The ability of passenger rail services and equipment to be introduced onto existing railroad track systems, with little or no construction required, makes efficient use of railroad facilities and rights of way at relatively low expense. When passenger rail services can secure relatively direct easily accessible routes along existing railroad tracks, efficient use of the rails can be achieved, as long as other aspects of operation are not diminished or compromised. Any efficiencies achieved by passenger rail services’ use of railroad tracks and rights of way can be negated by other inefficiencies or lapses in safety affecting services, equipment or passengers.
Although Metrolink and Amtrak passenger services may make relatively efficient use of existing rail systems and facilities, measures of efficiency in passenger rail services should address a full range of factors, including ridership levels, cost per passenger trip, boardings per mile, maintenance and operational costs, reliability and on-time performance and passenger safety, as well as, the number of personal vehicle trips replaced by specific routes and services. The original justification and purpose for instituting passenger rail services must be maintained as reference points in measuring the relative efficiencies of passenger rail services and systems.
In a June 2011 test of the relative efficiency of inter-city travel, an intrepid bus rider traveled 480 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles on a 32-hour, 15-transfer bus trip, as an alternative to the 15-hour coastal train service between the two cities. Although the $41.25 bus fare was about 1/3 that of the train, the doubled time, and 15 baggage-in-tow transfers would appear to diminish the advantage of the low bus fare. Indeed, the estimated two and one half hour travel time projected by planners of the California high-speed train between the two cities would seem to compare most favorably against the travel times of both Amtrak and bus services; although inter-city high-speed rail was promoted and sold to California taxpayers as a competitive alternative to inter-city airline services. As costs rise and construction times lengthen, the high-speed train appears less efficient, and more costly than estimated. Most significantly, California’s high-speed train initiative is competing with several well-established systems and carriers that, despite their limitations and inefficiencies, continue to provide mass transportation services between the cities and urban centers of California, without burdening the state’s local taxpayers.