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Passenger Trains > Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car


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Date: 05/19/11 07:48
Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: GenePoon

Detroit to Chicago still best in a car
by Rex Roy
May 19, 2011

> Over the past four years, I've trekked from Detroit to Chicago by air, rail and road.
>
> As a student attending Wheaton College — just west of Chicago — the multiple round trips were necessary, a reality that's granted me
> familiarity with every expansion joint from Grosse Pointe to Gary, Ind. I actually look forward to the trip across Interstate 94. Cell
> service is spotty, but the satellite radio signal remains strong. No business calls interrupt my blues, funk or big band listening
> sessions...
>
> The one-way drive is about 350 miles and usually consumes less than five hours door to door. I've had plenty of time to think about
> travel alternatives.
>
> While the flight from Detroit Metro to Chicago O'Hare takes just an hour, once you factor drive time to Metro, parking, security, the air
> time and dealing with one of the world's busiest airports, the drive is still quicker.
>
> I'm sometimes asked why I don't take the Amtrak that runs between Detroit and Chicago...I have. Going station-to-station-to-station from
> Detroit to Wheaton is an eight-plus-hour ordeal. Train schedules and the time required to walk several blocks from Union Station to
> Chicago's Metra...must be considered. Cars win the time challenge handily.
>
> On the plus side for the train, the time spent riding Amtrak gives you occasion to truly zone out. If you've popped for first class, you
> get your own generously sized seat with plenty of leg room. If you're riding coach, don't expect as much. The ride is relatively smooth,
> but not exceptionally so. On some stretches, the jostling makes it impossible to work on a computer...I usually sleep during most of the ride.
>
> More significant for me than time and comfort is cost. Riding the train is not cheap. A typical one-way Amtrak and Chicago Metra light rail ticket
> can cost more than $150. I could drive a Hummer H1 Alpha to Wheaton for that kind of coin, plus I could take my family (dog included) for free.
> A Suzuki Kizashi sedan provided the means for the last Detroit-to-Wheaton round trip. Calculating fuel at $4.50 a gallon, the 700-mile there-and-back
> required less than $100.
>
> Amtrak can't compete when it charges more than $800 for three adults. (I didn't ask what they'd charge for the dog.)
>
> My last Wheaton road trip coincided with the Department of Transportation's announcement of high-speed rail service between Detroit and Chicago.
> When I heard "high-speed" service, I wondered how fast is "high speed?" Would the $196.5 million shave off one hour? Two hours? Three hours?
>
> How about 30 minutes from the nearly six-hour trip?
>
> After contacting the sponsoring congressman's office, I found the money will be spent on improving the rail bed between Detroit and Kalamazoo.
> This is a maintenance project, not the incarnation of a high-speed project to challenge Japan's bullet train.
>
> Where are my keys?

<http://detnews.com/article/20110519/OPINION03/105190372/Detroit-to-Chicago-still-best-in-a-car#ixzz1MoCSllwb&gt;



Date: 05/19/11 07:59
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: cforssi

I agree with the writer. Amtrak costs way too much for what you get and is very unreliable if you have to meet certain schedule deadlines.



Date: 05/19/11 08:14
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: ts1457

cforssi Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I agree with the writer. Amtrak costs way too much
> for what you get and is very unreliable if you
> have to meet certain schedule deadlines.

Yes, but the drive between Chicago and Detroit can be bad west of Gary. In spite of the economic conditions in Michigan, I think the business on the Michigan-Chicago lines keeps improving. The latest grants should keep that trend going and having a mostly dedicated ROW should lead to more enhancements in the future. I still think Chicago-Detroit will do better in the long run than what is being implemented Chicago-St. Louis.



Date: 05/19/11 08:24
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: reindeerflame

ts1457 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> cforssi Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I agree with the writer. Amtrak costs way too
> much
> > for what you get and is very unreliable if you
> > have to meet certain schedule deadlines.
>
> Yes, but the drive between Chicago and Detroit can
> be bad west of Gary. In spite of the economic
> conditions in Michigan, I think the business on
> the Michigan-Chicago lines keeps improving. The
> latest grants should keep that trend going and
> having a mostly dedicated ROW should lead to more
> enhancements in the future. I still think
> Chicago-Detroit will do better in the long run
> than what is being implemented Chicago-St. Louis.


The frequency is rather pathetic....same as in 1971?

They need at least 6 roundtrips a day before they need faster trains. Then, they need faster and more reliable trains.



Date: 05/19/11 08:33
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: toledopatch

Until they can get the running time under four hours, and reliable, Detroit-Chicago will not be a competitive rail market. Four hours downtown-to-downtown should be the goal for all corridors of this distance, and it ain't rocket science, either.



Date: 05/19/11 08:39
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: Ptolemy

Although I agree with those who are saying there should be more frequent and faster service (which current social policy does not allow), there are problems with this article.

He has tweaked it(to say the least) in favor of driving and not Amtrak. He does not consider what it is like to make the drive in the middle of the winter, and considers only the gas, not the operating costs of the vehicle (IRS rate is 51 cents a mile, or $350 for the trip, and that is an average; a Hummer is probably well above this). $800 for a round trip for three? Tonight's train from Detroit to Chicago is $53; I suppose there are very high bucket fares at $130 but what he has done is compare the cheapest possible (and unrealistic) cost of driving with the highest possible Amtrak fare.

Eight hours plus? The train from Detroit to Chicago 5 1/2 hours; from Chicago to Wheaton is 50 minutes. So he is assuming 1:40 or more for the transfer, again an improbability.

Stations several blocks apart? More like two.

Five hours to drive? How fast is he driving to make it through Chicago at an overall average of 70 mph? I would not want to be on the road near him. It is people like him roaring down the highway in their Hummers at 80-90 mph that will truly drive people off the highways.

I don't want to say this article is a plant, but it seems very carefully constructed to give the impression that nothing every goes wrong with driving, the cheap way, whereas everything goes wrong with the train, the expensive way, and you are always stuck with the highest possible fares. And you wonder why anyone who can afford a Hummer is so worried about costs.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/19/11 08:41 by Ptolemy.



Date: 05/19/11 08:39
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: ts1457

reindeerflame Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> They need at least 6 roundtrips a day before they
> need faster trains. Then, they need faster and
> more reliable trains.

I think the additional funding will give us <slightly> faster, a lot more reliable, and more frequent service. We just have to keep the improvements going after the current ones are completed.



Date: 05/19/11 09:33
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: wlankenau

I think most of us are only conscious of the "out of pocket" costs when we travel. Even though driving has hidden costs such as depreciation and maintenance on the vehicle, gas and tolls are the only numbers in most of our minds. So naturally, Amtrak looks expensive in comparison to driving.



Date: 05/19/11 09:33
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: KimHeusel

Ptolemy Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> He has tweaked it(to say the least) in favor of
> driving and not Amtrak. He does not consider
> what it is like to make the drive in the middle of
> the winter, and considers only the gas, not the
> operating costs of the vehicle (IRS rate is 51
> cents a mile, or $350 for the trip, and that is an
> average; a Hummer is probably well above this).
> $800 for a round trip for three? Tonight's train
> from Detroit to Chicago is $53; I suppose there
> are very high bucket fares at $130 but what he has
> done is compare the cheapest possible (and
> unrealistic) cost of driving with the highest
> possible Amtrak fare.
I agree with that. I checked some sample trips from Detroit to Chicago in the coming week and found the most expensive one-way ticket was $73. Add $12 for business class and you have $85. Another $4.50 for the one-way ticket to Wheaton. Let's see that's what -- about $90. Nothing close to the $150 he mentions. And most trips the Amtrak fares are $20 to $30, some even $40 lower. If you do a little planning you can get a much better fare. Can't argue with the speed, however. Six hours on a line that is supposed to be higher speed now is a little slow.

Kim Heusel



Date: 05/19/11 09:34
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: csxdispatcher

Ptolemy Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Although I agree with those who are saying there
> should be more frequent and faster service (which
> current social policy does not allow), there are
> problems with this article.
>
> He has tweaked it(to say the least) in favor of
> driving and not Amtrak. He does not consider
> what it is like to make the drive in the middle of
> the winter, and considers only the gas, not the
> operating costs of the vehicle (IRS rate is 51
> cents a mile, or $350 for the trip, and that is an
> average; a Hummer is probably well above this).
> $800 for a round trip for three? Tonight's train
> from Detroit to Chicago is $53; I suppose there
> are very high bucket fares at $130 but what he has
> done is compare the cheapest possible (and
> unrealistic) cost of driving with the highest
> possible Amtrak fare.
>
Agree. I did a little round trip check and came up with $318 for 3 people. This is for a Friday night out, Sunday night back what I would think a collage student would be traveling. Adding in the $30 or so for a round trip on Metra, I would think driving comes in as a much cheaper option, even including tolls and other costs besides gas.

> Eight hours plus? The train from Detroit to
> Chicago 5 1/2 hours; from Chicago to Wheaton is 50
> minutes. So he is assuming 1:40 or more for the
> transfer, again an improbability.
>

Or he is factoring in his time to get to the station with a little bit of time to spare. Why do people on this site always include the time to get to an airport in their arguments in how long it takes to get somewhere, yet assume people live/work right next to the train station?

> Stations several blocks apart? More like two.
>
> Five hours to drive? How fast is he driving to
> make it through Chicago at an overall average of
> 70 mph? I would not want to be on the road near
> him. It is people like him roaring down the
> highway in their Hummers at 80-90 mph that will
> truly drive people off the highways.

Mapquest lists the drive from downtown Detroit to downtown Wheaton as 5 hours and 12 minutes. If he lives a little bit west of Detroit, say Plymouth, I see no reason why he could not make the drive in 5 hours without driving reckless.

>
> I don't want to say this article is a plant, but
> it seems very carefully constructed to give the
> impression that nothing every goes wrong with
> driving, the cheap way, whereas everything goes
> wrong with the train, the expensive way, and you
> are always stuck with the highest possible fares.
> And you wonder why anyone who can afford a Hummer
> is so worried about costs.


No where did he say he drove a Hummer, he said that he could drive one cheaper than the quoted Amtrak fare.......



Date: 05/19/11 09:43
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: GenePoon

He tried all three modes and made an informed decision based on his own criteria and is not ashamed to say so.

Detroit-Chicago is an underperforming "corridor" neglected by Amtrak since its origin 40 years ago. Only more frequent, more reliable service as comfortable as exists now will sway those who still go by car, which comprise a lot more than the number of butts in seats on those trains.

If someone were in Detroit and wanted to go to Chicago at the time this thread began, he would have had to wait seven hours just to BOARD the next train in Detroit for the nearly six-hour ride. By the time that train departed Detroit, he could easily be in Chicago already. Schedule convenience and flexibility is something that people in the Northeast take for granted (and which has been provided for them at great expense); and something that Caltrans knew would have to be implemented (and which has been provided at great expense), were corridor services to be successful in California. It does not exist between Detroit and Chicago; Amtrak has added only one round trip to the route in forty years.

Besides which, even as a car guy, the author left out one aspect that would push Amtrak even farther back in the running: if he were to take public transport to either the Detroit or Dearborn stations (I assume he does not LIVE in the surrounding neighborhoods), the train option would cost even more. If he were to drive to those stations and park, he might not have a car when he returned. It might not even be there a half hour after the train departed.

Perhaps he was being kind to the metro area where his article was published.

-GP



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/19/11 09:55 by GenePoon.



Date: 05/19/11 09:52
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: KimHeusel

GenePoon Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> He tried all three modes and made an informed
> decision based on his own criteria and is not
> ashamed to say so.
I don't disagree with anything in your post and I know I'm not alone. But the point in my post earlier was that he doesn't need to skew the figures of taking the train to make his point. I don't see how he came up with a cost of $150 by what he cited. If you don't go business class and take the cheapest train, you can do the trip for less than $40 one way. That's a huge difference from the $150 he cited for a one-way trip. I agree that driving your own car is always more convenient and maybe cheaper, especially if there are others traveling with you.

Kim Heusel



Date: 05/19/11 09:54
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: stash

A major point: his dog cannot ride with him on the train. That means driving, if you want to travel as a family.



Date: 05/19/11 09:54
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: ChS7-321

You know, you guys talk about a five hour drive like it's an everyday thing....no big deal.

I don't know....maybe people in the Northeast, Midwest, and the West have three different concepts of distance, and living in the Northeast has spoiled me, but as much as I love my car, five hours is a damn long time to be driving.

If given a choice between a five-hour drive and a six-hour train ride (at current prices for everything), the train wins hands-down. Unless time is of ABSOLUTE ESSENCE and/or one has to get to the destination on a certain, inflexible schedule, even three departures a day CAN work because it is very likely that one can arrange their schedule for the day to suit (not like I'll be sitting at a train station for four hours waiting for the next train......)



Date: 05/19/11 10:02
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: csxdispatcher

ChS7-321 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You know, you guys talk about a five hour drive
> like it's an everyday thing....no big deal.
>
> I don't know....maybe people in the Northeast,
> Midwest, and the West have three different
> concepts of distance, and living in the Northeast
> has spoiled me, but as much as I love my car, five
> hours is a damn long time to be driving.
>

Must be because as a native Midwestern, I have no issues with a 5 hour long drive, in fact I enjoy it!



Date: 05/19/11 10:08
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: abyler

Gene:

All the flaws and misrepresentations in this article need to be fully pointed out and professional auto-advocated and writer Mr. Roy needs to straighten up a few things in his article.

1) "As a student attending Wheaton College" ... is he really attending college? His online information says he went to U Michigan.

2) "time required to walk several blocks from Union Station to Chicago's Metra light rail" ... I think he means the Metra Commuter rail line? It is only two blocks from Union Staton. Not even knowing the name of Metra's service doesn't show a lot of knowledge of it.

3) "A typical one-way Amtrak and Chicago Metra light rail ticket can cost more than $150." ... A quick visit to the Amtrak website shows one-way ticket prices of $31 for advance purchase ranging up to $73 for last minute walk-ups at the peak on weekends. Metra tickets are $4.50 one way. A little forethought about travelling should keep the round trip price to $71 per person. His Amtrak/Metra cost number is only off by 50%-80%.

4) "Calculating fuel at $4.50 a gallon, the 700-mile there-and-back required less than $100 thanks to the Kizashi's impressive 31 mpg" ... ignoring of course the costs of ownership and maintenance of the vehicle. Every 700 miles driven puts the vehicle that much closer to the scrap yard and requiring a new vehicle purchase. If a car costs $25,000 and will be driven 150,000 miles before replacement, every mile driven costs 17 cents in ownership costs before a replacement is bought, every 700 mile round trip would cost around $115 in ownership costs. That doesn't include ownership finance costs if the car is bought on credit, and it doesn't include maintenance costs incurred on a mileage basis like oil changes, new tires, tune-ups and the like. Also its not very good math ... 700 miles divided by 31 mpg times $4.50 per gallon is $101.60, which is not "under $100". And that assumes he really gets 31 mpg and gets that number for the whole trip irregardless of driving speed or type of traffic. It also ignores tolls on Chicago area roads and the toll costs of the alternate use of the Indiana Tollway were I94 blocked by an accident or congested.

5) "I have another daughter considering Wheaton College" ... Is Mr. Roy going to Wheaton as stated at the start of the article, or is one of his children? This is getting very confusing. Are these trips actually round trips to ferry his kids to and from school in Illinois? Then the cost goes up tremendously compared to just sending them off on the train on their own.

6) "How about 30 minutes from the nearly six-hour trip?" ... The state of Michigan clearly notes in its planning documents that the funded improvements will save around 50-60 minutes depending upon the train, and that the schedule from Detroit will be 4 hours 40 minutes when completed. See page 10 here:

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Michigan_Corridor_SDP_330329_7.pdf

7) Its hard to have a conversation when the basis of discussion is a pastiche of lies and distortions by someone with an unstated bias (Mr. Roy writes for a living about cars and thus has a vested interest in attacking the train line from Motor City - he lives in one of the Grosse Pointes).



Date: 05/19/11 10:22
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: ChS7-321

csxdispatcher Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ChS7-321 Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > You know, you guys talk about a five hour drive
> > like it's an everyday thing....no big deal.
> >
> > I don't know....maybe people in the Northeast,
> > Midwest, and the West have three different
> > concepts of distance, and living in the
> Northeast
> > has spoiled me, but as much as I love my car,
> five
> > hours is a damn long time to be driving.
> >
>
> Must be because as a native Midwestern, I have no
> issues with a 5 hour long drive, in fact I enjoy
> it!


I only enjoy such drives in a "roadtrip" scenario.....and not in a "simply get from point A to point B" context.

I guess whatever floats one's boat....



Date: 05/19/11 10:35
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: andersonb109

I pretty much agree with the article. I came off #4 on Tuesday, rented a car in Naperville and drove to Detroit Metro Airport where my car was waiting (I had flown to Arizona). I was home by 10P including a stop for dinner. Had I waited three hours for the train, if on time, I wouldn't have been home until after Midnight. Sure it cost more but was well worth the effort. Had the train had a full Business Class car (where seats may have actually been available, I may have considered it). Of course you have to really love trains to go through all this extra hassle and cost just for an overnight train ride.



Date: 05/19/11 10:38
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: GenePoon

abyler Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Gene:
>
> All the flaws and misrepresentations in this article need to be fully pointed out and
> professional auto-advocated and writer Mr. Roy needs to straighten up a few things in his
> article.


> 1) "As a student attending Wheaton College" ... is
> he really attending college? His online
> information says he went to U Michigan.

Irrelevant.


> 2) "time required to walk several blocks from Union Station to Chicago's Metra light rail" ... I
> think he means the Metra Commuter rail line? It is only two blocks from Union Staton.

From the exit nearest the platform at Chicago Union Station to the entrance to the Ogilvie
Transportation Center...not the building in front of it...almost four blocks; actually that's an approximate
equivalent to 3/4 of a block, plus two full blocks, plus one half block, plus one half-block
equivalent off the main street, to the front door at Ogilvie.


> 3) "A typical one-way Amtrak and Chicago Metra light rail ticket can cost more than $150." ... A
> > little forethought about travelling should keep > the round trip price to $71 per person.

Forethought is not a precondition of "can cost."


> 4) "Calculating fuel at $4.50 a gallon, the 700-mile there-and-back required less than $100
> thanks to the Kizashi's impressive 31 mpg" ... ignoring of course the costs of ownership and
> maintenance of the vehicle. Every 700 miles driven puts the vehicle that much closer to the scrap
> yard and requiring a new vehicle purchase. If a car costs $25,000 and will be driven 150,000 miles
> before replacement, every mile driven costs 17 cents in ownership costs before a replacement is
> bought, every 700 mile round trip would cost around $115 in ownership costs. That doesn't
> include ownership finance costs if the car is bought on credit, and it doesn't include maintenance costs incurred on a mileage basis like
> oil changes, new tires, tune-ups and the like. Also its not very good math ... 700 miles divided
> by 31 mpg times $4.50 per gallon is $101.60, which is not "under $100".

The difference of $1.60 is insignificant. As to the remainder of the ownership costs, the finance charges are incurred anyway, regardless of
whether the car sits in the garage or is on the road. One thing that DOES bother me is that this paragraph seemed to be a plug for the
"comfortable 2011 Suzuki Kizashi sedan" and its "impressive 31 mpg." I am thinking that as an automotive writer, he has been loaned that car
for an upcoming road test report.


> 5) "I have another daughter considering Wheaton College" ... Is Mr. Roy going to Wheaton as stated
> at the start of the article, or is one of his children? This is getting very confusing. Are
> these trips actually round trips to ferry his kids to and from school in Illinois? Then the cost
> goes up tremendously compared to just sending them off on the train on their own.

Again, irrelevant. Why he is going from Detroit to Wheaton is not an issue here, nor is his desire or need to take others with him.


> 6) "How about 30 minutes from the nearly six-hour trip?" ... The state of Michigan clearly notes in
> its planning documents that the funded improvements will save around 50-60 minutes
> depending upon the train, and that the schedule from Detroit will be 4 hours 40 minutes when
> completed. See page 10 here:
>
> http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Michigan_Corridor_SDP_330329_7.pdf


He says he called "contacting the sponsoring congressman's office" we have to take his word for
what he was told, since that "sponsoring congressman" could demand a correction if that were incorrect.
As for "planning documents" I would put no more credence in them than in what was
learned by "contacting the sponsoring congressman's office" if such documents are generated by
consultants, staffers and planners with an axe to grind for their agency or client.

I won't even go into the issue of bringing his dog.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/19/11 10:39 by GenePoon.



Date: 05/19/11 10:39
Re: Detroit News Column: DET-CHI still best in a car
Author: Ptolemy

I agree with all that the service should be far, far, better. But it is now clear that the article was written by a person with a vested interest in the automobile industry--perhaps even pushing a particular car model--who has cherry-picked some data and distorted other data to advance his preconception. And, as noted above, there are certain discrepancies in the article far beyond the simple misuse of data. Some people will always prefer to drive; even in Europe, with its excellent train service, I often drive, because you can visit places better. But as we all know transportation should be a mix of modes.

Perhaps one can say that if the author needs to distort data so much to make his point, with the train service as bad as it is, it does show a real fear in the automobile industry about the growing impact of train travel, and that even bad train travel can be seen as a threat. We see the same almost pathological fear of improved train service in Florida.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/19/11 10:42 by Ptolemy.



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