Back in 1951, the Union Pacific wanted potential passengers to know that coaches were comfortable and economical. The brochure especially emphasizes the streamliners, noting that coaches on the City of Los Angeles, City of Portland, and City of San Francisco all had leg rest seats. Of course, that suggests that coaches on the overnight City of Denver, City of St. Louis, and various heavyweight trains didn’t have leg rest seats.
The brochure also lists sample fares that makes it appear questionable just how economical coach travel really was. The one-way fare from Chicago to Los Angeles or San Francisco was $55.44, which is about $400 in today’s money. Since that’s about the cost of a round-trip airline ticket today, it’s hard to imaging the railroads could compete against today’s deregulated airlines.
After adjusting Bureau of Transportation Statistics data for inflation, rail fares have averaged about 21 cents per mile since 1960. Airline fares were twice that in 1960, and about 40 percent more than rail fares in 1980. But air fares fell below rail fares in 1990, and today are well under half half of average Amtrak fares even though subsidies to Amtrak, per passenger mile, are about 10 times as much as subsidies to the airlines.