Could Amtrak and its rail counterparts finally make a comeback? Maybe. China recently broke the world record for the fastest passenger-capable train, topping out at 486.1 kilometers per hour. The train was tested on a segment of the Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail line between Zaozhuang city and Bengbu to the south which China hopes to have operational by July 2011. It is anticipated to cut travel time between the two cities to under five hours, making it faster than flying. So does this mean we will all be riding the rails soon?
Even with consumers unhappy with airlines and now competitive speeds by the railroad industry, Amtrak has a long road ahead. While statistics do show that railroad passenger have increased over the past 25 years, the industry still lags far behind its heyday in the 1950’s. Even with this increase it still lags behind other modes of transportation. The biggest drawback to rail travel is not travel time though, it is availability. In the United States, there is simply not enough convenient tracks laid for passenger travel. I live in West Texas and if I want to travel by train, the nearest stations are in Austin and Alpine, a good 5 – 7 hours away.
As part of the Recovery Act, the federal government allocated $8 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger rail. Unfortunately, most of this money is being used to upgrade existing routes and no increase in routes or re-opening of closed routes. Little or no headway is being made to increase rail travel as a viable option. In the end, it is not speed that holds rail travel back, but lack of choices and routes for the consumer. Can anyone name any provider other than Amtrak? Most routes are to from and from major metropolitan areas. All that limits the traveler hoping to enjoy a nice train ride.
In America, we want what we want and we want it yesterday. Rail travel, in instances and on occasion, can deliver that. By most accounts, traveling by train is a fun, relaxing and unique experience when it is feasible. Who wouldn’t want high speed wireless access, dining, ability to bring ski equipment and even your vehicle along on the train? All of this point to rail travel a better way to travel, but if the train can’t get me where I need to go, why would I choose it? Americans are ready for an alternative to TSA pat downs and high summer fuel prices. But Amtrak and its counterparts are not ready for the American consumer. For now though, most of us will deal with the TSA or high gas prices to reach our travel destinations.