Tim Kreider on the how Amtrak's Quiet Car isn't all that quiet sometimes.
Eventually I found myself on the wrong side of the fight. I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle -- the kind you'd peg as an archivist or musicologist -- signaled to me.
"Pardon me, sir," he said. "Maybe you're not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people's electronic bleeps and blatts." He really said "bleeps and blatts."
"I am a devotee of the Quiet Car," I protested. And yes, I said "devotee." We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we're readers. "I don't talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations -- "
"I'm not talking about cellphone conversations," he said, "I'm talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive."
A cross-country Amtrak travelogue. The trip is not without its charms but overall sounds like torture.
A raspy-voiced woman in her 40s, one of the engineers, calls down from the cab and invites a few of us to come take a look. Without hesitation we clamber up. She tells us that they're off duty, as her partner, a mustachioed, red-faced man with faded tattoos, nods. When engineers hit their driving quota, apparently, they're done. It's an unbendable rule. "They knew, though," the woman says, speaking of Amtrak. "They should have had someone here." So this could've been prevented? "Oh yeah," the man says, "but leave it to them and they'll fuck it up." And so we wait, in the middle of nowhere, for new engineers. After a couple of hours a truck pulls up with the new drivers.
The number of passengers traveling by train in the US rose significantly in May. Unfortunately, Amtrak is reaching full capacity with no real way to increase the number of trains or routes at its disposal for several years.
In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.
Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.
Train travel, particularly high-speed train travel, should be *the* way to get anywhere on the East Coast, mid-to-southern California/Vegas, and between moderately large cities clustered together (Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit; Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston; Florida; Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa; Portland, Seattle, Vancouver; etc.).