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Intercity Trains: How Good Do Connections Need To Be?

By Sarah Goodyear

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we return to the question of connectivity -- or, to translate it out of transpo jargon, how to get there from here.

The Transport Politic looks at one of the objections to high-speed rail: that people won't want to ride it because when they arrive at their destination, transit connections are insufficient or entirely absent. He points out that if you make the comparison to airports, even transit-impaired downtown rail stations have an advantage:

Do commuters need good transit at stations to be attracted to riding intercity trains? Few U.S. airports have efficient transit connections, and even those that do typically see few of their customers arriving by train or bus. Yet people who want to fly make it to the airport by car.…

More important, though, is the fact that many high-speed rail users, especially businesspeople, will be aiming their travel towards a destination within walking distance or a short taxi ride of the station. Unlike airports, which are by definition completely inaccessible by pedestrians, train stations can be positioned underneath major cities and provide direct access to the job centers. Unlike automobilists, who encounter congestion and high parking fees downtown, train users get reliable, non-stop connections into the focal points of major cities.

Rail opponents frequently like to point out that sprawl has reshaped the American landscape to such an extent that they argue it would be ineffective to focus the benefits of train travel at the center of town. But they usually neglect to mention the fact that in almost all metropolitan areas, the single largest employment zone remains downtown -- and it is usually the only walkable one. Similarly, for better or worse, U.S. cities from coast to coast have invested massively in new convention centers, sports arenas, museums, parks, and entertainment corridors over the past three decades — and the vast majority of that spending has been downtown, near centrally positioned train stations. For businesspeople and tourists, there will be a significant incentive to choose rail over air or automobile travel for convenience’s sake.

This post reminded me of my trip last spring to Meridian, Mississippi, where the city's then-mayor, John Robert Smith, showed me around the downtown. Since the rebuilding of Meridian's historic train station as a multi-modal transit center (Greyhound and taxis also use it as a hub), the eminently walkable downtown area has been cleaned up and revitalized. Smith hopes that Meridian, which is an important regional commercial hub, will be a stop on the high-speed corridor between Atlanta and New Orleans.

Related posts in the Worldchanging archives:
In Defense Of High-Speed Rail
Green? Dense? Walkable?
America 2050: Planning Megalopolis

This piece originally appeared in Streetsblog NYC.

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With mainly European experience and just a little in north america, I feel it is crucial that rail ststions are linked by secondary transport. Arriving in a new station and finding that there is nothing wo connect me to say a bus or metro sytem undoes all the enthusiasm fo using rail. Equally, rail must be able to cary quanities of bicycles so it is possible to walk out of the station and hop on to my bike and cycle say the 8km/5miles to and from my town centre destination with minimal CO2/noise/nusiance footprint.Integration is critical.

Posted by: Iain Plumtree on 6 Sep 09

With the new high speed rails they are building this should really help out and start to offset carbon emissions.

Posted by: Coopers Pick on 6 Jul 10

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