Yglesias Smackdown

A railroad journalist emails in to say I’m wrong to think that doing upgrades to the existing Northeast Corridor should be a priority use of HSR funds. He makes the point that the lowest hanging fruit on the NEC has already been picked. Instead:

By contrast, look at some other corridors in the country. Chicago-Minneapolis and Chicago-Indianapolis both have one train each way daily, long distance trains that often run late. Chicago-Indy is so slow that nobody who actually wants to get somewhere in any kind of a decent timeframe will ride the train; the track is just really poor. Between Chicago and the Twin Cities, they add at least a couple coaches to the Builder for that stretch, but it’s still sold out every day during the summer. For chump change, you could add a second daily train between Chicago and the Twin Cities, and you’d pick up a ton of riders because you’re offering some schedule flexibility. Right now, if I want to take the train to the Cities, I have to be back on the eastbound around 7 a.m. at St. Paul; truly a pain if I want to spend the weekend with friends or family. Give me an evening departure, and I’ll start riding instead of driving. You don’t even need to run it at 100 mph; the existing 79 will do just fine. But with just one departure daily, it isn’t practical.

That makes a ton of sense. With a limited amount of money initially available, you’ll get the most done by identifying a couple of routes where demand seems plausible but where the existing service stinks. Then relatively modest upgrades might do a lot to help people and build passenger volume. That, in turn, broadens the political support for more funding in years to come.

Incidentally, just to show that if nothing else this is an administration that takes its graphic design seriously, today’s HSR announcement comes with a new and more attractive version of the Department of Transportation’s old map of proposed HSR corridors:

Impressive. I also like the ghostly non-HSR passenger routes.