A poorly explained twenty-three hour delay (that included many people of widely varied ages in a not-so-heated station and at least one Amtrak employee assaulting somebody) left me feeling pretty ambivalent about Amtrak.
On one hand, I think public transit is critically important and I have no problems subsidizing it.
On the other, this was pretty ridiculous. If it had been a twenty-three hour delay for reasons like “the train was on fire” or “there are ten feet of snow on the track,” I could explain that. But this was twenty-three hours of a series of preventable problems—each announced with the promise that it would only be another hour before we would start moving again. So there wasn’t even a chance to go elsewhere or take a nap without risking missing the train.
On the first hand, even the best organizations have dramatic and sometimes hard-to-believe screwups. Coke 2. The Nintendo Virtual Boy. While delays are common, the length of this one was pretty shocking, even to Amtrak’s employees.
On that second hand, my train wasn’t the only one that was seriously delayed or screwed up.
But on the positive side, once the train started moving things were pretty good. They’ve been very nice and the trip by train across the country has been quite enjoyable.
But on the negative side, while I believe in subsidizing travel, train travel in the U.S. has sort of a luxury feel to it. It feels targetted toward those who can afford things like lounge cars or people who really like trains. While that’s a fine thing to target—I think it’s a poor thing to subsidize.
Ultimately, I think Amtrak could seriously use some competition.