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Amtrak to review routes

Passengers prepare to board the Acela at Union Station. (By Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

In many states, travelers who take Amtrak's long-distance trains for vacations or business trips board in the middle of the night and return home from such cities as Chicago or New York City at times that are just as inconvenient.

Now Amtrak is looking to improve its long-distance routes. Under federal law, all of Amtrak's 15 national routes are scheduled for reviews through 2012 as the agency tries to attract more passengers and increase revenue.

The routes include the Cardinal, a train that stops in Cincinnati three days a week on its way between Chicago and New York City; and the Capitol Limited, a daily train between Chicago and Washington that stops in Ohio at Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Alliance.

Amtrak says focus groups and customer feedback will help determine ways to improve schedules, equipment, reliability, food service and staffing levels.

Last month, Amtrak rolled out wireless Internet access on its Acela Express trains between Washington and Boston. It is evaluating whether to add WiFi to other routes.

The push for upgrades comes as Amtrak is on pace for record ridership this year, carrying a best-ever 13.6 million passengers in the first half of fiscal year 2010. That's a 4.3 percent increase over the same period last year, and 100,000 more than 13.5 million posted in the first half of 2008, Amtrak's previous highest ridership of 28.7 million passengers.

-- Associated Press

By Michael Bolden  |  April 14, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
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Interesting. I was looking at doing a trip to Sandusky this summer and was taken aback by the fact that the Capitol Limited arrives at around 4AM and leaves for home after midnight. What do you do from 4AM to about 9AM when things start opening? Doze in a booth at an all night coffee shop? And you can't check into a hotel until afternoon, unless you want to pay for the night before.

Posted by: jcflack1 | April 14, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

The question is what time does the train arrive at its final destination either DC or Chicago. Folks who are going to destinations between the two just have to suffer.

What Amtrak needs to do is bring back the level of service some of its trains had under their original RR. Return the Capital Limited to its glory days when it was a B&O train. And especially return the Crescent Limited to its all dark green Southern livery and bring back the great service that made the Crescent Limited the best train in the US. Especially bring back the prime rib which was the best in US. No restaurant could beat it.

Posted by: sheepherder | April 14, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I think that re-evaluating what times trains come in to the middle stops is just as important. For instance, the "station" in Elyria, Ohio, is not public transport accessible, isn't even a manned station, and is frankly downright sketchy -- especially at 3 AM, when the only train comes by. Most of the people who embark and debark here are college kids who may or may not have cars there and who are unlikely to have left their car in an open lot to be broken into -- or they might or might not have friends with cars who are willing to pick them up at that hour.

Posted by: | April 14, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Here's a novel more than one train! The train leaving DC in the evening and arriving in Chicago in the morning might be more convenient for those going from DC to Chicago, but a train leaving DC early in the morning and arriving late at night in Chicago might be more convenient for those going from DC to Cleveland.

Posted by: thetan | April 14, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Amtrak just doesn't have the budget to operate more than 1 train daily on most long distance routes - the routes don't make a profit. So if you time the train best for the biggest cities (leave DC at 4pm, arrive CHI at 9am), everyone in between just has to deal with whatever time it goes by.

There's also the benefit that Chicago is a hub, and Amtrak is able to get more passengers because all the long distance trains arrive in Chicago before noon, and depart after noon, so people don't have to spent the night there. You can't really change the schedules of these trains by more than an hour or so, and still have it fit together pretty nicely in Chicago.

Posted by: Chris737 | April 14, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Connect Toledo to Detroit and cut the travel time from Detroit to DC by 12 hours!

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | April 14, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Northeast Regional will get WiFi sooner rather than later, considering that it's easily Amtrak's most used route. Apart from that, it's anyone's guess if any of the other routes will get WiFi. Maybe the Capital Corridor routes out west, but I don't know about the long distance ones.

@Chris737: Lack of profit is not a good enough reason. Considering that Amtrak makes exactly zero profit already, and is already subsidized by the government, I fail to see no reason why that subsidy can't increase.

And I don't want to hear that the government has no money for subsidy increases. If you take a look at government spending, the government clearly have the money to spend on what the government WANTS to spend it on. They could easily increase the subsidy for Amtrak if they wanted to.

Posted by: pikamander007 | April 14, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

You're absolutely right, they *could* elect to increase funding if they wanted to, but Amtrak's recent history has been to cut routes due to lack of funds (Pioneer thru Boise, Desert Wind thru Vegas, Sunset Limited east of New Orleans) and they have only added routes where a state helped pick up the tab (extra Lynchburg VA service, Ethan Allen from NYC to Vermont, expanded intra-Illinois regionals). But you gotta choose where to spend your money, and when only a couple dozen people take the train from DC-CLE every day, it's hard to make a convincing argument for more service. (Not that I wish they wouldn't try: more convenient service would draw more passengers per train. 1x daily routes only work for passengers if they're *very* flexible.)

Posted by: Chris737 | April 14, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Having more than one train a day on a route makes it much usable. For example if there are three or more trains a day over a route it is often possible to make one day round trips between stations thus making the train useful to a much larger potential ridership. As for the cost problem this country spends more on the useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan every week than it has ever spent in a year on building up good train service. Yes, it is a matter of choice.

Posted by: Norrland09 | April 15, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

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