Friday, June 10, 2011

Air Rail

American airports have a long way to go to catch up to their European counterparts. Every major airport on both sides of the Atlantic has at least one decent business hotel either directly on the property or very close by so that is not the issue. All of them are accessible by major highway as well so again that is not the complaint. It is hard, extremely hard to compare the food court concept at most U.S. airports with the local food offerings at airports in Germany, France and Spain although European airports are just as guilty when it comes to fast food. No, my complaint is the lack of decent public transportation at most of the major airports in the United States and the constant bickering that goes with trying to improve access.
Looking at just public transportation, right now Dallas/Ft. Worth International has a public bus system that runs from the South Entrance in to downtown Dallas after about 90 minutes worth of riding and transfers. This compares to 25 minutes in to town with smooth traffic. Light rail service is being built, similar to the Washington Metro being extended out to Dulles but who knows when that will be completed. For the 3rd busiest airport in the country it is simply shameful that some kind of rail service was never included or at least built in to DFW's master plan.
Atlanta's Hartsfield/Jackson, O'Hare at Chicago, San Francisco and Reagan National at Washington all have subways that run directly in to the terminal building or at least within a short covered walk. Let's compare that to Heathrow where the Underground serves no less than three stops but the Paddington Express offers a hi-speed nonstop option in to the heart of the city as well.
What Heathrow doesn't have is a direct rail link within the national rail system, something Frankfurt and Paris both offer, including the high-speed "ICE" and "TGV," respectively. It is simply amazing to land in Paris and hop a "bullet train" to Brussels, arriving in less than 90 minutes instead of having to back track south in to the city, finding the correct station (out of six) and then making your way back to the Belgian capital. Certainly Amtrak is no match for the French SNCF rail network but it is simply the inter-modal transportation options available elsewhere that I have to wonder how it would enhance traveling here in the United States.
The Swiss set the gold standard for linking various public systems together along with the Dutch. Trains, buses and planes are linked to allow at least one connecting option on any given day from any point in the country to the rest of the world at large without having to use private cars short of driving to the nearest station. Distances are shorter from even the farthest corners of the country but the simple fact is the system is in place and works very well.
National rail service in the United States is all but dead but there are some things that can still be done for most cities. Light rail connections in to town even if it is the only rail service in the entire area would be a start. The regional hi-speed rail systems the current administration is planning would be great to link the major airports a la Charles De Gaulle, too. We need something, and it has to start somewhere.
Gotta go.

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