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What about Amtrak?

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What about Amtrak?
Monday May 12th 2008
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AMTRAK, America's oft-maligned national passenger rail service, has had a rough life. Deferred maintenance, low levels of federal funding, immense debt and competition with airlines have all taken their toll since the quasi-governmental entity was organised in 1971. But by the numbers, at least, Amtrak seems to be doing better. Ridership was nearly 26m in fiscal 2007, a new record. Ridership for 2008 is up 12% so far, according to AFP.

Even Amtrak's "built-too-wide" Acela Express service is doing well. The increased security in airports following the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have made flying a lot more of a hassle, especially for short trips like the ones between New York and Washington, DC or between Boston and New York. For many business travellers, it's simply easier to go from Penn Station in midtown New York to Union Station in downtown Washington, DC than it is to make the long trips to and from the airports that surround those two cities.

A trip from New York to Washington on the Acela takes a little less than three hours, doesn't involve passing through security, and usually costs a little over $100 if purchased in advance. (Tickets can set you back more than twice as much if purchased at the last minute.) All-in-all, the Acela is a comfortable, fast option for travel between the major cities of the north-eastern United States. Bloomberg's James S. Russell elaborates:

Flying can't be counted on to have a time advantage when you add waits at security checkpoints and travel to and from the airport....Right now, no other rail corridors in the U.S. match Acela for speed, comfort or frequency. Overburdened airports, along with jammed highways, high gasoline prices and global-warming concerns, may at last push longstanding plans to build fast train service between heavily trafficked urban markets like Los Angeles-San Francisco-Sacramento, Houston-Dallas, St. Louis- Chicago-Detroit and Florida's east coast.

Yes, Acela is better, though by international standards it remains a joke. It looks good today mainly because driving and flying are looking so bad.


Mr Russell is right: the Acela only seems great because the other options are so miserable. But that's been enough for Amtrak to capture, by some estimates, over half of the market for business travel between New York and Washington, DC.

One easy improvement could make Acela even more appealing: Wi-Fi. Right now you need to bring a broadband wireless card along if you want to stay connected while you're on the train. But if the various $20 bus services between New York and DC can provide free Wi-Fi on the road, how hard can it be for Amtrak to provide it on the rails? In a smart post on Information Week's website, Cora Nucci argues that Amtrak faces a moment of truth:

Business travelers are Amtrak's bread and butter. It should be hustling to make Wi-Fi a priority -- to make it free, make it fast, and make it available in every car on the line. This is the time to do it. High oil prices are placing a golden opportunity in Amtrak's lap.

Amtrak already offers a service that is greener, cheaper, about as fast, and less of a hassle than its competitors. It doesn't even require a trip to the airport; it takes commuters from city centre to city centre. If Acela also offered free Wi-Fi, it would be a deal business travellers would find very hard to pass up.
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Unfortunately, not practical in my part of the country... Phoenix to LA, for instance, via Amtrak is a 3 hr bus ride + 11 hr train trip, compared to about 6 hrs driving on I-10 or less than a 2 hr flight on Southwest... I can see it being useful on the coasts, though, esp. the NE where the cities are close together and the rail lines well developed. In the Southwest, everything is at least 500 miles apart and the lines are not extensive.

Edited by moltar
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I :wub: Amtrak. As long as you're not in a rush, it's a great way to travel. If you're going long distance, leave the night before, take a sleeper, and wake up refreshed the next morning in another city.

My BF and I are doing a trip on Amtrak to DC sometime soon. For us, it's the going, not the getting there, that's good.

As for the article. WiFi on at least the Acela, but ideally on all cars, would be great. The Acela already has cars that are set up so business people can have meetings on the train.

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Agreed with Oldsmoboi. Train travel offers much of the benefits of driving without the associated hassles. You get to see the country without worrying about getting cut off, getting pulled over, or having something go wrong on your car.

When you factor in the fact that you have to get to the airport 2hrs early, and you're probably at the destination airport up to an extra hour getting through people-traffic and getting your luggage. Amtrak is a much more appealing alternative for short hops.

A move to high-speed rail is a must IMO.

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Amtrak is a disaster. The Acela from Boston to New York is unbelievably expensive, and the trains are ALWAYS ALWAYS late. The tracks are laid out in a horrible way, having never been realigned since the mid 1800s. The trains never reach full speed because individual towns impose speed limits. Trains are good, but Amtrak is not.

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Part of the issue is how the gov't has pandered to the airline industry with various bailouts and such. And yet, airlines still go bust on a regular basis. IMO, airline ticket prices don't reflect the true cost of airline travel. If they did, it would make rail travel much more competitive, and Amtrak might be able to bring in the funds to become even more competitive. As-is, they generally have to borrow freight lines' tracks, and sometimes get stuck on the siding while some coal or whatnot rolls by. That's baloney, but that's how it works when the freight company owns the lines, why should they care about Amtrak being on time? It's not the business they're in. The transportation industry needs to be allowed to re-balance itself (read: minimal gov't interference with the market), and we may very well see a passenger rail revival.

My wife & I plan to take Amtrak from Salt Lake City to Lafayette, IN for our visit home for Christmas, and maybe on the way back (or vise versa). A friend of ours from home came to visit on Amtrak, and loved it. Took 2 days instead of 1, but he enjoyed the travel just as much as the visit.

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IMO, airline ticket prices don't reflect the true cost of airline travel. If they did, it would make rail travel much more competitive, and Amtrak might be able to bring in the funds to become even more competitive.

It's not even opinion. The people who generally yell about the federal funding of Amtrak usually forget that all of the airports and highways are build with tax dollars. Amtrak has to maintain all of their own stations, Amtrak exclusive tunnels, bridges, and track, and still pay a fee to the freight railroads for trackage rights.

My wife & I plan to take Amtrak from Salt Lake City to Lafayette, IN for our visit home for Christmas, and maybe on the way back (or vise versa). A friend of ours from home came to visit on Amtrak, and loved it. Took 2 days instead of 1, but he enjoyed the travel just as much as the visit.

I hope you enjoy it. A lot of the fun of going by train is the journey itself. It really makes air travel feel like you're being crammed into a generic transportation pod.

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Amtrak is pretty good here in the PacNW.

If you're traveling North/South - Amtrak Cascades

If you're going East/West... there's Empire Builder

I've taken Cascades several times... but haven't tried Empire Builder, yet...

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I took Amtrak once from Osceola, IA to Chicago for a class trip and I enjoyed it. However, Amtrak is mostly impractical around here. The only route through Iowa travels along the southern 1/3 of the state and doesn't connect with any major cities. If you want to take Amtrak from Des Moines, you have to drive an hour south to Osceola first. I have no idea why they built the route through southern Iowa because there are no major cities down there and it would have been just as easy to route it through the Quad Cities, Iowa City, and Des Moines like I-80 currently does.

I have heard that Amtrak is planning on building a new line to connect Iowa City with Chicago (IA City has a ton of Chicago kids that go there for school, too), so that's great news. And Cedar Rapids is talking about building a new light rail system to connect CR with Iowa City, so I may be able to take the train from Cedar Rapids to Chicago someday.

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I took Amtrak once from Osceola, IA to Chicago for a class trip and I enjoyed it. However, Amtrak is mostly impractical around here. The only route through Iowa travels along the southern 1/3 of the state and doesn't connect with any major cities. If you want to take Amtrak from Des Moines, you have to drive an hour south to Osceola first. I have no idea why they built the route through southern Iowa because there are no major cities down there and it would have been just as easy to route it through the Quad Cities, Iowa City, and Des Moines like I-80 currently does.

I have heard that Amtrak is planning on building a new line to connect Iowa City with Chicago (IA City has a ton of Chicago kids that go there for school, too), so that's great news. And Cedar Rapids is talking about building a new light rail system to connect CR with Iowa City, so I may be able to take the train from Cedar Rapids to Chicago someday.

Of course, you have to look at history. The rail system there is probably leftover from older railroads focused on getting traffic from the Pacific to Chicago.

The line that fed Iowa City and Des Moines (Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, commonly known as Rock Island), went bankrupt in 1980 and everything was liquidated (and thus, not incorporated into the national system of Class I's that Amtrak uses).

Of course, upgrading Acela in the Northeast would take significant bucks. The 10-mile Alameda Corridor "trench" to connect railroads to LA's ports cost $2.4 Billion to make.

Edited by traumadog
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I agree with Oldsmoboi, I just love Amtrak.

I would gladly pay a two dollar a gallon tax on gas just to have a decent rail system...seriously...

Chris

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I think taxing Jet fuel would be the most practical to fund Amtrak.

1) Amtrak gets money.

2) Airline prices go up dramatically.

3) The Demand for Trains goes up dramatically.

4) Private Passenger Rail Systems will provide high quality routes and service and bring prices down.

5) Trains replace Planes as the dominant mass transit nation wide and to Canada & Mexico.

If we reduced the # of jets in the sky to just those whom require air travel the price of oil will go down.

This will make life easier for those whom must drive.

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I'd love it if rail were a practical form of transportation around here, but the nearest Amtrak station is 3 hours away. A 3 hour drive would get me anyplace in state that I would otherwise take the train to, and if I'm going further, it just adds to the length of the trip. The drive to St. Louis would take 3-4 hours, depending on traffic going through the city, the train ride takes nearly 6 hours, for a total travel time of 9-10 hours. I can make the drive in less than 8 if I leave late at night and get lucky. If there were passenger rail service through Springfield, I'd use it for Chicago, St. Louis, hell even Branson, which is like 30 miles.

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I think taxing Jet fuel would be the most practical to fund Amtrak.

1) Amtrak gets money.

2) Airline prices go up dramatically.

3) The Demand for Trains goes up dramatically.

4) Private Passenger Rail Systems will provide high quality routes and service and bring prices down.

5) Trains replace Planes as the dominant mass transit nation wide and to Canada & Mexico.

If we reduced the # of jets in the sky to just those whom require air travel the price of oil will go down.

This will make life easier for those whom must drive.

Do you not travel by air? Do you know how much it would suck if airfare got so much more expensive? There are other reasons besides price competitiveness that make people fly, rather then ride a train. Do you really want to waste days traveling, when you can already be enjoying your destination?

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Do you not travel by air? Do you know how much it would suck if airfare got so much more expensive? There are other reasons besides price competitiveness that make people fly, rather then ride a train. Do you really want to waste days traveling, when you can already be enjoying your destination?

You realize that most intra-continental flights in the US are between 600 and 1,000 miles?

The TGV can run at 357 mph. Round that down to 300 mph and you're still doing a pretty good pace.

To put that in perspective, it is 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Philly. So that's a 1 hour trip by train.

US Air currently schedules 45 minutes between Pitt and Philly, but I have to stand in airport security for 40 minutes just to get to my gate to wait another 30 minutes to board my flight, and then wait 20 minutes for my bags at the other end.

Getting on and off the train is much faster than getting on and off a flight. Trains are substantially more comfortable as well.

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I'd love to be able to take the Amtrak for trips...but it's just not practical from either Denver or Phoenix to get anywhere in a reasonable time by rail...the mountain West/Southwest is just too large--everything too far apart. I can see it being great on the east coast, though.

I've long been a rail fan...I used to ride the L in Chicago, the light rail in Denver, and have traveled by rail throughout Europe... it's so much less hassle than flying.. unfortunately, the connectivity and infrastructure just isn't there in many parts of the US.

Edited by moltar
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Whenever I go to Boston it's almost always by train. Boston is a nightmare to navigate in car a car...not only the maze of roads but the insane drivers. Oh, and good luck parking.

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Do you not travel by air? Do you know how much it would suck if airfare got so much more expensive? There are other reasons besides price competitiveness that make people fly, rather then ride a train. Do you really want to waste days traveling, when you can already be enjoying your destination?

I see your point but, I was kind of responding to the whole gas tax idea. I really think deregulating the Train marketplace will do for trains what it did for air travel in the 1980s. Don't expect any changes anytime soon.

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You realize that most intra-continental flights in the US are between 600 and 1,000 miles?

The TGV can run at 357 mph. Round that down to 300 mph and you're still doing a pretty good pace.

To put that in perspective, it is 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Philly. So that's a 1 hour trip by train.

US Air currently schedules 45 minutes between Pitt and Philly, but I have to stand in airport security for 40 minutes just to get to my gate to wait another 30 minutes to board my flight, and then wait 20 minutes for my bags at the other end.

Getting on and off the train is much faster than getting on and off a flight. Trains are substantially more comfortable as well.

Good Point

However, we are frozen in 1940s technology.

Just as it took Jet fleets to make Transcontinental travel practical, It will take high speed trains to revive train travel.

Ultimately, Maglev trains in vacuum tubes will kill off air travel over land. These trains will easily go hypersonic without the nasty sonic boom. When we get the network connecting Alaska to Russia, and Labrador to Greenland to Iceland to Ireland to Britain to France, there will be no reason for air or sea travel at least how we know it.

For now air travel is still best but, rail is coming back in the long run.

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You realize that most intra-continental flights in the US are between 600 and 1,000 miles?

The TGV can run at 357 mph. Round that down to 300 mph and you're still doing a pretty good pace.

To put that in perspective, it is 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Philly. So that's a 1 hour trip by train.

US Air currently schedules 45 minutes between Pitt and Philly, but I have to stand in airport security for 40 minutes just to get to my gate to wait another 30 minutes to board my flight, and then wait 20 minutes for my bags at the other end.

Getting on and off the train is much faster than getting on and off a flight. Trains are substantially more comfortable as well.

I travel by train, so I'm in no way trying to say it's bad. I'm just saying that for long distances trains don't rival planes. I can fly from LAX to Albuquerque in less than 3 hours, or I can take the Amtrak and do it in about three times that. If there was high speed service would I use it? Sure.

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Good Point

However, we are frozen in 1940s technology.

Just as it took Jet fleets to make Transcontinental travel practical, It will take high speed trains to revive train travel.

Ultimately, Maglev trains in vacuum tubes will kill off air travel over land. These trains will easily go hypersonic without the nasty sonic boom. When we get the network connecting Alaska to Russia, and Labrador to Greenland to Iceland to Ireland to Britain to France, there will be no reason for air or sea travel at least how we know it.

For now air travel is still best but, rail is coming back in the long run.

Maglev is too expensive and not really needed. The fastest maglev is only 5mph faster than the fastest TGV, yet the TGV doesn't require special track.

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I travel by train, so I'm in no way trying to say it's bad. I'm just saying that for long distances our current trains don't rival planes. I can fly from LAX to Albuquerque in less than 3 hours, or I can take the Amtrak and do it in about three times that. If there was high speed service would I use it? Sure.

fixed.

LAX to Albuquerque, NM = 804 miles by car.

A TGV at 300mph would take 2.68 hours, assuming non-stop service.

Take out dealing with LAX, taxing, baggage delays, security. TGV would be way faster.

Basically.... write your congressman.

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fixed.

LAX to Albuquerque, NM = 804 miles by car.

A TGV at 300mph would take 2.68 hours, assuming non-stop service.

Take out dealing with LAX, taxing, baggage delays, security. TGV would be way faster.

Basically.... write your congressman.

It would be nice, but I don't see it happening in the US in my lifetime...there's no commitment to spending on rail.

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It would be nice, but I don't see it happening in the US in my lifetime...there's no commitment to spending on rail.

For decades, rail was taxed to support the Interstate Highways - perhaps if gas drops, we can bump up the gas tax to start funding the reverse.

And unfortunately, the mountainous terrain in Pa between Philly and Pittsburgh make an hour tripp less likely.

And yes, TGV does run on "conventional" track, but the ones in France are specifically dedicated to TGV use, and ONLY TGV use. We'd have to build dedicated lines for that in the US, which would get pricey (especially if you want to be green and electrify it all).

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For decades, rail was taxed to support the Interstate Highways - perhaps if gas drops, we can bump up the gas tax to start funding the reverse.

And unfortunately, the mountainous terrain in Pa between Philly and Pittsburgh make an hour tripp less likely.

And yes, TGV does run on "conventional" track, but the ones in France are specifically dedicated to TGV use, and ONLY TGV use. We'd have to build dedicated lines for that in the US, which would get pricey (especially if you want to be green and electrify it all).

How much do new airports and interstates cost?

The PA turnpike is in the final stages of a complete rebuild, how much did that cost?

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