Amtrak wants to turn European, which is probably good news for taxpayers and bad news for customers.
The stereotype of the western European rail network is efficient, punctual, cheap, and fast. I’ll certainly agree to the efficient and fast part, but I’ve lived long enough in Germany to know that the myth of perpetual punctuality is simply not true. And prices for rail tickets are not always cheap, especially at the last minute.
Nevertheless, I love trains in Europe and find them generally clean, quiet…and uncomfortable.
It’s that uncomfortable part I want to underscore in this post.
One thing Amtrak has going for it right now is that its trains have very comfortable seats. Granted, these are dated seats and probably represent an inefficient use of space.
But unless you are traveling on a “night train” with sleepers, a 5-6 hour European journey in second class is going to leave you quite uncomfortable. Meanwhile, expect a comfortable seat akin to a domestic first class airline seat, on Amtrak.
That all may be about to change.
Brian Sumers of Skift recently caught up with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Delta’s former CEO. Anderson shared of plans to bring “modern European” technology to Amtrak.
We are in the midst of a significant RFP to bring modern European train set technology to short-haul intercity markets – 300 to 400 miles in the U.S. – so that we can offer a service that’s reliable and modern and is consistent with travelers’ experiences around the world on modern passenger railroads.
Sounds good, doesn’t? But it sounds like you are going to lose your comfortable seats on these trains.
I love German rail cars, but it seems to me that is not the problem. Wi-Fi can easily be (and is) added to these trains. Train compartments and their exteriors can be kept clean. The issue is speed and efficiency. Amtrak still shares railroad lines with freight locomotives and often has to pull over and wait for them to pass. That won’t change.
Even though that is not the exclusive culprit for Amtrak’s inefficiency and common delays, it is a huge issue that seems far less prevalent in western Europe.
I want Amtrak to succeed. I’d love to see it profitable. Thus, I’m in favor of the acquisition of European rail cars by Amtrak. But I just don’t see how this will make for a better train experience for consumers if they continue to encounter the same delays, only now in more uncomfortable seats.
> Read More: Amtrak Faces A Daunting Dilemma