Cost of taking trains vs cost of taking other modes in the U.S.

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Without checking, VIA Rail I think is pricier than Amtrak. At least it was before the pandemic.
While true, I think Amtrak, for whatever reason, both aims and claims to be a more useful and relevant service than VIA rail claims to be (and so some extent, definitely is). Therefore, Amtrak has to be at least somewhat financially accessible to the general public.
 
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Amtrak’s model of short trains, limited supply of seats/rooms and high prices isn’t the only way to approach breaking even or making a profit.

Railroads have such high overhead costs that another way to approach breaking even or making a profit is to offer lots of long trains, with large numbers of seats and rooms, at lower prices. That’s similar to what freight railroads do (with long trains and prices lower than what trucks charge).

Since Amtrak is a taxpayer-subsidized public service (in some respects), I think that making rail travel accessible to as many people as possible might need to be one of its goals, meaning that the model of offering lots of long trains may be more consistent with a mission of public service.
Air travel isn’t subsidized?
 
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Amtrak has detailed demographic data about sleeping car riders and they may skew older but they attract a range of ages.
I would love to see the demographic information that Amtrak has compiled on its passengers (and not just for its sleeping car passengers either.) I wonder if this information includes how far in advance the typical Amtrak passenger makes and pays for his or her reservations. From reading various posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that many AU members make their reservations 6-12 months in advance to be sure of getting the accommodations they want for the dates they plan to travel. The average person wouldn’t know to do this and even if they did, how many would want to pay for their tickets that far in advance and risk substantial penalties if their travel plans change? IMHO, until this situation changes, for the average person, Amtrak will never be a viable alternative to flying or driving.
 

TheCrescent

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Air travel isn’t subsidized?
Of course it is. So are highways. I don’t know enough about how they are financed to say anything worth saying about them, but Amtrak receives government funds for both operations and capital expenditures, and it’s touted as improving mobility, so to me that indicates that having fares that can attract a broad range of travelers would be consistent with that.
 

UserNameRequired

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… From reading various posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that many AU members make their reservations 6-12 months in advance to be sure of getting the accommodations they want for the dates they plan to travel. …
How are some getting tickets 12 months in advance? I could only get 11 months to the day.
 
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When I was working, I used to use a couple of the overnight long-distance trains for business trips.
I got to do that once, returning from a business trip to Davenport IA flying into O'Hare then heading downtown to take the Broadway Limited in a Heritage 10/6 roomette to Paoli PA where my wife picked me up. I remember the forms at work for travel expenses still had a box to check for Air or Pullman so checking Pullman must have surprised the bean counters 😃. This was in 1985
 

MARC Rider

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When I was working, I used to use a couple of the overnight long-distance trains for business trips.
By the way, at the time (about 15 years ago), the fare in a roomette was about the same as a fully refundable airline coach ticket on most of the routes I used. Most business travel, of course, is usually booked right before the trip, and most companies want the ability to be able to cancel the trip without penalty, so buying those cheap fare tickets everyone talks about (and I can never seem to find, anyway :) ) is not a viable option.
 
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By the way, at the time (about 15 years ago), the fare in a roomette was about the same as a fully refundable airline coach ticket on most of the routes I used. Most business travel, of course, is usually booked right before the trip, and most companies want the ability to be able to cancel the trip without penalty, so buying those cheap fare tickets everyone talks about (and I can never seem to find, anyway :) ) is not a viable option.
Same here on my trip from LA on the thru-sleeper on the Sunset Ltd. & Southern Crescent back in the '70's. Amtrak was running the thru-sleeper on the Sunset Ltd., but Southern Railway was still hanging on to the Crescent.

Ticket cost was in the same price range as full-fare flying. I think I traveled on the weekend to avoid missing extra days from work.
 
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How are some getting tickets 12 months in advance? I could only get 11 months to the day.
You are correct. The earliest you can book Amtrak tickets is 11 months in advance. How far in advance does the average person contact Amtrak to make their reservations? Probably not far enough in advance to be sure of obtaining the accommodations they want.

The point I was trying to make is that the system should be set up so that a person can contact Amtrak 60-90 days in advance of when they want to travel and be reasonably sure that they can reserve a bedroom or roomette. Knowing that far in advance as to what accommodations have been sold, Amtrak would add extra sleepers to meet the demand.
 
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You are correct. The earliest you can book Amtrak tickets is 11 months in advance. How far in advance does the average person contact Amtrak to make their reservations? Probably not far enough in advance to be sure of obtaining the accommodations they want.

The point I was trying to make is that the system should be set up so that a person can contact Amtrak 60-90 days in advance of when they want to travel and be reasonably sure that they can reserve a bedroom or roomette. Knowing that far in advance as to what accommodations have been sold, Amtrak would add extra sleepers to meet the demand.
Which extra sleepers that Amtrak supposedly has on hand would they use?
AFAIK, Amtrak simply doesn't have enough trains to meet the demand, let alone personnel to man them.
 
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Which extra sleepers that Amtrak supposedly has on hand would they use?
AFAIK, Amtrak simply doesn't have enough trains to meet the demand, let alone personnel to man them.
Understood. What I'm suggesting is how the system should be set up if Amtrak expects to become a viable alternative to driving or flying for the average person.
 

TransitTyrant

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And take into account the pension costs of Amtrak as compared to Asian or European train employees... I do not not know what the comparison would show.
European countries usually have a robust government funded healthcare which overall reduces retirement costs for companies. Healthcare alone almost doubles compensation for companies/governments.
 

jis

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Understood. What I'm suggesting is how the system should be set up if Amtrak expects to become a viable alternative to driving or flying for the average person.
Random consist modification is more a characteristic of boutique operations. Large operations tend to use standard pre-planned consists these days, modulo last minute possible substitutions due to mechanical and such of course. I don't think that cause them to be noncompetitive. Amtrak's problems lie elsewhere, including inability to field even a consist that they originally thought they would have and based on which they sold tickets. That together with general shortage of rolling stock causing a large gap between supply and demand won't get fixed by proverbial rearrangement of deck chairs ... er ... cars among trains. What will fix it is getting more rolling stock commensurate with the demand that is to be met at a given fare level.

OTOH, I suppose one could make a cogent argument that Amtrak's long distance operation is a boutique operation :D
 

cirdan

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In 2010 I made two long rail trips. One was Denver <> Bellingham and the other was Moscow <> Tomsk. For a presentation to ColoRail, these slides show comparisons. The second slide omits the Seattle <> Bellingham segment. The Russians keep lots of spare cars on hand for peaks and military moves.

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thanks for the insight.

However, rather than comparing prices dollar to dollar, I think it is more valuable to convert dollar prices for purchasing parity. Trains do not exist principally for the entertainment of tourists, but their primary purpose is to serve the local people. If a local person has less disposable income, even an overall cheaper fare may be less accessible to them.
 
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cirdan

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Random consist modification is more a characteristic of boutique operations. Large operations tend to use standard pre-planned consists these days, modulo last minute possible substitutions due to mechanical and such of course
Many European railroads run more or less the same consist all year round on night trains for example, but will still tack on extra cars on days of high demand, or even marshall a relief train, often out of legacy cars, that runs slightly ahead of or behind the main train to take off some of the pressure. There are even leasing companies who specialize in buying up older cars, facelifting them, and making them available for hire.

On day trains the transition to fixed consists, often using emus, make this less viable. But there are TGV services for example that run with a single TGV unit much of the time but will run as a coupled pair on days of high demand. I guess that such days are known well in advance and maintenance is scheduled in such a way that a maximum number of trains is available on those days.
 

The Quaking Widow

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By comparison:

Gasoline —Toledo $3.59 per gallon

Stockholm — $7.22 after conversion

The US trip takes a little more time on the train than the auto.

The Sweden train trip takes about half as much time as the auto.

Why doesn’t the US want to do better at this game? On my Texas trip, there were 2women travelers across from me from The Netherlands Riding from Chicago to Fort Worth. They had ridden US trains before, but still I was a
embarrassed by what this country calls train travel.
 
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By comparison:

Gasoline —Toledo $3.59 per gallon

Stockholm — $7.22 after conversion

The US trip takes a little more time on the train than the auto.

The Sweden takes about half as much time as the train.

Why doesn’t the US want to do better at this game? On my Texas trip, there were 2women travelers across from me from The Netherlands Riding from Chicago to Fort Worth. They had ridden US trains before, but I was still I was a
embarrassed by what this country calls train travel.
well, we can’t have nice things until we pay for them.

Another good example of how subsidized car travel is. Your illustration would be quite different if roads had to pay for themselves, or be cursed like Amtrak and have to “be profitable.”
 

33Nicolas

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The way I looked at it was a choice to fly or ride Business for half the price of flying. Instead of spending 4 to 5 hours rushing through airports, I spent 11:30 hours with free WiFi, coffee and tea, and was more productive with a seamless experience. Even if I flew business, it wouldn't have been that productive, and I'm pre-TSA.
 
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