Friday, October 12, 2012

Housing is Boring – Trains are Not

Old Topic
I have a stack of reports on my desktop on the rosy outlook for housing. Even Las Vegas is showing signs of recovery. But please, stop already. I believe that every newspaper, trade magazine, and housing blogger (Et tu, Brute?) is looking for housing articles and lights at ends of tunnels. Sure housing will turn around, it HAS to. As I have written before it is just plain demographics and the current affordability of housing. Why wouldn’t housing sales go up with low prices and extremely low mortgage rates – some now as low as 3%.

So housing is boring. Is that shimmering glow on the horizon the nascent sun, giver of life? No, it’s the latest housing statistics from the feds. So please, just stop. It is worse than predicting the rise and fall of the stock market based on the fight plan of a flock of crows. So please just tell me once and while – like at the end of the quarter. I really don’t care what the affordability is in Kansas. Kansas of all places – home of rainbows, tornadoes, and munchkins. So please stop. I will try to follow my own ruminations and keep housing on the back burner for a while. No thanks needed.

Acela by Amtrak
New Topic
I have for the better part of two years beat the High-Speed Rail in California over the head with anything I could find: old railroad ties, lengths of steel rail, and stiff necked politicians all in an effort to find some reality in the notion of flying across California's Central Valley at 250 miles per hour. But your humble blogger here has had a small epiphany, but like a good politician I will not change my stance on the 100 billion dollar two-rail boondoggle underway in California.

We were traveling from New York to Boston just last week and took the Acela train. Now I know you Eastern-Seaboarders just role your eyes over us California provincials (with great justification), but I have to admit that the train is very cool and the most surprising thing is that it works. We left on time and arrived on time. It flew along the rails at what felt like speeds of almost a hundred miles an hour (it has gone to 150mph according to Wikipedia). It extends to Washington D.C. on the south and Boston on the north. It is one of the few Amtrak lines that make a profit. In fact (according to Wiki) the two lines (fast and local) through this corridor provides half of Amtrak’s total national revenue.

Trains are a heck of a lot more enjoyable than airplanes – especially today. United Airlines and other carrier’s economy seats were redesigned by a group sponsored by the Spanish Inquisition. After five hours in one of their seats you would confess to sleeping farm animals. Trains have wide aisles, you can actually watch your luggage from your seat, they serve free drinks (in First Class – which really isn’t worth it), and they actually deposit you in the heart of the city. Gee!

I know, I know, I have challenged the Cal HSR for years, and will continue to do so. We can’t afford it, period. No more than I can afford a Bentley GT Coupe (my favorite automobile), just because I want it doesn’t mean I will get one. Why doesn’t the governor try real hard to fix the current track alignment and equipment of the Coast Starlight that goes to LA along the coastal corridor. Make it work like the Acela (use the Four Season Hotel model of customer satisfaction) – everything is there – especially the most important element, people. It currently carries 1/10th the traffic of the Acela and makes less than 10% of the same revenue. Sadly the reviews tend to show the service and scheduling to be less than acceptable (actually awful) and this is biggest reason for its poor reception in California (GO HERE).

As any hotelier can tell you it is the service and the respect for your guests by the staff that is paramount and in the case of travel, adherence to schedules as well. But without competition or alternatives people will drive or fly. Governor don’t try and fix the problem with a new train – fix the old one.

I actually enjoyed the Acela experience (I’ll slap myself later).

Stay Tuned . . . .

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