Another Reason for Rail October 25th, 1995
– Bill Lindley
In 11 August’s USA Today, a cover story appeared titled “Airline service bailout grounds midsized cities.” The article detailed how the airline industry is concentrating on its strongest segments, while smaller cities see theirÂ air service reduced from jets to commuter planes, or eliminated altogether. Airlines are delaying the purchase of new jets, and putting their existing jet fleets where they make the most money. For instance, according to the article, “American Airlines has eliminated jet service to 29 cities since 1992, replacing it with American Eagle commuter service… But most frequent travelers complain about the noisier, less spacious commuter plans that have a reputation — disputed — for being less safe than jets.”
Dozens of cities are subsidizing air service to keep the airlines in town: “Amarillo pays $1.2 million a year to American Airlines for three jet flights daily to Dallas-Fort Worth. The money comes from a 1/2 cent sales tax.” Meanwhile, the capital cities of Trenton, New Jersey and Salem, Oregon have lost all air service since 1991.
As airlines diminish or abandon their roles in such cities, the transportation needs of the citizens must be met by other modes. Readers of this newsletter will note, Trenton is well served by Amtrak’s Northeast corridor services, while the state of Oregon has been funding additional passenger rail services. The ability to serve smaller cities and towns is one of the rail mode’s strong points. Indeed, it is because of the railroad that many of these communities exist today.
Airlines are continuing their struggle to regain profitability, in spite of government owned and operated airports and the totally federally subsidized air traffic control system; the passenger rail transportation in this country is also in upheaval. Is there not a way to balance the advantages of all modes? Airlines seem to have discovered it is not economical for them to serve small cities: this is where trains excel. Yet for long distances, business travelers demand speed: this is where airplanes excel. For flexibility, automobiles and buses are best, although congestion, urban sprawl, and communities where it is impossible to walk anywhere have resulted from the elevation of the automobile above all else.
Transportation in this country should take advantage of the capabilities of each mode and ensure they are integrated into one system. Perhaps current events are already moving us toward a balanced system. I hope that our government, through its trust funds, subsidies, and regulations, will speed, not inhibit, the creation of a balanced transportation system.