The Many Places Where You Can’t Go by Passenger Trains

By Noel T. Braymer

There are several major cities in this Country without intercity rail passenger service. There are many more major cities that are not connected to each other by rail passenger service. The largest city without rail service is Phoenix with a regional population of 4.3 million. That is close to the population of the Seattle area. Las Vegas with a regional population of 2.5 million, is one of the most visited city in America and has no rail service currently. Boise is the State Capitol of  Idaho with a metro population of 638,000 but has no rail passenger service. Albuquerque is in danger of losing its rail passenger service and has a regional population of 1.6 million, almost the same as Albany New York.

Kentucky has service only to a few towns on the edge of the State. But Louisville the largest city in Kentucky with a Metro area population of 1.2 million has no service. The Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans areas which both have slightly fewer people than Louisville have rail passenger service. The Cincinnati metro area which covers parts of Kentucky and Indiana has a populations of 2.1 million and has rail passenger service service three times a week. Tennessee has rail passenger service at Memphis with a metro populations of 1.3 million. But Knoxville, Tennessee at 848,000 doesn’t have rail passenger service. Neither does Nashville the State’s Capital with a metro population of 1.7 million .

The State of Ohio has several large cities. The Cleveland area with a population of 2 million and Toledo with 608,000 have rail passenger service as well as Cincinnati. Ohio also has Columbus with 1.9 million, Dayton with 800,000 and Akron with 700,000 persons in their metropolitan areas but no rail passenger service. On top of that you can’t go from Cincinnati to Cleveland by train let alone to Columbus, Dayton or Akron by passenger trains from either Cleveland or Cincinnati.

When we look at the top ten most populated metro areas there are a few suprises. New York City area is number 1, then Los Angeles and Chicago. Fourth is the combined Washington-Baltimore Area at 9.3 million. At Fifth is the combined San Francisco-San Jose area which is 8.4 million. Greater Boston is sixth and Philadelphia is 7th. At 8th is the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Houston at 10th. Dallas-Fort Worth has 2 daily trains while Houston has one tri-weekly and there in no train service between these two major urban areas. Number 9 is the Miami area which has 2 round trip trains to New York. For years this has been the busiest air corridor in the Nation. At 11th is greater Atlanta with one daily train but no connections to Miami or Chicago, both major travel corridors from Atlanta.

There are many reasons for the disparity between major population areas and rail passenger services.  Some of it is the condition of the railroads in a region, the existing smaller markets to major markets on major mainlines  with passenger service and sometimes it boils down to politics. These problems can’t be solved overnight. The bigger problem is no progress is being made, in fact the situation has gotten worse in the last 35 years with elimination of service to many of these cities.

Things could be greatly improved if we just put back services that were eliminated in the mistaken belief that this would save money.  Several trains were eliminated in 1979 by Amtrak and the result was their deficit grew. A new Floridian train could be routed from Chicago to Louisville, Nashville to Atlanta and Miami. Bringing back a modified National Limited could give connections to both New York City and Washington to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City. The Lone Star or Texas Chief as it was called by the ATSF could be brought back to replace the Heartland Flyer and expand service. This could extend service to Houston from Dallas-Fort Worth and provide connections to the Southwest Chief. Service could be extended to Kansas City for connections to the new National Limited and the Lone Star then continuing on to Omaha for connections to the Zephyr then go across Iowa to Chicago.

The return of the Pioneer and Desert Wind as sections of the California Zephyr would give service from the Pacific Northwest and Boise to Salt Lake City, Denver, and Omaha. The same is true of Southern California and Las Vegas with the the Desert Wind. The Three Rivers can be brought back as an extension of the Pennsylvanian to Youngstown and Chicago. A section of the Lake Shore Limited could branch out at Cleveland to Columbus, Cincinnati on to St. Louis. A section of the Crescent at Meridian can serve Shreveport and Dallas. The City of New Orleans can be extend along the Gulf Coast to Orlando. Sooner or later we should have daily service on the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. With a daily Sunset connections to Phoenix should also be rebuilt.

This is just a short list of what would be needed to create a truly National Rail Passenger services. It will cost money to do, hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. In Washington a billion dollar is a rounding error in a budget in the Trillions. This will however require action and funding approved by Congress. Tracks will have to be added and improved to allow more passenger trains on the railroad tracks. The passenger trains will need to meet decent service standards to attract passengers . There needs to be agreements with the railroads to insure they are paid enough to profit from passenger trains and these trains don’t disrupt freight traffic. To make this happen however will need broad political support. That is why to get a local project in one State, other States have to form a broad alliance to also get what they also want. That’s politics.

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