Tuesday, July 24

I Love Trains, BUT

Over at Carbon Trace, is a post where High Speed Rail is extolled. I really WANT to be a rail fan, but I'm also a skeptic. I LIKE trains and I have an annual pass for TRE/DART in my wallet as I write this. OTOH, let's look at what actually happens when government gets in the middle of transportation. More specifically, let's ignore all the huge subsidies that happen to help cars push other road users off the road and focus ONLY on rail. More specifically, let's ignore light rail and focus on one specific trip.

I went to the Amtrak website. I found that I could book a trip from Dallas to Fort Worth in March. It would cost $7 and would take one hour and thirty five minutes to get from Dallas to Fort Worth. As far as I can tell, I have one choice each day, and it'd cost a bundle to bring my bike along. The site isn't too easy to use, so I can't really say for sure if I might be able to go sometime sooner, but that is definitely the transit time and price.

ON THE OTHER HAND, should I have happened upon a totally different website, that of TRE, I would have found that I could get from Dallas to Fort Worth, via train, any day of the week I wished except Sunday, with many choices and no problems if I wanted to bring my bike along. The price for a one-way trip? $3.75. Actually, for 50 cents more than the price of that government-subsidized Amtrak ticket, I can buy a government-subsidized TRE ticket that'd let me ride around the entire DFW metroplex all day, bike in tow, until I simply dropped from nervous exhaustion.

Oh, I forgot, the cheap TRE route takes 58 minutes. I can leave Dallas after the Amtrak train and be there at the destination to greet the arriving train.

Certainly, Amtrak is in a different market than TRE, but IMHO, it seems that Amtrak would need LESS of my tax dollars if they weren't totally clueless. $7 to go from Dallas to Fort Worth? You gotta be kidding me. It's no wonder that rail in the US is on its knees. What's more, these guys seem pretty clueless that there are other competitors out there called "airlines" that are faster, with more flexible prices. Price out how much it'd cost to travel by train from Florida to Washington State, versus the price to fly. What's more, compare the advance booking necessary. If this is what we have for trains, it really MIGHT be better to simply pull the plug. Certainly this is not a wise use of the tax money extracted from me each year - to offer a poor service at twice the price of other options.

At least bikes don't depend on government subsidies and I hope it stays that way. UPDATE - nothing less than $9 on AMTRAK through August. You CAN ride for $7.50 if you wait until September - or else ride today for half the price on TRE WITH your bike.


Chandra said...

$7 is a bit much and Amtrak needs to operate more efficiently, if possible, and be less dependent on governmental support. I agree with you.

I am glad we have TRE, which is cheaper and is a more environmentally friendly alternative.

If TRE was not an option, could riding the Amtrak, in spite of the $7 charge, be possibly a lesser price to pay than all potential passengers driving?

Peace :)

PS. The extra charge for the bike is bull.

Anonymous said...

Along the Notheast corridor, Amtrak works pretty well, especially to smaller cities along the route as long as you don't bring bike. It's gotta be a boxed (except for folders) and sent as cargo. I think sent in advance, but I'm not sure.
The Amtrak Downeaster (service from Boston Mass to Portland Me) is barely semi-friendly Bikes are allowed to destination with high platforms, (Boston, Wells, Portland for $5 extra) but only on the car that ends up at the high platform and at the discretion of the conductors. The bikes are placed in the wheelchair spots, so there is only room for two or three bikes.
For bike service, Amtrak could certainly do a lot better.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Perhaps if TRE was fully booked, or you were continuing on Amtrak to another destination it might make sense, but otherwise, yeah, why would anyone ever take it for this journey?

Tim said...

The Amtrak Heartland Flyer has been a great success. The OKC to FTW/ITC train really is geared for folks from OKC to come down and spend half a day in Ft. Worth. It leaves OKC at 8:00 AM, arrives a little past noon at the ITC and departs back to OKC at 5:30PM from the ITC. In the past I have gotten round trip tickets from less than $40. My son tied to get a ticket ticket for Saturday and it was sold out. The passenger cars they used to have allowed carry-on bicycles, but alas now the current rolling stock does not have the space for the hanging up of bikes. That is a shame because I always thought it would be fun to ride the train up to Paul's Valley and then spend the weekend cycle touring and then hop the train back to Ft. Worth - It seems like I waited too long to get on board with my bike. When my son was up at OU it was a great way to visit him for a weekend or for him to come back down to the Metromess. The best value currently is the new Megabus running out of Grand Prairie. OKC to Grand Praire is $11 for 3.5 hour trip. Back to OKC $13. Grayhound wanted $50 each way for a 7 hour trip!

Pondero said...

Yeah, but it sounds like your metrics are customer service, convenience, and price. How silly! :)

Hey Steve, has TRE ever received federal funding? My guess is "yes", but I really do not know.

Steve A said...

Pondero, TRE has received massive federal funding. One example is at http://www.fta.dot.gov/printer_friendly/12304_2906.html

According to Wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Railway_Express those projections in the above link were 20% too high, which makes the real cost per passenger well beyond $10 which makes my $45 annual pass the next best thing to OFFICIAL welfare, Those optimistic projections do make things more spacious for us cyclists, however.

I love rail, but rational analysis says it is a waste of public money once we've spent those many billions on ever more freeway miles. I do not comment on the wisdom of subsidizing those motorists, but what is done is done.

Did I say I'm a "small government" guy who doesn't turn down whatever shreds of pork are thrown in my direction, considering it a return of pennies back on the dollars flushed.

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