Making Night Trains Work
Night trains form the foundation of the national passenger train network. Their unique capabilities allow them to connect congested urban areas and bring economically viable mobility to rural areas and small towns, many of which are becoming more isolated from major cities as regional airline and intercity bus service disappears.
The time has come to transform the nation’s cross country network from a neglected, barebones operation into a robust and thriving mobility machine. It will require investments in three key areas:
Lengthen trains, increase frequencies and fill gaps in the national intercity network to create a comprehensive web of routes that provides convenient connectivity at major hubs.
Frequently sold-out trains indicate that the demand exists to justify greater capacity.
Additional frequencies would make the train more time-competitive with driving, especially for the majority of travelers who use these routes to make shorter trips; allow daytime service in every community served; increase labor productivity both in stations and on board the train; improve asset utilization, drive economies of scale and raise farebox recovery. Experience demonstrates that higher frequencies attract more passengers and generate greater revenue.
The linear nature of the current national network makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make many trips by train. A quick look at a map of the current network shows how few cities have routes in multiple directions. New routes would close gaps, creating a true, web-like system that would provide direct service in many more major city pair markets.
Make track, signal and station improvements that decrease trip times and improve on-time performance.
Speed and especially punctuality are important to virtually all passengers, including those making long trips. Take, for example, business travelers, a market segment likely to choose the premium priced sleeping car service that generates a disproportionate amount of revenue. The 780 mile corridor between Chicago and Washington, DC currently has only one train a day. It leaves Chicago at 6:10 PM and arrives in Washington at 12:40 PM the next day, too late for the business traveler to conduct a full day of business in Washington.32 Boosting the average speed just 20 miles an hour would cut trip time to 12 hours, making possible a 7:00 PM departure with an 8:00 AM arrival. Such a schedule in this and many other markets would be attractive to business travelers who want to avoid the airline experience and the cost of a hotel room. Reliability and speed will also drive increased labor productivity, reduced operating costs, greater asset utilization and higher revenue by tapping new markets.
Procure high-performance, modern equipment suitable for overnight and longer distance trips.
Modern equipment will provide the capacity needed to accommodate current demand, attract new passengers, increase revenue, reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and increase farebox recovery. New equipment is the prerequisite for all initiatives to improve service, add routes, and offer more frequent service on existing routes.
An interconnected network of passenger trains with modern equipment, dependable service, attractive stations and affordable fares would restore meaningful mobility choice to a large number of citizens for a wide variety of trips. With routes offering multiple frequencies radiating in different directions, a network built on the foundation of sleeper routes can revitalize metropolitan areas by making them easily accessible from many points. A web of railroad routes converging in urban cores would create gateways to other routes and other modes, and generate vibrant centers of economic and social activity. It would give the citizens of the world’s greatest democracy better access to jobs, economic opportunity, education and vital cultural resources. People with such choices would have the opportunities and quality of life Americans deserve. The need is great. The time to start is now.