Amtrak Passenger Train Stations by Annual Ridership

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It *can* be slower than driving, but it depends on which train you take and when. Acele Express is about the same as Google’s optimal time. (Meaning, no traffic problems. Everyone who’s driven in or around either city should find that hilarious.) Having driven it myself more than a few times, I’d call four hours pretty good, and Google’s time excellent.

Cost for the Acela 12 hours from now — meaning, without the advance discount — starts at $109. If you’re willing to take a longer trip in regular coach, it starts at $73 (also without the discount). Driving the car I have right now would cost me about $40. What a deal, right?

Catch is, the car itself is thousands of dollars, never mind all its associated costs. That’s the huge lie that gets left out of all these comparisons. In reality, if you run *all* the relevant numbers — and I did, years ago, to answer this very question for a client who paid me to do it — driving that route in your own car costs about the same, or more, if you’re a typical car owner and typical driver. Except that you don’t have to actually drive, or park when you get there. And we all know how much fun it is to make this drive and park in both cities. The thousands upon thousands of business professionals who have the freedom to make that choice aren’t taking the train because they’re bad at math.

But you’re absolutely right that American trains and train service are vastly inferior to that in most other countries, and decades behind. It didn’t used to be that way. We spent more than half a century building ourselves into the car-dependent and transit-neglecting society we are now. It’s the consequence of a lot of choices we made over the last century. Choices that are now catching up to us in a big way.

Transit isn’t just a good option for major cities — it’s the only good one. Cities like Boston don’t pour hundreds of millions into it because they can’t do math. They do it because they *have to,* and they know that the on-paper loss comes back eightfold on average. The economy of a city like New York is entirely dependent on its transit capacity, in order to get people to work and home again.

We need to change our entire attitude about transit in this country, or else we’ll continue to fall behind, and one day it will be too late to try to catch up. It’s simply not possible for everyone to drive, or to even own a car. And as the future keeps coming, it will become even more difficult. Within most of our lifetimes, personal car ownership will likely all but vanish, because it simply won’t be feasible anymore. The concept violates immutable laws of physics, such as how many cars can get from one place to another and then park. That might seem silly now, but if you were to tell someone 400 years ago that most people in the future would have our level of individual mobility, they’d laugh in your face. The roads would be over year head in manure from that many horses, and where you you house and feed them? And they’d be right. Our capability is made possible only by how compact the system of an automobile is compared to that of a horse and cart. But that advantage is rapidly narrowing, and will eventually close. That’s where we’re heading with cars right now, and within a few decades we will have no choice but to change our ways, and embrace transit and shared travel. So enjoy individual driving while you can; I promise you it’s not going to last.

When it gets bad enough, the investments will be made. A big part of the problem right now, I hate to say, is the disproportionate political representation of rural interests compared to urban ones. That too is shifting, however, as urban populations continue to outpace rural ones, and in time the urban vote will be sufficient to force through these long-needed changes.

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