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

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travelplus

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I travel in coach and Business Class. A r/t ticket San Jose CA to Lamy with Business Class on the Starlight is $245 r/t with air being more. I get over 24 hours to enjoy the scenery . The coach seat has a legrest and more leg room than the plane. The cafe car is reasonable as well.

You can't get an observation lounge flying. I would much rather be delayed on a train. Business class on the CS gives you lounge access in LA on the return so if we are running on time I will skip breakfast and get it in the lounge.
 

jebr

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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.
To be fair, if we're talking LA to Chicago, the train is most directly competing against the plane, and the amount of people who would choose the train over a flight in first class is extremely low, especially since lie-flat seating is available on some frequencies should someone desire that, and the cost is cheaper for a first-class flight. It's probably the same for economy to economy comparisons, though Amtrak's more generous seating may sway a few (though I'd imagine still not many.) Even a high-speed train on that route would be unlikely to be super-competitive, simply because the distance is so large. Ticket pricing on Amtrak's side is unlikely to make a huge difference; heck, Amtrak could probably give away coach tickets for that particular origin/destination pair and they still probably wouldn't get even 10% of the traffic on that route.

Part of Amtrak's ticket pricing problem, especially on long-distance routes, is that their best strategy is to try and get medium-distance traffic where it's too far to comfortably drive, but not so far as to be significantly beaten by plane travel. For longer distances, Amtrak is basically only getting those who won't fly no matter what, or those that are quite time insensitive and much prefer train travel. Those aren't particularly large markets, and while they justify having the connectivity there (particularly for those who can't fly,) they shouldn't be the immediate focus of Amtrak or the US in general when building out passenger rail. There's a lot of work to do to make rail competitive in markets where it can easily compete before trying to get the highest-hanging fruit of ultra-long-distance travel.
 

crescent-zephyr

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To be fair, if we're talking LA to Chicago, the train is most directly competing against the plane, and the amount of people who would choose the train over a flight in first class is extremely low, especially since lie-flat seating is available on some frequencies should someone desire that, and the cost is cheaper for a first-class flight.
Do any airlines offer lie-flat seating LA to Chicago? Delta First domestic first class offers less leg room than Amtrak coach.

Amtrak is $1,000 for a roomette on the chief, delta is anywhere from $570 to $1900 first class from Chicago to LAX depending on times. So the first class flight is not necessarily cheaper… the average price is about the same.
 
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Even a high-speed train on that route would be unlikely to be super-competitive, simply because the distance is so large.
LA to CHI as the crow flies is approx. 1,730 mi. That would be a 10-hour trip on a HSR averaging 173mph. That could be competitive with flying if the train had comfortable seating and a reasonably good meal, and good OTP. It would also be a good length for a HSR overnight sleeper, perhaps running from 8pm to 8am.
 

travelplus

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Do any airlines offer lie-flat seating LA to Chicago? Delta First domestic first class offers less leg room than Amtrak coach.

Amtrak is $1,000 for a roomette on the chief, delta is anywhere from $570 to $1900 first class from Chicago to LAX depending on times. So the first class flight is not necessarily cheaper… the average price is about the same.
I am not aware of lie flat seats LA to CHI on Delta! I love trains and am willing to support it over flying.when it works in my schedule
 

jebr

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Do any airlines offer lie-flat seating LA to Chicago? Delta First domestic first class offers less leg room than Amtrak coach.

Amtrak is $1,000 for a roomette on the chief, delta is anywhere from $570 to $1900 first class from Chicago to LAX depending on times. So the first class flight is not necessarily cheaper… the average price is about the same.
United has a few, and the pricing when I looked at random days, both peak and off-peak, were $500-$650 each way for the flight and $900 each way for the Southwest Chief. Not sure what other airlines were offering.

LA to CHI as the crow flies is approx. 1,730 mi. That would be a 10-hour trip on a HSR averaging 173mph. That could be competitive with flying if the train had comfortable seating and a reasonably good meal, and good OTP. It would also be a good length for a HSR overnight sleeper, perhaps running from 8pm to 8am.
That assumes that you can build a route that is exactly as the crow flies, makes zero stops, and can have an alignment that supports an average speed of 173mph. In practice, that seems nearly impossible, even if our country was extremely rail-friendly. Even Paris to Lyon, which is essentially all high-speed routing (at least based on my understanding,) does ~242 miles as the crow flies in just under two hours. Even at 125mph (average "as-the-crow-flies" speed from Paris to Lyon) you're looking at about 13 hours and 50 minutes, and that's basically all high-speed lines with no mountain ranges to contend with.

Practically speaking, even a best-case scenario would still have stops in Las Vegas and Denver, and the lines likely would deviate to other cities even if they didn't fully stop - both Chicago - Denver direct and Denver - Las Vegas direct, all high-speed, are extremely heavy lifts - something that optimistically would require Chinese HSR-level of funding and eminent domain, and even then I'd still be skeptical that it'd happen. Even all-high-speed Chicago - St. Louis - Kansas City - Denver - some sort of branch that splits off in western CO/eastern UT - Las Vegas - Los Angeles seems quite unlikely. The mountains are a big hurdle without a lot of super-close dense population centers on either side.
 

crescent-zephyr

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United has a few, and the pricing when I looked at random days, both peak and off-peak, were $500-$650 each way for the flight and $900 each way for the Southwest Chief. Not sure what other airlines were offering.
I never fly United so didn’t even think to check them.

Like I said, Delta is $550-$1900 for that route in first class. So the average is similar comparing delta first to Amtrak roomette.
 

TheCrescent

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Do any airlines offer lie-flat seating LA to Chicago? Delta First domestic first class offers less leg room than Amtrak coach.

Amtrak is $1,000 for a roomette on the chief, delta is anywhere from $570 to $1900 first class from Chicago to LAX depending on times. So the first class flight is not necessarily cheaper… the average price is about the same.
I commute every week, and:

First class flying recently has been $286.

The lowest price for a room on Amtrak is $377.

I have top-tier elite status on my regular airline, so I can book a ticket for as low as 9,000 miles, get the award ticket upgraded to first class at no cost, and switch to any flight that has availability.

Amtrak just doesn’t compete. On the first flight out in the morning, there are dozens of people who could take a night train if the price was competitive and the schedule was good (leaving in the evening and arriving early morning). Amtrak doesn’t even try to get that business.
 

jebr

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I never fly United so didn’t even think to check them.

Like I said, Delta is $550-$1900 for that route in first class. So the average is similar comparing delta first to Amtrak roomette.
Average price isn't a great comparison, though. I don't buy the average flight price, I buy the flight with the timing, price, and product I want. The train takes two overnights, and each day had multiple daily flights in that $500-$600 price point in first, so even if I needed to wait until the day after the Amtrak train departed to get the lower price, that's still cheaper and faster "door-to-door" than Amtrak. If I can easily buy a ticket for a flight at $600 and the timing is good enough, why does it matter if there's one option that I wouldn't buy at $1900?
 

Qapla

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I don't fly so I don't know how everything works.

Like I said, Delta is $550-$1900 for that route in first class. So the average is similar comparing delta first to Amtrak roomette.

First class flying recently has been $286.

The lowest price for a room on Amtrak is $377.

Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining?
 

TheCrescent

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I don't fly so I don't know how everything works.





Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining?
The first-class seat on the plane gets unlimited drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks, at no cost. It gets me there in about 70 minutes in the air. I don’t need a bed. However, American Airlines has, on one occasion, swapped one of its transcontinental planes in for the route and so I have had a Flagship First seat (semi-private, and lie-flat) for the cost of a coach ticket.

Further, I can get up (admittedly early, but it’s my normal time), go to the gym, go to the airport and fly that route, and arrive at my office by 9:30am.

Amtrak would require that I get up around 1:30am and it would get me there at around 5:30pm.

Flying is faster, cheaper and more convenient. To pay more for a longer trip on a worse schedule, and to have to deal with Flexible Dining, makes no sense at all. Even if Amtrak gives me a bed and a table.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I don't fly so I don't know how everything works.
Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining?
First Class Domestic on an airplane basically equals Acela First class.

But as someone who travels constantly for work and fun, it’s a very fair comparison for long distance travel.
 
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I don't fly so I don't know how everything works.

Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining?
If you can find a flight with first class "lie-flat" seating, then yes, you can convert your seat to something resembling a bed anytime you want. And from the videos I've seen by Jeb Brooks and others, lie-flat seating usually includes an oversized tray table and perhaps a waist-height partition around your personal area, but not quite a private room.

Only a few airlines offer lie-flat seating in domestic first class, and mostly on a limited number of transcontinental flights between major markets, like NY-LAX or Dulles-LAX.
 
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All of this comparing airline service to train service for long-distance trips is ridiculous. Clearly, unless you have some medical reason why you can't fly, then the only practical way to travel a long distance is by flying. The distance cutoff might be 4-500 miles or so, and that depends whether there's direct air service between the places you want to travel, the time it takes to get to the airport, clear the formalities, etc. Thus, even the shortest flying trip will take at least 4 hours or so, even if the flight itself is only 30 minutes.

A long-distance Amtrak trip is at least overnight, and is a completely different product, similar to flying only in that they promise to deliver you from point A to point B.

As far as comfort and value, the longest you're going to stay on a plane for a direct flight within the 48 conterminous United States is about 6 hours. That's a little less than the journey time of an Acela from Baltimore to Boston. There's no need for lie-flat seats and other such frills for such a short flight. Most people do quite well in coach. As far as ticket prices, I've heard all these ridiculously low fares for both coach and first class, but every time I try to book a trip, the fares are a lot higher, and the ones that are reasonable usually are nonrefundable and also by the time you re-bundle the extra services that should be included with all airline tickets (like checked baggage), the final price isn't so cheap. Thus, at the very least, if one insists on comparing train prices with plane prices, one should use airfares that have similar services to the basics that you get on Amtrak -- checked baggage, flexibility, and refundability. (Yes, I know Amtrak charges some cancellation fees, and you can only get a full refund to a voucher, but a lot of those cheap airfares are totally nonrefundable, so if you need to cancel, you just have to eat what you've paid.)
 

jis

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I don't fly so I don't know how everything works.





Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining?
That isn’t terribly important on a four hour flight though.
 

Qapla

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Clearly, unless you have some medical reason why you can't fly, then the only practical way to travel a long distance is by flying

Don't know if you would consider it "medical reasons" but I have a fear of heights that prevents me from even considering flying. I know many other who are the same as me. I also know several who would rather drive that "endure the hassles of flying" (as they put it) even though they have to deal with traffic and the trip takes much longer.

"Does the first-class ticket on a plane get one a private room with a seat that can be turned into a bed whenever you want to and a private table for dining

That isn’t terribly important on a four hour flight though.

Oh, I don't know - even on a four-hour flight some may want the privacy of a private room. A day trip to Tampa from Palatka is only about four, yet I have seen several people book a roomette because they want "privacy" - and they feel having that privacy is very important
 

jis

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Oh, I don't know - even on a four-hour flight some may want the privacy of a private room. A day trip to Tampa from Palatka is only about four, yet I have seen several people book a roomette because they want "privacy" - and they feel having that privacy is very important
It is possible to rent your own plane if privacy is really that important. :D

Frankly if it were available at an affordable price I am sure many would get a private room. But the general point is that no one is canceling a trip of a few hours by air because they did not get a private room for a four hour trip. Yeah you have struck a corner case there, and as I said it mostly does not matter. :)
 
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crescent-zephyr

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Clearly, unless you have some medical reason why you can't fly, then the only practical way to travel a long distance is by flying.
Practical and long distance are both subjective in this case.

Many people choose to drive, take the bus, or take the train when traveling long distance - for a variety of reasons.

If you’re literally flying across the country (New York to California for example) - a direct flight will always be considerably quicker. But when you start hopping around on planes from small airport to small airport with layovers at hubs thrown in…. Air travel becomes way less practical and I know I wish we had more rail and high-end bus options.
 
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I would agree with the points on comparing the two. Obviously long distance rail is not really a practical way to travel if the only purpose is just getting there as fast as possible for as least amount of money as possible. Long distance rail is really a different product. It caters to those who can't or won't fly for various reasons and for people who enjoy it as an alternative way to travel without care of the trip time or want the unique experience. It's really more competing with long distance car travel than airlines. I travel by rail in both practical instances (on the NEC) and more impractical stances (on long distance trips.) In addition to an anxiety about flying I just find traveling by rail a relaxing and enjoyable experience including meeting people, watching the world go by out the window, etc. It isn't and never will be for everyone. That doesn't mean it should be eliminated but it's never going to be competitive with flying from a practicality perspective.

I do understand that there are some who may prefer it if the price is reasonable but will default to first class or coach air if they feel the roomette/bedroom price is outside of the reasonable range and obviously the higher prices lately are going to turn some of us away that do that while they remain high. I guess the question is how big is the captive market who will go be rail either way of which I admit I am in (though I have had some trips lately where the price has made me consider taking the trip.)
 
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I do understand that there are some who may prefer it if the price is reasonable but will default to first class or coach air if they feel the roomette/bedroom price is outside of the reasonable range and obviously the higher prices lately are going to turn some of us away that do that while they remain high. I guess the question is how big is the captive market who will go be rail either way of which I admit I am in (though I have had some trips lately where the price has made me consider taking the trip.)
Hopefully a decrease in inflation when it finally slows down will have an impact on Amtrak prices.
 
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I guess the question is how big is the captive market who will go be rail either way of which I admit I am in (though I have had some trips lately where the price has made me consider taking the trip.)
In addition to price, there is Amtrak’s current inability to provide the bedroom and roomette accommodations which people reserved and paid for months in advance. Even those who can afford to pay the inflated prices for these accommodations can find themselves being downgraded to coach or being told that the train is sold out and that they’re out of luck. (The average person won’t know enough to make their reservations far enough in advance to be assured of securing accommodations in the so-called “base” sleeper – the one that won’t be removed from the train when there is an equipment shortage.) Until this situation is turned around and people can depend upon Amtrak to provide the accommodations they reserved and paid for, they will remain leery of taking the train no matter what the ticket prices are.
 

crescent-zephyr

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In addition to price, there is Amtrak’s current inability to provide the bedroom and roomette accommodations which people reserved and paid for months in advance.
This is true for airlines as well right now. The good news is that usually there is a later flight on the same day that you can be accommodated on…. But several hours later than you’re originally booked flight.

It’s definitely an inexcusable problem though….
 
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In addition to price, there is Amtrak’s current inability to provide the bedroom and roomette accommodations which people reserved and paid for months in advance. Even those who can afford to pay the inflated prices for these accommodations can find themselves being downgraded to coach or being told that the train is sold out and that they’re out of luck. (The average person won’t know enough to make their reservations far enough in advance to be assured of securing accommodations in the so-called “base” sleeper – the one that won’t be removed from the train when there is an equipment shortage.) Until this situation is turned around and people can depend upon Amtrak to provide the accommodations they reserved and paid for, they will remain leery of taking the train no matter what the ticket prices are.
Good point. I'm a little less nervous about booking shorter term as I think they're making these decisions months out but I'd be hesitant to book a summer trip on a western train in anything other than the base sleeper at the moment.. In the east maybe a bit less hesitant.
 

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Medical and other conditions, whether permanent or temporary, prevent flying. Someone mentioned fear of heights. Others include certain medications and things like ear problems due to cabin pressure issues. Even obesity can prevent flying unless someone wants to pay for two tickets. After breaking her leg in 4 places my wife could travel home (1,000 miles) only by train because neither car nor plane was possible, the latter owing to anti-coagulant medication as I recall.
 
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