One of the common criticisms of high speed rail is that "nobody will ride it, Americans are too wedded to their cars and to their planes." But Amtrak's Acela train, a sort-of high speed train that serves the Northeast Corridor from DC to Boston, has recently increased its share of the travel market on the Northeast Corridor - from 36% in 2006 to 41% in 2007. That's a 5% bite out of air travel, along the nation's busiest air corridor.
(H/T to The Overhead Wire)
And that’s for a service that isn’t really HSR. Acela is a modern intercity train with a few high speed segments. The Acela is designed for 150 mph, but can only attain that speed in a few areas, thanks to aging overhead wiring. The CAHSR system would smoke Acela, by perhaps as much as 100 mph.
Wired Magazine explains some of the reasons for Acela's growing success:
The Acela is fast -- Hop on the train at Boston's South Station and you'll find yourself pulling into New York Penn three and a half hours later. Sure, flight time on the route is just under an hour, but add transportation to and from the airport, security screening, and waiting on the runway, and you could be looking at four hours or more.
You can get some work done -- On the Acela, you can use your cellphone (and service is decent for most of the trip), there are power ports at every seat, and you can start up your laptop without waiting for a flight attendant to tell you that the use of approved electronic devices is now permitted.
It's cheaper -- A roundtrip flight between NYC and Boston will run you between $350 to $425. The Acela will put you out $204, $325 if you upgrade to first class.
You might actually get there on time -- According to Amtrak, the Acela ran on time 73 percent of the time in 2007. Not great, but not horrible considering that Boston to LaGuardia flights scored a 67 percent on time record; Boston to JFK 61 percent; and Boston to Newark, a dismal 51 percent. If you're flying to New York, make sure you bring a book. If you're going to Newark, bring two.
Tasty snacks -- On the Acela, you have the option to scarf down braised short ribs with cheesy grits, four-cheese lasagna, pancakes or a variety of other culinary delights. The airlines certainly can't compete with that (though you do get free booze on the shuttle).
All these things hold true here in California, where HSR on the LA-SF route would be a very compelling attraction for travelers, for exactly these reasons. Leaving aside the concerns about sustainability, energy, and the environment, HSR is simply a better way to travel.
HSR demand is there. If we build it, they will come.