Declining Hubs: A Good Location for Experimenting with High Speed Rail

I stumbled recently on a page in listing seven airports in America that are declining in their status as hubs, and it is interesting that they seem to be concentrated in one region: the area between the Great Plains and the Appalachians.  Three of them are in Ohio [actually the Cincinnati airport is in Kentucky, but the main portion of the city is in Ohio] one is not too far from Ohio [Pittsburgh] and two are in Missouri. These are also places that tend to be overlooked by meeting planners of the kind of conferences I attend; most of my American domestic travel is related to conferences in some way.  As a matter of fact, I have never been to Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, or Memphis ever!  Large cities that are not mentioned on this list are Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Birmingham; of these, I have never seen Louisville or Birmingham.  Perhaps they were never hubs; or it’s possible that Nashville, being the third media and publishing city in America after New York and Los Angeles, sustains its own traffic.

It occurs to me that it might be practical to connect these cities by high speed rail to the active hubs of Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta Hartsfield, and DFW, and to each other.  They are spaced less than 300 miles apart for the most part, and the territory between them is either flat or the hills are not that high and don’t pose a major obstacle.  The longest distances are Chicago to Cleveland at 343 miles, and Detroit is about 60 miles off a direct route; and Memphis to DFW at 475 miles, which is long but would at least give access to Little Rock and Texarkana as well.

There is a certain political appeal to a plan like this, too; Missouri, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania are swing states, the classic Purple States.  [Missouri less so now, and Ohio more, than in the old days.]

I was for the California high speed rail, in concept; but the two major clusters of population in the state are not only 400 miles apart but walled off by rough mountains from the major flat part of the state.  The third center of population occupies the east side of the flat part: the western half of the Central Valley, and the high hills to the west of it, are remarkably almost uninhabited for being located in America’s most populous state between two of America’s largest metropolitan areas!  Those who seek to duplicate my San Andreas Fault trip will notice this; so will anyone who uses the I-5 route between the two cities.  The eastern side of the Valley, however, has enough population to support three Amtrak trains a day into Oakland; but south of Bakersfield the tracks crossing the barriers of the Tehachapi are of such poor quality that those going on to Southern California pile on to Amtrak provide buses to go to Union Station!

It now seems that they are going to build the first link of the High Speed Rail between Fresno and Bakersfield. I can’t help but wonder what reasons Fresnans would have for visiting Bakersfield, or Bakersfieldians for visiting Fresno; perhaps the Fresnans would like to hear some good country music, or the Bakersfieldians to have a good meal of lavosh and lahmajoun or whatever.  Anyhow, they will have to price the tickets too low to pay off the costs of the construction, for the region, by some standards, is as poor as Appalachia.

I confess I don’t know what is to be done about California high speed rail at this point.  It was a case of (a) I hate the bloody airlines and all the security, and (b) the Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese have high speed rail and so why can’t we?  Of course, it could be argued that the USA is not entirely a First World, Western nation; leave off the top 20 percent, and our standard of living is lower than Canada, the Netherlands, or the Nordic countries.  In some ways, however, I think the positioning of the United States with one foot in the New West [Canada and Northern Europe], a second in Latin America, and a third in Asia, is an asset to our country going forward, and one we should take advantage of.

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