Friday, November 17, 2006

The Airline Industry, Following Detroit Down the Tube

It’s 200 miles from Washington to New York. A high-speed, Bullet-train, at 200mph, would make the trip, city-center to city-center in something approaching an hour and twenty minutes (figuring the get-up-to-speed and the slow-down times).

Economyclassseating_1 Well, the poor dears—they’re all going broke.
Jammed into my five-abreast seating, legs going to sleep, un-fed and un-watered as a cow being shipped to slaughter, I’m supposed to give a damn. $500 to Prague from Chicago and twice that from Chicago to Seattle, both tickets on the same airline. How does that make any sense?  I sit between fellow-sufferers who may have paid half (or twice) what I did. We each get the same screaming child three rows down, no matter the price of the ticket and who can blame the poor kid? I would scream as well, but an air-marshall might drag me off when we finally land.
This is the misery we have come to call plane-travel. Pardon me all to hell if I don’t shed a tear at the impending demise of various airlines. USAir is trying to swallow Delta to become the world’s largest airline. Will that enhance service, improve maintenance, bring back decent wages or assure pension and health plans? Not on your life. It’ll be a stockholders’ bonanza and a further erosion of passenger service.
Airlinesecurity It’s long past time for plain-talk about plane-travel. It just does not make sense as a business model and the sooner they all go broke, the sooner logic will take over (in place of government-subsidized hysteria) and we can all go back to getting from point A to point B in some sort of comfort and dignity. Airplanes are the least efficient choice for trips of less than 1,000 miles. They cost too much, take too long, are disrupted by weather and scheduling and are just plain damnably inhuman environments.
Trains are the answer, although there’s hardly anyone alive who remembers the golden days of train-travel in the middle of the last century.
The New York to Washington shuttle is as good an example as can be found. It’s an hour flight. Wow—New York to the nation’s capital in an hour—ain’t life grand? Except for the fact that New York to Washington is not where the flights actually go. They actually take off from an airport an hour’s cab ride (far more in rush-hour) from downtown Manhattan and they land at an airport a 45-minute cab ride (far more in rush-hour) outside of Washington.
That ‘one hour shuttle’ on Delta Airlines ran an hour and nineteen minutes late in September, every single day, one hundred percent of the time. Given the possibility of traffic-delays and the intricacies of constantly changing boarding procedures, it’s impossible not to plan getting to the airport at least an hour ahead of takeoff.
So, let’s see. That ‘hour flight’ now takes two additional hours on the takeoff end, an hour and nineteen minutes delay due to various runway and servicing backups, an actual hour of flight and another forty-five minutes cab ride into Washington. Elapsed time for an hour’s flight, close to five hours.
Bullettrain It’s 200 miles from Washington to New York. A high-speed, Bullet-train, at 200mph, would make the trip, city-center to city-center in something approaching an hour and twenty minutes (figuring the get-up-to-speed and the slow-down times).
But we don’t have Bullet-trains. There’s not only no high-speed rail from New York to Washington, it doesn’t exist Denver to Los Angeles, Chicago-Cleveland or Houston-Tampa either. The distance from Chicago to New York is roughly 900 miles and passes through Cleveland, Pittsburg and Philadelphia—all of which are likely passenger destinations. A Bullet-train, stopping at each city, would reach New York about six hours after having left Chicago.
But there are school-bus crossings and bad track and conflict with slow freight-trains to worry about.
Not so. Not if the already paid-for, already available rights-of-way between the downtowns of America’s major (and minor) cities are used. These are called the Interstate Highway System. Dwight Eisenhower built 'em, back in the fifties. There stands not a single grade-crossing between New York and Los Angeles. Yeah, it’s a big undertaking for either private industry or government.
I happen to prefer government, no matter that I want them out of most of the stuff they’re in, because rail and air and highways are public transportation in the best sense of the word. But they'd probably screw it up.
RichardbransonbookRail will come again to America; light-rail within the cities and high-speed rail for intra-city transport and it won’t come because bleeding-heart liberals think it’s a good choice. It will come when we get tired of taking off our shoes to go someplace and weary of the five hours air-travel requires of a 53-minute flight.
When American Airlines and Amtrak both go down the tubes, perhaps someone with the vision of Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson will invent a ‘transportation company.’ It will bid on rail routes across our Interstate highways, lease light-rail to American cities and provide air service to those places it makes sense to fly. Such companies wouldn’t poison the well for one another, profiting instead on getting people places in comfort, on time and with a reasonable chance of arriving relaxed.
That model once existed. It was called a railroad.
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Commentary in the newspapers;