The transportation culture that is America, nonstop Acela edition

Even so, those with dreams of a super-fast, bullet-train-type ride will need to adjust their expectations. Acela Nonstop will get you to your destination only about 15 minutes sooner than the regular Acela service.

Here is the full WaPo story.


A truly impressive example of American passenger rail, though why it is mentioned here is difficult to figure out - 'Acela Nonstop will include one northbound and one southbound train per day on weekdays only. The southbound train will leave New York’s Pennsylvania Station at 6:35 a.m. and arrive at Union Station in Washington, D.C., about 9:10 a.m. The northbound train will leave Union Station at 4:30 p.m. and arrive in New York about 7:05 p.m.'

Sounds like the setup to a math problem

Well, it certainly does not sound like an actual example of using tech to move people at a high rate of speed.

But to keep the math aspect -
Karlsruhe Hbf to Paris with the TGV - 3 hours and 5 minutes, ca 340 miles

DC to NYC with the fastest Acela - 2 hours and 35 minutes, ca 200 miles

But the French don't have a Facebook equivalent company, so America's tech dominance remains unchallenged.

Or Paris-Marseille, 3h10 for 500 miles.

The stretch between Karlsruhe - Strasbourg is not high speed at this point, and the Rastatt tunnel is a couple of years behind schedule.Still won't be as fast as a route designed for the TGV, but it should shave off a noticeable amount of time off regardless.

The TGV was a nice ride when I've been on it, but it reminds me of how small Europe is.

Seattle to Los Angles is 1100 miles. Chicago to Miami is 1400. Austin to Boston is 2000. LA to New York is 2800.

And yet, this article concerns service between DC - NYC, a major route in the Boston–Washington corridor.

Which just happens to have a population density of 359.6/km2, compared to Germany's 232/km2 or France's 104/km2.

And the distance between DC and Boston is roughly 400 miles, compared to the distance between Paris-Marseille at 500 miles (from above), or Karlsruhe-Hamburg (or Berlin) at 320 miles.

Yes, the U.S. is a big country. And here is some information concerning a part of the U.S. that looks even more 'European' in terms of population density and size than Europe, which just happens to be the area under discussion - 'On a map, the megalopolis appears almost as a straight line. As of 2010, the region contained over 50 million people, about 17% of the U.S. population on less than 2% of the nation's land area, with a population density of approximately 1,000 people per square mile (390 people/km2), compared to the U.S. average of 80.5 per square mile 2 (31 people/km2).'

Coming from around DC, I guess I just am not as impressed at how small or crowded Europe is compared to where I grew up. Of course, I also think the Appalachians are real mountains too.

The problem with train service between Boston and DC (and literally all train service) is:
1. it doesn't pick you up in a convenient place.
2. It does not leave at a convenient time.
3. It does not arrive at a convenient time.
4. there are insufficient scheduled departures so that you could even come close to having it be convenient to fit into your schedule.
5. It requires huge subsidies paid for by people who do not use the service.

If you had talked about Amtrak in general, your point about subsidies would be accurate enough (after all, America is a big country).

However, here is some information about your specific route - 'It’s most profitable line runs along the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak’s Northeast service stretching from Washington, DC to Boston accounted for 37 % of its riders, 38% its annual revenues, and nearly all its operating profits, in 2015. It is along the Northeast Corridor that Amtrak owns several hundred miles of track.'

A Northeast Corridor only Amtrak would likely be profitable, because the Northeast Corridor is densely populated (with a considerably higher density than Europe).

Stick to talking about Amtrak running from Chicago to Oakland, for example - there, you are on much firmer footing.

One wonders about the accounting behind “profitable”. Does it include capital expenses, post retirement benefits, etc. - like an actual company?

There doesn’t seem to be anyone standing in line to buy and operate this wonderful business opportunity.

'One wonders about the accounting behind “profitable”'

And one is welcome to be, of course. Particularly as Amtrak is a strange amalgamation of extremely disparate elements. Nonetheless, the Northeast Corridor numbers are fairly impressive from a raw perspective.

'There doesn’t seem to be anyone standing in line to buy and operate this wonderful business opportunity.'

Likely because Amtrak is not for sale, though at least in the Northeast Corridor, it actually owns most of its track.

Amsterdam to Athens is 1600 miles, and it is 2700 miles from Lisbon to Helsinki. Europe is bigger than most Americans think.

Then there's the stretch down to the Caspian Sea: the much feared Putinland.

"Amsterdam to Athens is 1600 miles,"

Eh, Nashville to Las Vegas is almost 1,800 miles. It's a trip that plenty of people drive from time to time, though clearly most people will take a plane for a short trip.

"... so America's tech dominance remains unchallenged."

Do you actually think that this has anything to do with technology?

Does high speed rail have anything to do with technology?

Apparently not in the U.S., where the tech industry seems to mean Facebook, Google, or Amazon.

Just one train a day. Tellingly it's timed for New Yorkers spending the day in DC and not vice versa.

And train capacity is about 380 seats. Sounds like a drop in the bucket as a solution to a Bos-Wash conurb transportation problem.

One non-stop, but 16 limited stop Acela, and 18 regional trains per weekday Penn station to Penn station, DC, NYC. Plus other trains going southwest and northwest.

Acela is already for people who assign a very high value to their time. Even with stops in Wilmington and Philadelphia, the Acela doesn't get from NYC to DC that much faster than the Northeast Regional. You have to believe that an hour or two of your time is worth a lot to fork over the extra cash for the Acela.

Or just bill the taxpayers for it.

Racist Trump is worse than Hitler.

His 2019 budget tried to halve the Amtrak's federal subsidy from about $1.5 billion to $738 million. Fun fact: one year each passenger on the NOLA to LA line cost Americans $351 in 2018.

This is an econ blog, right?

The subsidized routes are those through those tough, self-reliant areas that are disdainful of government benefits and welfare.

You know, mostly red states who hate handouts, unless they are the ones getting them.

A private train company wouldn't run a NOLA-LA route, or lots of others that Amtrak is forced to run for political reasons.

. . . the states where most are only vaguely aware there are passenger trains stopping three times a week each direction at a platform 115 miles from their houses.

The article says that the fare for Non-Stop Acela will be the same as for regular Acela. So, this change is about the value that NYC riders place on 15 mins vs. the convenience of riders that would have boarded at other stops. Or, at least that would have been the case if Amtrak was a private for-profit company. Since Amtrak is a government monopoly, this change is about the political value of saving NYC riders 15 mins vs. the convenience of riders that would have boarded at other stops.

'about the political value of saving NYC riders 15 mins vs. the convenience of riders that would have boarded at other stops'

Well, our current president is a NYC native after all.

"Well, our current president is a NYC native after all."

He's got a plane.

Amtrak uses variable pricing so most seats will go full price on the non-stop while the regionals will be mostly discounted even bought the same day. But there are days when traffic is high and even the regional fares surge.

You know this how?

I suspect that one motivation behind the non-stop Acela is to better compete with air travel between NY and DC. At the margin, 15 minutes might make enough difference to make an economic case (both from the perspective of the customer and Amtrak). The flight time between NY and DC is about 1.5 hours---not counting travel time to and from airports, security, etc. There are currently 32 flights per day. Air travel probably doesn't compete much with the train for any of the intermediate stops.

"Acela Nonstop will get you to your destination only about 15 minutes sooner than the regular Acela service."

Meanwhile, Brazil builds monorail lines and is planning a trans-Brazilian road, which will link the far-north to the far-south and vice versa. Which is the country of the future now?

Obviously the country that is planning to build a road linking the top of the country to the bottom of the country. And the road will run two ways! It will go both directions at the same time!

Yes, there will be a lane for northbound drivers and a lane for southboung drivers. Linking the north and the south halves of the country is predicted to be able to create enormous economies of scale.

Brazil uses socialism, where paying workers to work building capital creates jobs.

In the US, paying workers to build capital costs too much, destroys wealth, and kills jobs. Only by keeping capital scarce can wealth be created, thus creating the ability to borrow and consume.

How did that work out for Venezuela?

Is that in accordance with Modern Monetary Theory?

Brazil is nor socikaist. Brazil has dismantled socialist controls. Brazil is a cspitslist democract, but the government makes infrastructure investment to power the economy.

Correction: Brazil is nor socialist. Brazil has dismantled socialist controls. Brazil is a capitalist democracy, but the government makes infrastructure investment to power the economy.

Mas você não è brasileiro. Porque tenho que creer a baboseira que escrive?

The American fixation, no, obsession, with time is perhaps the most notable feature of the post-modern age and one of the best indications of national insanity, along with the billions devoted to lawn care, focus on race and beige wall-to-wall carpeting.

USA! Take that, Shinkansen!

Investment. Seems to be a popular topic with Cowen. American investors don't invest. At least not in America. Barro's solution is to move the numbers around to make it look like American labor is doing better than we've been told by the keeper of data (that would be the BEA, one of those government agencies that can't be trusted, certainly not with numbers) so labor will stop complaining. Amtrak's solution is to pretend that the 19th century transportation system in America is a 21st century transportation system. The solution for Cowen's friends in tech is to create the illusion of reality (at least it's cheap). To paraphrase Janis Joplin, secular stagnation is just another word for stupid.

It's hard to change the number of tracks along any route in 2019. I seem to remember that there are stretches heading into the Port of LA that aren't even double, allowing bidirectional travel.

Ah well, I'm old enough to remember when it was a conservative talking point to kill passenger rail. Attempts were made, and investment starved, at exactly the points where you'd want to lay track for a high speed network in 2020.

1980s policy becomes 2020 infrastructure.

The Reagan administration was consistent in seeking to kill all passenger travel, by train, bus, plane, and car if you lived anyplace but the East and West coast, and a couple of outposts in between.

Living on the edge of the plains, I saw US signed roads going from paved to packed stone. Many airports closed. Bus service vanishing. Passenger train service had been cut based on bus service being better, until it didn't exist.

I certainly hope that this libertarian blog is not trying to play both sides of the problem. To have a national high-speed rail network your need the national high-speed rail program. Long running, well funded, and well managed.

1) we oppose that?

2) we complain that trains are crap?

>this libertarian blog

I can tell you are new here.

Would you like to know how I can tell that?

It's ranked.

Green zones separated by geography need a fast transportation corridor. The quicker the better, less time to ponder the catastrophic failure of your brilliance outside the windows.


That is a 50 Cents Party.

WHATEVER BECAME of the dreams, expectations, and promises of "telecommuting", "paperless offices", and other such shameless lies coined by our tech tyrants?

Lies, damned lies, and MORE damned lies far as eyes can see . . . .

Hey, that is something to check in on.

In U.S., Telecommuting for Work Climbs to 37%

Bad headline; the 37% is the number who say they have ever telecommuted.

The article is better than its headline; it tells us that the average worker telecommutes 2 days per month. Among those who say they have telecommuted, it's a whopping 6 days per month. So even the so-called telecommuters are telecommuting less than 30% of the time (if we assume over 20 workdays per month).


This being a “marginal” blog I would note that, on the margins a third of the workplace not commuting a couple of times a month is probably a non-trivial difference. Drivers notice fluctuations based on volume for events like ballgames, school days off and such,
so having some portion of the workspace off, even if only a small percentage of the time for a given worker, should make a difference. I suspect this contributes to Tues-Thurs tend to be worse than Mondays and Fridays around DC.

Correct, that's a measurable difference in telecommuting, and in physical commuting.

But Edward Burke's point still holds: even though telecommuting has increased and had an effect, it's fallen far short of the hype. Not just the paperless offices, remember how cities were going to be obsolete because people would communicate using the web and not need to be physically close anymore?

And yes, we're not going to get anytime soon any of these: flying cars (a decent one was built in the 1950s so we've had them for half a century but they are not practical); self-driving cars (except in limited access situations such as shuttles and maybe interstate highways); and online education wiping out bricks-and-mortar education.

We were visiting Pittsburgh and out of 43,000 people at the Pirates game we had the lucky program number.

The prize? Cash? Groceries? A new SUV? No, two round-trip Amtrak tickets -- good anywhere within Pennsylvania. We told stadium officials thanks but no thanks.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned that Amtrak in the Boston-Washington corridor competes with numerous low-cost bus lines.

The buses are slower than Amtrak, and not as comfortable, but even the nicest ones (better seats and amenities such as WiFi and snacks) are far less expensive than the tran.

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