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

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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.”
Even if you ignore the subsidies, the cost of using a car for a trip is a lot more than people often assume, if they are just counting gas and tolls. When you consider the purchase price over the life of a car, the cost of financing which can double what is actually paid, maintenance including tires, insurance, and garaging where applicable.
 

The Quaking Widow

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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.
To say nothing of how deeply the US government subsidizes gasoline prices.
 

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jis

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None of those are Flixtrain though as far as I can tell. They are all SJ including the X2000s.

Excerpt from the X2000 page:

As an example, those traveling on the high-speed X 2000 train from Stockholm to Copenhagen will cover the distance in about 5 hours. Operated by Swedish State Railways, the X 2000 high-speed train has two travel classes, 1st and 2nd class, as well as an extensive train schedule, making for easy travel.
 

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Even if you ignore the subsidies, the cost of using a car for a trip is a lot more than people often assume, if they are just counting gas and tolls. When you consider the purchase price over the life of a car, the cost of financing which can double what is actually paid, maintenance including tires, insurance, and garaging where applicable.
I'm not sure what the IRS lets you credit for operating cost per mile for a vehicle used for business purposes, bu my former employer, the US government, as of a few years ago would reimburse us at the rate of $0.51 per mile. This was for the operating costs only, not including financing, depreciation, initial cost, etc. For a while, I was driving out to our lab in Ann Arbor, about a 500 mile trip, and would get reimbursed about $500 for the mileage (which included gas). But I did save on the cost of renting a car at the destination. Then I figured out I could just rent a car in Baltimore for about $200 plus gas (about $30-$50 at the time) for the usual trip. (That also saved me wear and tear on my personal car.) The contract airfare we had to use was about $400 round trip Baltimore or Washington to Detroit, plus, of course, having to rent a car to get to and drive around Ann Arbor. I was getting Roomettes on the Capitol Limited for about $400-$500 round trip, including the Ambus from Toldeo to Ann Arbor, though I did rent a car a couple of times at Toldeo.
 

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To say nothing of how deeply the US government subsidizes gasoline prices.
Actually, it's not that the government subsidizes the prices, it's just that they don't tax motor fuel enough. A nice fat gas tax that went into the general fund would go a long way to reducing the government deficit, and perhaps inflation, too. But, of course, it's a political non-starter, as I quickly learned looking at yard signs in rural Maine last summer that were complaining about $5.00 a gallon gas.
 
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Actually, it's not that the government subsidizes the prices, it's just that they don't tax motor fuel enough. A nice fat gas tax that went into the general fund would go a long way to reducing the government deficit, and perhaps inflation, too. But, of course, it's a political non-starter, as I quickly learned looking at yard signs in rural Maine last summer that were complaining about $5.00 a gallon gas.
AFAIK, the gas tax in the 50s and 60s was significantly higher than it is now, even accounting for inflation.
 

The Quaking Widow

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None of those are Flixtrain though as far as I can tell. They are all SJ including the X2000s.

Excerpt from the X2000 page:
Sorry for the confusion About Flixtrain. I can’t find the website I used. But if you notice on the website I just posted, low prices are there, plus multiple trains each day, (only one per day on my Chi-> Sandusky trip.)
 

MARC Rider

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AFAIK, the gas tax in the 50s and 60s was significantly higher than it is now, even accounting for inflation.
That's absolutely right. The Federal tax and most state taxes are a fixed amount. The current Federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon was set in 1993. To account for inflation, it should be almost 40 cents per gallon.
 

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Sorry for the confusion About Flixtrain. I can’t find the website I used. But if you notice on the website I just posted, low prices are there, plus multiple trains each day, (only one per day on my Chi-> Sandusky trip.)
SJ does have low prices in their lower price buckets. In general Amtrak prices are not anywhere near the lowest in the world.

Also BTW there are two trains per day between Chicago and Sandusky - the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited.
 

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I'm not sure what the IRS lets you credit for operating cost per mile for a vehicle used for business purposes, bu my former employer, the US government, as of a few years ago would reimburse us at the rate of $0.51 per mile. This was for the operating costs only, not including financing, depreciation, initial cost, etc. For a while, I was driving out to our lab in Ann Arbor, about a 500 mile trip, and would get reimbursed about $500 for the mileage (which included gas). But I did save on the cost of renting a car at the destination. Then I figured out I could just rent a car in Baltimore for about $200 plus gas (about $30-$50 at the time) for the usual trip. (That also saved me wear and tear on my personal car.) The contract airfare we had to use was about $400 round trip Baltimore or Washington to Detroit, plus, of course, having to rent a car to get to and drive around Ann Arbor. I was getting Roomettes on the Capitol Limited for about $400-$500 round trip, including the Ambus from Toldeo to Ann Arbor, though I did rent a car a couple of times at Toldeo.

The IRS's current rate is $0.625/mile.
 
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Since there was a lot of talk about airline tickets and airline subsidies in this thread, I wanted to share this video:


I think the bottom line is that all transportation by nature is horrendously expensive to run and maintain, be it highways, air travel, or rail. All if done well, however, can be profitable.

The unfortunate part about rail travel is that the powers at be have made it the general perception that rail travel is the only mode that receives (too much) money from the government and that the other forms are profitable.

Runways and highways magically pave themselves, or perhaps Elon is financing them.
 
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Even if you ignore the subsidies, the cost of using a car for a trip is a lot more than people often assume, if they are just counting gas and tolls. When you consider the purchase price over the life of a car, the cost of financing which can double what is actually paid, maintenance including tires, insurance, and garaging where applicable.
And, if we’re talking about a long-distance trip, let’s say from Los Angeles to Chicago, don’t forget the cost of food and lodging. Also, and particularly for seniors, there is the normal stress of a day’s worth of driving, particularly through big city rush hour traffic. All things considered, we still considered a bedroom on a long-distance trains to be our best option for traveling.
 

TheCrescent

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Since there was a lot of talk about airline tickets and airline subsidies in this thread, I wanted to share this video:


I think the bottom line is that all transportation by nature is horrendously expensive to run and maintain, be it highways, air travel, or rail. All if done well, however, can be profitable.

The unfortunate part about rail travel is that the powers at be have made it the general perception that rail travel is the only mode that receives (too much) money from the government and that the other forms are profitable.

Runways and highways magically pave themselves, or perhaps Elon is financing them.

Agreed and I think that another unfortunate part about rail travel is that the powers that be have made it the general perception that it must be government-owned and unprofitable.

If someone in the private sector could find a way to make passenger rail service so amazing that it will attract enough customers paying enough in fares to be profitable, that would be great.

Brightline, which offers a far superior experience than Amtrak does, is surely hoping to be profitable (by some measure).
 

The Quaking Widow

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And, if we’re talking about a long-distance trip, let’s say from Los Angeles to Chicago, don’t forget the cost of food and lodging. Also, and particularly for seniors, there is the normal stress of a day’s worth of driving, particularly through big city rush hour traffic. All things considered, we still considered a bedroom on a long-distance trains to be our best option for traveling.
I also had these same considerations when planning my last trip. Driving alone is a tough proposition for me, and I get drowsy driving long distances. While not ideal and expensive, the train was the most comfortable.
 

danasgoodstuff

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I've ridden Brightline, I did not find it a 'far superior experience' to Amtrak - bright shiny new fast trains that require TSA-like screening, that's a wash at best for me.
 
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Brightline, which offers a far superior experience than Amtrak does, is surely hoping to be profitable (by some measure).
Not sure whether Brightline is intended to be profitable or if it is just a loss leader as part of real estate promotion. In the latter case once the real estate has been sold and developed, we may see the rail service foisted off on some government agency. We shall see.
 
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Comparing train and air travel by $/mi is never going to be favorable for trains. They're just too slow, and the fixed costs per hour are going to swamp the efficiency savings. If you compare them on an hourly basis, trains do pretty well. A 7-8 hour plane flight from JFK to Europe in a low bucket can run you $360 round trip. A 7-8 hour train ride from NYC to Buffalo is $110 round trip. Much cheaper. No substantial meals are included in either trip.

For sleep-compatible seats, the train still wins on $/hr. A low-bucket business class round trip from JFK to Dubai runs about $3,000 for 16 hours of flight time each way. 19 hours each way on the Lake Shore Limited in a roomette from JFK to Chicago is $800 round trip. Still way cheaper.

Long distance train travel is only cost effective if the goal is to enjoy the travel process itself. If you're trying to cover miles it is obviously better to do it at 450mph over 75mph, as the fixed hourly costs and fixed per-trip costs (higher on air than train) are spread across more miles. You can also get places a train can't, obviously.

With short travel distances the numbers change, as the overhead of air (both in time for travel to/from airport and security, as well as the monetary costs of the airport usage by the plane) begin to dominate. Effective MPH goes down for the airlines, and the low per-trip costs and time overhead of trains do well. Likewise, no one complains that a ship/cruise voyage costs so much more than flying because everyone knows that being on the boat is an enjoyable part of the process.
 
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Agreed and I think that another unfortunate part about rail travel is that the powers that be have made it the general perception that it must be government-owned and unprofitable.

If someone in the private sector could find a way to make passenger rail service so amazing that it will attract enough customers paying enough in fares to be profitable, that would be great.

Brightline, which offers a far superior experience than Amtrak does, is surely hoping to be profitable (by some measure).
Ok, couple problems with this.
Brightline, and/or the private sector is not the saving grace its made out to be. While the service is absolutely a success by many standards, they are primarily a real estate company, and their first priority is not to run passenger trains, hence their actions during the pandemic of reducing to skeleton crew, and cancelling all trains for over a year. They don't care about making their money off of ticket fares, and instead plan to make most of their money off of real estate investments, but of course, this point is always conveniently left out of the conversation any time a comparison is made between Brightline and Amtrak/CAHSR or other train lines. The limitations on each business model make this Brightline talk neither here nor there.

Secondly, Brightline doesn't offer far superior service. In some categories, Brightline absolutely wins. They have newer, cleaner trains, and they are using largely up to date infrastructure, only running 32 trains per day on a stretch of track that sees far fewer trains than the NEC by a longshot. But there are many categories where they absolutely don't win, such as their ridiculously uncomfortable seats, the fact that there are too many grade crossings causing considerable issues, and that they can yank service any time they want, no matter who relies on the service.

If rail travel truly is a public good, either the private sector needs to be compelled through legislation to run passenger trains, even when they don't want to, or Amtrak needs to be a fully publicly funded service, with no focus whatsoever on profitability. This is one of the only ways ticket fares can become reasonable enough to appeal to the general public. If rail travel is not a public good, then nobody would ride trains, and we should look to Elon and his hyperloop to save us all from traffic (oh wait..)
 
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jis

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Ok, couple problems with this.
Brightline, and/or the private sector is not the saving grace its made out to be. While the service is absolutely a success by many standards, they are primarily a real estate company, and their first priority is not to run passenger trains, hence their actions during the pandemic of reducing to skeleton crew, and cancelling all trains for over a year. They don't care about making their money off of ticket fares, and instead plan to make most of their money off of real estate investments, but of course, this point is always conveniently left out of the conversation any time a comparison is made between Brightline and Amtrak/CAHSR or other train lines. The limitations on each business model make this Brightline talk neither here nor there.
Could you provide some credible documentation supporting your claim that Brightline plans to make most of its money from real estate? This is the first I am hearing about it so I would like to know. And I have even spoken to Patrick Goddard, Brightline's President, several times, and I did not get the impression that he expected to not worry about being cash positive in the railroad operations since it is real estate that will keep his company afloat. :D But, heck, I might have missed something and am happy to be educated.

The other interesting point is, even Amtrak has a cart load of (rather excellent quality) Real Estate, and income flowing from it, even more so as they lease out air rights and such. So to somehow claim that Amtrak's real estate is different from Brightline's station property and adjacent real estate income is somewhat disingenuous. The prime NEC real estate associated with Amtrak's NEC was conveyed to Amtrak and not hived off and given over to the successor corporation of PC. It is another matter that Amtrak has probably not been as successful at monetizing their real estate in prime real estate markets of rich cities for whatever reason. But at least hocking it in lease deals kept Amtrak afloat through difficult times. That is how Amtrak came to mortgage the Penn Station real estate in New York for a period of time.

In some sense, the NEC BU of Amtrak is quite similar to Brightline in terms of business inputs and outputs, except that Brightline is much smaller and therefore less complex to manage.
 

TheCrescent

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I've ridden Brightline, I did not find it a 'far superior experience' to Amtrak - bright shiny new fast trains that require TSA-like screening, that's a wash at best for me.
For my $20 or so [Correction: “Select” or whatever the name of first/business class is] ticket between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, I got (1) a ride in a sleek new train car, (2) a sleek station, (3) very helpful employees, (4) a free drink and snack onboard and (5) station lounge access with pour-your-own alcohol. Amtrak doesn’t offer that, particularly at that price point. And check out Brightline’s online reviews, which are better than Amtrak’s; you are welcome to your views and not everyone has to love Brightline, but it seems to have higher customer satisfaction than Amtrak has.

And regardless of how much people like Brightline, if Brightline hadn’t stepped up and built its own system in Florida, there would have been zero new intercity passenger service there.
 
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For my $20 or so Smart ticket between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, I got (1) a ride in a sleek new train car, (2) a sleek station, (3) very helpful employees, (4) a free drink and snack onboard and (5) station lounge access with pour-your-own alcohol. Amtrak doesn’t offer that, particularly at that price point. And check out Brightline’s online reviews, which are better than Amtrak’s; you are welcome to your views and not everyone has to love Brightline, but it seems to have higher customer satisfaction than Amtrak has.

And regardless of how much people like Brightline, if Brightline hadn’t stepped up and built its own system in Florida, there would have been zero new intercity passenger service there.
Smart class does not include snacks on the train, nor snacks and alcohol in the station. Those are Premium class amenities.
 

TheCrescent

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Smart class does not include snacks on the train, nor snacks and alcohol in the station. Those are Premium class amenities.
You are correct.

I was wrong with that term. It was “select” at the time I rode Brightline (March 2, 2019) and you are correct: it’s now called “premium”. I went in the higher of the two classes.

I also see that “premium” now includes free rides from the station, apparently up to 5 miles, and rides are only $5 when added to a “smart” ticket. Rides are in shuttle buses, regular buses, Teslas, etc. That’s another benefit that Brightline offers and that Amtrak lacks. Brightline didn’t offer that when I took it; I used Lyft and at least there was a sharp-looking Lyft drop-off area at the station.

If I recall, the free snack onboard in “select” was an energy bar (or other pack of processed food) but that’s better than no free food in Amtrak Northeast Regional business class in the NEC.
 

MARC Rider

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For my $20 or so [Correction: “Select” or whatever the name of first/business class is] ticket between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, I got (1) a ride in a sleek new train car, (2) a sleek station, (3) very helpful employees, (4) a free drink and snack onboard and (5) station lounge access with pour-your-own alcohol. Amtrak doesn’t offer that, particularly at that price point. And check out Brightline’s online reviews, which are better than Amtrak’s; you are welcome to your views and not everyone has to love Brightline, but it seems to have higher customer satisfaction than Amtrak has.
You realize that the cheap first-class fares are a loss leader that will probably go away once the service is financially stable? As far as the service goes, from what I've heard, Brightline is fine, but you get pretty much the same as what you get in Acela First, except free pour-your-own alcohol in the lounge. And Acela First gives you a meal, and not just a snack, even if you're taking a 40-minute trip between Washington and Baltimore. As for the stations being "new" and "sleek", well, let's wait 70 or 80 years and see if they are considered architectural classics.

And, of course, the vast majority of the passengers traveling on either service aren't traveling first class.
 

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MODERATOR'S NOTE: A gentle reminder that this thread is about ticket prices and not about the perennial discussion comparing Acela with Brightline. Please move the discussion back to Amtrak fares and why they are so high. Further posts focusing on the comparison of Acela and Brightline will be removed.

Thank you for your understanding, cooperation and participation.
 
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