Problem: Amtrak train service is inadequate.
Solution: Build another set of tracks.
Oh yeah that red one is SEXY! I recently had a conversation with my U.S. Representative and he was EXCITED about a potential Texas bullet train project. It would travel in excess of 300 miles per hour, could travel from Dallas to Houston in 55 minutes, would NOT require any acquisition of any additional lands as it would use existing railroad right of ways, and best of all, it would be built with only private funds. It could carry TWELVE HUNDRED PASSENGERS at one time and the fare would be comparable to commercial air travel fees. Zipping both ways at an incredible clip, it would be the envy of the European or Asian train systems! Wow that’s neat.
Reality check. Let’s compare that sexy bullet train to airline travel. Both are about the same costs. Both are about the same time in transit. My current air travel from Dallas to Houston can be pretty cheap if I book it well in advance. In fact, I could catch a Southwest Airlines flight (short notice) tomorrow for about $220 one way. It only takes an hour from Dallas to Hobby, and they leave pretty regularly. Of course, almost everyone has been on a plane. You have to drive to the airport so you can arrive approximately two hours before your flight. You’ll incur a little TSA pat down, and then board the flight. Total time for this trip – not much less than driving the four hours. It would be about the same procedure and time for the bullet train. TSA is bound to be involved with such a high-profile transportation mode. Seriously, terrorists would love to derail a train at 300 mph with 1200 people onboard. TSA WILL be there.
How about that ugly dog on top. Yeah the Amtrak. Pretend you want to go from Cleburne (first station south of Fort Worth) to Austin. First off, there’s no TSA. “You mean I can take my shampoo, a sack lunch, a minibar, and my Glock?” Yep. Second, there’s no need to get there early because all you’re doing is just waiting on the train. It shows up, you carry your bags on, and you’re done. You’re assigned seat is as big as a Lazy Boy, but you’re free to “get up and move around the country”. There’s the observation deck, and you cruise through the Texas countryside over the Nolan and Brazos River, traveling through Valley Mills and Moody with only a few stops at McGregor, Temple, and Taylor before arriving in Austin ONLY 3-1/2 hours later. There’s a snack bar, but there’s also a full service dining car with pretty decent food, with real knives and forks. And there’s wi-fi. Arriving in Austin, there’s a shuttle waiting to take you to any of the downtown hotels for a mere $10 cab fare. Even this Aggie can enjoy a “little” Austin night life on Sixth Street. The train leaves Austin at 9:31 in the morning, and 3-1/2 hours later of traveling north through central Texas, you’re back in Cleburne. $60 round trip, not counting cab fare or on board meals.
Here’s the problem with Amtrak: there’s only one set of tracks most anywhere. You’re only going to have one passenger train going one direction once per day due to opposite traffic. If you’re going south to San Antonio, you’ll have a two-hour and forty minute layover at San Marcos waiting for a freight train to come north. My very simple proposal to bring back the vitality of the train system in Texas is to just add another set of tracks. Using the existing right of way, it would only cost $1-2 million a mile to build new tracks. With two sets of tracks, we could have continuous bidirectional rail traffic, just like our highways. Somebody really explain to me why we should build a bullet train for billions of dollars when we could just add a second set of tracks for a fraction of the cost and just ride the old dog Amtrak?
Try Amtrak this summer. The Texas Eagle goes up from Ft. Worth to Dallas, Texarkana, Little Rock, and all the way to Chicago. Go the other way, and you’ll go through Austin, San Antonio, Big Bend, El Paso, and Los Angeles. If we had two sets of tracks without the necessity of waiting for opposite traffic, train travel would be fabulous. As it is, it’s still pretty darn neat. Travel note, I can’t stand either California or Chicago politics, but no one is going to force you to go that far!
Thanks again, Dr. Mike
Ride the Texas Eagle this summer! See you on the rails!
(Disclaimer: I am not being paid by Amtrak, nor will you get any special deals if you mention my name.)