By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Cities
Along America's dense Northeast Corridor, passengers fed up with flight issues are increasingly taking the train. Funding complications could slow the trend.
The Northeast Corridor of the United States, which stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C., is the country's most populous and traveled span of land. (It's also the oldest, on average.)
It's also a great place to see multi-modal transportation efforts at work: With each major city in the corridor no more than three hours apart -- Boston to Providence to New York to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington -- it's a great place to truly evaluate the merits of traveling by rail versus air, train versus plane.
Lately, trains are winning. The New York Times writes this morning that rail operator Amtrak is seeing passengers increasingly choosing rail over air.
Ron Nixon writes:
Between New York and Washington, Amtrak said, 75 percent of travelers go by train, a huge share that has been building steadily since the Acela was introduced in 2000 and airport security was tightened after 2001. Before that, Amtrak had just over a third of the business between New York and Washington.
Why? Passengers cite security hassles (no liquids! no shoes! no laptops!), inconvenience (airports are hardly the easiest to get to, removing the time advantage of flying) and frequent flight delays as reasons that air travel has become less attractive in this area of the country.
In many places, trains and airplanes complement each other; along the densely developed Northeast Corridor, they compete directly. The exchange between the two, then, is easily observed: Amtrak's market share between New York and Washington increased 38 percentage points over the last decade; between New York and Boston, it's up 34 percentage points.
The problem? Profitability. Despite fuller trains, Amtrak is still subsidized by the federal government, and loses money on a national basis. (The Northeast Corridor turns a profit, however.) Infrastructure costs are mounting, prompting the question: what's the best way to get around?
Photo: Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr
Aug 15, 2012
Most transport is subsidised - trains only make a profit on a few European routes, planes get tax breaks, taxpayer funded infrastructure, massive 'hidden' grants in both EU and US to develop new models and cars aint much better (pay full cost of parking and cleaning up environmental damage, anybody?)
Don't those who use the roads pay for them in gas taxes, excise taxes, and sales taxes? It's not like they are getting a free ride. (Sorry pres and Granny Warren) The government pays for nothing without the tax money it takes in from the payers, past, present, and future.
An efficiently operated rail system is a thing of wonder. An efficiently operated airline is a dream. How do the Europeans manage to operate their rail at a profit?
In the Western US, where distances are great and train passenger service inherently unprofitable, this problem was recognized in advance. WE (the people) GAVE vast amounts of land to the rail road lines in exchange for a promise to provide passenger service in perpetuity. It was a good deal for them -- they got the land, and the profitable freight business. Until the 1890's, when an openly corrupt Supreme Court relieved them of their obligation to provide passenger service, but let them keep the land, and the right to the profitable freight business. Dirty bunch of crooks. And no, this is not some wacky conspiracy theory, you can look it up.
It costs Amtrak $16.15 to make a cheeseburger on a train and $3.40 just to place a can of soda on the train for a customer to buy, yet the only charge $9.50 and $2 respectively. http://www.wltx.com/news/article/196322/2/A-Can-of-Soda-Costs-Amtrak-340-Cheeseburger-1615
Solution seems simple enough: spin off the Northeast corridor as a separate private company. Ditto for other areas. If an area cannot compete, then it goes out of business. In any case, rail needs to be run as a private business, not a ward of the state.
It takes me an hour and 25 minutes to fly from Manchester NH to BWI nonstop. The price is about $60 to $70 on a 737. The train, booked 3 weeks out, would get me there in 7 hours for $68 to $190 which is also subsidized heavily by the taxpayers. The security hassle in NH is not bad. I'll fly thank you and I would rather not give more money to Amtrak.
This news coming just a day after Romney announces that if elected, he will end subsidies to Amtrak. I guess we should all be suffering in airport terminals which are privately funded. Oh . . . wait. . . . , I forgot . . . terminals and runways are paid for by taxpayers. Maybe, we're not supposed to travel at all. If God meant us to go places, He would have given us wheels.
I used to enjoy flying, but I hate it anymore. Security issues, delays, lack of customer service (counter attendants whispering to each other and laughing at their customers), and industry apathy are killing air travel. Why should I pay good money and then have to worry about possibly spending hours on the tarmac, smelling over-filled toilets and being denied water and refreshment? I'd rather take the train. Except that government-subsidized Amtrak also means train stations located in the worst parts of town, boarding hours at 1:30 am in the morning, and 8-hour stops in Chicago. No business (except the airlines) could afford to inconvenience and annoy their customers in such a manner. Is it possible to put them all out of business and start over?
There is a 3rd option growing in popularity...Private Bus lines, with fares as little as 25.00 one way from Washington DC to a drop off/boarding point a block away from Penn Station in NYC. The oldest one is a line that operates from DC Chinatown to NYC Chinatown. A company named "Bolt" seems to be one of more popular lines. Many offer frequent rider points to earn free tickets. They all seem to provide free on board wifi, bring your own food and drink and an on board bathroom (like Greyhound). It's become popular enough Grey Hound is starting to offer it's own low cost competitive fares. All the buses are non stop express. They are significantly less expensive than Amtrak.
The federal excise tax aside frrom no entirely going to highway funds does not cover the cost. Unless you're walking an a dirt path (even some of those in the mountains) it is subsidized. It is just a question of how much. From wikipedia: "During 2008 the fund required support of $8 billion from general revenue funds to cover a shortage in the fund. This shortage was due to lower gas consumption as a result of the recession and higher gas prices. Further transfers of $7 billion and $19.5 billion were made in 2009 and 2010 respectively"
Rail in Europe used to make a profit when it used cost effective express trains running up to 120 mph. Express trains built the legend of profitable rail service in Europe post WW II through the 1970s. With the move to HSR they sacrificed affordable to buy trains and cost efficient operations for speed. They have been bleeding money ever since, requiring large taxpayer subsidies to keep operating. On some routes the ticket price covers only half the cost of the seat. Taxpayers foot the rest of the bill. The newest private high speed train in Europe, the Italos operated by NTV, may be the technology leap that makes HSR more efficient. Only time will tell if the trains actual operating costs are lower than current HSR in Europe, but it has a step up on the competition by being a more efficient design that uses less energy and carries more passengers. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/5164ecce-6827-11df-a52f-00144feab49a.html#axzz24HSzvGDr
Sorry. In 2007, European railroads were subsidized to the tune of $73 billion euros ($90 billion) per year. It's divided between infrastructure and price reductions. See the European Environment Agency report at http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/technical_report_2007_3/at_download/file . No major public transportation system can exist without subsidies. Even private bus lines depend on public roads. The real question is how much bang you get for the buck relative to other options. Here in the US, rail makes sense only in very high density corridors like the Northeast. Even LA/SF lines in California have a hard time because there aren't a lot of destinations in-between.
After reading the link there were a few items that stuck out. "For example, taking overhead into account, each cheeseburger costs Amtrak $16.15 and each can of soda costs $3.40. But Amtrak charges passengers only $9.50 and $2 for those items." Just what is considered overhead. Just a little vague. "Ted Alves, inspector general of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, said most of the losses come from Amtrak's 15 long-distance routes. Some losses come from theft" Again a little vague. Is the food not selling and having to be thrown out? All in all I'm not ready to condem the entire company on this article from South Carolina. It hasn't passed the smell test.
paying $16.15 for a burger and $3.40 for a can of soda? Even with overhead that is high. And I'm not going to pay $9.50 for a burger. Obviously, economics are not their strong suit. Then, I would expect such of a government operation. They should contract that part out and find other efficiencies to implement (on their way to privatizing it and doing away with subsidies all together). If I lived there, I would take the train as well. I don't like the bus. To small and crowded, no room to stretch out. Trains are more comfortable (at least they used to be, it's been a long while since I've seen a American passenger train. My train riding has been in foreign countries. I meant to take the Sacramento to Reno run for the view through the mountains but never got to it before we left Ca.). Enjoy it while you can, before the TSA Gestapo gets their tentacles on "security" at train stations.
I hope so, they do not deserve tax money. The service is lousy, never on schedule and expensive and the majority of the employees don't give a hoot about customer service. If they had to actually compete and pay for themselves, it'd down the tubes in a heartbeat.
let's put them all out of business and start over. Not only are the train stations in the worst part of town (as are the bus stations), but some of them look like bombs went off inside the are so shabby. The one in Sacramento looks like it survived (barely) Falujah. At least it used to, maybe they renovated it since I saw it. By the way, is there a 1:30 AM in the afternoon? Sorry, couldn't resist. :)
In 2006, the railroad recovered 49 percent of its costs on food. In 2011, the figure was 59 percent. The goal for 2015 is 70 percent, Boardman said. Why is the goal not 100 percent for 2012? At least be break even on food service. This is why I agree with cutting off taxpayer subsidies. They have no incentive to run a cost effective operation.