why is it so much cheaper to fly long distances than to take the train (in the US)?


why is it so much cheaper to fly long distances than to take the train (in the US)?

In: 7

You can travel 3000 miles (coast to coast) in 6 hours, and it would take 4 days to do that by rail.

Rail right-of-way (train tracks) are owned almost exclusively by freight transportation companies in the US that have no interest in passenger transport. The US passenger train service (Amtrak) is a government administrated corporation that must pay private corporations for the right to use their tracks. Neither the government nor the private corporations really gives a shit about Amtrak, so it pretty constantly gets minimal help from the government, and high prices from the private corps. Which makes service expensive and low quality outside of a few places where the government cares enough to actually pay.

Jet fuel gets more efficient the higher in the atmosphere you are (it has much less air to push the plane through than at ground level). Also if you’re taking a multiday train trip your basically paying for a very small mobile hotel room, vs an airplane where you’re just renting a seat for a few hours which may or may not include food/drink. Longer travel times mean more hours worked by employees (say 48 hours of work for an attendant on a train vs say 3 hours for a flight attendant for the same distance trip). Aircraft can also generally travel in a straight line to their destination vs a train that may have to go around obstacles such as mountains, lakes etc. It really comes down to the variable or periodic costs associated with the trip itself, which generally increase with the time length of the trip.

In terms of the cost to deliver the service, passenger rail is almost universally more expensive than the alternatives. For short distances, roads – and busses – are significantly cheaper than rails. For long distances, the lack of need for infrastructure except at the end points makes air a superior option.

The reason you see rail prevalent in other developed nations is a combination of subsidies – many related to the fact that rail provides good union jobs – and high taxes on aviation fuel. The U.S. does subsidize rail, but not nearly to the same extent. Likewise, while the U.S. does tax aviation fuel, it’s not nearly as severe. So the inherent efficiency of air wins out.

Trains? We have those?