I’m a huge fan of high-speed rail. I’m a huge fan of trains in general. When I travel for business from Tampa to Jacksonville, I take the train—$29 one way—and it’s a wonderful way to travel. However, it doesn’t go much faster than a car either—and still takes 5 hours for the trip (when everything goes right). It’s a bare-bones service, as if we Americans don’t know how to provide the “real rail” experience—which is what I got when I took the Eurostar through the Chunnel from London to Paris.
The glamor of the Eurostar train, which hits 200 m.p.h. in France (but not in the UK at the time) was amazing, from the sleek boarding area to the inside of the train. Everything was made to give the impression of a first-class plane ride- plus. It’s this experience that makes rail travel superior to airplanes- from the ability to walk around comfortably, and enjoy fine dining- to even having a restroom that isn’t smaller than a porta-potty (which is what most airliners provide). Plus, as you buzz by the countryside at 180 mph, you feel as if you have transcended the car, the road and the hassles that come with it.
But, on the Amtrak slow train, you get none of that. In fact, other than having leg room, a place to plug in your laptop, and a larger restroom- all you have done is give up the driving (and the mobility you’d have when you arrive) and broken even on expense. That’s why Amtrak is struggling.
With the longest ride in the State of Ohio being about 4.5 hours- by car or a slow train, it won’t make much of a dent in the number of cars on the road. People won’t give up their mobility at the ends of their journey without either a gain in speed, a substantial saving of money or a much improved experience (free wi-fi for starters). Although the proposed 89 m.p.h. train is a start in the right direction- it’s not going to make it financially, or practically- unless the speed can be at least doubled within a few years.
Why spend stimulus money to build a slow train? Ohio needs to look at the big picture and the message it wants to project to the world. Building last century’s rail system now is a cruel joke and a waste of money. If this is the best we can do, we should seriously reconsider new-rail in Ohio.