The Days of Cheap Flights Are Passing Quickly

Nov 30th, 2011 | Posted by

One of the common anti-high speed rail arguments is that nobody will ride trains because they can fly cheaply between cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Since at least 2008 we’ve known these cheap fares weren’t going to last long. This week brings more evidence that cheap flights are becoming an endangered species, in the form of US Airways planning a 300% hike in flights from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia:

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D., Pa.) has urged the chief executive officer of US Airways Group Inc. to rescind the airline’s fare hike planned for flights between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in early January, when only US Airways will fly between the two cities.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that when Southwest Airlines Co. drops its flights between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Jan. 8, the price for a US Airways round-trip ticket will jump from $118 plus tax, to $698 plus tax.

Now one might argue that this is an unusual situation, with a single carrier monopolizing a route. Several carriers fly SF-LA. And yet the underlying factors suggest that the SF-LA route won’t see cheap flights forever – and global evidence shows riders will switch to trains anyway if given the option.

In 2008, Southwest’s founder Herb Kelleher suggested that rising fuel prices would eventually force airlines to cut flights:

Herb Kelleher, the iconic co-founder of Southwest Airlines who stepped down as chairman Wednesday, said flying could become something that only business travelers or the affluent can afford, much as it was in the 1950s and ’60s.

“You may see a lot less air service across the United States, and that’s really a shame,” Kelleher said. “We are heading back in that direction.”

The fuel price spike in 2008 led many airlines to cut service serving California airports – Delta reduced its flights from LAX by 13%. The experience taught many airlines that short-haul flights are not necessarily a basis on which to build a profitable airline.

In 2010 JetBlue execs argued that short-haul routes aren’t all that great. From JetBlue CEO Dave Barger:

Q: Do you see nationwide high-speed rail as a threat or complement to the airline industry?

A: It’s a complement. I don’t think we need hundreds of departures every day from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

And JetBlue COO Rob Maruster:

It was an event filled with charts and maps that drove home how overwhelmed and outdated current air traffic control technology is. One solution [JetBlue COO Rob] Maruster said was obvious is taking airline passengers off some routes, like New York to Boston. “It seems like there’s a mode that might work better for us in that regard. When we see things like high-speed rail going into South Florida, we say OK, that makes sense. But I think this region, with almost 25 million people in the Tri-State area, makes a lot more sense for those kind of things.” Maruster says he’d like to see New York City and federal transportation officials put out a 20 or 30-year vision that addresses how airplanes, trains and other modes of transportation can be put together. He hasn’t seen one yet.

The writing is on the wall. Airlines don’t see a long-term future in short-haul flights. Medium and long-distance routes are where their profits will come from in the future. As fuel prices rise, the short-haul trips will either become too expensive for most people to afford, or too infrequent to be useful.

Of course, we also know that when HSR is offered as an option, it competes very well against short-haul airline routes. In Spain the world’s busiest air corridor, the Madrid-Barcelona route, lost over half its ridership to the AVE high speed train within 2 years of the AVE to Barcelona going online. The Acela carries more than half of the air-rail market on the NEC.

So while folks stuck in the 20th century who refuse to admit the need to change may crow endlessly about cheap Southwest fares between SF and LA, the reality is clear: the era of cheap flights is ending, and in any case people will choose high speed trains anyway.

  1. Alon Levy
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 21:42

    The Acela and Regional combined carry more than half of the air-rail market on the NEC.


    (Don’t believe me? Look up any table of air markets. NY-DC is about 2 million a year. Then look up Amtrak’s stats; NY-DC is somewhat more than 2 million, including everything.)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I swear I’m going to stop spamming with nitpicks after this, but Madrid-Barcelona was never the world’s busiest air route. Tokyo-Sapporo is vastly larger. So is LA-SF, by the way – it has 13 million passengers per year vs. 4.5 for the pre-HSR Madrid-Barcelona corridor.

    Madrid-Barcelona was the busiest single-airport corridor in Europe. It may have also been the busiest corridor in Europe including multi-airport pairs; I no longer remember the reference for the size of Dublin-London, and the number I remember for it, 4 million, is too close to Madrid-Barcelona for me to make a proclamation.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Also interesting is the fact that the addition of HSR between Madrid and Barcelona did little to reduce the number of flights between the two markets. In January of 2008, there were 65 flights per day each way, today there are 50 each way. Not the kind of impact many have suggested HSR would have on cutting back air service. That’s not even a reduction of one flight in the peak time of the day.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Why did you leave out the important detail that in many instances there was a down gauging of equipment by Iberia? Smaller aircraft were used rather than large single aisle and small wide bodies.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Because the primary driver in the airport capacity and delay is the number of operations a given runway configuration can support in a peak hour, not the number of passengers. If you don’t put much of a dent in those operations, then you really haven’t accomplished anything. HSR;s cmparison is also off. 2 runways can support 120 gates.

    One of my Profs 20 years ago had a great way to describe the silliness of transportation. Only in America would we devise a transportation system that no one uses around a single path with multiple terminuses on one hand (rail – meaning single line with multiple platforms) and on the other hand devise another transportation that everyone uses with unlimited route capability (airways) funneled to finite terminus facilities (Airports).

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Reducing passenger numbers is part of the goal of HSR. If you put air travellers on electric trains, you are conferring to society the benefit of reduced fuel consumption, reduced air pollution and the consumption of a fuel, the supply of which is more diversified along with myriad other benefits pertaining to land use etc. Why is this so hard to perceive or is it owing to a complete difference in philosophy?

    So, when last have you heard of cities just packing their bags and moving? That argument against single path transportation that nobody uses is ridiculous. The last time I checked, London is still located where is was located in 1800, Ditto New York City, Chicago etc. Do people not still travel by train the world over? How are you going to ensure safety for airways (since everybody uses it) without the level of training afforded to pilots, the level of maintenance afforded by rigorous rules etc. etc. when you have a free for all with your flying transportation implements?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    If you aren’t reducing operations, then you are increasing system delay. Societal benefit is a net zero because you’re just spreading the problem over a wider area. Besides, the average number of seats on the BCN-MAD route actually increased from 157 per departure to 169. Given the decline in pax, they are now burning more fuel per pax then they were in 2008 because fewer seats are now occupied on a per flight basis on a larger plane. The load factor has dipped from 68% on the route to 48%.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What this suggests is that the reduction in flights lags the reduction in passenger numbers. It happened in 2008-9, too: anecdotally, the flights I took to and from Nice in that winter were half empty, even though both before the crisis and more recently they’d always be full.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Are you really trying to teach me something about airline capacity and revenue management?


    Man that is funny.

    I’m comparing 2008 to 2011. Thats not lag, thats the new norm.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This blog needs killfiles.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “One of my Profs 20 years ago had a great way to describe the silliness of transportation. Only in America would we devise a transportation system that no one uses around a single path with multiple terminuses on one hand (rail – meaning single line with multiple platforms) and on the other hand devise another transportation that everyone uses with unlimited route capability (airways) funneled to finite terminus facilities (Airports).”

    Funny, that sounds like general operational practices with both modes of transportation worldwide, and also represents potential limitations or “handicaps” of each form of technology.

    Almost anything you build is going to have some limits along these lines, with the possible exception of Star Trek’s transporter device, which in the real world hasn’t been invented yet.

    I would bet your professor thought the best transportation system was cars and roads, based on unlimited route choices and unlimited destination choices and near universal use–and at the same time, he probably didn’t note that each form, despite the limits he saw, also has advantages. Call it using the right tool for the job.

    I also would bet he ignored the limitations cars have, including what are currently maximum available efficiencies and operating speeds. Thermal efficiency is currently close to theoretical maximums at the temperature ranges we use; more is available, but it either requires going to higher temperatures than metal engines can stand (ceramics can handle the heat, but not the mechanical stresses), or using some form of compound engine that runs on a lot of waste heat in addition to the primary engine. Operating speeds are limited by excessive power demands for a short, small body in the air, and even more by the limitations of the average idiot who holds a driver’s license (I have long had the opinion that our driver licensing and training practices are woefully inadequate to efficient, safe motor vehicle operation–and that opinion is shared with a number of people who are most supportive of driving, namely driving enthusiasts).

    If your professor spoke of cars this way and didn’t speak of the other things I just mentioned, his lessons do not speak highly of him.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    He was an Air Transportation Systems expert. Could care less about cars really, but was frustrated at how airports had limited themselves in development over the years. I share his frustrations. LAX is a great example. The runway configuration is very innefficient because the pairs of runways are less than 1,200 feet apart. The simple act of building LAX with dependent paris separated by 1,200 vs 700 and 800 would increase LAX’s annual service volume capability by 54,000 annual operations. SFO has the same problem, but becasue the pairs intersect the benefit is half of 54,000. Still a lot better than a poke in the eye.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    My apologies to the professor and you, then. My experience has included a LOT of criticism directed at me personally as a rail supporter, being called a Communist and one or two other things that shouldn’t be repeated here. The usual line was something about how “choo-choos” were outmoded, and should go away because we had cars and airplanes, and that cars paid their own way (which in reality, they never have). A great deal of it was and is generational and ideological. Other posters here have observed the same pattern.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, and I forgot to add how cars were FREEDOM ™, and trains were Socialist and Communist, and that they are part of a plot to take away FREEDOM ™, and to be used as a tool to force everybody to live in a place like Manhattan instead of suburbs.

    I’m not making this up–I’m not that good as a fiction writer. Indeed, a rather prominent conservative newspaper columnist actually made statements to that effect not too long ago.

    Truthfully, though, he managed to make himself look pretty silly.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Especially when a few short weeks later another columnist saw him getting off the business class car of a Regional.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    I don’t think rail is communist (maybe a little socialist because of how certain persons believe it should be used to shape society), but I do have to choke on this project in terms of cost. When all is said and done, this thing is going to cost upward of $120 (adding Sacramento and San Diego). It just is and there’s no pretty way to slice that.

    Having spent the last 20 years in aviation and seeing some forecasts out there and how others claim it will be the savior for airport capacity problems I just have to laugh. To be blunt, I know a BS push forecast when I see it – aviation is not immune. For one, people who want/have to get from LA to San Fran fast are already flying – and there aren’t enough of them to make this thing work. Second, you have to get people out of their cars onto rail to join them increasing ridership. Next, you have to get them all to pay the premium for HSR. It’s just a big leap – again, especially at this price tag.

    To be honest, CAHSRA sold people on a lot of BS and at this point I have zero confidence in anything they have to say. Doubters said it would cost $100 billion and guess what? They said ridership forecasts were too high and guess what? They said fares were too low, and yeah… You get the picture. They did what bureaucracies do best. The f-up. And now we’re supposed to reward them an make excuses for them? No way man. That’s just nuts.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “. . .you have to get people out of their cars onto rail to join them increasing ridership.”–Sobering Reality

    Actually, that may already be happening, even with slow trains and even crappier buses, both for intercity service and local transit.

    (What follows is my generational story, which is familiar to longer term readers here, who may wish to skip it.)

    My basis for saying this is that just over 20 years ago, I tried to promote a modern trolley line–a modern version of an interurban–in my part of West Virginia as an alternative to a 4-lane highway. (I’m actually an observer from the Mid-Atlantic area, living close enough to Washington DC to use a commuter train on my occasional trips there.) My suggestion at the time was to say we should consider public transit; the main road leading into Washington, DC (which about 70 miles east of where I live) has 12 lanes–and you can guess how I had the time to count the 12 lanes.

    Using information from the highway department and other sources, I put together a cost study that suggested the initial cost savings in building this relatively low-tech, but high-performance version of a light rail line would save enough to run the line for free for 10 years. For my trouble, I was told I was trying to take away cars and bring back the horse and buggy, and was also accused of being a Communist.

    One of the things that stood out about that time was that the people who liked the idea were either under 40 or over 70, while the ones who hated it were between 40 and 70. Not everyone fit this pattern–we are talking about individual people, of course–but most did, and that’s the sort of thing marketing people look at when they are trying to sell things.

    I was a member of a civic organization at the time, and another member of the same organization was an Amtrak marketing man. I mentioned this pattern to him, and he said his marketing department had measured the same thing in regard to Amtrak nationwide.

    The road took a long time to get built. Everyone got older. I noticed the age break moved up to about 50, to 55–and I now think it is just over 60, maybe up to 62. I assume the high end age break has moved up to about 90 or a little above.

    What is the reason for this? I think it has to do with when people come of age. A psychologist will tell you that this age–from the late teens to the early twenties–is when your view of the world, and you, and a number of other things, tends to crystallize. This is when you figure out who you are, what the world is like, and that includes your idea of what the future will be.

    The older crowd–over 70 before, over 90 now–remembers an older America, before the Interstates, and one which I grew up in despite the calendar saying it was the late 1960s. The younger crowd–under 40 before, under about 60 or so now–have grown up with cars as common as water, and perhaps don’t appreciate the mobility machines they are. They are also environmentally aware, connected by the internet (this is one the reasons younger people supposedly aren’t into cars as much as their parents), and short on money. I also think cars are too common for them; I can imagine someone saying “What’s the big deal about driving? My grandma drives, and she drives like a grandma, too.”

    The group in the middle–40 to 70 before, 60 to 90 now–would have come of age between about 1950 and the first oil crunch of 1973. For them, the future was supposed to look like an old animated TV show called “The Jetsons,” or like the vision of the future as seen at the New York World’s Fair of 1964. That included things like flying cars, and didn’t include trains, much less trolley cars.

    We didn’t quite get that future, and from the parts of it we did get, I’m not sure all of us would want it. At the same time, to suggest something like a return to rail seems like turning back the clock to them; it seems like undoing progress. You and I don’t see that, of course; rather, at least for me, it’s a case of undoing an overdose of too much of a good thing. It also is attempting to avoid some serious problems as cheap oil goes away.

    Sadly, there are a lot of people in what I’ve taken to calling “that difficult, in-between age” who are unable and unwilling to listen. I’m not the only one to notice this. Not too long ago, an observer at this weblog got to attend a meeting on this California project. He noted that older people in the audience applauded speakers w ho voiced opposition to high speed rail there, while younger members of the audience were supportive of rail supporters. And one fellow, speaking against the rail service, said he didn’t want “Communist Chinese trains”. . .oh my, did that seem familiar!

    This potential generational shift was recently given some weight by a study commissioned by Ford Motor Company and the auto insurance industry, and supposedly both are a little spooked by the results.

    Below is an Ad Age article on the study:

    Other material, with links in the article:

    Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think cars are going away, short of some huge economic collapse combined with a world nuclear war or a giant meteor or something similarly disastrous. What I do see, though, is what I consider a healthy de-emphasis of cars, to looking at them practically, not as an ideological “FREEDOM ™” machine.

    For those Americans in that “difficult, in-between age” group, that still looks like a disaster! As in becoming like those effeminate French!

    PS–Disclaimer–I have to admit to a certain amount of prejudice myself; I am a rail enthusiast, have been about all my life. And my favorite thing about railroads is steam locomotives!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Air ridership went down in half.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    So what!

    If operations don’t decline significantly after 4 years of HSR service and capacity per flight increases while passengers decline you haven’t accomplished jack squat.
    There is so much more to this than ridership.


    In January of 2008, there were 128 flights a day between Madrid and Barcelona. The flights were 68% full (107 pax a flight) and had an average seating capacity of 157 seats per departure. 157 seats is a 737-800 which burns 800 gallons per hour, which equates to about 7.5 gallons burned per hour per passenger. Not per seat, but per passenger.

    Today (FOUR YEARS LATER), there are 100 flights per day between Madrid and Barcelona. The flights are now 48% full (82 passengers) and have an average seating capacity of 170 seats. 170 seats is an Airbus A321 which burns about 900 gallons per hour so now the fuel consumed on the route is about 11 gallons a passenger per hour.

    So air passengers have declined. Big deal. They’re burning 12% less gas per day but carrying half the passengers.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not HSR’s problem if the airlines haven’t given up yet the way they gave up on Paris-Lyon.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They have trouble wrapping their heads around the concept that Amtrak offers two and half levels of service on the NEC. ( Acela, Regional and Keystone ) Or that Amtrak has competition between certain city pairs. Well…. many city pairs…

    TomW Reply:

    Instead of saying rail carries “more than half of the air-rail market on the NEC”, why not just say “rail carries more people than air on the NEC”. Much simpler (and more powerful).

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Equally powerful:

    Rail ridership in the NEC corridor has increased from roughly 3 million passengers a year to just over 10 million a year in the last decade. However, about 70% of those riders seem unwilling to pay for the Acela premium service when given a choice of rail options.

    thatbruce Reply:

    ( The 10 million figure is for Amtrak ridership, not including the ridership by other operators along this route)

    Imprecise statement, as not all of those 70% of riders actually have a choice between Acela and Northeast Regional. Reason being, Acela serves far fewer stations (16) than the Regional (51) in the same corridor, with the Regional serving two additional branches over the Acela.

    As an exercise in numbers, Acela serves 31% of the stations served by the Northeast Regional. That figure of roughly 30% reappears in the breakdown of passengers using the two Amtrak services in 2010, 3 million for Acela, and 7 million for Northeast Regional.

    It would appear that, when given the choice by virtue of both Acela and Northeast Regional services serving the same stations, passengers do in fact choose the Acela premium service.

    Alan F Reply:

    No, the Regionals likely get more NYC to Philly and NYC to DC riders than the Acela. The top city pairs for the NE Regionals are in order from 1 to 4: NYC-Philly, NYC-DC, Philly-DC, Boston-NYC.

    Many of those 51 stations you listed get only a few Regionals (or Keystones) per day: Aberdeen MD, Newark DE, North Philadelphia (with very few passengers), Cornwell Heights, New Brunswick, etc. The Acela Express gets the higher budget business travelers, the better off personal travelers, and for that matter, those can buy their Acela tickets far enough in advance to avoid the top bucket prices. The Regionals provide the main service on the NEC with a larger mix of city and station pairs. It is not an either or situation. I have traveled on the NEC on both the Acela and NE Regionals a number of times over the past 2 years for business and personal travel.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Indeed, it isn’t an either/or situation.

    Unless you went through and compared volumes of Acela tickets purchased between city pairs with the volumes of Regional tickets purchased between the same city pairs, taking note of how far in advance the tickets were purchased to get around the last-minute prices increases that you point out, there isn’t enough data to really make a statement as to whether passengers would or would not choose the premium Acela over the cheaper Regional.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Just couple things:

    First of all, NEC demand is down overall since Acela was introduced. In 2000, the airlines carried 18.5 million passengers on 35.3 million seats and rail had another 18% of the market, or just upwards of 3 million passengers. In 2010, the airlines carried 8.2 million passengers on 13 million seats and Acela had just over 3 million riders. Demand for air service fell overall and not just because of rail.

    Your numbers for the LA Basin to the Bay area are a little off. Including LAX,SNA,BUR,ONT,LGB, SFO,MRY,SJC and OAK there were just over 12.9 million seats available between all city pairs in 2010 with 9.2 million total passengers, nowhere near 12 million. Of those 9.2 million, 6.4 million were O&D which could theoretically shift to rail. The rest will still connect on flights and some fo the O&D will stay with Southwest. The reality is that instead of 14 flights a day on Southwest there will be 6 or 7. That’s not a bad thing, but the impact of HSR is beign grossly overstated.

    Madrid-Barcelona had 6,592 air pax a day in the month before the HSR leg opened. Today the same route supports 3,345 per day. Whats interesting is that air fares have actually declined from $86 (pre-taxes) in January of 2008 to $77 (pre-taxes) in January of 2011.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    First of all, NEC demand is down overall since Acela was introduced. In 2000, the airlines carried 18.5 million passengers on 35.3 million seats and rail had another 18% of the market, or just upwards of 3 million passengers. In 2010, the airlines carried 8.2 million passengers on 13 million seats and Acela had just over 3 million riders. Demand for air service fell overall and not just because of rail.

    Just a note: You’re mixing apples and oranges here by comparing overall NEC ridership to only Acela ridership rather than Acela+NE Regional (which would put rail ridership over ten million)

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    I’m pointing out that there is more at play than the availability of rail. In 2000 combined air/rail demand was for over 21 million passengers. Today combined air/rail demand is less than 19 million.

    Alan F Reply:

    The posts and articles that only list the Acela passenger counts on the NEC for comparisons bug me. Comparing the total NEC ridership numbers from the early 2000s era also overlook the fact that Amtrak dropped the NYC to Philly Clockers to let NJ Transit pick much of that business up for the Trenton to NYC commuters. If one is going to write about NEC passenger counts, they should know something how the NEC operates. The NE Regionals run at 125 mph speeds on the NEC, so they run faster than any other train service in the US other than the Acela.

    The FY11 passengers numbers for the Acela were 3.79 million, NE Regionals on the NEC Spine 7.51 million. The Keystones to Harrisburg were 1.34 million. These numbers also do not include the long and medium distance corridor trains that have passengers to/from NEC stops to stations west and south of the NEC. The DC to Richmond to Newport News subset (many getting on north of DC) was 557K passengers, the Lynchburger (nick name) 162K, and so on. The Amtrak portion of passenger traffic on the NEC is somewhere above 11-12 million when it is all added up.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    So then an even smaller percentage of rail travelers are opting for Acela.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    The Acela does not offer enough of a performance improvement to be worth the significant added cost over the Regionals. You must be aware that the Regionals can maintain 120 mph behind those powerful AEM7’s and HHP8’s whereas the Acela only goes another 15 mph faster. The main difference is that the Regionals stop more often.

  2. Alon Levy
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 22:00

    On-topic, you’re right about the Philly-Pittsburgh issue, and it’s one that should be highlighted more. More precisely: on a very thick market, like New York-Chicago or LA-SF, rising fuel prices are going to lead to incremental rises in fare, but nothing massive. But on a thinner market, rising fuel prices could lead airlines to pull out of routes they find no longer profitable, and this would lead to runaway fare hikes.

    Because the main HSR-replaceable markets out of LA are large, it’s not directly applicable there. But we could see LA-Fresno air service completely disappear, and city pairs not involving LA (or even the Bay Area) cut back so much that HSR could be competitive even if the trip were 4-5 hours.

    joe Reply:

    I would expect Fresno-LA flights and connections at LA airports would quickly switch to HSR service. I believe that is why airlines support HSR. Travelers to exotic destinations would book a ticket on Orbitz and their initial Fresno-LA trip would be a rail ticket.

    That leg would much safer than a low cost air carrier subcontracted by the airlines.

    Eric Reply:

    Except for the hassle of transferring between LA Union Station and LAX.

    Of course, that could be addressed in various ways at some point.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Regardless how that connecting is resolved, it will always be easier to clear security at Fresno and that will be the driver because the fare on a connectign passenegr is at cost plus a very small profit margin to the regional of about 10%.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Except as costs go up, it gets more expensive for the airline and eventually they cancel service like Southwest did between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

    Don’t you get it? Eventually, the only way to get out of Fresno will be bus to LA, train to OAK, or drive and park with the attendant cost of that. You’re basically saying to people in Fresno, “Screw you. You decided to live there. Now pay the cost.”

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    And the problem with that statement would be…?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    1. Sourthwest is dumping PHL to PIT because demand has fallen 50% while fares only went up about 3%. The economy, not costs is ending that service.

    2. The primary purpose of service from Fresno to LAX and SFO is to connect passengers. Fresno will lose about 2 flights each to LAX and SFO if and only if the O&D passsengers shift to rail. There is no reason to believe connecting passengers would shift to rail because connecting yields are much lower than O&D yeilds and security will always be worse at LAX and SFO than it will at FAT. Fresno also has service to 8 other destinations and said market will continue to grow over time.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The green visors are still insisting the US has to chop budgets drastically:

    Now who do you think is going to win out, social spending or the Palmdale Flyer?

    My guess is eventually the numbers are going to wear on Jerry Brown and he is going to do some level of plug-pulling under pressure from the Legislature.

    Why not try to get a private loan to construct Tejon using the tunnels as collateral?

    joe Reply:

    “On-topic, you’re right about the Philly-Pittsburgh issue, and it’s one that should be highlighted more. More precisely: on a very thick market, like New York-Chicago or LA-SF, rising fuel prices are going to lead to incremental rises in fare, but nothing massive”

    Why would airlines continue to operate low margin legs if HSR could remove that expense.

    If I ran an airline, I’d partner with HSR and as part of that relationship, I’d offer Frequent Flier mileage for HSR trips between major markets I run shuttle service if one trip leg began/ended at my airport. Then, I’d start charging an airfare that recovers costs and profit for those who want to fly.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They wouldn’t. I’m talking about a no-HSR situation: travelers would be forced to rely on more expensive flights, but the effect on LA-SF (and especially longer-haul thick markets, like NY-LA) would be much smaller than that on thin markets on which competition would decline.

    Of course, in an HSR situation, airlines would be forced to compete, and the fare would drop rather than increase. This is what happened in Japan: the airlines regained market share on such markets as Tokyo-Hiroshima and Tokyo-Fukuoka by offering lower airfares than the Shinkansen.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Yeah, and ANA and JAL are putting their 787’s on those short hop routes first. Comedy. Just about died when I saw that in the schedule. A 787 from LAX to SFO would be one nice ride, not improbable either in 20 years. Trip cost for a 787 is about $6500 on a 90 minute run with 240 seats, so yeah… $27 a head.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    $27 a head. You must be smoking. A 787 will burn at least 1,300 gallons of Jet A1 to cover the short flight. Remember, this kind of flight is the worst from a fuel efficiency perspective as you expend all that energy only to lose it in immediate descent. That means fuel alone will be at least $3,500 assuming a Jet A price of about $2.80 per US gallon. Now if fuel is approximately 1/3 rd of the cost of a flight, then that trip will be more in the region of $9,000 – $10,000 and you per head number goes up to $40.

    It is easy to check by just doing a quick comparison. A 787 at full load is about 1/3 rd as fuel efficient as a 55 seat intercity bus (coach). The bus can manage about 4.5 – 5 mpg on the open highway and seats 55 at full occupancy. That gives a number of about 250 pmpg. That means the 787 is in the region of about 80 pmpg under optimum flight performance envelope and will be more like 70 or so on such a short sector. That means fuel cost per passenger will be in the region of $16. How the do you expect $10 to cover all the remaining expenses (flight crew salary, depreciation, fees etc.)

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    The block hour cost on a 787, including fuel is $4400 an hour. Its a 90 minute trip and fuel isn’t everything.

    You done now?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    The fuel burn is substantially less than what you are suggesting because the actual time spent flying is substantially less adn without bleed air a 787 burns a lot les gas on the ground taxiiing. The block fuel is 1125 gallons. With a trip cost of $6500, fuel is roughly 49% of the trip cost.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Airlines count TGV miles as frequent flyer when you buy a combined air-train ticket. The system seems to work well with most international passengers but Americans don’t seem to show much interest for it. Continental and Delta have even discontinued codesharing with SNCF.
    4 million passengers use the HSR terminal at Paris CDG airport but only 19% of them are Americans.
    My own experience is that Americans don’t readily accept the idea that trains may sometimes be faster and more convenient than planes.
    2 years ago, I was in charge of planning trips for musicians. When I told an American tour manager that taking a train from Paris CDG to Marseille would actually be quicker and more relaxing, he said “you must be kidding” and insisted on a connecting flight that obliged musicians to transfer by bus to Orly airport. An option that a manager from any other country would have avoided.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    You can’t compare what a quasi nationalized airline will do with code-shares to what a free market airline who is competing for passengers will do. They are not the same. The entire airline structure in Europe is different than it is here in the US. Never mind the insane taxes they pay on tickets whcih is a cost driver for people to shift from air to rail. A trip from LAX to SFO is nearly twice as much in Europe due to taxes.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Have you ever tried Easyjet, Ryanair or GermanWings? They are cheaper than HSR.
    Ryanair beats the TGV on fares but most people take the TGV because it’s more convenient.
    Do you really believe the US is free-market and Europe is not? Then you have some learning to do.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    EasyJet, Ryanair and German wings came along long after HSR in Europe, particularly in France. Because airlines in Europe are more heavily regulated and taxed much higher than airlines in the US you cannot compare the two.

    I have a lot to learn? LOL

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Ah yes a big healthy dose of American Exceptionalism!

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Yer dumb.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Please read through the comments policy before launching any further ad hominem attacks. They’re not welcome and detract from a civil conversation.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I have a lot to learn? LOL

    tu quoque with a touch of argumentum ad verecundiam? fancy.

    Andre’s very valid points about certain heavily taxed European airlines undercutting the also European TGV in order to retain some market share aside, you’re wanting to keep the discussion on US-only comparisons? We can do that, especially since the only US HSR operation is more than simply recovering costs and holding its own against the lightly taxed airlines in the same corridor.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    The west coast is not the east coast by any stretch of the imagination in terms of population density and demand and this costs a lot more.

    Apples meet Oranges.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    The East Coast isn’t dominated by Southwest either. Southwest can’t even win bids in a slot auction on the East Coast.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, you have a lot to learn. Your intellectual aggressiveness to actually knowing what you’re talking about ratio is higher than you think it is.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Nice insult.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Last time I flew it was on a domestic flight from Hyères to Paris ; I’d prefer six hours in a TGV to that one hellish hour in an airplane, and it wasn’t even Ryanair and al., it was France Inter.
    And I love flying!
    I can’t remember one time in my life that I spent more tightly compressed, more uncomfortable, more invaded in my personal sphere, more wanting to stop it all right now and to hell with all this! oh yes, Paris metro and RER sometimes.
    Compared to that kind of flying experience HSR is a dream come true.

    joe Reply:

    “My own experience is that Americans don’t readily accept the idea that trains may sometimes be faster and more convenient than planes.”

    Shit happens. Things change. Ford’s importing their European market vehicles to the USA market.

    If a search on Orbitz returns a lower fare/better connection, we Americans will adapt. If that trip includes mileage points, it will happen sooner for business travelers.

    Andy M. Reply:

    “4 million passengers use the HSR terminal at Paris CDG airport but only 19% of them are Americans.”


    That sounds like a very high number to me? What perecentage of all travellers using CDG are Americans? I doubt it is greater that 19%, when you consider that many of the people there will be French or from neighboring countries, and also of the long-distance flights there will be people from all over the world including many from East Asia etc.

    That would mean Americans may even be over-represented among TGV users in relation to the total numbers using the airport.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The traffic at CDG is mainly international. For internal flights you go to Orly which, by the way, is smaller and friendlier (CDG is rated 2nd worst airport after JFK).
    I heard the 19% figure on a TV talk show. An SNCF executive said it was low and had to be improved with better communication. The figure was based on a comparison between Air France and Delta passengers on flights from/to the US. The two companies share planes so that on a given flight you have DL and AF passengers. DL tickets generally outnumber AF but on the TGV they represent only 19% of the total.
    The assumption, of course, is that all Delta passengers are American.
    It may also mean that Paris is the final destination for most DL passengers, so thay have no reason to use the TGV.

  3. morris brown
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 22:19

    The numbers of air traffic between the Bay area and SO. California we found are 8 -9 million per year.

  4. morris brown
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 22:21

    KCBS radio has a short audio segment (2 min. 30 Sec) by Phil Matier and his analysis of the latest news from the LAO and how it affects the project


  5. JJJ
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 22:32

    Dont just look at SFO-LAX.

    Try Fresno to LAX. I just picked Feb 8, returning Feb 9 (wed-thurs) for flight prices. $279 is the cheapest you can get, for a grand total 27 minute in the air (55 minute total plane time).

    And thats today.

    Imagine in 10 years.

    Joey Reply:

    I would expect that air constitutes a pretty small proportion of the overall Fresno-LA market. Flights are so infrequent and distance is short enough that it’s probably much more desirable to drive.

    JJJ Reply:

    Click my name to see why driving from November-March is sometimes a very bad idea. (Fog). Nevermind the fact that the grapevine closes for snow a few times a year.

    And air constitutes a small portion of the market because it’s not price competitive.

    JJJ Reply:

    Id like to add that Allegient Air offers flights to las vegas from Fresno, a similar distance, starting at $19.

    Not a typo. Nineteen.

    Jerry Reply:

    Plus $35 per bag. That’s Thirty Five.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    And $5 to check in with an agent….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Some people drive in LA, others go to clubs where they get whipped, yet others have their partners tie them up and spank them. Each masochist and their own kink, I’m not going to judge.

    Joey Reply:

    Then apparently LA is BDSM central.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yep. If only New Yorkers and San Franciscans had had the joys of LA-area driving, they wouldn’t have developed more exotic forms of BDSM.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Especially considering that on the other platform in Fresno you will be able to take the train to the SFO station at the end of the SFO people mover and not an half hour – hour long ride on the Fly Away bus.

    Howard Reply:

    But Fresno and Bakersfield residents could get off the high speed train at the Burbank Airport Station, transfer to the airport people mover and go right to the air terminal.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Or Palmdale where the low cost cattle car airlines will be operating. Or one day Ontario. LAX would be low on their list.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Not one single low fare carrier will ever set up shop in Palmdale. So don’t go hanging your pipe dreams about aviation on that.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Why would you pay $40 to ride the train to catch a flight at Burbank when the share of a connecting ticket is only about $20? That makes no sense.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Do you really think $20 is covering the cost of the short flight? Call it a loss leader. It is used to get people on the profitable longer flight. If HSR enters the equation, airlines will become reluctant to continue offering these loss leader flights and will cut them as has already started to occur to small, marginal destinations.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    No its cost plus about 10%.

    HSR will have no impact at all on the connecting passenger segment out of Fresno. 1) the flights are there to connect passengers. 2) The majority of Fresno connecting pax go through LAX and through other hubs out of state, and 3) HSR doesn’t go to LAX.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It will go to SFO. Burbank, Ontario someday.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    So let me get this right:

    1. You’re expecting people to pay $40-50 to ride the train then pay a premium fare for a non-stop flight out of SFO?

    2. You’re expecting that they will buy a rail ticket to go to BUR or ONT for a flight to a destination that will have non-stop service out of Fresno in 20 years?


    In 20 years, Fresno will have non-stop service to every destination that ONT and BUR have today. Why would you take a train to another airport? Heck, Fresno has half their service now and then some.


    Dallas/Fort Worth
    Las Vegas
    New York
    Salt Lake City
    San Francisco
    San Jose


    Dallas/Fort Worth
    Las Vegas
    Salt Lake City
    San Francisco
    San Jose


    Las Vegas
    Los Angeles
    Salt Lake City
    San Francisco

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    JJJ. Here is the market reality on Fresno LAX:

    There are 94 O&D passengers (total – 47 per day each way) in that market that pay an average one way fare of $137.60. These are the people flying from Fresno to LAX that HSR has a chance of capturing.

    There are additional 514 (total – 257 per way each day) passengers a day that pay a connecting fare of about $18 one way. These people are boarding a flight in Fresno then connecting on to another destination from LAX.

    You will find this in every market up and down the state. Using average far as a benchmark for how HSR will compete with Air is the stupidest assumpton the CAHSR has made.

    Peter Reply:

    I doubt HSR is relying much on capturing much of the Fresno-LA air market. Although, once trains are running between Fresno and LA, there won’t BE a Fresno-LA air market.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Sure there will. The only real access to Asia that Frenso has is via SFO and LAX, they will continue to feed pax on those routes as demand warrants just not as frequently. Thats about 100 pax a day to LAX and 140 to SFO. I think everyone forgets that what the Navy had at Miramar down in San Diego moved to a little base outside of Fresno which is a big driver right now in Fresno’s growth. Fresno will continue to grow in Destinations, they will just grow to the East.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You have an online source for those numbers perchance?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    The data is free on the DOT website, the software required to decipher it to make it useful will cost you $40k a year.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The numbers are consistent with the those the HSRA model is using. They have 140 pax from CV to/ from LA and SF (this excludes connecting passengers). It is a very small number.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Oh I know they were consistent, I was just interested in the O/D and connecting breakdowns.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    O&D on short hops to small markets is generally very small. If there is an RJ or a prop on the route, they entire purpose of the service is to feed the hub. Airlines purposley increase fares on such routes to provide the maximum number of seats are available for connecting passengers.

    JJJ Reply:

    Thanks for the numbers. On to those, we must also add people flying to SFO, and then add to that people who would like the convenience but think its ludicrous to pay over $100, each way, for a 25 minute plane ride.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Numbers are about the same. 97 O&D and 461 connecting. Fares are a little higher, but the connecting pax is only paying $28.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Please also add the number of people who would like a magic unicorn ride from Fresno to Disneyland via the Farrallon Islands. I’m sure there’s a massive market of people inconvenienced by not being able to make this trip today because of the rapaciousness of the unicorn industry. Please also add the number of people flying in to SFO from Nome for lunch at the Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae and making same day returns. Those people will need an alternative after Peak Oil.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    We can add them to the thundering herds of people in Fremont, who because they don’t like RiteAid are just dying to try out the Walgreens in San Jose, the CVS in San Francisco and while they are in Tracy partaking of the delights of the instore at Walmart can get in some fine dining with the exotic fare at the instore McDonald’s.

    Sobering Reality Reply:


    What’s it like being a Chicken little?

  6. Andy M.
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 01:44

    I’m pretty sure that Amtrak could gain traffic share between Philly and Pittsburgh even without high-speed. There have been investements in that corridor in recent years that have led to small time saving which nevertheless came with ridership increases. However, to be really attractive, Amtrak needs to run more frequencies by extending Keystone trains beyong Harrisburg. Presently, there is one train per day per direction that does that. With maybe two trains there would be plenty more choice and I’m sure traffic would grow. Norfolk Southern is not the UPRR, and whereas they do object to Amtrak sometimes, their objections are usually based in fact and they are open to seeking solutions rather than blocking them.

    Peter Reply:

    I believe they’re already exploring extending electrification from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. That would help a lot.

    jim Reply:

    There have been two studies since 2005 on improving service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Both looked at adding two round trips per day. Neither considered electrification.

    The main problem is capacity. NS runs a lot of trains along this corridor. Harrisburg is a major intermodal center. In the mountains, the long heavy freights crawl at 10 mph; intermodals try to keep up 60 mph and passenger trains run at 70 or 79 mph. The worst gradients are already four-tracked to accommodate this variety. Four-tracking could be extended and some of the double tracked segments could be triple tracked. There is a parallel line for part of the way, which could be double tracked. Adding enough capacity for two more Amtrak round trips is a $100M or so effort.

    NA policy is that on tracks with freights passenger trains will be limited to 90 mph (this is a dispatching issue, I understand). So track upgrades and electrification (for 250 miles! this ain’t cheap) wouldn’t make much difference to end-to-end timings. Maybe half an hour on the five and a half it now takes. So Philly to Pittsburgh could be brought down from seven and a half hours to a bit under seven.

    There are issues at both ends. There’s congestion near Harrisburg caused by the yards and refueling facilities. That would require spending money to alleviate. The Pittsburgh station is a mess. The old station building was absorbed into a condo (the old waiting room is now its lobby), so there’s an Amshack at the end of one of the platforms. The other platforms can’t be reached from it. Tracks have been torn up or obstructed, so that there’s only the one usable track (a main freight track at that) on the one usable platform left. For the two trains a day that the station sees, that’s OK. For more there’d be a problem. There are several competing proposals for reconfiguring the station, none satisfactory.

    Whether more frequent seven hour Philly to Pittsburgh trips can actually gain significant market share is a question. There isn’t much in the way of intermediate destinations between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

    Peter Reply:

    According to wikipedia, the most reliable source of information in the galaxy, “In March 2011, it was announced that Pennsylvania had received a $750,000 grant from the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program to investigate extending high-speed electrified service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.”

    jim Reply:

    The grant is actually to plan to plan: its deliverable is a PE/NEPA schedule and an SDP. The PE/NEPA being planned for would plan for 110 mph capable electrified dedicated passenger tracks hosting eight round trips per day taking three and half hours between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. But that plan isn’t funded.

    Alan F Reply:

    The $750K HSIPR grant was matched by $750K in state funds so it is a $1.5 mill study. But, the study appears to be focused more on the near term options of more modest upgrades to the Harrisburg to Pitt NS owned corridor and adding additional frequencies. The Keystone corridor is an unusual situation. Which, because I grew up in PA less than a mile from the line, I still think of by the Penn Railroad era name, the Main Line.

    The eastern third from Philly (PHL) to Harrisburg (HAR) is an electrified corridor owned by Amtrak with 110 mph max speeds and defined project plans to upgrade to 125 mph & reduce PHL – HAR trip times to 90 minutes. Currently has 13-14 daily round trip HAR to NYC trains. Provides a good foundation for a true HSR line.

    The western two-thirds from HAR to Pitt is owned by Norfolk Southern and is a winding route through the Appalachian mountains. Was a 4 track line, now down to 2 and 3 tracks in places. Building a more direct true HSR line through the mountains to Pitt will be a seriously expensive project. So, the choices are to make incremental improvements to the NS route, with a likely limit of 90 mph; electrify the existing line which probably won’t fly with NS, or go big with a new HSR route and a bunch of TBMs.

    I think the smartest approach will be to make incremental lower cost upgrades to the existing western Keystone and add 1-2 additional daily frequency trains. Meanwhile get started on the years long numerous initial studies that will take years to wade through on alternatives for true HSR line to Pittsburgh.

    For anyone interested in reading up on the development plans for the corridor, PA DOT has a neat website:
    Summary of the study for the Western part:

    Andy M. Reply:

    “The main problem is capacity. NS runs a lot of trains along this corridor. Harrisburg is a major intermodal center. In the mountains, the long heavy freights crawl at 10 mph; intermodals try to keep up 60 mph and passenger trains run at 70 or 79 mph. The worst gradients are already four-tracked to accommodate this variety. Four-tracking could be extended and some of the double tracked segments could be triple tracked. There is a parallel line for part of the way, which could be double tracked. Adding enough capacity for two more Amtrak round trips is a $100M or so effort.”

    Maybe, but back in the days of the Pennsy, that line was four-tracked throughout. Today it is double track in places and even the mighty horseshoe curve managed to lose one of its once four tracks in a Conrail penny-penching exercise. The trackbed is stil clearly visible from the train. So in terms of capacity there should definitely be a way of adding plenty at moderate cost. A full separation of Amtrak and NS trains could even be a possibility, which would simplify scheduling and electrification.

  7. Sobering Reality
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 07:19

    Delta dumped capacity at LAX in 2008 because they had closed a merger with Northwest Airlines. Did they park planes because of fuel? Yes. They unloaded the gas guzzling DC-10 operation at LAX which was 13% of the LAX capacity.

    Never regurgitate an opinion piece. Especially something from nearly 4 years ago from the LA times. Since then Delta has added 323 daily flights and over 100,000 daily seats to the LAX market.

    On the low fare issue, another issue grossly overstated. And you’re right, a high yield single carrier market is a horrible example.

    The average fare between LAX and the bay area (SFO, SJC, and OAK) is $115 for the 4,500 people a day each way that fly. There are an additional 2,600 a day each way that only pay about $30 to connect to other flights. Low fares aren’t going away on the west coast. If HSR takes the 4,500 passengers (assuming a 100% O&D capture which has never happened by the way), then more people will fill in those seats. Never mind that Southwest’s fares are already 65% of the average fare, which is better than the projected 70% fare that HSR expects to get.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Allow me to correct the capacity additions:

    Delta has added 323 flights per month and over 100,000 seats per month to the LAX market. Thsi represent a 16% increase in capacity for Delta at LAX since 2008.

  8. Paulus Magnus
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 09:31

    An off-topic question: How is it that Amtrak can have an on time performance of 80% or less while commuter trains running on the same tracks have 95+% on time performance with a tighter performance metric as well (arriving within 5 minutes of scheduled time)?

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Answer: Its Amtrak.

  9. Tony d.
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 09:39

    First of all, as an original backer of HSR, I’ve given up on the dream of zipping over the Pacheco Pass from Gilroy to LA..maybe once or twice a year max. And therein is my point: why can’t the current transportation model of flying between the Bay Area to LA work for the long term? Especially if many of us a travelling between NorCal and SoCal very infrequently? Heck, our last two trips to Orange County we drove. My other point is that I’m more apt to use commuter rail on a weekly basis for trips north to SJ and SF than taking rail to SoCal; hence my new support for regional rail upgrades vs current HSR scheme. So to wrap up this post: upgraded, modernized rail for regional commuter purposes and air service for infrequent trip +300 miles. Yes, HSR from Gilroy to LA would be nice, but so would winning Super Lotto.

    paul dyson Reply:

    At last a breath of fresh air. As Tony d says, invest in the trips that people make daily or weekly, air can handle the longer haul for the next decade at least. As I have mentioned before, SWA have over the years invested in upgraded 737s that carry more passengers. Airport capacity the same, operating cost per seat reduced, high frequency between multiple o and d pairs. What we need is to be able to travel from Sacramento to San Jose, San Diego to Los Angeles, etc. on regional rail networks as a first priority. These HSR compatible networks can eventually be linked with a HS trunk but please let’s not spend our first dollars on non operational Bakersfield to Fresno.

    Tony d. Reply:

    Paul nailed it! ;)
    Sorry Robert for jumping ship on HSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But without the mountain connection there is no trunk possible now or then. Build Tejon now; historically inflation is much more likely than deflation.

    And to paraphrase: The days of cheap transit fares are passing quickly. TWU and Amalgamated, and of course the management types, are going to demand their pound of flesh no matter how poor the economy and the machine is bound to give it to them. Just like the prison guards.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Just like Jet Blue was forced to unionize?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Good reference and very elucidating. The CHSRA Palmdale Flyer will, of course, be publicly owned and operated, lock, stock and track. Forget the likes of Veolia, the TWU will stage some wildcats and then run off to the party bosses to install a BART type elected board of directors. Exit payroll control.

    The Flyer and private management are a non-starter. Always visualize a BART writ large.

    Spokker Reply:

    Abandoning support for Bakersfield-Fresno is not jumping ship on HSR in general. Supporting LA-SD, SJ-SF and other routes such as that is support for HSR as those upgrades will 1) increase rail travel in the state and 2) eventually link up to a real HSR system when we are all long dead.

    Tony d. Reply:

    Wow, I’m now agreeing with Spokker? Kind of like what’s going in in Europe (financial crisis aside): France builds HSR, Spain builds HSR, The UK, Germany, with eventual connections between all the systems across all borders. Build regionally than fully connect later when I’m with geriatric.

    Tony d. Reply:

    Damn typos!

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    I hate the inability not to fix. I butchered the hell out of a post above.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    “France builds HSR”
    If you mean the state is investing in HSR, then France does not build HSR.
    The current attitude is: HSR is part of the competitive market, so let private firms deal with it.
    The emphasis is now on regional rail. Bombardier has orders for 800 trains and Alstom for 200, none of them high-speed.
    The reasons are multiple.
    Concerning HSR, the low-hanging fruit (like Paris-Lyon) have already been picked and future lines will cost a lot more to build.
    Public consultation has shown that what the majority wants is not faster trains but more frequent trains, better punctuality and lower fares.
    What really reduces car ridership is local transit, not HSR. A recent poll at CDG airport showed 95% of employees used their car to commute because the trains were crowded and not punctual.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    André isn’t it going a bit too far to imply that French people aren’t so much interested anymore vy new HSR lines?
    The PACA line, the extension Le Mans-Rennes, Est Phase II, Bordeaux-Tours and a quick link from Clermont-Ferrand and Toulouse to Paris all look as waited with impatience by some populations
    Now it’s true that the urgency has shifted to the regional network, but this doesn’t mean the people have lost sight of HSR.

    jimsf Reply:

    perhaps both france and california will wind up with a nciely built out high speed backbone network supplemented with a fully built out regional network or regualr trains. isnt that the goal?

    ericmarseille Reply:

    You’re speaking gold.
    Now there’s a lot to do, in France also.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    I’ve traveresed the state 15 times and in only one instance did it make sense to fly, and by extension HSR a reasonable alternative.

    I also agree completely with this:

    So to wrap up this post: upgraded, modernized rail for regional commuter purposes and air service for infrequent trip +300 miles. Yes, HSR from Gilroy to LA would be nice, but so would winning Super Lotto.

    This is far more important to solving our transportation problems. There are only three airports that may or may not have capacity issues in the state, most of it is governement chitter chatter to get new airports, but ultimately the airlines don’t care about new airports. They will adjust to capacity limitations by adding bigger planes or pricing people out of the market. To suggest that HSR must exist to solve this problem is hog wash.

    yoyo Reply:

    SB, I believe you are making a false choice argument. The choice is not between HSR or regional transit, but between investing in HSR or expanding our highway and airport.

    also, with regard to your statement:
    “They(airline) will adjust to capacity limitations by adding bigger planes or pricing people out of the market. To suggest that HSR must exist to solve this problem is hog wash.”

    Transportation infrastructure directly contributes to our state/nation’s competitiveness. The ability to move people/freight around the state is not really a luxury, and that this capacity will be strained in the future. The question is how do we invest in our infrastructure now so we can be best positioned to compete with other State or Countries 10~20 years down the line.

    Joey Reply:

    To be fair, building regional transit instead of HSR would reduce the need for highway spending much more than HSR.

    Tony d. Reply:

    I am now a true believer of this.

    yoyo Reply:

    To be fair, converting all the freeway to toll roads will reduce the need for highway spending much more than HSR. I’m a true believer of that too, but it DOESN’T MATTER. Because it’s a false choice.

    For that matter, increasing gas tax to account for the externality of burning petro will also reduce need for highway spending, whatever.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    They can increase the gas tax as soon as they ban oil speculation. It’d be better for everyone.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    HSR’s impact to airports is the equivalent of about 5 years growth at the three airports that would see a net operational capacity reduction, there is virtually no benefit to the others. Saying HSR will defer the construction of runways and gates is the false choice.

    morris brown Reply:

    You wrote:
    @Sobering Reality

    “There are only three airports that may or may not have capacity issues in the state, most of it is governement chitter chatter to get new airports, but ultimately the airlines don’t care about new airports. They will adjust to capacity limitations by adding bigger planes or pricing people out of the market. To suggest that HSR must exist to solve this problem is hog wash.”

    Absolutely corrrect…

    The airlines have plenty of flexibility and have shown in the past to be able to handle such problems.

    An issue that is mostly being missed by all the “futurists” here, is the effect that electronics communications (conferencing) is now having and will be a much large factor in the future. Companies will be doing much less business travel for meetings in the future. Today, you don’t need a $500,000 outfitted conference room to have good communications with others hundreds of miles apart. Personal PC’s can do the trick. Cost savings is immense.

    joe Reply:

    The airlines support HSR. The airports support HSR.

    Lather, rinse and repeat guys.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    One airline (jetBlue) and one Airport SFO.

    The rest are watching the meltdown.

    VBobier Reply:

    Southwest supports HSR.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    You’re funny.

    Not if it puts them at a competitive disadvantage due to what they would consider excessive federal government investment.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Because you’re stuck at LAX. And yes, I rented a car and I was still stuck at LAX because of the traffic trying to get crosstown to the Hollywood Bowl. LAX isn’t close to anywhere where most people want to go, but Union Station is (and Anaheim when it gets built).

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Classic mistake. Assuming that where you want to go is where most peopel want to go.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except for people attending business meeting being held at airport hotels who wants to go to LAX ( or any other airport? )

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    You’re kind of missing the point that its more difficult to get to Union Station for locals than it is to get to LAX.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Define “local”. If you define local as someone in Redondo Beach that may be true. For someone in Burbank or Pasadena not so much. The people in Burbank will be able to step off the train in Burbank

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    LA is 470 square miles. Local is a big area.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    can’t on one hand claim that things are “local” and then on the other claim that it’s a big place. If where you want to go is on the other side of the big place it’s not local.

    StevieB Reply:

    Public transportation from Metrolink and MTA converges on Union Station. To get to LAX you need to take a road and I do not have a car. The easiest way for me to get to LAX now would be a train to Union Station then the Airport Shuttle bus to LAX.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Why does everyone think that HSR will automatically mean everyone leaves their car at home and take a bus or light rail to catch a train?

    Man you guys are naive.

    thatbruce Reply:

    StevieB’s post was about people, including himself, who do not have a car at home, or who, for the sake of the argument, choose not to pay the airport parking fees.

    That puts them at the mercies of airport shuttles (pricey) or the existing public transportation system (bus and rail, cheaper), which in the case of LA, is centered around downtown LA and Union Station, not LAX.

    As for answering your question, the thing to remember is that access to a HSR service vs an airport in a given area isn’t exactly one of comparing two separate locations and their respective access. It is one of comparing a corridor of locations with a single location. For even fiercely car-centric proud Americans, the observed behavior has been to consider the train when the choice is available.

    Man you guys are naive.

    Ad hominem, false and irrelevant.

    Peter Reply:

    Why does everyone think that HSR will automatically mean everyone leaves their car at home and take a bus or light rail to catch a train?

    Man you guys are naive.

    We don’t, and we’re not. We recognize This Is America (TM). Hence the large amount of parking planned at HSR stations.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Oh, I get it. People want to go to LAX that must be why they put it where it is. You don’t consider that maybe people go to LAX because they don’t really have a choice?

    Tony d. Reply:

    Why not fly into Burbank?

    J. Wong Reply:

    There wasn’t anything available at a reasonable price.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    That’s because there isn’t any demand for it.

    Like I said, where you go isn’t where other people want to go.

    joe Reply:

    You have it ass backwards but don’t stop – you’re on a roll.

    A high price for a ticket indicates demand.

    Krugman’s silly economics textbook tells me prices are positively correlated with demand.

    Prices drop if the supply increases.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Prices drop if demand drops too. ( which can be seen as an increase in supply I suppose ) as we are all too often reminded these days

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Sorry Joe. High ticket prices can mean both high demand and low demand. High fares on full flights between congested markets can indicate high demand, but flights between small markets with low demand will have some of the highest air fares you will ever encounter – or no service at all.

    Jon Reply:

    Sadly, this is correct. I just flew SFO to Presque Isle, ME- $1254 for a return ticket, changing in Boston. I counted 10 people on the plane to Presque Isle.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    There is market demand for HSR. I know a lot of people that fly between NorCal and SoCal frequently and hate dealing with airlines. One of my former bosses hated flying but yet had to do it for the job. With HSR you don’t need reservations, you just go catch a train and be done with it. I see all the time where people are going bonkers trying to rearrange flights to catch an earlier or later flight. And then there’s the weather and delay factors.

    You also can’t ignore the fact that California today is not California of 2035. There’s going to be a lot of people making babies between now and then. Unless the world ends next year.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Eric, to some of these guys, the world of tomorrow will be exactly like the world of 1980. This despite clear evidence of strain on multiple fronts, energy being front and center of them all. That some would suggest building a more robust alternative seems like anathema to them. This behavior is really puzzling to me.

    Tony d. Reply:

    I hear you loud and clear Eric. And if a funding miracle occurs in the near future, I’m with you 100% on HSR. But unfortunately I don’t think the current vision will ever become reality. Simply put, its looking to expensive for most folks to stomach. I think its better now to focus on moving folks regionally than moving a relative few between NorCal and SoCal. Just my opinion.

    joe Reply:

    Why talk about moving on if it’s a done deal and hasn’t support? I think because you know that’s not the case, you just think HSR’s popularity will drop as people share your perspective so you push that expectation.

    Funding for HSR isn’t miraculous. CA has senior representatives who would take chair positions when Dems take over the house.

  10. Tom McNamara
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 12:27

    Robert conveniently left out the next paragraph of the news story:

    An Inquirer check of US Airways’ website Wednesday found the $118 fare ($140 with tax) was for passengers who stayed in Pittsburgh multiple nights. The $698 fare ($720 with taxes) was for nonstop flights within the same day: fly out in the morning and back at night.

    For travelers who stay one night, the fare dropped to $531 with taxes and fees, and was even lower for passengers who stayed multiple nights, or on a Saturday night.

    Predictably, the dollar amount gets the headline, and the backstory is ultimately obscured:

    Mr. Casey is up for re-election in less than a year, and he has to do well for the President to have a shot too at holding the Keystone State and the White House.

    Although no incumbent Republican officeholder has announced he or she will challenge Casey, the state will lose one of its seats in the House.

    Add to this the fact that one of those potential candidates is none other than John Mica’s right-hand-man, Bill Shuster (R-Altoona), Chairmen of the House Subcomittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

    Like Casey, Shuster’s Dad was also a famous politican and has great name recognition but within a district that he can’t really lose to a Democrat. Because his father is from Pittsburgh, he’s a natural fit to challenge Casey who is from East and because to win Pennsylvania Democrats have to carry Western Pennsylvania.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Good find Tom.

    joe Reply:

    The backstory is what? Ticket prices jump but if you want to stay away from home for several days over a weekend, not so bad.

    $531 with an overnight stay is not substantially cheaper. That’s adding a hotel room with meals. Can you see why they’re charging more for the day trip.

    The $140 stay a Saturday night has ALWAYS been the cheaper ticket. If my travel was casual and to see good old Aunt Lulu, I’d laugh at the headline. I often travel for work and the multiple day, Sat night stay over isn’t relevant. That’s a key target demographic for HSR.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Have you spot checked short notice, quick turnaround HSR tickets in Europe?

    Munich to Frankfurt ICE – Leaving December 12, returning the 13th is $244 Euro ($390 US) round trip.

    That’ll be cheap after the Euro implodes, but not until then.

    Of course, you could always take Lufthansa. Their round trip fare is $371 (US) right now.

    William Reply:

    This is called “Yield Management”, and that’s one way of running HSR trains, which, is also how airlines price their tickets. If HSR ticket is more expensive than airline ticket, which means that HSR must be very full, and indication of a very successful and popular HSR system.

    However, I would prefer CAHSR to adapt the fix ticket system Japanese adapt, i.e. there is a ticket price table and no matter how early or how late one buys ticket, it would be the same price. If one train is full, go buy the ticket for the next train.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Avoiding “yield management” strategies for CAHSR will be difficult. Travel is not going to uniform enough to allow a static table month to month. However, it might be possible to publish premium dates when prices fluctuate and then other days when its a set price.

    The premium days would be around long holidays and at the end of college breaks… otherwise I think at minimum there should be a standard fare for each ROUTE that doesn’t change within each day…..not because it makes money, but because it will help increase ridership…..

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Both Japan and Korea are happy with their fixed table systems. And they have holidays – Korea in particular has a huge peak around Korean New Year.

    Ironically, France, with its airline-grade yield management, is the country without big holiday peaks. To reduce traffic, the school holidays are staggered – some schools end 7/1, some end 7/2, etc.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    With Joe and Mary Taxpayer paying 100% of the capital cost for this thing, and for all I know, some continuing maintenance costs as well, I hope nobody thinks it’s OK to make it a “Premium Service”, and charge accordingly. If everybody’s paying for it, everybody should enjoy access. Maybe “everybody” will travel on slightly slower trains, with more stops, more seats, and less convenient departure and arrival times, but “everybody” should be able to ride for an affordable price.

    I think the Acela service crosses the line in this regard. It’s good the infrastructure is shared by regional trains, but still, much of the expensive high speed capability is paid for by the general taxpayer, and enjoyed by a well-off few.

    California is more populist and egalitarian than the east coast. People are going to expect a public railway to be open to the public. Better not play too many games with the fare structure.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Nobody in Germany pays your stawman “short notice, quick turnaround HSR tickets” prices.
    Anybody who travels more than a few times a year — ie anybody other than American tourists — travels for half price or way less.

    And nobody in Germany pays in US pesos other than American tourists — your currency conversion is completely irrelevant to their market. Are European rail operators supposed to lower their fares and cut their salaries and stop performing repairs because the USA‘s currency is devalued? Bizarre, just bizarre.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    That got you fired up. No more straw man than the example in on OP for PIT to PHL.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Much easier for the Anglophones to read direct them to the English page

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Thanks, that’s what I intended.

  11. Tony d.
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 13:25

    OT: can anyone recommend a website that promotes regional “HSR-light ” commuter rail for California? Not abandoning this site: excellent info and if a funding miracle occurs in the future I’ll be back on board with HSR. Just want to see how others are now thinking re an alternative to the current scheme.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That would be Richard Tolmach and others from the “old-fashioned” school of upgraded passenger rail.

    Spokker Reply:

    synonomomonmouse is right. TRAC is for you:

    Most newsletters address it but here is the most recent one. I don’t agree with the I-5 route but here is the information on it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Spokker

    I like what you have done with the handle, but too much typing for me.

    And thanx for the link to the new calrailnews issue – I hadn’t read it. I know that guvmint wastes a lot of money on “studies” but a cost-out of I-5 would provide a valuable barebones benchmark to compare to eminent domain Stilt-A-Rail thru the Valley. I’m pretty sure a private entrepreneur would look at it seriously.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    There is no such thing as HSR light. HSR competes with airline travel. It’s not meant to be an Amtrak-like system. It is meeting market demands for mid-range travel that competes with short haul flights. It doesn’t make sense to compare it to other types of train travel because most of those types of service don’t stand much chance of profitability from operation.

    Tony d. Reply:

    When I say HSR-light, I’m referring to regional commuter EMU service that could reach speeds between 125-150 MPH. Say upgraded ACE between SJ-Stockton, Caltrain between SJ-SF and Metrolink in Southland.

    Joey Reply:

    …regional commuter EMU service that could reach speeds between 125-150 MPH. Say upgraded ACE between SJ-Stockton…

    That constitutes a lot more than an upgrade…

    Tony d. Reply:

    Perhaps you’re right Joey, but it might cost a lot less than what’s currently planned in the CV (anyone know for sure?).

    synonymouse Reply:

    The route meandering thru Tehachapi is not competitive with air.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Only if you live at the airport and want to go to a hotel at the other airport.

    Emma Reply:

    Absolutely. I would like to know about that, too. I personally have always been in favor of building the LA-SD section before the LA-SF section because 2/3 of all Californians and probably more than 80% of all HSR riders live between the SD-LA section. There are far more large cities in between and I could totally see people commuting between Riverside – LA or Riverside – San Diego. But SF – LA? Unless it is for tourism, I don’t see any economic use of this route except for BNSF of course.

    Flying between SF and LA makes all the sense in the world.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    I’m with ya Emma. Start where you can make money.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Come to think of it with the grants and the $9 billion in seed money, I think you could come pretty close to paying for San Diego to Los Angeles. Bring in Desert Express and then decide if it’s worth connecting the fruits (with LA being the nuts) in NORCAL.

    Peter Reply:

    I thought all the nuts grew in the CV?

    William Reply:

    Well, it is one choice, but the chance that once LA-SD people got their HSR, and still support a full state system, is not very high. “I got mine, why do I care about other people get theirs?”

    Also, $6 Billion can buy more miles of track in Central Valley than in more urban areas, and create political pressure to complete the system. This is how House Representatives and and Senators save their local programs, and CAHSR needs every bit of Federal support it can get.

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    Who’s to say LA-SF won’t do the same?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    OT: can anyone recommend a website that promotes regional “HSR-light ” commuter rail for California? …
    Architecture 21


    Lastly, check out this petite trouvée spotted on the web site of the finest rail transportation planning company on the planet: Swiss Approach to California High Speed Rail:

    California faces the double challenge of satisfying the ever growing demand for mobility while bringing forth a sustainable transportation system. Rail has to play an important role. A rail transport system is integrated and complex. Its components require simultaneous and comprehensive management.

    SMA followed California’s plans closely and decided to support a thesis that applies our lean and rational planning approach to develop an attractive statewide rail system for California. This approach helped to realize huge improvements of Europe’s rail system (e.g. the Gotthard Base Tunnel, Rail 2000 in Switzerland, etc…) by reducing the required infrastructure and optimizing the rail service. The thesis comes to the conclusion, that California could build a better, more comprehensive network at a lower price.

    <a href=" the report’s executive summary

  12. morris brown
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 16:15


    Gaigiani speaks out against the LAO. Did you ghost write this for her Robert?

    joe Reply:

    Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton-area Democrat and author of the successful ballot proposition that authorized the bullet train, attacked the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which she called“unqualified to provide a comprehensive analysis of this complex project, which the state has been working on for 15 years.”

    Ouch, I thought the Legislature had the LAO’s back in this turf war.

    The LAO is a boot-licking partisan tool in a legislative political battle within the same political party.

  13. Elizabeth
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 17:24


    Staff recommendation is for hybrid option for Merced – Fresno

    Also, one press report said board meeting would be in Merced. Anyone know if that is true?

    thatbruce Reply:

    The estimated cost of the Hybrid Alternative is about $450 million less than the BNSF Alternative for the equivalent wye connection and over $1 billion less than the UPRR/SR 99 Alternative.


    Jarrett Reply:

    Hmm.. it looks like they moved the Merced station several blocks south from the original proposed location next to M street and the Downtown Transit Center. This is pathetic. While Merced isn’t the most transit oriented place, they at least identified the M street corridor as their principle transit corridor and have been adjusting land use accordingly. Should the station get built .5 miles to the south, this really throws a wrench into the mechanics of efficient and convenient local transit connections. Yet, the staff report has the audacity to say the new proposal aligns with local plans. Bleh. Must be a cost cutting measure.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Where else are you going to put all those parking garages?

    TOD, yeah right….

  14. Emma
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 21:10

    Well. Personally, I think we should use those $98 billion to fund research into flying cars. Once we get those, we will never have any issues with traffic congestion or highway expansions. The whole thing would be vertical. No friction causing potholes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Saving EIRs or whatever leaves you with a lot of history. If it sits on a shelf for ten years the environment has changed and you have to start from the beginning and do it all over again.

  15. Emma
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 21:37

    I wish we could use the $98 to expand public transit and commuter rail in all California cities instead of HSR. That would encourage ridership and create a network ready for an inter-city rail system that is provided and organized by the local government. All the state government should do is provide additional funding and stay out of the planning and construction plans.

    All-in-all, this project needs to start from scratch. Save the EIRs so that we spend less time on bureaucracy next time. That’s about all that is worth to save from this project.

  16. Donk
    Dec 1st, 2011 at 22:18

    Lawmaker insists California bullet train plan complies with law

    “Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton-area Democrat and author of the successful ballot proposition that authorized the bullet train, attacked the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which she called “unqualified to provide a comprehensive analysis of this complex project, which the state has been working on for 15 years.””

    Sobering Reality Reply:

    So she crafts what ammounts to a lie to get her initiative passed, gets caught then calls the messenger a liar. Funny.

    Peter Reply:

    Saying someone is unqualified to pass judgment is not the same as calling him a liar.

  17. Dan K
    Dec 2nd, 2011 at 03:04

    Anyone else notice that American has just filled Chapter 11? That makes pretty much all the us legacy carriers over the last decade. I think all those $20 connecting flights Sobering Reality talks about may have something to do with it. Airlines hate them, they are loss leaders to funnel people into profitable medium/long haul routes.

    American transport policy from here (UK) does look crazy. A couple of years ago i went to Santa Barabara with US friends. We flew to LAX and then spent 3 hours in a traffic jam. Our us friends flew from NY to LAX and were due on a connecting flight to Santa Barbara airport that shouldn’t exist (80 mile flight?!). The flight was cancelled and they spent 3 hours in a traffic jam. In a sane world there would have been a regular 45 min train ride.

    As an aside i’m literally packing to hop on a train from London to Bruges (change at Brussels) for a weekend break. We’ll be leaving our flat 40 mins before the train is due to leave St Pancras and arrive a 3 minute cab ride from the hotel. I didn’t bother checking any flights.

    Donk Reply:

    There is train from LA to Santa Barbara. But it takes 2 hrs, and you first have to get to Union Station, via 40 minute flyaway bus. So the trip would take around 3 hours by train as well, assuming you catch your train on time.

    dan k Reply:

    Yes i realise a train exists.. but as you point out it’s rubbish, runs twice a day and moves at 20mph. Looking at the geography LAX to santa barabara should take an hour or so with maybe one change and run every 30 mins. But then it seems moving people quickly and efficiently comes second to “Freedom ® ”

    Plus no wonder americans hate trains when the roll through towns slowly honking their horns and shutting down all the roads.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Filing for bankruptcy allows the company to turn the page and start again as a “new” company with none of the legacy obligations of the “old” one regarding benefits and pension plans.

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