Traveling is a great hobby, and there are lots of ways you can travel.
Planes, trains, and automobiles tend to be the most popular ways to get to your destination.
Out of the three, trains tend to cost the most.
Amtrak is a very expensive way to get around the country, and this doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
If you are interested in taking a trip on the Amtrak railroad, you may also be wondering why it is so expensive.
We have gathered some information which should help explain these costs just a bit more.
Why Is Amtrak so Expensive?
1. Cost of Rail Maintenance
When you drive around your town or your local highways, do you often see road work?
Road work seems as though it is a never-ending issue, and there is constant maintenance required.
Although you probably don’t see this as much for the railroad, it is just as much of an issue.
Rail maintenance is a huge reason Amtrak is so expensive.
The rails are old, they are regularly exposed to weather and harsh conditions, and they need a lot of maintenance.
Some of the tracks go through remote parts of the country that are difficult to get to.
This only increases the cost of the rail maintenance that needs to be done.
Rain maintenance workers make quite a bit of money.
Their job is a true craft, and they must make sure everything about the track is perfect before they can allow trains to pass through.
There are large safety issues in play, in addition to there being a deadline.
Rail maintenance must be done quickly to not impact the schedule the trains are on.
Of course, this only adds to the cost of the maintenance.
The railroad tracks that are placed all over our country are only getting older.
As time passes, this will not help with lowering the costs and getting Amtrak tickets to be offered at more fair prices.
2. Railroads Operating at a Loss
You may not be aware that Amtrak has never been able to be profitable.
Since the year 1971, it has been operating at a loss.
This has a lot to do with maintenance issues, employees, and the fact that many Americans just don’t use Amtrak.
Each year, the government subsidizes the Amtrak system so they can continue to operate and function.
There are many areas of the Amtrak system that pass through small towns or rural areas, and Amtrak is the only viable way to get around.
These areas do not help Amtrak become more profitable, but it is very hard for them to shut down transportation to these areas.
There are areas where the Amtrak routes are profitable, but they do not cover the loss that other spots are experiencing.
Since the Amtrak railroad is constantly operating at a loss, they are always playing catch-up.
They don’t have the ability to offer a sale or a promotion the same way an airline might.
Amtrak tickets continue to go up in price to help cover this loss they experience every year.
The problem with this is that it makes fewer people want to use the Amtrak rail system as an option for their travel.
The one area where Amtrak can be really helpful is when you need to travel to more rural areas.
Sometimes if you fly into a city and then travel by Amtrak to the next destination, it can be the best way to travel.
These routes are very convenient for people, but they don’t have a large enough group of users to make it a profitable thing for the railroad.
3. Other Modes of Transportation Are More Popular and More Affordable
If you have the option to fly or to take a train, most people are going to choose to fly.
Air travel is actually quite convenient, and if the pricing is lower than that of Amtrak, it can be hard to justify the price difference.
Years ago, our country was built around train travel, but things have certainly changed.
Today, people enjoy flying more than trains because they are more used to it.
When you hear of someone taking a trip on Amtrak, it is certainly rare and not always as convenient.
When you take a mode of transportation that is not all that popular, and then you make it more expensive than other ways to travel, people just choose something else.
There is a large majority of the population that only consider car or plane travel and would never even consider Amtrak.
For some business travel, Amtrak can be good because it allows time for work while the train is in motion.
It is a bit more convenient than trying to drive, and it can sometimes get a person closer to the final destination than an airport can.
For the pure fact that Amtrak is not that popular, they have to keep their pricing up considerably higher.
The higher pricing helps them fill some of the gaps in the income they need, but as we mentioned, Amtrak is not profitable as a whole.
4. Employee Salaries
As with most businesses, payroll is going to be one of the highest costs.
A train engineer is a higher paying profession.
When you think about the different lines located all across the country, this is a lot of train engineers to hire.
In addition to those who drive the train, there are lots of other personnel, maintenance staff, and crew who are involved.
This staff and crew need to work whether a train car is packed or a train car only has two people in it.
For some routes, this can be the norm, but the train still operates.
Of course, the busier routes will occur more frequently and allow people to travel at convenient times.
However, if a train is scheduled to go, it will continue to go even if the train is empty or has not come close to max capacity.
This is difficult for some to understand and follow, but you can think of it like an airplane.
If an airplane with 300 seats only has ten people on board, that flight will not be very profitable.
This is the same model you will see quite often with the Amtrak trains.
5. Car Culture and Gasoline
What is car culture?
Car culture is that everyone must have one, two, and sometimes three cars.
Cars are very convenient to own, and they make getting from point A to point B much easier.
With the concept of car culture, people don’t consider the train because they choose to just use their car.
The car is their own, they don’t have to worry about departure and arrival times, and the car is generally quite easy to drive.
These concepts make the Amtrak that much less profitable, and therefore, they have to charge more per ticket.
One of the things which has led to this car culture mentality is the affordable price of gasoline.
Although gasoline will go up and down in value based on the economy or politics, it is generally affordable for most people.
If gas were to start getting incredibly high in price, people would consider taking Amtrak more.
Since Amtrak does not have to worry quite as much about gas as an airline would, then they can keep their pricing close to the same.
This is where you would see some people starting to switch to rail travel as opposed to air or car travel.
When you travel via train, gas prices won’t affect you all that much.
Does Amtrak Have to Pay Rent?
As odd as this may sound, a good portion of the money paid out by Amtrak is rent.
Amtrak does not own all of the railroad lines it uses.
If you are traveling along the northeast coast, most of those lines are owned by large freight operations.
Amtrak will pay rent to those freight organizations to allow their trains to travel on these tracks and reach this area of the country.
Although this may not seem like a large expense, when you think about them paying per track for the trains to pass over, it adds up quite quickly.
How to Save Money on Amtrak Tickets
Now that you can understand a bit more about why Amtrak is so expensive, it’s time to figure out how to save money on tickets.
If you are very stuck on your travel destination and dates, there may not be very much wiggle room in ticket prices.
However, if you can be flexible, you could potentially save a good amount of money.
Choose your train seat more than fourteen days in advance, and you can take advantage of an advance purchase discount that Amtrak offers.
You will also find other discounts for those who are in the military, seniors, and kids as well.
When you travel with a large family, the prices of travel can start to add up really quickly.
Most kids under the age of 12 are 50% off when they are riding with a fare paying adult.
This is a significant consideration to make for large families.
We haven’t seen airlines giving anybody a 50% discount for their children.
Another way to save money with Amtrak is to look for bulk packages.
These packages may include purchasing six or eight tickets all at once, but there is usually a discount involved.
It is not entirely uncommon to see Amtrak do a sale or a promotion on tickets as well.
These will usually be for a very limited seats and routes as well.
If you are looking for one of these deals, you may have to be flexible about where and when you are traveling, but you could still find a great deal.
It can take a little bit of practice and some research to get the best deals on Amtrak, but they are out there.
You will also notice that, during certain times of the year, a route could be more or less expensive.
If you are headed to a tourist destination, it may be best to wait until the season slows down if you want the best deal.
There is no question that traveling by Amtrak train can be very expensive.
Sometimes this cannot be avoided as it is the only way to get to your destination.
There are lots of positives about Amtrak, but until they get to the point of being profitable, you will probably continue to see very high prices.
Since they are getting subsidized by the government, they need to try and lower operating costs while increasing revenue.
They have found that the best way to do this is to charge people more money.NEXT: Why Are Scallops So Expensive? (Top 5 Reasons)