Why do trains suck in the U.S.?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/18/why-do-trains-suck-in-the-u-s.html


Must be the ‘not going where people want them to go’ bit. They’re slow, unreliable and expensive in the UK and people still use them lots.

Spread out cities, especially away from the East coast, cities that aren’t good to be in without cars, and tracks that are full of slow freight trains…


I guess it depends where you live. I bought a home in a town with two Amtrak stations each five or six miles away. I have a choice of multiple trains daily to Boston, Providence, New York, and DC.

I wish the tickets were cheaper, but overall no complaints. If you live in Oglala, NE or Farmville, NC I guess your experience is different.

It’s very, very, very unlikely that US government or society is going to embrace SNCF or DB levels of investment and subsidy to allow for thousands of train journeys a day. So maybe we should concentrate on improving and expanding what we do have.

Also comparison is misleading because it ignores commuter trains in NYC, CA, PA, MA and other states. How many trains a day are run by LIRR and NY MTA?


Trains don’t suck in the United States (and Canada). We have the best trains in the world. We just use them for freight. US/CAN moves something like 12x in terms of freight-rail-miles-per-capita over the EU (and 9x the amount that does Germany, the best within the EU). Even if you adjust for population density, it’s still an astounding difference in terms of an efficient cargo system.


They certainly are yuuuuge!


This is why I travel as freight.


While I don’t think high speed rail (or the insufferable Hyperloop, which is actively eroding public support for CA trains) are the panaceas people think they are, the United States is a huge country with a large population. Rail makes a ton of sense for certain areas. But Americans are overly obsessed with not paying for anything they personally don’t use, even the ROI to the population as a whole is clear.


I prefer to take trains whenever possible (planes are just sky busses, and I only take them when absolutely necessary). The main problem seems to be a deteriorating infrastructure. On several winter trips back east, frozen switches repeatedly held up the train; the poor condition of the tracks in the midwest severely limited top speeds.


“I don’t suck, you suck.”


It really has been all downhill in America.


To some extant, we’re lucky to have long distance passenger trains at all. Amtrak was created to relieve the freight railroads from the cost of operating passenger trains and preserve passenger operations as a cheaper alternative to flying. But of course under Carter, the Airlines were de-regulated and air travel became MUCH cheaper. So there’s a real question of whether there would have been the political will to create Amtrak if the cost of air travel had come down.


It’s because trains require serious capital investment, and that means government spending, and that means Socialism. Republicans hate trains the way they hate Head Start.


How about a video called: “Why do republicans suck in the U.S.?” And then you will see why trains really suck in the U.S.


And fast passenger trains mix poorly with heavy freight trains. It’s not just the speed, but the track too. For trains to operate safely at high speeds the track has to be maintained to very tight tolerances. But modern freight trains cars are HEAVY. Significantly heavier per wheel than the old freight trains from the 30s-50s. And that makes them hard on the tracks. (actually the effect is mostly on the tons of gravel ballast used to support the tracks) When you see a heavy freight go over a loose spot in the ballast, you can see the rail moving up and down several inches as each truck goes over it. Which beats up the track even more…



because we love cars


Forget improving and expanding, I’d settle for maintaining.

Fun fact: The Acela express fro NY to DC today is slower than standard service was in the 1960’s, because the tracks just aren’t in good enough shape to handle higher speed trains. Also, Amtrak has to divert money from the northeast corridor to maintain the (most unused) remainder of its system.

As for commuter trains, this is true, but it is only a misleading comparison if they did include commuter trains for the other countries. Did they?


That Amtrak statistic about delays is pretty self-serving and probably not accurate. Another way to think about it is that the railroads want to run freight because that’s what’s profitable, but they’re forced to run these poorly managed, crappy passenger trains as high priority.


We’re also obsessed with not paying for things we do use.

I rode the mag lev train in Shanghai. It was neat, although I was hoping it would feel like flying in a fighter jet and instead it was more gentle and comfortable than a car trip. Most of the people on the train were tourists (like me!) because most regular Chinese people can’t afford a ticket and don’t need to go where the train would take them. None of that should be construed as an indictment of their mag lev. Whatever problems it has are probably just growing pains.


Oblig: cuz they only go to destinations in the continental US?

Traveling by rail (box car style) in the US is great & a childhood memory I wouldn’t trade in / but it just doesn’t compare to Europe- destinations are EPIC: Rome, Paris, Prague, Madrid, London, Bucharest, Milan, Munich - heck, even Oslo…