The Brookings Institution has released a report today showing that the nation's busiest air routes are growing more congested over time, a condition almost certain to worsen once the economy recovers. And the second busiest corridor in the entire nation is Los Angeles to San Francisco (second only two Miami/Ft. Lauderdale to New York), with one of the main airports in that corridor, SFO, experiencing "worse than average delays."
As even the Wall Street Journal realizes, this is a call for high speed rail:
The Brookings report recommends that these air-travel statistics be used to prioritize investment in high-speed rail. At 400 miles or less, high-speed rail can been air travel in time, typically with less pollution. That makes Los Angeles-San Francisco, Las Vegas-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Phoenix and Dallas-Houston the most likely candidates for high-speed rail, in that order.
More than 6 million people fly between the Los Angeles basin and San Francisco Bay per year, the study said. In the northeast corridor, Amtrak carried 11.7 million people on Acela and Northeast Regional lines in fiscal 2008, hitting 14 metropolitan areas. The Amtrak ridership suggests high-speed rail would be viable in out busiest air corridors, the study concluded.
This study dovetails with numerous other studies, including not just that of the CHSRA's consultants, but that of SNCF as well, which show the LA-SF corridor as an ideal spot to build high speed rail. We've already seen HSR have stunning success on other busy air corridors: from the AVE on the Madrid-Barcelona corridor, long one of the world's busiest air corridors; to the Acela, which had 40% of the market share of the Northeast Corridor in March 2008. There is every reason to believe HSR will have similar success here in California, especially since it will link the city centers - i.e. the job and business centers - of the state, from SF's Financial District to San José's own growing downtown, to downtown LA and the hub of the city's growing mass transit system.
Every time we discuss HSR and air travel, we usually have to explain yet again the reasons why HSR almost always thrives in competition with airlines on busy corridors. Especially here in California, where people usually say "but I can get a ticket on Southwest to LA right now for $49! why would I take your stupid train?"
And as usual we explain patiently that when you combine total travel time - door to door, including getting to the non-centrally located airport, airport security, time on the runway, and getting from the non-centrally located airport to your final destination, you're about on par with the door to door travel time of HSR. We also explain that Southwest won't be able to offer those fares for much longer - they locked in their fuel costs at $55/bbl through the use of complex fuel hedges that will soon expire and leave them vulnerable to rising oil prices.
Which, we should add, must never be forgotten. Earlier this week Deutsche Bank predicted $175/bbl by 2016 (mark my words: it will happen well before that date) and that such a price rise will "put the final nail in oil's coffin." The key is what happens here in the USA:
US demand is the key. It is the last market-priced, oil inefficient, major oil consumer. We believe Obama’s environmental agenda, the bankruptcy of the US auto industry, the war in Iraq, and global oil supply challenges have dovetailed to spell the end of the oil era.
Deutsche Bank's analysis assumes that electric cars will radically change how we use oil in this country. I hope it does. But electric cars are no substitute for oil-fueled jets for getting people from LA to SF and vice versa. We need electric cars AND electric trains, both for local and statewide travel.
California is poised to lead the path forward. We will use high speed rail to unshackle ourselves from a failing and suicidal dependence on oil, and produce a sustainable economic prosperity, shared broadly, for the remainder of this century.