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> Do you want more Amtraks?

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..)




> The trains run on time

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.


To be clear I don't blame airlines for the TSA, but I certainly credit Amtrak with keeping them at a distance. If you had opened with criticism of the TSA, not Amtrak, then I would have upvoted you.

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...


Good story I guess. I've commuted up and down the NE corridor for 25 years on Amtrak and airline shuttles and there's just no comparison whatsoever. Amtrak is leaps and bounds more reliable, cost effective, and pleasant than any airline competition I've found. Most New Yorkers I know agree for DC/Boston trips.

Perhaps your experience is a little atypical.


A lot of airlines seem to pad their arrival times tho, so it might not be an apples to apples comparison. Like a week ago I sat on a plane that was stuck on the tarmac for an hour, and we still arrived on time at the destination after a couple hours in the air.


TSA was only in small part a nationalization of existing airport security. Private airport security pre-TSA only did a fraction of what the TSA does now. They don't have the same purpose either... I'd say the TSA exists to expand authority of the federal government as much as it exists to protect travelers or secure air travel infrastructure.


> The trains run on time, ....

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.


A 24 hour delay on a train is still significantly more comfortable than a delay in an airport, or worse, on a plane. I'd sooner spend a day in a train than an hour on the tarmac in a plane; the train is that much more comfortable. Let alone the multi-day delays I've experienced when flying...

(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.)


> A train filled with passengers motionless for a complete day as cargo train after cargo train just whoosh by.

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.


"Sold?" Those rails were built by those companies.


On public right of ways acquired through eminent domain with requirements that they also serve the public as passenger transport.

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.)


"Public right of way" isn't a magic incantation for justifying Marxism. Railroad companies purchased the rights of way at fair value--which is an essential requirement for the exercise of eminent domain. The only function of eminent domain in that context is avoiding the hold-out problem, where a property owner can demand far more than market value for a parcel that stands in the middle of an already-acquired railroad alignment. Eminent domain isn't "private companies getting property for free"--it's a limited exercise of government power to prevent what would otherwise be a market failure.

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.


> Eminent domain isn't "private companies getting property for free"--it's a limited exercise of government power to prevent what would otherwise be a market failure.

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.


The history of railroads in North America is a lot dirtier than what you describe.

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 [0], so they could trade adjacent lands with the other grantees in order to establish a continuous railway.

The only holdouts were the Ghost Dancers.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Checkerboarding_(land)


+1 to this. Amtrak Northeast Corridor is amazing and the proof is how it competes just fine with airplanes and auto. I wish the food were better. I can't wait for LEO internet (e.g. SpaceX) to fix the WiFi which drops off in cellular deadzones (along with my tethered cellphone).

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.


> 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.

Absolutely not true on the NEC. It's dedicated track and the delays are due to operational mismanagement and failing infrastructure.




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