Twu’s map violates conventional wisdom among high-speed rail aficionados, which holds that trains are most competitive in 100- to 600-mile markets, not 2,000- to 3,000-miles. By “most competitive,” of course, they mean “able to capture 5 or 6 percent of the market,” which–when all modes are counted–is all that Amtrak has in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.
This, quite frankly, is an entirely specious argument without any merit whatsoever. That Amtrak only has 5-6% of the market is an irrelevancy; it doesn't have the current capacity to do more than that as it stands. Look at the current Acela, the abominably slow train with a lower service speed than All Aboard Florida is planning for their service. It has a maximum capacity of 304 seats and currently runs at capacity, allowing Amtrak to rake in a rather substantial amount of revenue from these trains. Suppose it were replaced instead with what is a common sight in France, a pair of Duplex train sets coupled together for one 400m train with 1,090 seats. It would be an extremely odd assertion indeed to suggest that, between current unsatisfied demand and Amtrak revenue maximizing with ticket prices, market capture would remain unchanged.
Furthermore, this ignores the examples given by the extant high speed services in Europe. Even prior to the introduction of high speed rail, SNCF had a 40% market-share between Paris-Lyons and Renfe 16% between Madrid and Seville. Within three years of introducing high speed rail, these had climbed to 72% and 51% respectively (source, page 601), in large part from induced traffic, but also including a significant amount of diverted traffic. Certainly Europe has higher driving costs than America, but it is not sufficiently so as to invalidate such examples for America. In the Northeast, which is home to a significant number of toll roads and bridges, the marginal cost of driving is sufficiently high as to be comparable with European driving, further eroding the value of such a distinction.
But dreaming about faster trains does little to change the fact that the fastest trains in the world are only about half as fast as jet aircraft, nor the fact that more Americans live and work within a few minutes of airports than downtown train stations. Anyone who is really serious about speeding travel would find ways to speed airport security, which would cost a lot less and do a lot more to help a lot more travelers than building multi-billion-dollar rail lines.Those jet aircraft themselves are only half as fast as the Concorde was, indicating that sheer speed is not the sum total of demand. Further, while airports are far more flexible in the destinations that they can serve, they do not necessarily serve all markets, or do so with schedules and prices that are grossly inconvenient. It's all very well and good to have a 90 minute flight, but if it requires me to drive for an hour to find an affordable airport for the trip, as is the case for many regional trips, the higher cruise speed of the airplane is lost in the background of overall trip time. Furthermore, while I have no objection to speeding up airport security, and would dearly love to wear my shoes the entire time, my own experience (which appears to be the norm) is that the wait time is only a few minutes. Indeed, checking in luggage or simply walking to the gate generally take me longer than TSA.
O'Toole ends his piece with the usual rigamorale about how "[s]ince high-speed passenger trains are not commercially viable, the only way to have them is for the government to build them." However, we have previously dispelled the myth in so far as regards operational surpluses and that is a terribly odd position to hold when JR Central is constructing a high speed maglev system without government funding. Then again, suggesting that New York City would be better off replacing subways with underground battery powered buses is a famous terribly odd idea of his as well.