Quick Note: Why Not Fly?
I was asked a deceptively simple question on Twitter: why would people bother with taking a train when flying is available? In my (admittedly primitive) modeling for high-speed rail ridership in the US, I’m including some nontrivial ridership and revenue coming from cities at a distance that people do fly, like Boston-Washington, New York-Cleveland, and so on. What gives?
The simplest answer is that evidently people do take trains at such distances. Statista has some examples, all with more rail than air travel; an Air2Rail paper by Arie Bleijenberg has some numbers within Europe in Annex B. The main factor is rail travel time, with a malus for markets with poor rail connectivity (such as anything crossing the Channel). When trains take four hours, as on Paris-Toulon, they have a small majority of the travel market (source, p. 14 – look at the 2009 numbers, the 2023 numbers being a speculation); Paris-Nice manages to have respectable modal split even at 5.5 hours.
But that answer is frustrating. Why do people take trains for 4-5 hours when it’s possible to fly in an hour?
The first answer is door-to-door travel time. This includes all of the following features:
- Airports are far from city centers whereas train stations are almost universally within them; even taking into account that most people don’t live in city center, they tend to have easier access to the train station than to the airport, and then destinations are massively centralized in the city.
- Trains have no security theater to delay passengers, and passengers can get from the station entrance to the platform in 10 minutes if the station is exceptionally labyrinthine and they’re unfamiliar with its layout and two minutes if it’s not or they are.
- Passengers with luggage can take it on the train and don’t have to be further delayed for baggage claim.
All of these features work to make trains more pleasant than planes even when the door-to-door trip times are equal. The sequential queuing for security and then boarding on a plane is a hassle in addition to extra time; of note, in the Air2Rail link, the most glaring underperformance in high-speed rail modal split relative to trip times is for routes crossing the Channel, because they have such queuing courtesy of British paranoia about terrorism in the Chunnel and also charge higher fares.
The advantages of planes over trains are elsewhere. First, planes are faster airport-to-airport than trains are station-to-station, and as a result, a longer distances they are much faster door-to-door and therefore dominant. And second, trains travel in lines whereas planes travel point-to-point; it’s not hard to come up with city pairs that have no reason to have an even semi-direct high-speed railway between them even though they are at rail-appropriate range, for example Nice-Geneva (290 km) or Cincinnati-Charlotte (540 km).
But once the lines exist, they should get substantial passenger traffic – and the modal split with air is very well-documented in the literature and the overall traffic is still fairly well-modeled as well.
I think this is smart but misses a couple other factors.
1) Trains are more pleasant if for no other reason than that the seats are generally bigger and they’re not pressurized to a high altitude. I would much rather spend the same amount of time on an average LIRR train than the average US economy airline seat.
2) If you’re traveling with young children, taking a plane is all kinds of extra awful.
Point #2 generally gets people to drive rather than take any scheduled transport – the cost of the car is the same no matter how many people are in it.
I think the sorts of people who travel a lot and have children also typically live in places where the public transport isn’t as good.
I can say from personal experience that at least some kids vastly prefer even a 3 hour train journey to being strapped immobile in a car seat for 2 hours.
Yes, I was among them… but my parents had another preference. (No car seat, even – this is 12-year-old Alon, not 3-year-old Alon.)
Lets say you live in Hazelmere (a suburb to the north of High Wycombe) and you want to go on holiday to Penzance in Cornwall. The time by road is 4h45 vs 7h15 by train.
If you wanted to go to Ambleside, Cumbria it would be 4h15 by road vs 5h10 by train – which to be fair is decent.
And the British trains are generally quite quick.
Does High Wycombe – Penzance involve a detour via London? Oh, you even have to change from Marylebone to Paddington! What a fun with kids and baggage!
And how do you get all your luggage and baggage^Wchildren to and from the station at both ends? Even if you are picked up from station by your accomodation at the outer end, you still need decent transit or walkable surroundings unless you’re willing to be locked up there for your holiday.
All of this could be fixed with better scheduling and some line reopening.
Also probably some suitably located out of town parkway stations with car rental.
Depends on the quality of the train! But the point is it’s a disincentive to fly. Driving long distances with small kids is also very unpleasant. My kids were way happier on the auto train from Florida to DC than they were being driven NY – Atlanta.
At least in Germany (don’t know about other countries but assume something similar is the case), children up to 14 can travel for free on the trains, which at least is a huge advantage over flying.
Some other factors I’ve heard:
– Fear of flying/turbulence
– Personal environmental footprint concerns
– Ability to move around for whole trip
I’ve never been trapped in a middle seat on a train.
I took the high speed train once and I was hooked. The journey itself in a train is so much better even if the door-to-door time is the same. Wider seats, tons more legroom, more quiet “cabins” and the most of the travel time is spent sitting down instead of walking through security, terminals and waiting at lounges with never enough seats.
I agree with the other poster about kids (and parents) enjoying train rides more than the car, where they have to sit still without quick access to a restroom. However, if they are gonna be watching a tablet throughout the journey anyways, they may not care. 🙂
If the destination requires a car rental, then it’s hard to beat the car ride on price though. Easier to carry and store random collection of toys and stuff in your own car, too.
I’ll chime in as a parent of three who much prefers to take kids the same time on a train than by car — both parents can provide entertainment/supervision, rather than one having to look at the road, and the ability to walk around is great. We’ve done Ann Arbor-Chicago, Boston-New Haven, New Haven-NYC and NYC-Saratoga Springs many times and been glad of it.
The thing that is awful in the US is schedule unpredictability. I’ll be perfectly happy to get on a Chicago train at 12 PM with 3 kids if I know it is getting into Ann Arbor at 5 PM, but if I have to consider the risk of a two hour delay running me past dinner and into bedtime, it is much riskier.
I second that, plus on some Swiss inter-city trains, there are playgrounds, with things like slides, toilets with changing tables and other kids.
Is there somewhere I can find pictures of these child-friendly facilities on swiss trains?
Here – you have to click twice on “mehr anzeigen” to get to the family car pictures, they are not as sexy as first class seats –
rail-appropriate range, for example Nice-Geneva (290 km) or Cincinnati-Charlotte (540 km).
Trains can’t fly over the mountains, road distances are a better approximation of where a railway could be. Or lakes. With the right antenna you can watch Toronto television stations in Buffalo and Rochester. The trains can’t go in that direction.
Buffalo and Rochester will likely have high speed rail stations someday because they are along the way for the market between Toronto and New York or Boston. Denver is never going to have high speed rail because it is too far away from anyplace else.
My comment bellow (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2022/07/22/quick-note-why-not-fly/#comment-130294) was meant to be a reply to this comment but I refreshed during writing it but didn`t think to check it was still still a reply, sorry.
BART’s transbay tube is at a depth deeper than a trans-lake tube would have to reach.
If Erie County (Buffalo) had grown at the same rate since 1910 as Harris County (Houston) has, it’d have <20 Million people, and we might actually build (or already have built) that tube.
It's not impossible for trains to go that direction, merely impractical.
If that had happened Toronto would be an obscure grain port on the western edge of the great city of Hamilton.
Trains can however, where there is enough potential traffic to justify the cost of the tunnelling, go through mountains with base tunnels.
Yeah, of course, but that’s only for very thick travel corridors, like the combined freight and passenger railways between Northern and Southern Europe.
Geneva-Nice conceivably has something “beyond”. Not that it would be worth it but there are things beyond them. There is no “beyond” from Denver. Cincinnati-Charlotte is unlikely to every have a direct route. They are too small and there isn’t anything between them. Either of them are much bigger than Salt Lake City so it would make more sense than Denver-Salt Lake City. And it might finagle some other trips. Just like Denver there is no other place to go from Salt Lake City.
… we need a map of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. Something like the 25 biggest as red dots, the next 25 as yellow, next 25 in green and the last 25 in blue. Purple for the smaller ones along the way, where it would make sense to have a station, would be good. Quarter of a million-ish or bigger for the purple?
Already done. More similar maps here.
It’s a start. The Northeast and Midwest, unless you zoom in a lot, look like a hot air balloon convention. Which makes sense because a quarter of the U.S. population lives in the quadrant northeast of a point in southwestern Indiana. Half the people in the U.S. live east of that point.
Geneva-Nice and Cincinnati-Charlotte are both easily served by HSR with a single transfer. In Lyon and Atlanta respectively. Both HSR trips would be geographically indirect, but still significantly faster than driving.
Note that train transfers add barely any inconvenience to the trip (transfer time is very low, because train stations are small and train timeliness extremely good compared to flying) unlike flying where transfers massively increase travel time and risk of delay.
Geneva-Marseille today is around 2:30 assuming the transfer at Saint-Exupéry is timed well (it isn’t, but SNCF should be able to pull it off if it starts caring); to Nice it’s going to be around 3:30 with the design compromises on the LGV PACA. I guess it still beats flying unless you’re an Air France or SNCF exec, and it also beats driving because the roads are horrifically circuitous?
But Cincy-Charlotte is more suspect – it looks like a 5-hour HSR trip via Atlanta, competing with a short flight rather than a slightly longer NY-Chicago distance flight.
More like five and half assuming some time to change trains in Atlanta. Road miles for Cincinnati-Louisville-Nashville-Atlanta-Charlotte is 767 miles or 1234 km. It’s okay if you can’t get everywhere by train, that’s what airplanes are for.
It won’t be everyone’s first choice. But Cincinnati-Atlanta is viable and Atlanta-Charlotte is viable so the option should be there and some people will take it. More if the US ever gets serious about discouraging carbon emissions (lol)
The short haul airlines are looking at battery powered planes. Bio or synthetic jet fuel is carbon neutral. The industrial chemists have been poking at that for a century. Pour carbon and hydrogen in one side and get whatever you want out the other.
Synthetic fuels are extremely inefficient, expensive and still come with many of the problems of traditional fuels, most notably pollution. They are a boondoggle.
I think the main issue with synthetic fuels is the energy input required. But if we get to a point of abundant renewables (even irregular abundance) or abundant nuclear energy, then synthesized fuels will be affordable and widely used, especially if we decrease our tolerance for carbon emissions.
I think most of us are willing to emit some pollution at 30,000 feet in order to able to fly around the world. That’s not like city streets where all the local people have to breathe in the car pollution.
Pollution caused by aviation is not about human breathing. Nitrogen oxides, contrails and particulates together have an even worse climate effect than the emitted CO2. They don’t go away with synthetic fuels, nor the other environmental risks of carbohydrates.
As we transition from fossil power to sustainable electricity, the world is struggling to cover rising electricity needs as it is, to build renewables fast enough. There is no perspective of an abundance that allows us to waste energy on inefficiencies. Nuclear energy is much too expensive to provide affordable synthetic fuels.
Planes will not disappear and we do need alternative ways to power them. Batteries and hydrogen are not dense enough (the former also too heavy, the latter inefficient), so there will probably be a need for synthetic aviation fuels. But they won’t solve the fundamental problem that flying is very harmful to the environment.
It’s extremely inefficient to take five day ocean liner cruises across the Atlantic.
The Pacific Ocean could be theoretically crossed by land via the Bering Strait if Russia collapses and we do a deal directly with Kamchatka. However at an absolute minimum crossing the Atlantic in any reasonable timeframe will still need synthetic fossil fuels or hydrogen planes – and so will any trip to islands like Iceland or New Zealand.
And ocean liners aren’t any better for the environment than flying is really.
Sure, but almost nobody lives near the bering strait on either side. even if there was no politics and the rail already existed it wouldn’t be cost effective to run service.
If hyperloop every proves to work at 3000 km/h then this route might make sense. (NYC to London would still be faster than flying). this is science fiction that seems unlikely to get out of fiction though.
In the even-more-science-fiction category, you could have a hyperloop suspended underwater and go directly from NYC to London in 1 hour.
Flying long distances without artificial fossil fuels (which don’t currently exist) is almost certainly physically impossible while complying with the sorts of carbon budgets we need to hit to tackle climate change. I believe we need to hit roughly 500kg total to get to ‘net zero’.
And artificial fossil fuels not only have to exist to make that sort of flying viable – they have to be cheap. Artificial oil at $10/litre wouldn’t be good enough.
At the end of the day a train across the Bering Strait at 350km/h (which is the top speed of current Chinese trains) with the standard 7% pad would allow you to do Beijing to Vancouver in ~26 hours. If that was what you had to do to be able to do the trip within a sensible carbon budget people would. I mean it’s barely slower in time elapsed than flying frankly.
Plus there’s rail freight that would be able to use a parallel line as well.
We’ve been making synthetic fuels for almost a century. You pour carbon and hydrogen in one side and because they have been poking at it for almost a century, get almost anything you want out the other. It’s more expensive than boiling dinosaur juice so it isn’t done much.
If demand warrants it, you can even run direct trains, alternating between Paris – Marseille – Nice and Geneva – Montpellier – Barcelona on the hour and Paris – Montpellier – Barcelona and Geneva – Marseille – Nice on the half-hour, with a timed connection at the intersection point.
Then people (esp. tourists) have the choice between a direct train, possibly half an hour later, and a change in Lyon. You just can’t do this too often in your network, as it would become a bowl of tangled noodles.
Paris-Nice today is a train every two hours. I can see hourly service with the LGV PACA, but half-hourly is probably too much unless there’s good turnover (=it’s half-hourly from all destinations north of Marseille, including Lyon).
And of course SNCF would have to learn how one sets up a timed transfer…
Only 12% of air travel is for business and 88% is leisure travel – https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/041315/how-much-revenue-airline-industry-comes-business-travelers-compared-leisure-travelers.asp.
I’d expect a similar split for high speed rail to be honest.
I’d expect HSR to be more business-oriented, because cars are an available competitor on nearly all high-speed rail routes but few air routes.
I can’t see anything specific for high speed rail. But for all rail in the UK pre Covid the split was 54% commuting, 31% leisure, 10% business and 5% other – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/921331/rail-passengers-crowding-2019.pdf.
That would still point to the significant majority of long distance travel being for leisure. But perhaps more like 75% leisure, 25% business than 88% leisure, 12% air.
Los Angeles-San Francisco will have more business travelers, as a percentage, than Los Angeles-Las Vegas. Orlando and Las Vegas are resorts and their airports are much busier than their metro areas would support if they weren’t. Rochester NY and Tuscon AZ are the same population size metro area. There are lot of places within HSR range of Rochester and a few from Tuscon. Denver is never going to have high speed rail. It depends on the market for each city.
I did some more digging and Thalys (presumably pre covid) was 50-50 business and leisure – https://www.thalys.com/fr/en/about-thalys/a-multicultural-ambition.
But that’s probably a low bar for Europe as between Brussels and Amsterdam the Thalys is slow so driving takes the same amount of time – plus the competing slower IC train from Brussels to the Netherlands is half the cost and is much more flexible.
Thalys is also priced for business travel (as is Eurostar), which is why ridership is weaker than on domestic TGVs, by a factor of maybe 2.
I think the fact that London and Paris are both cities of culture, museums and good restaurants means they are also in many ways pretty similar and therefore there’s less temptation for the British to go to Paris over London unless they have friends in Paris or are going for business.
Plus hotels in both are expensive.
I don’t think London and Paris are interchangeable in the minds of tourists. Paris doesn’t have the changing of the guard and platform 9 3/4. London doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower and French restaurants. If you’ve gone to see one you probably also want to see the other.
If I want to go to a Lao restaurant for example both London or Paris would be fine 😃.
Sure it’s not exactly the same – but people aren’t going to go from Reading say to Paris as often as you’d go from Glasgow to London – because London is also pretty good!
I suspect with good cost control you could make HSR from Pueblo->Colorado Springs->Denver work. There seems to be enough population and short enough distances to just pencil out.
Politically you could get to Cheyenne as well, but that is strictly political: there isn’t the population to support it, but going to another state gets a few more votes in congress, and that funding can be worth far more than the cost of a few more miles of track.
The grade separations to get high speeds would cost too much. But then they are close enough together that it doesn’t have to compete with flying, it’s competing with driving. Lower speeds and grade crossings would be good enough.
… it’s not a few more miles to Cheyenne and there aren’t enough people to run trains, any kind of train. They get Japanese levels of urge to take the train, they won’t because Denver isn’t Tokyo, it’s a few hundred trips a day. Or a bus shuttling back and forth to Fort Collins. Assuming Fort Collins ever gets trains.
If you could get to a parkway station on interstate 25 north of Denver that’s how you’d serve southern Wyoming. Perhaps with a timed express bus service. Perhaps just car parking.
“There is no “beyond” from Denver.”
If that were true, there’d have never been an I-70
Freight doesn’t get bored on long trips.
I-70 exists to serve the mountain towns of Colorado. Note how it ends in the middle of nowhere Utah. I80 is the primary freight corridor, unless cargo is heading to/from the Front Range.
According to the FHWA, Utah didn’t even want I70 https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/covefort.cfm
And according to Wikipedia, I70 in Utah was one of the longest stretches of ‘greenfield’ highway construction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_70#utah) … in other words, no one even bother to build a dirt road through that corridor until OPM showed up … and there’s still basically nothing west of Grand Junction.
So yes, there is no “beyond” west of Denver, in the context of HSR.
saves a lot of miles for some freight. Prime grade meat from Omaha to the casinos in Las Vegas for instance. The faux Wagu has to get there somehow.
Isn’t there restriction on how much soil can exists above the tunnel?
Some high speed trains do have security checks. The French and Spanish systems and the Chunnel spring to mind.
The TGV didn’t have security checks when I lived there – I know they were moving toward on-platform ticket checks but that’s not the same thing. Eurostar has security theater, yes, and that’s why London-Continent high-speed rail underperforms the modal split you’d expect from the trip time in the Air2Rail appendix.
It turns out I had mistaken something I seen/read about security measures introduced for the Thalys services after the terrorist attack as applying to entire TGV system.
I moved to Germany on a Thalys and there was no security theater.
Britain isn’t in Schengen which is why there are security checks. The only improvement they could do would be to do the checks on board.
That’s why there are passport checks, not security checks. Given that there are then passport checks, the security checks don’t add much time – but if you could do away with security checks the process would be quite a lot smoother.
Passport checks can be done on-board – that’s how it was done in the EU before the borders were opened.
And how it was done on the Helsinki – St. Petersburg before all (passenger) train traffic between Russia and the EU was cancelled after the “special military operation”. So it’s not even considered impossible with current expectations of security theatre.
There was a company back around when HS1 was first opening called London Direct Sleepers who were trying to run sleepers from London St Pancras to various destinations around Europe (e.g. to Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Munich, Berlin, Copenhagen – those sorts of distances). They had to deal with the security and passport controls for the border and found that the passports were not a major issue; they would have to pay UK Border Control to have officers ride on their trains to check passports, but they figured they could afford that. But the security was completely inflexible; all departure stations had to have a dedicated platform that would be physically secured and security officers checking passengers and luggage.
Michael Guerra – CEO of London Direct Sleepers – wrote up some of the details of the problem on a forum back in 2010. This is a link to his first posting in the thread (there are some more details in other posts if you keep scrolling).
The correct solution is that you don’t run the sleeper to London and instead run it to Lille Europe.
You could have the sleeper arriving in Lille Europe at 6:30am and departing at 7am, Brussels Midi arriving at 7:35am then call at Antwerp and Rotterdam before arriving into Amsterdam Centraal at 9am.
Then you have a connecting Eurostar departing Lille Europe at 7:30am which would arrive into London St Pancras for 7:56am local time.
The other way you get the existing 8:30pm Eurostar to call at Lille Europe (or you run a second one) which would arrive at 10:56pm local time, then you have your sleeper leave Lille at 11pm with a cross platform interchange. It could then have left Brussels at 10:15pm say, and then depart Amsterdam Centraal at 8:45pm.
Absolutely correct, there’s a real business model there.
The point I was trying to make was not about LDSG’s business model, but about the information that they have about the real cause of the restrictions on travel, which is, as Levy says in the article, “British security paranoid about the Chunnel”.
It’s not even rational fear – the searches done on motor vehicles in the tunnel are far more cursory, and you could put a lot more explosive into a van (much less a lorry) than in a suitcase on a train.
To put it another way, you have ~80 million people who can have a weekend in Italy or Spain with half a days holiday at most. That’s compelling.
That’s not really ideal though. The main attraction of sleepers is you board in one city, fall asleep and wake up in the other one and get off the train. Not wake up in an en-route city, get off the train, go through border/security checks, and then get on another (non-sleeper) train for a 90 minute trip to your actual destination. That’s much less of an attractive offer against just flying the whole way.
The interesting bit of this is that you could do direct sleepers from London to destination cities (you only need the “security” at departure stations, not at arrival stations). You only need to do the broken route travelling towards the UK.
After the sleeper arrives at Lille and has emptied out, it could run empty through the tunnel and on to a depot to be refreshed (ie change the bedding, clean everything) and then go into St Pancras in the evening for the outbound run.
The one fortunate bit is that the time zones work in your favour, so you can leave Lille at 08:10 and arrive in London at 08:40. That still means a sleeper arrival no later than 07:30 in Lille, which is a long way from ideal, but beats the heck out of the 06:30 it would be without the timezone issues.
The LDSG plan was to have four four-car 100m trains coupled together as far as Lille where they would split up to four destinations (this is to save on the tunnel passage fees) and then they would go to four separate destinations – they could do two departures, one leaving Lille southbound for destinations in Spain, Italy and southern France (e.g. Barcelona, Madrid, Marseille/Nice/Genoa, Milan/Venice, Florence/Rome) and the other leaving Lille eastbound for destinations in Central Europe (Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Prague was the original plan).
I’m thinking that those trains, having split up in Lille, could couple up there with other sleepers that originate in Amsterdam (southbound) or Paris (eastbound), providing more services for the same cost in drivers, track access, etc. Southbound trains could stop at a station on Interconnexion Est (probably CDG) to pick up Paris passengers, while eastbound trains would stop at Brussels South to pick up passengers there. They would then run non-stop to their first destination (most trains would have multiple destination stops).
If there was space at Lille (there isn’t, but it’s not necessarily that expensive to build), you could put the arriving sleepers into platform sidings and passengers not in a hurry to reach the UK could get a fuller night’s sleep, and then catch a cheaper daytime Eurostar to London rather than the more expensive early morning service. Potentially popular with holidaymakers?
This is clearly going to harm the market for the service, but combining with trains from Paris/Amsterdam will definitely help.
There’s some extra hassle. But you’d be able to do London-Barcelona or London-Milan with the same effective time elapsed as an evening flight and it’s much better for the environment.
The current status quo is that a train from London-Barcelona takes as long in time elapsed as with good timetabling it’d take to do London-Fes. Plus you have to carry your luggage through two giant cities, London and Paris.
It would need a dedicated shuttle to and from Lille. 12 sleeping cars don’t have as many passengers are a coach train but there are people using the current trains. Or it’s running a lot of empty seats between Lille and Paris.
There is the capacity to run 6 Eurostar trains an hour through the tunnel and currently they run 1-3 so there’s capacity to run the extra services.
I think this problem can be better answered, if the question was worded as, why people opted against flying when high speed trains are available, despite flights could be cheaper and faster.
I’m someone who does Berlin-Frankfurt on a pretty regular basis. The train is four hours on a good day, while the plane is a little over one hour and both airports are pretty decently connected to the cities. I always get the train. With a Bahncard 50 it’s significantly cheaper and the booking system is less of a hassle, but you still couldn’t even pay me to take the plane. Why? Because even if the door-to-door travel time is less, it’s a massive time-suck. You spend most of that time getting to/from the airport, standing in security queues, waiting to board/disembark, etc., and it’s soul-destroying.
Whereas with the ICE I can just get on the train, open up my computer, work for four hours and then hop off at the destination. The Deutsche Bahn WiFi is not great and can’t support video-conferencing, but emails are manageable. And if I need to do heavy reading it offers pretty ideal conditions.
Finally, the correct answer.
There’s generally a train at least every couple of hours and you don’t have to commit to a particular train when you buy the ticket. That means you don’t have to neither design your schedule around getting to the correct train nor take multi-hour time margins.
Air service between major cities can achieve this too if the airlines want to be competitive.
There’s very few city pairs where that is the case though,
And for those city pairs, save for NY-LA and others well beyond distance, are prime pickings for high speed rail (Texas Triangle, NEC, California, Cascades)
Thanks for the helpful data on ridership potentials for US. Though It’s difficult to maintain hope that we’ll ever build out high speed for even half of the routes that would be great to have.
You can’t drive or take a train from Panama to Colombia (even though they share a land border of about 200 miles/300 kilometers, and Panama used to be a part of Colombia). The Pan American Highway doesn’t connect Central America and South America (and there are no other land routes either). You have to fly. (I think the only ferry is cargo, no passengers).
The Darien gap is a helluva barrier.
I’d also throw in, on door-to-door time, that trains can offer more flexibility for destinations and/or stop closer to your final destination. Like- I live in Seattle, and my family is in rural SW WA. It is significantly quicker and easier to have a family member pick me up at Vancouver Amtrak than Portland Airport.
What’s your plan to eliminate the insane bureaucratic bullshit that prevents us from building trains in the US? California’s “high speed” line is decades behind schedule and has ballooned to over $100 billion in costs with no end in sight. Unless you have an answer to this question, you need to shut up about trains.
– Public discussion of the advantages of trains can be an important part of building political consensus to force change in a broken bureaucratic/political process. Maybe the way you get there is by drumming up a large constituency that demands trains… and shutting up about trains would be directly counter to this goal.
– There are places outside the US that might be worth talking about, regardless of dysfunction in the American political system.
If you’re new around here, you might notice that Mx. Levy has put a lot of work into detailing the failings of American transit planners and operators with suggestions for improvement (, , , , ), detailed analysis with international comparisons  , an entire series on institutional issues ( – ),and background on why those comparisons are often missed by Americans/Anglosphere planners generally ( and throughout). Plus a whole bunch of other articles on this problem they’ve written which I haven’t time to dig up right now. There’s a bunch of specific examples of how American institutional culture should change, including greater openness to and curiosity about foreign examples, and accountability for failed or bloated projects and bad operations, for both administrators and politicians.
I think it’s worth interrogating the details of many of those suggestions in the context of past history of American decision-making and of the realities of the current American political environment–they may need refinement or alteration to be workable or to address equity concerns. But “solve America’s democratic deficit” is not a realistic or productive precondition on the permissibility of public policy & infrastructure subject-matter expertise.
Tiercelet, with California, the bottom line is that it’s simply too far to replace air with wheel on rail.
Now they DID choose a stupid route, but that’s been gone over and over on here and other places.
The TLDR, for those of us who are not railfans foaming at the mouth over HSR, is that 2:40 is still too slow. The flight takes an hour.
That’s not really achievable because there’s no room to put a dedicated rail line in San Jose that goes over to I-5. You have to start the dedicated rail line in Tracy and it’s going to take you probably an hour to get there.
Two hours is achievable if you’re going down I-5. (fresno and bakersfield can be spurs that connect to I-5, so you can’t say “well you can’t connect to central valley if you use I-5”.)
Even two hours is too slow to take a LOT of traffic from aviation. It might take some. But the majority would still fly. This logic is like saying “I’m going to compete with driving by offering a bus that makes a lot of stops and takes twice as long as driving”.
If I start at SJC at 1200 and you start at San Jose Diridon at 1200, I’m going to arrive at Los Angeles at 1300, ok. If you arrive there at 1400 you’re not taking traffic away from Those Who Would Otherwise Fly.
It takes at least an hour to get from the curb at the airport to the time the plane pulls away from the gate. half an hour from the time the seat belt sign goes off, at the gate, to the curb would be optimistic.
Flying requires purchasing a ticket well ahead of time to get a reasonable price and without draconian change fees.
So I looked at the Air2Rail study, found the chart in the Appendix, and I have to question your interpretation. If you look at the “air passenger” column and the “rail passenger” column, pretty much every single one, the air passenger is a LOT higher. I don’t see how this is supports your point at all. Am I missing something?
The only place where rail passenger is higher is Barcelona to Madrid. That one really makes no sense because the train is seven hours and the flight is one hour. So that one is the only mystery. The others show people vastly preferring flying for distances that are too long to drive, which is what one would expect.
My only guess is most of the train passengers are actually going to Zaragoza, but the given data doesn’t make that distinction. In other words if most of your users are not riding the train all the way from Barcelona to Madrid, that doesn’t really count. People going to Zaragoza are not people going to Madrid or Barcelona lol.
The only other one that comes close is Paris and London but flying still wins on that one too.
It’s obviously a mistake. Look at page 19, until 500km, rail has more.