Take the Train: France Moves to Ban Short-Haul Domestic Flights

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The French National Assembly voted to ban short-haul domestic flights on routes where the train journey takes less than two and a half hours. Connecting services are not affected.

Reuters reported:

The measure is part of a broader climate bill that aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 from 1990 levels, though activists accuse President Emmanuel Macron of watering down earlier promises in the draft legislation.

The National Assembly vote is the first of three necessary steps before the ban may become law. According to Reuters:

Saturday night’s vote in the National Assembly was the first. The bill goes to the Senate before a third and final vote in the lower house, where Macron’s ruling party and allies dominate.

The slowdown in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic made it easier to press for this measure at this time, as did the French government’s recent investment of further bail-out funds in Air France. Per the BBC:

Saturday’s vote came days after the French government more than doubled its stake in Air France. The government had previously offered €7bn ($8.3bn, £6bn) in loans to help the airline weather the pandemic, although France’s economy minister said at the time the funding was dependent on the airline scrapping some of its domestic flights.

Regular readers are probably aware of my fondness for train travel  (see Take the (Night) Train Redux and Take the (Night) Train). Not only do trains use considerably less carbon, but  I find them a more relaxing way to travel. For many journeys, train travel also saves time, especially for short hauls, as trains generally run  between city centers, and eschew the time-wasting security theater practiced at airports.

In a curiously snippy piece, Treehugger pointed out that there’s a bit less here than meets the eye,

It’s making news all over the world as an effort to reduce carbon emissions, but there is actually less to this than it seems.

  • President Emmanuel Macron’s Climate Convention citizens panel recommended a four-hour limit (PDF in French) but that got watered down, leaving the biggest and most popular flights, like Paris to Nice or Toulouse, in place. This has outraged the environmentalists and the Green Party. However, the unions and the socialists are angered by the ban because of the “disproportionate human cost” and job losses in the aviation industry. (In French politics, everyone is always outraged.)
  • The French government already forced Air France to abandon short routes in its recent $8.3 billion bailout deal; the ban really is designed to keep Air France’s low-cost competitors from grabbing the routes. As Leo Murray, the co-founder of climate charity Possible, noted in an op-ed for The Guardian: “The partly state-owned airline complained that the ban should apply to other airlines too.” A cynic might point out that the government is protecting its investment.

The BBC noted that French consumer groups still hold out hope that a four-hour ban might be adopted:

But French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir called on lawmakers to retain the four-hour limit.

“On average, the plane emits 77 times more CO2 per passenger than the train on these routes, even though the train is cheaper and the time lost is limited to 40 minutes,” it said.

It also called for “safeguards that [French national railway] SNCF will not seize the opportunity to artificially inflate its prices or degrade the quality of rail service”.

French High-Speed Rail Network: Train à Grande Vitesse

France can implement such flight restrictions without major disruption to domestic travel because decades ago it invested in a high-speed rail network, Train à Grande Vitesse. (TGV). I took such trains when I lived in the UK and Switzerland during the 1980s. More recently, in pre-COVID times, the TGV network carried more than 100 million passengers per year.

Treehugger compares the French situation to the U.S. one:

The distance from Paris to Nantes is 238 miles and the train zips there at 200 mph in just over two hours. The distance from New York City to Boston is 220 miles and according to Tripsavvy, the fastest Acela train is a three-hour-and-40 minute trip and it is often cheaper to fly. The “high speed” Acela can go up to 150 mph but averages 66 mph between New York City and Boston because of the quality of the tracks.

Bloomberg reported earlier this year that there is a proposal on the table — the North American Rail Project — to run electric trains at 200 mph from New York City to Boston in 100 minutes. Estimated cost: $105 billion. Estimated construction time: 20 years.

The most interesting thing about the French debate is that they can actually have it at all since the TGV infrastructure is in place, built over the last 30 years. They have a choice, and it is not such a tough one to make. In North America, we can only dream of such things.

Flight Bans Are Necessary As Even Well-Intentioned People Are Unaware of the Personal Actions That Most Reduce Carbon Consumption 

Serious climate change policy must include such bans, as even well-intentioned people who pride themselves on taking individual actions  to mitigate climate change are actually woefully uninformed about the carbon-saving impact of various measures, according to an article in yesterday’s FT, Clothes dryer vs the car: carbon footprint misconceptions.  So, although recycling as much as possible produces tangible environmental benefits – reducing plastic pollution – the reductions it achieves in one’s carbon footprint are negligible, compared to the impact of avoiding a single long-haul flight. The recycling saves 0.2 tonnes of carbon per year, compared to 1.6 tonnes for the long-haul flight.

According to the FT:

“Our research shows that the issue of the environmental crisis is familiar to people around the world,” said Kelly Beaver, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos Mori. “But people remain confused about what actions are most likely to have a significant effect on their carbon footprint.”]

“The public seem to have got the message when it comes to the importance of recycling, but the reality is . . . the actions that need to be taken require significantly bigger sacrifices,” Beaver added.

The French ban – admirable as it is – is low-hanging fruit for a country that’s constructed such an extensive TGV network. Even so, we should laud the French for moving to pick that fruit.

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53 comments

  1. Geo

    “Even so, we should laud the French for moving to pick that fruit.”

    Well said. It’s easy to talk about how much more they could do, but the fact they’re doing anything at all is admirable when it often seems the only thing being done is accelerating the exponentially escalating problems. Really nice to see positive news. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. WobblyTelomeres

    From https://northatlanticrail.org/

    “This federal-state partnership would be created to fund and implement the program, leveraging new procurement methods and P3 ventures to accelerate investments.”

    Is this a dodgy way to say “public-private partnerships”? Is that what P3 means?

    Reply
  3. Michael Ismoe

    Regular readers are probably aware of my fondness for train travel….

    Worst trip in the world. Amtrak between Tucson and New Orleans. Made Greyhound look like The Orient Express. Loved the four hour layover in San Antonio from 2 to 6 am. I’d walk it first.

    Reply
    1. Miami Mitch

      I would say take the Chicago to (Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles) trip before you judge Amtrak. It is a wonderful ride with great scenery. And there is never a time I would opt for Greyhound over Amtrak. At least you can get up and sit in the lounge car on Amtrak and the bathrooms are much better.But the Sunset Limited runs straight through and you do not have to get off train so no idea what the issue is with sleeping during that time.

      Reply
      1. Michael Ismoe

        Bathrooms were shut down from the Louisiana border to New Orleans for 4 hours because there was no water to flush the toilets. Yeah. Can’t wait to do it again.

        Of course it could have been worse. One passenger found out that someone had absconded with their bags when we arrived.

        Reply
        1. Dee

          Never leave your bags in the downstairs storage area next to the door if you have a roomette. Lug them up the stairs. If you must, chain them together with a steel cable, or chain. If in coach, put them where you can see them.

          Reply
          1. Josef K

            Amtrak will only get better if more people ride it. Change is slow. Expecting the American goverment to do it right is a non-starter, and without pressure from riders no corporation will do more than the minimum.

            In going on a decade on the road in Asia I’ve seen pretty much the gamut of train travel: on the one end, shikansen green car, on the other, many trains in China and India. Sitting bolt upright through two days and nights, the condition of many toilets, poor food, hot–or cold–and noise, and light, all night long, two onboard murders (that I found out about); I’ve had valuables stolen, have had to always keep my wits about my belongings and often chain my bags up. But in the end, it’s the way to go. Dodeskaden.

            Reply
      2. juno mas

        Ah, the Amtrak Lounge car. The seat of opportunity for free travel from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, CA: simply dress well, board train without eye contact with conductor, find a seat in the lounge car, order drinks and tip the bartender well. Ignore the conductor when he walks the lounge car calling, “tickets please!” (the bartender will not expose you—he’s looking for more tips.)

        Reply
    2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Nearly all of my train travel has been outside of the U.S., although I did take an Amtrak night train from High Point, North Carolina, to NYC in 2019 and I enjoyed that journey.

      Reply
      1. kees_popinga

        The Crescent from New Orleans to New York is also pleasant and on-time. I’ve taken it several times recently. Sadly Amtrak eliminated the diner car — this was pre-Covid, so it wasn’t just for health reasons. The meals served to sleeper passengers are adequate. I haven’t flown in about ten years and my family thinks I’m nuts for taking the train or Greyhound. They continue zipping through the sky at every opportunity.

        Reply
        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          There was still a proper dining car on the train I took in late August 2019, although Amtrak eliminated such services soon thereafter. The sit down lunch I had was okay – certainly much better than standard airplane food – and I had a glass of quaffable wine.

          Reply
    3. Sara K.

      I’ve also taken the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles -> San Antonio, spent a couple days in San Antonio, then San Antonio -> New Orleans) and loved it.

      Reply
    4. petal

      Try the Lakeshore Limited between Boston and Rochester, NY. It was hell every time, didn’t matter the direction. Constant sidelining to let freight through, barely getting up to speed anywhere along the route. It felt like 20-30mph the whole way. A trip that would’ve taken 7-8 hours max driving took 12-14+. You just sit there on the side, trapped in an uncomfortable metal can with bad air, hungry, sometimes for an hour+, with no updates or information. Never again.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I would always take the Lakeshore Limited to go from Michigan to visit family in Upper State New York.

        Between the travel and the layovers it takes close to 24 hours but you plan for that. And I could see stuff from the train that I never saw from a car or an airplane.

        If travel ever becomes Covid-safe again, I will take the Lakeshore Limited again.

        And on the return trip, you get an 8 hour layover in Schenectady, so you can spend much of a day having fun in beautiful downtown Schenectady, New York.

        Reply
  4. James Miller

    I’m an American resident of France, and the TGV is a not-so-minor miracle. For a long time one of my fondest hopes for the future of the United states has been a true 21st century high speed rail system. It seemed, in 1985 when I moved here, like a no-brainer, win-win jobs producer and carbon reducer. The political power of the auto and truck makers, and the Airlines and their strikingly sucessful attempts to stifle rail transport has yet to be sucessfully confronted, though. Biden’s rail plans are pretty marginal.

    Reply
  5. ProudWappie

    To be honest, I’ve grown to hate air travel so much, that I, some time ago, used the train to go to Paris (from the Netherlands – using the so called Thalys) for business purposes. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. It’s more comfortable, and relaxing, in general, than air travel. Unfortunately it’s more expensive than air travel in general as well. So there’s still room for improvement (or we should reduce the indirect subsidies for air travel). If they can fix that problem, it will gain in popularity just by itself.

    Reply
    1. LTL

      On a trip to Brussels ten or so years ago my wife and I boarded a train to the airport… or so we thought. It turned out we’d boarded an express train to the Netherlands! When we presented our sorry selves to the conductor he was kind enough to radio the engineer and they made an unscheduled stop at the next station to let us off! I can’t imagine that happening in America. I haven’t stopped singing the praises of Thalys ever since.

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      1. Uwe

        More than 30 years ago I got on Amtrak in Rhode Island and had to get off at Bridgeport to catch a ferry. When I found out that it was not scheduled to stop at Bridgeport I talked to the conductor and the train stopped just for me.

        Reply
    2. fumo

      I would never travel between Amsterdam to Paris any way but on the Thalys. Getting into GdN or Centraal vs. Schiphol or one of the Paris airports is a godsernd. I’ve also taken the TGV between Paris and Milan quite a lot. It’s breathtakingly fast as far as Lyon, but once you hit the Alps between Lyon and Turin things slow a lot. Still better than airports though unless you are in a huge rush. It’s quite a pleasant trip.

      I’m also quite fond of the local Amtrak Cascades service between Vancouver BC and Eugene, OR but it’s really not very practical as transportation between the shared slow freight rail and the infrequency of the service. HS rail only works on dedicated roadways built ground-up for that.

      Reply
      1. Keith Newman

        Three years ago I took the TGA from Paris to Freiburg, Germany (actually it could have been a German train). It traveled much of the way at 310 km/hr and was as steady as can be. I was amazed. One day North America may catch up. Given we’re already 50 years behind, I’m guessing we’ll do it 100 years after France. Yay us! (sarcasm)

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      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        The Federal Interstate Highway System seems ready-premade just for that repurposing.

        Close the Left Lane both ways and use that Left Lane space plus the Median between the two ribbons of highway to put passenger dedicated passengers-only rail. Maybe call it FedeRail. Maybe call it all AmTrak.

        And make it fairly fast. Fairly fast is fast enough.

        Reply
  6. Tim W

    It always fries me that, whenever there is talk of high speed rail in the US, it always has to be super fast and super complex (expensive). There’s already a fairly extensive network of rail in place, double track where needed to prevent passenger/freight conflict, remind the freight boys their infrastructure originally came to them pretty cheap and they should share and shoot for a speed just above fastest freeway speed, say 85-90. It doesn’t have to be world beating just better than what we have which is crappy.

    Reply
    1. Alfred

      ” it always has to be super fast and super complex (expensive)”

      Delaying tactic, IMO, and a distracting red herring.

      Reply
      1. Altandmain

        High speed rail tends to be unaffordable except for the upper middle class. Think of it is as the equal of “business class” (and unsurprisingly in Japan, the Shinkansen is often used by business travelers).

        What is known as higher speed rail is often a better investment.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher-speed_rail

        High speed rail can cost $80 – 150 million per mile in the US (although judging by the appalling situation in California, the final cost is looking well north of $200 million per mile).

        Higher speed rail can often cost less than half that and be on existing infrastructure.

        China is the notable exception – they’ve managed to get it to around $30 million per mile, in no small part due to the sheer economies of scale.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And in California, the green-performative High Speed White Elephant Line is being rammed across the very best and most productive farmland in California. Connecting small to tiny towns which can’t possibly support the cost of running the White Elephant Line.

          No where to go and no way to get there.

          Reply
    2. Clark

      Tim W — My thoughts exactly. We have a lot of rail bed already in this country — much in disuse — and the idea that ‘if it’s not 200mph rail, why bother?’ misses the point. There’s some talk about Amtrak starting (resuming?) service in Nashville, where I live — I’d gladly pay for that, even if it costs as much as an airplane ride.

      Reply
    3. Mason

      On select routes back in the 1920’s (or 40’s?) some passenger trains could go up to 120 miles per hour. For regional travel that is more than adequate. At those speeds, even averaged through the whole route, it would beat Charlotte to Raleigh by car any-day. North Carolina has a route that hits most of it’s major cities with historic train stations in their downtowns, and a state funded monopoly that owns the tracks.

      They keep giving Norfolk Southern ludicrous levels of leverage though so Amtrak on the line gets shafted. It’s right there. It would be a successful passenger rail line. State DOT’s the federal government just don’t care.

      Reply
    4. a fax machine

      This has been less and less the case, in part due to Joe Biden’s influence and desire to just have more rail policy wins than losses. Even California’s project, by far the most ambitious in the US, will allow blended service and have non-HSR segments (the 50 miles between SF and San Jose, and the 80 miles between Palmdale and Anahiem). Practical reality caps most American trains at 125 mph unless grade crossings can be removed which allows for 150 mph operation, above which requires electrification which is politically difficult. Even here in CA, the HSR authority can’t justify power system construction in the Central Valley because the legislature wants a continuous system from SF to Merced first.

      This problem becomes more significant once one looks outside the big cosmopolitan cities, such as towards Redding or towards Reno and Salt Lake City. It’s also an angle the Biden admin should play up: better national network service would improve corridor service, and mutually increase revenues on every line. This situation sort of exists in regards to various state-level projects with intrastate Amtrak-crewed trains.

      Reply
    5. fajensen

      Only Way to get it done!

      There has to be enough pork, and that pork piled high enough, to entice the major contractors, the manufacturers, government department critters and of course Congress and Senate.

      Problem being: All stakeholders are by now used to, and absolutely, expect Defence Procurement Standard Pork!

      Trump could have had his wall, if only it had been ten times more expensive and festooned with complex technology, all parts of it run by contractors on no-bid contracts!

      Reply
  7. Sara K.

    I love riding trains too, but most calculations of their carbon impact only measure the carbon emitted by burning fuel. Including the carbon impact of track maintenance can double the numbers. And that’s just carbon, not the other land-use environmental impacts. To be fair, one would also have to add the carbon impact of airports, but since airports take up less land area and generally won’t be in the middle of a forest, the infrastructure for flying has a lower carbon & other environmental impact than railways.

    When I’ve looked into this and tried to factor in the carbon impacts of rail and airport infrastructure, trains still came out looking more environmentally friendly per km than airplanes, but by a much smaller margin. The biggest environmental benefit of trains is not how much less carbon-per-km they emit, but that their slower speeds discourage long-distance travel. Reducing travel prevents the most carbon emissions. If trains are too pleasant, they might encourage more travel/consumption of fossil fuels (I speak from personal experience, as someone who likes train travel).

    Reply
    1. R

      I wonder where the calculation drew the boundary?

      – Did trains get the credit for public transport for the last mile, whereas airports require cars (taxis, rental or private)?

      – did trains get to count the stopping pattern! A flight from London to Paris is not correctly compared to the train. The comparison should be flights from London to Paris, Lille and Ashford plus from Ashford to Lille and Paris and from Lille to Paris, because a single train service covers all these flight options for one carbon-emitting trip. If you are feeling generous, you can consider distances appropriate modes, as the flight between London and Ashford would be a niche service (private charter) (but driving Ashford Lille requires a ferry as well)

      My hunch is the train still wins hands down….

      Reply
      1. Sara K.

        Train’s don’t always go the last mile, and depending on location, airports might be closer to the last mile than trains stations. It depends on the itinerary. (From my home, getting to the nearest train station with long-distance trains is about as much hassle as getting to the nearest airport with long-distance flights). Not all airports require cars (they may have good transit connections), and sometimes cars are necessary to go to/from the train station (yep, I’ve had to use taxis to/from train stations because last-mile public transit wasn’t available).

        One difficulty of measuring the environmental impact of trains is that it depends a lot on local conditions (for example, extreme weather increases the resources needed both to operate the trains and to maintain the tracks to a standard which keeps the trains safe). High-speed trains in particular use a lot of resources to maintain tracks. By contrast, India’s railway network has a relatively low carbon impact (talking about infrastructure/maintenance, not operation of the trains).

        What wins hands down is *not travelling in the first place* (at least if the goal is minimizing environmental impact).

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    2. R

      Train journeys are more efficient because a single service serves multiple city pairs. The carbon calculation needs to compare the corresponding set of multiple flights to deliver the same service. Train wins.

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      1. Sara K.

        Except trains don’t always connect the cities one needs in multiple city pairs. For example, the train which connects Memphis and Chicago does not stop in St. Louis (which does not make sense). (Though I used a bus to get from Memphis to St. Louis, not an airplane, flying does not make sense at that distance unless it’s a medical emergency).

        It really depends on the route.

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        1. Sleeping Dog

          Amtrak Memphis to Chicago, used to stop in Bellville, Il and Amtrak had a bus to dwntwn StL. Plus now the Metro Link (light rail) runs all the way out to Bellville.

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      2. Zamfir

        I don’t see how this works? Those multiple flights are not empty, they all carry passengers at a roughly constant carbon cost per passenger-kilometer. They are also a tad smaller than trains so you can fit in more different trips for the same number of passenger-kilometers.

        You can check this in reality: even in places with great HSR systems, the plane network is more flexible. It will take you to more places than the HSR, and it will offer direct connections between cities that only have cumbersome non-direct routes by train.

        And those planes are mostly filled close to capacity (outside of the Corona, at least ..), because the size and number of flights can be adjusted to match demand

        Crudely put: if we could power planes directly from the electric grid, no one would be talking about HSR.

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        1. R

          Physics would disagree. One thousand-seat HST can serve four cities in a single journey. The equivalent flight capacity requires 6x 200-seat ‘planes (one for each city pair). Each plane requires heaving the airframe to cruising height and then descending. The ascents use a LOT more energy than running the train on the nearly level, even allowing for the acceleration and deceleration (which are in any event compensated by regenerative braking). The total advantage is 3x accel/decel with regen braking for the train versus 6x up/down, no regen for the aeroplanes.

          And we have to take the world as we find it, with poor electrical storage specific density precluding electric flight. Train wins except over ocean.

          Let’s keep flying special, airliners for intercontinental travel. Get the flying buses back on the road!

          Nb: obviously the advantages do not hold if there are no intermediate cities to serve but such a sparsely populated country would be unsuitable. Many US potential corridors are not unsuitable in this sense but they lack mass transit to complete the journey. Even Australia might be able to make Sydney-Canberra,-Melbourn work.

          Reply
  8. David

    The TGV has been eating the airlines’ lunch more or less since the beginning. The first ever TGV route (Paris-Lyon) basically killed air travel between the two cities dead, except for connecting flights. (There is a TGV station at Roissy (but not Orly) though the number of trains that stop there is limited.) There are certain routes which do make sense: Paris/Nice, for example, where the airport is very near the city, and, depending on where you start from, it can be quicker by air. It also needs to be stressed that the TGV system is part of a wider network – Railteam – which takes you all over Europe by HST. I’ve been to, oh, Brussels, Geneva, Amsterdam, Innsbruck, and so on, and frankly it’s only worth taking the plane if you start from very close to the airport.

    But there’s always a but. The TGV originated in the old days of massive public investment and public ownership. With pressure from Brussels, the SNCF has cut back on other train services to concentrate on TGVs, because that’s where the money is, and that’s how the PMC travels, and there are parts of France now where there’s no point in even trying to get a train. For years, the short-distance trains to Paris were a commuting nightmare, and although new rolling stock is coming in, it’s still pretty grim. The TGV meanwhile is becoming, ironically, more and more like an airline service, aimed at wealthier travellers. You can get a decent fair if you try, but you have to book online and well in advance. A lot of the youngs and the poors travel by bus instead.

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    1. Basil Pesto

      Whenever HSR is tentatively mentioned in Australia, it gets short shrift. There may well be sound arguments in the ‘con’ column against it, but then one has to consider that Sydney – Melbourne, about 800km, is one of the busiest air traffic routes in the world. There’s a train service between the two currently, but it takes about 11 hours (9 by car). Melbourne to Adelaide, which is about Paris to Marseille distance, takes 10 hours by train currently. A key difference of course is the lack of major towns between the cities here (with the exception of Canberra, which the current Melb – Syd route bypasses). The larger country towns have regional airline services, as well.

      So when HSR comes up here, the airline lobby tends to kill it stone dead, because they know it can eat their lunch (though I suspect to a lesser extent than in Europe, because our airports tend to be reasonably well located and for business travel especially, I can’t imagine a huge amount taking the 3.5 hour train trip over the 1 hour flight unless it were to be significantly cheaper). I feel like I’d use it a lot though for non-business, especially if there was an HSR service to Canberra. My parents too maybe, who use trains almost exclusively when they travel to Europe (in the before times). It’s a nice little fantasy.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      The general rule of thumb with HSR is that if the journey can be done point to point (i.e station to station) in 4 hours, it will beat flying for the majority of passengers. Over 4 hours, and for many people the time savings on a flight make it worthwhile. This is why it works so well in Japan and most of Europe, but would probably not work quite so well in the US – the distances for the most part are just too much. Of course, if you built in incentives/disincentives it would work for longer distance routes. An obvious alternative to both for longer distance routes are reliable, comfortable, sleeper trains, but these almost invariably require heavy subsidies to keep going.

      I think HSR is almost inevitably aimed at high value passengers. Even in Japan and China, tickets are expensive for regular folks. If you have an existing network, this can become the equivalent of the ‘budget airline’ for people who are less time sensitive, but of course this requires joined up integrated thinking and not many countries seem to be good at that.

      Reply
  9. Alfred

    I, too love train travel. In a year or so I will be able to catch Amtrak from the next town, and I can’t wait to be able to bike over, load my bike, and take off. The tracks existed, but service was discontinued until an effort a couple years ago to make it possible again for trains other than freight. Amtrak has adapted by making modules for the pandemic. It really is my preferred mode of travel, as airports (and planes) are nighmares for me–if I’m in a hurry, it’s just too bad. In Europe I took the train all the time, although in London during the early-mid oughts the tube could be strange when there was a terrorist threat. I am not thinking high-speed rail is an issue for me right now.

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  10. fumo

    I have a house near Arezzo and use the Italian rail system a lot. They have everything from funky slow commuter trains that stop at every station to sleek high-speed express trains that only stop at larger towns and cities. More than anything else, what makes them practical and attractive transport besides the center to center aspect that avoids airport hell is the fact that there will be almost always be a train leaving for your destination multiple times each hour. It’s like a subway, you don’t usually need to look at train schedules, book tickets in advance, and plan before you go, you can just go to the station, get a ticket from the machine, get on a train within minutes, and be directly on your way. It’s impossible to overstate how important this is to making travel by train a practical proposition. In the US, you might need to book seats weeks in advance during busy periods and there might only be one or two trains per day.

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  11. scott s.

    Will be interesting to see how Brightline makes out. It seems like for Amtrak corridor service with participation from states is their best bet. LD train travel in the US is for people with no time constraints.

    As far as the Crescent, seems like Amtrak’s battle with Norfolk Southern over delays is not getting better any time soon.

    An additional issue is that Amtrak can’t be said to be ADA friendly. Try using a wheel chair on Amtrak vs any airline.

    Reply
  12. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    Wow- Amtrak horror stories. I went from Penn Station to Portland OR in 1991 and it was a good old time. Dining car like it was the 30s. You had a choking (‘smoking’) room. And you could stand in the between cars and hang out with people smoking there on the sly. Plus you met all kinds of ‘characters’. The paranoid guy who was going to Alaska to look for Bigfoot was the greatest. His rap on UFOs was worth the ticket price.
    But they insisted on turning it into something out of Bangladesh by the sounds of people’s recent experiences.
    So in the Great Reset, how will people get around?

    Reply
  13. David Mayes

    When possible, we travel on the TGV when in France. However, traveling to regional cities by train that don’t have TGV service can be problematic. The trains can be very slow and it can take 2-3 changes, sometimes at odd hours, to get to your destination. Luggage is a particular problem as there is usually very limited storage space, none of it lockable. Luggage may have to be stored on a different car than the one you are riding in. Sometimes a rental car is the only practical solution if air service is not available or too expensive.

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  14. Bob

    First remember that back in the day crack trains such as the Lakeshore Limited and even the fast freight Super Chief (Chicago to LA run in 24 hours) could and did travel at speeds nearing 100 mph. And the same tracks, crossings, bridges, used today were in use. Some of these high speed runs were in the very early days under steam. Who can forget the famous art deco Lake Shore Limited ? Railroad engineering of / for these services was considered to be cutting edge.

    So the present infrastructure could support faster trains.

    The problem is that the trucking, airlines, rail freight, and Detroit have combined to strangle passenger rail.
    There are rumors that a unspoken agreement is in place to limit rail speed to 100 mph.

    Reply
  15. Dave in Austin

    The best history of American railroads is still “Railroads Triumphant” by Albro Martin (Oxford U. Press, 1992). He pulls no punches, is a good writer and includes the maps you need- and he really understands the financing and operations. A truly amazing book.

    I spend a lot of time in France. I’ve traveled by bicycle for whole summers, flown in planes, stitched together regional train routes so I could carry the bike long distances and done the “no bikes” TGVs, which a friend once described as “feeling like making a strafing run against the retreating Germans”.

    But if you want to meet the locals travel the way they do; BlaBlaCar and the OuiBus.

    BlaBla is simple: sign up; say where you are going from and going to… and wait for someone with a spare seat. Easy and cheap. Plus everyone’s profile has a picture and you can leave reviews, which quickly weeds out bad actors.

    OuiBus is even better- and now, naturally, owned by BlaBlaCar. This is the Greyhound bus as it should be. Seats better than Delta first class, full internet, decent toilets, excellent reading lights and a stop every four hours-or-so at great truck stops. My last trip (Prustina, Macedonia to Paris) came complete with Serbian truck stops which felt like a 1970s Philips 66 stops with better food, more interesting trucks and leggy, discrete Belorussian hookers once you learned how to spot them And the whole trip was as safe as a church if a bit wearing (30 hours I think). Needless to say there were Blacks, Arabs, hippies, Serbian-grandmas and no boom boxes, all at less than half the price of the train. Always get a window seat (for sleeping); the coffee the driver sells for one Euro at each stop isn’t bad; always carry spare toilet paper just in case.

    And while the TGV is (probably) more energy efficient that an airplane (if you are traveling from the center of one big-city another), the TGV cars weigh-in at a bit over 200,000 lbs and carry roughly one passenger using 2,000 lbs of metal while a 737-800 weighs-in at 155,000 lbs and carries 189 people. And the Ouibus? The units vary but the typical 35,000 lbs bus holds 55+ passengers. If anyone has passenger miles/gallon of fuel numbers for TGVs, 737-800s and Mercedes buses, please post them.

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  16. drumlin woodchuckles

    $105 billion for high speed electric train service between New York and Boston?

    No.

    Spend it on okay train service between cities all over America with zero train service at all. Spend it there first.

    Only after that should we spend yet more money on yet more train service between New York and Boston for people who already have train service between New York and Boston when most of America has zero train service between Cityville and Cityburg at all.

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  17. jpr

    It may be that high-speed trains can be set up in the megaregions of US much more feasibly, e.g. while Texas is huge (when entering it via I-10 from Louisiana, the sign reads something like El Paso, 900 miles), but the ‘Texas Triangle’ is a fairly compact area (smaller than the Northeast and Midwest megaregions) that covers more than 20 million people (Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin/San Antonio). Southwest Airlines and their lobbyists shot down the effort to get high-speed rail built up just in this region in the mid-90s (a predictably half-assed effort from Bill Clinton).

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