“Double the Frequency; Triple the Ridership.”
I’ve mentioned this old railroad adage here on several occasions. It may seem too pat or an exaggeration, and certainly a lot depends on where the doubling of service occurs and what population centers are involved. But is it true?
OK, take Cincinnati, for example. There are almost 2.25 million people in the metropolitan area, making it the 28th largest city in the country. It’s 100 miles to Ohio’s state capital in Columbus and 300 miles to Chicago. Obviously, this major American city, with the incredibly beautiful Cincinnati Union Terminal (above), must have regular and frequent rail service.
Not hardly. The only passenger train serving Cincinnati is Amtrak’s Cardinal and it operates just three days a week. But it gets worse. The westbound Cardinal arrives in Cincinnati at 1:15 a.m. You think that’s bad? The eastbound train shows up at 3:15 in the morning!
OK, let’s consider Cleveland. It’s also a big Ohio city, with more than two million people in the metro area. Cleveland gets two trains a day. Whoopee! That’s the Lake Shore Limited in this photo, ready to depart Cleveland. It will take you to Chicago, but you’ll have to board at 3:30 in the morning. If you’re heading in the opposite direction, to New York City, the schedule is a little better: the eastbound Lake Shore gets to Cleveland at 5:30 a.m.
But wait! Cleveland is also a stop for the Capitol Limited. Maybe it offers a more convenient schedule. Aw, shucks! The eastbound train stops in Cleveland at a quarter of two in the morning; the westbound arrives at 2:53 a.m. Well, I guess that’s what you get if you live halfway between Chicago and Washington.
So here we have two major urban centers with the only passenger trains coming and going in the wee hours and, in the case of Cincinnati, just three days a week. And there are other examples:
– The eastbound California Zephyr stops in Salt Lake City at 3:00 a.m.
– On it’s way from Chicago to Seattle, the Empire Builder gets to Spokane at 3:10 a.m.
– The Southwest Chief is scheduled into Wichita at around 3:00 a.m. in both directions!
– And the westbound Sunset Limited stops in Palm Springs, California, at 2:00 a.m.
The amazing thing is that there are always people boarding the trains at all those stations. Just imagine how many more would opt to travel by rail if the trains came and went at a convenient hour. What if — in Cincinnati, for example — there was a train leaving for Chicago at seven o’clock every morning. Double the frequency; triple the ridership? At least!
Actually, Adam, what we need is something old: a permanent source of funding for passenger rail … or, if we can possibly start thinking ‘bigger picture’, for transportation in general. I’m an optimist and I do believe that sooner or later this country will wake up and realize that “It’s just a damn boondoggle” is not a damn argument! Thanks for the comment.
All true; but that doesn’t move the problem variable – someone has to pay for it.
Also more trains does not help the with the gridlock in Chicagoland caused by inferior infrastructure – that someone needs to pay to fix/upgrade.
I am all in for paying for these fixes – they seem like an obvious need to me. But they create a Chicken-Egg problem; a huge upfront balloon of cost that makes rail travel an easy target for people who like to cry “Boondoggle!” [and in Indiana and Ohio there are a lot of thoughtless “Boondoggle!”-ers].
Add on a dollop of Amtrak-is-not-the-most-aggressive-organization-in-the-world.
This could take a hundred years. Unless someone comes up with something new.