Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Amtrak candidate

So now we have a vice presidential candidate who uses Amtrak every day. Joe Biden commutes from Washington to his home in Delaware. If he's elected, some people think that bodes well for rail travel. Would be nice to have some Amtrak champion with clout in DC.

It's worth noting that John McCain has been an Amtrak opponent for years. But who knows? Maybe his veep choice will be another train fan. offers this item about Biden and Amtrak.

While I was in Boston last year, we took the train to New York and I noticed that between Boston and New York Amtrak was something like nine Acela trains a day (that's the speedier, slightly nicer train), as well as almost hourly regular trains. They ran on time, and were quite handy.

Made me envious. While we were in NYC's Penn Station awaiting a train back to Boston, I heard an announcement that the train from New Orleans -- which is one of the few trains that comes through Charlotte -- was arriving ... three hours late. Figures.


Rev. Mike said...

Mary, how much does a ride like the one Biden is taking cost him a day?

Anonymous said...

When I was in college in the sixties, I took a bus to the Shaker Rapid and got on my own private room in a sleeper at 10:30 pm at Cleveland's Terminal Tower complex. Settled into bed and started reading. Dozed off as the train started off at midnight. The porter woke me in the morning as we neared Nashville, where my parents met me.

They don't make travel like that any more. Sure wish they would.

Uncle Dennis said...

The next 20 years will feature the re-emergence of passenger rail in this country. Charlotte is again ahead of the curve with the impending construction of a new Amtrak Station on Trade Street.
I too have memories of getting on a train in Seattle and taking it to Oakland CA. Wonderful peaceful trip.


Anonymous said...

I too have taken Amtrak's NE Corridor from Boston to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. It's tremendously more convenient than driving that same route or flying into one of those insane asylums known as JFK, Newark, and Laguardia airports, and it takes about the same amount of time. Nobody is saying that train travel is not a viable means of transportation, or not competitive with both cars and planes for medium-distance trips (trips of 3-6 hours). The only question is should the *government* be running the train system, instead of, say, Norfolk-Southern?

McCain is right not to support Amtrak. Do not take that to mean that McCain does not support the concept of train travel. He just doesn't want to throw even more taxpayer money into a bottomless pit.

Anonymous said...

I support passenger rail, and at least for now, I support Amtrak. The problems with Amtrak go way back to when it was first created.

Congress refused to give the rail system full funding from day one. How can any enterprise succeed when its major "investor" refuses to pony up the money it needs? Amtrak has been playing catch-up ever since.

Another problem, related to the lack of full funding, is that Amtrak is required to provide service to areas of the country where there are few, if any riders. The congressional reps from those district hold Amtrak hostage by saying, "Keep those trains running through my district, or I'll vote to cut your funding."

Amtrak should cut those lines in a heartbeat and focus on the routes with the most potential riders. But it's a catch-22. Cut those lines and you lose funding, keep them and you waste money.

I don't know what the best answer is, but our options are:

Keep Amtrak as it is, but give it full funding.
Privatize rail service in the country.
Break Amtrak up into 2 services: The traditional one that would only serve those isolated areas on a big subsidy and a public-private hybrid that serves the strongest routes.

The problem with McCain's position on Amtrak, and rail service in general, is that he really just wants to cut funding, but has no plan for what to do next.

Jumper said...

With some daring thinking, even science-fictiony-sounding ideas, trains could work in a big way. Such as merging and linking railcars with trains without stopping the trains.

Jumper said...

Sums up briefly the state of Alaska's rail.

Danimal said...

Frequency of service and a whole lot of people does make a difference in the northeast service. The south will catch up soon, and hopefully a new administration will appreciate the option of train travel. I do agree Amtrak should be privitized. I bet that would open up a whole new bunch of doors.

Anonymous said...

It's high time for all of us to stop giving our own biased impressions and start doing some hard investigative reporting.

Here's a bit of insight on Amtrak that would make a truly great piece for your local readers as well as National interest on the subject of rail travel. In the hands of a reporter-w-camera who would like to go from Raleigh to Tampa and report on their impressions, I feel that changes would surely be made to remedy rude and unprofessional conduct.

We (5 of us, 2 children and 3 adults) just came off a round trip Amtrak ride from Raleigh to Tampa to catch our cruise ship. Many many changes are badly needed to upgrade Amtrak. For instance - did you know that young college visitors from abroad - on limited budgets - use Amtrak exclusively to tour America? Every one of them I talked with were sorely disappointed in the rail system in America - dirty, not on time, rude Amtrak personnel - as compared to the European rail system. My own experiences with Amtrak employees ran from professional conduct and real concern for customer-care and professional service in the Carolinas, to blatantly offensive racial maltreatment at the hands of Spanish speaking and African American employees in Florida, where bias and priorities are given by black employees but only to black customers. Ask any honest Amtrak employee and they'll tell you the truth - just go ask them. This is almost impossible to believe, however - when we arrived in Tampa it was like stepping back into a third world military junta's dictatorship. As we stood by awaiting our bags to be delivered to us, three baggage handlers in Amtrak uniforms were standing around a grill barbecuing chicken as one old man in plain clothes tried to download our bags. It was too much for him, so a few of us helped him lift the heavy bags to the ground for the riders to sort through themselves. We riders had to take over the baggage handling ourselves, and did this in full sight of the three uncaring barbecue-ers. There are many more tales worthy of investigating in Tampa - such as violating the "families with children and groups" being seated first rule, instead they let black singles and pairs have first choice of seating - having a pillow angrily jerked out of my hand by a black conductor on the Aug 17t @5:17pm train that left Tampa heading back to Raleigh (not that the incident still burdens my mind.) The conductor acted this way in a rush through the car and was gone in a flash (without waiting to find out that I had got the extra pillow for my traveling seat mate who was from Finland and had gone to the restroom) - these are but a few.

Anonymous said...

Great story idea. I've no doubt that a reporter will discover the same as you - mainly because the level of "service" in this country has steadily deteriorated.

In my day the customer was not only always right, he was the reason I was getting paid, and therefore common sense told me to how to treat him.

Nowadays one has but to walk into a fast-food franchise (or into any other venue in which face-to-face contact is important)and note the difference. Seldom are there smiles or even a sincere greeting. If you can understand what is being said to you - and by native-born Americans at that - at least you're one step ahead of the game. And heaven forbid that the computerized register be out of order, because apparently they don't teach kids how to make change in today's schools.

Our level of government service isn't what is used to be, either. I spend four days a month delivering mail that was incorrectly deposited in my mailbox to the rest of my neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

How long and how much to ride a train from charlotte to las vegas. Compare with airfare and you will see why people fly and don't take the train.

sexy said...