Thursday, October 19, 2006

Train travel

I just got back from a business trip across country. I decided to take the train. First off, I love trains. If you are willing to just kick back and allow someone else to be in control it is a great way to travel. The food is fair and reasonable. Most of the staff is very helpful and nice. The people you meet are great. Since you are on the train so long, shutting yourself off to others is very difficult to do. You can put your headphones on and ignore those around you on a plane. You will only be with them for a few hours. That is not true on a train. You will eat with these people, sleep with these people. With all this said I want to now list how Amtrak could become a better choice and maybe even see a profit.

1) They need their own tracks. If you miss your connecting train you are SOL. I was supposed to have 5 hours in Chicago before I took my train to Ohio. The train getting me to Chicago was 4 hours late when it picked me up in Denver. Instead of getting to Chicago before 2:00 PM. It was almost 10:00 PM. I missed my connection by many hours. Now Amtrak did put me up in a nice hotel. I had to wait on a bus for over any hour before they even started driving us to the hotel. I was told this was a daily issue on the California Zephyr. Once a train loses it's priority then it is at the mercy of those who own the tracks.

2) Entertainment. Amtrak is missing the mark big time on this one. This could be a very profitable revenue stream for them. You have alot of people, stuck on a train for a long time. They do have free movies at night, but this is crazy. Instead of the site seeing car they should have an entertainment car. It could have a small theatre in the lower section and video games and decent poker tables in the upper section. They could run poker tournaments. They could have video games people pay to play. They could show second run movies and charge for this. You see some young people and businessmen on the train, but if they made that 24 hours or more on a train an experience then more people would travel. Every seat needs to have plug for my laptop. They should all have TV screens that I can pay to watch. Add two more crewmembers that are there to make sure the train is kept clean and that customers are served properly.

3) Charge more and learn who you should compete with. The prices are crazy low. If they bumped up the accommodations some and made the trains cleaner and slightly increased service they could charge more for the ticket. Make the train an event again. Then you would be competing with cruise lines, not airplanes. They have to realize that profit would come from competing not with people who's job is to get you somewhere fast for the least amount of money. Compete with companies that are not about getting you there fast and cheap. That is a losing proposition. Get me there at a fair price, with great food and make sure every moment of my day is full of great service, fun and relaxations.

4) Make it special.
In the heyday of the train. It was class, it was an event, and it was special. You have lost your way. You have to redesign yourself and get back to what you once were. It cost me 266 dollars to get to Ohio from Denver round trip. If the trains were cleaner and service was just slightly better. If there were a few more things to do on the train and more choices for those items. I would have gladly paid $466-$500 dollars. I actually paid $466. $200 dollars was so I would have a private room on the trip to Chicago. Why did I pay that? Coach is actually roomier. I wanted to stay in the first class lounge at Chicago. If I want to take a cruise I have to fly to one of only a few cities with a port that has cruise ships. This is a huge market Amtrak could tap into. Think of all the people who want to go on a cruise. Why do they go one the cruise. Is it to get somewhere fast? Is it to get somewhere cheap? No they want to shop, eat, relax and experience the high life. They want to feel like big shots. Amtrak has a "PORT" in cities across the U.S.
5) Improve the gateway to your trains
Nearly every station whether big or small is nasty. LOL They let you stop at a station every couple of hours for people to get off the train for 10 minutes. These are basically platforms with no services. Why would Amtrak NOT have at least payphones at these stops? They should open them up to outside groups. They could then get a percentage of any profits. What type of groups? Well how about train clubs? Most of these platforms have little buildings and such. Give the train club free offices and a place to show their trains. They could then put phones on the platforms. That money would help their clubs. They could sell local souvenirs. They could sell local food products. I take a train because I want to see America. I do not want to see a nasty America, but an America that no longer exists. Bring that America back and let me smell it, taste it and buy it. They would paint and update the platforms. They would have information about trains and train related hobbies. This would again, make each stop different and special. Boy scout troops could take advantage of this too. Veterans groups.

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