29 September 2009

Denver-Seattle Amtrak Route Would Be Expensive

A study looking at the possibility of reinstating a Denver to Seattle Amtrak route shows that it would cost $478 million to set up, carry 111,000 passengers a year, and produce $13.1 million revenue, at $46.2 million of direct operating costs a year (a net operating loss of $33.1 million).

The annual net operating loss per passenger per trip would be $298.19, despite the $118 per passenger per trip ticket charge. The operating cost is $416.19 per passenger trip. This is ignoring any allowance for the infrastructure costs -- even before depreciating any of the investment, a 3% interest rate on the money investment would be $14.3 million, $129.19 per passenger per trip, for a total cost of $545.38 per passenger per trip with service that would be much slower and less likely to be on time than commercial airplane service. It would be faster and not a lot more expensive, to simply subsidize commercial airplane tickets on these trips. An investment in bus service would likewise make much better sense. You can run a very nice bus service for $545.38 per passenger per trip from Denver to Seattle, and a high end bus service would be faster and more likely to be on time.

Passenger trains can be a great choice in some circumstances. But, long haul trips across a largely uninhabited part of the country, at conventional passenger rail speeds, is not one of those circumstances.


Michael Malak said...

At 1300 miles, it would have to be high-speed rail. Even then, at a highly optimistic 175mph, it would still take 7.5 hours.

Denver<->Seattle doesn't strike me as a top-needed pair for HSR. San Francisco<->LA would be the first obvious choice for HSR, followed by LA<->Phoenix I'm guessing -- maybe LA<->Las Vegas if the casinos chip in.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

To underline your point, at 65 mph (closer to what is projected), it would be a 20 hour trip.

San Francisco-LA and Fort Collins-Denver-Castle Rock-Colorado Springs-Pueblo both have much higher population densities making them more desirable for HSR, and in the Colorado case would be not terribly expensive to build.

An LA-Las Vegas line with a Nevada contribution would probably be much cheaper to build than a Denver to Vail HSR line and would also probably reduce an above average number of drunken driving/reckless driving accidents.

There are routes between major Texas cities that also have much closer to suitable population densities.

The NE Corridor could use HSR upgrades and there are a few other places in the U.S. that would also make sense.

Slow passenger rail on long routes is fundamentally a scenic venture, like a cruise, not a transporation venture.

Michael Malak said...

The goal of many HSR proponents is to connect city-center to city-center with easy transfers to the local subway or light rail system.

With city pairs close of reasonable distance (and 1300 miles is pushing it), this becomes competitive in terms of overall convenience with air travel.