Amtrak is the living heir to a quiescent legacy. At one time the transportation that brought westward expansion and industrial growth, it has become the popular basis for sex analogies and matricidal characters played by Billy crystal.
Who rides the Amtrak?
- The Amish
- Alfred Hitchcock characters
- The Quad City DJs
- Twins trying to pass as one person
- Most Americans before 1960
- Most Americans after September 11
- Joe Biden, apparently
The Grey Zone of Transportation
Amtrak has managed to play the middle ground between air travel and bus travel by providing the undulating siren of a baby with the wafting aroma of a charter bus toilet. In fact, Trains are like airplanes, only shaky and on the ground. For example, Trains come with two passenger seating classes. There's coach, and business coach, which is like regular coach, but with a pillow, free sodas and juice (oh my!). Believe it or not, coach seats have more leg room than their airline counterparts. If you're lucky enough to get a window seat, you can witness the lovely sights of people who don't seem to mind the sounds of roaring metal beasts charging by and waking them in the dead of night while passing strangers glancing into their back yards at 90 mph.
Why America loves/hates/tolerates Amtrak
If there is any reason to ride the rails more than ever, its that airlines have to cut free drinks to save their budgets. In contrast, Amtrak, in effort to boost ticket sales, is giving passengers access to all the booze they want, courtesy of the Trak. But let's be honest, Americans prefer convenience and speed over safety. Amtrak does not provide the quickest service, but it provides the safest travel one can get without leaving the troposphere. When compared to planes, "Amtrak accidents cause 0.03 passenger deaths per 100 million passenger miles, compared to 0.02 on domestic airlines, 0.05 on intercity buses and 0.8 in automobiles. " And where else can someone walk around from car to car on a moving intermediary and meet with other travelers for a bit of small talk? But alas, Amtrak is not as close to warp speed as it's aviated cousin, and because of that, it's treated like the relative no one visits unless they need to borrow money.
While Amtrak trains are subsidized by the government and taxpayer money, the tracks themselves are owned by the freight companies while Amtrak borrows them. This means that if both trains cross on the same track, Amtrak trains stop and wait for the Hobo Express to pass before continuing their journey. The Acela, which is the US' answer to the bullet train, is not exempt from this treatment since despite the ability to go up to 150 mph, the "Pennsylvania 6500" all-purpose tracks they have to use force them to move slower.
So why are there no tracks for passenger trains? Well, it goes like this: Unlike trains (or at least the awesome ones in Europe and Japan), cars, buses, and airplanes depend on fuel. To spend money on renovating the whole railway system (tracks, engines and stations) to run on any alternative energy would threaten the status quo of the Jet Set in DC. However, since September 11, train travel has increased, so much in fact that after September 11 conspiracies have developed theorizing that Amtrak set up the attacks to increase train travel.
Arrive is the "Sky Mall" for the Train ridin' set, with everything passegers need to know going on in the railroad world. Available only for the northeast trains, the magazine features articles pertaining to the best nightlife, food and places of interest in city of your destination. You can order a subscription or just steal the one from your seat. They haven't caned anyone for it yet.
Ask "Mr. Amtrak"
Just in case you were kidnapped and missed that episode of the Daily Show, Joe Biden was featured on the cover of the January/February 2010 issue. Known in DC as Mr. Amtrak in DC, Biden has been one of the first political figures to support Amtrak since Nixon. Though, still living in Delaware, he doesn't mind spending $89 to $97 a week commuting back and forth from DC for the "precious family moments."
Mr. Amtrak with the Little Grand-traks
Mr. Amtrak with the Little Grand-traks
The Amtrak Sleeper Cars
Once a source for Hitchcock suspense and Three Stooges slapstick, sleeper trains now just serve the needs of passengers traveling beyond a day. Somewhere in a brainstorming session, someone at Amtrak thought up the idea of combining the bunk-bed design of couchettes with the privacy of sleeper cars. With today's sleeper cars on Amtrak's Superliner trains, one can explore their inner marx brother.
A modern, less racially offensive descendant of the Pullman Porter, Redcaps are now avalable in white hispanic or asian. These luggage assistants can be seen driving their golf carts all around the station platforms transporting the elderly, physically disabled, and lazy.
Amtrak provides basic packing rules (not guidelines) online, but often a lot of Amtrak passengers will pack everything but their common sense, causing delays and other boarding problems for the train. Amtrak tries to create order to the best of their abilities, but that's like trying to teach calculus to a retarded man. Consequently, Amtrak sets rules that are enforced with every trip, So the next time you sleep on the train and dreaming that you're back on the school bus (with kids screaming, objects hitting you, and the sound of the driver yelling up front), it's because you kinda are.
Didn't we tell you?! "No smoking in the bathrooms!"
In the past, Amtrak provided festival seating to passengers, but that only triggered an school bus sensibility in every passenger's judgment. Since 2007, Amtrak has reserved seats for parties of two or more, making sure little Timmy will no longer have to sit three cars away from his mother because that douchebag sitting next to her needed a window seat.
mommy miss u 2 , tim. :(
If a baby crying wasn't enough, you can at least rest with the fact that babies don't know any better. However, the fact that the asshole three seats away blasting his DVD player with no headphones is an adult and should know is a cringing, sleep-suppressing reminder.
.....is non-existent on the Amtrak. Anything from rough jumps of the train car to the conductor shouting for the next stop to the AC being cold enough to keep that kidney transplant in the overhead compartment fresh all night will make sure you get to your destination looking like Lohan returning from the Cannes.
Sorry, I just had to say it, and it rhymed dammit!
And speaking of the Lohan....
Drinking on the the Trak
While Airlines begin to nix the service of free booze to their passengers, Amtrak used their extra bottles of kaluha and Jack Daniels to boost sales of their own. As if walking through a train car sober was not enough of a challenge....
Food Quest: The Adventure Begins
On longer trips, passengers are welcome to sit in the dining car, which now looks less like the dining set from North by Northwest and more like a kitchen model from the "Futurama" exhibit at the World's Fair:
In the future, everyone likes brown
Now remember that scene from "Back to the future part 2" where the grandma Lorraine puts a tiny pizza chip in the microwave which later heats up into a fresh pan of pizza? Yeah, somehow Amtrak has mastered that technology because the food is so fresh yet all they have in the kitchens are microwaves.
Nothing says lovin' like somthin' from the rehydratin' oven
From 5pm to 12 midnight, Waiters get to play that wonderful game of "who can balance this food on a shaky surface on while half asleep". or the bonus level, alcohol is served so every employee can get their own grope by a drunken passenger. On shorter trips, one must get their sleepy ass out of their seats and schlep to the Cafe car for concession stand fare. The escapade of walking through theses "martini cars" is not limited to waiters as passengers are free to challenge the quivering compartment.
If any experience is worth the trip, it would be the trip to the cafe car. The adventure begins in the first car as you dodge loose overhead luggage while trying to hold onto something without grabbing someone's head by accident. If you pass the first car, you must now avoid the deadly protruding feet of doom. If you are still standing, beware of the malfunctioning train car doors. They say push to open, but that doesn't mean they will. If you've figured out by now to manually push the door aside, you've now made it to the second car. Straight ahead, another passenger approaches. Do you cross paths facing away from the aisle and risk a mutual butt-rub? Or turn the other way and give the sitting passengers a close view of the grand canyon? Find a vacant seat to hide in while the other guy passes. Butt-rub averted. But wait, there's a morbidly obese woman taking up the aisle who's fully aware of your presence but refuses to move out of the way. What do you do? This requires sharp critical thinking skills, Kids. Uh, oh. A line's a growing behind you. It's time to use the conductor card. If that bitch is gonna move for anyone, it's gonna be the conductor.
He'll punch a hole in yo' ass.
Finally--the Cafe car. The line is stretching the length of the car. You've made it this far. What do you do? You notice that a few people in the line consists of a woman and two little kids. Tell her to sit the brats down at one of the cafe tables. The line shortens. The guy further up is blind and wants to use a credit card. What? He wants the cashier to dig out the special plate to sign his name in Braille! This is no time to be Mr. Independent! Use your Patience Card to swallow your tongue and stay where you are. Good Boy. One more person before you. Now what? Is this asshole seriously trying to start a conversation with the cashier? Use your special annoyance glare on Mr. Cashier to stop this discussion flat. What's that? You've made it! Now order your rubbery microwave burger and soda and be sure to leave a dollar in the cup.
Snatch and run!
Mission Accomplished? Not yet. Now get back the way you came in as you balance that burger, soda and a cup of ice all in a cardboard tray. Now remember how many cars to go back and which seat was yours. Oh the adventure!
In conjunction with the powers that would rather fly across the street, Amtrak introduces services for more domiciliatingly-challenged passengers. Amtrak now features a variety of cuisines from whatever was nuked in the microwave while leaving you an assortment of flat-water-like sodas and champagnes to your liking. Other snacks can be obtained from station trashcans and absent passengers' trays. Overnight pasengers recieve a complementary bale of hay, complete with a used pillow stained with whatever bodily fluids leaked from its previous owner. All seating has been perfumed with the aroma of the livestock that enjouyed your seat prior.
Enjoy the open air view as particles and debris hit you in the face from the kinetic force of the train. Feel free to wave to the inhabitants of the passenger rail as they glare at you contemptably as you pass. Goggles are optional. The Hobo express is not responsible for any objects that enter the optical cavern.
1st class accomodations include Amtrak seating "reserved" (*) for a ticket-paying passenger on an over-booked and under-staffed train. Recieve all the accomodations that a paying Amtrak passenger would recieve while the passengers in your seating vicinity protect their faces from the mysterious stench in the air.
(*)Definition of "Reserved" may vary from station to station. Passengers may be forced to fight to the death for remaing seats. Last unoccupied seat may really be in cafe car. Passengers should expect the possibility of standing on train for an hours like they were on a frickin subway.
Like so many innovations originating from their respective lands, Bullet trains resulted from problems the respective lands faced. The first issue identified was that (like in the US) traveling time for trains was slowed by every rail obstruction that could exist from road crossings to cows. A unique problem also plagued Europe and Japan: the geographical living conditions of a new york apartment, With which a population can get cranky and homocidal. To avoid any sepukkus or "personal-space" nazis, something had to be done. They achieved the one thing already mentioned in this article: create a separate rail system. With their own tracks the bullet trains were free to cross the land with nothing to stand in their way, be them cows, road crossings, or freights that just don't feel like moving God Bless 'em!
Amtrak Vs. Japan-trak
In 1957 Japan created a new rail isystem in response to reduce road and traffic space (along with that whole "being on an island" thing). Tokyo and Osaka found heavy commuter traffic clogging its monster-mangled arteries, so a high speed rail system was introduced to relieve the congestion. Once the rail was complete, it pretty much drained off-route towns of their citizens. This innovation lead to the Shinkansen Train in 1963, which was powered with the ability to outrun your friendly neighborhood robot boy at a maximum 256 km/h.
Faster than a speeding Shinkansen?
Today, the Shinkansen models run at an average speed of 300 mph. The train has a reputation for being fast that its suggested not to look out the window unless you wan't to see your own reflection age before you do.
Encounters with crystal people may also vary with trip.
The only issues with this train came with an average of a ten second delay with the occasional extreme of 42 seconds, God forbid an earthquake or giant Sentai-Monster fight blocked the track. Meanwhile, in the nation that was the "pitcher" to Japan's "catcher", Amtrak leaves its passengers to paint blood faces on their luggage for comfort if so much as a bunch of leaves get caught in the wheels.
When will the cafe car open?
Amtrak VS. France-Trak
Europe preceded Japan in developing high speed rail with Italy being the first to break the speed record with their ETR 200 service rail in 1939. However, it was France who began providing regular high speed passeger rail with the Train Grande Vitesse, or TGV in 1981. After a slow descrease of ridership among their main line in 1970, France separated their passenger rail from the main system and (duh-du-du-daaaa!) passengers came back in sarcastic snarky droves! Today, the most recent model , the V150 between Strasbourg and Paris, can go up to 357 mph. With an more average speed of 270 mph, TDV trains can pretty much do loopty loops around the Amtraks and wait for them to get home.
We are still better than you!
In 1996, every rail system in the European Union combined forces to create the trans-european system RailTeam, uniting backpackers with mysterious trenchcoated men from all corners of Europe (including the UK). That's right: European Train travel is so awesome that Brits can take day trips across the channel by train!