Would you pick Amtrak as your first choice in transportation? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The general opinion of our country’s government funded national rail transportation agency has soured over the years as air travel has become more efficient and cheaper combined with massively expanded national highway systems. Generally, Americans seem to prefer flying or driving when traveling long distances, and although I had heard many thoughts from others as to why this is, I had never experienced it firsthand. That changed over this year’s Spring Break, and now I can definitely say that following my first, (and possibly last) experience using Amtrak to get somewhere that I will be joining the general public opinion in that the system is heavily flawed.
I was going to visit our Editor in Chief. My train from Albany, N.Y. to Worcester, M.A. on a Monday afternoon, originally supposed to depart at 3:25 pm, lasting three hours and 35 minutes, therefore arriving in Massachusetts just before 7 pm. However, not a single part of this itinerary proved to play out as planned. The departure was delayed nearly an hour and a half before boarding finally commenced, but even then, the train didn’t leave. We sat parked along the platform for an additional 30 minutes before finally heading eastward, now a full two hours behind schedule. The problems didn’t stop there, with countless short stops between stations, and finally, a full 45 minute wait along the line between Springfield and Worcester. This all lead to a final arrival time of just before 10 pm. Yes, nearly seven hours after the original departure time, my supposed three and a half hour trip finally came to an end.
This experience proved that using Amtrak for travel can be just plain inefficient. I could have driven to Worcester and then all the way back to Albany in the time it took for my train to make the trip one way. There are also no financial savings involved, which might lead to it being worth it to use the extra time traveling by driving. The estimated cost to drive is less than $17, while my ticket cost $22. Even accounting for tolls, the added time just doesn’t make it seem economically beneficial for me. I also considered that I may have experienced a severely localized case where experiences with the same route on different days might be far better. However, this proved untrue as trains in the following days were also delayed to varying levels of similarity. Needless to say, I happily found a bus to make my return trip and I made that trip in just over two hours between Springfield, M.A. and Albany.
I can only imagine the issues you may run into if you were to make a much longer trip, say cross country instead of merely between two states. A trip one month from today from N.Y.C. to L.A. on Amtrak costs $280 one way and takes nearly 72 hours, while a comparable flight takes a mere eight hours for half the cost at $140. This long distance trip seems laughably inefficient, even in the unlikely event that all your trains were to run on time without a hitch.
From my personal experience along with my research about the organization, I feel that Amtrak is in desperate need of overhaul to become a service that is a viable form of public transportation between both long and short distances.