Long Distance Night Trains

A Strong Foundation

Long-distance night trains represent America, connecting cities and distant rural areas, serving higher-ticket tourists and budget-minded commuters, and uniting elected leaders of every political persuasion.

They are highly productive, cost-effectively bundling together many routes and travel markets.

We believe long-distance night trains can be the foundation for improving and expanding our entire national rail network.

Night trains are a cost-effective way to connect rural America.

New, state-of-the-art night trains should be part of a national rail program.


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A dynamic, high-value service.

The current conversation around night trains focuses on saving what’s left, rather than on expanding and improving a dynamic, high-value service.

A faulty assumption held by rail planners is the “three-hour rule,” which assumes travelers will choose to fly for trips over three hours. This is often expressed as the "100-300 mile sweet spot" for trains.

In fact, trains are fast, convenient and affordable – at any distance.


You can gain hundreds of miles per day over driving by working, eating and sleeping on the train.
Night trains connect the nation

The Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder offers one example of how trains bridge time zones and economic classes, serving residents of dense cities and sparse rural areas alike.

Passengers get on and off the train all along its route, some riding for just a stop or two, some going the entire distance from the Midwest to the coast.

Sleeping car passenger provide the base-revenue needed to offer low-cost coach tickets.
Example: The Southwest Chief serves 528 city pairs

To illustrate the concept, let’s examine the 2,265 mile corridor between Chicago and Los Angeles. Because it makes 31 intermediate stops, it serves 528 different city pairs.

The Southwest Chief route has just one train a day in each direction, yet it attracted 355,000 passengers in 2012—466 per departure.

Passenger trips range from a short 40 miles to a long 2,265 miles and everything in between. People traveling all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles account for only 8% of the riders – but 20% of the revenue.


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Sleeping car passengers make it possible

83% of long-distance train passengers choose coach. But the 17% that choose a bedroom provide 44% of the revenue, which makes these trains possible.

It's a win-win for everyone. Bedrooms offer a huge advantage over driving because travelers are still moving even when they are sleeping. And coach passengers benefit from affordable fares.

Amtrak roomette photo by Mike Danneman
A new approach

The High Speed Rail Alliance believes in a visionary federal policy to expand networks and service throughout the country.

Night trains are one of the cost-effective tools we have to build an integrated national network.

We need to change the language from cost burdens to acquisition of new state-of-the-art trains and track, improvements in on-time performance and expansion of service.

The European Union is working to expand night trains across into new markets, building on the success of OBB's NightJet.
Achieving the full potential of night trains
  • Better tracks
  • More daily departures
  • State-of-the-art trains

Better tracks – Amtrak has fought with its most important vendors, the class 1 railroads, about on-time performance for decades.  A better approach would be to jointly identify small track and signal fixes that will benefit both passenger and freight.  Then, jointly ask Congress to fund them.

More Daily Departures – When there is just one train a day, some stations are forced to get dark of the night service.  At least two trains a day are needed to ensure everyone has daytime service.  Spacing the two departures 8 hours apart makes maximum use of existing station employees.

State-of-the-art trains – Amtrak's night trains are old and past their useful life.  New trainsets would reduce operating costs, attract more riders and improve on-time performance.  They could even be designed to tilt around turns, cutting trip times without building new tracks.

Want to learn more?

Resources on the benefits of night trains to riders, communities and policymakers.

Two night trains prepare to depart Shanghai for Beijing
Ready to get involved?

Join the movement to create fast, frequent and affordable trains throughout the country.

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