Don's Home Travel Train vs Plane vs Car Contact

NY - Boston Amtrak Plane Auto
Time (1) 215 mi.
downtown - downtown
4:15 2:50 3:553
(cents/passenger mile)
25 19 1: 36
2: 18
(deaths/ billion passenger miles)
.88 .87 11.7
(deaths/ billion passenger miles)
NTSB 1994
.4 8.6
Deaths/yr 128 42,000
billion passenger miles/yr. (2000) 5.5 (2) 516 4,390
(passenger mi./ gallon)
83 38 20-120
(oz./passenger mile)
3 174 10
Govt Subsidies $1 B $16 B $32 B
(1) Time includes local transportatin to Train Station or Airport.
Train was Acela which averages 90 MPH (not including stops) (Max. 150 north of Providence).

NY - Boston - 215 mi. - downtown - downtown
Time Train Plane
Terminal to Terminal 3:30 1:05
Downtown to/from Terminal
& checkin/boarding
:45 1:45
Total 4:15 2:50
Plane: Downtown to LGA - 17 min., checkin - 1:00, Jetway to Taxi - :10, Airport Taxi to Downtown - :15
(2) Passenger miles for Amtrak only
(3) Driving Times: Yahoo Directions - 4:00, MapQuest - 3:54. Can be 6 hrs. or more in the snow or with delays from accidents or construction.

(4) Polution
According to the 2003 Sierra Club Article: "Flying creates 13 percent of transportation-generated carbon dioxide worldwide, accounting for 3.5 percent of all global warming emissions. Other aviation gases include hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to acid rain. EPA estimates that commercial aircraft will generate as much as 10 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions from mobile sources in cities with heavy air traffic by 2010. And in an odd twist, some of today's quieter, more fuel-efficient aircraft engines generate an average of 40 percent more smog-forming nitrogen oxides than the engines they replaced.
When flights were banned following September 11, skies cleared significantly."

(5) Auto death rates are also shown as deaths (1.6) per 100 million vehicle miles.
A 2005 study by the National Transportation Group (TRIP) (a private organizataion) showed that: "52% of deaths between 1999 and 2003 occurred on rural, non-Interstate roads and highways.
In 2003 there were 2.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled on non-Interstate rural roads compared with 0.99 deaths per 100 million miles on all other roads."
Motorists on rural, non-Interstate routes are six-and-a-half times more likely to be killed while attempting to negotiate a curve than motorists driving on all other roads.
The five states with the largest number of rural, non-Interstate traffic deaths between 1999 and 2003 are: Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

See Also: National Transportation Library

Sources: Trains, Planes & Pains, Nov/Dec, 2003 Sierra Magazine,
Efficiency: Car - 120 pasenger mi./gal. = 3 people @ 40 MPG
Safety: USA Railroad Passenger-Miles per Gallon 1936-1963
Air Traffic Statistics at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Accidents Involving Airline Passenger Fatalities at the NTSB
Efficiency: USA Railroad Passenger-Miles per Gallon 1936-1963

Sierra Club spokesman Dan Becker said, "We've seen 50 percent increases in gas prices over the past few years with no improvement in mass-transit ridership, increased carpooling or a reduction in driving distances. I don't think there's price elasticity" in gasoline.

National Safety Council data reveal that in the last half of the 1990s Americans were, mile for mile, 37 times more likely to die in a vehicle crash than on a commercial flight.

In 1996, the NTSB came up the statement that scheduled commercial airlines had a fatal accident rate of 0.026 per 100,000 flying hours.

Miles per gallon
Average no. of Passengers
MIles traveled per gallon
Passenger-miles per gallon
1. Includes trains with diesel or electric engines. A vehicle equals one passenger coach.

For intercity, there are about 2 persons/auto as compared to 1.6 overall, and the auto gets more miles/gallon in intercity use (about 26 as compared to 22 overall). After making this correction, Amtrak is appears to be little more energy efficient that the auto (52 passenger-miles/gal).

7% of travel in Europe is by train; In the U.S. it is 0.3%.

In 1955 Amtrak passenger miles was 28.7 million. In 2000, it was 6 million.

U.S. Train Fatalities (Passenger only, excludes employee, crossing accidents, pedestrians on the tracks, etc.)
Year Psngr-
1993 13.8 *58
1994 14.0 5
1995 13.7 0
1996 13.6 12
1997 14.1 6
1998 14.6 4
1999 14.9 14
2000 16.1 4
2001 15.7 3
2002 15.2 7
2003 15.6 2
Average 0.71 deaths/Billion passenger miles
* Amtrak's Sunset Limited, en route to Miami, jumped rails on a bridge, weakened when a towboat operator hit it, and plunged into Big Bayou Canot near Mobile, Ala. killing 42. This was Amtrak's worst accident. Story
Source: Office of Safety Analysis at the DOT

See also:
Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption at DOE's Annual Energy Review 2001
Comparison of Urban Rail and Freeway Passenger Volumes at "The Public Purpose" claims that freeways are more productive than light rail, commuter rail, or even most heavy rail lines anywhere outside of New York City.
Personal Transportation Factsheets at the Center for Sustainable Systems at U. Mich.
The Past and Future of U.S. Passenger Rail Service at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Plane Crash accident stats

Human Transit blog

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last updated 1 Oct 2007