US infrastructure is pathetic

As a simple reminder, look at the plans for the rail line being built to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport (former Chiang Kai Shek Airport).

Travelers leaving from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport will be able to check their luggage in at Taipei Railway Station before boarding the Airport Rail, the Bureau of High Speed Rail said yesterday.

“When the Airport Rail is launched in 2014, passengers can check in and get their boarding passes in the city first,” Bureau Director-General Chu Shu (朱旭) said. “The Taoyuan airport will be the fourth system in the world to offer in-town check-in service, following airports in Kuala Lumpar, Hong Kong and Bangkok.”

Even in cities that have a half-way decent rail system, most airports in the US don’t even have a rail connection. NYC’s JFK Airport has the so-called Airtrain, but after trying it once I suspect it might be faster to walk. There is also some talk of extending the PATH 2 miles so that it connects Manhattan directly to Newark Airport, with 24 hour access, which would be a huge improvement. But I can’t even imagine any place in the US putting together a baggage check-in service on the other side of an express airport rail. America was once the world leader in infrastructure, and now look at the list of cities in that article that have not just better airports, but better airports AND better airport rails! Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to see the rest of the world catch up, but I’m disgusted that 21st America is making so little investment in similar upgrades. China’s insane empty city aside, they are also pumping $200 billion into high speed rail infrastructure. The United States has only about 10% of that figure promised.

15 thoughts on “US infrastructure is pathetic”

  1. Portland’s light rail system goes all the way to the airport and pretty much located right outside the baggage claim area. Really convenient for getting downtown.

  2. The closest thing I can think of in the US is Continental’s agreement with Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor. They have check-in machines in several train stations so you can get your boarding pass and take the train to Newark Airport, but no luggage checking (Amtrak apparently doesn’t offer this for any intra-NEC trains).

  3. I’ve never been to any of those airports since most of them are close enough to NYC that taking a plane instead of a bus or train is pointless, and I’ve never had a reason to go to Cleveland, but point taken. I was definitely exaggerating quite a bit, as rail links to airports are not actually that rare in the US.

    It looks like BWI is services by a transit system (MARC) that doesn’t even run on the weekends.

    CLE is apparently the first airport in the US with a rail link, good for them.

    BOS and DCA are both decently served by their local trains, I think.

    I was recently in SFO, which has a BART station, although I was lucky enough to get a ride (with my huge baggage). Seattle Tacoma airport is the only other one I’ve been to in the US in recent memory, and while they don’t have a rail link quite yet, the extension is supposed to open in about a month. I was in Seattle just last February and the first light rail line hadn’t even opened, so I’m actually encouraged to see how fast they’ve been progressing. Has any other transit system in the US been built this fast since before WW2?

  4. BWI has an Amtrak station, though it’s a bit off-site and you have to take a free shuttle bus to get to the terminals. This is apparently how Narita’s rail service started out, though, so I guess it isn’t bad.

    Denver’s light rail was built at lightning-fast speed recently, and supposedly well under budget, and it seems to be pretty good. (I am in Denver right now but haven’t gotten a chance to ride it.) On the other hand, Denver’s airport totally sucks from a connectivity perspective. The only way in and out is by car, and it takes forever thanks to the airport being larger than several New England states.

    Off the top of my head, you can get a direct train from terminal to city at ATL, PHL, DCA, SFO, and ORD. At BWI, JFK, EWR, BOS, SJC and LAX there is a train station near the airport, but you have to take a bus or people mover to get between the station and the terminals.

  5. It’s not so long since we were able to check in and check luggage at TCAT. It was the limousine bus rather than the train, but it was convenient…

  6. “This is apparently how Narita’s rail service started out, though, so I guess it isn’t bad.”

    The first few times I used Narita it was like that if I remember. However the first few times I used it I was in a car or bus, so the issue did not arise. IIRC, the station opened when Terminal 2 did.

    DCA is great – a metro stop right outside the airport takes you into to central DC. And it’s short. I haven’t tried it, but LAS looks like you could *walk* to some of the Strip hotels….

  7. Well, this is a promising sign.

    “Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) ran a bullet train late Monday evening carrying diplomats and railway officials from such countries as the United States, Britain and India in hopes of better marketing the technology overseas.

    Over the weekend, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama handed promotional DVDs about bullet trains to U.S. President Barack Obama when he was in Tokyo. The DVDs were made by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and JR Tokai.”

    I hope they impressed the hell out of Obama, because I can’t wait for America to have HSR.

  8. “I hope they impressed the hell out of Obama”

    If he ever saw them. HSR from San Diego to SF, and from DC to Boston, would be useful.

  9. The HSR for San Diego to SF is actually pretty close to a done deal. Something like $10 billion is already allocated by a ballot initiative-led bond issue, with more promised by the feds. Of course it’ll cost a lot more than that, but it’s a good start. I understand that they are currently at the state of finalizing the route and acquiring all of the necessary right of way so they can make the official plans and start the physical work in a couple more years.

    DC to Boston has the Acela service, which is running HSR trains on non-HSR tracks. They’ve been talking about doing proper upgrades on the tracks so they can run at a decent speed, but the fact that the HSR trains have to share track with regular commuter trains makes that less than entirely feasible. There is some vague talk about trying to build a second rail line alongside the existing Northeast Corridor, but I don’t think anyone is pushing the plans hard enough. The current idea just seems to be to upgrade and replace the existing track as much as possible.

  10. I should also add that Warren Buffet just made a $44 billion investment in an American rail company. While it’s a freight company and not passenger, that kind of bet on rail makes me slightly more optimistic that passenger rail will start getting similar levels of investment.

  11. In Los Angeles, it is pathetic. There is a train that goes “near” LA International airport, but then you have to get off and take a shuttle. San Francisco recently extended the BART subway all the way to their airport. Good for them.

  12. The US is not only building new infrastructure, we are not even maintaining the infrastructure we already have! If you think the situation looks pathetic compared to Taiwan now, just wait about six years.

    Also, it is nice that Cleveland has light rail or whatever, but what most foreign visitors will see in terms of US airports will be NY-NJ, LA, Chicago, DC, maybe Atlanta so you have to focus on those.

    As it happens, the Atlanta airport is quite decent in terms of rail connections, probably due to the improvements brought in for the 1996 Olympics. The airport connects directly to MARTA. MARTA, with only two lines, manages to cover a surprising amount of places worth going to in a sprawling, car designed, metro area. It also actually keeps to its schedule. Its a well designed system, and its quite possible to leave the airport on a layover, get lunch or a beer near a MARTA station, and get back in time to catch your flight again.

    The New York airport connections seem designed to ensure taxi drivers can gouge as much out of tourists as possible. For example, there are bus connections, but they seem to be secret. I live in New York, have tried to find the bus connections, and keep on being misdirected by airport workers or sent by signs to the wrong places. That said, PATH service to Newark would be a huge improvement, the PATH after all goes to downtown Manhattan, and also as far into Midtown as 6th Ave. and 14th Street, not ideal but at least it connects with a number of subway lines. An terminal which would integrate PATH with a number of other subway lines is very slowly being built downtown. The airtrain is “faster than walking”. The problem is that its a light rail line that is separate from the subway system, so you have to pay an extra fare and schlep your bags someways. But it does connect with commuter rail if you are in a hurry, and even the subway connections are not too bad. But as is standard for New York transportation infrastructure, its not designed for ease of use.

  13. BWI is also served by light rail to Baltimore directly from the terminals.

    The US has gotten a lot better in terms of airport rail links, but there is still a long way to go before (for example) New York, LA, Chicago, and Houston approach Hong Kong, Singapore, or Tokyo levels of service.

  14. BART was originally planned to ring the entire bay, taking people across the GG Bridge to Marin, down to San Jose Int’l, all those good things. That it’s taken so long for them to build the meager spur down to SFO is welcome, but pitifully delayed.

    I once went skiing in Leysin, Switzerland, and tweaked my ankle on the mountain. I didn’t want to face the luggage-handling on a bum foot so I took my ski gear to the tiny local mountain trolley station, checked it in there a day ahead of my flight, and didn’t see it again until I picked it up at Narita. Freaking beautiful system. Everyone should have it. Hell, in America you could require TSA agents to be stationed at every podunk rail station in the land, where they could make you take off your underpants or whatever for “security,” and spin the whole thing as a jobs program.

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