Do Not Compare NEC with HSR Ridership

One common claim doubting high ridership estimates for American high-speed rail lines is that the Northeast Corridor gets little ridership. For example, commenter Gelboak says,

How plausible is a 51-77 million px / year ridership?

I believe the NE corridor currently has a ridership of approximately 10 million px / year, and I think the CAHSR and the NE Corridor have not all that different population sizes in the respective catchment areas. And many of generally the metro areas in the NE Corridor have larger shares of their population in dense urban cores than is the case in the Bay Area, Sacramento, LA/Orange County & San Diego.

This line has also been repeated elsewhere, among serious urban economists like Ed Glaeser as well as among commenters and journalists. It is a bad comparison, for one reason: the Northeast Corridor does not have high-speed rail. The Regional averages 110 km/h between New York and Washington and 85 km/h between New York and Boston; the premium-priced Acela averages 130 and 100 km/h respectively. This is the speed of mildly upgraded legacy lines – faster than the lines full-fat HSR replaced in Japan and France, much slower than actual HSR or heavily upgraded lines in Germany and Britain. It’s not much faster than a bus, which is why Megabus and Bolt have been so successful in the Northeast, while no comparable service exists on Tokyo-Osaka or Paris-Lyon.

In contrast, express Shinkansen trains average 200 km/h or more on the three main Shinkansen routes. So do TGVs running between cities served by LGVs, without needing to use legacy lines except in immediate station areas. For example, the fastest bi-hourly TGVs from Paris to Marseille average 230 km/h. Upgraded legacy lines are also fast by NEC standards: Britain’s East Coast Main Line and West Coast Main Line trains from London to the major cities in Scotland and the north of England usually average 140 km/h, and in one case (London-York) close to 160 km/h. For a selection of fastest-train speeds in Europe, see DoDo’s analysis at EuroTrib.

If we look at ridership on full-fat HSR, we get much higher numbers than NEC ridership. The Tokaido Shinkansen  had 141 million passengers in fiscal 2010. The Sanyo Shinkansen gets 60 million passengers per year. The LGV Sud-Est and Atlantique each got 20 million annual passengers within 10 years of opening and the Madrid-Seville AVE line 6 million (see p. 109 of the new CAHSR business plan) , and although I have no link at hand, I’ve read the LGV Sud-Est is up to 30 million by now. Taiwan HSR and the KTX both significantly underperformed expectations, but each gets about 35 million annual passengers now.

If we measure the populations of the cities connected, the Northeast Corridor is easily the busiest potential HSR line in the West. New York is larger than any other Western city, and nowhere else in the first world is such a city connected to three second cities as large as Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington. Using the KTX as an analogy, New York and Seoul have about the same metro area populations, each of Washington and Boston is about the same size as Busan or a little larger, and the smaller intermediate cities, such as Baltimore and Providence, are about the same size as Daegu and Daejeon. The NY-DC and NY-Boston distances are slightly shorter than Seoul-Busan, reducing HSR’s advantage over the highways, but conversely the KTX is quite slow, averaging about 170 km/h as of 2009. The ridership on the NEC may be 10 million with today’s service levels, but it should be far well above 50 million with higher speeds and good punctuality.

Together with the fact that international links underperform, the result is that the two lines most frequently used by critics as examples of low ridership – Eurostar and the Acela – are not comparable to the HSR systems proposed. Thus sanguine expectations of ridership are realistic, issues with connecting transit and low road tolls aside. The Northeast Corridor competes with congested, tolled roads and feeds into cities with regional rail systems that suck except for when they need to serve the Amtrak station; it is not the example one should use to rebut American HSR proposals. Let an American HSR line open first before criticizing.

The upshot is that although the costs of HSR in the US have blown out of proportion, the benefits are still high. Maybe not high enough to cover the costs, but higher than the critics think. Agency turf battles and general contractor incompetence give high-cost, high-maintenance projects, but they don’t make passengers not want to ride the lines.

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68 Responses to Do Not Compare NEC with HSR Ridership

  1. Joseph E says:

    With CAHSR potential costs up near $100, Amtrak’s $110 plan to upgrade the NEC almost looks reasonable in comparison! Who would have imagined?

    In the Amtrak report below, it is also shown that total trips on the Northeast Corridor are 161 million per year, including air travel, buses and intercity car trips on the highways. Full high speed rail could be expected to get half that market; perhaps 80 million trips a year (or 100 million in 20 years), and might increase the total number of trips by making intercity travel easier and faster, especially between city-centers.

    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer/Page/1248542787937/1237405732517

    • Joseph E says:

      Actually, Amtrak projects 37.5 to 51 million HSR trips per year on an upgraded NEC. But that seems low to me. And the estimated cost is $117 billion; 20% higher than California’s new (much more detailed) estimate

      • jim says:

        The Vision document (and its associated ridership projections and cost estimates) is now inoperable. There’s a new document promised “by the end of 2011.” Coincidentally, Al Engel, VP for High Speed Rail, is “leaving the railroad to pursue other opportunities.” He will be replaced by a new VP for NEC Infrastructure and Investment Development. Former Kremlinologists could find work figuring out what’s happening inside Amtrak.

    • Beta Magellan says:

      IIRC, Amtrak’s plan was mainly so expensive for similar reasons as CAHSR—lots of unnecessary urban construction. Good to hear it’s going away (Danbury-Hartford-Woonsocket? Really, Amtrak?), but I’m not confident about what’s coming next.

      Alon, I remember bookmarking your NEC fantasy map off of The Transport Politic’s comments section a while back. Is that still consistent with your current thinking?

      • Alon Levy says:

        It is partially consistent. The basic idea of using the existing line as much as possible, and cutting off Shore Line East on I-95, is still good. A few of the details need to be modified, coming essentially from the fact that I was working in Google Maps rather than Google Earth (thus, couldn’t compute angles, only distances). For example, I overestimated the curviness of the ROW in Maryland, and underestimated it in New Jersey.

  2. anonymouse says:

    The CA HSR is going to get its ridership from two main competitors: roads and airplanes. In the case of airplanes, I’d find it pretty plausible to see HSR taking at least as much market share as Southwest has now in the corridor, due the hopefully reduced hassle of taking the train versus flying, as well as not having the significant time penalties of dealing with airports and security.

    For competing with roads, one important factor is local transit: a big reason that people drive is to have their car with them on the other end of the trip. Also, the costs of driving are a factor. Note that both the TGV and Shinkansen are competing with toll roads, in the latter case quite expensive ones. Maybe if the toll on I-5 cost $130, CAHSR could have a ridership comparable to the TGV and Shinkansen. But I still don’t think they will need 7 trains per hour to serve LA-SF for the foreseeable future.

  3. Tsuyoshi says:

    This only reinforces your larger point, but I don’t agree with your statement that there is no comparable bus service between Tokyo and Osaka. There is a popular system of overnight long distance bus service in Japan, and there are several routes connecting Tokyo and Osaka. It’s nowhere near as fast as the Shinkansen of course, but many people use it because it’s much cheaper. Having taken the night bus from Osaka to Tokyo once, and Megabus between New York and Philadelphia several times, I would say they are basically the same except for the schedule and ridership. I don’t have any hard numbers, but it’s obvious that the ratio of bus riders to train riders for long distance trips is much, much lower in Japan than it is here.

  4. mulad says:

    Hell, the Empire Builder has a schedule time of 8 hours over 417 miles (671 km) from St. Paul to Chicago, which works out to 84 km/h, just shy of the Regional. There’s a gratuitous extra half-hour of padding on the last leg from Milwaukee (as compared with today’s Hiawatha Service), so when it’s really on time it can average 89 km/h. The old Milwaukee Road Hiawatha did a slightly shorter distance in 6 hours, and the CB&Q’s Zephyrs used to average 114 km/h over their 427-mile (687 km) route. Jointed rail, no tilting tech, steam/diesel power, etc., etc.

    • mulad says:

      And I was going to say that the Northern Lights Express to Duluth is currently planned with an average of 109 km/h (down from an earlier proposal to go the distance in 2 hours flat which would have been 124 km/h). Now that is an example of what might be compared with the Acela Express (except for the fact that the population distribution is not at all similar. Their business plan compared the route to the Boston to Portland, ME Downeaster).

      • Alon Levy says:

        Before Kasich pulled the plug on the Ohio Hub, the plan was to average about 110 km/h after 110 mph upgrades. (And the ridership estimate said 6 million.)

        • Beta Magellan says:

          Was the low initial average speed a consequence of trying to do the whole line at once? Although it might have pissed half of the state, would it have been possible to get a quick Cleveland-Columbus “2C” link with the money they were appropriated, phasing by segment rather than travel speed (I’m assuming Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus would be more difficult to get to 110 km/h average speeds)?

          • Alon Levy says:

            Partly, yes. Even at equal top speed, Cleveland-Columbus is a much faster link: the line is practically dead straight with a very small number of curves, and freight traffic is minimal. If I remember correctly, the proposed schedule for the Ohio Hub had Cleveland-Columbus trains averaging about 95 km/h.

            However, the conservatives in Ohio are based in the Cincinnati suburbs, so to attain broad political support, to say nothing of broad regional support, the line was 3C from the start. At the time, there was no Tea Party, and even later in planning the Tea Party was just starting out and was not specifically against trains.

      • Beta Magellan says:

        And in my experience the modern-day Hiawatha tends to average a little over 90 km/h, and it’s really hit intercity bus ridership between Chicago and Milwaukee (a friend of mine intended to take Megabus from Milwaukee to Cleveland, but their MKE-CHI frequency’s eroded so much that he ended up taking the Hiawatha to and from Chicago).

        I’m not really sure how comparable the Northern Lights Express is to the Downeaster, though—the latter has decent intermediate stations, (many getting between 25-50% as many riders as Portland), whereas the Northern Lights Express doesn’t really pass by anything between Andover (you have one of those, too?) and Superior. I kind of wonder whether the current reports projecting the NLX to operationally break even are over-optimistic or indulging in a bit of strategic misrepresentation (I’m pretty sure the Downeaster still requires a subsidy).

        • Alex says:

          There is a casino about halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth (Grand Casino Hinckley if you’re interested) that they claim generates about a third of corridor trips. Seems a bit sad to me if true, but I’m guessing they just put their finger on the scale. If it is true, it is good news for NLX since the train would be pretty competitive with a car to the casino.

        • mulad says:

          Yeah, I worry that they’ve overdone it — you’re correct that the Downeaster still requires subsidy. They do plan to have more round-trips than the Downeaster, 8 instead of 5, which would hopefully make it attractive to more people. There’s also been the option of a “6+9″ operation where only 6 trains would run all the way to Duluth and three more would only get as far as Hinckley (the casino), though my sense is that there’s a reluctance to operate in that way.

        • Alon Levy says:

          The Downeaster requires a subsidy; the only Amtrak routes that consistently make an operating profit are the NEC and its Lynchburg extension. I believe the operating losses are entirely covered by state subsidies from Maine, but don’t quote me on it.

          • Kyle says:

            That is correct, Maine picks up the rest of the tab.

          • Nathanael says:

            Maine has complained a lot that New Hampshire pays nothing for Downeaster service, even though it has half the ridership. (Massachusetts also pays nothing, but everyone assumes that Massachusetts residents visiting Maine is a benefit for *Maine*, while Maine residents going to Massachusetts is a benefit for *Maine*.)

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Regionals make it between NY and DC in 3:15. That 70 MPH or 112 KPH. They are slower than they used to be.

      • Alon Levy says:

        I used 3:18 as the runtime – a few run a little faster, but that’s the fastest time that’s achieved multiple times per day. (I’m not a big fan of looking at just the fastest train of the day, which is just marketing. Or, worse, what the JRs do, which is both consider the fastest daily Shinkansen and use the distance along the legacy line rather than the straighter Shinkansen line for calculations.)

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          I didn’t look at a schedule. Off the top of my head it leaves at :05 and takes 3:15. It’s 225 miles. Mulad is the one saying Regionals do 84 KPH. Even using 3:30 as a trip time that is 64MPH/103 KPH.

          • mulad says:

            I was looking at Alon’s numbers for the NYC – Boston leg, though that is cheating a bit.

  5. Miles Bader says:

    Wait, Daegu is way larger than Baltimore (2.5m v. 600k)…

    • Caelestor says:

      We’re talking metro populations. Boston may have only about 500k population, but quite a few people live in the suburbs. Same with Baltimore, which was once in America’s top 10 cities in population.

  6. JJJ says:

    Another reason you shouldnt compare with Acela is because Acela SHOULD run more trains…but can’t. Add another 4 runs a day, and magically, ridership goes up (from people who werent able to fit onto a sold out train earlier in the day).

    And it’s not just the sold out thing. More runs means you can lower prices slightly, again, attracting more riders.

    But without more rolling stock, and with certain groups opposing the use of certain bridges during certain hours….Acela can’t grow much at all.

    CA HSR on it’s own dedicated track with a dedicated fleet shouldnt have the problem of leaving ridership on the table.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Sunnyside to Kearny your solution has to be longer trains, for a few hours each day. Solves the problem the yacht fleets too.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s not just the Acela though – it’s also Regional, a train whose seat occupancy isn’t high (about 50% on average, vs. 65% on the Acela). That’s why I made sure to quote both Regional and Acela speeds. They run similar service, but they’re branded separately, and tickets are effectively separate, so the effective frequency is halved.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        You can’t trade the seats on the almost empty 3:00 AM train with the the departure you’d like to schedule for 5:20 PM because the 5:00 and the 5:05 frequently sell out. Not that you could schedule a 5:20 PM departure until there are new tunnels. Or if a tunnel magically appeared tomorrow they have enough cars to have a train depart at 5:20. Short term solution is more cars and longer trains.

  7. I agree that comparing the NEC rail to CAHSR is an unfair comparison because HSR is much superior. However, comparing CAHSR foreign HSR is also unfair because HSR does not exist in any parts of the world that have as many cars or as poor intracity transit as California. If CAHSR goes ahead, it will provide a valuable comparison for future US projects, but for now, I’m not convinced that we have the tools to get good ridership estimates, and this would be a very expensive experiment.

    • anonymouse says:

      I’m not meaning to pick on you in particular here, but statements like “CAHSR is superior [to the Acela]” annoy me greatly. As far as I’m concerned, the Acela is far superior to the CAHSR, because if I’m in NYC right now, the Acela can get me to DC in under 3 hours. If I’m in San Jose right now, the CAHSR can get me to LA in about 20 years. Sure, in 20 years, the HSR might be way better than the Acela, but right now, the Acela is something I can actually use, while the HSR is something that exists only in the imagination. It may seem like a pedantic point of grammar, but I think it’s important, because otherwise we may end up sacrificing the actually existing and currently useful trains in favor of the currently-imaginary ones that may (or may not) be built and useful in another 20 years. Some people have seriously suggested just letting Caltrain shut down until the HSR is built, for example.

      • Eric says:

        If they said that, then they are idiots because HSR is intercity while Caltrain is intracity, so the services serve different destinations and HSR does not replace Caltrain.

        Perhaps they actually said that Caltrain should temporarily shut down in order if necessary to enable HSR to be constructed in the same right of way – a very different thing.

        • Beta Magellan says:

          It’s also idiotic because uncritical California high-speed rail boosters constantly tout HSR’s ability to take automobiles off the road, thus reducing congestion and emissions, even though an upgraded, electrified, and well-scheduled (and therefore auto-competitive) Caltrain would be able to make a much bigger dent in auto use.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            An grade separated electrified Caltrain is what the Peninsula gets if they let HSR use the ROW. An all stops local would be faster than today’s Baby Bullet.

          • Alon Levy says:

            No, a limited-stop train making all current Baby Bullet stops (rather than every other one) would be faster; a local wouldn’t. For example, giving a KISS to Clem’s train performance generator and padding 7 percent gives a local running time of 1:15 and a limited-stop running time of 0:55.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Caltrain had someone sit at one of those workstations with the $40,000 train schedule software. One of the electrification proposals projected that a local would be as fast as a current Baby Bullet, if I remember correctly 57 minutes. There was a big brouhaha over it, on Clem’s blog. Why somebody in San Jose should get on a local is different question. Why they would be running locals from or to San Jose, except maybe in the dead of night. is another good question

          • Alon Levy says:

            My recollection was that a limited would run faster than today’s BB and a local would run faster than today’s limited. 57 all-stop is what you get if you run at 160 km/h, have absolutely no speed restrictions anywhere (including at the terminals), lose about 85 seconds for each station stop, and have zero schedule padding.

          • Wad says:

            @Beta Magellan, I’ll see your Caltrain and raise you a samTrans.

            Context: San Mateo County made the worst possible transportation choice when it had agreed to extend BART to the airport. Not only did BART spectacularly underperform (the figures showed only something like 3,000 new boardings), but samTrans, the county’s bus system, lost more bus boardings than they gained from BART. San Mateo County had to pay for its BART extension in service cuts to samTrans. Well, at least the riders did.

            What about restoring the ridership to the levels it was at in the 2000s before the cuts?

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            With the optimistic plan to have HSR completed by 2020 they have a grade separated electrified Catltrain, With the not so optimistic 2033 plan they have a grade separated electrified Caltrain. Without HSR they have random quarter billion dollar grade separations until someday, who knows when, they get electrification.

          • Beta Magellan says:

            @Wad—did the SamTrans losses come from bus service cuts to subsidize BART, former bus users becoming park-and-ride users, changes in San Mateo commuting patterns (I’d expect SamTrans to have lost ridership relative to the late-nineties for economic reasons), or some combination of the above?

          • Wad says:

            @Beta, it has to do with the peculiar way BART is funded in the Bay Area, and the even more peculiar way San Mateo County got an extension.

            BART is a transit system above and apart any other transit system in the Bay Area. Generally, BART gets first dibs on any transportation taxes from the areas it serves.

            The original core of BART service had San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties buy in to the district. The residents here are entitled to elect a board of directors. San Mateo County got an extension without buying in, and it has no representatives on the board.

            When it came time for San Mateo County to pay up for SFO, the cannibalization of samTrans service began. At the time when BART was getting about 5,000 boardings on the SFO extension, samTrans ridership fell by 10,000 boardings and has stayed there. It had about 60,000 boardings in the pre-BART extension years, now it’s in the 45,000-50,000 range.

            You see it in the bus schedules. San Mateo County has service fit for a rural area. Also, the letter buses that ran on the freeway to San Francisco are all but gone.

          • Eric says:

            Don’t bash airport rail extensions with low ridership. Many potential visitors to SF are unwilling to take a bus from the airport (they presume that the frequency is low, the trip very long, and the neighborhoods traveled through possibly dangerous). They could also rent a car, but it’s well known that driving and parking in downtown SF is nearly impossible. Having a rail line from the airport to downtown thus makes a visit to SF much more practical. Even if the number of people who take BART from the airport is low (relative to typical ridership for a rail line), the amount of money each visitor ends up spending in the city is very high, and the net economic impact of the extension is positive.

          • Caelestor says:

            I may have to disagree with that. The trip is circuitous, it’s expensive, it’s apparently taken away funds from existing services, the sheer amount of route changes over the years is mindboggling and somewhat horrifying.

            On one hand, Millbrae has become the major station it is because of the extension. On the other hand, if BART was designed to get to the airport (and not have delusions of grandeur of heading down the peninsula), Millbrae BART should have never been built and San Bruno Caltrain should have become the awesome intermodal station.

    • Wad says:

      @Emily, density and transit links aren’t a fait accompli for ridership. For one thing, there’s a black swan to the theory: This summer, the Pacific Surfliner somehow managed to pass the ridership of the Acelas despite having fewer trains, much lower frequencies, lower densities and poorer transit connections.

      Also, if the San Joaquin trends hold up, it is gaining on and may pass the Keystones to be the U.S.’s No. 5 train.

      In the case of Amtrak, the local catch area doesn’t determine ridership as much as service supply. All of Amtrak’s best performing trains are on corridors that didn’t settle for a single train a day (or the worse thrice-weekly) that most of America puts up with.

      Jarrett Walker has a great blog post about the “great triangle.” It applies to local transit, but it can in some ways apply to intercity travel. Often, transit debates are ultimately reduced to Density Input A is required to reach Ridership Output B. Walker’s triangle adds another factor: How much service is actually supplied to the rider. Even riders in dense areas will avoid transit if frequencies, walking distances or spans of service are poor. Conversely, low-density areas can make up for transit ridership by improving coverage (Las Vegas’ bus system is very well used systemwide primarily because all of its route grid is available at least 21 hours a day).

      • Alon Levy says:

        Or maybe the Surfliner charges one quarter the fare of the Acela, and isn’t paralleled by a cheaper route like the Regional that’s almost as fast.

        • Wad says:

          This happened only this July, and it was the first time it happened. Surfliners always had lower fares than Acelas — but Surfliners also charge more during the high season between roughly Easter and Halloween.

          • jim says:

            In FY11, the Surfliner carried 2786972 riders to collect $55317127 in ticket revenue. An average fare of $19.85.

            In FY11, the NEC Regionals carried 7514741 riders to collect $490857865 in ticket revenue. An average fare of $65.32.

            In FY11 the Acela carried 3379126 riders to collect $491654117 in ticket revenue. An average fare of $145.

            These are not comparable services.

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          They cross honor Metrolink tickets, which bumps up their ridership. Princeton used to be one of Amtrak’s busiest stations. Trenton was in the top ten. That’s because Amtrak cross honored monthly NJTransit tickets on the Clockers. The Clockers don’t run anymore. Very few Amtrak trains stop in Princeton, New Brunswick, Cromwells Heights.. that once had much better service. ….it’s like counting the Trenton or New Haven expresses in Amtrak passenger counts.

  8. jim harper says:

    Attracting decent ridership just isn’t the problem with HSR. People just assume that it shares the same problems of city bus systems. The problem of HSR is controlling capital cost. There are probably at least a dozen city pairs that would support HSR from a ridership standpoint.

  9. Tom West says:

    Don’t forget that NEC ridership is constrained by capacity. Acela Express fares are all “business class”. I get the impression that Amtrak could carry many more passenegers if it had more trainsets.

  10. ant6n says:

    So the problem with getting the highest possible ridership on the NEC is that there is not enough rolling stock for the Acelas, and the Northeast Regional is slow, and short, because of platform limitations.

    So given that, couldn’t Amtrak run trains using normal electric loco + cars, that stops only where the Acela does, or maybe even less often – i.e. only where you have 12, 14 or even 16 car platforms? This train would be slower than Acela, but still be significantly faster than the regional, yet it could have a lot of capacity.

    Trains like this should be relatively simple to implement (outside of rush hours at least), and could run as a direct competitor to Bolt bus.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Northeast Regionals are short because of car shortages. The platforms at major NEC statons, between NY and DC anyway, are 18 cars long. The far ends might need some rehab at this point but they are looooong… If I remember correctly Acelas are designed to be coupled together so they could run double length trains.

      • ant6n says:

        They don’t even have a couple (like 4) spare electric locomotives, and 18×4 cars somewhere?
        Nonstop, they could probably do the total run with stops only at DC, Philly, NY, Boston in less than 8 hours, no?
        And between DC and New York ~3 hours should be possible.

        Even only 4 trains could allow service every 2 hours between NY and DC – with 18 cars on each train it should be possible to compete with Bolt etc – with 1500 seats per train, rather than 300 (for Acela), the tickets could be really cheap.

        • jim says:

          No. They don’t have 72 cars sitting around doing nothing. There are new locomotives on order, though.

          The Vermonter’s stopping pattern between DC and New York is the Acela’s plus Trenton. It’s scheduled to take 3:10 for that portion of its run.

          Amtrak can’t run more trains between New Haven and Boston because the bridges across the Connecticut rivers can’t be closed more often than they presently are.

        • anonymouse says:

          They don’t have any spare electric locomotives. At all. Until recently, they were running diesel trains on the Keystone line, partly due to a shortage of electric locomotives. Getting the HHP-8s and finishing the upgrade program for the AEM-7s got them enough electrics that they can now run them on the Keystone line, but they really don’t have many spares. Likewise, the fleet of 125mph-capable cars dates back to the 1970s and there are not a whole lot of spares, especially not with the recent service extensions and expansions. If they had a giant pool of spare cars, they wouldn’t need to borrow commuter cars from MARC and NJT every thanksgiving. The other problem with having really cheap tickets is that Amtrak is limited in the range of prices they can offer to a factor of two, so if they drop prices at the low end, they’ll have to also drop prices at the high end and lose revenue, and vice versa, because some micromanaging congressperson thought this would be a good idea.

          • ant6n says:

            “The other problem with having really cheap tickets is that Amtrak is limited in the range of prices they can offer to a factor of two, so if they drop prices at the low end, they’ll have to also drop prices at the high end and lose revenue, and vice versa, because some micromanaging congressperson thought this would be a good idea.”

            This somehow sounds like the biggest hurdle.

            Other than that there’s probably some way to run a couple of high capacity but cheap trains, to compete with the Chinatown buses. If you don’t find electric trains, get a couple of Diesel ones (run them out of Hoboken, whatever…). If you can’t find comfy, fast cars, get old ones from the commuter rails (there are probably plenty of bombardier bilevels floating about in North America). That should still be more comfy, more convenient and faster than Bolt, no?

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            You can’t run Bombardier bi-levels along the NEC. Acela stations have high platform level boarding. You could, if you wanted to run single level cars that have high floors. They’d be limited to the local tracks because they can’t keep up with the Acelas and the Regionals. Put ‘em on the local tracks you might as well just take a commuter train.

          • Ian Mitchell says:

            Jetbridges and other steps are used for boarding planes. If you’ve got different floor levels, why can’t you take some portable stairs or ramp?

            Sorry if it’s a dumb question.

          • Joey says:

            Ian: The main issue is that any sort of variable boarding height system (moving ramps, trapdoors, moving steps) necessarily takes time to deploy and almost always reduces passenger throughput, not to mention being costly to maintain. To keep trains running smoothly and on-schedule, you really need the edge of the platform to line up with the floor of the train car for every train which stops at a given station.

          • Anon256 says:

            Hoboken and DC Union Station both have low platforms that could take bilevels.

            Where is this “factor of two” number coming from? The Northeast Regional gets as cheap as $49 and as expensive as $164.

  11. gelboak says:

    Alon Levy,
    Thanks for taking the trouble to devote a post to my comment. (I have some follow-up questions to what you say, but since I am so late commenting, I’ll try another time).

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