Why I HATE Amtrak

Amtrak, America's only way to travel from city to city outside of driving and flying. Well, depending on the city you live in. You see, not every city has a station. Only a select handful. And still they manage to screw it up (but honestly it's not entirely Amtrak's fault).

Over this last summer, I took a trip from Toledo, OH, to Washington D.C. to visit a friend who was interning there. I didn't want to drive the 10 hours and worry about parking, nor did I want to go through the hassle of airport security (seriously the T.S.A. is the absolute worst). So instead, I took the Amtrak. And I have to say, I made a grave mistake.

The first flag came when I looked at the travel time it took to ride the train to Washington. By car it was a 10 hour trip, so, logically, the train would be similar if not less, right? Wrong. The trip was predicted to take 14 hours, but actually ended up being closer to 20!! I had to spend a whole day on the train, going one way. That's actually ridiculous. Now, I don't blame Amtrak's CEO or the company in general for this. They're underfunded and lack the proper infrastructure to make it more appealing to the general audience. When I was sitting in the station, I was almost certainly convinced that most of the people there A) Didn't own a car to drive themselves, B) Were older/retired and just wanted to view the country and really weren't pressed for time or C) Just wanted to say they've been on a train. So that's, what it seemed to me, who's buying these tickets. So when normal people look at it, the real question is "Why bother?". And it makes sense for people to view it that way. Why bother taking a train, mind you has only a ~50% reliability rating, than just driving yourself? 

And that's not their fault! There are so few railways and rail lines in America that cargo and passenger lines have to be on the same ones. Unfortunately, it seems the system favors the cargo trains over the passenger ones. Now within large cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, I would say that they don't encounter these same issues because they separate the two - the metro/subways and the cargo. Trans-city though? No they don't. And because of that, delay's often occur, causing that reliability rating to drop. Which then causes people to not want to utilize this service. If someone is taking a business trip, and needs to be at a specific place at a specific time, they need the reliability of there transit.

These delay's can't be much right? I mean in Japan, a company had to apologize after a 20 second delay. But the delays for Amtrak can be up to HOURS. When heading to D.C., my train was scheduled to leave a 11:00 P.M. When did it actually end up arriving at the station? 1:00 A.M.!!! And honestly, I was expecting some sort of delay after reading up on Amtrak. So that alone, already extended the trip a good 3 hours. It also wasn't until 30 minutes later, after boarding, did they decide to start moving the train. And during that process came the second flag of riding Amtrak - the service. The service I received was absolutely terrible. I understand, it was late. I understand, you may be underpaid. But for Christ's sake, issue an apology to the riders about the delay! What if that delay caused someone to miss something important? What if that delay made the ride actually un-doable for one of the riders? And when someone who doesn't know what's going on, the proper procedure, etc., don't talk down to them like they're stupid!

To add onto that, you're not allowed (or I was told I wasn't allowed as I was boarding) to bring food. Which I was like "Okay, that makes sense. They must include food during the ride right?" Oh they include it, but you have to buy it yourself. Excuse me? I already paid XXX.XX amount for the train ticket, mind you was originally taking 14 hours, and I'm going to be charged for eating? That's ridiculous. Even planes have incorporated free meals while in transit. Adding to that, it's only open during a select number of hours. And if you're in line and that time passes? Oh well, no food for you. And because of when the time between departure and arrival, I was barely able to eat! A basic human necessity. And for this one, I do blame you Amtrak. Either let your patrons bring their own food or provide it to those on longer rides. Otherwise, I fail to see how you will win people back from the airline industry.

Finally, the lack of amenities was the third and final flag. I mean look at passenger based airports. You have shops, food, and all in all a environment that makes people spend time and money while waiting for their departure. But Amtrak stations? From what I saw, barely anything! Union Station in D.C. is large, and offers a variety of different places and things to do. Makes sense though, there are always trains leaving, always a new arrival, always something going on. The one in Toledo though? While it seems the Greyhound buses are coming and going at a fairly constant rate, the station itself only offers one thing outside of being a station - a Subway. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing around the area to do to either. It's like they're trying to push people away. Build the area up, do something with it. The best example I can give of how public transit should be is Japan. The train stations there are essentially malls with area around them built up to attract more and more people. The trains are reliable and clean. The staff is very courteous.

I fail to see how, in the near future, Amtrak will grow and become what most people want it to be. They want a public transit system that makes it easy to traverse the country, or at the minimum the local area. Thing is though, the U.S. has delved too far into the world of the automobile. Everything we do is dictated by it. That alone can be seen in our extensive highway system. What, I think, should have been done is the governments should have put that same effort into developing a rail systems. And now, when it's cheaper and more efficient to go by car, why bother with the trains? And for the longer trips? The tickets for Amtrak are barely cheaper than that of airlines, so why not fly?

This is just how I feel about Amtrak. I have only rode once, but that one memory has left a bad stain. Maybe I was spoiled when I went to Japan, being my first train ride. Maybe what I experienced isn't the norm. Will I ride in the future to do a double take? Maybe. But for now, I would advise to avoid it all costs.


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