Long Distance Night Trains
Long-distance night trains represent America, connecting cities and distant rural areas, serving higher-ticket tourists and budget-minded commuters, and uniting elected leaders of every political persuasion.
They are highly productive, cost-effectively bundling together many routes and travel markets.
We believe long-distance night trains can be the foundation for improving and expanding our entire national rail network.
The current conversation around night trains focuses on saving what’s left, rather than on expanding and improving a dynamic, high-value service.
A faulty assumption held by rail planners is the “three-hour rule,” which assumes travelers will choose to fly for trips over three hours. This is often expressed as the "100-300 mile sweet spot" for trains.
In fact, trains are fast, convenient and affordable – at any distance.
To illustrate the concept, let’s examine the 2,265 mile corridor between Chicago and Los Angeles. Because it makes 31 intermediate stops, it serves 528 different city pairs.
The Southwest Chief route has just one train a day in each direction, yet it attracted 355,000 passengers in 2012—466 per departure.
Passenger trips range from a short 40 miles to a long 2,265 miles and everything in between. People traveling all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles account for only 8% of the riders – but 20% of the revenue.
83% of long-distance train passengers choose coach. But the 17% that choose a bedroom provide 44% of the revenue, which makes these trains possible.
It's a win-win for everyone. Bedrooms offer a huge advantage over driving because travelers are still moving even when they are sleeping. And coach passengers benefit from affordable fares.
The High Speed Rail Alliance believes in a visionary federal policy to expand networks and service throughout the country.
Night trains are one of the cost-effective tools we have to build an integrated national network.
We need to change the language from cost burdens to acquisition of new state-of-the-art trains and track, improvements in on-time performance and expansion of service.
Better tracks – Amtrak has fought with its most important vendors, the class 1 railroads, about on-time performance for decades. A better approach would be to jointly identify small track and signal fixes that will benefit both passenger and freight. Then, jointly ask Congress to fund them.
More Daily Departures – When there is just one train a day, some stations are forced to get dark of the night service. At least two trains a day are needed to ensure everyone has daytime service. Spacing the two departures 8 hours apart makes maximum use of existing station employees.
State-of-the-art trains – Amtrak's night trains are old and past their useful life. New trainsets would reduce operating costs, attract more riders and improve on-time performance. They could even be designed to tilt around turns, cutting trip times without building new tracks.
Resources on the benefits of night trains to riders, communities and policymakers.
- “Long Distance Trains - A Foundation for National Mobility” includes more ideas for how we can improve the network.
- Our August 2004 and 2002 special edition newsletters speak to this topic
- New NightJet trains for Austria show what modern night trains can be
- Residents of Edinburgh and London in the U.K. embrace night trains’ convenience and cost-effectiveness