“It is exceptionally good. So they were bragging rightfully so.
“Everybody overlooks the fact that Amtrak recovers about 75 percent. That’s right, 75 percent of their operations from the farebox. So that’s better than any transit system in the nation.
“So I think it’s deceitful for anybody that thinks that operating the national passenger rail network can be self-sufficient.”
Szabo says that self-sufficiency for high-speed railroad corridors is different where you have a much better chance of attaining the goal.
“If you talk to the French or talk to the Spanish they’ll contend that their operations break even or show a slight profit provided that the capital investment for infrastructure is provided.
“So we have the opportunity to get close here, and really it all comes down to ridership. And when you’re talking about the corridor development you can get the frequency of service that develops the volume of ridership that certainly gives you the opportunity,” Szabo says.
Building on History
The United States has a rich rail and road history, one that Szabo hopes the industry can learn from and use when planning to provide a high level of convenient connectivity — connectivity on multiple modes.
“We’re moving forward with the development of our national rail plan. And that’s what it’s all about,” Szabo says.
“And when I say rail plan, that is all encompassing — freight as well as passenger rail. We’ve been approaching that as a multimodal plan.
“The FTA is at the table with us. The FHA is at the table with us. The Maritime Administration is at the table with us.
“Because whether you are talking about moving goods or people, you need to make sure that they can seamlessly flow from one mode to the other to use the mode that is most convenient for a particular part of a journey.”
Szabo says when it comes to high-speed rail this connectivity must include convenient transfers from transit to airports.
“Again let’s take a look at what the Europeans and Asians have done so well. You can fly across the world, get off your airplane, seamlessly connect to a high-speed rail train that may take you another 100 miles or 200 miles and then step off that and conveniently get onto a transit system that delivers you the final mile,” Szabo says.
“We need to look for our transit systems to offer that level of connectivity. I think transit operators need to view the high-speed rail program as again an opportunity to build synergy.
“Those that will ride trains are much more likely to also use transit. So the two systems feed on each other.”
Szabo believes the more travel options offered to the public the more they come to realize that they do like getting out of their cars. He says that with transit working in concert with high-speed rail more cities have that opportunity.
“We’ve spent a lot of time taking a look at the history and the rollout of both the original highway program and the interstate highway system,” Szabo says.
“And we believe that the vision we are rolling out is as every bit as transformational as both of those programs were. So we’re learning some things.
“But I really thought it was interesting, you talk about the rollout of the original highway program and that it took more than three years to get the first dollars out the door because it was a new program and we’re committed to see that done in more like three months.
“Secondly you take a look at the Interstate Highway System. Everybody gets it now because it’s in the rearview mirror. But this was a decades-long build out. It took 40 years to complete it. So it takes an awful lot of vision, an awful lot of persistence and some patience.
“And again, to the critics that are saying, ‘Oh the $8 billion doesn’t do all that much!’ This is the down payment. This is just a first step in what’s going to be a decades-long build out, of ensuring a balanced, high-quality passenger rail program.”