May 12, 2010

Great American Railroad

I had the great pleasure of riding the Great American Railroad recently.  I often wonder why people in American don't take the train.  I now know.  The first problem is that it's expensive.  It cost $200 round trip to get from Baltimore to New York and took 2.5 hours.  That's about 300 km, so it averages about 120 km/hour and about $0.33/km (round trip).  Wow that's great.  Really.  It is probably actually cheaper to fly and faster.  No wonder people don't take the train.  In France, on occasion I would take the TGV from Marseille to Paris.  That is 776km.  The typical cost those tickets were about 80 Euros and the trip would take about 3 hours. That trip averages about 250 km/h and 5 centimes/km.  So in short it costs 6 times more to go 1/2 the speed.  Awesome.  I think I would take the train everywhere if it were faster or cheaper.  The nice things about the train (now) is that there is less hassles than at airports AND it can go downtown to downtown.  Usually connects to things like metro...  But at that cost/time I wonder why Amtrak finds that their service is so great.  Is it because European countries subsidize their rail more than we do in the US?  Is it that they have to charge more because they have less business?  The trains I was on had plenty of available seats.  If they lowered their prices would they fill up the seats?  The other super annoying thing was to change my ticket.  In France you can change your ticket at a machine.  Here in the US, you must stand in line and they get charge a gigantic fee for the change...  I tried to change my ticket and they wanted an extra $100 for a train leaving in 30 minutes.  Obviously the train wasn't full...  So why should I have to pay that much $$$ for a seat that is going to be empty anyway...  I just hung out at the station for an extra hour, watched TV on Hulu and took the next train....

Come on AMTRAK, you are the future, time to step up.


  1. I made the mistake of taking the damn train on my honeymoon. Ugh.

    I actually don't mind the train to NYC (especially if someone else is paying) I like that if you get off at Penn Station, you are *in* NYC, no need to catch a cab from the airport.

    But I definitely agree that Amtrak has tons of room to improve their service.

  2. Trains in the US seem to be mostly commuter trains from the suburbs to the cities, not inter-cities. I took it once from DC down to Staunton. What a pain! Heard that the US is thinking of installing TGV system. Wonder if that would change attitudes or be a big waste of money. I think I would def. prefer the train, say Denver to Chicago, than flying (dealing with security).

  3. I took Amtrak from MN to Seattle two summers ago and it took 24 frickin' hours!! Apparently commuter trains in the US can't go faster than something like 60mph though, and they have to pull over anytime a commercial transport train wants to pass, which is why it takes so long.