Travel by rail in the U.S. – getting our ashes kicked

I received an email from a good friend of mine today relating his trials in traveling on business in Europe the past week. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the big story for days and days is the horrific impact of the Icelandic volcano that erupted last week. What we have heard in the United States is all about how travel has been disrupted, people sleeping in airports (I was this firsthand at Newark this past Sunday morning when we I was catching a flight).and travelers being stranded all over the globe.

But my friend had a different problem. He does a great deal of consulting in Europe and had multiple engagements over a 3 week period all over the European continent. Since he has over 1 million American airline miles he flies everywhere and it works. Not this time. Being a very smart fellow he anticipated the problems and worked out train travel for several destinations (he did mention that Paris to Barcelona was 12 hours by train as opposed to under 2 by air and was hoping to not have to go by rail).

The key thing here is that in Europe, as in much of Asia train travel is fast, efficient and truly an alternative to air travel. Not necessarily less or more expensive (prices for rail travel and air travel are not all that different in Europe and Asia for many routes); Americans would expect rail travel to be less expensive, mainly because we’ve been anesthetized by Amtrak.

I read recently that maybe by 2025 there will be a train from Shanghai to London that will make it in 2 days. Considering a flight is already 12 hours that’s not too bad and the ability to avoid jet lag (never have heard anything about train lag) makes that an amazing proposition.

Amtrak has made some striders and is becoming more of an alternative to flying than it used to be. But it still pales in comparison to travel by rail in Europe and Asia. Americans remain in love with the automobile. Could you imagine a college student coming to America to travel around by train?

The Northeast corridor of the U.S. is the area most primed for high speed rail travel. However the existing train rails are so outdated (curved and shared with other rail travel) that although Amtrak Acela trains can reach speeds of 150 M.P.H. they rarely exceed 90 M.P.H. since they are more prone to derailing the faster they travel. Perhaps you’ve heard of Amtrak trains derailing?

It seems today that everyone talks about the green revolution and getting people out of their cars and onto trains would be a great place to start. Recent news has a high-speed rail system being built from Tampa to Orlando Florida that will be ready in several years time. I guess progress has to start somewhere but it’s difficult to understand how Florida became the test case. People are out of work and there is a huge opportunity here to really get going on something that is a win-win project for a long time to come.
Of course maybe my head is just in the clouds. Or the ash. What do you think?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
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