Thursday, April 17, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Amtrak cost doesn’t add up

We would like to visit a friend in Richmond. She has offered to meet us at the Richmond Amtrak station. It sounds like fun — we have not made this rail trip before. But then …?

We can drive from Davis to Richmond and back, about 130 miles, in our compact Toyota pickup, on less than one tankful of gas, which, filled to the brim (12.2 gallons), currently costs exactly $40.13. Or we could take Amtrak, for a round-trip cost for two of $85.

All studies show that rail travel consumes one-third to one-fifth the amount of energy per passenger-mile as car travel does. Our fuel cost to Richmond and back by car is about $35, so the Amtrak trip should cost us about $12. Can’t Amtrak officials do arithmetic?

Something is very wrong with this picture. What is it? If the goal is to decrease automobile traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, and to practice — and encourage others to practice — ongoing energy conservation, hey, Amtrak! This is not the way!

Glenn Rice
Davis

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Discussion | 11 comments

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 20, 2014 - 3:39 pm

    "Something is very wrong with this picture. What is it?" .......... Glenn, you have not accounted for the cost of labor in your price comparison. With your car, you are your own chauffeur. As a train passenger, you are paying the (somewhat high) cost of the people who work at the train stations, the people who help you on and off-board, the people who take tickets and make sure everyone is seated properly, the people who clean the inside of the train and others who take care of its exterior, the people who drive the train and make sure the train does not collide with other trains on the same tracks, and you pay a premium to cover the costs of accommodating the disabled and partially disabled and the costs of those who ride at a steep discount. Those are the main reasons Amtrak costs so much more than a car ride. That said, the R/T from Davis to Emeryville, I can say from recent experience, is much more relaxing than the same R/T drive.

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 20, 2014 - 3:46 pm

    One other thing to note: "gas, which, filled to the brim (12.2 gallons), currently costs exactly $40.13," is not your full cost of a car trip. You have on top of that some amount for insurance, registration, wear and tear on your tires and every part of your engine, possibly cleaning and a number of other small, miscellaneous costs. Additionally, you had to buy your car in the first place. If it cost you $25,000 (including tax) and it lasts 100,000 miles, your depreciation expense is 25 cents per mile. So a 130 mile trip costs you $32.50 in depreciation value of your vehicle, assuming it is fully depreciated after 100,000 miles.

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  • CapitolCorridorRegularFebruary 20, 2014 - 4:41 pm

    In addition to which, if you rode Amtrak as often (or even 10% as often) as you drive your car, you would buy a multi-ride or monthly ticket, which cuts the price by at least half. The Capitol Corridor Authority calculates the price of one ride on a 10-way ticket to be less than that of driving to the various destinations served by the train. Furthermore, the free wifi on Amtrak permits riders to get work done, so that the time isn't wasted as when driving a car.

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  • trainguyFebruary 20, 2014 - 6:10 pm

    Glenn, A round trip for two from Davis to Richmond isn't $85, it is $46. Anyone can verify this by going to tickets.amtrak.com Sounds slightly more reasonable, yes?

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  • February 20, 2014 - 7:01 pm

    Roundtrip for two to Richmond and back is $86. My car can do that trip on 6 gallons of gas and one bridge fair. So I'm talking only around $25 vrs. $86 on Amtrak. I'm driving too.

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  • February 20, 2014 - 6:11 pm

    Amtrak is not a public service. They're a private company with the goal to make money, no?

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 20, 2014 - 7:36 pm

    Amtrak is a public company, wholly owned and operated by the US government. It was formed in 1970 after the last few major private passenger train companies went bankrupt. ........... Along these lines, there was a great documentary on PBS recently called The Rise and Fall of Penn Station. Its demise and eventual demolition was a result of the failure of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was the last major privately owned passenger rail service to go bankrupt, prompting Congress to create Amtrak. There were two awesome aspects to Penn Station in Manhattan. The first was, as a building, it was probably the greatest example of public architecture in US history. It was done in the Roman style, but it was larger, more sublime and far more elegant than anything ever done in Rome. The second was the engineering it took to build a train tunnel under the East River to connect up with Manhattan. A great amount was learned back (a bit more than 100 years ago) on this project to get it done.

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 20, 2014 - 7:39 pm

    An aside about the demolition of Penn Station, made in that documentary, was that it helped to spur the movement for architectural preservation we have had in the U.S. ever since. It's just such a shame that our greatest public building was destroyed to make that awareness happen.

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  • February 20, 2014 - 9:35 pm

    According to Wikipedia, Amtrak is a publicly funded railroad service operated and managed as a FOR- PROFIT corporation that began operations in May of 1971. Not sure how that translates into serving the public at a bare bones, city/ county bus fare type of service but, I don't know what their agreement is with the Federal govt.

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  • greg johnsonFebruary 20, 2014 - 7:03 pm

    Glenn, it sounds like your Toyota gets only about 13 mpg. I would skip the Amtrak which (according to your numbers) is ridiculously overpriced and get a good commuter car. I get 30 mpg in my '02 Camry.

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  • B. CarfreeFebruary 20, 2014 - 9:06 pm

    It's too bad we don't subsidize public transit to the same extent that we subsidize private motor vehicles. Even so, considering the other costs of car use, including long-term medical, it's still far cheaper to forgo car ownership and walk, cycle, rent or ride the train/bus.

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