Why rail will never take off in the US

You don't need to sleep before coming to the station, you'll have plenty of time to do so when you get there.

You don't need to sleep before coming to the station, you'll have plenty of time to do so when you get there.

Thursday night I did something I had not done in many years – I took a trip by train to get to a location I wanted to go. I have now discovered why rail service will not take off in the US until the price of fuel reaches $12 per gallon.

I took a train called the Piedmont which runs between Conservative Hell’s largest city and Capitol City, with a few stops along the way. The entire route is about 200 miles from end to end. My train was running an hour late, and after it picked me up it traveled five miles, stopped for 20 minutes, and then went slow from there. I arrived at my destination more than an hour later than advertised – a delay that seems unacceptable to me for a train that is billed as a commuter service.

OK, delays are bad enough. I mean, I could have been Disenchanted on her trip from Sorta’ Cosmopolitan to Chicago. Still, if rail travel is to come back to the US, this kind of stuff will need to stop.

Also impeding the return of train travel is the fact that to take a commuter service you have to:

  1. Make a reservation ahead of time
  2. Go to station
  3. Arrive 1-hour earlier than the posted departure time even though your train *will* be late
  4. Pick up ticket from ticket issuing office
  5. Go through fake security to board the train (at ticket issuing office)
  6. Sit in station for 2-hours waiting for the train to arrive for your 55 minute ride (one hour each for early arrival and tardiness of the train)
  7. When they announce boarding, go to door, get your ticket and ID checked again, go to platform
  8. Show ticket and ID again to the conductor
  9. Find seat, again show ticket to second coductor
  10. Settle in and hope the train starts moving

Contrast this with Europe:

  1. Go to the station
  2. Buy your ticket
  3. Go to the platform
  4. Get on train

Nope, train service will never take of in the US… at least not until Amtrak dies a fiery death and is replaced with something a heck-of-alot better.

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8 Responses to “Why rail will never take off in the US”

  1. Recently, I’ve been reading about people unloading their big cars and SUVs due to high gas prices. So eventually upgrading the rail system is not out of the realm of possibility.

    People CAN change and adapt to the times — but of course it’s slower than we’d like and the general population usually kicks and screams along the way.

    I will hold positive thoughts for the rail system to improve sooner rather than later!

  2. I really hope you’re right and I’d love to see this happen in the US! I hope high fuel prices are just the thing that will jump start the re-introduction of rail service in the US.

    As for the SUV’s, people are stuck in those like they are stuck in their houses because the are “upsidedown” on their car loans. I’d feel sorry for them, but then remembered they “need” those SUV’s to take their kids to soccer practice 10-blocks away.

    My recent tip wasn’t an entire bust. The really cool thing is that my journey started at a renovated station that is a throwback to the golden era of train travel. Other than the flat screen monitor announcing arrivals and departures, this place looked like it just arrived from a 1930’s movie. It had phone booths, a luggage room, a lobby with highly polished wooden benches, etc. Very nice.

  3. Jim Loomis Says:

    What nonsense!

    1- Find out when train will arrive.
    2- Be at station in time to buy ticket
    3- Get on train

  4. @Jim –
    1. I found out ahead of time when the train would arrive.

    2. The literature throughout the station clearly stated I had to be there 1 hour before scheduled departure.

    3. The train was ridiculously late for the route it covered.

    4. Everything was as I described it, where I was made to show my ID multiple times in the name of security, yet I could have walked right on the train with a detonator and a bunch of C4.

    My point is that train travel in the US is neither efficient or easily available as an alternative method of travel. Perhaps with the possible exception of the New York City area.

  5. At least you have a passenger train, there are no passenger trains in Indiana that I know of. I remember my Grandmother talking about taking a train to Bloomington to work in the factory. They must have been on time back then. I would love to be able to take a train to Terre Haute or Bloomington.

  6. Holy crap. You had to show ID? That’s so random. I had to show ID in Chicago to catch the train home … but no one checked a damned thing on the way from BFE to Chicago!

  7. They have amtrak in Indianapolis which I’ve taken a few times and have been horribly disappointed. I’ve also run into similar problems. I’ve never actually seen them on time in Indy. I’ve got other friends with similar stories. One friend ended up renting a car and made it out to WV before her train even got to the station to pick her up. I have a friend who says the train in Philly has always been on time for her. Also, Williamsburg has had some luck leaving/arriving on time. I just don’t get it.

  8. After riding the trains in Europe, I have to admit that the system here really does suck. I love trains in general, but I’m an old-fashioned girl and riding the train just seems romantic to me. Yet, you have to be prepared for the pitfalls — like that horrible trip I had to Chicago last spring.

    I’ve actually taken Amtrak long distance twice — once from Ohio to upstate New York and once from Chicago to upstate New York. The first trip was bad because the train was running 3 hours behind and I thought I was going to miss my connection to the Adirondacker. Fortunately, my connecting train was late because the train died on the track!

    The second trip was actually quite good. On time, no missed connections. I thought about doing this again, but freakin’ Amtrak changed its time table and now I cannot make the connection on the Adirondacker without spending the night in some podunk New York town.

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