Having read this long thread, it seems to me that there is still some "wiggle room" in setting long-distance rail fares. Consider the difference between first-class and coach-class tickets on the same train, and in comparison to air fare.
In 2005, I completed an assignment in Connecticut and needed to go home to western Nebraska. My routing to Hartford/Springfield regional airport was: van taxi to Denver /flight to Phoenix/ flight to Hartford. I left my home at dawn and arrived after dark. All the usual airport/airliner bs.
My client would pay me the lowest price airfare home, or cash equivalent. Cheapest airfare: $162.
I booked a trip on AMTRAK. Boarded a New Haven-Springfield train at Hartford. Transferred to a Boston-Albany train at Springfield. Both these trains were Amfleet coach services.
At Albany, transferred to Lake Shore Limited. Viewliner equipment, first-class sleeper to Chicago. At Chicago, transferred to California Zephyr. Superliner equipment, first-class sleeper to McCook, NE.
The short-haul trains were not heavily loaded. The long-distance trains appeared full or near-full.
Fare comparison one-way for this trip: Coach-class on all trains combined: $162 (same as lowest air fare). Coach-class on Amfleet trains, first-class on long distance trains combined: $450. What do you get for $288 difference? Private sleeping accommodations and complimentary meals in the diner. Two nights in a bed at $100/ea. Not out of line at all these days. Two dinners, a lunch, and a breakfast for $88? A bit more than it usually costs here in the Heartland.
The point I am trying to make here is the First-class fare is almost three times the coach-class fare, yet the trains were running full. Obviously, there were a lot of individuals like myself who willingly paid the extra money. This tells me that the train passengers are not people who are choosing that mode on price alone. Even the coach passengers, who (if they were taking the long haul route I was) could have flown for the same money, chose the train.
It would then appear that no one on the train was saving any money over flying. They were all spending more time than if they had flown. The seating on the coach cars is comparable to first-class seating on the plane. Coach passengers on both train and plane have to pay for their meals, but the train meals are much better quality and more reasonably priced for what one gets.
The train passengers are nowhere near all railfans or people who are afraid to fly. A lot of them are, like myself, simply fed up with the stuff one has to go through at airports, or the little seats and lack of mobility and decent food on airlines.
Maybe coach rail fares should be pegged at half first-class fares (not counting room accommodation charges, which would be additional for first-class).