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Old Apr 17, 07, 8:59 am   #1
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Does Amtrak realize it's too expensive?

In the Northeast -- the heart of their system -- it seems to cost about $50 to travel 100 miles on a regular train. Does Amtrak realize there's very little personal travel business at those prices? It simply isn't competitive with driving yourself someplace (much less if there's more than one pax). Heck, it's barely competitive with RENTING a car, buying gas, and driving yourself where you want to go.

I have a friend who needs to fly transcon into EWR, and would like to connect to Amtrak to her nearby hometown. The cost of the short train ride is almost as much as the transcon!

It's a shame, because airline-type pricing would make Amtrak useful in the Northeast. Logic would suggest that something like a $50 New York-Philly roundtrip SHOULD be possible. It can't possibly be more expensive to transport people by rail than by airplane, especially in this era of higer fuel prices.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 9:01 am   #2
 
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I have also thought the same. I wanted to go between Boston and New York one evening. Flights were completely full in all classes and I can't stand the bus. Train was a ridiculous $150 and I paid it. Supply and Demand I guess.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 9:10 am   #3
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Well, the fact is, Amtrak IS heavily used in the Northeast. So I guess it is NOT always too expensive.

Not everyone drives, by the way. A lot of people (esp. in places like NYC) don't even have driver's licenses. Plus, the high cost of parking a car in some places can tip the balance too.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 9:26 am   #4
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Well, the fact is, Amtrak IS heavily used in the Northeast.
Anyone have the actual pax totals? For example, out of a major Northeast metro area, I would think a citizen was 25 times more likely to fly last year than take an Amtrak train. But that's a wild guess.

If fares were reasonable, I think demand would soar.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 10:06 am   #5
 
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I read the above posts and thought that I would plan an imaginery trip this afternoon from PHL to BOS and from PHL to WAS/DCA returning tomorrow morning. I picked this afternoon as Yield Management in both AMTRAK and USAir would be at the highest buckets and applied no discounts (not that there were any), returning early tomorrow.I used regional rail coach and Y for fare basis.
While I expected AMTRAK to win the fare comparison, it was interesting to note that time wise where AMTRAK would be most competitive in the PHL to WAS/DCA segment the AMTRAK fare was only $111 compared to USAir's $554 plus tax & fees. The PHL/BOS r/t was $221 for AMTRAK and $278 for USAir with the flight being shorter even with security etc.
I don't know what this means except that I have to much time on my hands but it is interesting to note.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 10:44 am   #6
 
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I agree that prices for NHV and south are outrageous, but for the small towns north of there, it is reasonable.

Last year before they closed the "per segment" loophole, I traveled quite often from KIN to OSB to get 4 segments each way. The cost for this R/T (including the famous H570) was $21! And on the Springfield line, you could get 4 segments each way for $10 R/T!

Even PVD-BOS (where Amtrak competes with MBTA) is reasonabe.

But if you go anywhere south of NHV,
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Old Apr 17, 07, 11:18 am   #7
 
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Last year before they closed the "per segment" loophole, I traveled quite often from KIN to OSB to get 4 segments each way. The cost for this R/T (including the famous H570)
Those were the good old days...
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Old Apr 17, 07, 11:39 am   #8
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I have a friend who needs to fly transcon into EWR, and would like to connect to Amtrak to her nearby hometown. The cost of the short train ride is almost as much as the transcon!
Does your friend know about Continental's code-share service with Amtrak to and from EWR? Sometimes a ticket on Continental to ZFV (30th Street Station, Philadelphia) via EWR is less than the cost of a ticket to EWR alone. Prices can be checked on both continental.com and travelocity.com using ZFV as the destination city. And on a one-way from someplace to ZFV via EWR, your friend can certainly get off the train at an intermediate stop, such as Trenton or Metropark, if she prefers, with no problem.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 12:01 pm   #9
 
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Also, you can travel through much of the NEC on commuter rail, which might take a bit longer but is certainly cheaper. I think of Amtrak as the premium rail service, and the commuters as the budget rail service. Sometimes you're willing to pay for the premium, other times the budget service is fine.

Actually, if you figure Acela and "regular" trains, it's really 3 levels of service. And since the commuters stop at more places, sometimes the budget service is a better option anyway depending on where you are ultimately headed.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 5:23 pm   #10
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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
Does Amtrak realize there's very little personal travel business at those prices?
While Amtrak doesn't and can't decide what's personal vs. business travel, there certainly seems to be plenty of business on the NEC. Almost 9.5 million people boarded an Amtrak train along the corridor last fiscal year. Now it should be noted that many people rode more than once, but still 9.5 million boardings represents some pretty decent business.

In fact, I believe that I just read a story recently stating that Amtrak once again owns just over 50% of the travel market between NY and DC.

Quote:
Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
It's a shame, because airline-type pricing would make Amtrak useful in the Northeast. Logic would suggest that something like a $50 New York-Philly roundtrip SHOULD be possible. It can't possibly be more expensive to transport people by rail than by airplane, especially in this era of higer fuel prices.
One can ride the rails for a little less than $50 round trip. If one boards a New Jersey Transit train at EWR and connects with a SEPTA train at Trenton, you can do a round trip for $42. So the choice is a more expensive, but more convienent one seat ride, or a cheaper 2 seat ride. Note, the Amtrak ride would probably be closer to $100, if one books early enough.

By the way, let me also add that a small part of the problem that your friend is encountering is also thanks to Newark Airport. The airport which doesn't seem to like trains, insists that New Jersey transit charge an extra $5.50 everytime they pick up or drop off a passenger and the EWR station. Amtrak I believe is required to charge $7 each time. And that money goes directly to Newark Airport, not the rail service.

Without that surcharge, the above trip on NJT/SEPTA would have only cost $31.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 9:32 pm   #11
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Does your friend know about Continental's code-share service with Amtrak to and from EWR? Sometimes a ticket on Continental to ZFV (30th Street Station, Philadelphia) via EWR is less than the cost of a ticket to EWR alone. Prices can be checked on both continental.com and travelocity.com using ZFV as the destination city. And on a one-way from someplace to ZFV via EWR, your friend can certainly get off the train at an intermediate stop, such as Trenton or Metropark, if she prefers, with no problem.
Yeah, ZFV seems to be the ONLY place where the plane-train connection makes economic sense on Amtrak, because CO will usually price ABC-ZFV the same as ABC-PHL -- so if there's a cheap airfare into Philly, you often can get the same deal on CO into ZFV.

I've always been surprised that CO didn't do the same thing to ZWI (Wilmington, DE), a supposed "codeshare" destination they launched several years ago with Amtrak. Greater Wilmington has about 500,000 people, and logic would suggest a fast train to EWR would be a good alternative to those folks travelling from PHL. But CO has never marketed the service, and the pricing is ridiculous (paying $120 for the roundtrip Amtrak service to EWR and then buying a plane ticket would almost certainly be cheaper, but I doubt very many do this). Ironically, last year Delta launched service into the Wilmington airport (ILG), but even that didn't prompt CO to match DL's fares.

I guess the CO "codeshare" is still also in effect to New Haven (ZVE) and Stamford (ZTF), but I assume the pricing is also ridiculous and the service barely utilized.

It's just such a shame because Amtrak and CO could have a great relationship at EWR. The opportunity seems to be almost completely squandered.

Like pretty much all passenger rail opportunities in America.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 9:37 pm   #12
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One can ride the rails for a little less than $50 round trip. If one boards a New Jersey Transit train at EWR and connects with a SEPTA train at Trenton, you can do a round trip for $42. So the choice is a more expensive, but more convienent one seat ride, or a cheaper 2 seat ride. Note, the Amtrak ride would probably be closer to $100, if one books early enough.

By the way, let me also add that a small part of the problem that your friend is encountering is also thanks to Newark Airport. The airport which doesn't seem to like trains, insists that New Jersey transit charge an extra $5.50 everytime they pick up or drop off a passenger and the EWR station. Amtrak I believe is required to charge $7 each time. And that money goes directly to Newark Airport, not the rail service.

Without that surcharge, the above trip on NJT/SEPTA would have only cost $31.
That extra fee sure is disappointing, Alan -- I guess it was designed to pay for the very nice (and underutilized) EWR rail station.

As far as the NJT/SEPTA fare, if they can do it for less than $50, why can't Amtrak? It's not like single-ticket regional rail fares are "cheap" -- it would also be like a NYC-LAX nonstop being more expensive than buying an NYC-ORD ticket PLUS an ORD-LAX ticket. Amtrak just doesn't seem motivated to develop a product that people would want to buy. There's no entrepreneuriship there.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 10:21 pm   #13
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That extra fee sure is disappointing, Alan -- I guess it was designed to pay for the very nice (and underutilized) EWR rail station.
AFAIK, the rail station was paid for by State of NJ, and perhaps with some help from Amtrak. I belive that they did pay for the monorail tracks to the station.

Only problem is that the entire monorail, including the extension to the rail station, was paid for by an airport use ticket fee of 3 bucks tacked onto every ticket of every passenger flying out of EWR for a period of 10 years. And I seem to recall that they got an extension for another 5 years. Originally when this was being planned and built, there was supposed to be no extra charge.

The current charges for those arriving/departing by rail are "officially" supposed to be for the operation of the monorail. Only problem is that no one pays that fee, unless they arrive by train. If you arrive by bus, transfer between two terminals for your connecting flight, get dropped off, or park, you don't have to pay to ride the monorail. Only rail passengers are penalized directly! And that penalty is still on top of the ticket fee on their airline ticket.

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Originally Posted by iahphx View Post
As far as the NJT/SEPTA fare, if they can do it for less than $50, why can't Amtrak? It's not like single-ticket regional rail fares are "cheap" -- it would also be like a NYC-LAX nonstop being more expensive than buying an NYC-ORD ticket PLUS an ORD-LAX ticket. Amtrak just doesn't seem motivated to develop a product that people would want to buy. There's no entrepreneuriship there.
Amtrak can do if they wanted to. There simply is no need or motivation for them to do so. On the other hand, with Congress and the White House always breathing down Amtrak's neck to make a profit, there is a motivation to sell the Amtrak seat for the maximum that they can get.

And if Amtrak can sell that seat to DC for $67 (low bucket price, the high is $128), why would they want to give away a seat from EWR to Philly for $25 and loose that extra 42 bucks or more because they can no longer accomodate that longer distance passenger. So since there is a cheaper alternative, Amtrak charges more for a short rider to help compensate for the inability to sell the longer distance, higher priced ticket. And seeing as how the trains aren't running empty, it would appear that Amtrak isn't leaving money on the table by charging the higher fares to Philly.

There is no need or motivation for Amtrak to develop a new product, if they can currently sell out the current product. On the other hand, AFAIK, Amtrak had hoped that after the agreement with Continental, that other airlines would also work out code share agreements with them. So far there have been no other airlines that are interested. Probably because they still see Amtrak as a threat to their bottom line. They'd rather fly a puddle jumper, than to follow Europe's example of letting trains do the short hauls and planes doing the long hauls.

I realize that none of this helps your friend, but unfortunately such is life.
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Last edited by AlanB; Apr 17, 07 at 10:55 pm. Reason: changed wording on who funded the station
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Old Apr 17, 07, 10:48 pm   #14
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That extra fee sure is disappointing, Alan -- I guess it was designed to pay for the very nice (and underutilized) EWR rail station.
Ps. I'm not sure where it ranks in Amtrak's list, but back in 2005 it was the 6th busiest station for New Jersey Transit. So throw in some Amtrak passengers, and I do know that Amtrak does pick up passengers there, and it hardly qualifies as an "underutilized" station.
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Old Apr 17, 07, 10:55 pm   #15
 
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I think the fares are reasonable. I regularly travel amtrak between NYC and DC/PHL.

Living in Detroit, I can fly to NYC, take a meeting, hop on the train to DC, take another meeting, then fly home from DC. I certainly wouldn't drive. Also, if I have several days of meetings in NYC, but have one in PHL mixed in, I can go to the meeting and come back to NYC the same day.

And in terms of the cost, it costs me nearly $25 to drive 100 miles in my car, and considering I can't work while driving, it certainly is much more cost effective to take the train (and then you don't have airport hassles).
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