That gave me a good belly laugh. In the metrics I care about, Amtrak could be seen to represent the government at their best.
The trains run on time, are more comfortable than flying, and often cheaper too. The dining cars are surprisingly good (snack cars are lackluster though), and I've found every Amtrak employee I've ever dealt with to be a kind and courteous professional. And they look after their customers in other respects too, such as chasing away the notorious serial-gropists known as the TSA. Amtrak treats regular people like humanely in a way that contrasts sharply with how American airlines behave.
From my perspective the primary problem with Amtrak is disappointing coverage of the country, so yes I want more Amtraks!
(Incidentally, my experience with them is more limited, but I found the workers of the Alaska Marine Highway, a ferry service operated by the state of Alaska, to be similarly pleasant people. So maybe there is a trend here..)
Amtrak has abysmal reliability, even on the Northeast Corridor (which is Amtrak-owned and doesn't share traffic with freight lines). On-time performance on the northeast corridor is just 75% https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/07/10/the-s.... Many scheduled flights along that route (e.g. DCA to JFK or LGA) have 90% on-time performance. And of course, trains aren't supposed to have airline-like delays. One of the key selling points of trains is that they don't have to deal with airport congestion, late arriving equipment, etc., and so relatively short intercity trips are predictable and hassle-free. (Unlike Amtrak.) My wife and I rode Amtrak twice a day for two years between DC and Delaware. It was a nightmare. Routinely delayed trains, cancelled trains at least once a month, etc. No private business would survive operating like that.
It's also odd that you'd cite TSA as a bad thing. TSA is, of course, what happened when the government nationalized airport security, taking it away from the private security forces airlines previously used.
As for the rest, I'd rather be a little late than be treated like shit. The Amtrak delays I've encountered have all been less than an hour, compared to numerous incidents of multi-day delays when flying (I'll never do business with Delta again under any circumstances. Being stuck in Atlanta for two days is pretty bad, but the shear malicious joy their employees were expressing at the situation was as bad as any stereotypical DMV encounter.) A few hours of delay isn't such a problem, but some Americans seem to enjoy being in a perpetual state of hurry...
I can't help but wonder if such impatience is somehow related to the general surliness of airline employees, relative to Amtrak and the Alaska ferry. The last ferry I was on got delayed for several hours one morning after responding to a mayday and being kept on the scene by Canadian Coast Guard during the search. The crew was unnecessarily apologetic while nearly all the passengers were, if anything, a bit proud or appreciative. I shudder to think of what such a delay on a plane would look like, with the sort of personalities that would likely be involved...
Perhaps your experience is a little atypical.
I'll see your belly laugh, and raise you hysterical laughter, rapidly increasing in intensity until I pass out.
The last time I rode Amtrak, from Denver to Chicago, I spent a 24-hour delay waiting on a siding in the middle of the Great Plains. A train filled with passengers motionless for a complete day as cargo train after cargo train just whoosh by.
I once worked out that a internationally-competitive professional cyclist could have beaten me home, even taking a full 8 hours of sleep somewhere along the route. Slow and steady, but with right-of-way, wins the race.
The previous instance of riding Amtrak, from Indianapolis to Chicago to catch some touristy activities, and then back again the same day, gave the party just enough time to arrive, take a deep breath, and immediately board the return train, which was also late getting back.
The Amtrak customer-facing employees seem courteous and satisfied, but the ones in the corporate offices, setting the timetables, must be completely delusional. I have never once been on an Amtrak train that left on time, or arrived on time. Never. And I likely never will be, since I have stopped giving them the opportunity to disappoint me.
(And better to sleep on a train than whatever bedbug infested shitbox of a hotel the airline offers you a stay in during your delay... Airlines are up there with Comcast when it comes to customer service.)
It's way past time America stopped prioritizing cargo over people. We sold almost all our rails to cargo companies for cheap, and now have almost no passenger travel left. It's an unbelievable farce.
We don't expect the rights on toll roads to revert back to the tolling company at the end of the tolling period and become a private road reserved only for cargo trucks, we expect them to continue to serve all traffic, for cheap as free once the tolls are "paid off". (Though Indiana and some other states are certainly working hard to create such privatized disasters this century, because no one remembers these states made the same exact mistakes with their rails.)
Privately operated toll roads are completely different. There, the operating company generally never owns the right of way to begin with. Even if they build the toll road, all they are buying is the right to operate the road for for some term.
The key word there is limited. Eminent domain is supposedly limited to things in the Public Good. It's not meant to be a transference of wealth to private companies at the expense of the Public, and it's supposed to and does include attached riders on the usage of such eminent domain-appropriated properties. Such as required passenger travel quotas that were supposed to be applied to railroad companies as a public service.
> Privately operated toll roads are completely different. There, the operating company generally never owns the right of way to begin with. Even if they build the toll road, all they are buying is the right to operate the road for for some term.
It's not completely different. Obviously things varied hugely between different states, but some states did own their railroad right of ways as public goods (as they should have, and just as they generally do with utility pole right of ways, toll road right of ways, and interstate right of ways). It was only after the fact that many of the railroad owners decided they should also own the rights of way to avoid further regulation and abscond from original contract terms (such as, and most importantly, passenger travel minimums), and only then worked very hard (through monopolies and hard bargains) to purchase said rights of way from states desperate for quick cash or easily swayed by privatizer lobbies and deregulationists.
We do not vilify the early railroad folks as the "Robber Barons" for nothing, and it is incredible how much that history is forgotten or overlooked. It's also incredibly naïve to think that roads are immune from the same folly that happened to the railroads!
Indiana has a couple of toll roads today that are "in hock" to an Australian company that essentially wins the right of ways in the right circumstances of the tolls not paying enough for the loans that the Australian company bought from Indiana and the tolls are supposed to cover (just as passenger fares were supposed to cover railroad rights of ways and underages used to steal them from the public). It's amazing, ridiculous, and absolutely history repeating itself, because Indiana lost so much of its railroad right of ways in very similar overly privatized financial games.
A lot of railroads did, in fact, get their trackway for free. They didn't get it by eminent domain, but by land grant, as the first [white] owner of record. They got a checkerboard of land , so they could trade adjacent lands with the other grantees in order to establish a continuous railway.
The only holdouts were the Ghost Dancers.
The delays are mostly structural: Amtrak is required to share the tracks with unscheduled cargo. I budget an extra hour and I'm fine. The same cannot be said for airplanes. It's like conflating TSA gropings with airline (de)regulation.
The rest of Amtrak is wonderful: website / e-ticketing / free changes / frequent traveler program, communication, seats, power outlets, etc. All this would get replaced by toll booths carefully metering out every convenience until your knees are in your chest.
Absolutely not true on the NEC. It's dedicated track and the delays are due to operational mismanagement and failing infrastructure.