Sunday, August 19, 2007

We should double frequencies on every long-distance route out of Chicago

Chicago is a hub of long-distance (usually overnight) trains, spreading to the East Coast, West Coast and the South. It's a great asset for the entire Midwest.

The trouble is, none of these long-distance trains travel more than once a day in each direction.
So, if the 3:30 pm departure (for example) isn't convenient, tough luck. That's the only one.

This is a significant problem for Chicago travelers, but for those cities 300-800 miles away, it is a disaster. Why? Schedules on the graveyard shift.

Consider Cleveland. Until a few months ago, there has been no Amtrak service during the day in the city (and in fact the entire state as All Aboard Ohio has documented very well). Who wants to get on a train at 3 am? The fact that ridership from Cleveland has been greater than zero shows how much people want trains.

Amtrak recently adjusted the Chicago - New York City trip (called the Lake Shore Limited), so now the eastbound trains leaves Cleveland at 7 am instead of 3 am. That's a reasonable time, so, as this Plain Dealer article titled "Clevelanders enjoy boarding an Amtrak train in daylight" by Debbi Snook explains, ridership has risen.

There should be reasonable, daylight service for every city in the United States along the long-distance lines. It's impossible to do that with one daily train with a trip that lasts longer than 12 hours. If we arrange the Amtrak schedule to put some cities in daylight, we'll leave others out.

The answer is to run more trains, spaced 8 or 10 or 12 hours apart. We need to double frequency on our long-distance trains.

Keep in mind, many of these long-distance trains sell out (particularly in the summer). There's strong and growing demand for train service. We should meet this demand with more reasonable schedules by doubling frequencies.

It has worked like a charm in Illinois for state-supported service. Ridership is skyrocketing since service doubled October 30, 2006. It will also work for the long-distance trains.


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