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June 22nd, 2002

The Little Amtrak That Could

A few days ago, Amtrak announced that in order to continue operating, it would need a huge loan from the US government. Naturally, the government is a little hesitant on this one… it’s Amtrak we’re talking about.

But I must say that I’m sad that Amtrak, and trains in general, haven’t taken off in America. We’re extremely car-centric, and that won’t change unless something horribly catastrophic happens, but trains do offer (in theory) a legitimate alternative to driving.

So why hasn’t Amtrak taken off?

I think there are a few issues at hand. First, the idea of taking a train across America has become rather outdated. While people tend to be nostalgic for some things, taking their sweet time across the country in a train versus flying there quickly isn’t one of them. Second, flying has simply curtailed most of Amtrak’s biz. Why take 18 hours to get there in a train, when you can fly there in 4? At a comparable price, even?

The third issue, then, plays into the other two: Amtrak isn’t very high speed. A piece I heard on NPR roughly 2 months ago noted that in order to support high speed rail, Amtrak would have to essentially rebuild all rail on the east coast. Given the higher population density, too, that would take an incredibly long time for, perhaps, naught.

So how can Amtrak be fixed? There are a few pie-in-the-sky ideas I have. Airlines, first of all, charge too little for their flights. Flying really is too cheap nowadays; while it offers a superb amount of convenience, we have given up many things in order to get those cheap flights. If airlines increase their fares, Amtrak has an opportunity to keep fares stable – or raise them slightly – to help out with cash flow. And, of course, I think Amtrak should either be broken up into regional train systems, or given some competition.

It’s interesting to note that America is a big country, geographically, and yet we might lose an existing rail system…. plus, the potential for a high speed rail one.

Wait, I got it! Amtrak can put Ford Excursions on rails….

Posted in Miscellaneous

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