Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pondering Amtrak

We’re not sure what to make of Amtrak. The U.S. “national” rail system has been getting higher marks from passengers, some politicians, and even airlines. Considering the crowded, delayed mess that is air travel today, trains make great sense. Amtrak’s biggest successes have been in the crowded Northeast, with runs such as Boston-New York-Washington often more convenient and shorter than commuter air service. While the vast distances between destinations in the central and western states mean that train travel will never be quicker than air for cross-country travel, we could imagine some shorter routes (Los Angeles-San Francisco?) becoming viable. Ultimately, it would require more high-speed lines and system upgrades. But as Gordon Bethune, the ex-CEO of Continental Airlines told the Wall Street Journal, “If the French can do it, why can’t we?”