We live half a mile from a major rail line.
We have a love/hate relationship with the tracks.......
I love watching the big machinery, love hearing the whistle blow late at night as it crosses the intersection West of us.
Big Bubba works a stone's throw on the other side of the tracks, and has been late for work more than once because of the intersection being covered.
I waited 45 minutes in the wee hours one night for the crossing to clear so I could make my way to my bed. (I was too stubborn to drive a mile south to an overpass.)
The law is that a train cannot cover a crossing for more than 15 minutes. This does not include time in switching.......so if a train is back-and-forthing, the 15 minute rule is inapplicable.
On more than one occasion I have made a cell phone call about being delayed by the train, resulting in traffic citations being given to the railroad. The railroad is getting better about not covering the intersection.
But the topic I really wanted to discuss here is Amtrak. When Big Bubba was 4 years old, he went through a phase, probably common to all kids, where he was fascinated with trains.
He would ask us to slow down and intentionally be stopped by a train in order to be able to watch it pass.
I had to make a trip to California to attend a course to renew my Flight Instructor Certificate. I decided this would be a good time to take the family along for a little vacation. I thought Big Bubba would be thrilled to ride the train, so I decided I would check on Amtrak to compare their rates with the airlines.
The trip to L.A. would take 3 days........two nights on the train. Included in the cost of our 1st class tickets was a bedroom and three meals a day. Considering room/board/entertainment were included in the fare, we decided to take the train. We have very fond memories of this trip, but two things surprised me:
I was surprised at how poorly we slept. The train is the main transport link to a lot of towns out West, and it stops every 45 minutes or so in towns like Hutchinson, Kansas.
I was also surprised at the food.
They have REAL chefs on those trains, and they know how to make great food and present it well!
We got off that train feeling we shouldn't eat for days.
Amtrak uses the tracks near us. The train passes twice a day in each direction, and with the exception of holidays when students are using it to return home, it is always empty. Not surprisingly, Amtrak is losing money by the trainload. We can drive our car to a major city serviced by the line for half the price of a single-fare ticket.........why would the three of us ever take Amtrak?
My question then, is this: Would it not be better to have a standby rate for the train? If you allowed people to get on the train for almost nothing, space available, you'd certainly have more riders, and seeing the train with actual people occupying the seats might make others think taking the train wouldn't be such a downer.
My idea is they could start the fare ridiculously low, then increase the price until they started seeing resistance. They'd establish ridership, and in the process get some cars off our highways.
Some that started using the train under these circumstances might very well realize the value of the service, and continue using it even with a higher fare.
The present situation is quickly leading to bankruptcy.
Amtrak is under the microscope, and federal funding is shaky.
Would it not be a good idea to try something dramatically different?
I'd hate to see the service go away.