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Opinion: Low Cost Train Service. Yay or Nay?

Since 2013, France has had a low-cost, high speed train service. It’s called OuiGo, and it services 9 different routes, for as little as 10 Euros ($10.60) plus tax to a maximum price ceiling of 85 Euros ($90.10) plus tax. The prices all vary based on distance, and how far in advance you book. You also have free wi-fi and power plugs as well. This service was introduced, because the governments in Europe usually run High-Speed Rail as a monopoly. This service was also introduced, as a way to compete with low-cost airlines. I feel that the US could potentially benefit from this service, if done well.

There are some stipulations though:

  • Tickets have to be bought online, to take advantage of the lower cost discounts. If you buy the ticket at the station, it will be more expensive.
  • Instead of having a standard configuration in the train cars (2x2 rows for example), you might have rows of 2x3, or a use of high capacity double-decker cars.
  • You also on some routes, may not have a cafe car at all, or you might have a vending machine.
  • You have fewer members of staff on-board
  • Hand-baggage would be free, but you would have to pay for larger bags.
  • Instead of going to the main stations in downtown areas, they would stop in stations just outside the cities.
  • Trains would be consistently utilized, so while you have a lot more choices in frequency (instead of let’s say 2 times a day, you double that), you might also be leaving at odd times (think 4am departures).
  • You would also have a lot of ancillary fees. You may get charged a flat fee of $6 per child under 12, you pay $6 for a piece of baggage at time of booking, $12 if you decide to pay after you book, and $45 if you check it in right at the station. You also pay $35 if you check in a pet.
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How Would This be Implemented in the USA?

First comes the question of rolling stock. The theoretical service could use commuter rail cars. The average Amtrak car seats 62-84 people. A commuter rail car can seat anywhere from 115 people (in a single level) to 142-160 (double-decker) people.

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Secondly a route would be something like: Train leaves from New Carollton or Silver Spring (right outside of DC) and stop at BWI Airport, Baltimore, North Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Newark airport, and finally stopping at Newark, across from New York (the train might also stop at a bunch of smaller towns too). Notice how the train doesn’t stop in the middle of the city. Just like other low-cost carriers, you must make arrangements or use public transport to get to your destination.

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With all this in mind, would you still do it?

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