Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Crawling Crescent

Although none of Amtrak's long-distance routes wins awards for on-time arrivals or departures, one train--the Crescent operating between New York and New Orleans (20 Northbound, 19 Southbound)--used to perform fairly well, rarely arriving more than an hour late into my hometown. But Katrina changed all that. Once Amtrak restored service to New Orleans, the Crescent's delays became mind-boggling. On a good day, the train arrived three or four hours late; on a bad day, it might be 9 or 12. And on really bad days, the train never arrived. One explanation for this is that freight service transporting materials to rebuild the Big Easy combined with regular freight service to create chronic congestion. Another possible explanation--though one I haven't confirmed--is that the rails haven't been completely repaired, meaning that trains must travel much more slowly over them--to avoid both derailment and injuries to workers repairing the lines.

Recently the delays have become less preposterous. But today I read that a CSX train derailed north of Meridian, Mississippi, forcing Amtrak to cancel the Crescent between New Orleans and Atlanta. When the Crescent originates in Atlanta (as it did in the days following Katrina, before full service was restored), it typically arrives ontime to its destinations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Some rail critics, armed with information like this, argue that all train service should become regional. I disagree with this position and will explain why in a future post.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick said...

Could a set of regional train services also operate national routes? Europe does something like this. Each country has its own train company but the companies can operate, sometimes jointly, on multi-country overnight routes.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

hmmm...that's reminding me a lot of how trains and railways used to operate in the US before the Amtrak takeover of rail companies in the early 1970s.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Phlip said...

A Chinese friend was asking me today why we don't have a better developed (nationwide) passenger rail system. I said because way back when, we invested in highways in deference to the automobile industry. I guess there's more to this story? What was it like before Amtrak? I always thought of passenger rail as an East Coast-only thing.

9:43 PM  

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