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Amtrak - How Does it Compare with Trains Overseas?

While I have traveled extensively by train overseas and in the United States, I have often wondered, how does Amtrak service and price stack up against similar long distance trains overseas? I realize that such price comparisons are risky and there are many reasons why direct comparisons are difficult due to many factors – implicit subsidies that may be incorporated in ticket prices that cannot be easily measured; distance of travel affects prices as most rail tariffs are “tapered” with lower per mile costs over longer distances; and the class of service chosen may not be directly comparable in many countries. In spite of these difficulties, I have made some simple comparisons of per mile ticket prices for trains I have recently taken. I have compared sleeping car prices for long distance trains; there may indeed be lower costs in other classes of travel, but I have tried, as far as possible, to compare similar classes of service and distances. Some of these prices will vary with demand, such as on Amtrak and in Russia, but the prices I show are the based on the actual payments I made for each trip.

The graph below shows the per mile ticket price for each train in the sample. However, only the Amtrak and Rossiya trains have similar distances as they represent transcontinental services while others serve shorter distance markets. The table summarizes main characteristics of each train that are important to the passenger, such as privacy, en suite facilities, meals, etc.

Japan's Sunrise Izumo Express

Rossiya compartment on the Trans Siberian Railway

Private Compartment on Grand Express to St. Petersburg

Premier Class Train at Johannesburg Station

The Verdict: Which is the Best Train for the Money?

Cheapest per mile cost is the Rossiya, operating on the Trans-Siberian Railway, sharing a double compartment. However, while this offers the opportunity to meet other passengers, it provides little privacy and space for baggage/personal belongings. The Rossiya private room is the same compartment as the sharing option (both are termed “spalny wagon”) but two tickets must be purchased. This means the rather large room (two beds side-by-side) is totally private and the price is comparable to Amtrak’s roomette. However, while the roomette has a toilet in the room, for me, there is something distasteful about sleeping six inches from the toilet lid.

Japan’s Sunrise Express has a moderately high price, though the room is large and contains a bed, table and chair. Amtrak’s bedroom also has a chair and fold – down table but is very cramped and far inferior to that of the Japanese train.

Russia’s Grand Express is by far the most expensive, though it is a luxury train with impeccable service. There is an added feature of a complementary taxi service at destination where the taxi driver is waiting on the platform when the train arrives.

The winner of price/service quality is South Africa’s Premier Class train. This train has the second lowest per mile cost, yet offers a private compartment and all meals are complementary.

How does Amtrak compare? Roomette and bedroom prices are relatively high, comparing with other similar services. Space is extremely limited in both of these rooms and the proximity of the toilet lid to sleeping zone makes the roomette an unattractive option. A plus feature is that all meals are included.

This was a very limited and subjective comparison and I would very much be glad to hear from others who could add some statistics to this list as well as offer some additional perspectives.

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