The actual cost of Amtrak trip

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Dear Editor,

Ward Degler does an excellent job in his April 23 column of answering his question of why Congress voted to cut funding of short Amtrak trips. He wants taxpayers (aka his neighbors) to pay for it because it’s a great idea, but he’s never actually taken the train to Chicago. How many times has he been to Chicago? Why hasn’t he taken the train? Could it be because the inconvenience of having to adhere to Amtrak’s schedule (including leaving Indianapolis at 6 a.m.) and not having a car when he gets there outweighs the advantages of a “leisurely ride?” Might that explain why only 37,000 passengers rode the train last year, while millions drove?

Mr. Degler quotes CSX’s low cost for hauling freight, and indeed the cost of hauling freight for long distances by train compares very favorably to the cost of hauling it via semi (although there still have to be trucks available at each end of the freight train route). But unless Mr. Degler and his wife plan on traveling inside a cargo container, the cost of carrying him to Chicago will be much more than “a teaspoon of fuel.”

In fact, let’s look at that cost of his ticket. Mr. Degler states that the subsidy for the Indianapolis-Chicago route is $4 million, to carry 37,000 passengers per year. That works out to $108 per passenger in taxpayer cost. So, while it will cost Mr. Degler only $23 for his roundtrip ticket, it will cost his neighbors an additional $108. Of course, Amtrak could function with no taxpayer funding if Mr. Degler would just pay $131 for his ticket. But then I suspect the whole idea would drop off his “gotta” list.

Which is why, given our trillion dollar deficit, Congress decided to stop funding short Amtrak trips that receive little ridership at great cost.

Ted Pollack

46077

 

Ward’s Response:

I appreciate Ted Pollack’s challenge to my April 23 column about riding the train to Chicago. However, I never implied it was a convenient trip. Truthfully, 6 am anything is way too early for me. But the nostalgia for a kid who grew up in the Midwest who rode the train everywhere is just too good to pass up.

I have taken the train to Chicago many times, but that was years ago before rail shipping was largely supplanted by truck transport. We can thank General Motors for that.
I haven’t taken this trip before because I didn’t know it was available. The railroads don’t advertise much these days.
If CSX can haul a ton of freight 436 miles on a gallon of fuel, I contend it could likewise haul a ton of passengers the same distance for the same gallon of fuel. The weight is the same and it doesn’t matter if it is in a box car or a passenger car. But, to make a small concession, I have gained about 10 lbs over the winter, so it would probably take a teaspoon and half of fuel for my wife and I to make the trip.
The government has always subsidized the railroads since their founding so that is not new. And, bottom line, if rail travel is to grow in an emerging era of mass transit, cutting routes is not the best way to start.
Finally, I was not asking my fellow taxpayers to pick up the tab for anything. I was simply saying this trip would be a fun thing to do.

Ward Degler


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