Heirs of a Terror War, That's What We've Become...

Bush is once again trying to cut its budget to a mere $900 million (and will likely fail, like he did last year, when asking for that sum got him $1.3 billion appropriated by Congress), and while continuing its (sadly eternal) dying gasps, Amtrak makes the experience of riding the rails even more annoying:

Amtrak will start randomly screening passengers' carry-on bags this week in a new security push that includes officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains.

The initiative, to be announced by the railroad on Tuesday, is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

Amtrak officials insist their new procedures won't hold up the flow of passengers.

"On-time performance is a key element of Amtrak service. We are fully mindful of that. This is not about train delays," Bill Rooney, the railroad's vice president for security strategy and special operations, told The Associated Press.

Peter Bagge cartoons wickedly on the Amtrak experience, from our Dec. 2005 issue.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Stefan||

    I really hope those are just BOMB sniffing dogs.

  • thoreau||

    They really, really, REALLY want me to avoid mass transit in favor of driving, don't they?

  • ||

    I go between NYC and Maryland about once a month, and I traded Amtrak for a bus. It's just as comfortable, a hell of a lot cheaper, and the stops are more convenient and actually ends up taking the same amount of time. Amtrak is just awful.

  • ||

    There are good buses in in MD. No lie.

  • Dirty Franciszek||

    From the AP report:

    Rooney went on to say that the need for tightened security on Amtrak became critical when he was notified that Homeland Security authorities had uncovered a plot by Polish extremists to hijack a train and crash it into the Statue of Liberty.

  • UCrawford||

    Hah...like anyone uses Amtrak out here. It's easier just to drive, the extra cost of gas is worth not having to deal with some government tool who thinks he's Rambo, and I can carry pretty much anything I want in my truck :)

  • ||

    Riding from LA to San Diego isn't that bad.

    Unfortunately, the only place you can catch a train is downtown at Union Station, and taking the trams from anywhere to downtown takes more time than the trip from Union Station to San Deigo...

    ...but riding Amtrak from LA to San Diego really isn't that bad.

  • thoreau||

    The Chinatown buses from DC to NYC are pretty nice.

    In the 1990's I took Amtrak between LA and Santa Barbara a few times, and it sucked. Lots of delays. But in 2005 my wife took Amtrak between Santa Barbara and San Diego and said it was fine. If the damn bag searches weren't in place I would seriously consider doing that.

    I only took Greyhound once in CA. The LA station was so scary that I took Amtrak for the return trip.

  • e||

    Ahh been too long for a train-hating thread on Reason! I've been missing it. More reason(tm) to hate trains: the rest of the world benighted socialists continue on their futile attempts to build them.. ...don't they know that trains are a thing of the past..just like Peter Bagge clearly illustrated for us.

  • ||

    I've taken the LA to San Diego train a number of times. In those limited situations passenger rail makes a lot of sense. Those calling for "fast" rail across the country are completely detached from reality.

  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    I once took AMTRACK between Philly and Ohio and noticed that sometimes the track was quite smooth and sometimes the track was very rough. I asked about this. I was told the reason is that some parts of the track are owned by people who never take care of it.
    "So why doesn't AMTRACK just buy it from them?" I asked.

    I got a shrug.

  • ||

    In terms of comfort, for a long-haul trip:

    1. Train
    2. Bus
    3. Car








    995. Airplane

    Maybe you like airplanes. They make me sick. Talk about "think they're Rambo," I'm trying keep your airline from giving me an embolism, you *&%$! That's why I'm standing up.

  • ||

    joe,

    Only in hoi polloi class. First class can be very nice, especially on international flights. Of course, I've only been allowed out of the cattle car a few times myself, usually by accident or by an unduly (and temporarily) generous company. Otherwise, I agree. I'm 6'2, 200 pounds, and I think the seats are Satan's work.

  • ||

    I'm taking the Acela from NY Penn to Wash DC tomorrow. Can't wait. I love the trains.

  • ||

    I'm 5'8" in workboots, and the seats are too small for me.

    They were too small when I was 140 pounds.

  • ||

    Never had a change to try the Acela.

    Definitely the next trip to NY. Heard it's nice, and faster to the City.

  • ||

    Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

    Those passengers are also known as friggin' idiots.

    At least when you're flying, you know that whatever happens, once you get on the plane, the hassles are pretty much over.

    When you step onto an Amtrak train for a long distance trip, the hassle is just beginning.

    It typically takes me 9 hours to drive from Rochester to Chicago. The train has never taken less than 10 hours, and has gone as long as 20 hours one time.

  • ||

    I occasionally take Amtrak from Detroit to Chicago--it takes about the same time as flying (time to DTW, arrive at least an hour early, flight, time from ORD downtown...), and you don't have to pay $40-50 a day in parking. And you (didn't) have to deal with the security shit.
    The train is often late, but they tell us (over and over again) that Amtrak doesn't own the tracks, that Canadian National (or somebody) owns them, and freight trains get priority for that reason. And it's certainly the case that we've waited on a siding till a 100 car freight went by, almost every time I take the train.
    It actually does have some advantages, in addition to those mentioned above--you can read, or laptop or sleep, none of which you can do if you drive or fly.
    All this is, of course, irrespective of the fact that the gubmint shouldn't be running a transportation system.

  • ||

    Ah yes. Whole Foods last night, Amtrak tonight.
    What Joe said.
    And yes, I've taken Amtrak a shitload of times by choice among all of the other transport options available and found it to be by far the best way to get anywhere between DC and Boston.
    Random searches will be a shame, but I'm still not sure it will come close to the nuisance of the airport, traffic, or the foul smell that overwhelms the five or six rows near the toilet on the Chinatown buses.

  • Rick||

    joe | February 19, 2008, 10:10pm | #

    I'm 5'8"


    Now I understand.

  • ||

    joe--

    Boston through RI is OK but CT sucks. It is slow as shit. NY to DC is fun, and the ability to use your cell phone and have 120AC at your seat rocks. Plus the cafe car has beer/wine.

  • ||

    There are lousy tracks in Connecticut, and they won't appropriate the money to fix them. There are 50 rail buffs who like to go up and down the hills in Utah, doncha know.

    Other countries manage to have well-run national rail service, dammit.

  • e||

    Huh, interesting..the title of the article changed from "Another reason not to ride the rails" to "Heirs of a Terror War, That's What We've Become..." ..what's up with that?

  • JD||

    For once I agree with joe. On the train, you can sleep, or get up and walk around, or have a drink in the cafe car. You can't do much walking around on the plane, and you can't sleep or drink while you're driving. Flying is just sheer torture, and I'm about the same size as joe. Fortunately, I possess the ability to more or less shut down and go comatose for long periods of time, which was a saving grace when I had to fly to Australia and back in economy class. It doesn't make the trip more pleasant, exactly, but at least you don't notice.

  • ||

    Huh, interesting..the title of the article changed from "Another reason not to ride the rails" to "Heirs of a Terror War, That's What We've Become..." ..what's up with that?

    He's going off the rails on a crazy train.

  • Ken Hagler||

    I don't fly any more--not because I don't like flying, but because I refuse to tolerate the airport Gestapo (who probably wouldn't let me on the plane anyway). Since 9/11 Amtrak has been my option for long-distance travel, because you can get a compartment in a sleeper car--Grayhound is faster, but really uncomfortable for a long trip.

    Now, it seems that I'll have to live with Grayhound or not travel at all.

  • ||

    In terms of comfort, for a long-haul trip:

    In terms of comfort per minute of travel, sure. But for real long-haul trips, cross-country, you only have to put up with the plane for, what, 3 1/2, 4 hours? On a bus or train, its days.

    And the advantage that the train or bus has over cars is reduced, in my opinion, when you're out of the city.

    So it all depends.

    And yes, I've taken Amtrak a shitload of times by choice among all of the other transport options available and found it to be by far the best way to get anywhere between DC and Boston.

    I would tend to agree - for highly congested corridors of moderate size, trains are usually the best.

  • Shannon Love||

    I tried to take the train from L.A. to Sydney. It didn't work out.

    Seriously, I don't think the argument is whether person A prefers to ride the train rather than fly, drive, crawl etc but rather whether person A has the right to demand a subsidy of two-thirds of the cost of their ticket.

    When exactly did transportation, and a specific modus of transportation at that, become a right that everybody else in society is legally obligated to supply? Is it to much to ask that you pay for your own preferences?

  • ||

    The price difference between taking one of those shady buses between DC and NYC and taking the train is so steep that I'm willing to put up with the bus. Actually the Vamoose service is decent, but I've heard horror stories about some of the Chinatown buses. Broken down and abandoned in East Nowherestown NJ, etc.

  • Paul||

    weapons and bombdrug-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains.



    Fixed that for ya.

    In terms of comfort, for a long-haul trip:

    995. Airplane


    True... kind of. I find, however, that arriving days late, and taking up days of my 1 week a year vacation (sorry, private sector here) on a train ride dramatically raises my personal discomfort level.

    So, I'll choose airplane, and cover my 2600 miles in hours, as opposed to daaaaays.

    Now, gimme a train that leaves from within walking distance of my house, and leaves every 10 minutes and goes everywhere in town I need to go? I'm on board.

  • e||


    When exactly did transportation, and a specific modus of transportation at that, become a right that everybody else in society is legally obligated to supply?


    At least since Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway system, I'd say, wouldn't you?

  • ||

    "When exactly did transportation, and a specific modus of transportation at that, become a right that everybody else in society is legally obligated to supply? Is it to much to ask that you pay for your own preferences?"

    You don't get out much do you Shannon? Ever used a sidewalk, road, highway, or airport runway?

    You're welcome.

    You can go back to pouting now.

  • troll-keeper||

    You don't get out much do you Shannon? Ever used a sidewalk, road, highway, or airport runway?

    You're welcome.


    Huh? Are you serious? You actually just made the point for the commenter. Of course we all use a sidewalk, road, highway (and airports, by the way, are mostly paid for by landing fees from the airlines). That's what differentiates them from trains, Einstein.

    The fact that we all use those things means that when we pay for them through taxes it is largely a proxy for a user-fee (and with roads and gas taxes it is even closer to a true user fee). When we all pay for something that only a few people use it is a subsidy. In the case of trains, you have a vast disparity between the costs paid by the users and those paid by people who never set foot on a train (hence Amtrak requiring a billion dollar handout ON TOP of what the users already pay).

    That's a pretty fundamental difference and your trying to pretend that any tax-provided service is equivalent to any other is pretty intellectually dishonest.

  • Shannon Love||

    e, pinko

    In all other areas of transportation such as roads and air travel, government funding of the system is paid for by taxes on the transportation system itself. Roads are paid for by fuel taxes and tolls. Sidewalks by taxes on the properties the sidewalks run down, airports by landing fees, etc. In most cases, the system produces more tax revenue that it consumes. In other words they pay for themselves. With a little ingenuity and modern technology we could actually privatize these systems completely and expect them to be financially solvent. (In fact, money raised from these transportation systems is routinely looted for other purposes)

    By contrast, rail travel in most parts of the country is a sucking money pit that can never pay for itself. It must parasitize other activities. If we tried to privatize it and make it pay for itself it would collapse immediately.

    A person who fills up their tank with gas is not only paying for the roads they drive on but for passenger rail as well. The opposite is not true.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Only in hoi polloi class. First class can be very nice, especially on international flights"

    First class?

    That's not the REAL first class.

    The real first class is when you charter your own private executive jet that runs on your schedule and not anyone else's and is flying out of some secondary airport that allows you to avoid the traffic and crowds at the major ones.

  • Rhywun||

    Now, gimme a train that leaves from within walking distance of my house, and leaves every 10 minutes and goes everywhere in town I need to go? I'm on board.

    I have that. Neener-neener.

    That's a pretty fundamental difference and your trying to pretend that any tax-provided service is equivalent to any other is pretty intellectually dishonest.

    How many billions did we pay a few years ago to bail out the airlines? Ah, a quick search reveals "15". Huh.

  • JLE||

    Why are you people discussing train service rather than the real issue at hand?

  • Episiarch||

    Buses are the devil. I am 6'/185lb and cannot, no matter what I do, get comfortable in the standard Greyhound/Port Authority bus. My knees are always pressing into the seat in front of me. Sleep on the damn thing? Forget it. I can't image the torture it would be for anyone taller than me.

    Amtrak is (relatively) comfortable, but seems to always take longer than an equivalent drive.

    Planes totally win because, as somebody said above, you are at your destination within hours. Even Australia is 20 hours or so. I'd rather deal with security and some discomfort in exchange for a day or two extra where I'm going.

  • ||

    RC - quite right about the length of the trip. But if we had French- or Japanese-style rail between Boston and Denver, I'd take that over flying, even if it took twice as long.

    Shannon Love,

    Sidewalks by taxes on the properties the sidewalks run down, airports by landing fees, etc. Uh, no. Not really. Sidewalks and roads are largely paid for with state and federal aid to local governments. Airport runways are also constructed by states and the feds.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Im sure you are aware of this, but the reason we dont have french/japanese style rail service between Boston and Denver is that the population density is much less.

    When I lived in Switzerland, I used the trains to get around, loved it. But, its a country the size of west virginia. With lots of people. Trains make much more sense.

    My nearest train station was in Brugg (I had to take the mail bus to get there). It had 2 trains an hour to Zurich (one slow with many stops, 1 fast). Distance/city size wise that would be like Shelbyville-Louisville (both Zurich and Louisville have metro areas just over 1 million in size, the comparison works even better than I was expecting). That might support 2 trains in the morning and 2 in the evening, for commuters. Might. While the town of Shelbyville is probably close in size to Brugg, the surrounding population density is vastly different.

  • ||

    I haven't flown since before 9/11. I have a little problem with Authority.

  • Rhywun||

    I flew immediately after 9/11. The security in and out of the USA was tighter than China's.

  • Rhywun||

    the reason we dont have french/japanese style rail service between Boston and Denver is that the population density is much less.

    Even in regions with comparable density, we sprawl out in a thin layer of suburbs while they tend to cluster in towns and villages. Thus, we also junked local transit. Taking the train anywhere is less attractive when you require a car at your destination anyway.

  • robc||

    Even in regions with comparable density, we sprawl out in a thin layer of suburbs while they tend to cluster in towns and villages.

    When I was looking to make my Zurich-Louisville analogy I was looking at maps of both. Downtown to downtown, google maps gave me 34 minute drive times for Brugg to Zurich and 36 mins for Shelbyville to Louisville. However, the outskirt of Louisville is much, much closer to Shelbyville than Zurich's to Brugg. Actually, the far end of the city limits is closer to downtown Shelbyville than downtown Louisville. Which fits with what I remember:

    1. There were many towns for the train to stop in during the trip.

    2. Zurich is walkable.

    Downtown Louisville is just as walkable, but that doesnt cover the same amount of population. I live in Middletown, which got its name because it was halfway between Louisville and Shelbyville (I think). Im within the Louisville city limits now.

  • Jennifer||

    Pretty soon they'll start doing random searches of buses, and then they'll move on to taxicabs.

  • ||

    I don't know about your sidewalks, but in many suburbs the developer is forced to put in the sidewalks (costs of which are then borne by the buyers of the property) even if those sidewalks connect to nothing.

  • ||

    The real first class is when you charter your own private executive jet that runs on your schedule and not anyone else's and is flying out of some secondary airport that allows you to avoid the traffic and crowds at the major ones.

    Yeah, but I'm not a fortune 500 executive or a politician. I've flown across country more times than I care to count, and across the Pacific six(?) times. The absolute worst, most horrible, travel from hell experience is a trans pacific MAC (Military Airlift Command) flight. If you haven't done that, quit bitchin'. I mean it. Coast to coast on Continental in steerage is an uplifting experience compared to a MAC flight.

    Trains are great if you don't have to be anywhere on time. My favorite mode of public transportation is Washington State Ferries. Government operated yes, but at least it isn't the feds.

    Now didn't that picture look like a great commute? Coffee, a danish and the paper in the AM, beer or wine for the trip back in the evening. Fantastic scenery in both directions.

  • ||

    judging by the comments, this thread should have been called 'planes trains and automobiles'. i bet that's the most common transportation thread title actually.

  • ||

    robc,

    I just picked a city at random. My point was about "twice as long." I agree that there probably just isn't enough population density in the mountain west for rail to make sense there.

    creech,

    True enough, about new sidewalks in subdivisions, but sidewalks need to be replaced on occasion, and new ones are added to existing streets at public expense.

  • ||

    If this nonsense applies to 'Amtrak' trains, fear not, no one rides the damn things anyway. These TSA wannabes can search each other.

    If this is applied to 'state funded transit/commuter trains run on Amtrak rails or under contract with Amtrak, good luck. T'would be like searching 5 mill folks on the NYC subways.

    Last long distance train I rode was the remnant of the Crescent, overnight from Atlanta to NY via DC (20+ yrs back). Never did see that gal from Macon again, oh well. With sub gun toting security, this rump will never again grace an Amtrak seat.

    Better idea, just park amtrak in the scrapyard; just another tax hole with 109 lives.

  • ||

    Ooops, forgot this link, http://www.moonamtrak.org/

    That's about all amtrak is good for.

  • ||

    """ but rather whether person A has the right to demand a subsidy of two-thirds of the cost of their ticket."""

    It's not the ticket holder that demands the subsidy, It's Amtrak. Amtrak needs that subsidy to live or else it will be reduced to a very few routes. The consumer will go where the cheaper ticket is. How important is a national rail line? Maybe not important at all in the US.

    The TSA's approach to Amtrak seems a lot like the NYPD's approach to the subway. It's a half-ass approach and is mostly useless. They will catch the bad guy only if lady luck throws them a bone. I guess it makes the NYPD and the TSA feel better.

  • ||

  • ||

    Damn, that didn't work.

    http://www.sensorsmag.com/sensors/Sensor+News/Smiths-Detection-to-Supply-AMTRAK-with-Detection-S/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/493381?contextCategoryId=34296&ref=25

  • ||

    Sorry, it's not a consideration. Amtrak has purchased 4000 of those units.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement