A decade or so ago, airlines were the dominant players in the Northeast Corridor transportation market. However, today air travel suffers from high fares, frequent delays, and time-consuming airport security checks; meanwhile, Amtrak offers its Acela premium service, on-line ticketing, and, importantly, workstation access; the result has been to tip the market share in favor of Amtrak’s trains, according to Ron Nixon’s reporting in The New York Times (August 16). Amtrak reports that now 75% of travelers between New York and Washington choose the train; in 2000, before Acela and post-9-11 airport security, the rail carrier had only one-third of the market. Between New York and Boston, bolstered by electrification of the rail line east of New Haven and the same disincentives to fly, Amtrak’s share grew from 20 to 54%. The high usage is causing the infrastructure to fray, however; most days, Northeast Corridor trains are full, and some rolling stock is pushing the 30-year-old mark. Amtrak estimates that demand could increase by a factor of four by 2040. Amtrak improvements are stuck in Congress, like almost everything else; meanwhile, cheap buses have had an impact, with their $1-to-$40 pricing and wireless access attracting riders despite somewhat longer travel times. Airlines fight back with brand-loyalty programs, noting that while trains and buses can compete over a few hundred miles, “The train can’t take you to South Africa.”
The Lackawanna Coalition supports infrastructure investments that will enable all Northeast Corridor service providers, including Amtrak and NJ Transit, to meet the increasing rider demands in the future.