Amtrak = Ride in Style. Really?!?

Only in the nonprofit sector could you get an email that in all seriousness suggests riding Amtrak as a way to get to a professional conference “in style.”  Can you believe:

Are you thinking about coming to the Nonprofit Congress National Meeting, but aren’t sure whether you can afford a flight? Do you want to avoid the hassle of driving and paying a premium for gas? Then get on the train!

Amtrak offers plenty of trains to Washington, DC, a comfortable atmosphere (including outlets to plug in your laptop or other electronic devices on many trains), and now, a 10% discount to Nonprofit Congress National Meeting attendees!

Reminds me of the postcard I received from my friend Adam as he traveled via train shortly after college graduation.  It was an Amtrak-branded postcard, and pictured the train going through a beautifully wooded mountain.  On the back, Adam wrote: “Amtrak destroys yet another one of America’s scenic treasures.”

Note to the organizers: if you’re looking to convince those of us who have to pay for this out of pocket to attend (i.e. our employers won’t pay for it), then consider holding the event over a weekend, rather than Monday-Thursday.  If our employers see the value in this enough to give us time to attend, they’ll generally pay for our travel.  And don’t insult those of us who do need to pinch pennies by telling us that Amtrak = riding in style.  I’ve had to ride Amtrak many times, and I’d never describe the trip as “going in style.”

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4 responses to “Amtrak = Ride in Style. Really?!?

  1. I take it you’ve never encountered the hordes of $200-an-hour lawyers on the high-speed Acela from New York to Washington. That’s style.

    Amtrak is three railroads in one. Many people have experience with only one of them, and think the other two are just like it.

    (1) An almost-high-speed, almost European railroad between Boston and Washington, DC. “Almost” because we’ve never actually spent the money to get it up to first-world standards, like in France or Japan.

    (2) A set of state-funded corridor services, to provide a travel alternative between points within the state. Examples: Amtrak California, Amtrak Cascades (Washington state). Amtrak is actually just a contractor in this case — the states could pick another operator if one were able to deliver the same service for lower cost.

    (3) A skeleton-of-a-transcontinental system, to preserve the almost-fiction that we still have a national railroad system. These typically run hours late, on congested freight railroad tracks, once-a-day (or worse, three times a week). Again, I say “almost” because there are a few trains where it actually works — such as the Chicago to Seattle/Portland train.

  2. I have to admit that it’s been over a decade since I rode Amtrak with any regularity, and that was primarily between CT, NY, NJ and MA. I did have a friend visiting me in NC from the northeast a couple of years ago, and spent an hour with him waiting for his late train – heard it was a less-than-great trip. So yes, I’ve only had experience with the latter categories.

    Next time I’m doing a DC to NY trip, I may try the Acela and see how it is – especially given how the air travel experience has gone downhill over the last several years. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I tried Amtrak from NC to DC and back last year and it was 15 of the worst hours I’ve ever spent in transit. And even worse, the train hardly costs less than a plane (which takes about 2 hours including security).

    I would SO rather be on a train than in my car or in an airport, but they’re just not competitive. Wait ’till gas hits $10…

  4. I recently checked out costs to take the train up to NJ for a friend’s wedding in July, and it would have saved me $40 over the plane ticket and been the same cost as gas used driving – but it would have added about 6 hours to my trip vs. flying and 3 hours vs. driving.

    I’ve got some fond train memories for short trips when in college (CT to MA) when there was a relatively rowdy drinking/smoking car filled with some amusing characters, but for the most part train rides bring to mind frustrating delays and an even less pleasant travel experience than airports. I know I shouldn’t drive so much, but since it still costs less…

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