Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Amtrak adds WiFi to Fight Disruptive Free Bus Internet

Amtrak said the installation of wireless Internet access on its Acela Express trains would be complete in March and initially free to passengers. Competing bus services along the NEC have offered WiFi for over a year and their fares are much cheaper than Amtrak's. This is good that Amtrak will now be offering Internet access on their trains but by the end of 2010 there needs to be free WiFi on all Amtrak trains across all of the US, not just on Acela. I want to see both Amtrak and bus service succeed but bus service along the NEC has been gaining on Amtrak the past year and making Amtrak look bad ($1 fares, free WiFi, roughly same travel times, nearly as comfortable). There's room for both Amtrak and bus service to be profitable along the NEC I feel as both can serve different types of travelers across income ranges. Commuters can't take Bolt bus from Philly to NYC but they can take Amtrak. Commuters need WiFi on Amtrak and commuters take regional trains, not Acela.


  • I think I have mentioned before, on a comment on your blog, that I think Amtrak is not worried about the bus services for the simple fact that they do not compete for the same clientele and Amtrak lacks the capacity to serve enough people to reach down and try to serve that market. The services are complementary, and I think Amtrak is fine with that.

    As for wifi on fleets other than the Acela, I think the next step is to see what the market will bear in terms of pricing before they permit that amenity to creep on to the Regional trains.

    By Blogger Ran Barton, at 1:14 PM, January 14, 2010  

  • Well, I have to pick some place to post, and this is as good a spot as any. (I also will post this on a local (DC) blog.)

    Last night I had the unfortunate occasion to go to Union Station in Washington, to exchange an Amtrak ticket. Something you can only do in person. Something that requires you to wait in the Amtrak line, a line which last night had about 35 people in it, with two Amtrak reps to serve them. The other line, for the Acela and select members blah blah, had at least four reps to serve about 10 customers. People in the Amtrak line were noisily complaining. My recent experiences with Amtrak have led me to believe that the people who work for Amtrak, the service workers and some of their managers, are by and large courteous with a basic knowledge of their job. The problem is that there is not enough knowledge to be had. Better put, these workers have no options, no flexibility. Going through the Amtrak rigmarole (and when it works, it’s great, let me just add that), is like stepping back 40 years. It’s almost like a ride at Disney World. It is just not a serious enterprise. And I am sure there are reasons for that.

    Union Station is also known (by me!) as Amtrak’s Hall of Shame, as announcements blare about how this train is going to be late, and the thanks for your patience, etc. Everytime I am in there, it is the same thing. I used to not notice before I started riding again, regularly. I used to think, oh how cool to have a fairly major train station right here in the city. How cool that so many people are taking it. But if you look beneath the surface, you see that all those people are in fact very frustrated. And that the workers are apologizing for the state of their trains. All. The. Time.

    Look at Amtrak so far this winter, and it is not a pretty picture. At least three people killed on their lines. Delays to the point that they asked customers to get off their trains and they bused them the rest of the way. Pathetic. Beyond pathetic. Using weather as an excuse. That is a big one.

    As I said, there are reasons for this perfect picture of lack lustreness. We can all fill in the demoralizing blanks. I love the train, even the long trips (which of course could be a lot shorter if the trains were allowed to go faster). But something’s gotta change or we are going to lose even this little baby train pathetic toy-like system we currently have.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:58 AM, January 16, 2010  

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