Why are U.S. rail carriers snubbing the business traveler?

In a guest opinion piece published in Progressive Railroading this month, Magellan Associates LLC President and CEO Robert Perrin makes the case for more passenger rail in the United States.

A frequent business traveler, Perrin believes he could save valuable time if more short- to medium-haul rail service was available for passengers traveling between major metro areas. Business travelers would rejoice if they could conveniently hop on a train to get from Chicago to Cincinnati, for example, rather than drive the five hours in a rental car or spend at least that much time on a flight once security and other airport issues are factored in, Perrin says. For his recent Chicago-Cincinnati trip, Perrin explored his options on Amtrak, but found that nation's intercity passenger railroad offered service to Cincinnati three days a week — and at inconvenient times.

"As a business traveler, I fly an average of 100,000 miles annually, 40 percent of which is short-haul flights of less than 500 miles," Perrin writes. "Those short-haul trips would be an ideal distance for train travel. But rail options are limited. So, like many business travelers, I fly out of necessity. The airlines know that they have a captive audience. They can increase fares, reduce service and capacity, and still be fairly sure that business travelers will continue to book the same number of flights."  

That's where he would like to see Amtrak and private-rail carriers step up to the track and offer more options to business travelers.

"Having traveled to other countries where passenger rail service is the primary mode of transportation, I’m left wondering, why not here?" Perrin says in his column. "The convenience, reliability, comforts and even comparable transit times on short distances are very attractive to the business traveler. That’s why I always try to use Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service when traveling on the East Coast. When is the rest of the country going to get on board?"

That's a good question. When will the rest of the U.S. get on board? There are a few private-sector efforts to build passenger rail between regional cities: Texas Central Railway's proposed high-speed service between Dallas and Houston comes to mind, as does All Aboard Florida's construction (now underway) of the Orlando-to-Miami route. But, will other private-sector (or public) entities try to follow their leads?

What do you think? Is there a business-traveler rail market out there, as Perrin suggests? Please share your thoughts. I'd like to know what you think.

4 Replies

  • Because they can't make money at it? Because they are sometimes in a non-compete situation with an entity -AMTRAK - that relieved them of non-profitable lines? Because 40 years of public ownership has largely frozen passenger equipment in place?

    Man, you could keep this list going for weeks.
  • In reply to anmccaff:

    I believe there is a desperate need for intercity travel. City leaders and Politicians on the other hand only seem to be interested when they can put their name on it as a visionary or ride the coat tails of someone else's research. One factor to consider where ROW's or Rail Lines exist or are shuttered is the rulings made previously that an outfit gave up one thing in lieu of another, ie run freight, on the line but no passenger or visa versa. Some agreements where made along these lines as Amtrak was formed from the bankrupt RR's and the municipalities they served or ran through in meetings with the Feds etc. All those agreements have to be researched and the case law decided whether it's in the Public good to repeal the agreements or make new. Just a little food for thought.
  • In reply to Railroader14:

    "Desperate" is a big word, and should only be used for stuff like fevers over 106, sucking chest wounds, and fatal epidemics.

    The problem here is that we have a disparate need for intercity travel, with parts of the country having major destinations close enough that rail makes good economic sense, and larger areas where it does not.

    On your other point, I don't think we should be casually reordering property rights for anyone's convenience, certainly not for a vaguely defined "Public."

  • In reply to anmccaff:

    I don't disagree with what your saying, just listing a few reasons that prevent possibilities from moving forward. I'll be the first to object to the random "lets put it here!" dribble that falls out of Pols mouths when they think they have an audience. One of the biggest roadblocks to any project is the EPA. It's so bad now that the Impact study takes three times as long as the whole project would take. Add that to the NIMBY Community fight and hence costs go through the roof and the bill is a case of shell shock for the Taxpayer vs. what it initially was projected to cost.
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