All Aboard for a Second-Rate Passenger Rail Experience

New York's Penn Station, which should be the crown jewel of American passenger rail travel, is a testament to underinvestment and bureaucratic inefficiency, says Renn. Photo: IBTimes

After a trip to the East Coast, Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile came back with a critique of the passenger experience along America’s most important rail corridor. You can’t blame all the problems on the lack of investment, he writes:

Start with the sorry state of Penn Station in New York City, America’s busiest train station. (In fact, it’s the busiest transportation facility of any type in the United States, if Wikipedia can be believed). Yes, the place is a depressing underground dump. Yes, there used to be a glorious train station there that was demolished in the 1960s. Yes, we probably need to invest many billions in upgrades.

Yet is it a lack of funds that make the three agencies that call it home – Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Railroad – act as though the others don’t exist? The three railroads have completely separate ticketing areas, signage systems, etc. This is hardly the only case in America. For some reason, Amtrak seems to despise sharing ticket agents with other carriers. There are separate windows for Amtrak and commuter lines everywhere I’ve been. Given that many journeys include both commuter and inter-city segments, this seems crazy. If you can’t have integrated ticketing (and actually, I don’t see why you can’t), at least you should be able to have a single agent help you.

While we are waiting around for funding issues to be resolved, wouldn’t it be nice if our governments and various travel companies actually focused on fixing some of these straightforward problems with coordination, ticketing, and customer service? It’s hard to take their capital requests seriously if they aren’t going to do what they can now.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn explores how the design of traditional, walkable college campuses encourages good research, happy students and better financial support from alumni. Baltimore Spokes shares a study that found that aggressive driving increases after viewing Nascar races. And Bike Lane Living examines San Diego’s bike progress compared to other West Coast cities.