In Mike’s post about Amtrak, it was suggested in the comments that if we lost passenger rail, we’d be stuck with buses.
So what? They’re far cheaper than Amtrak, and they’ll often get there faster! I wrote the below post back in April 2006 (so the costs might not be up to date), and added a little below this.
The railroads are tremendously important to this country for shipping goods, but there are much easier and cheaper ways to travel as a passenger.
As a quick test, I looked up train fare from Atlanta to Chicago. Since I regularly travel there to see family, I wanted to see how it compared to airfare. Well, Amtrak doesn’t run a direct route between the two. So a round-trip ticket cost about $380, with a stop each way in Washington, DC. And due to the extra time of those trips, the total travel time was about 30 hours each way.
Compare that to an airline flight. The same trip, by air, costs about $200 and takes about 2 hours each way. Hell, to get to Chicago is only about a 11-12 hour DRIVE, and wouldn’t cost more than about $100 in gas each way. I even checked Greyhound, and it was about a 15-hour trip, at a cost of $130 round-trip.
Of course, I’m sure I can be accused of cherry-picking the data with an Atlanta -> Chicago trip. I’m sure some other routes are more competitive in cost. In all honesty, it was simply the first choice I thought of, as it’s two major cities I’m familiar with for both auto and air travel. But if you’re going to offer intercity travel, without any direct service between the largest city in the Southeast and the largest city in the Midwest, aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot?
It’s very simple. For any long trip, it’s much more worthwhile to fly. For shorter trips, though, it might be profitable and convenient… IN WHICH CASE PRIVATE ENTERPRISE CAN TAKE CARE OF IT. And where rail lines aren’t available, bus service is.
There is absolutely no reason that American taxpayers need to continue wasting money on passenger rail service. If Amtrak can’t get themselves to profitability, it’s time for them to disappear.
In addition, I tried to run a different experiment. Going 1-way from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Amtrak’s cheapest route takes 74 hours, and came in at $382, traveling through Washington, DC and Chicago, IL in the process. Greyhound takes about 47 hours, and costs $120. By choosing Greyhound, you save an entire day of travel time and over $250.
Lest you think I’m deliberately choosing Atlanta, I decided to pick a one-way trip between Chicago and Los Angeles, one of the few routes where the rail lines are direct. Surely rail is cheaper and much faster than bus service, right? Amtrak is 43 hours, $218. Greyhound is 44 hours, $120. You burn an extra hour (assuming Amtrak is on time, which is rare), and save nearly $100.
Greyhound is more flexible and cheaper than Amtrak. The infrastructure they roll on (the roads) allows for much more freedom of route service than the rail. On most routes, Greyhound will provide more competitive prices and actually get you there faster than Amtrak.
Why do we continue throwing money after passenger rail?