Long haul train travel times

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crescent-zephyr

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I believe sometimes it is, and other times it's much more expensive
It can go either direction as both airlines and Amtrak prices can go drastically up and down.

With airlines there are so many flights per day you have a better chance of getting a deal though.
 
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SanAntonioClyde

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Several years ago Texas Eagle begin running on TRE track rather than on UP between Ft. Worth and Dallas which eliminated 15 minute backup moves at FTW. Schedule was not changed to reflect improvement so Eagle frequently has longer service calls. When first started Amtrak simply ran on tracks as is. Since then then I believe there has been some work to double track more miles along this route.
 

adamj023

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Apr 1, 2015
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There always is work on the rails but most of the time delays are minor and just a normal part of the trip.

I am thinking of doing Texas Eagle instead of Southwest Chief from Chicago. Route may be longer but more favorable places to stop. I may break up the trip with stopovers and buy multiple tickets instead.

Texas seems favorable for rail due to a lot of infrastructure investment.
 

MARC Rider

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Sleepers are almost always more expensive than flying and pretty much always have been.
There was a while during the mid 2000s - 2010 when sleeper WAS-Toledo plus Ambus to Ann Arbor was cheaper than flying BWI to Detroit on our mandatory government contract pairs.
 

zephyr17

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I believe sometimes it is, and other times it's much more expensive
I just priced a roomette from Seattle to New York in November by the most direct route (Builder to Lakeshore) in case my plans to take VIA (SEA-VAC-TWO-NYP) in November fall apart for reasons outside my control. It was $840, and the roomettes were at low(ish) buckets, $282 for the Builder, which I believe is low bucket. $250 for the Lakeshore, which is a lower bucket for that train, if not the lowest. I am not as confident about the Lakeshore's bucket price points, but I know they run high.

JetBlue Mint SEA-JFK on the same day is $536. And Mint is a better First Class product than most other airlines.

Could get it down to $783 by taking the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and getting off at 5:05 am and taking the Pennsylvanian in coach to New York, still almost $250 higher than JetBlue Mint. The website didn't offer a SEA-CHI-WAS-NYP routing other than by forcing it through multi-city.
 
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OBS

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I just priced a roomette from Seattle to New York in November by the most direct route (Builder to Lakeshore) in case my plans to take VIA (SEA-VAC-TWO-NYP) in November fall apart for reasons outside my control. It was $840, and the roomettes were at low(ish) buckets, $282 for the Builder, which I believe is low bucket. $250 for the Lakeshore, which is a lower bucket for that train, if not the lowest. I am not as confident about the Lakeshore's bucket price points, but I know they run high.

JetBlue Mint SEA-JFK on the same day is $536. And Mint is a better First Class product than most other airlines.

Could get it down to $783 by taking the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and getting off at 5:05 am and taking the Pennsylvanian in coach to New York, still almost $250 higher than JetBlue Mint. The website didn't offer a SEA-CHI-WAS-NYP routing other than by forcing it through multi-city.
What a great deal on Jetblue Mint! Every time I look, it is double any other First Class airfare!
 

IndyLions

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I just priced a roomette from Seattle to New York in November by the most direct route (Builder to Lakeshore) in case my plans to take VIA (SEA-VAC-TWO-NYP) in November fall apart for reasons outside my control. It was $840, and the roomettes were at low(ish) buckets, $282 for the Builder, which I believe is low bucket. $250 for the Lakeshore, which is a lower bucket for that train, if not the lowest. I am not as confident about the Lakeshore's bucket price points, but I know they run high.

JetBlue Mint SEA-JFK on the same day is $536. And Mint is a better First Class product than most other airlines.

Could get it down to $783 by taking the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and getting off at 5:05 am and taking the Pennsylvanian in coach to New York, still almost $250 higher than JetBlue Mint. The website didn't offer a SEA-CHI-WAS-NYP routing other than by forcing it through multi-city.
i don’t understand these comparisons. What experience are you looking for? A 5 hour flight or a 3 day train ride? What difference (REALLY) is even a few hundred bucks? These are totally different experiences you are comparing. It’s obviously for leisure travel and you can afford it - otherwise you’d be taking Coach on Amtrak, airline economy or riding Greyhound.

If you want to fly - fly. If you want to take the train - take the train. It should be about the experience.
 

crescent-zephyr

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i don’t understand these comparisons. What experience are you looking for? A 5 hour flight or a 3 day train ride? What difference (REALLY) is even a few hundred bucks? These are totally different experiences you are comparing. It’s obviously for leisure travel and you can afford it - otherwise you’d be taking Coach on Amtrak, airline economy or riding Greyhound.

If you want to fly - fly. If you want to take the train - take the train. It should be about the experience.
There is a false assumption that people only take the train for the experience. If the trains is not an actual mode of transit than Amtrak is a waste of government money.

I travel to travel. When I compare prices for my travel I compare first class air and sleeping cars on Amtrak. That’s how I travel. Price will absolutely determine my choice. Why is that difficult to understand?

Now I’m also a railfan... so my personal preference will always be the train. But if I just want to ride trains for fun I go to Durango, Strasburg, etc... if I can take a train ride AND get to where I need to go win-win!
 

IndyLions

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There is a false assumption that people only take the train for the experience. If the trains is not an actual mode of transit than Amtrak is a waste of government money.

I travel to travel. When I compare prices for my travel I compare first class air and sleeping cars on Amtrak. That’s how I travel. Price will absolutely determine my choice. Why is that difficult to understand?

Now I’m also a railfan... so my personal preference will always be the train. But if I just want to ride trains for fun I go to Durango, Strasburg, etc... if I can take a train ride AND get to where I need to go win-win!
I never said Amtrak wasn’t real transportation - of course it is.

I think our travel preferences are similar - sounds like we both like to travel, like trains and prefer to fly first class vs. the cattle call - but don’t have unlimited funds.

My point which you had every right to disagree with was that $200 probably wouldn’t be the deciding factor for me when comparing a 3 day train ride and a 5 hour plane ride.

If the segment is at the tail end of a long trip and I was anxious to get home, I’d fly. If I hadn’t been on a train for a while and I wasn’t in a hurry, I’d probably take the train. But that’s me, not you.
 
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zephyr17

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I believe sometimes it is, and other times it's much more expensive
i don’t understand these comparisons. What experience are you looking for? A 5 hour flight or a 3 day train ride? What difference (REALLY) is even a few hundred bucks? These are totally different experiences you are comparing. It’s obviously for leisure travel and you can afford it - otherwise you’d be taking Coach on Amtrak, airline economy or riding Greyhound.

If you want to fly - fly. If you want to take the train - take the train. It should be about the experience.
I don't want to fly. One of the posts was exclaiming that the train was more expensive than flying, and I was pointing out that sleepers are virtually always more expensive than coach air and often more expensive than First Class, even in lower buckets, as in my example.

My real point is there should be no expectation that rail is cheaper than air and the fact that it isn't should not be a surprise.

With that said, I wish I could get more for my money than TV dinners heated in a convection oven and ridiculously uneven onboard service.

Although I will say if VIA doesn't work out, that $536 on JetBlue Mint is pretty appealing. Mint is a good product (and consistent). I am already ticketed on Amtrak the other way for a long-way-around NYP-CHI-LAX-SEA return from New York. Not sure I want to pay an extra $250 for another 3 days Amtrak's mostly mediocre service over flying Mint if I can't take VIA (which is more expensive than either, but consistently provides a great experience).
 
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MARC Rider

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The reason we still have long-distance train service is that it (1) serves rural communities that have few or no other public transportation alternatives, and (2) it serves people who can't fly or drive due to medical reasons. In addition, there are travelers who just prefer to ride on the train. The vast majority of long-distance train riders are not riding coast-to-coast or even on overnight trips. They are well served by long-distance coach, which has roomy seats and is reasonably priced.

The premium services have a value to Amtrak in that they generate considerable additional revenue for the train, thus improving it's "financial performance" (a term I prefer to use over "profitability." Because these are cash cows for Amtrak, the company is, of course, going to want to charge as much as they can for these services. If the sleepers are being filled at high prices that many here think are not a good value, that means that there are other people who believe that they are a good value. The problem with going overboard with amenities, such as enhanced food service, is that the cost of the amenities might significant reduce the net revenue coming from the premium service, and thus reduce the value of providing premium service as a way to cross subsidize the trains' financial performance. It's hard to argue about the cost of such and such a level of service, as Amtrak's accounting practices appear to be opaque, indeed. However, many of us who patronize the dining cars do seem to notice that Amtrak management does not appear to be running the dining cars in a way that could maximize revenue from them, so it's indeed possible that with changes in policy and procedures, the dining service could provide more revenue at little extra cost, thus improving the value proposition of the premium sleeper service, even for the demanding tastes of many here on AU.

As far as travel times, the trains should be operated in a way that the travel times are roughly the same as normal travel by car, which means a point-to-point average speed of about 50 mph. This is, in fact, the usual end-to-end average for most of the long distance trains. This is, in fact, faster than driving for long trips, because the trains don't stop for bathroom breaks, meal breaks, or to spend the night. The problem seems to be that the long-distance trains are commonly late, which means that Amtrak's first priority should be getting them to operate on schedule. Aside from stuff under Amtrak's control, like making sure the equipment is well maintained and doesn't break down, this means doing stuff like pressing the courts to enforce the dispatching priority for passenger trains that's encoded in the law and getting funding for construction projects that could ease bottlenecks in critical locations.

While I wouldn't expect a coast-to-coast train trip to be in any way comparable to a coast to coast airplane trip, I have used long distance service for business travel with train rides of up to 20 hours. The most important thing for using the train under such circumstances is that the train arrive on schedule, or early. And a coast-to-coast sleeper may well be price competitive with driving. According to AAA, fixed and operating costs for a car driven 15,000 miles per year is 62¢ per mile. That means a 3,000 mile road trip will cost $1,860. In addition to that, there is the cost of lodging and food for the 4 to 5 overnight stops you'll need to make. So maybe that $2,000 Amtrak bedroom for the three nights on the train between NY and LA isn't as expensive as you think. :)
 

Qapla

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Regardless of the cost per mile for driving a car - I take the train because I don't want to drive. That said, when a coach ticket from JAX to NYP costs $121 and a Roomette is $477 ... I have trouble grasping that the extra $356 is a bargain price for a room the size on my Livingroom sofa and the meager food on an overnight train.

But that is me .... YMMV
 

Cal

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. . .and a Roomette is $477 ... I have trouble grasping that the extra $356 is a bargain price for a room the size on my Livingroom sofa and the meager food on an overnight train.
Don't forget the lounge at NYP! That must at least be like $75 of it
 

Qapla

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Since that lounge would be at the end of the trip I used as an example - why would I even go to the lounge 😖 especially since it currently does not have any food available :eek:
 

daybeers

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Regardless of the cost per mile for driving a car - I take the train because I don't want to drive. That said, when a coach ticket from JAX to NYP costs $121 and a Roomette is $477 ... I have trouble grasping that the extra $356 is a bargain price for a room the size on my Livingroom sofa and the meager food on an overnight train.

But that is me .... YMMV
I know the amenities are very different, but that's also very difficult to compete with flights on Spirit from the northeast to Florida for $30-$55 that is three hours flying time. Yes, that's nearly 1,000 miles, so the time will never be comparable, but the cost is very different: you could do four round-trips for the cost of one one-way trip!
 

jloewen

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The reason we still have long-distance train service is that it (1) serves rural communities that have few or no other public transportation alternatives, and (2) it serves people who can't fly or drive due to medical reasons. In addition, there are travelers who just prefer to ride on the train. The vast majority of long-distance train riders are not riding coast-to-coast or even on overnight trips. They are well served by long-distance coach, which has roomy seats and is reasonably priced.

The premium services have a value to Amtrak in that they generate considerable additional revenue for the train, thus improving it's "financial performance" (a term I prefer to use over "profitability." Because these are cash cows for Amtrak, the company is, of course, going to want to charge as much as they can for these services. If the sleepers are being filled at high prices that many here think are not a good value, that means that there are other people who believe that they are a good value. The problem with going overboard with amenities, such as enhanced food service, is that the cost of the amenities might significant reduce the net revenue coming from the premium service, and thus reduce the value of providing premium service as a way to cross subsidize the trains' financial performance. It's hard to argue about the cost of such and such a level of service, as Amtrak's accounting practices appear to be opaque, indeed. However, many of us who patronize the dining cars do seem to notice that Amtrak management does not appear to be running the dining cars in a way that could maximize revenue from them, so it's indeed possible that with changes in policy and procedures, the dining service could provide more revenue at little extra cost, thus improving the value proposition of the premium sleeper service, even for the demanding tastes of many here on AU.

As far as travel times, the trains should be operated in a way that the travel times are roughly the same as normal travel by car, which means a point-to-point average speed of about 50 mph. This is, in fact, the usual end-to-end average for most of the long distance trains. This is, in fact, faster than driving for long trips, because the trains don't stop for bathroom breaks, meal breaks, or to spend the night. The problem seems to be that the long-distance trains are commonly late, which means that Amtrak's first priority should be getting them to operate on schedule. Aside from stuff under Amtrak's control, like making sure the equipment is well maintained and doesn't break down, this means doing stuff like pressing the courts to enforce the dispatching priority for passenger trains that's encoded in the law and getting funding for construction projects that could ease bottlenecks in critical locations.

While I wouldn't expect a coast-to-coast train trip to be in any way comparable to a coast to coast airplane trip, I have used long distance service for business travel with train rides of up to 20 hours. The most important thing for using the train under such circumstances is that the train arrive on schedule, or early. And a coast-to-coast sleeper may well be price competitive with driving. According to AAA, fixed and operating costs for a car driven 15,000 miles per year is 62¢ per mile. That means a 3,000 mile road trip will cost $1,860. In addition to that, there is the cost of lodging and food for the 4 to 5 overnight stops you'll need to make. So maybe that $2,000 Amtrak bedroom for the three nights on the train between NY and LA isn't as expensive as you think. :)
I too take Amtrak overnite for business, and you are right: "The most important thing for using the train under such circumstances is that the train arrive on schedule, or early." This is a key improvement Amtrak needs to make, and can, I think. Maybe Biden could just jawbone the rr executives. Trump did so, successfully, on various matters.
 

willem

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According to AAA, fixed and operating costs for a car driven 15,000 miles per year is 62¢ per mile.
The comparison should be between the cost incurred by taking the train and the cost incurred by driving (including, as you noted, "the cost of lodging and food for the 4 to 5 overnight stops you'll need to make"), but that means including the fixed costs of owning a car in both cases, because the cost is there in both cases. Also, the cost of taking the train would include the cost of renting a car at the destination(s), if that is done.

Does AAA separate the fixed and variable costs of owning a car? Or at least provide the total for varying numbers of miles driven per year?
 

MARC Rider

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The comparison should be between the cost incurred by taking the train and the cost incurred by driving (including, as you noted, "the cost of lodging and food for the 4 to 5 overnight stops you'll need to make"), but that means including the fixed costs of owning a car in both cases, because the cost is there in both cases. Also, the cost of taking the train would include the cost of renting a car at the destination(s), if that is done.

Does AAA separate the fixed and variable costs of owning a car? Or at least provide the total for varying numbers of miles driven per year?
My former employer used to reimburse our use of personal vehicles at 51 cents per mile. This was estimated operating expenses, including fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle. Thus, if I had taken a 3,000 mile road trip for work in my personal vehicle, I would have been reimbursed a sum of $1,530 plus approximately $150 a day per diem. The per diem might be higher if I had to spend the night in a high cost location. I can attest that it was common that the per diem allowance didn't cover the full cost of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses.

So, even if only the operating expenses of the car were accounted for, a 3,000 mile road trip is going to cost $600 - $750 in addition to the $1,530 car expenses or $2,100 - $2,280 for the total cost of the trip. Now it's true that some of the $1,530 are not immediate out of picket expenses, but if you take the trip you may eventually need to pay for repairs or a new car ahead of schedule. If you have an insurance policy with premiums based on mileage, as auto insurance premiums should be, then the road trip will have a direct out of pocket increased cost.
 

tricia

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My former employer used to reimburse our use of personal vehicles at 51 cents per mile. This was estimated operating expenses, including fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle. Thus, if I had taken a 3,000 mile road trip for work in my personal vehicle, I would have been reimbursed a sum of $1,530 plus approximately $150 a day per diem. The per diem might be higher if I had to spend the night in a high cost location. I can attest that it was common that the per diem allowance didn't cover the full cost of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses.

So, even if only the operating expenses of the car were accounted for, a 3,000 mile road trip is going to cost $600 - $750 in addition to the $1,530 car expenses or $2,100 - $2,280 for the total cost of the trip. Now it's true that some of the $1,530 are not immediate out of picket expenses, but if you take the trip you may eventually need to pay for repairs or a new car ahead of schedule. If you have an insurance policy with premiums based on mileage, as auto insurance premiums should be, then the road trip will have a direct out of pocket increased cost.
Both mileage allowances and per diem rates are commonly tied to the rates published by the federal gov't each year, which determine both the reimbursement rates for federal employees AND the maximum tax deductions the IRS allows for business expenses (not counted as taxable income). For 2021, the mileage rate is $0.575/mile.
 

Bob Dylan

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My former employer used to reimburse our use of personal vehicles at 51 cents per mile. This was estimated operating expenses, including fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle. Thus, if I had taken a 3,000 mile road trip for work in my personal vehicle, I would have been reimbursed a sum of $1,530 plus approximately $150 a day per diem. The per diem might be higher if I had to spend the night in a high cost location. I can attest that it was common that the per diem allowance didn't cover the full cost of lodging, meals, and incidental expenses.

So, even if only the operating expenses of the car were accounted for, a 3,000 mile road trip is going to cost $600 - $750 in addition to the $1,530 car expenses or $2,100 - $2,280 for the total cost of the trip. Now it's true that some of the $1,530 are not immediate out of picket expenses, but if you take the trip you may eventually need to pay for repairs or a new car ahead of schedule. If you have an insurance policy with premiums based on mileage, as auto insurance premiums should be, then the road trip will have a direct out of pocket increased cost.
Boy do I remember, less than fondly, traveling on Government Per Diem to Expensive places like New York, Boston and San Francisco!
 
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