Thursday, February 10, 2011

The reason rail doesn’t work

Plotting a trip to Pittsburgh. Amtrak says 30th St station Philly to 1100 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh is 7 hr, 23 min and $50 per head. Google says the same trip by car is 5 hrs 11 minutes, and 304 miles. Assume $0.50/mile (IRS deduction rate) and that’s $150 per car (round numbers). For one person, the extra 2 hours in transit may be worth saving $100 and a serious case of iron ass. (I did a ~300 mile drive with no stops recently, and it wasn’t exactly my favorite way to spend 5 hours, an hour of which was in traffic.)

With 2 automobile riders, though, the marginal cost of of the drive is $50. 3 makes it even, and 4 makes the trip cheaper by car. If there are 2+ drivers, the iron ass issue is lessened.

But wait, there’s more. There is exactly 1 train per day that makes that trip, leaving at noon and arriving at 8 pm. The return train leaves at 7 am and arrives at 3 pm. Miss it and you’re done. And, if you want a car at the other end, you still have to rent. Sure, you have to park your car, but it’s usually cheaper than renting at the destination.

All this assumes you don’t need to transport a firearm – all bets are off in that case.

As a comparison, an airline flight is $130 or so and 1.5 hrs, plus probulation time.

Great to see that Amtrak subsidy working out.

There are places passenger rail makes sense – I understand the Eastern Corridor from Washington DC to Boston would turn a profit by itself, and the train schedule is more convenient, with multiple trips daily, and notably faster and easier than driving. Not sure it makes sense anywhere else though.

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