Why Not Take the Train to the Plane?

By | October 27, 2009
Northeast Regional (Amtrak)
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Passengers can book connecting service on Amtrak Regional and Keystone trains to Newark International Airport and then on to anywhere Continental Airlines flies. Service is offered for connecting itineraries only on select Amtrak trains between Newark airport and the following train stations:

This arrangement has been in place for several years. But no one seems to use it. It is perhaps a matter of pricing. We put in some random dates…from February 2-20th, 2010 from New Haven to Los Angeles was $1069 per person. From Newark to Los Angeles those days on Continental was $316. and from New Haven Station to Amtrak on those days was $78 roundtrip. So, the service of booking them together as a single fare costs and additional $600+ dollars.

Not exactly, but, why bother having such a service if it is not cost effective to take it? We don’t expect Continental, a private company, to be as concerned about this as Amtrak should be. A recent study estimated that the federal government subsidized Amtrak on average $32 per passenger. The route from New Orleans to Los Angeles lost $462, and conversely, the Acela Express Service made a profit of $41, while the more used Northeast Regional lost $5 per passenger.

There has always been a somewhat unrealistic concept that rail transportation, most notably Amtrak, should be self-sufficient. Airport construction projects are heavily subsidized by the federal government. Highways are subsidized. None of these are expected to be self sufficient.

The truth is, transportation is a necessary part of infrastructure. That infrastructure drives the economy, which produces tax revenue, which can be used to develop transit.

So, why isn’t Amtrak, intercity bus, or even commuter rail out there working with the airlines? Each company can get their normal fares out of such a service. And airlines can reach new places without having to serve them. All they need is to guarantee if someone buys the pieces together, that if one company delays a passenger, the other will still accept them for transport at no additional cost. They can even charge a nominal fee to ensure that.

When it comes to Essential Air Service, the government subsidizes service from tiny airports. Why can’t they subsidize service from certain communities by bus direct to the airport?  It may be an unpopular idea, as every politician wants air service for their community, but it is something to think about.

All this did remind us of something, a special treat we’ve added below. The classic New York City 1978 and 1980 Train to the Plane ads.

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