# “There Are Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” – Mark Twain

The people who fuss and fume because passenger rail in the U.S. is subsidized will acknowledge (if pressed) that all public transportation is subsidized. And they will also concede, albeit grudgingly, that the roughly \$1.5 billion that Amtrak gets every year from the federal government is a tiny fraction of one percent of the annual budget.
But oh how they love to point out that the subsidy Amtrak gets, when figured on a per-passenger basis, is more than it is for an airline passenger or for someone taking a trip in the family car.
We hear all sorts of numbers thrown around about the “cost per passenger” but, as a knowledgeable member of the NARP* board observes, we can’t even agree on how to count passengers, let alone come to a consensus on what it actually costs to transport someone from Point A to Point B.
For instance, let’s say you’re a big baseball fan living in Milwaukee and you’re planning a 523-mile train trip to Kansas City to see the Brewers play a three-game series with the Royals. You think of it as one trip, of course, but because you have to change trains in Chicago, the statistician counts you as two people: Passenger No. 1 rode the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Chicago; passenger No. 2 took the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Kansas City.
Here’s the flip side of that: let’s say that I’m taking the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver for a conference. That’s more than 1000 miles. But it’s one train and, therefore, one passenger is added to the grand total.
See? You travel 500 miles to the baseball games; I travel twice that distance to the meeting. But you’re counted as two passengers and I’m counted as one.
Now consider this: If there are legitimate differences of opinion and inconsistencies about how to count the passengers, imagine the arguments we would have trying to compute how much it costs Amtrak to take you to those ballgames!
So let’s just short-cut the whole argument by saying what we know to be true: that there are millions of Americans in thousands of towns and small cities for whom Amtrak is the only available public transportation.  And it is NARP’s contention that access to public transportation and the mobility it provides is a fundamental right of every American.

*National Association of Railroad Passengers (www.narprail.org)

The “Passengers” conundrum is the result of a poor understanding of what transportation is, and how it is (or should be) measured. The proper measure is passenger-miles . One PM is one passenger traveling one mile. Two PM can be two folks traveling one mile each, or one going two miles. In Jim’s examples, the Chi-Den person counts for 1000 PM, while the ball fan counts for 500.

Amtrak opponents hate this because it actually shows ATK, and the long-distance trains in particular, in a very favorable light.

Opponents also like to say that it would be cheaper to buy people air fare from Chicago to LA than to keep the SWC running. This may be true, but what is the airfare from, say, Ft. Madison, IA to Raton, NM? Air taxis are not cheap.

2. Using linked trips completely eliminates that particular statistical issue and has been used for quite some time (not by Amtrak though to my knowledge).

Personally I’d love to see a list of those locales which are only served by Amtrak’s long distance trains; the argument gets brought up fairly commonly but suspect reality is a bit rarer on the ground than suggested.

3. Martin says:

For many trains are just a throwback to an olden era. They want to reach everywhere earlier. But for me they are something more than just a ride. One experts told me long time back that trains if run properly can be cheaper, more efficient, less polluting… he gave me a long list but these are the ones I remember

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