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Old 06-16-10, 01:05 PM   #1
jccaclimber
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Why do railroads have to be such a pain?

I was contemplating a trip to visit a friend out in Eagle, CO (round trip, don't care what day I leave/return) in a few weeks and decided to do some research into transportation for 2 from Lafayette, IN to Eagle, CO. First check was driving. 20 hours each way, round trip cost of around $190 in gas. Closer to $240 if you take into account wear/tear, a portion of car insurance, etc.
Next I looked into flying. A bit under $700. Possibly worth the cost increase because it would save me time. However, then I would need to drive to Indianapolis (not a big deal, I know people there) and also catch a car/bus from Denver to Eagle.
Then I realized that unlike the last couple places I lived in there is an Amtrak station in Lafayette. When I was younger I took Amtrak up the east coast, and it was a nice experience. I would have a small carbon footprint, I would be able to walk around a bit, and it goes all the way to Vail (close to Eagle). Trains are efficient right? Wrong. Not only was it going to be $1000 (nearly 50% more than flying?), it was also going to take two full days (7AM departure day to 9PM the next day) each way. If I buy my ticket more than two months in advance, then the price goes down to $600, still close to the cost of flying.
Given the cost of moving stuff linked below, why is it that rail seems like such an awful way to travel? Is it simply a matter of volume, or is there something else playing in?
http://www.bts.gov/publications/nati...ble_03_17.html

I'll avoid getting in to the issues of trying to do a scene inspection on railroad land, that's far worse.
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Old 06-16-10, 01:17 PM   #2
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I'm not sure why Amtrak penalizes late bookers so hard. only $475 if you wanna do Jul 1 / july 14th.

I'd say the biggest bummer is the transfer to bus in denver. Might as well book Greyhound the whole way. I know they don't ding you for late bookings. - at least not as of about a year ago.

Trains only work well if you're travelling in a corridor.
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Old 06-16-10, 01:25 PM   #3
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You could always book a flight into the Eagle airport. Should be able to get something into Denver with a hop over to Eagle. Shouldn't be too much more.

The train sucks because it doesn't stop near the Eagle area.
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Old 06-16-10, 02:21 PM   #4
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I think you're paying express fees... or something...

north American rail transport is slow and scenic. It's for retired people who enjoy the good old days of sailing across the atlantic over the course of a week.

Now, European and Japanese rail is actually cheaper than air for the same distance.

I think it cost... $60 or something to go from Prague CZ, to Vienna, Austria.
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Old 06-16-10, 02:53 PM   #5
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Rail travel can be a lot cheaper than flying, but it takes dramatically longer. Part of the reason is that the US has never invested in passenger rail the way many other countries have so the trains are just flat out slow. Additionally, Amtrak has to lease the lines from the freight companies, who actually own them and as a result, passenger trains are frequently held up to allow the freight trains through. Amtrak schedules should be considered little more than goals.

Then there's the distance factor. A trip of a few hours by plane, can take several days on the train. And this is where the costs mount up. If you book a sleeper, the cost is equivalent to, and often higher than flying. However, if you're willing to sleep in your (fairly comfy) coach seat, then it's still a cheap way to travel.

But it all comes down to time. Do you really want to spend your vacation on the train, or would you rather get to your destination and ride your bike?
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Old 06-16-10, 02:59 PM   #6
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looked into getting a sleeper car for the family to travel on amtrack this summer, to save money on airfare. the kids were even cool with it, but after talking about it for a few days the train prices doubled and the same trip by air decreased by 50%. crazyiness.
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Old 06-16-10, 03:05 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jccaclimber View Post
I was contemplating a trip to visit a friend out in Eagle, CO (round trip, don't care what day I leave/return) in a few weeks... Not only was it going to be $1000 (nearly 50% more than flying?), it was also going to take two full days (7AM departure day to 9PM the next day) each way. If I buy my ticket more than two months in advance, then the price goes down to $600, still close to the cost of flying...
I checked 7/15, and it was @$440 r/t to Vail. That doesn't seem extreme to me. I admit I am biased, because I LOVE Amtrak. Two days each way is a big plus, to me, as the train ride would be the highlight of the trip for me. You see so much on the train. Look out the window, read a book, watch a movie, meet some unusual and interesting people, have a beer, play cards, relax and enjoy!

Were you checking prices with a bed? They crush you on price if you want your own sleeping space. It is possible to crash on the floor in the viewing car or in a seat.
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Old 06-16-10, 04:18 PM   #8
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Do people in sleeping rooms still get meals free? I've done San Luis Obispo, CA - Albany, OR and San Jose - Denver in sleepers before and the rooms then came with free coffee/juice and meals.
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Old 06-17-10, 08:05 AM   #9
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I'm not sure why Amtrak penalizes late bookers so hard. only $475 if you wanna do Jul 1 / july 14th.
I'd say the biggest bummer is the transfer to bus in denver. Might as well book Greyhound the whole way. I know they don't ding you for late bookings. - at least not as of about a year ago.
Trains only work well if you're travelling in a corridor.
The bus transfer was a real bummer. The prices I quoted (for car, train, and plane) were 2 people, round trip. I thought it was 490ish until I realized that was just that trip there, not the trip back as well. It ended up being 950-1000 both ways.

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You could always book a flight into the Eagle airport. Should be able to get something into Denver with a hop over to Eagle. Shouldn't be too much more.
The train sucks because it doesn't stop near the Eagle area.
Vail is close enough because I can get picked up by people I know in Eagle or Avon. I wasn't aware that much went to Eagle, so I might have to look at thta.
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I think you're paying express fees... or something...
Part of it is the express fees. If I book more than 2 months out the price goes down by half. On the other hand, it seems to be that going west is just expensive on trains. I looked in to going up to Hartford, Conn. in the spring from Terre Haute, IN and it was something like $170 round trip per person. Much less than the nearly $500 to Vail and back, and around the same distance.

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I checked 7/15, and it was @$440 r/t to Vail. That doesn't seem extreme to me. I admit I am biased, because I LOVE Amtrak. Two days each way is a big plus, to me, as the train ride would be the highlight of the trip for me. You see so much on the train. Look out the window, read a book, watch a movie, meet some unusual and interesting people, have a beer, play cards, relax and enjoy!
Were you checking prices with a bed? They crush you on price if you want your own sleeping space. It is possible to crash on the floor in the viewing car or in a seat.
I was checking the prices without a bed and it was coming in higher than 440/person. Adding beds was an additional $180 for bunks, $380 for bunks+chair past what I quoted.
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Old 06-17-10, 09:59 AM   #10
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I find it strange and sad that rail in North America is slower than driving. I'm looking forward to the Shanghai-Beijing high-speed rail, which will cover about 820 miles (say, LA to Denver or Chicago to New Orleans) in 5 hours, for about the price of an economy ticket - and always on time. Once you factor in getting to the airport, checking in, going through security and possible delays, the train is almost always going to be faster and easier.
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Old 06-17-10, 07:25 PM   #11
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I did some looking at Greyhound, doing a trip to the Maah Daah Hey with my daughter. Just for fun, it'll be a while before that could happen.

$322 per, RT with a week in between.
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Old 06-18-10, 11:28 PM   #12
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I used to travel on Amtrak between Boston and NYC regularly but other than that I've not used it much. Schedules and pricing were always crazy, at least during the times I was looking to travel to places that on that corridor.

On the other hand, I've traveled extensively on the train systems in Europe (France, UK, Belgium, netherlands) as well as in China and had fabulous experiences. Like others have said, these countries have a far more developed system than we do, at least for trains.
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Old 06-19-10, 09:44 AM   #13
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In 2000, I took an Amtrak ride from Chicago to Portland, Oregon. It was a little less expensive than flying, but it wasn't about the money. At that point, I had never taken a long train ride and thought it would be fun. Boy, was I wrong! It took 50 hours to get to Portland! Plus, any money saved on the ticket was spent on food in the dining car (I didn't realize I'd have to pay for 7 meals when I booked my ticket, doh!). After about 6 hours, the whole trip became utterly boring. At the 40 hour mark, I was literally counting the minutes to the end. Never again...

Now I live in Europe where the trains go 200 MPH. I love taking the train here as it is so much easier than flying. I don't need to show up at the train station early, so given the airport delay, trains are often faster. Plus, I'm not trying to travel 2000+ miles on a train anymore, so that helps too.
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Old 06-19-10, 03:56 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AEO View Post
Now, European and Japanese rail is actually cheaper than air for the same distance.
Honshu inland in Japan is about 700 miles long. Lafayette, IN to Eagle, CO is about 1200 miles.

Quote:
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I think it cost... $60 or something to go from Prague CZ, to Vienna, Austria.
That distance is about 156 miles.

You could leave tonight from NYC to go to Washington DC (a distance of about 250 miles) in 3:20 h for $106.

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Now I live in Europe where the trains go 200 MPH.
There aren't many trains in Europe that go that fast (the TGV averages 174 mph "start to stop").

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I find it strange and sad that rail in North America is slower than driving.
I find it "strange" that gas prices in Europe are $6-8/gallon and road fees so high! Of course, part of the problem with rail in the US is that "everybody" in the US wants to live on their own ranch instead of those nasty "garret" things those eurocommies prefer!

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I'm looking forward to the Shanghai-Beijing high-speed rail, which will cover about 820 miles (say, LA to Denver or Chicago to New Orleans) in 5 hours, for about the price of an economy ticket - and always on time.
The percentage of people in the US who can afford to fly from one end of the country to the other is likely much higher than the percentage of Chinese who can afford to take that train (even with the lower prices the locals likely pay). (Sounds like a great trip.)

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Old 06-21-10, 08:44 AM   #15
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Rail travel can be a lot cheaper than flying, but it takes dramatically longer. Part of the reason is that the US has never invested in passenger rail the way many other countries have so the trains are just flat out slow.
We actually have the trucking and tyre companies to thank for that.
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Old 06-21-10, 09:10 AM   #16
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High speed rail would be so nice. Especially for trips just a few hundred miles long...

No having to wait to get through security, no worrying about getting to the airport an hour or two early... I'd also imagine a high speed rail station in Denver would be a helluva lot more convenient than DIA.
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Old 06-21-10, 09:37 AM   #17
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We actually have the trucking and tyre companies to thank for that.
I recall the great tyre conspiracy that pretty much ended LRT/streetcars.
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Old 06-21-10, 09:48 AM   #18
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Last time I checked Amtrak charged based on zones. A set price per zone.. Last time I used it, you'd pay like 225 dollars between the 3 zones that separate the west coast from the Mid west.. What I liked back then about Amtrak. They had a policy that you could get off the train , stay overnight in some town and re-board the next day at no extra costs.. And a passenger could do that twice when traveling across the continent. Should you be taking a bike, certainly a better deal than paying Delta 300 dollars one way to transport your bike.
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Old 06-21-10, 10:03 AM   #19
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No having to wait to get through security, no worrying about getting to the airport an hour or two early.
I wonder about that. If rail were to become a more popular transport option in the US, would more security theatre be far behind?
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Old 06-21-10, 10:13 AM   #20
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I'd think it would be based more on the popularity of rail terrorism rather than the popularity of rail travel.
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Old 06-21-10, 10:41 AM   #21
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Not to push this in to P&R turf, but isn't this redundant?
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Old 06-21-10, 11:48 AM   #22
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I'm looking into taking the train for our trip after the wedding. I'd rather pay the extra for the train, since one flight pretty much negates all of the carbon we don't produce by biking for a couple of years. Plus I like trains . I'm pissed that they have torn up a good part of the rail infrastructure we had in our province - now, even if they wanted to implement rail service, the cost would be too big for all but the most forceful visionary to overcome. Gah!
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Old 06-21-10, 11:56 AM   #23
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I think Amtrak works well for business travel up and down the East Coast corridor from Washington to Boston. Once you get out here on the West Coast, not so much, unless you want to take the scenic route from Seattle to LA. Going across the country on Amtrak seems incredibly slow. I have ridden the European rail systems with envy. The US just doesn't have the density or will to make a successful rail system to move people. Again, they come close on the Eastern urban megaplex area.
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Old 06-21-10, 01:55 PM   #24
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Amtrak works OK for me from Santa Barbara. It takes about 5-hours to San Diego and 9-hours to S.F. About +4 hrs to S.F. and only +1.5 hr to SD compared to driving. The nice thing is I don't waste time in traffic staring at other cars and the road. I can catch up on reading, sleep, do some work, etc. It ends up increasing my productivity.
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Old 06-21-10, 02:00 PM   #25
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I think Amtrak works well for business travel up and down the East Coast corridor from Washington to Boston. Once you get out here on the West Coast, not so much.
I like the Cascades for Portland to Seattle. Price ain't bad if you book in advance. Only half hour longer trip than driving 60mph avg, and you can bring your bike for $5 extra each way. Much more convenient station location compared to flying into SeaTac.
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