Thoughts on Amtrak

I travel a lot, and my family only owns one car, so I typically fly or rent a car. This week I was heading to Eastern PA from my home in Pittsburgh to participate in the 60in60 conference hosted by Brandon Lutz and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit (upcoming post on that event soon) and I decided to take my first voyage using Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.

I’ve used rail service in many countries around the world including some maglev/high-speed rail in Asia, but this was my first long-haul train ride in the U.S.

I was pleasantly surprised.

NPR ran a story a few years ago about massive delays in the North West part of the U.S. due to Amtrak sharing rail lines with oil tankers and shipping trains. The passenger trains seem to take the lowest priority, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

U.S. rail travel is nothing like rail travel in other parts of the world. Today it will take me seven and a half hours to travel what it would take me 5 hours to drive, and if this were a Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) it would take about 1.5 hours. The rest of the world uses trains to commute, and the train stations have the same bustle as an airport. The U.S. appears to use trains to meander from one location to another.

My co-passengers are the most relaxed travelers I have ever encountered. When I fly, everyone seems stressed, rushed, and nervous. Everyone on the train seems aware that Amtrak is not the most efficient means of transportation, but are completely ok with it. They all seem confident that they will get to their destination eventually, and they are going to spend their time enjoying a book, chatting on the phone, or taking a nap. It’s great to be able to wander around the train rather than being tied to the seat on an airplane.

Even as I sit, waiting for another train to clear a section of single-track which has delayed us by 15 minutes, I’m not too concerned about whether or not I’ll make it back to Pittsburgh tonight. I mean, it’s happy hour on the train, so beer is only $3, and the WiFi connection is strong. What more could I need?

If you need to travel, have some time to kill, and you want to relax on your journey. Give Amtrak a whirl.