Friday, September 09, 2005

Has Anyone Heard About Amtrak?

Has Anyone Heard About Amtrak?

Amtrak, as the self-appointed national representative of passenger rail services, and through mouthpiece David Gunn, speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

At the end of last week, Amtrak was announcing fare increases of as much as 50% to cover fuel costs.  Yesterday, Mr. Gunn advised that now was the time to act on making Amtrak a viable alternative to using all those gas-guzzling SUVs.  I have just done the math.  With an SUV that gets only 15 mpg on the highway, it is still cheaper to take the SUV from Chicago to Albuquerque (1,350 miles) than to take Amtrak.

I have done a little creative accounting like the railroads have been doing with passenger rail for years.  I have called the cost of owning the SUV a fixed cost, because if you already own it you have to pay for all the things like repairs and insurance anyway.  So the trip is an incremental cost that exists only if you run the vehicle.  This is just like the railroad calling maintenance of way a fixed cost while fuel for the locomotive is an incremental cost.

So it costs $265.50 in gas for the SUV to take 5 passengers in relative comfort at today’s $2.95/gal for regular.  The latest fare from Amtrak for the same 5 passengers in coach seats is $645.00.  

But you can sleep on the train, you say?  Not well in a coach seat.  But let’s say that you spring for a hotel instead of driving the old SUV for 20 to 25 hours.  Even then, there are rates in decent hotels that get all 5 people in for under $100 plus tax.  (The train figures don’t include tax either.)

Mr. Gunn, you have a long way to go on this one.

And has anybody heard of Amtrak moving out refugees (evacuees) by rail from New Orleans or anywhere else on the Gulf of Mexico?  We would like to know.

©2005 C. A. Turek –
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