Reuters has an interesting article that ties in with something I was discussing yesterday with my wife–that air fares would start to decline more significantly the more people switch to train travel. Of course, as the article points out, it will take a serious investment in high-speed rail in areas other than the Northeast Acela corridor for rail to compete meaningfully with airplanes.
And what gets talked about less but deserves just as much attention is the impact of sprawling land use patterns on train travel. As the article points out, “all our sprawl makes it hard to put down high-speed tracks, which have to be straight to achieve those speeds.” I think that in addition to that, someone who lives in an exurb or deep suburb, with no way to get downtown to a central train station without fighting traffic, is more likely to jump in the car and head out of town rather than add a bunch of time to the trip by driving in only to take the train out.
So, the investment in high speed rail is extremely important, but so is aligning land use both to allow for laying of the tracks and for consumers to reach intercity/interstate rail stations easily. For people who live near a rail station, it’s easy to enjoy the advantages of rail over air travel; once you factor in early arrival at the airport, security, baggage claim, and the like, you’re not saving much time flying over riding the train, and you’re not saving money. One hopes that President Obama and other high-speed rail advocates can build sufficient partnerships to develop viable train pathways to make travel cheaper and easier for consumers.