Amtrak officially as cheap as gas


In two weeks, I'm headed to Chicago for the National Brownfield Association's "Big Deal" conference (my department got a "free registration" scholarship to come show off one of our sites to developers). So I'm looking at travel options.

* Amtrak, Ann Arbor -> Chicago, AAA member discount, midweek round-trip = $48.60.
* Google maps, Ann Arbor -> Chicago = 241 miles, x2, at 30mpg, at $3 gallon = $48.20. (That would be driving our Sunfire, rather than the City's Crown Vic, which probably gets worse gas mileage.)
* The Federal mileage compensation rate is what these days, about $0.38/mile? That'd be $183.16, or 3.75 Amtrak tickets.

The moral of this story: If you've never tried the Amtrak option before, folks, now's the time. I've traveled 4,000 miles by Amtrak in the last two weeks, at far greater comfort and lower cost than driving or flying. If I weren't already a rail-evangelist, I would be now.

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Direct Amtrak to driving cost comparison

Which would be $0.10/mile, by your numbers, vs. $0.38/mile. Good deal.

How much is your time worth, Murph? :-)

Amtrak time ~= driving time

My general experience is that Amtrak travel time is about equal to driving time - 4.5 hours to Chicago, 36 hours to Montana is about the same as the drive. (And the Chicago trip takes about as long by plane, too, once you count mindless security drills and travel to and from airports from where you actually want to go.)

Actually, this past trip, one leg was 2% late (40 minutes late on the 32-hour WGL-CHI leg), and one leg was 3.5% early (10 minutes on the 4.5 hour CHI-ARB leg), and the other two were on time. So, as share of travel time goes, Amtrak got me places earlier than expected.

The place where time could be saved is flying Michigan to MT, for a 2/3 day travel time rather than 2 day travel time, in this case for an extra $500 (total for 2 of us). But then, I find flying to have significant non-monetary stress costs throughout the process; train travel, after the initial "catching the train" stress, is more like enforced relaxation time.

How much is your time worth, Murph? :-)

I know enough about economics to know I can't give you an answer to that.

time on the empire builder=time to watch all of LOTR

>like enforced relaxation time.

agreed. the trip on the train is part of the vacation. the trip flying is a horrible day that you have to endure at the beginning and end of an otherwise perfectly nice vacation.

Time to watch...

On day one, sure. :)

We watched a season of Buffy over the course of the trip.


I wish Amtrak went direct to Michigan from NYC. I also wish they allowed passengers to bring pets in some fashion.

NARPA post re: pets on Amtrak