Why do trains suck in the U.S.?

I recall someone writing about trying this between DC and NYC. There’s a gap in non-Amtrak rail service between MARC and SEPTA. I can’t remember if they took a cab or a local bus or some other method to cover that portion (this was some years pre-Uber but I’m not sure whether you’d find a willing driver around, say, Elkton MD).


I’m reminded of the Port Washington Branch of the LIRR. Maybe the exception that proves the rule: it’s (I believe) the only route that goes from Penn Sta. directly to the end of the line, without funneling passengers in and out of Jamaica Sta. And IIRC you have to live in Port Washington to park at the station, though to be fair I don’t think that parking lot could handle the influx if that wasn’t the rule. However it is single track from Manhassett to Port W.

I couldn’t believe it when they finally, actually finished the Manhattan Bridge work…

I’ve only ridden it once, when NJ Transit was out between Penn and Jersey City. The main thing I remember was coming down a short flight of steps (grandfathered in to get around ADA, I guess) to get to a platform that seemed no more than 2 feet wide. It might not have been quite that narrow, but I remember thinking “well, here are a couple of lawsuits waiting to happen.”

I thought there was at least one ferry that ran across there.

Like nothing could nor would ever go wrong with a ferry crossing.

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Check out the new WTC PATH platforms, you won’t believe anyone in their right mind approved them. Not to mention the idiocy of making the whole thing out of white marble. Yeah, that’ll stay clean.

Yes there are ferries, at $8 one way. Compare that the the cost of the Staten Island Ferry…FREE! NYC sees a economic benefit (and political one) to subsidizing that service, but the PA only subsidized the Hudson ferries post 9/11 till the PATH was up again.


Heh, my Great Grandad was a carriage builder. Still got his toolbox. Most of that side of my family worked there at some point.

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I’ve read several accounts of using regional and commuter lines to patch together a cross country trip. There are extremely limited options that don’t involve gaps. But supposedly one can get as far as Texas with out engaging with AMTrak or non-train transport. Making the full trip usually involves at least a few buses or working your way to an AMTrak station for a middle push somewhere between the coasts. So it doesn’t surprise me. I seem to remember proper integration with the Regional lines around DC being something of an issue when I lived down in Philly. Apparently they are supposed to be integrated, to avoid those south of Philly having to head North to head south again, but SEPTA is ass so it never happened.

Multiple lines run directly out of Penn with contiguous track to their end points. The big one is the Ronkonkama line. Its intended as the major arterial line for the Island. Running a mostly straight, east-west run, the full length of the island. However for a long time the further reaches (where I live) were operated with double decker cars and diesel engines that were incapable of being used in the tunnels west of Jamaica. So you were forced to transfer at Jamaica. They have dual power engines now (diesel and electric) and the cars were redesigned to fit. Port Jeff line does similar but breaks north and doesn’t go as far. And the Babylon line does the same for the South Shore. Both had the same issue if you got on a train too far east (IE past the major hub stations they’re named for). But that’s no longer the case. All funnel through Jamaica, but transfers there are less of a requirement. But that’s because in order to get to the end point in Penn Station you have to go through Jamaica. One way or another, geographically. Its also where the train yards are. And where the bulk of the rails and interchanges run.

The Port Washington line is different in that the entire area its intended to serve is significantly north of Jamaica, routing it through there would be counter productive. Additionally its a really short run, something like 10 stops and only 20ish miles. In that regard its much more like a commuter line than a regional rail line. It connects a really wealthy area, close to Manhattan. In a straight shot, point to point. With little involvement in the rest of the regional rail system. It’s hardly an outlying area, being just on the outskirts of Queens (and again FABULOUSLY wealthy. Fucking Great Gatsby took place in a Town on that line).


I’ve been shocked to see multiple bridge projects finished, and some closing in on those 40 year old subway projects. And a fucking sensible plan to finish the Sandy related repairs on the L in a single persons life time.

And there are multiple buses. Most of the people I know over there use the bus in the morning, and PATH at night. They avoid the worst of the PATH by killing time till after rush hour. And only take the Ferry when its nice out and they have time to dilly dally.

That Staten Island Ferry makes money by selling beers for 3 dollars though! NYC sees a benefit in subsidizing that service because there’s pretty much no other way on and off Staten Island without driving. Often a long way, around through Brooklyn or Jersey. Which is a massive increase to traffic around the city. If they started charging above what a subway costs, or shut down the ferry. It’d likely be a disaster. But if the Ferry didn’t already exist as a free thing no way in hell would they introduce it. And if they could see a feasible way to kill it they’d do so in a minute. And they’re LOATH to add extra ferries if it involves the city at all. The ferry to RedHook is subsidized by IKEA as a sort of bribe to get them the zoning to build their store. Plans for additional ferries almost always involve a charge and are limited to servicing wealthier areas. And Staten has been calling for a better solution than the ferry for DECADES. Its crowded, ends service early enough to strand people, still requires driving to the station on the Staten side. Among other things.

You seem to be under the impression that NYC likes to screw NJ. While this is entirely true. NYC is also in the business of fucking the outer boroughs (often much harder than anyone else), and Long Island. They seem fine supporting wealthy surrounding areas though. Ritzier areas in close on LI, wealthy Connecticut suburbs, the Hudson River Valley etc.


They seem to think they get no economic benefit from NJ commuters. The insane debate going on currently about relocating the PA bus terminal in NJ exemplifies this, I mean WTF? But raising tolls and fares to pay for the white elephants at WTC was the peak. At the PA “hearings” the room was packed with hardhats wearing custom printed tee’s for the occasion. They wanted our money, because, well, they wanted it. They couldn’t care less whether it was wise to build these things, because jobs is jobs. No real debate was had whether that $8B could have been better spent. The kicker is that the only part of the giant project they paid for that benefits NJ commuters is a poorly designed catastrophe with narrow platforms and escalators.

[quote=“Ryuthrowsstuff, post:67, topic:83695”]
If they started charging above what a subway costs [for the SI ferry], or shut down the ferry. It’d likely be a disaster. But if the Ferry didn’t already exist as a free thing no way in hell would they introduce it.[/quote]
Yet it only became free in the 97, after being a bargain $0.50. Only politics keeps them from charging the same as a subway and making the transfer to the subways free.

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Here’s a post I’ve repeated here a couple of times, covers “why do our trains suck” and “why does it take a lifetime to finish a project” as the same root cause can be found:


To the marble seller, and the contractor, and the city councilman they support, it was a stroke of genius.


If you are including MTA then aren’t there a lot of other regional services you have to include too? The LA-Riverside Metrolink is probably longer than a lot of SNCF routes - should it be included? What about BART? Caltrain? And those are only the ones I know about. Add up all of these around the country and 13,700 is probably not a stretch. Seems like a hugely misleading comparison for the video to omit these.

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Ever read “The Power Broker” bio of Robert Moses? One of my favorite parts was when he said to a flunky of a councilman who owned a quarry contracted for decorative stone sheathing on the Triboro Bridge: “I don’t have enough money for both stone or on ramps, which shall it be?” The reply was “stone”.


I’ve been driving since 79 and they’ve been working on the 59th St bridge and the BQE the whole time. Lifetime job security. It’s like the AC Boardwalk, when they get to one end, it’s time to start back at the beginning.


You mean like Europe? No, actually you’re right, European cities aren’t arranged in anything like a line. But somehow that rail network seems to work quite well. How do they do that?

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I’m thinking for the same reason that passenger rail works well (i.e. better than the rest of the country) in the Mid-Atlantic/East Coast: Those cities, towns and villages grew before the widespread introduction of the automobile, making it harder to sprawl (until recent decades). For example, if I walk for 30 minutes from my house (in Maryland) I could cross three different jurisdictions on foot; when I used to live in Texas I’d still have several more miles to go before I reached the city limits. You have pockets of people (sometimes very dense pockets) that are closer to each other in, say, Delaware than you do in Brewster County, Texas (which is as big as three Delawares in area, but has less than 10,000 inhabitants). Given the density, it makes (or made) more sense to link them with rails, as it’s more likely that there are customers in one particular place who need to go somewhere else along the rails.

At least, that’s how I figure it. It’s also why I figure that within England, you have different accents (or even varieties of English) in places that aren’t far apart: they were far apart, when one had to go on one’s feet or by horse. Less interaction meant that dialects developed in parallel. Same goes for varieties of German in Switzerland, for example.

Or maybe I’m wrong about all of these?


Exactly right.

National, state, or local, Republican, Democrat, or nonpartisan, the guiding principles behind every government project in America are “how much can I skim?” and its corollary “who wants an iron rice bowl?”


Didn’t the government assign all that right-of-way to the railroad companies in the first place? The Indians sure as hell didn’t sell it to them.

Trains suck in America : because the masses care more for the destination than the journey and driving our cars gets us there faster… Oh and gas is as cheap as water…

Give me a dining car with a top shelf bar and a window to watch the land spread out in front of me, over one flat tire!


Who is John Galt?

Wha? No ayn rand there.


Agreed. For reference, looks like about 1,700 for LIRR+NJ Transit+Metro North. Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and SF have what looks like a few hundred each per day.