Category Archives: Travel

Obama’s High Speed Trains

February 22nd, 2011

Obama’s Big, Bold Bet on High-Speed Rail

I heard about this on our local public radio station while my wife and I were discussing different options for visiting friends in Virginia. We live in Oregon and anyway you slice it traveling 2,800 miles is not cheap. We looked at plane tickets but for the two of us to fly round trip was $900! We love our friends dearly but $900 is simply way outside our budget. Of course there is always the bus but it just sounds miserable. Then I thought of the train. I figure we’d get there in a day or two and since trains are supposed to be super efficient it ought to be cheaper than the plane by a wide margin. Boy was I wrong!

To get there the train would take seventy five hours! That is well over three days, just to get there and then another three to get back. We’d spend half a day shy of one week solely on travel. While the plane would get us to Virginia in little more than seven hours the train still might be worth it if the train was substantially cheaper. But it wasn’t. The round trip price for seats on a train was $1060. That is no bed, no shower, and buying food for three days there and three days back. We could get a sleeper starting at $450 round trip but we’d still have two transfers before we got to Virginia.

This is when I heard about President Obama’s great plan to drop $53 BILLION, that we don’t have, on high-speed rail corridors around the country. While I am struck with the fact that a car full of drivers taking shifts and driving non-stop could make the trip over a DAY faster the real problem I had with the rail option was the PRICE. I don’t know what market Amtrak is targeting but it certainly isn’t regular folks like my wife and me just trying to get somewhere. What on earth are they going to charge for high-speed rail travel?

Please explain to me why trains, the most efficient vehicle I am told, cost MORE than a jetliner. It is the price that is stopping people from using trains and not the travel time. If my wife and I had the time to spare we would still not travel by train. I am a big fan of train travel but what we need is to take what we have and learn how to use it well before we start spending vast sums of money (roughly five times what it would cost to give the whole world clean drinking water) on more rail services that will be as oddly executed as our present rail options. I think the government needs to start backing out of transportation services.

Here are some interesting numbers from my research on our Virginia travel options. All the figures are round trip. I factored in $80 per night for hotels on the road trip and for food every multi-day option got $30 per day. I came to the conclusion that the two best options are plane travel and the road trip. Planes get you there fast and you don’t spend a bunch extra for food or accommodations. The road trip is more flexible. Don’t travel directly. Meander a bit and see some cool stuff, eat some good food, and when you get to your destination you still have a car to drive.

Round Trip Travel Numbers

Amtrack Road Trip Greyhound Airplane
Ticket Price $1060 $300 $720 $900
Room Cost $450 $500 N/A N/A
Food Cost $180 $180 $180 $50
Total Cost $1690 $980 $900 $950
Travel Time 149 hrs 164 hrs 152 hrs 14.5 hrs
Experience Land Cruise Fun/Fatiguing Grim Efficient