There’s an interesting article in today’s Washington Post: The sorry state of Amtrak’s on-time performance, mapped – The Washington Post.
The question that it boils down to – is the demise of Amtrak coming soon?
When you think about it, Amtrak has been the step-child of travel for quite some time now. When it comes to getting from point A to point B, most people would rather fly, or drive…never does it cross anyone’s mind to take the train, especially for long distances. After all, the only profitable route for Amtrak is the trains it operate’s within the Northeast Corridor, for DC to Boston.
Overall, only nine Amtrak routes ran on schedule more than 75 percent of the time. The reason Amtrak’s overall on-time performance stands at a relatively high 72 percent is that the majority of Amtrak traffic runs along the busy Northeast Corridor between D.C. and Boston. And compared to the long-distance routes, those trains are doing okay (not that this is any solace to the travelers stuck in Delaware for four hours last weekend). The Acela and the Northeast Regional trains saw on-time rates of 74 and 75 percent, respectively.
Many people don’t realize the extent of Amtrak’s network – its trains span coast to coast, top to bottom. Sure, it will take you 4 days to get from end to end, but it is possible, and much of our federal tax dollars, and financial assistance from states are going into keeping those routes alive, many of which, are the only means of transportations for the small communities they serve.
Over a 10 year period surveyed, airlines had an average on-time rating of 76% compared with Amtrak’s 72%. When it comes to getting to your destination on-time, the airlines have the train system beat, however, to be honest, this national average isn’t too bad…and isn’t too far behind the jets that take us their faster.
However, dissecting the Amtrak route network is like dissecting a pig in 10th grade biology – it’s a vast network with many parts, many of which mask the true story behind Amtrak’s on-time ratings.
Here are the major take-a-ways:
- The Northeast Corridor trains hover at around a 65-75% on-time rating.
- Trains south to Florida, and West to California, following a southern route have an average performance of 50-65%.
- Trains west to California following a mid-country, or northern route have an abysmal <50% on-time performance.
- The best trains? Local trains in California, Illinois and Pennsylvania/NY (not including Northeast Corridor).
I’m a fan of Amtrak, and unlike many people, enjoy their long-distance routings. There’s something about sleeping on a train, sharing a meal with a stranger, and hearing the clacking of the tracks as they go by — and most importantly, watching the country go by. It’s a unique experience, one that’s drowned out in the hustle and bustle of day to day life and always wanting to get places faster. Sure, it’s not the quickest way to travel, but when time is no restriction, it’s probably the most enjoyable, if only for the fact that you have time to stop and contemplate life, and watch the world go by.
Train travel is where I started by elite-status quest, and probably the first method of travel I learned to “hack” on. Collecting Amtrak Guest Rewards points was fun for me, and something I still like to do, because their redemption spots certainly are “sweet spots.”
I know there’s thousands of dollars being poured into a failing system, but for me, to see the grander of trains disappear would be one more blow to the travel culture this country grew up on.
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