As I get ready for another trip on Amtrak’s Acela to Philadelphia tomorrow, I can’t help but wonder what ails Amtrak and why it seems to struggle to make a profit? It is a provider of a much needed form of Mass transit, especially with todays fuel costs and high airline ticket prices. Other countries, including large countries like Russia, China and India have thriving railways. (As an aside, the Indian Railways is the largest employer in the world! Even bigger than WalMart). If Amtrak can get its act together, I see no reason why people will not take a train, over driving, flying or taking a bus. In most cases, it is cheaper and faster than driving. It is cheaper than flying and boarding a train certainly more convenient than getting on a plane (and you don’t need to get x-rayed). It is cleaner and more comfortable than riding a bus.
I have a few suggestions that I believe can help Amtrak move towards being better and eventually profitable:
Expand the network:
Trains need to be more pervasive. This will take a lot of investment, but aren’t we looking for ways to boost the economy by creating jobs? And oh yeah, make a public-private joint effort. Not a tax payer only funded effort (My Tea Party readers may now start breathing again…)
Get High Speed Rail:
While you are at it, get High Speed Rail. And I mean the real stuff, not Acela.
One of the ways the Indian Railways is able to make a profit is thru it freight service. Right here in the US, freight train provider CSX is growing, even in this economy. Amtrak runs trains all over the country. Why not lug freight too and make some money? Use the profit there for the investments needed to grow.
Help Customer Solve the ‘Last Mile’ problem:
One of the main reasons people don’t use trains is because of the proverbial ‘last mile’ problem. How does one get to and from the train station? I live almost an hour from DC’s Union Station. I have to drive to it. I still do it as it is better to drive one hour to the train station than three hours all the way to Philly. I still have to take a taxi to get to my destination in Center City. Trust me, if I had to drive an hour at the destination end too, I would have driven all the way. Amtrak needs to help riders address this problem. They need to get creative here.
They should sell package tickets – tickets that include a commuter train or bus ride at one or either end of the journey. I can already get listings of connecting commuter trains on Google Maps. Why Can’t Amkrak offer a service on their website and sell tickets for them too?
Now for travelers going to a non-mass transit served area, include a cab ride. I would love to pre-pay for a cab ride in Philadelphia, especially if it guarantees that the cab will be there to pick me up at the station and then to bring me back when I need to catch for the train ride back. This is especially needed for smaller stations that have no fully operation cab stand. I can get a cab in Philadelphia’s 30th street station any time of the day. But I remember taking the train way back when, as a student to Durham, NC. I had to wait 45 minutes for a taxi, as the only way to get one was to call for it after I had gotten off the train at the station. I am sure there are ample taxi/limo companies that will be willing to tie up with Amtrak.
Amtrak – anyone listening?
If anyone else loves trains and has some great ideas to make Amtrak better, do share by leaving a comment below.