Want cheap interstate transportation? Get Amtrak out of the way!


Let me begin by pointing out that I'm a big fan of train travel. I've ridden trains up and down the Eastern Seaboard and across half of Europe. I've hung out in old rail yards, searched out hidden rail tunnels, and once went to a wedding in the O. Winston Link museum. Like my Walletpop colleague Beth Wechsler, I'm a fan of the romance of train travel and would really like to see it come back. Unfortunately, though, I don't think Amtrak is going to make it happen.

Recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing almost $15 billion to fund Amtrak for the next five years. In addition to covering general operating expenses, the money would be used, with matching grants, to extend rail service into states where it is lacking. The justification for this massive expenditure was the fact that rail, ideally, provides a low-cost travel alternative for consumers.

There's a problem, though. First off, Amtrak isn't really low-cost. According to the Amtrak website, a ticket from Union Station in Washington D.C. to Penn Station in New York City ranges from $98 to just over $200 dollars. By comparison, a bus ticket for the same run generally goes for under $30. While the bus takes a little longer, it offers clean, comfortable seats. Amtrak, on the other hand, always leaves me desperately wanting to shower.