Trains Are Not Planes

Amtrak and other rail systems are using air travel as their model of service, which Alex Marshall argues is a big mistake given the advantages of rail that they fail to exploit.
October 28, 2008, 11am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"Amtrak has done everything it can to make riding its trains similar to riding a plane. Tickets look like airplane tickets; frequent-flier miles are offered. Amtrak's Acela, its highest speed train along the Northeast Corridor, is sleek inside, with closed compartments to store luggage overhead, just like on airplanes. But this is imitating the inconveniences of a plane. Luggage racks are overhead in planes because there is no other space for them. On trains, where space is much less at a premium, you shouldn't need to strain a muscle lifting a heavy suitcase over your head. Compartments for suitcases can be at the end of cars or in a separate baggage car.

As for airplanes, most have abandoned serving full meals. But why did they ever serve them at all? I suspect that when airlines were in their infancy in the 1920s, they did so - even on their short, noisy flights - because that's what trains did. Airlines were trying to "brand" their travel mode as a high-status one.

While current airlines cut meal service, perhaps Amtrak should imitate its predecessor lines of a century ago and serve elaborate dinners of duck and quail on fine china, all at enormous losses. That's what the train companies of yore did."

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Published on Monday, October 27, 2008 in Governing Magazine
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