TRAC Backgrounder No 1: U.S. Trains Too Costly To Operate

Last Updated: June 25, 2015By Tags:

A study by consultant Civity recently published by Britain’s Office of Rail Regulation provides some insight why no profitable California train services exist, despite their popularity. It’s because U.S. costs are out of control, compared to the 17 European and British passenger operators studied. The benchmark study compared 2011 data for Irish, Belgian, French, Dutch, and Danish conventional services with a German private carrier and 11 domestic British routes. British routes operated by contractors, but most others are publicly operated…

…If you include track access [charges], European operators show a cost range from $15 to $35 per train mile with the majority of systems being close to $25 per train mile.

Most other cost elements show a vast discrepancy. The comparison with recent California results is particularly shocking. 2012 cost per train mile for the San Joaquins, Capitol Corridor, and Surfliners ranged from $65 to $85. Caltrain and ACE are over $100. Metrolink is about $70 per train mile, but is saved from worse performance by its ability to levy track access charges on other operators. Amtrak as a whole is about $100/train mile.


Adapted from article in California Rail News, October 2014