Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Conservation of energy and the impracticality of Amtrak

This Saturday I am going to New York City to the New Yorker Festival. I am looking forward to a literary weekend and possibly a good lunch. I tried to see if I could take the train and save some gas and save on parking and generally be a good citizen.

All of that good idea came crashing down when the economics come into play. There are two of us going so the 2 round trip tickets on Amtrak from Wilmington to New York Penn Station come to ~$250. This seemed like a lot of money, but I did first compare it to what it would cost for us to drive. Parking is $18, gas is $30, tolls are $15 and since the IRS gives $.41/mile (168 miles one way) I thought that I should include that as an estimate for the use of the car. The total is ~$200 though I am not sure I should include the gas if I used the per mile method ($170 without gas).

It seems that driving wins this simple cost benefit analysis for two people or more in the car. Never minding the fact that the car puts out more pollution than the train or the convenience factor of letting the conductor drive the train instead of me driving the car, it just doesn't seem worth it to take Amtrak. How can trains compete against driving for this distance of trip? It is no wonder that Amtrak is having such trouble increasing or keeping ridership, the cost to the consumer is too high.

I certainly do not advocate raising the price of the car travel to make the train trip more competitive. The highways we will drive on were subsidized with taxes and tolls and so is Amtrak. I am not sure that subsidizing Amtrak more is the solution to the problem but we can't let Amtrak fail or there will never be an alternative to driving. I am sure there are better analyses of this issue but for me the decision is clear. What is missing in my comparison that could possibly make the Amtrak solution more cost effective?

1 comment:

gawker said...

Electrification, which Amtrak is carrying out on many routes might be a solution for reducing operating costs. As well as improving infrastructure to allow high speed rail travel, so that time taken to travel would also be a factor. However, Amtrak is crippled in this aspect because of lack of funding. Its a vicious circle.