked the rent to own scheme because council housing in the UK seemed to combine the worst feature of an aggressive HOA and an indifferent landlord. Small and big modifications were not possible because the government and not you owned the home and apartment but getting essential repairs done was really difficult.
In principle there’s nothing wrong with rent-to-own schemes but there were multiple problems with Thatcher’s schemes: (1). sold well below market rates (sounds nice but grossly unfair to those before and after; this was a once off lottery win to a lucky few [in economist terms, privileging birth order] who, in London’s feverish market, became overnight millionaires at other people’s expense; most buyers sold up after some years and moved somewhere cheaper–it’s why their low-wage equivalents today cannot afford to live/rent in London = toxic gentrification not by natural market forces but by the state); (2). councils (nominal owners) weren’t allowed to keep the proceeds (don’t ask me how UK law works but central govt seems to have a vice-grip on local council operations and finances–remember how Maggie simply closed down London county council because she detested democratically-elected Red Ken Livingstone’s Fair Fare policy on transit!); (3). following from 2. no more council public housing was built because the councils couldn’t afford it and any other funding from central govt was frozen, Thatcher’s real reason was simply to kill public housing and it worked. Oh, and (1) was designed to create Conservative voters out of Labour strongholds and that worked too (‘this capitalism gig isn’t too bad’, except it was fake bingo capitalism). Blair didn’t undo any of this toxic shit.
I think (2) was because the United Kingdom was a unitary state, so Parliament is simply able to overrule local governments in the way that Congress or the President can’t in the United States. If a local government like Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council does something that the national government doesn’t like, the Prime Minister can simply introduce legislation reversing it or even radically changing the structure of government as it was in this case in Parliament. Since the Prime Minister always has a majority, this will generally be passed without question. Likewise, Parliament was able to direct who would get the proceeds simply because they were the ones that could pass the law.
Of course rent to own was going to be done to get some political advantages for the Conservatives. There isn’t a political party that is so altruistic that they never try to gain some electoral advantage out of the things they do. Harold Wilson was considering a rent to own program for council housing, Labour pollsters found this to be extremely popular, but the Left most faction of Labour rejected it at the time due to Clause IV loyalties.
The UK parliament is perhaps the single most powerful entity in any modern democracy. Its powers originate from a country where there was a fight for power between Parliament and the Monarch. And while there are quite a few powers that the Monarch has held in ancient times, there’s no way they could enforce those today. The only thing standing between parliament and any law it damn well pleases to make is “it hasn’t been customary to do so”, In essence, the same “mos maiorum” (“customs of the ancients”) that kept the Roman Republic stable until….
So go on a sleeper train which is literally faster in terms of real time than flying which uses up most of a day.
Nighttime flights are even faster. I could leave work in Boston at 5:00, be on a flight at 7:00, and land in Los Angeles by 9:30, and be at a hotel by 11:00. By a sleeper HSR train leaving Boston at 7:00, you wouldn’t get to Los Angeles until about 6:00 pm the next day. Even in the case of Miami, you’re stuck on a sleeper train for 11 hours when you could just take a 9:00 pm flight and be at your Miami hotel by midnight. I know what I’d choose.
That’s not accurate. BOS-LAX flight time is 6:10. You’d leave work at 5, be on the flight at 7, land at 1:10am Boston time, be at your hotel by 2:40am Boston time. You’d effectively lose the next day due to being a sleep deprived wreck, I think.
As for BOS-MIA, flight time is 3:36. Leave work at 6pm, flight at 8, arrival 11:36, at your hotel by 1am. Personally I’d prefer to leave work at 6pm, spend 2 hours in a Downtown Boston restaurant, sleeper train at 8:30, arrive at 7:30am in Miami.
As someone who is admittedly nocturnal but has pretty frequently done the east coast-west coast flight the problem isn’t the flight out west, because as the above poster says you just go to bed on pacific time, and already adapting to the new time schedule. West-East is much much worse though.
I think the volume of transcontinental travel period will diminish.
Especially as climate change will make summer much more bearable on temperate climate beaches. I remember at least a decade ago I saw a “news of the future” thingy in an exhibition that predicted increased north sea tourism due to climate change. I could see that…
Well, no. You just go to bed at midnight PST/3 am EST and wake up at 8 am PST feeling just fine. On the way back, you either take a 3 pm flight to Boston landing around midnight or take a redeye and get through your next day with 3 hours of sleep–it’s not *that* bad and it’s better than spending 26 hours cooped up on a high speed train when you could be at your destination. Same goes for Miami, although I suppose I am the sort of person who never, ever goes to bed before 1 am. I just think it’s going to be a hard sell to customers, who consistently choose same-day HSR services or flights to sleeper trains and have for years.
Fair enough–a carbon tax will make air travel comparatively less attractive, but I’m quite confident there will always be demand for travel to genuinely tropical beaches, or to interesting cities thousands of miles away, or VFR traffic, or… It isn’t like most people are flying to go find a 30 degree patch of sand to sit on, and unless you outright ban air travel, it isn’t going to stop. For most of it, there is no viable replacement, and I don’t know why this turned into a discussion about that when a carbon tax would pretty clearly hit every single other industry first.
Why then the success of the ÖBB Nightjet?
It found a niche and serves some corridors which aren’t great by any mode of transport (ie Zurich-Vienna, Venice-Vienna, etc.), but I doubt it’s market share is particularly high. It does well but it’s total passenger volume isn’t particularly large.
For VFR travel to exist, one must have F&R in different places. So it is to some extent a feedback loop.
As for interesting places… There are no doubt countless interesting places in LatAm. But there are also interesting places in Spain, or Russia or Italy…
And especially the holiday travel of families quite often is “get me the cheapest patch of beach to get burned two weeks all inclusive at”
So are you just expecting people to spend their lives close to where they’re from? Because that’s not happening.
China’s airspace restrictions make flying a pretty unreliable business. And the government is putting a lot of money into the railway network. The line to Ürümqi doesn’t exist because so many people want to take the train there but for political reasons. And then again over 80% of the Chinese people live in the Southeastern half of the country…
In terms of replacing flights, I tend to divide most passenger flights into three groups:
Short-distance flights where there is a lack of ground infrastructure (rural areas, islands). These are generally low-volume air routes, which are the one sort where an electric plane has a chance of working. They’re also very often subsidised, so it’s at least theoretically possible that the subsidy could be raised to pay for a somewhat more expensive electric aircraft. There are serious companies working on electric regional airliners in the 50 seat range, and there are nine-seaters in production now. Even if they do cost a bit more than a comparable fossil fuel plane, they won’t be a lot more, and will save on carbon taxation.
I’m thinking of flights to places like the Scottish islands, to rural areas in the American Plains, to the Australian Outback, to smaller Mediterranean islands, etc.
Medium-distance flights that are too far for most people to be prepared to drive (ie where it’s a massive road trip). When there’s enough population density, you can replace this with HSR, possibly including overnights. For people who have used sleeper trains, it’s worth commenting that HSR sleepers are more comfortable than conventional sleepers, because the track has to be much higher quality for HSR to be possible. It’s not going to be as spacious as a comparably-priced hotel room, but they certainly can be plenty comfortable.
Long-distance flights, particularly intercontinental. These are basically impossible to replace with anything else. Carbon taxes may be able to price them beyond many people’s ability to pay, but that just means those people can’t travel across continents.
Trains that cover more ground than a straight-up sleeper (ie ones that require both sleeping and daytime accomodation, and have to offer a full meal service rather than expecting passengers to eat before they board and only serving breakfast) are very expensive to operate, and can’t compete on price with flights, even if the flights have to fully internalise carbon costs. And many of these journeys cross oceans, which trains can’t do, and ocean liners have similar carbon emissions to flights on a per-passenger-km basis. This is because they transport much more volume and weight per passenger, which is necessary because they are much slower; you couldn’t put people in an aircraft seat for a seven day crossing of the Atlantic. If the alternatives are more expensive and slower, then no-one is going to avoid a flight.
And yes, there may well be some really long-distance trains, but they’re primarily going to be luxury tourist things. If you can get a train from Paris to Beijing, people will do that for the sake of the journey itself, but there’s no-one is going to do that in preference to flying if they want to be in Beijing. HSR could do that in three days non-stop, more reasonably 4-5 days. It’s currently 10 days (with a transfer in Moscow) and people do it for the sake of the journey itself, not because they want to get from A to B.
There are a few flights that don’t match these – mostly higher-volume flights over water, where HSR isn’t an alternative, and the sorts of 50-seater regional electric aircraft that are going to be available in the foreseeable future just can’t match the capacity need. This means mostly flights to larger or busier islands. Those islands that have built a massive tourist market (the Balearics, the Canaries, certain Greek islands) are probably going to get hammered if there are cheaper HSR alternatives to mainland resorts but tourists to the islands have to pay carbon tax and fly. If you can get an overnight train to Malaga for €600 return, or a flight for €800, but the only option to Ibiza is the €800 flight, then the Costa del Sol is going to win out over the islands. But there are going to still be A320s flying to Corsica and Sardinia and Crete and Cyprus just because there are so many people living on those islands, even if A320s aren’t flying much elsewhere in Europe. I’d expect a similar story in the Caribbean.
HSR is good for the high-volume short-distance flight routes, and also good as an alternative to a road trip in a car. That’s a huge quantity of flights it can eat up before it has to start on the less realistic longer routes. And yes, road trips are going to get really expensive, and rail trips are a good alternative there. Especially as you can take local trains and wind your way around at a slower speed to see the countryside, in exactly the way you can by road right now.
I don’t think there’ll be no bridge or tunnel to Jeju and not even plans to build one by 2050….
IIRC, the Korean govt actually studied the line a decade ago. The study stated a 10 Billion USD cost, and a 2 and half hour travel time from Seoul. I’d say it’s borderline worth it.
If that’s the case, that would imply it would cost ~10 billion to link the Shinkasen and KTX systems. Seoul to Tokyo might be a bit far, but Seoul to Osaka and Busan to Tokyo would both be realistic. I wonder if it would be worth it.
While Busan-Fukuoka is cosiderably shorter, the strait is considerably deeper in that area, and this is played as much a role in scuttling proposals as the politics have. Jeju-do is relatively easier because the waters between it and mainland are fairly shallow. IIRC, it’s shallower than either the English Channel or the Tsugaru Strait.
If it’s doable for $10 billion there’s a good case for US federal funding, for geopolitical reasons.
Oh, I know it wouldn’t be that cheap, even at Korean costs. At this point, South Korea’s already built just about every other line worth building. The only line that I’d put ahead of it is Gwangju-Busan
In 2018 over 14 million pax traveled from Seoul to Jeju (add to that people flying from other Korean cities, plus boats, plus induced demand). How much would each pax have to pay for infrastructure if we depreciate over 40 years at zero percent real interest?
Assuming 100% market share, 2% annual growth in crossings, and adding together every domestic flight and ferry ride, you get 30 million rides upon the line’s opening in 2030 and 66 million rides in 2070. Which all adds up to a cumulative 1.8 billion rides over 40 years, so about $6 per rider. Definitely worth it.
Thanks for doing the math! Jeju is a peculiar situation, but it does offer a lesson in considering fixed links to islands: If said island was attached to the Mainland at the depths of the last Ice Age, then a fixed-link is doable with current technology. I say this because both the areas where the Chunnel and Seikan ran through were dry land at the time, and they both represent some of the deepest water crossings done to date. Doing deeper crossings is probably going to mean adapting technololgies like Suspended Floating Tubes for railways.
I’m curious, how do you think large international tourist events like the Olympics or the World Cup will reconfigure in this hypothetical new world?
I do not know. Intra-continental travel can be done by train, but yeah, Americas Eurasia is hard and I don’t have an answer.
You have two choices:
sailing ships. Even if you automate the sails those pesky pesky passengers will want to eat on their long voyage.
Can you just cut it out with the pseudo-sarcastic tone? It’s annoying as hell and it makes every comment of yours come of as trolling. Do you want that?
Aright you can all get out your various flavors of extreme Puritanism and compare notes on something that is never going to happen.
But can we also stop throwing around “Fischer–Tropsch” as if it is any solution to excess CO2. It is hugely energy consuming, not to mention polluting if the source of CO + H is coal gasification. These things were not issues* when Germany was trying to reduce its dependence on imported oil in the inter-war years, and had plenty of seriously dirty coal.
*though the greenhouse effect had been described in the late 19th century so those German chemists would have been aware …
It doesn’t have to be coal. Or fossil fuel. It would be rather silly to condense carbon dioxide out of the air and make hydrogen from water with excess renewables but it an option. Before someone starts automating sails on modern clipper ships. It cost more than boiling and condensing dead dinosaur juice so we do that instead. I think the headline said today price for “West Texas Intermediate” was $11 a barrel, continuing to do that, boiling and condensing dead dinosaur juice and sequestering carbon dioxide might be cheaper. Because if you don’t want to do something like that, it’s a long sail, under canvas, to Hong Kong from Australia.
Of course, but using green energy to power Fischer–Tropsch doesn’t make sense until all other fossil fuels have been replaced by clean energy and there is enough “free” green energy available. I think solar-powered (ie. direct sunlight not PV) biodiesel will be the only viable fuel for aviation for the medium term. Note that biofuel also sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere and turns it into liquid fuel.
Energy will soon be very cheap. We can just use all the excess solar and wind that are generated at midday or when the wind is too strong. Carbon sequestration doesn’t have to be done at a particular hour of the day. If that’s not enough energy, then we can build some nuclear plants (shock, horror). So there is no obstacle to widespread sequestration.
If you have “something” that needs a lot of electricity and can be switched on (and more importantly: off) at a moment’s notice, you can already make a lot of money with free lunches. There are negative spot prices for electricity quite regularly during solar and wind gluts…
They’ll pay the carbon tax.
Two points: First of all, the last couple of host selections had an insane number of “no thank you”s, ESPECIALLY when it came to a referendum. And second of all, the Olympics might revert to what they were in their initial time… Sideshows to a world exhibition where mostly local people attend and compete.
If we’re honest the value of a Handball match featuring Australia is not really in the sports, but in the “continental balance”. And look at Rugby, which has been very successful for almost a century crowning a “Northern Hemisphere Champion” (Six Nations) and a “the others” champion… Before, of course, some idiot wanted to invite developing countries like Germany or the US….
@Herbert, regarding rugby, you have it exactly backwards. The Home Nations/Five Nations (membership interrupted by war), now Six Nations, _is_ “the rest of the world” championship. England has won the Rugby World Cup once. All the others have been won by New Zealand (3) South Africa(3) and Australia (2). That’s 8 for “the rest” and 1 for the “six nations’.
BTW, If you could elucidate on your “obvious” HSR route in the North Island of New Zealand, I’d appreciate it. Auckland-Hamilton is too short to justify HSR. Auckland-Wellington has topographical challenges — see Raurimu Spiral. I don’t see how traffic volumes would support a wholly “New Construction” (Shinkansen) approach. So what do you think is “obvious”?
Linking the biggest cities on the North Island. Cost be damned. If you don’t build it, the country will continue to be a bunch of disconnected cities dependent on aviation and boats…
Here’s a study on the feasibility of restoring passenger service (rail or bus) between Calgary (airport) and Banff/Lake Louise:
Anyone here care to comment? Seems like it would be a good move on quality of experience, ecological, and congestion terms, but comes with a big price tag.
I went to Freiburg im Breisgau a few years ago. Compared to US cities of a similar population, it was incredibly walkable, and had an impressive tram system. It also had a major train station with regional rail, intercity passenger rail, and high speed rail service. I agree Western European countries still have a lot that needs to be improved, but it light years ahead of what the US has. Florida has two conventional Amtrak trains a day and we have a larger state population than New York now.
Freiburg repeatedly went against “professional” advice in retaining its tram through the 60s and 70s. They were also among the first to introduce a cheaper ticket for several days than was then current…
West Germany was unique in developed nations in tearing up many of their tram systems. Europe kept and/or built more rail than the United States and Canada did after World War II but West Germany did this more than other European countries.
East Germany kept a higher share of trams than the West….
The whole Eastern Bloc kept a higher share of trams than the Western Bloc. Might have something to do with the much lower private car ownership.
That was certainly a factor, yes. Preserving hard currency was another…
France tore out the tramways too, without Stadtbahn replacement.
All but three of them, in fact. I think Spain retained two and the UK one (Blackpool). The Eastern Bloc was much more loath to tear them out and in Switzerland the “Röstigraben” manifests once more with German speaking Switzerland largely keeping its trams and the Italian/French speaking trams faring worse….
I’ve come to assume that the communist block’s persistence in tram operations was an application of the thesis of “The bus is young and honest”. In the west, a street railway concession, often setting fares, mandating road maintenance, and various other obligations, which might have been agreed to in 1890 mattered a great deal in 1950.
East of the Iron Curtain, a concession from 1890 was long forgotten 1950, and unlike in the West you could weigh the purely technical merits of rail and rubber operation
A not to be discounted factor is that the East had a decent next generation tram pretty early on. I know of no eastern bloc tram that did not survive after it had already reached the point in time when Tatras were introduced. Ultimately the west managed to build vehicles that are superior to the Tatras, but it took them longer. And a 1930s tram does indeed have downsides compared to a 1970s bus…
Before all those lines in Hokkaido were abandoned, all the lines, large and small, had extensive train network which help and attract leisure travel (There were also more coal traffic at the time). Nowadays not so much.