In America's northeast, commuters opt for rail over air

Along America's dense Northeast Corridor, passengers fed up with flight issues are increasingly taking the train. Funding complications could slow the trend.

The Northeast Corridor of the United States, which stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C., is the country's most populous and traveled span of land. (It's also the oldest, on average.)

It's also a great place to see multi-modal transportation efforts at work: With each major city in the corridor no more than three hours apart -- Boston to Providence to New York to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington -- it's a great place to truly evaluate the merits of traveling by rail versus air, train versus plane.

Lately, trains are winning. The New York Times writes this morning that rail operator Amtrak is seeing passengers increasingly choosing rail over air.

Ron Nixon writes:

Between New York and Washington, Amtrak said, 75 percent of travelers go by train, a huge share that has been building steadily since the Acela was introduced in 2000 and airport security was tightened after 2001. Before that, Amtrak had just over a third of the business between New York and Washington.

Why? Passengers cite security hassles (no liquids! no shoes! no laptops!), inconvenience (airports are hardly the easiest to get to, removing the time advantage of flying) and frequent flight delays as reasons that air travel has become less attractive in this area of the country.

In many places, trains and airplanes complement each other; along the densely developed Northeast Corridor, they compete directly. The exchange between the two, then, is easily observed: Amtrak's market share between New York and Washington increased 38 percentage points over the last decade; between New York and Boston, it's up 34 percentage points.

The problem? Profitability. Despite fuller trains, Amtrak is still subsidized by the federal government, and loses money on a national basis. (The Northeast Corridor turns a profit, however.) Infrastructure costs are mounting, prompting the question: what's the best way to get around?

Frustrations of Air Travel Push Passengers to Amtrak [NYT]

Photo: Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr

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