Happy New Year
Sorry for the hiatus—it is a long story. The main thing is that we are back for 2024.
Rail travel over the New Year’s holiday got off to an awful start in Europe. A rail tunnel under the Thames flooded on December 30, canceling all Eurostar trips and stranding travelers in London and Pairs without recourse to get where they were going for New Year’s Eve. This was a relatively short tunnel on the British side, not the Chunnel, but enough to halt Eurostar along with lots of local traffic. And for some reason, the Brits did not (maybe could not) re-route trains over conventional tracks between London and Ashford. Airlines have no monopoly on holiday-season screw-ups: Rail systems look at airline meltdowns and say, “Yeah, we can do that, too.” Supposedly, service resumes Tuesday.
As long as I am in Europe, I will add another tidbit. As you probably know, the Summer Olympic Games are scheduled in Paris from July 26 to August 11. You also understand that heading anywhere near a scheduled mega event is always a bad idea—unless you are attending or participating—but the Paris authorities are pulling a new one, at least to me. They are doubling Metro fares during the Olympics and the following Paralympics, through September 8, supposedly with “protections” for locals. As far back as ancient Greece, hotels and restaurants have put in the gouge during the Olympics, but this is the first I remember of public transit. Ah, the lasting power of a bad idea.
Last year, my New Year bulletin stated: “This year, we will again experience the tremendous time lag involved in big rail projects. Long-haul, regional, and urban rail transport have lots of government money, but you will not see many concrete results. Instead, you’ll get plans, studies, engineering, and maybe some actual work.” Please tell me you are not surprised I can repeat the same this year.
New for 2024
I do not expect news in 2024 to live up to recent year’s Brightline Orlando expansion, London Crossrail, New York Grand Central Madison, San Francisco Central Subway, or Honolulu Metro that does not go anywhere visitors are likely to go. For Amtrak, at best, we can finally expect to start short trips between New Orleans and Mobile, and maybe even New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Caltrain will finally begin electrifying service—about 100 years late, but who is counting? I expect whatever other action you see will be extensions of light rail lines nationwide and in Canada.
Moving slowly is in Amtrak’s DNA, whether it is in train speeds or the speed of new developments. Take the proposed second daily Chicago-Minneapolis train as an example. The service has already gleaned support from the states and the feds. Amtrak’s ability to add new services is often slowed by the need to upgrade freight tracks to passenger standards. But the Chicago-Minneapolis track already carries the Empire Builder. A second train could be added in days, not years.
Free Public Transit
One exciting development worth watching is the idea of free public transit. Several areas are experimenting with the concept that subsidizing free transit is a beneficial use of public funds. For now, the most significant move is by SMART, the local system in California’s North Bay, which will offer free travel to youth aged 18 and younger and seniors 65 and over starting in April.
New In Europe
You will see many more open-access high-speed cross-border and local services in Europe. France is evaluating another exciting wrinkle—new conventional fast, but not high-speed, trains at reduced fares.
If it is happening in rail travel, you can read about it here.
— Ed Perkins, editor
For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel