Fast, Comfortable and Affordable at Any Distance
Railroads are very capital intensive. So attracting large volumes of travelers is essential for reducing unit costs and driving up efficiency. Long-distance travelers can provide substantial volume and revenues.
Believers in the three-hour rule would assume that long-distance passengers fly, and yet 25% of trips over 1000 miles are made by car, and the average intercity train trip is over 800 miles long. Something else must be going on. A look at several advantages to railroad travel shows how trains can attract very long distance travelers.
In fact, the train becomes more competitive with driving as trip length increases.
When properly delivered, rail travel is faster than driving. This is especially true for trips longer than 500 miles. By continuing to move while eating and sleeping the train traveler can cover an additional 500 miles or more per day.
Sure, people often drive very long trips “straight through,” but at a cost of comfort and safety.
Trains also gain a travel-time advantage over air as the distance between a hub airport and origin or destination increases because rail stations can be located in more places and closer to population concentrations than airports.
Driving is almost entirely down time. Methods of increasing productivity while driving, such as cell phones, make driving unsafe.Since there is so much waiting involved with air travel, a longer rail trip can, in many cases, actually yield far more productive time.
If fuel charges are the only measure, driving is often cheaper. But fuel alone does not represent the true cost to the consumer. For example, at the conservative IRS allocation of $.375 per mile a Chicago to Los Angeles drive would cost $757.00. On June 29, 2004 Amtrak quoted $122.00 in coach or $667.00 in a sleeper for a late-August trip.
Wider seats, more leg room and the ability to get up and move around are selling points for the train, no matter what the distance. Many trains have an additional advantage over flying – the ability to rest or work in a private room.
Driver fatigue and other factors widen the safety gap as trip lengths increase, especially if hotel and restaurant breaks are skipped to save expense or time. On the train, travelers avoid the possibility of being stranded on a highway shoulder, a very unsafe environment.
Recent attempts to make flying safer have increased trips times and decreased comfort.
The spin off benefits of railroad service, such as better fuel efficiency, reduced emissions and stronger communities, are frequently used to promote investment in passenger trains. These benefits accrue whether the person on the train is traveling 5 miles or 3000 miles. The train in the photo above provided capacity to remove more than 300 cars and 40 trucks from Chicago’s highways. Some of the passengers rode all the way to Los Angeles, most did not, but all rode safely and efficiently.