29 July, 2008

Passenger Rail Making Money? They said it couldn't be done!

Photo: Station - Gare De Lyon, France, on the outside not unlike Jacksonville Terminal
July 15, 2008

French Trains Turn $1.75B Profit, Leave American Rail in the Dust
by Ben Fried

The Guardian reports that SNCF, France's national rail company, is taking advantage of a boom in ridership to make aggressive plans for expansion. While SNCF positions itself to help ease the impact of high fuel prices on the French public, what are American leaders preparing to do? Drilling offshore and taking a few hits from the strategic petroleum reserve aren't going to cut it.
Over in France, all the new riders have SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy thinking big:
The state-owned SNCF delivered a net €1.1bn (£875m) profit last year and first-half figures, due next week, are said to be sparkling. Pepy envisages up to 80m extra passenger trips this year or an increase of around 8%.

"This change will speed up because we are facing a twin energy and environment crisis," he says, pointing to surging fuel costs and growing personal worries about carbon footprints. "People want sustainable mobility and, in France, more trains and more SNCF."

The growing number of passengers is maxing out the current system, which Pepy sees as an opportunity, especially in a time of escalating fuel prices. He wants to double the size of SNCF's high-speed network by 2015, make rail stations into multi-modal hubs, and capture market share from energy-intensive air and road travel.

The new SNCF chairman sees rail stations, mainly in the regions, becoming new transport (and commercial) hubs not just for trains but for buses and trams -- "all those places where people don't want to bring their cars."

SNCF executives believe rail can take market leadership from air and road on journeys up to four hours long and point to the success of Eurostar (part owned by the group) in increasing traffic so far this year by around a fifth on the back of shorter journey times between London and Brussels/Paris. You can even get to Marseille from Paris in little more than three hours.
Contrast to the attitude among many politicians and opinion leaders here in the U.S. -- typified by this Wall Street Journal op-ed -- which views public management of rail systems skeptically, to put it mildly. Congress may be taking a long-overdue step toward investing more in Amtrak, but that is triage compared to the direction SNCF is heading in, as high-speed train service in
Europe widens its already considerable performance lead over American intercity rail.



Trends Blur Line Between Bus and Train
Elisa Crouch and Ken Leiser
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

MISSOURI - For years, many St. Louis transit riders fell into one of two camps.
After it opened in 1993, MetroLink appealed largely to middle-income riders who used light rail to get to college campuses along the tracks, to office buildings in downtown St. Louis, and to special events at Busch Stadium, the Trans World (now Edward Jones) Dome and the Kiel (now Scottrade) Center. Most had cars in the driveway.

Bus riders were generally working-class, and many of them had fewer options when it came to getting around. The bus was more a necessity than a choice.

But the latest research put together by the Metro transit agency shows some erosion in those class divisions.

Part of the reason is the way today's MetroLink is fed by the bus system.

MetroLink operates as more of a hub-and-spoke network these days, where buses feed the trains - and vice versa. That means many traditional bus riders use the trains for parts of their trips. There also are more bus transfer centers, including those at Hampton Avenue and Gravois Road, Broadway and Taylor Avenue, and Ballas Road and Highway 40.

Growth of the MetroLink system and new express bus service has extended the reach of transit as well, making it available to more people.

Another reason, of course, is that gas prices have shot up to nearly $4 a gallon. So the group of people who see transit as a necessity - or a bargain - has grown a bit.

Half of today's bus riders say they have a car, truck or motorcycle in their household, according to preliminary findings of this year's onboard customer survey. In 1993, about 70 percent of bus riders said they either didn't have a car available to them or didn't drive.

In this year's survey, 3 percent of bus riders reported household incomes of $100,000 or more. By way of comparison, 8 percent of MetroLink riders were part of that income bracket.

Most bus riders have Internet access (61 percent), own a cell phone (70 percent) and use text messaging (58 percent), according to the survey.

Thirty percent of bus riders have been riding less than two years. Those newer bus riders, according to the survey, tend to have slightly higher incomes than established riders.

"We've seen a lot of the kind of stereotypes of these rider groups kind of disappear as time has gone on," said J. Todd Hennessy, manager of market research at Metro.

"It's a more diverse system," said Jessica Mefford-Miller, the agency's director of research and development.

Tom Shrout of Citizens for Modern Transit said that he had heard the knock that MetroLink was at odds with the bus system, but that he had never subscribed to it. "The bus system was in free fall until MetroLink opened," he said. "The ridership on MetroLink helped stabilize the bus system."

Shrout says a transit system that appeals to more people stands to be more robust than one that does not. He points to development popping up along the Forest Park-to-Shrewsbury MetroLink line as evidence of that.


The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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