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Amtrak to Offer Free Wi-Fi. Should Airlines Worry?
DailyFinance ^ | Friday, January 15, 2010 | MARK FIGHTMASTER

Posted on 01/15/2010 1:15:51 PM PST by Willie Green

As airlines struggle, Amtrak is trying and take a bit of their market share. Business travelers who routinely fly the shuttle -- mildly affordable, and as comfortable as can be expected -- have enjoyed wi-fi access on some airlines, but not all. Amtrak sees an opening here: It's announced plans to offer wi-fi access on Acela trains between Boston, New York, and Washington, starting in March. Amtrak's Wi-Fi will be free at first, but the carrier may impose a fee in the future.

While one reason for introducing the wi-fi perk is to compete with the likes of Delta and U.S. Airways, Amtrak says the move addresses its initiatives to add services for passengers. And in this latest salvo between commuter trains and shuttle planes, the trains seem to be making headway. Between 2004 and June 2009, Amtrak's share of New York–Washington commuters' market rose to 61% from 50% against the airlines, and its New York–Boston route grew to 50% from 39%.

But can Amtrak compete with the commute itself? It takes nearly three hours to get from New York to Washington on Acela. Free wi-fi can help travelers get work done, but will travelers feel that the ability to get work done is a good payoff? Is spending the entire train trip playing World of Warcraft be a fair trade off? If the traveler indeed spends the time prepping for work, consider it time well spent.

Trains and Planes v. Cars?

Some may think so. Amtrak believes it's made "significant inroads," compared to airlines, in the past year. But the reason to make the Internet available in our transportation (and our communication tools, like smartphones) is to communicate information faster. Of course, the ease of air shuttle travel is relative. Train travel, from city center to city center, rather than an airport on the outskirts of town, beats a taxi trip to the Departures gate. (On a recent trip to Chicago, I had to dish out a ridiculous $70 in cabfare to get to a downtown meeting from O'Hare.) And airport security is getting increasingly taxing. All of that makes some commuters find train travel comparatively convenient to air travel.

Perhaps both methods of travel are really competing not with each other but with driving. And although carmakers are trying to make their vehicles more computer-compatible -- over the howls of safety advocates -- wi-fi is one area where rail clearly trumps the road.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: airlines; amtrak; competition; internet; rail; trains; transportation; wifi
Low Stress and Last-Minute Travel May Have Boosted Amtrak's Ridership

By Barbara E. Hernandez
BNET
Jan 14, 2010

While the recession no doubt affected Amtrak’s ridership this year, its ridership in the last three months of 2009 seemed to have pushed passengers to 7.2 million, a new record for the rail operator. While many routes, including the Northeast Corridor’s Acela Express and Northeast Regional, seemed to have lost riders from its height of 2008, there were still modest gains from 2009.

The big changes seemed to be in the state-support and short-distance corridors, where new riders seemed to discover Amtrak — boosting numbers to a two-year high. The Keystone Service, which runs from Harrisburg, Penn. to New York, rose 2 percent from last year (but jumped 87 percent from fiscal year 2008 to 2010); the Lincoln Service which runs from Chicago to St. Louis, rose about 8 percent; and the Washington-Newport News rose 7 percent. Long distance routes Palmetto, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Sunset Limited and Coast Starlight all posted two-year gains.

While it’s obvious that many routes service rural or remote areas where commercial airliners don’t fly, several of the destinations are populated areas where passengers had a choice of travel. So why Amtrak?

Several travelers said they chose the train to lower stress during the holidays. They didn’t want to drive and didn’t want to deal with packed and chaotic airports.

I used Amtrak to travel three hours to my parents and in-laws instead of flying or driving because it was reasonably priced (a little over $100 for myself and my husband) and I could buy the ticket only a few days before I had to travel (Christmas Day.) I was told as I was buying my tickets on Dec. 21 that Dec. 24 had already sold out. My belief is that Amtrak passengers may also have been the last-minute travelers who saw last-minute airline prices and declined to pay them. Travel at that time was also dicey because of Northeastern weather, so that may also have added to the uncertainty and last-minute planning.

As for stress, I certainly felt less than I would have in a car because I could walk around or head to the bathroom without worrying I was lengthening my journey. And compared to airports, train stations are quiet, orderly places — but maybe that’s because I’m used to San Francisco International.

1 posted on 01/15/2010 1:15:53 PM PST by Willie Green
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To: Willie Green

I commuted on Amtrak for about 4 or 5 months and I thought it was great. I could use my cell as a modem, brought my own beer and food on, paid a whole $10 more for “business class” where I was guaranteed a seat.

That works for short hops (2 to 3 hours). Longer trips still need planes.


2 posted on 01/15/2010 1:23:27 PM PST by freedumb2003 (Communism comes to America: 1/20/2009. Keep your powder dry, folks. Sic semper tyrannis)
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To: Willie Green

I have to admit Willie, you are consistent. I’m pretty sure this WiFi thingy will not change peoples transportation choices. My bet is if TSA does more onerous and impotent airline screening train traffic may increase. On the other hand, if panty bombers decide to switch to softer targets (i.e., trains) then I would imagine we are back to square one again. Never understood your commitment to rail passenger traffic. Keep your Groove On.


3 posted on 01/15/2010 1:24:26 PM PST by equalitybeforethelaw
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To: Willie Green

I love riding on trains. I just wished AMTRAK could have their own rails. The last trip I took coming back from Calif. to Washington State was shortened at Klamath Falls, Oregon. AmTrak then put us on a bus to come to Pasco,Wa. The problem was Antrak had to keep pulling off to the side to let the freight trains go by. Because of this we would’t have been able to catch the train in Portland, Or. to get to Pasco.


4 posted on 01/15/2010 1:30:47 PM PST by Spunky (You are free to make choices, but not free from the consequences)
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To: Spunky

I took Amtrak from Lancaster to Phila. daily for a three week business affair. Cab to the Omni’s front door..piece of cake. What a difference between that and fighting the traffic. Many collegues came to meetings huffing, puffing and complaining of traffic..and late ta boot! The other difference was being calm and clearminded on arrival..none of the fluster from driving.


5 posted on 01/15/2010 1:43:59 PM PST by caww
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To: caww
You were saying ...

I took Amtrak from Lancaster to Phila. daily for a three week business affair. Cab to the Omni’s front door..piece of cake. What a difference between that and fighting the traffic. Many collegues came to meetings huffing, puffing and complaining of traffic..and late ta boot! The other difference was being calm and clearminded on arrival..none of the fluster from driving.

Exactly right. I've flown from Portland to Dallas and have ridden the Amtrak from Portland to Dallas (and back again). I much prefer the Amtrak. I also like the rooms that you can get when taking that kind of trip, too. It's great having your own room, with plenty of space in your quarters and your own shower there, too... :-)

6 posted on 01/15/2010 1:50:22 PM PST by Star Traveler (Remember to keep the Messiah of Israel in the One-World Government that we look forward to coming)
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To: Star Traveler

Yes, I also took Amtrack Auto-rail from Virginia to Florida.
You take your car with you! It was fabulous! Had my own birth, though spent a good deleal of the trip in the second story lounge chatting with other travelers. Fun!


7 posted on 01/15/2010 1:59:40 PM PST by caww
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To: equalitybeforethelaw
WiFi is fairly old news. Even buses have it now.

What is so great about trains? They are the only transportation mode that can run on domestically produced electricity, as opposed to petroleum.

What is bad about trains? They are run by corrupt governments and corrupt unions.

Superliner lounge car upper level:

8 posted on 01/15/2010 2:12:19 PM PST by iowamark
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To: Willie Green

You can get it on some Greyhound buses too. It still takes forever to get to my East Coast meetings.


9 posted on 01/15/2010 3:18:58 PM PST by sionnsar (IranAzadi|5yst3m 0wn3d-it's N0t Y0ur5:SONY|Remember Neda Agha-Soltan|TV--it's NOT news you can trust)
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To: caww
Had my own birth

You were born on the train?

10 posted on 01/15/2010 3:20:29 PM PST by sionnsar (IranAzadi|5yst3m 0wn3d-it's N0t Y0ur5:SONY|Remember Neda Agha-Soltan|TV--it's NOT news you can trust)
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To: equalitybeforethelaw
Never understood your commitment to rail passenger traffic. Keep your Groove On.

I advocate passenger rail systems (high speed rail, maglev, light rail, Amtrak, subways, streetcars, monorails) as a means of reducing our dependence on Imported Oil.
Ideally, I would also prefer that these systems be electrically powered, and I would build new nuclear power plants to supply the electricity through the grid.

It's not a panacea.... just a straight-forward common sense approach to reducing our national Oil consumption. I bet if we built electrically powered mass transit systems in those more densely populated regions, cities and towns where passenger traffic would be the most, it would really take a big chunk out of our Oil Consumption.

And of course, I also think that reducing our dependence on Imported Oil also enhances our National Security.

11 posted on 01/15/2010 3:21:14 PM PST by Willie Green (We need to build High Speed Rail and Maglev to reduce our dependence on OPEC.)
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To: Willie Green
Knowing nothing about railroad regulations I'd like to ask if there are obstacles in place that prevent the inception of privately ran passenger trains? Who is Amtrak's competition? And if Amtrak has to rely on tax dollars to survive why would anyone assume a privately ran passenger train would be successful?
12 posted on 01/15/2010 3:36:37 PM PST by jla (Authentic conservatives support Sarah Palin)
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To: jla
Knowing nothing about railroad regulations I'd like to ask if there are obstacles in place that prevent the inception of privately ran passenger trains?

The biggest obstacle to privately owned passenger trains is the high cost associated with acquiring and maintaining the right-of-way and track.

Who is Amtrak's competition?

Amtrak's "competition" is Heavy Freight.
That is why the existing RRs don't provide passenger service: hauling freight is more profitable.
That is why Amtrak has difficulty with achieving high-speed and good scheduling: Amtrak owns very little of its own track. It must share tracks that are owned by the freight companies. And tracks that are adequate for freight are not adequate for modern passenger service.

13 posted on 01/15/2010 4:39:29 PM PST by Willie Green (We need to build High Speed Rail and Maglev to reduce our dependence on OPEC.)
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To: equalitybeforethelaw
I have ridden the train across country, and for shorter hauls as well. I have flown many times. If the cost and time spent door to door is anywhere near comparable, I'd ride the rails any chance I could.

Some day when Americans grow up, learn to slow down, and appreciate the greatness of this land, as we once did a century ago, we will re-discover the real virtue of rail travel.

14 posted on 01/15/2010 5:13:47 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: jla
Between 1942 and 1962 a 10% rail ticket tax was levied on railroads as a war measure to discourage unnecessary travel. This tax generated revenues of over $5 Billion, which went into the general revenue fund and ironically, was used in some cases to build more airports and highways. In today's dollars, that probably would amount to about $100 billion and one wonders what would have happened if that money had been invested in rail service after the war. By the time, the tax was lifted, the passenger train was already on the ropes.

-Source: report by USDOT Secretary William Coleman, 1977

http://www.trainweb.org/moksrail/advocacy/resources/subsidies/transport.htm

15 posted on 01/15/2010 6:01:15 PM PST by Rodamala
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To: sionnsar

Oh gee!... how about berth or is it berthe? (DAH)


16 posted on 01/15/2010 9:53:27 PM PST by caww
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To: sionnsar

Oh gee!... how about berth or is it berthe? (DAH)


17 posted on 01/15/2010 9:53:38 PM PST by caww
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To: jla
You were saying ...

Knowing nothing about railroad regulations I'd like to ask if there are obstacles in place that prevent the inception of privately ran passenger trains?

I've been there.... :-)

I rode the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) from Dallas to Oklahoma City, a lot (when I was a kid) and then transferred to the "Rock Island" from Oklahoma City to Tulsa (and believe me, the "Rock Island" was anything but "solid" riding it from OKC to TUL, it "rocked" back and forth so much I thought the cars were going to derail... LOL...).

And during the World's Fair in Seattle, I rode a couple of different private lines out to Seattle from Dallas (can't remember what two now...), and so, it was one private company from Dallas to Denver, and another private company from Denver to Seattle. The only trouble there was that we hit a grain truck somewhere in a little town in Wyoming and had to wait for about four hours before we could steal another engine from another train and be on our way again... :-)

My dad rode trains most of his life, too, in his travels, too -- as a younger boy.

So, yes, they did have private lines before Amtrak....

18 posted on 01/16/2010 8:42:07 AM PST by Star Traveler (Remember to keep the Messiah of Israel in the One-World Government that we look forward to coming)
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To: caww; sionnsar
You were saying ...

Oh gee!... how about berth or is it berthe?

Well y'all might like a berth, but I prefer a "room with shower"... LOL...

That's the best way to do it... forget the berth... :-)

19 posted on 01/16/2010 8:45:12 AM PST by Star Traveler (Remember to keep the Messiah of Israel in the One-World Government that we look forward to coming)
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To: Star Traveler
Thank you. Though my question was focused contemporaneously.
People also used to ride in stagecoaches, but no longer do. Passenger trains may possess a nostalgic and romantic appeal, but would a privately ran train today be economically viable, i.e., could a profit be made?
20 posted on 01/16/2010 11:39:57 AM PST by jla (Authentic conservatives support Sarah Palin)
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To: jla
You were saying ...

People also used to ride in stagecoaches, but no longer do.

I'll bet you that you're not going to get a FReeper here, on this thread (or any thread) telling you that they've been riding a stage coach as a part of their normal transportation practice -- in their lifetime... LOL...

On the other hand, I've been riding trains as part of normal transportation, from a kid on up and just recently down the West Coast and across the country...

It's a great way to travel and I would recommend it to all.


Passenger trains may possess a nostalgic and romantic appeal, but would a privately ran train today be economically viable, i.e., could a profit be made?

It should be a part of the national transportation infrastructure, just as bridges and highways and Interstates are part of the national transportation infrastructure.

It's just another piece of the whole transportation picture...

And when I have made my trips around and across the country, many times over again, it wasn't because of nostalgia, but because I was "getting somewhere" (i.e., I had a destination in mind and a reason for making the trip in the first place that had nothing to do with the train) and it was an excellent way of travelling to make that trip which was needed (i.e., the trip needed to be made by me).

One time when I was riding the Coast Starlight down the the West Coast, I came across one fellow that told me he rode down to San Francisco, regularly, as part of his commute to work and then back to Seattle, for two years, as he worked for Apple in the Bay Area. He did it from once a week to two weeks and then tele-commuted the rest of the time. He said this was a much better way to get down there, than driving or flying.

21 posted on 01/16/2010 11:51:05 AM PST by Star Traveler (Remember to keep the Messiah of Israel in the One-World Government that we look forward to coming)
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