Comparing a LD Amtrak Coach Fares to Air travel

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dlagrua

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While this comparison may not apply in every instance it is an actual example of a long distance fare that we should be aware of.
A trip in early August 2021 from Newark NJ to Flagstaff, AZ in airline coach; the price is $275-$375 Round trip. The trip is about 5 1/2 hours. So lets go with the high number of $375.00. For the same exact dates and locations. The lowest R/T Amtrak coach fare that I can find is $560.00 and it takes three days and two nights to get there. If you do the math the Amtrak trip is 67% more expensive, slower and IMO offers no incentive to attract passengers. The sleeper vs first class air numbers are even further apart but I covered that in another thread.
I am not one to subscribe to conspiracy theories but consider the following.
1. The Amtrak BOD has come out strongly against Amtrak LD service but was rebuffed by congress.
2. Amtrak LD fares have now risen sharply above air travel fares. In some cases sleepers are up to 6X the cost.
3. The new budget will provide historic funding for Amtrak. Amtrak has requested $80 billion and can possibly get $60 billion
4. In it latest iteration the new proposed Amtrak route map shows nothing being adding to LD service.
5. There is no plan (that I know of) to replace aging Superliner equipment. Can routes survive without it?
My conclusion (and you need not agree with me) is that the Amtrak board being unsuccessful to convince congress to drop LD service is now taking steps to discourage/drop the ridership numbers so that they can use the old mantra " see no one rides these trains anymore".
I hope that there is a way to save the LD service but the Amtrak BOD has been successful in making us air travelers for now.
I'd like to know what other opinions are on this subject matter. We've been Amtrak supporters for a long while and certainly hope to hear a plan to save/restore/upgrade the long distance National Network.
 

caravanman

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As someone said on a film recently, "Lets get real"

If the plane took the same amount of time as the train, would you expect to pay the same low fare? Even if you just sat on the plane not moving for those 3 days?

Having train equipment tied up on such a long journey is bound to cost a lot.

Let me turn the question around, what would you consider a reasonable and sensible train coach fare to pay for the journey?

I don't consider $250 one way to be excessive from New York to Flagstaff.
 

jis

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Superliner replacement activity is slated to start from 2025 with delivery completion by 2030 according to Amtrak's published fleet plan. Which means it is a bit early to see any concrete action externally on it. I would expect to see early action in 2023.
 

AmtrakBlue

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Maybe if you spent more time on AU and read posts you’d be aware of plans to replace the superliners.

The LD network is not in place to appease end-to-end joy riders, but is there to provide transportation for people traveling to/from Small Town USA. People who want to travel from big city to big city have the option of utilizing nearby airports. People in small towns don’t have that option.
 

tricia

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Maybe if you spent more time on AU and read posts you’d be aware of plans to replace the superliners.

The LD network is not in place to appease end-to-end joy riders, but is there to provide transportation for people traveling to/from Small Town USA. People who want to travel from big city to big city have the option of utilizing nearby airports. People in small towns don’t have that option.
Disagree about the LD network: It should be good BOTH for end-to-end riders (joyful or not) AND for folks traveling shorter distances along each route. And the routes should interconnect with reasonable transfers, so that someone can travel (for example) from Creston, IA, to South Bend, IN, with a change of trains in Chicago.
 

jis

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It is indeed quite a vexing problem even if all involved had the best of intentions. With a single train per route each day it would be a miracle if all transfers were reasonable, while of course also providing everyone a daytime arrival/departure. No amount of wishing can get around of the basic imperatives of Physics and Graph Theory. The exercise becomes even more convoluted with the current unpredictability regarding OTP.

It is worth adding that by their own admission the Connect US Map is not about providing more inter regional bubble connectivity (which we know as LD trains), but more about creating more robust regional bubbles based on population growth in conglomeration of Metro areas. In that exercise according to Mr. Gardner Amtrak is suggesting that the threshold for regional be reduced to 500 miles so that Amtrak can pick up those multi state regional routes that would be hard to get funded through states, which I think is a good move. I think it would be better to state that any route involving more that two states should become Amtrak's responsibility, and maybe we will get there as Amtrak further fails to create new regional routes involving multiple states that are less than 500 miles.
 

Tlcooper93

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While some here were a little inconsiderate with their responses, they are not wrong.
Amtrak LD trains have many responsibilities beyond connecting two distant cities, and much of the anti-LD trains media seems to lack an understanding of that. I really don't consider the 5 major Superliner Routes to be "land cruises," as many (including a curious Amish contingent) use it is a legitimate form of transportation for intermediate destinations. And while they may lose money on paper, Amtrak doesn't pay for the track maintenance, as they do for the NEC, so even the pop-economics surrounding the LD network isn't always truthful.

In terms of aging Superliner equipment, best do your research before making a claim on a forum of Amtrak experts.
 

jis

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What does Greyhound or Trailways charge?
The best RT fare I could extract from Greyhound for RT Newark, NJ - Flagstaff, AZ was around $540 (with restrictions). The good thing is one can do so without any transfer in about 52 hours each way. I'd say that Amtrak is in the same ballpark fare-wise. The positive with Amtrak are better seats and place to stretch out without waiting for the next stop. The negative is the two transfers needed including the Chicago shuffle (which may be considered a good thing by some), and a second transfer somewhere.
 

jebr

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it takes three days and two nights to get there
That's the biggest problem Amtrak would have getting coach customers going between Newark and Flagstaff. Amtrak could sell those tickets for $1, add an infinite amount of capacity, and after the initial novelty wore off most people would still take the airlines between Newark and Flagstaff. There simply isn't that much traffic that Amtrak could pull from the airlines that is so price-sensitive but not time-sensitive that they'd do two nights in a coach seat to save a couple hundred bucks.

In a world where Amtrak doesn't have infinite capacity, trying to compete for that super-price-sensitive long-haul customer can easily backfire - now that seat can't be sold for those making shorter trips that are willing to pay more money overall. Why sell a cheap ticket for Newark - Flagstaff when you can sell tickets Newark - Washington, Washington - Pittsburgh, Cleveland - South Bend, Naperville - Dodge City, and Raton - Flagstaff (for example)? That's now five tickets that you only have to sell for an average of $112 RT each to make up that $560 that they're charging the through passenger. Plus Amtrak has now served five passengers instead of just one.
 

MARC Rider

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I priced BAL - FLG for 2 weeks from now. Round trip coach was $500 - $700, depending on whether you take the Cardinal east of Chicago (cheaper and one less transfer) or the Capitol Limited. The higher price also represents a "flexible" fare, as opposed to a "value" fare. You can make changes even with a Value fare, but there are some penalties for cancellation.

I then priced air fares using Kayak.com for BWI - FLG for the same time period. They show some $325 round trip fares, but when you click through for details, all of a sudden they become $550 or $650 fares. The cheaper ones involve at least two stops. One of the cheaper flights routes you through Miami (!). The flights that are only one stop/transfer are all about $700 or more. If you want a "fully flexible" ticket, it's at least $900. These are mostly American Airlines, there are also flights offered by United, but they are more expensive.

Frankly, If I was going to fly to Flagstaff from BWI, I'd just fly to Phoenix on Southwest, rent a car, and drive to Flagstaff. They have 2 nonstop flights every day, and a lot of single transfers. Their fares are all over the place, with flights ranging from $177 to over $700 for the round trip, depending on which flight. The most expensive fares are what they call "business select," which is really just the most fully flexible fare, plus you get boarding priority, so you get the pick of the best seats. The cheaper fares ("wanna get away"), are, of course, much less flexible.

I don't think the Amtrak coach fares are completely out of line. The only way you could save serious money would be to fly to Phoenix, but then you have a 150 mile drive, which for me would be about 3 hours. And as other people mentioned, Amtrak doesn't really compete for long distance service for travelers coming from Baltimore to Flagstaff or equivalent trips. More likely is someone wants to travel from, say, Albuquerque to Flagstaff, a 5 hour trip, for which Amtrak sells a Value ticket for $64 and a Saver ticket for $51. That looks pretty good for me for a 5 hour, 325 mile trip. We pay $70 minimum for a 2:40 190 mile trip BAL-NYP on the Northeast Regional, and last week, I paid $124/$175 for a slightly faster trip on the Acela. No, I don't think Amtrak is trying to drive customers away from the long distance trains in order to justify discontinuing them. They are not Penn Central, they are not Southern Pacific.
 

Ryan

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If Amtrak was bent on eliminating the LD trains by discouraging customers, I don't know that they would bring back daily service along with traditional dining.
Indeed. There's a difference between "not expanding" and "strongly against the current offerings" and a lot of people are mistaking the second for the first.

The Amtrak BOD has come out strongly against Amtrak LD service but was rebuffed by congress.
Do you have any actual evidence of them being strongly against the current service?
 

tomfuller

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I just checked for prices on USA Rail Passes. They are temporarily unavailable. I expect that when sales resume, the prices will be higher. The California Rail Pass is still available as are multi ride passes. Two of my favorite stores are not giving AGR points for online purchases. (Walmart and Ace Hardware).
 

jis

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I just checked for prices on USA Rail Passes. They are temporarily unavailable. I expect that when sales resume, the prices will be higher. The California Rail Pass is still available as are multi ride passes. Two of my favorite stores are not giving AGR points for online purchases. (Walmart and Ace Hardware).
According to Amtrak's presentations at the RPA Council Meeting the USA Rail Pass is going to be relaunched soon on the occasion of the 50th anniversary, with new features.
 

toddinde

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While this comparison may not apply in every instance it is an actual example of a long distance fare that we should be aware of.
A trip in early August 2021 from Newark NJ to Flagstaff, AZ in airline coach; the price is $275-$375 Round trip. The trip is about 5 1/2 hours. So lets go with the high number of $375.00. For the same exact dates and locations. The lowest R/T Amtrak coach fare that I can find is $560.00 and it takes three days and two nights to get there. If you do the math the Amtrak trip is 67% more expensive, slower and IMO offers no incentive to attract passengers. The sleeper vs first class air numbers are even further apart but I covered that in another thread.
I am not one to subscribe to conspiracy theories but consider the following.
1. The Amtrak BOD has come out strongly against Amtrak LD service but was rebuffed by congress.
2. Amtrak LD fares have now risen sharply above air travel fares. In some cases sleepers are up to 6X the cost.
3. The new budget will provide historic funding for Amtrak. Amtrak has requested $80 billion and can possibly get $60 billion
4. In it latest iteration the new proposed Amtrak route map shows nothing being adding to LD service.
5. There is no plan (that I know of) to replace aging Superliner equipment. Can routes survive without it?
My conclusion (and you need not agree with me) is that the Amtrak board being unsuccessful to convince congress to drop LD service is now taking steps to discourage/drop the ridership numbers so that they can use the old mantra " see no one rides these trains anymore".
I hope that there is a way to save the LD service but the Amtrak BOD has been successful in making us air travelers for now.
I'd like to know what other opinions are on this subject matter. We've been Amtrak supporters for a long while and certainly hope to hear a plan to save/restore/upgrade the long distance National Network.
Air travelers are really not the market for rail. Believe it or not, many people live in “fly over country.” We need transportation too. A typical trip for me in the places where I have lived is from a rural community to a medium size city. Aviation just can’t efficiently serve these areas. What can are a system of long distance trains with thru way bus connections. The train isn’t going to be the cheapest all the time, but in many markets, it is actually the most convenient.
 

lordsigma

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Air travelers are really not the market for rail. Believe it or not, many people live in “fly over country.” We need transportation too. A typical trip for me in the places where I have lived is from a rural community to a medium size city. Aviation just can’t efficiently serve these areas. What can are a system of long distance trains with thru way bus connections. The train isn’t going to be the cheapest all the time, but in many markets, it is actually the most convenient.
Agree - and in my opinion many people willing to do 3 days on a train to get to Flagstaff from New York are probably not quite that price-sensitive where they make the decision to fly instead that easily....I think most of that market will fly anyway regardless of price and what food is served on the train. I'm saying most not all - certainly there are some of us here in the enthusiast community that are open to the train but are also perfectly happy to fly if they feel it's a better deal, but I think for many people willing to be on a train for that long they are intentionally choosing that mode and such people won't be so quick to shift to flying on a certain price point - and the people taking coach from NY to Flagstaff is probably a quite limited market. Many people that take the train outside the enthusiast community do so for either a strong dislike or fear of flying (or inability to) not saying that you can charge that group an unlimited amount - eventually some will choose to drive (or not go) but most won't do comparisons to flying.
 
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lordsigma

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I think the only Amtrak long distance train that is competing directly with airlines for a substantial portion of its ridership is the Auto Train due to its unique market.
 

railiner

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I think the only Amtrak long distance train that is competing directly with airlines for a substantial portion of its ridership is the Auto Train due to its unique market.
Maybe for end to end distance traveled, but until the airlines start offering to transport your auto with you, it is not a valid comparison.

I wonder how many auto's can an A-380 carry below?😁
 
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jiml

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Maybe for end to end distance traveled, but until the airlines start offering to transport your auto with you, it is not a valid comparison.

I wonder how many auto's can an A-380 carry below?😁
Better question: How many vehicles containing gasoline do you want on an airplane also carrying passengers? I've often wondered if military vehicle transportation is done with minimum or drained fuel.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Civilian cargo planes, vehicles have minimal fuel. In our case cars are driven onto and into the plane to place of tie down. I’m sure it varies by plane and operator however. I just did it once, high end cars going to a car show in San Juan, PR from FL.
 

DonNewcomb

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many people live in “fly over country.” We need transportation too.
"Fly-over country" is a name given to middle America by bicoastals looking down en route between the east and west coasts. In reality, it's an area that's more inclined to fly to get places than either coast. My guess is that more people live within 50 miles of an airport with scheduled jet service than live within 50 miles of an Amtrak (or other) train stop. I have to drive 10 miles to catch a jet. The closest Amtrak is 41 miles. I wonder if I could gen up a map showing the relative areas served by airlines vs Amtrak?
 
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