Sunday, December 5, 2010

Acela continues to gain marketshare

Remember this whenever someone says people won't take trains that are slower than planes

“We’ve designed a product for the business travelers’ needs, and we’re trying to reach them at the most relevant points of their travel experience,’’ said David Lim, Amtrak’s chief marketing officer. “The underlying assumption being the airport experience has not been the best in the last couple of years.’’

Acela was launched in late 2000 with the goal of grabbing a larger share of the lucrative business travel market from short-haul air routes between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. By most measures, it has succeeded.

Amtrak now transports 55 percent of passengers in the Boston-New York air-rail market, up from 16 percent in the mid-1990s, according to the New England Transportation Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Vermont. Acela’s ridership has risen nearly 30 percent, from 2.5 million passengers in its first full year of service to 3.2 million passengers in fiscal 2010, which ended in September. Air travel, on the other hand, has declined.

Last year, nearly 30 percent fewer people flew between Logan and the three New York-area airports than in 1999, the year before Amtrak introduced Acela, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Air passenger numbers decreased 35 percent between Boston and Philadelphia and 8 percent between Boston and Washington in the same period.

Acela isn't even that fast. Boston-South Station to New York Penn aboard the Acela takes three hours, thirty minutes, an average speed of only 65 miles per hour. By contrast, Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours, 38 minutes is an average speed of 164 miles per hour. Or, take a similar length trip, Fresno to Los Angeles, 255 miles as compared to 228.7 for Boston to New York. 1 hour and 24 minutes, nearly three times the speed at 182 miles per hour. If Acela can get that marketshare at such a low average speed, then it stands to reason that the California high speed rail system will blow things out of the water.

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