by Dick Lemieux
In a sleight of hand that would make Amtrak proud, letter writer Jennifer Smith estimates the Downeaster carries 150 passengers per train then asserts that “many would prefer to commute . . . on a train.” If only!
In truth, practically nobody prefers train travel. Among populations that have a choice, only an extremely small minority choose the trains and only for a minuscule proportion of trips.
According to FTA, 1,431,087 persons live in the Downeaster’s “service area” (which evidently doesn’t include Boston). On an average day, only 700 of them take a roundtrip on the Downeaster. At an average of four trips per capita per day, the Downeaster’s 1,400 daily trips represent 0.024% of 5.7 million daily person-trips in its service area.
The 2014 “Capital Corridor” rail study estimates 2,568 daily passenger trips out of a 2020 service area population of 801,029 people (excluding Boston’s 3.94 million people). That pencils out to 0.08% of the region’s 3.2 million daily trips.
The numbers speak for themselves. In rural states like Maine and New Hampshire, not enough people ride trains to offset their much larger carbon footprints or to justify their out-of-proportion cost. Underutilized trains like the Downeaster and the one being promoted by rail cultists for New Hampshire not only exacerbate global warming, they also cannibalize transportation budgets.
To spend hundreds of millions of dollars on rail while claiming to be concerned about climate change or rampant spending is the height of hypocrisy. Voters should be outraged.