One example: Between Amsterdam & Bern - Skybus flies for €86 (1.5 hours) and the CityNightLine train is €80 for a bed (11.5 hours). Other routes are comparable, you can pay a bit more for your own (non-shared) compartment.
Economically it seems crazy to take these night trains, and I never even bothered until a recent business trip from Amsterdam to Munich.
It was great for many of the reasons mentioned in the article and other comments here: leave and arrive in the city center, no security, no gate closing time, no baggage restrictions/pick-up/lost luggage, have a beer or dinner on board at a real bar or table, use your laptop/phone/ereader whenever you like, lie down, take a shower, whatever. Basically it's like flying the night before with a free (albeit basic) hotel stay thrown in.
I'm worried that too many people dismiss the night trains too easily (like I did), and that these will be relegated to the history books. In my opinion that would really be a tragedy.
Plane travel has turned into a elementary school bus trip. The train is still a grown-up alternative.
I took the fated Trenhotel Joan Miró that the author talks about. It was a little over 100€ and covered the distance in twelve hours, like the author said. After getting off that train, economically I could not fathom why anybody would ever subject themselves to that experience again.
The 100€ got me a seat in the back of the train in a semi-reclined seat (the least expensive ticket I could buy). I booked it about four weeks in advance. For 150€, I could get an actual bed to sleep in (four to a compartment), and the price/service level went up from there. If the train had free food or even just free water, Wi-Fi, showers, and such like you describe (at least at that price level), it'd potentially be a different experience. But Trenhotel's stock is about as old as it gets, and what you get for the base price of 100€ makes for quite an unfortunate twelve hours.
I just went to Vueling, and I can fly from Barcelona to Paris for 40€ in two hours. Even with security, time to/from the airport and such, I'm still saving time and money. Copious amounts of baggage is the only thing left out, but I could pay 100€ to check piles and piles of bags, and now I spend slightly more than the Trenhotel and arrive five times faster.
High speed trains make sense for semi-long distances. Paris to Amsterdam is a great example. Three hours on modern equipment is very doable, and a plane ride can't beat that in time (fixed costs of security and required early arrival are too high). Comfort is superior, and the price will come down. The author makes the point that the cost is 2x but the travel time is only slightly faster. These routes were just inaugurated, and the stock is fresh out of the factory. Give it a few years, and they will come down. I'll bet you the old "vintage" routes that the author pines over were pretty darn expensive when they too were first inaugurated.
For the <4 hour trips, high speed rail is excellent, and I believe those prices will fall. But anything longer than that, forget the night trains. They're only semi-useful for tourists and backpackers, and I'm shocked they still operate. I'll fly, thanks.
Not if they are taken control of near their targets.
Prevention is clearly better than response.
> No, I don't think there's anything rational about it
To the extent that some of the actual measures are theater, they are theater that has a real reason for being presented in the particular context they are presented in. Some of them may be irrational as security measures, but they aren't completely arbitrary.
However, I've had my share of security theatre with trains as well... At least with EuroStar from London to Brussels, and with bullet trains leaving from Madrid.
Yeah, true, but in my (admittedly limited experience of international travel), it was very painless compared to airports simply due to having more staff available.
Just as much time saved (or more?) for dramatically less money, right?
Disclosure: I am pro-rail and pro-CA-rail ...
Better to refer to it as "California Rail" and not "California High Speed Rail" since the speed and travel time is modern, circa 2005 or so. As of 2015 it is looking a bit sluggish compared to competitors globally and by the time it is actually running, with riders, it will be decidedly slow by comparison.
Anything under 2 hours from city center LA to city center SF is very interesting and a real game changer. But 2:40 or more ? And I am potentially stepping off a train in LA which is absolutely governed by car infrastructure ? That sounds like a wash, at best.
 As opposed to a 5.5 (or so) hour drive, with complete control over departure time, unlimited luggage, total control over your own environment and when you arrive you have your car with you already ...
The distance between SF and LA is such that it /should/ take under 4 hours.
Well Thalys trains were made in 1995-6 and it shows. They actually have comparable leg room as airplanes (at least with legacy carriers)
The return trip was 2nd class, which meant you had to pay extra for wifi (despite many Dutch intercity trains having free wifi these days), and lacked the free food and drink.
Not sure if it was cramped. Still better than a plane, as far as I recall.
But next time, we'll definitely be looking out for cheap 1st class tickets.
Stories are plenty of people that get their baggage stolen while they are sleeping
Your comment is loaded with romantic idealism (which I won't say I don't have as well) but is sorely lacking on the practicality of it
Yes, I like getting to the city center. In Wien this cost me around 4€. In Paris, 17€ (the more expensive bus) or 10€ for the cheapest bus (you can take the RER as well), yes, if you take Ryanair it's probably more to get there.
But staying in a train all night doesn't make me enthusiastic anymore. I'd rather cope with the hassles of air travel but it will still get me somewhere faster.
I hope things are better on the mainland. If not, I'd rather take a plane.
I flew back from Glasgow to Stansted for a small fortune to avoid the experience.
Instead, I got instant coffee and a single croissant served in a vacuum-packed plastic wrapper.
One time, the train even ended up in a Glasgow by mistake.
It became apparent at about 11AM that the burger was poison and tried (unsuccessfully I will add) to escape both ends. Sorry if that was too much information.
At least the brake fluid was fresh.
I had a window seat, but all I could see was despair. Turns out it was my reflection.
The small lady in the paper hat was nice, but she ran out of cookies before she got to me.
Well, even though I dislike Ryanair, their information on that aspect is as good as it gets.
They advertise "Paris Beauvais" airport which, ok, is not known by many people but I'm not sure how they could do it better.
That said, although in theory standard-class passengers have to share, this has only ever happened to me once. I can imagine that if you drew the short straw it could be terrible.
The other big down-side is that you can't have a proper wash on the train; luckily there are some pretty good public swimming baths between Waverley station and our client's offices.
But that's not a good thing for many use cases, like tight business travel or vacations where I'd rather not spend a vacation day traveling if unnecessary.
Admittedly it was very rarely that meeting locations and train schedules lined up so it wasn't like he did it often.
Cheaper and easier transport will always increase demand; either you're for cheap transport or against it, and if you're for it you accept that it will be used by commuters living further away from the cities they work in. Making the rail networks cheaper, as the author seems to advocate, would only increase this effect. Or is the argument that leisure travellers care more about cost and commuters care more about journey time? Maybe, but the rail network would be completely unsustainable without commuter traffic.
And as someone who travelled by EuroCity, they weren't the land of milk and honey this author portrays; they were (and still are, in Eastern Europe) frequently several hours late, leading to missed connections. I do think there are cases for some international trains to be scheduled more sensibly (Italy's high-speed trains that then sit for 30 minutes in each station on the way up are ludicrous; Eurostar has sped up by several minutes over the last few years by eliminating less popular stops), but at some point you simply can't match the speed advantage of true high-speed rail.
The specific route complained about here is a dogleg for connectivity reasons; what you're not seeing on his map is the line from Calais (and thence from Britain) coming down to meet it at Lille. There are winners and losers in any routing decision (basically the high speed lines her are a tree centered on Lille, so rather than two distinct lines from Paris to Brussels and Calais there's one line that branches. Longer than a direct train, but it avoids building two distinct lines), but as a Brit I'm profoundly grateful for this one, which makes day trips to Paris or Brussels plausible in a way they simply weren't before.
In the UK at the moment, the government is about to blow £50 billion on a high speed rail link. If that's not subsidizing, what is?
HS2 has already been heavily criticized for overly optimistically assuming away all problems with the line, and it would not surprise me one bit if one of the assumptions in the cost/benefit analysis is that all existing passengers will use the new line at double (or whatever) the cost, and that the older slower line can close.
On a related note, it's amazing how little the underlying WCML issue gets mentioned in HS2 stories.
Nobody mentions the rationale, because it's practically impossible to intelligently argue against. It's like the world's greatest strawman.
As an avid UK train user, but not frequently on that route I support high speed rail plans in general.
I'd like them to build the phases in the opposite order - first the links in the North, then down to London.
A sad fact of the rail privatization, and the rail in general is that governments seem to prefer the large infrastructure projects rather than ongoing subsidy. From an environmental standpoint commuting by train should be much cheaper than by car, but for many places in the UK it is far more expensive.
To be fair, subway travel in dense cities like NYC tends to be substantially cheaper than road travel in most cases. (Think taxi vs. subway -- the taxi can sometimes, but not always, get you there faster, but you'll pay a lot more. If you have multiple people in the taxi it becomes more competitive though.)
Also, are you counting the cost of the car? If you don't have to buy/rent the car then road travel might look cheaper than it is.
Nonetheless, in general I agree with you. I suspect there's a greater demand for rail travel, pushing prices up. Nearly everyone I know prefers rail when they can, since they don't have to drive or sit in traffic, but chooses road often, primarily for cost and convenience reasons.
2) Private minibus, illegal everywhere in the US, would be cheap like a city bus and of course much faster than the subway.
Gas taxes also do not cover the entire costs of roads, nor do they cover the environmental costs. In the US they're also free of sales tax -- another subsidy compared to other goods, though shared by many transportation options.
All that aside, like another commenter said, in a place like Manhattan driving is definitely the more expensive option. This would be true elsewhere if more areas did not subsidize driving or have policies outlawing the density necessary for alternative transportation methods to succeed.
EX: Driving a cheap car 15,000 miles per year with 3$ gas 30mpg = 1,500$. Except insurance is ~90$ a month which adds 1,080$ a year. A combination of maintenance / car payments / depreciation runs around 200$ a month adding 2,400$ a year. Live in town that's generally 100$ a month (12,00$/year) for parking at your apartment which is generally close to break-even for an apartment complex. Ignoring other fees like tolls etc your talking about 6,180$ a year for 15,000 miles or 41.2 cents a mile which is far from cheap.
Public Expenditure on Roads and Public Transport, 2007-08: £21b
Total motoring taxation: £46b (estimate)
So, just to make it clear, AFTER paying for the roads AND public spending on public transport, motorists contribute a solid £25b to the budget.
-- Winston Churchill
Which also makes money from various other sources, and which also provides numerous radio and Internet services at home in some cases to people who don't need a TV licence, thus demonstrating how silly it is that the government funding element of the Beeb's income wasn't switched to general taxation long ago...
If people who drink beer also need disproportionate amounts of expensive attention from say the police service or hospitals or courts, it seems fair enough that beer drinkers should make some sort of contribution accordingly. However, even that is a shaky argument unless it applies to most/all beer drinkers and not just a minority who don't drink responsibly.
Beyond that, as long as drinking beer is legal, I see little ethical basis for taxing someone who drinks beer more than someone who does not. Why should you contribute more to the cost of something completely unrelated like running schools or buying aircraft carriers than I do, just because your preferred evening drink comes in a pint glass and mine does not?
Edit: By not keeping up with infrastructure I mean the average age of there infrastructure is increasing which is not really a bad thing as replacing things early wastes cash but depredation is a real cost.
As for the initial cost, that's harder to figure out, but this (dodgy looking, admittedly) website suggests that a mile of motorway costs £24m to construct. That means that the motorists are "paying off" the roads at a rate of about 1000 miles a year. There are 7500 miles of motorwayways and A roads, but motorists have been paying more in taxes than has been spent directly, although not at the current rate, for 30 years, and with no sign of slowing down.
I assume that's because the fewer trains there are over the course of a day (or weekend), the harder it is for people to use the train as a substitute for personal transportation and the less likely people will rely on the trains in general.
(Parking is rarely heavily taxed and often "free" - where were you thinking of?)
Here in the UK, particularly in London parking is often non-free. In some areas, councils have adopted policies of not granting planning permission for workplace car parking spaces, or making planning permission conditional on there being a certain charge, in order to increase the costs of driving. I agree that this is not technically a direct tax, but it is an example of government intervention to increase the costs of driving.
It would make more sense to create new roads, but limit their use to coaches and HGVs. This would reduce congestion on existing roads, and provide more point-to-point capacity. Trains are great if you want to travel between places on a fast main-line but most journeys are more complicated than that.
For my part at least, my travel card is a bargain compared to what owning and operating a card would have cost me.
Effectively closed market, high cost of entry, the gov demands money from them for the privilege so has an incentive to not bring prices down.... And if you choose not to use it the gov gets you again on fuel tax.
I suspect whatever the underlying economics were it would be expensive. It's essentially a monopoly with a, from an end user standpoint, perverse incentive structure.
Many train lines are at or near maximum capacity and need more investment, if you believe the claims used to justify regular above-inflation rail fare increases.
If economies of scale make them profitable, they should be making money hand over fist.
I'm not convinced economies of scale are the problem.
HS1 also had a promising ROI, but the calculation failed to account for the explosion in cheap flights happening over the same period of time.
The bottom line is that it's really, really difficult to predict the future.
I'm pretty sure part of this is due to low/no taxation on aviation fuel, while train fuel is taxed. 
The main lines:
- Cross Country Route: partially electrified;
- East Coast Main Line: fully electrified (but a number of services continue north of it, which is not electrified);
- Great Eastern Main Line: fully electrified;
- Great Western Main Line: partially electrified (for the first 11 of 120 miles);
- High Speed 1: fully electrified;
- Midland Main Line: partially electrified (again, only for a relatively short distance near the London end);
- West Coast Main Line: fully electrified.
Some UK train franchises even lay on so-called 'ghost trains' , services that are on useless routes and useless timetables, simply so that they can make up the numbers to hit their service agreements (and so not lose their franchises). This strongly implies that the cost of rolling an extra train along the tracks is relatively small.
The operators find them unprofitable (at least in the UK). AIUI they can be very disruptive to track maintenance (particularly given modern safety regulations); they also require paying staff, keeping stations open during the night, leasing nonstandard carriages that can't be used for anything during the day (which in turn means either dedicated locomotives or careful scheduling and shunting, something that modern railways try to eliminate as much as possible). Certainly the sleeper train to Scotland is heavily subsidized and I believe the one to Cornwall is as well (less confident of that though). With Eurostar, AIUI the government even bought and fitted out sleeping carriages in the early days of the channel tunnel, before they turned the whole thing over to a private company to operate - which then concluded that night services would be uneconomic, and sold the carriages off cheaply to Canada.
The ghost trains you link to are more about a legal obligation; even if they cost the relevant companies a lot of money to run, they don't have any alternative. (And honestly an off-peak daytime service, when the trains are already out and the staff already on shift, isn't really comparable).
 Which are not unreasonable IMO - people have been killed by e.g. a train on the track next to the one they were working on.
In the US, most train tracks (in my experience, at least) are used for both freight and passengers (and frequently owned by the freight companies, who shaft the passenger trains to keep the freight running on schedule, but that's another rant). The freight trains could easily be crowding out the night passenger trains.
You don't see a lot of freight going past while waiting on a passenger platform or at a level crossing. There are some freight-only lines mostly for coal to power stations.
Whether that actually matters is a different question, because the realistic alternative isn't that nothing will happen instead and taxpayers will suddenly get a £1,000+ windfall, it's that a broadly similar amount of government funding will be used for other purposes. Many of the interesting questions in this debate are qualitative ones about which general areas should be funding priorities and what the overall national infrastructure strategy should be. And many of the interesting questions that are quantitative are about opportunity costs as much as what will/would be spent on one massive project.
The build out costs are not the same as funding day to day operations. Usually subsidizing implies the fare is lowered because of government spending.
The real subsidy is that once the line is complete, the rail franchise will be sold off, allowing a company to run a rail service on the line. This is in effect a subsidy, since it's letting a company run a rail service without having to foot the bill for the construction. Sure, it's a form of rent, but the risks associated with the line construction have been swallowed by government money.
Plus, the UK government(s) have an absymal record for selling franchises below their 'true cost' (see the original rail privitisations, where franchises were bought and then sold-on shortly later at vastly inflated prices). Only an eternal optimist could happily assume they'll get it right this time!
Finally, consider that these big rail projects are never initiated by private business. Few enterprises willingly stump up the cash to construct a big railway line just so it can run trains on it later. They only do so when government invests the cash. This surely implies that the government-backed schemes must be of benefit to the railway companies => there's the subsidy.
This is the way to do train service. And it's heavily used.
P.S.: if you really want a slow night train for cheap, visit Zimbabwe. A "first class" sleeper cabin is about $10 from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, and it's beautiful. But every part of the 1970's British train has long since been stolen--the lights, the faucets, the toilets, etc. Still, $10, and it goes to interesting places.
Trains are a joke in Italy, every Italian person would be able to tell you that. While we mostly use trains to move around from town to town, the train service itself is abysmal. Dirty trains, missed connections, delays because of problems in the infrastructures/scheduling. I used to take regional trains to go visit my (now ex) girlfriend living in the neighboring city from mine (which is Bologna, a pretty big train exchange/junction between the north and center of Italy). Every single day my train would wait literally 100 meters away from the station, stuck there for an hour or so (outside of its timetable) because somebody messed up the platform and there was another train incoming.
Yes, we have a lot of ticketing machines where you can just go there and buy a ticket in 10 minutes, but actually getting to your destination is a whole different deal in Italy.
Also, thanks to the new high speed trains (especially connecting Milan and Rome), the fares for normal regional trains have skyrocketed as well (they want to push people on the HS ones). I clearly remember doing Bologna -> Florence for 7 euros 5-6 years ago, last year I checked again and it had skyrocketed to 20-25 euros. That's a massive increase for just a ~1 hour ride.
EDIT: Forgot to add that this is all in the North where the infrastructure is more mature and stable. The south is way worse, don't get me started.
And yes, if you travel in the north-center as a tourist you're probably going to see a more sunny side of Italy. As somebody who lives in the country, however, it's far too easy to see everything in a negative light. Especially in the south where these common infrastructures are often missing, broken or very uncomfortable (speaking about trains of course)
Stood in line for an hour plus. Guy at the desk claims no-one there speaks English (fine, but that was a lie as the attendant next to him was). We use our phrasebook to order tickets. Walking away from the counter, we realize they're for a train that leaves in ONE MINUTE. Of course we don't make it. Eventually we found customer service tucked away in a dirty corner. They were able to right everything, but seriously… my experience getting train tickets in Italy was NOT as rosy as you paint it.
(Only place worse was France, where the damn airport tram ticket machines needed 18€ of COINS.)
On the train, conductor came past. Must have been a bad day because this lady was furious at us that we didn't stamp our ticket... No idea we had to (since we chose the specific train on the machine...) She was gonna let it slide this time but next time we would pay a huge fine...
7 seconds later we heard her shout exactly the same story to basically every other tourist in the cabin :P
Protip to TrenItalia, when printing the ticket, show a big warning on the screen that you need to stamp the ticket to make it valid ^_^.
The coaches are brand new, offer free WiFi, and are vastly cheaper than even the lowest-price DB tickets.
edit: another quite popular travel solution is car sharing("Mitfahrgelegenheit"); this is especially useful if you must drive with your own car (e.g. because you carry stuff you can't transport in a train/airplane) and want to lower your own travel costs.
In an IC(E), I can open my 13" Laptop and work fine, even if the person in front of me lowers their seat. On the particular bus I was riding, the table was just too small. Plus, the bus has much more unexpected movements than a train, I couldn't even look on a tablet screen for too long without feeling some travel-sickness. It was a very long, very boring ride.
The WiFi, btw, was a joke on the autobahn. It was working a bit in the cities...
Also, the trip took more than an hour longer than was planned, and the traffic on the autobahn was absolutely fine (I did the same trip with a car a couple of times). Driving into the cities took lots of time, but again the traffic probably would have looked the same any other average day.
It definitely is cheaper though...
I avoid the bus because it sucks, I avoid flights because they actually feel longer and more exhausting, and because the door-to-door advantage is only two hours (out of 6 or 7 total). Whenever I can, I take the train.
Although I could live happier without "problems in course of operations". :)
Still, I think air travel is the clear loser in the comparison. The public transit route to LGA or JFK is a bus trip through not very pleasant parts of Harlem and Queens, and is just a huge PITA with luggage. Strolling into Penn Station is a breeze.
The federal highways that represented the majority of that Boltbus' trip could easily be funded by gas taxes and other essentially user fees if you raised them marginally and removed the requirement that something like 1/6 of that funding be redirected to subsidize public transit. With a few regional exceptions, Amtrak absolutely could not exist without general revenue: As you raised fares, passengers would vanish. And I'm skeptical that Northeast Regional fares really do cover any more than the operating expenses. Are they sufficient to cover capital expenses as well?
State and local road funding is trickier, because it's inefficient to build toll booths along small roads and local gas taxes can be evaded in border areas by driving to another locality. But almost everyone uses local roads, so paying for them out of local taxes isn't a terrible solution. Regardless, if we could switch to GPS-based taxation without too much of a row, I am quite sure that state and local roads would continue to exist and grow without any "subsidy".
When you ask them for a link, they trot out something from 30 years ago from the DOT, or a recent study, with no real numbers, from PIRG, a decidedly left-leaning and biased source.
Want REAL numbers? Look up the CAFR financial report for any toll road or turnpike.
Dig into it, find out the actual maintenance costs (not the cost of everything else like hiring people to take toll money), divide by the miles of toll road covered. Then, you will have an actual handle on what maintenance of roads costs.
Hint: it is a lot less than you think and far less than the total amount of road fees, vehicle taxes like the sales tax, registration costs, fuel taxes, etc. that the govt takes in each year.
Don't forget, every 18 wheeler you see has a 12% Federal excise tax on its first sale (and such trucks are usually over $100K, thus at least $12K taxes); and each year, every commercial truck has to pay a sliding scale under Form 2290 to even register their vehicle for plates, from $100 to $550.
Instead they stop and pick up on busy, narrow streets in Manhattan and their passengers frequently block the sidewalk to such an extent that it forces pedestrians into traffic.
Ditto all the other coach lines. At least the sketchy Chinatown bus lines have the decency to pick up on less busy streets in the Lower East Side, the BoltBuses have no reservations about gunking up the works during rush hour in Midtown.
You might want the check on that since Amtrack is heavily subsidized by taxpayers and rail is the original subsidized transportation.
Here's a thought experiment. What if you took all the rail in the northeast and made it private roads for automated buses? Would it be better or worse? I imagine you can crank the speed on an automated bus on a closed road.
1) In 2010, Amtrak earned about $2.51 billion on $3.74 billion in expenses.
2) yes, big impact on cargo hauling - the thing American rail is optimized for
Some buses will take bicycles, and they have more services each day too. Amtrak may as well not exist except for specific commuter services such as NYC-Boston Acela (which is not value for money unless you're in the 1%).
NJ Transit, LIRR, and Metro-North are fairly cheap, compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the first world. Too bad they're not long-distance.
I've also tried four of the bus lines. They're generally cool, but there are significant differences in terms of convenience of the pick-up and drop-off points at both ends. They don't all go right to the door of Penn Station. ;) Still, for someone on a budget, they just whip the alternatives. The only way either trains or planes could win would be to offer a significant reduction in total door-to-door travel time with prices no worse than double. I don't see any way they'll be able to do that.
If people want to improve the long-distance transportation infrastructure, I think high speed rail is the wrong place to look. There are surely better ways to take advantage of the train right-of-way and station infrastructure, probably some variant on electric buses traveling at the same speed as today.
Personally I never consider using the coach as I own a car and would always perceive it to take longer than it would for me to drive, although it would cost a lot less. Whilst I would travel by train over taking the car as I'm not that keen on driving and somewhat perversely actually enjoy it. However, my main reason for not travelling by coach is that they always make me feel sick.
The train worked out at £40ish each way (I didn't know I was going till a couple of weeks in advance, if it had been months I'm sure I could have bought tickets for less).
Using Megabus, I paid £4 to get there, £8 to get back ... and then had to pay £9 to get a taxi from the city centre to my house.
The entire "privatised" monopoly train system is ridiculous though. I'm dreading the day I turn 26, because it will basically mean that I can no longer afford to travel by train.
Visiting my girlfriend at the other and of Germany costs 220 Euro if I pay the full price. Sometimes you get cheaper tickets but that's still too much. Just visiting each other twice a month cost about 400 Euro which woudl be better invested in a vacation or something similar.
And if you get a BahnCard 50, the price cap for a return ticket is 140 € second class (~200 first class). The (underpriced) BahnCard 100 is at about 4000 €/year second class (and 7000€ for first), which is also a completely reasonable price to ask for a year’s worth of transportation.
Random comparison: Stuttgart–Berlin is 6 hours, 140€ by train and 8 hours, 25€ by bus, going two or three times a day.
That said, I haven't actually encountered those coaches before..
I travel on high-speed rail 2-3 of times a month, and this is my choice over air travel because:
> Pricing: On average the train price is c. 20% more expensive than the plane, but that is one side of the story.
> Travel time: the fact is that the time I require to go to the airport is a minimum 30min ride (if I'm lucky) from city centre to airport. Add to that the need to be there 45min before the plane departs, and any of the usual delays. That's at least 1h 15min of my day gone in commuting to travel. If I travel by train my commute is not that different than that of going to work by bike, needless to say that the train gate closes 2min before departure, not 45min.
> Location: the train station being located at the city centre is extremely convenient, forget about getting a taxi and bumping into traffic, paying arbitrary "airport" fares, etc.
> Comfort: the leg space, seat width, baggage allowance, etc knocks out air travel. I can open my laptop on a tray way bigger than those on planes and comfortably work all the journey with my 3G/4G connection and get real work done.
> Flexibility: train frequency is much higher than that of planes, so finding a time that fits my agenda is not a problem. Add to that the fact that you can catch an early train if, for example, you finish your meeting/work early, without paying additional fees.
In your own example, you could be catching a slower train and still get there faster than the plane. It's not really the 'high speed' bit of the train that matters much.
You can also argue that nowdays it matters even less. With WIFI/3G, as you say, you can get useful work done on a train journey, so even if it takes a bit longer, the travel is not dead/wasted time for business. This weakens the case for high speed trains even more.
I agree with your points though, I've commuted London<->Paris by plane and train, and the train is so much nicer.
Top row, slow-speed train; bottom row HST; first column departure time, second column arrival time, third column travel time. If you need to be at a meeting by 8.30am which train would you get? One has a travel time of 4h 16min vs 1h 38min, HST has a higher, marginal, price difference.
The competition for the High Speed Rail in Japan is really domestic air flights.
For short trips (<500km), HSTs generally win against planes when comparing door-to-door times, but so do cars. For longer trips, planes win. Period.
To me, the HST is what makes the train able to compete with the car for medium-distance travel. Let's take an example from Germany: Hamburg to Frankfurt. It's about 500km, which takes 4-5 hours by car. The HST link takes 3:30h - if you take the time from station to station. But that's not a fair comparison, because generally you do not want to go from station to station but from some place in Hamburg to some place in Frankfurt. If we add an hour of traveling by local public transportation, we arrive at a local trip time of 4:30, in the same range as the car. The HST has made traveling by train a viable option - not insanely fast, but comparable to the car.
Mass transit is slow compared to cars. HST is fast. Combine those, and HSTs make public transport a viable alternative to going by car, time-wise.
The shipping containers would be self contained and appointed to budget hotel chain standards - clean, smart and to the point functional. Each would contain a small kitchen, toilet and shower. The beds would be bunks but with a bit more space as there would not be a shared walkway as happens on existing rolling stock. You would also be able to stow bicycles and other bulky luggage items without blocking up the train walkway if you were willing to go without much kitchen area.
During the day the mini-hotel shipping containers would sit at the docks, out of the way, whilst the train went about its business delivering normal shipping containers to wherever is needed. Then, early evening, the mini-hotel shipping containers would be loaded up and the train would head off to London/Glasgow/Plymouth to pick up customers. The train would trundle at a nice sedate pace through the night with minimal stops and starts to arrive at a sensible time at the other end (5.30 a.m. is too early, 7 is good). Thereafter, back to the docks, unload and regular freight service for the train.
To cope with seasonal demand and different passenger service levels (1st, 2nd class), the train could be loaded up with a mixed load of regular shipping containers and their mini-hotel variants.
Modern IT niceties such as wifi, 'swipe' door locks and mobile telephony would make sure that everyone had a nice and secure journey. With 'aerogel' style materials and double glazing the inside of the mini hotel would be insulated from the noise of the train and the weather.
Current night trains in the UK do not provide a good night's sleep, you also expect your belongings to be potentially stolen. With 'containerisation' problem solved.
Would there be any takers? It all depends on price, however, if you are expected to be in two places at once or work on a North Sea oil rig then a decent night train would be quite tempting. If the business did not work out then a buyer could be found for the deluxe shipping containers, they could be transported by road to somewhere where a temporary workforce was needed or even used as a hotel.
First problem is the time and storage you need for loading/unloading a whole train worth of carriages - I expect at least 30-60min, if not longer. And most container facilities are not equipped with large storage areas, just for short-term storage.
Second problem is power: a freight train carriage usually just has two connections to its neigboring carriages: torque and the pneumatic brake line. Basically you'd need to somehow add electricity infrastructure (which 'd then again require specially modified freight carriages, and likely even different locomotives. I'm not sure if freight-only locos carry the 1kV heating power, which is (ab)used to provide electricity in passenger trains).
Third problem is maintenance and cleaning: container load/unload facilities are not equipped with the place and the necessities for properly cleaning the containers, and even less maintaining them.
Deutsche Bahn also advertizes that they use renewable energy for my Bahncard travel and they will expand this over the coming decades to 100%.
> If you have to travel that much inside Germany to make that card worthwhile for you, then you have a problem.
The 'problem' is called 'WORK'. A little bit more than 40000 people have such a card.
> Either you need to relocate
> some telecommuting into your existing work habits.
Sure, I do that.
> I'm going to go out on a limb here & suggest that many people travel for travel's sake as a way to give themselves an inflated sense of their own importance...or just find some glamour in being on the road all the time.
Maybe it's not that good to 'go out on a limb here and give useless suggestions. You seem to fail to understand that a lot of people have to travel as part of their work to meet customers.
In my case I work with people which are located in different areas of Germany and I have to meet them face to face quite often.
No, you don't. unless you're a handyman whose physical presence is absolutely required, both you & your client are simply indulging in such an idiotic wasteful behavior because it makes you both feel good.
1- Your client is holding up to some anachronistic notion that having an employee physically present informs them about your competence or diligence.
2-you like traveling 400 km & being at the office at 9:30, it makes you seem important, which you may well be. just not enough to justify this ridiculously expensive card & all the environmental impact its ownership entails.
For years, I used to fly coast to coast every week, consulting for a major IT company in the US. It was completely idiotic even then. A knowledge worker's physical presence is not really required in this day and age, it's all part of some old heritage of employer-employee relationship we can't quite let go of.
Germany being Germany, rigid & set in its customs & ways of doing business, if given no other choice & out of fear for my income, I would relunctantly agree to such an arrangement. I just wouldn't go boasting around about how great of a deal this card is.
For example if I work in central London again my season ticket for a 65 mile journey (bedford to London) is over 6000 euros a year.
Another plus, which I haven't used: you can send you luggage (max 30kg) for free on workdays home to home.
Not always an option.
As an example, I live in NRW but our customers are scattered around Germany.
Luckily I am located on our headquarters, but many of my colleagues need to go everywhere and not all clients appreciate phone conferences.
My understanding is that overnight trains and the other trains that were less expensive were heavily subsidized and unprofitable. My guess is that HSR in Europe is less subsidized and closer to profitable. Many forms of transportation are subsidized (highways for cars, TSA for planes, HSR projects). The subsidies distort choices and encourage inefficient waste by not letting consumers decide with true information as to the costs of their mode choice.
Sure, this world can now afford constantly to have about one million of its people sitting in a chair in the sky.
That's why bullet trains work so well in Japan, you can basically have 2 corridors one on each coast and they will pass through most of the important cities removing the need for direct links.
I do agree with the article in most of the points. I have traveled Amsterdam-Perpignan (the last french city before Barcelona) with Thalys and low-cost night train (and TGV and Thalys on the way back) and I can attest that the night train is indeed quite uncomfortable. At least I could take a gas canister (for hiking) with me...
We will be travelling from Frankfurt to Strasbourg (fast train, 1 change), from Strasbourg to Brussels (fast train, change in Paris), from Brussels to Amsterdam (fast train, direct), and from Amsterdam back to Frankfurt (fast train, direct). Total price for these train journeys, for two people, is €330 - because I booked the apparently hard-to-get cheap fares.
Compared with travelling by plane on low-cost carriers:
We will mostly be going from city centre to city centre.
We will have power at our seats in at least some cases.
We will be free to get up and walk around for comfort.
We will be able to bring our own food and drink onboard.
We will get to see some of Europe passing by the window.
And we will have to be on the platform a couple of minutes before departure time, not an hour or more...
Trains make more sense, in terms of service and cost, over short-to-medium distances. Barcelona to Amsterdam is probably over the line where flying makes more sense. Our Strasbourg to Brussels journey will take around 5 hours, but over 1 hour of that is time to change trains - and stations - in Paris, so I think that still falls before said line.
So, help an American (potential tourist) out. Does using Eurail for a European vacation make sense? For a family of 2 adults and 2 children?
E.g. getting the "15 days continuous" pass is $548 + $548 +$276 + $276 = $1648. That doesn't seem unreasonable for being able to go pretty much anywhere except UK.
Does that make sense?
If you want to plan and book your trips ahead of time, it may well be that, with early booking discounts, it's cheaper to book ahead of time. This would also allow you to reserve seats/a table, which I'd recommend if you travel with kids.
Also note that in Germany, and maybe in other countries as well, kids < 15 years travel for free with their parents if noted on their tickets.
If you travel a lot within one country, you may also want to check their frequent traveler programs. E.g. in Germany, the DB sells cards that give you 25%, 50% or 100% off of the ticket price. The 25% one can be ordered for a duration of only 3 months and costs 19 Euros, so it should pay off quickly! Note, however, that it is an subscription that you need to cancel.
Enjoy Europe :-)
Certainly in the UK, with high speed one, they introduced an extra delay into the old line to make it seem less competetive.
I'm guessing that nearly double the price for a 20%-25% decrease in journey time is more than a sane person would want to pay.
I would highlight that the cost of air flights is kept artificially low by the lack of fuel duty or VAT on fuel. So flights do come across as cheaper. Of note, in the UK public buses are able to claim a fuel duty rebate. I am unsure on the situation with diesel trains.
"The relatively modest time gain of the Thalys has a steep price. The fare for the Étoile du Nord was a fixed amount calculated according to a rate per kilometre. Converted to the current kilometre charges of the Belgian, French and Dutch railways, a single ticket Paris-Amsterdam over the same route (the blue line) would now cost 66 euro, regardless of whether you buy it two months in advance or right before you leave.
You can still travel cheaply by low speed train between Paris and Amsterdam -- over the same route that was covered by the Étoile du Nord. But you have to be very patient: the trip takes 7 to 8 hours and you have to switch trains 5 to 6 times (Paris-Maubeuge-Jeumont-Erquelinnes-Charleroi-Brussels-Amsterdam). A one-way trip costs €66, half the price of the most common fare of the Thalys.
The "Barcelona - Paris" route was completed recently (December 15, 2013), so presumably both fare figures are current.
The 'now' indicates he is probably accounting for inflation.
Italy was an absolute pleasure. An easy walk to the stations, even with luggage. In Rome the rail network is an easy connection off of the subway system and in Florence lets you off and on so near the old parts of the city (which are fantastically walkable) that you don't even need a cab to get there. Seats were comfortable for the 2 or 3 hours the trip took, had a table to setup a laptop, read a book whatever. I sat in group of four seats that faced each other and had a lovely chat with an elderly couple from Scotland on holiday.
Florence to Venice was similar, except my destination was outside of Venice and took a little more to get to from the station. No big deal and it beat having to deal with a rental car for a few weeks.
Importantly, the ride was unbelievable smooth compared to other rail trips I've taken.
Amtrak was my first long distance rail trip and was very bleh, seats were okay, but nothing to do on the 20+ hour ride from D.C. to Miami. This was back before laptops were common, but even with a pack full of gadgets I would have run out battery long before I ran out of boredom. Impossible to sleep on the train as it's noisy and jostles all over the place since we were on old freight rails for the entire trip. People also get so bored they start pacing the length of the train and with numerous stops were cars are split of and rejoined to other trains, and waits of a couple hours each time this happens, you feel like you make no progress at all. Trains were old, but in decent shape and generally well maintained. I've heard sleeper cars provide for a moderately better experience, but there's still the hours of boredom. I also didn't see any scenery of note, either mile after mile of overgrown weeds or industrial sections or really bad parts of towns we passed through. The worst, stations are hard to get to/from at the end points without prearranged transport and they aren't really all that nice. I regret the trip as flying would have only been $100 more and much faster. Every once in a while I think about taking the train North towards the better run North-East corridor parts of the system, but that one experience kind of waived me off the whole thing and with the stations so hard to get to and flying to my destinations faster (even with security hassles included) and about the same cost it just isn't worth it to me.
My experience in France was on much shorter, hour or two trips, and they were "ok" if a bit run down. Graffiti on the trains, that sort of thing. Felt more like extended commuter trains (which they probably were) then proper passenger rail. It was somewhere between Italy and Amtrak in terms of comfort, but more towards the Amtrak side in terms of desirability.
Trains are a better value than flying when the difference between the two trips is only an hour or two, so that the advantage of not having to go through security and getting dropped off downtown actually pays off. For longer trips, the fast that a plane travels five to ten times faster really shows.
That's why the North East Regional service, especially the shorter routes (i.e. DC to New York or New York to Boston, and points in between) is much more effective than flying. They also have free WiFi (with middling reliability), more comfortable seats, and outlets in every row.
As an addition, I've also found that most people overlook how convenient, affordable, and quick intercity bus service is in the US. On most routes, a bus will offer more departures for about 1/5 the cost of the train and 1/10 the cost of flying. The seats aren't as comfortable, but for short routes, it's only a little bit slower.
To give an idea in my area, I live about 35 miles from D.C. in a pretty normal suburb (no boondocks). I have a commuter bus I can take at 5:30am that's not far from my house (about 3 miles and semi-walkable but there's no way I can take luggage). On the return trip, if I don't make it back to the commuter stop by 4:30pm I have to spend the night in the city or take a taxi (very expensive).
Driving takes about 2-3 hours in traffic, and there's no long-term parking at reasonable rates (parking is available near the station at about $27 a day).
A taxi would work, but it's the same distance as driving and probably north of $100-150 for the trip each way.
There are two Amtrak stations a bit closer than the city, but not much and the transit options are either drive and have no place to park at all or taxi.
Even if I moved in closer to the city, unless I'm within walking distance to one of the D.C. metro I'm still largely in the same boat with slightly less time and money penalties.
So even if I wanted to take the train on a trip that had comperable time to air travel (say to New York on the Accella), the time and cost involved make it far less convenient.
I have taken intercity bus services before because the cost is remarkably cheaper. D.C. to NYC for <$50 in about 4.5 hours. But still with the same issues as the train.
Many of the inter-city buses also stop at Park-and-Rides outside of the downtown cores, so that people can both drop off their cars and get picked up by people who have them.
Unless you're willing to build redundant train routes between cities it's not really possible to have competition for train journeys.
Well, it might be really expensive for most consumers, perhaps they should be protected from this sort of thing - since the market inherently has no idea of morals or what is best for people, maybe we should decide ourselves.
Especially the example given about those who live in Barcelona and commute to London by air. Probably not just because it's cheaper -- I'm sure the differences in weather had a minor influence too.
But you might have heard about this thing we have in Bonerland called the Internet. Al Gore invented it, so it has to be green. Maybe you Euro-peons should check it out.
So on "Saturday," ticket in hand, I was evacuated from my seat and had to stand for a couple of hours - of course everyone pretended not to speak English - and I suppose I should be grateful I wasn't defenestrated into the French countryside.
Earlier, at the small station, I had let a woman who was obviously in a hurry pass ahead of me to buy a ticket. She said to me "obviously you are not a French man." :-)