Monday, May 19, 2008

Amtrak Cuts Service, Hikes Fares

Regular Amtrak commuters received a surprise last week when a number of Acela Express trains that normally make the DC - NYC trip were taken off the timetables for the foreseeable future. The irony here is that these trains have been getting more and more packed of late and have been selling out faster, even without the recent reduction in service.

In another, perhaps related, move, Amtrak has raised its base fares by about $5 for the NYC - DC route. In any case, the two decisions were enacted at the same time, making for some disgruntled passengers. I'm writing this from the train right now and have overheard a couple conversations already this morning about the changes, accompanied by some unkind words for Amtrak.

My inquiring note to Amtrak's customer service department has yet to be answered, though I'm promised a response within 24 hours.

The service reduction may have to do with summer construction and track work; last Friday the train was delayed for about 10 minutes near Philadelphia and we were informed that only one track was available and that this would be the case all summer.

I'm still a big proponent of the train over air travel, though; the worst I've been delayed in nine months of commuting weekly from NYC to DC is about 30-40 minutes. Compare that to air travel and it's not even close. Still, high-speed US rail service is severely behind that of other developed nations. The primary problem is that it's very difficult to purchase the land required to build a long enough stretch of straight enough track to accommodate bullet trains and therefore make it worth the investment. For example, the Acela "Express" from NYC to Boston take nearly four hours; an experienced driver (or somewhat reckless Chinatown Bus operator) can make it in approximately the same amount of time and at a fraction of the cost, largely because of the train's non-linear route.

Some interesting commentary, including coverage of National Train Day and discussion of why high-speed rail won't work (and shouldn't be pursued) in the US, can be found here.


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