Republican Convention 2008

All Aboard Amtrak or, Your Tax Dollars at Work (Joe Biden Edition)

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Given the weather-delayed, whimpering start of the Republican National Convention in Minnesota and the fact that I'm working on Labor Day (not a political statement, simply a necessity due to various factors, including the failure of organized labor to secure all workers [read: me] less work and higher wages), I've just done a back of the envelope calculation of the cost of Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Sen. Joe Biden's unbridled Amtrak love.

Working-classer Biden, when not washing his hands and face in Lava soap and packing his lunchbucket with Spam and Velveeta sandwiches made with Ann Page-brand white bread, has talked about taking Amtrak home everyday from Washington, D.C. to Wilmington, Delaware.

Let's start off by assuming Biden is in DC about 200 days a year; allowing for two weeks off, there's about 250 work days in a given year. So the senator won't be in DC every workday for all sorts of reasons. We can monkey with all these figures, but 200 seems like a decent figure.

If Biden takes the regular regional service, a roundtrip ticket will cost between $84 and $118, depending on what time of day he leaves and arrives. So the low-end estimate would be he spends $16,800 a year on Amtrak. The high-end estimate is $23,600. Either way, he's looking at about three hours a day on the train.

If Biden takes the much faster, more expensive Acela service, he's looking at a range of $222 and $250 per trip, with a low-end estimate of $44,400 and $50,000 a year in ticket costs. The Acela takes about an hour and 10 minutes to get there from here, so he'd be looking at a daily train time of two hours and 20 minutes.

This is a calculation tailor made for a classic slow news day. I don't know the significance, if any, of the above calculations, but it does seem like a lot of money and time to be spending on travel (yes, yes, Biden saves money by not having a residence in D.C.).

All aboard the Amtrak website here.

reason's detailed and even-handed coverage of the ongoing money pit that is Amtrak, dominated by pieces with titles such as "Amtrak, You Suck," "Kill Amtrak Now!," "Runaway Train," and "Railroading Congress," is online here.

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  1. We hate State-subsidized trains even more than roads.

  2. I wonder what the yearly cost of driving that would be. It’s 109 miles, so if we take the word of “commutesolutions.org”, he’s looking at $.94 per mile, giving him about a $200 price tag for each round trip.

  3. When my wife and I were looking at jobs in Philadelphia and DC, I took a look at the Amtrak ticket rates and found that you could get a monthly pass between the two for about $1200. So you’re talking about $14,000 max, unless you go on Acela, which doesn’t have passes.

  4. Considering there are no overflowing bathrooms, crying children, irritable servers, or snoring, smelly, drooling passengers leaning on my shoulder and encroaching into the four inches of legroom I’m allotted…I’ll take the car all other things being equal.

  5. … he’s looking at $.94 per mile, giving him about a $200 price tag for each round trip.

    Well, that’s if you don’t figure in limo charges. What, you think a pol is going to drive himself?

  6. How is the bathroom in your car, cuntivore?

  7. @cuntivore: I can’t speak to YOUR Amtrak service, but on my morning/evening commutes, I don’t have any of those things. I have plenty of legroom and seat-width — and I’m a big guy by most accounts — I usually have the seat next to me empty (although the morning inbound train that’s less common)..I’ve never had overflowing bathrooms, and with two per car, a seven-car train has plenty to go around. Crying children? Very very rare. Most people aren’t taking 7am commuter trains with their infants.

    My $600 a month is well worth it to get three hours a day back to being “mine”. I’m not forced to concentrate on stop-n-go traffic into bridge and tunnel approaches and other toll barriers. I simply close my eyes and doze off, or watch a movie, or do some work, or read a book, or use my EVDO card and surf the web, none of which could I do if I was forced to keep my hands at 10-and-2 for those three hours (longer, because traffic jams are the norm).

  8. That sounds more like a jetliner to me.

  9. My Amtrak experience is on the various long-distance trains, not commuter trains. I didn’t realize there was such a difference.

    My bathroom in the car? Nothing fancy, just a few old Fresca bottles, whatever happens to be laying around. Plus an old glass mayo jar in case a bigger hole is needed.

  10. No, I want to walk, thanks anyway, cuntivore. Really, it’s right near here.

    And I like rain. Thanks, though.

  11. Absolutely ridiculous! An idealogue speaks. Everywhere else in the world they have got it figured out: rail works and works best most of the time. Don’t like Amtrak’s measley subsidy? Fine! Then cut out the subsidies to airlines … to automobiles … and, for that matter, to sidewalks made with tax dollars. I’m sorry, but the only way to describe these anti-Amtrak rants is willful, stubborn selfishness.

  12. I keep them under the seat, with the cinnamon-scented SuperStone. You won’t even notice.

    Never mind. You’re probably a cop anyway.

  13. Jim Loomis, you’re talking about Europe and Japan, I presume…which both have much higher population densities than the US. In densely populated metropoles in the US, rail is used heavily too.

    Long distance passenger rail was a massively unprofitable business to be in even before the dawn of the Interstates and cheap air travel. There’s a reason Congress had to force railroads to provide it.

  14. I don’t know anything about how well Amtrak works on the East Coast. Maybe it makes sense to prop up its operations there. Out here in the West, though, Amtrak is a tourism operation. And a really crappy one at that — incapable of arriving anywhere on schedule.

  15. You can get a 15 day rail pass for $300. So it works out to about $7200 a year.

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