Intercity Trains: How Good Do Connections Need to Be?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we return to the question of connectivity — or, to translate it out of transpo jargon, how to get there from here.

The Transport Politic looks at one of the objections to high-speed rail: that people won’t want to ride it because when they arrive at their destination, transit connections are insufficient or entirely absent. He points out that if you make the comparison to airports, even transit-impaired downtown rail stations have an advantage:

3521566573_c51fc41fb5.jpgMeridian, Mississippi, has invested heavily in its downtown rail station, and is hoping high-speed trains will bring more business to its walkable downtown. Photo by Sarah Goodyear.

Do commuters need good transit at stations to be attracted
to riding intercity trains? Few U.S. airports have efficient transit
connections, and even those that do typically see few of their
customers arriving by train or bus. Yet people who want to fly make it
to the airport by car.…

More important, though, is the fact that many high-speed rail users,
especially businesspeople, will be aiming their travel towards a
destination within walking distance or a short taxi ride of
the station. Unlike airports, which are by definition completely
inaccessible by pedestrians, train stations can be positioned
underneath major cities and provide direct access to the job centers.
Unlike automobilists, who encounter congestion and high parking fees
downtown, train users get reliable, non-stop connections into the focal
points of major cities.

Rail opponents frequently like to point out that sprawl has reshaped
the American landscape to such an extent that they argue it would be
ineffective to focus the benefits of train travel at the center of
town. But they usually neglect to mention the fact that in almost all
metropolitan areas, the single largest employment zone remains downtown — and it is usually the only walkable one. Similarly, for better or
worse, U.S. cities from coast to coast have invested massively in new
convention centers, sports arenas, museums, parks, and entertainment
corridors over the past three decades — and the vast majority of that
spending has been downtown, near centrally positioned train stations.
For businesspeople and tourists, there will be a significant incentive
to choose rail over air or automobile travel for convenience’s sake.

This post reminded me of my trip last spring to Meridian, Mississippi, where the city’s then-mayor, John Robert Smith, showed me around the downtown. Since the rebuilding of Meridian’s historic train station as a multi-modal transit center (Greyhound and taxis also use it as a hub), the eminently walkable downtown area has been cleaned up and revitalized. Smith hopes that Meridian, which is an important regional commercial hub, will be a stop on the high-speed corridor between Atlanta and New Orleans.

More from the network: Bike Portland has an in-depth look at one of the city’s bike boulevard projects. The City Fix reports on China’s tightening grip on the minerals necessary to make hybrid cars like the Prius. And MetroRider LA wraps up its excellent series on ten top transportation and planning blogs.

  • Red

    Yes, and even if the destination is not within walking distance, it’s far more likely than you can get there with a $10 cab ride instead of the $40 trip from the airport.

  • Another way to maximize the value of investing in high-speed rail is to integrate it with our existing airport infrastructure. I have a longer description of this idea here:
    http://bit.ly/Ub1Sv

  • clever-title

    Also, there’s a good chance of an “if you build it, they will come” effect if more passengers use a train station. In NYC, NY Waterway provides several free bus routes around Manhattan, as their terminal is at the edge of the city (of course). A for-profit jitney bus service is possible if there are enough passengers. Even simpler, the city can simply reduce the restriction on the number of taxis.

  • mrek

    There are exceptions to everything. Burbank airport in the LA area is walkable to several nearby hotels and a train station, but except for the highest priced brands is a shuttle ride from rental cars. The train station has Amtrak and local commute train service at fairly frequent intervals (except mid-morning); a ticket from the machine can be used for the 20-30 minute ride to downtown LA on either line and serves as a transfer to most transit at the downtown end (shuttles, subway, etc.). Agree though that more typical airports are walkable only to the bus stops and taxi stands, if that. And also agree (look at what the Europeans are doing) that HSR needs to stop at BOTH downtown and the airport(s) – downtown stations will never have parking to support access (by car; transit doesn’t do this) with luggage, but airports do, and for the foreseeable future trips beyond HSR range (say, over 500 miles) will continue to be mostly by air so the transfer has to be convenient.

  • BOB2

    Connectivity and effective regional transit, regional rail, and corridor services are vital to making any proposed high speed systems work. Integration of these systems allows for greater flexibility and coverage by such systems. California’s “ultra” high speed system, with its fixation on maximum acheivable speed, is not building an such an integrated rail passenger system. The CHSRA is a program that threatens to become a cosstly and ineffective boondoggle, as a result. It threatens to take limited funds away from far more cost effective and environmentally beneficial investments in regional transit and reginal rail services. The poor planning and bloated design of the “ultra” high speed system in California, seems more designed to maximize the number of contracts that can be given to insiders, than to create and effective and useful high speed passenger rail system.

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