The other day, I had a meeting in New York City in the afternoon, so I went down to New York for the day from Boston on Amtrak. This got me thinking that once you include all the bits and pieces of the trip, the train actually stacks up pretty well, as can be seen from the table below.
I was pretty surprised by how close the two were on total time, and air gets blown away on productive time, carbon dioxide produced and even wins on price, once you include all the extra taxis you need to get into the city.
Productive time and reduced carbon footprint key factors for the train
As can be seen from the table above, the train is significantly more productive. It occurred to me that some of the consulting firms on the north east corridor could actually charge for this time, but that is beside the point. On Amtrak, you get Wifi and a decent sized seat for 7 hours of your day, whereas on a plane, once you include the taxi time, the security time and the take-off and landing, you only get about an hour of useful time with your laptop on the whole trip!
In addition, some data from the UK shows that even at average occupancy, flying produces 10x more carbon dioxide than taking the train.
Given that we build software to help distribute train tickets, I'm sure you aren't surprised that we thought the train was better, but I'll explain all my assumptions and see if I can convince you.
The Air Trip
I live in North Cambridge, and I assumed I was going to a meeting in the Rockefeller Center in New York. For the air trip, I therefore assumed that I got a taxi to Logan Airport, flew to JFK and then took a taxi into Manhattan for the meeting, and then reversed the trip exactly to get home. I used Google Maps to estimate the trip times, and then also googled the taxi fares at both ends. This came to 25 mins for $45 at the Boston end, and 60 mins and $52 at the NYC end. The plane ticket I found on Kayak.com.
I assumed 75 minutes to through the airport and to the gate, and 45 minutes to get out of the airport into the taxi at either end.
I also found some stats that on the NYC to Boston route, the on-time percentage was 50% in one direction and 81% in the other for the given times of day, with average delays of 50 mins and 37 mins respectively. I've therefore included the implied average lateness to the times including delays.
The rail trip
The same origin and destination were used, but I took the T at the Boston end (30 mins, $2) and then walked to the Rockefeller Center from Penn Station (25 mins, free!).
I also assumed 15 minutes in the station to get on the train, and 10 minutes to get out of the station at the destination.
The on-time percentage for Amtrak across the North East Corridor was 87% and although it didn't report it, I estimated that the average delay was 20 mins.
Let me know in the comments if you think I could improve my estimates.