Why aren't overnight trains able to compete with flying?

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
I’ve never been on a multi-stop flight other than southwest. Do any of the major carriers have them?
Multi-stop flights as in a sequence of flights where each segment has the same flight number, do exist, but typically you have to disembark and embark at each stop, and there may be an equipment change at some of those stops including to a different gauge equipment.

AFAIK SWA is one of the few, if not the only one that allows people to sit in the aircraft at an en-route stop of such a flight. Incidentally such are called "Direct" flights in airline parlance.

The same flight number thing has some regulatory relevance in terms of which Freedom of the Air is being used in international flights. Other than that, purely in domestic flights I am not sure what it means except for some operational convenience for the operating airline perhaps.
 

jruff001

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
298
I’ve never been on a multi-stop flight other than southwest. Do any of the major carriers have them?
I must not have been clear because I wasn't referring to multi-stop flights, so my apologies for the confusion. I'll try again.

People sometimes wonder why an airline doesn't serve City A because "it would be profitable." Maybe so, but if the airline can make MORE profit serving City B and doesn't have sufficient resources to serve both, it will not serve City A even though it could have made some profit by doing so.
 

Devil's Advocate

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
12,805
Location
EOTL
I’ve never been on a multi-stop flight other than southwest. Do any of the major carriers have them?
I've flown direct flights on Singapore Airlines and I believe Qantas also had them. I guess the closest to Southwest would have been Continental Micronesia.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
I've flown direct flights on Singapore Airlines and I believe Qantas also had them. I guess the closest to Southwest would have been Continental Micronesia.
Many international airlines have them in order to use one of the freedoms of the air. I remember back in the '70s when Air India flew to the US via London, it was allowed to carry US - UK sector passengers because it was the same flight continuing to India. If the flight numbers between India and London had been different from the one for London to New York, this would not have been allowed given the Bermuda II agreement.

United's round the world flight involved multiple gauge changes on the same flight number around the world too, as did its predecessor on those routes Pan Am, though Pan Am in its hey day mostly used 747s, and before that 707s..

Continental Micronesia and the follow on United in Micronesia has indeed always been an interesting operation which has had a lot of multi hop flights serving a series of islands. I wonder if Aloha and Hawaiian have something similar around Hawaii.
 
Last edited:

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,918
I must not have been clear because I wasn't referring to multi-stop flights, so my apologies for the confusion. I'll try again.

People sometimes wonder why an airline doesn't serve City A because "it would be profitable." Maybe so, but if the airline can make MORE profit serving City B and doesn't have sufficient resources to serve both, it will not serve City A even though it could have made some profit by doing so.
Oh ok. I did misunderstand. It seems to be planes go just about everywhere so I’m not sure I agree this is a good example. Air travel would make the most sense with only a few major hubs and rail and bus transportation connecting cities to those hubs. Instead we have short 20 minute flights connecting airport to airport. Crazy.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
23,669
Location
Austin Texas
I’ve never been on a multi-stop flight other than southwest. Do any of the major carriers have them?
Thanks for the Posters that cleared this up.

It's been awhile since I flew regularly, and Airline scheduling has been in a constant state of Flux during the Pandemic.
 

jpakala

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 13, 2014
Messages
84
I can attest that business people use Amtrak between Chicago and two cities on the line to St.Louis: Springfield and Bloomington/Normal, IL. Many students use the train to the latter from both north and south on the St. Louis line. Years back a relative was going to fly from St. Louis to Springfield, IL on American and the price was way over $1,000 or $500 without any ability to make a change. Moreover the route was via O'Hare with a change of planes there, and took much longer than train, which cost about $50. (I think these were round-trip but in any case American later stopped serving the route.)
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
I agree with you that our grid is much "dirtier" than it should be.

However, EVs are still much cleaner as far as fuel is concerned even if the fuel comes from coal or gas electric plants. This is because EVs are MUCH more efficient than gas powered vehicles. The article you cited completely failed to factor this in.

My EV goes about 240 miles on a full charge in warm weather. The energy equivalent of a full charge is equal to about 2.1 gallons of gasoline. If I use the heat, the range drops to about 130 miles in the winter, but that's equal to about 65 miles per gallon - and that's in the absolute worst winter weather.
UCS did the math on how "clean" EVs are in each local electricity grid in the US -- carbon emissions equivalent, well-to-wheels. *Far* better than gas cars, mostly because gasoline engines are frighteningly inefficient.





These MPG equivalence numbers sound very extreme. I would love to see the calculations that produced these values.
DONE. I know they surprise you but they are fact.
 
Last edited:

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
Well, electrified passenger rail, anyways. I'm honestly not super-convinced that taking a roomette outside of the NEC today, where we're still using diesel engines, is all that much better than taking a commercial flight somewhere. Until we build electric rail infrastructure on more Amtrak routes (where the trains can take advantage of improvements to the electric grid's carbon footprint) I don't think the argument that a roomette is super green compared to a coach (or domestic first) flight holds up.
Flights are really terrible in terms of carbon emissions. Really awful. Yes, a roomette is better.

Technically, adding one person to a plane or train which is already running never has any significant emissions. So the only way to figure this is to look at the average: if everyone who was on a flight switched to a train (in roomette!) would that reduce emissions. It would, because flights are awful. Going up in the air, fighting gravity, uses a lot of fuel and generates a lot of emissions.

Whether the roomettes, led by diesel engines, are cleaner than driving electric cars from NY to Chicago... I haven't checked those numbers. Railroad diesel engines are pretty efficient compared to automobile gasoline engines, partly because they're larger and partly because they spend more time running at "optimal speed" (due to the electric transmission, something also present in certain hybrid cars but not in normal gasoline cars); and with lower rolling resistance a train is more efficient than a car; so it is probably still better, but it's not as much of a slam-dunk as vs. flights, which are terrible.
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
577
Location
Boston
Flights are really terrible in terms of carbon emissions. Really awful. Yes, a roomette is better.

Technically, adding one person to a plane or train which is already running never has any significant emissions. So the only way to figure this is to look at the average: if everyone who was on a flight switched to a train (in roomette!) would that reduce emissions. It would, because flights are awful. Going up in the air, fighting gravity, uses a lot of fuel and generates a lot of emissions.

Whether the roomettes, led by diesel engines, are cleaner than driving electric cars from NY to Chicago... I haven't checked those numbers. Railroad diesel engines are pretty efficient compared to automobile gasoline engines, partly because they're larger and partly because they spend more time running at "optimal speed" (due to the electric transmission, something also present in certain hybrid cars but not in normal gasoline cars); and with lower rolling resistance a train is more efficient than a car; so it is probably still better, but it's not as much of a slam-dunk as vs. flights, which are terrible.
Unless you have hard numbers, I’m in disagreement. Taking Amtrak from NYC to LA is not as efficient as taking an A321 or 737. Regulations prevent the idling that used to occur regularly, and airplanes and engines have changed

You claim taking every passenger on a plane and putting them in a roomette would be more emmission friendly.
Let’s not even address the energy intensive things that go into providing sleeper service like water consumption, traditional dining, linens, and waste. Let’s just look at fuel and emissions.

Newer aircraft, like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 737MAX, consume on average less than 1.2 gallons per 100 passenger miles. This fuel consumption is comparable to that of compact cars, although aircraft travel much further and faster.

Your blanket (and pretty obviously unresearched) statement “Going up in the air, fighting gravity, uses a lot of fuel and generates a lot of emissions,” doesn’t account for the nuance of what we are discussing here.

Airplanes pollute a lot, but they pollute a lot for a short period of time. When a plane descends, pilots throttle back to idle (or close to it). So your talk of fighting gravity is really simplistic.

A old Genesis locomotive (or 2-3 in a consist), pollutes for a minimum of 90 hours when a passenger crosses country by train. A full western LD consist is usually around 300 people, and an eastern LD consist is similar (or less) though most are not traveling to end points on either one.

Based on a report from Dec 2010 a P42 averages between 2.2 and 2.5 gallons per train mile. In the figures we are using for comparison that would be between .4 and .46 miles per gallon.

When United runs triple 7s on their KSFO - KBOS around New Years due to a spike in demand, they manage to carry the same amount (or more) for 2,300nm. If you want I could pull up ForeFlight and do the fuel burn numbers for a B777 just to really get into the nitty gritty of it rather than continued blanket speculations.


The short haul flight market is where this discussion starts to become more obvious. It’s no secret that on flights shorter than 300 miles, an train would win every time.
 
Last edited:

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,918
Translate that to passenger miles per gallon (let’s say 100 for an all roomette train) and we have roughly 46 passenger miles per gallon.
The western trains already have a capacity of over 100 in sleeping cars (in normal times) So an all roomette train would accommodate a few hundred, depending on how many cars.
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
577
Location
Boston
The western trains already have a capacity of over 100 in sleeping cars (in normal times) So an all roomette train would accommodate a few hundred, depending on how many cars.
Right, but it’s unlikely every single bunk would be filled. Many travel alone in roomettes.

that said, let’s say a generous 6 sleepers are in the consist for the highly unlikely situation of all 264 total berths being filled.

taking 264 people 90 hours across country with all of the amenities for sleeper class is not exactly an efficient way to travel.
 

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,918
Right, but it’s unlikely every single bunk would be filled. Many travel alone in roomettes.

that said, let’s say a generous 6 sleepers are in the consist for the highly unlikely situation of all 264 total berths being filled.

taking 264 people 90 hours across country with all of the amenities for sleeper class is not exactly an efficient way to travel.
What would it be compared to air?
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
577
Location
Boston
What would it be compared to air?

A United 777-200ER - max gross fuel is roughly 45,000 US gallons (though it will be less for a transcontinental flight). In a 2 class consist of 310 pax traveing 2340 nm from SFO - BOS. Translating to 5.85 gallons per mile, 77 gallons per passenger mile. These figures change every flight, and going east uses less fuel than going west as you're not fighting the winds.
 
Last edited:

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,918
A single P42: .46 gallons per mile - For a train with 200 passengers, that translates to roughly 92 gallons per passenger mile. However, there is never one single locomotive in the consist.

A United 777-200ER - max gross fuel is roughly 45,000 US gallons (though it will be less for a transcontinental flight). In a 2 class consist of 310 pax traveing 2340 nm from SFO - BOS. Translating to 5.85 gallons per mile, 150 gallons per passenger mile. These figures change every flight, and going east uses less fuel than going west as you're not fighting the winds.
Why are you comparing 200 passengers on a train to 310 on a plane?

A typical western consist would hold 310. So why not compare 310 to 310?
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
A single P42: .46 gallons per mile - For a train with 200 passengers, that translates to roughly 92 gallons per passenger mile. However, there is never one single locomotive in the consist.

A United 777-200ER - max gross fuel is roughly 45,000 US gallons (though it will be less for a transcontinental flight). In a 2 class consist of 310 pax traveing 2340 nm from SFO - BOS. Translating to 5.85 gallons per mile, 150 gallons per passenger mile. These figures change every flight, and going east uses less fuel than going west as you're not fighting the winds.
It might be worthwhile carefully reconsidering your calculation for passenger mile :D
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
577
Location
Boston
It might be worthwhile carefully reconsidering your calculation for passenger mile :D
Considering how good you are at researching and looking up these things, I'll defer to you.
I did the numbers for the aircraft on ForeFlight, so I'm farely confident in those, but the train ones very well could be incorrect. It was done with only 30 minutes of research.
Feel free to add your own corrections. :)

EDIT: Found an error for my flight calc, and adjusted
 
Last edited:

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
577
Location
Boston
Why are you comparing 200 passengers on a train to 310 on a plane?

A typical western consist would hold 310. So why not compare 310 to 310?
He was mentioning an all sleeper train (6 sleepers, plus a diner and cafe and SSL would make for a long train to begin with).
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Moderator
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,658
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
If a train carrying 200 passengers one mile requires 0.86 Gallons then surely the gallons per passenger mile calculation would be 0.86 / 200 and not 0.86 x 200, no?
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
314
Location
northwestern Montana
I’ve never been on a multi-stop flight other than southwest. Do any of the major carriers have them?
A decade ago they were still very common on Alaska and Horizon. Not just Fairbanks - Anchorage - Seattle, but lots of run-throughs like Anchorage-Seattle-Phoenix, so that they could advertise lots of direct service. They never made you disembark at the intermediate terminal for those.

A quick look at the current Alaska schedule reveals those have mostly dried up. (They didn't dry up just "because of the hub system", but the drying up was much more recent.) There are still Southeast Alaska "milk runs" with 3 or 4 stops, as well as quite a several one-stop flights each day like Anchorage-Juneau-Sitka, Juneau-Sitka-Seattle, and Juneau-Ketchikan-Seattle.

I used to use Horizon's "triangle" flights Boise-Idaho Falls-Pocatello-Boise quite a lot. I thought it was a great practical solution to serving low volume markets, and it meant Idaho Falls got 4 flights a day instead of just one or two. Like most great practical solutions it got dropped about ten years ago :)
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
Unless you have hard numbers, I’m in disagreement. Taking Amtrak from NYC to LA is not as efficient as taking an A321 or 737.
OK, conceded, very-long-haul in very large planes might be more efficient, particularly if the train route is taking a lot of curves while going up and down mountains. I don't actually care, because the number of people who are going to consider trains on such three-day routes are... basically just the people who will not fly at all, like me. Even if the trains have lower carbon emissions on such a route, they take so much longer that few people will switch. The cross-Rockies trains are present for people who cannot fly.

I was thinking about stuff like NYC to Chicago or DC to Chicago. Or NYC to Miami -- at the longest. Or Buffalo to Chicago and Syracuse to Chicago -- the last of which is my typical trip. Chicago to Detroit, Detroit to NYC. Those are the ones where I did look up the numbers a while back. These single overnights can be time-competitive with flying, if you consider the overnight to be an alternative to sleeeping in a hotel room (the time spent sleeping doesn't really count against the travel time).

These are *much shorter trips*. Maximum 1300 miles, not 2700. A much larger percentage of the flight time is going up in the air and down again. Coasting is the efficient part of the flight; taking off and going up is the part which generates massive emissions. These routes are also, invariably, done in smaller planes. Think MD-80 (or whatever they replaced it with), not 737.

Try the fuel usage numbers on NY-Chicago with an all-sleeper train vs. a jet with the same capacity. I don't think it'll be difficult to see which has higher emissions -- the airplane.
 
Last edited:

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,964
Location
Ithaca, NY
Why are you comparing 200 passengers on a train to 310 on a plane?

A typical western consist would hold 310. So why not compare 310 to 310?
Yes, you have to do this. Trains can be made as long as necessary. You have to compare identical passenger counts; it's the only way to make the comparison at all.
 
Top