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I read that the payment for a delivery is multiplied with the distance. (Subquestion: does it mean the distance traveled or the direct distance?) Since the overhead of un/loading and repairs is constant, it seems to me that longer distances have a better win/cost ratio.

On the other hand, there are penalties for taking too much time. (Subquestion: do I get more time for longer ways?)

So my question is: for maximum profit, should I transport few goods across the entire map, or should I transport more goods on ways as short as possible?

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this page on the openttd wiki has most of the information: – l I Sep 20 '13 at 19:42
It answered my subquestions (Manhattan distance between stations, fix time independent of length), but as far as I can see discusses only income per delivery, not income per time or investment. – Cephalopod Sep 20 '13 at 21:16
Time is a direct factor of distance vs speed, the charts at the bottom show that there's a curve that the income amount follows and this is based on the 'ontime' values of each individual resource. – l I Sep 20 '13 at 21:45
In addtion to z's great link and Mark's great answer: The game is designed so that distance makes a difference, but not by much, so that it doesn't get complicated for those who don't want to dig too deep. I made a test between two routes one being 50 tiles long and the other ten times that. The longer one was still more than half as profitable, despite the ridiculous length. – John Aug 29 '15 at 20:58
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Profit per unit time is a tricky thing to calculate. It depends on the operating cost and amortized purchase price of the vehicle, the speed of the vehicle, the cargo capacity, the time spent loading/unloading it, the payment rate for the cargo, the inflation rate (operating costs increase faster than cargo payments). Interestingly, the late delivery penalty doesn't factor in under normal circumstances: it takes exceptionally long loading times for optimal routes to become long enough for it to matter.

I've run some simulations. In general, the faster you can load the cargo, the shorter you want the route to be. If you could load and unload instantly, the optimal distance would be however far you can travel in the "early delivery time" in this chart; for reasonably quick loading (30 days or less) and realistic vehicle capacities, the travel time is no more than a day or two longer.

Inflation causes the optimal route length to increase over time: for example, at the start of the game the optimal travel time for a Goss Grain Truck that can load in 30 days is five days, but 100 years later it increases to 10 days.

All this is assuming the default vehicles. Many of the popular alternate train sets have trains that cost more to operate when moving than when loading, which further discourages long travel times.

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