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Amtrak Upgrades Wi-Fi

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the but-now-where-will-i-go-to-simulate-early-90s-dialup dept.

Wireless Networking 164

New submitter WillgasM writes "A bit of good news for American travelers, according to the New York Times: 'After years of criticism of the wireless service on its trains, Amtrak announced on Thursday that it had upgraded its cellular-based Wi-Fi using broadband technologies that will improve the speed and reliability of the Internet in its passenger cars.' So far the service has been rolled out on the high-speed Acela lines and a few routes in California, but they hope to have the rest of their trains upgraded by the end of Summer. We're still an order of magnitude away from high-speed rails in other countries, but it's nice to know someone's trying."

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I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say... (5, Funny)

Crimey McBiggles (705157) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754411)

It's about time!

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (5, Insightful)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754469)

I think it's still true that Amtrak carries more passengers in the Washington, Boston, New York travel corridors than do the all the airlines combined. Those are the "high-speed Acela lines". Of course, it's just a coincidence that the lines that carry the most politicians are actually funded and effective, while the rest of the country languishes due to underfunding.

rest of the country has lots of freight (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754563)

rest of the country has lots of freight

Re:rest of the country has lots of freight (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754761)

rest of the country has lots of freight

Amtrak is a commuter service, not freight.

Re: rest of the country has lots of freight (1, Interesting)

mrvook (1329773) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754895)

Amtrak is a commuter rail *car* that often times is accompanied by freight. As an experienced Amtrak user myself, on long trips, the train regularly will stop, back up, and pick up freight cars. Sometimes the majority of the train, including the engine, is of the freight variety, with only a few Amtrak cars along for the ride.

Re: rest of the country has lots of freight (1)

kriston (7886) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755873)

This is simply not true and I'm baffled trying to understand what you're referring to.

First, Amtrak is not and has never been a commuter service. It's a passenger rail service.

Second, please show us where the Amtrak "commuter rail car," as you put it, is accompanied by freight. Amtrak did have a mail and express freight business but it was stopped decades ago.

Re: rest of the country has lots of freight (1)

AJH16 (940784) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756223)

In the north east, Amtrack has many dedicated "commuter" targeted services that bring people in and out of New York and DC. I've never seen freight cars on those trains or even those rails, but it wouldn't surprise me that the rest of the country lacks higher speed rail due to the presence of freight on the lines, where as there is enough commuter traffic in the North East to justify dedicated passenger rail lines and higher speed trains.

Re: rest of the country has lots of freight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756271)

I think they are talking how coal and freight get priority vs the passenger line. those delays are included into the route and it is still less stressful then driving or taking the plane.

Outside Boswash, there isn't much Amtrak (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755121)

rest of the country has lots of freight

Amtrak is a commuter service, not freight.

I took Joe_Dragon's comment to mean that the vast majority of rail service outside Boswash [wikipedia.org] is freight, not commuter service.

Re:Outside Boswash, there isn't much Amtrak (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755971)

I took Joe_Dragon's comment to mean that the vast majority of rail service outside Boswash [wikipedia.org] is freight, not commuter service.

By design.

What's surprising is that passenger rail continues in the US despite the efforts of some very powerful lobbying groups to kill it.

People just like trains, and if they had just left more lines intact, the number of riders annually would be a lot more than the current 35 million. It boggles my mind that I cannot ride the train from Chicago to Memphis and back without some ridiculous routing.

Re:rest of the country has lots of freight (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756295)

Amtrak is a commuter service, not freight.

The only difference is whether the cargo is self-loading or not.

Re:rest of the country has lots of freight (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755931)

rest of the country has lots of freight

Wait, are you calling me fat?

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (4, Insightful)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754595)

The US northeast is the busiest rail transportation corridor in all of North America. It makes far more sense cost- and speed-wise to take the train between most destinations there.

We recently vacationed in the area (a year ago) and took Amtrak from Washington to Baltimore and back, from Washington to Philadelphia and from Philadelphia to Manhattan. It was reasonably quick, comfortable enough, and super convenient. I can't overstate how much nicer it is to walk on a train instead of having to pass through airport security. (As a nice bonus, flying home from Newark instead of Philadelphia or Washington saved us about $150 each.)

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754839)

You'd think that with all the federal money that Amtrak gets that they would already have better services available. But then again, when does a program work out well that federal money supports? Airlines may be the only success.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (5, Insightful)

Dutchmaan (442553) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754933)

But then again, when does a program work out well that federal money supports?

You're communicating on it right now...

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755055)

Good point dutchmaan.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (5, Insightful)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754949)

Amtrak gets very little money compared to the airlines. All the airports are built and staffed with public funds. The airlines pay "landing fees". The FAA including controllers are on the public payroll.

Part of the problem with trains is there's very little political graft involved. You get an airport, you get tax money to build it, maintain it, etc. etc. etc. Looks good on your political resume. With a train, you get a (relatively) small station and then 600 miles of track - most of which is not in your district. The only reason you'd ever support that is if you put the public good first, and that's not about to happen.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (3, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755289)

then again, when does a program work out well that federal money supports

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_mission [wikipedia.org]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_highway_system [wikipedia.org]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_canal [wikipedia.org]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_dam [wikipedia.org]

...just to name a few. I guess if you just ignore the successes of the US government (except for your personal favorite), though, federal money would seem to be wasted on failure.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756045)

You'd think that with all the federal money that Amtrak gets that they would already have better services available.

The federal money is to make sure there are not better services available. One of the strings tied to the federal subsidy is that many of the most useful national rail lines had to be abandoned to the private freight lines. This has been going on for decades now. Strangely, the private freight carriers don't seem to be the ones who worked so hard to kill the American passenger railroads.

Rail service in the US did not die because people didn't want it. It died because some very powerful interests didn't want people to have it. The corporatists and the political Right in America hate passenger trains with a passion. They actually get angry about it for some reason.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754853)

As a resident of suburban Philadelphia, while a train is a comfortable way to get to NYC, it certainly doesn't make more sense cost- or speed-wise vs. simply driving there, even with parking rates in NYC being what they are. Now, you can take a series of regional rails to dramatically reduce your cost, but it will almost double your travel time.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756683)

I recently went from NY Penn Station to Philly using NJ Transit/SEPTA. The tickets were like 30 bucks each way and it took about 2.5 hours. You might be able to get there a bit faster in a car (Google shows the drive time at 1.75 hours with no traffic), but you aren't going to beat the cost, especially if you factor in parking.

Amtrak's Acela Express is far more expensive, but saves about an hour.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756705)

One also has to consider the freedom to do what you want on the train. It's hard to surf the web while driving, unless you can talk someone else into driving.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756941)

Absolutely! Plus you get a nice relaxed view of the country instead of having to keep your eyes on the road.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756697)

I was comparing the train to flying - my car was in Saskatchewan at the time. :)

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755049)

wat? I can't speak for the rest of the locations but BostonNew York the train is a terrible option from a cost efficiency standpoint. I do it anyway because I prefer the comfort of it, but I don't know how you compare a $100 ticket to a $15 bus ride that takes the same amount of time.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

PhotoJim (813785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756735)

We certainly didn't pay $100. It was more like $50.

The bus is a pretty good deal but I have greater confidence in the safety of the train.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756929)

I priced it a couple of months ago, and it was $99 on JetBlue from Washington Dulles to JFK, or $80 on Amtrak from Washington Union Station to NY Penn Station. Plus connector trains and/or parking, it was almost identical in cost between train vs. plane. The train was a longer trip but the schedules were more flexible. Then there's the novelty of flying vs. the body cavity search and the speed of flying vs. the relaxation of the train.

So, between DC and NY (Long Island, actually), it's a tough decision.

But better than both, is driving. Leave early enough and it's a 5 hour drive. And then I have my car while I'm there. No taxi/bum-a-ride to the commuter rail, VRE ticket, layover at Union Station, Amtrak ticket, layover at Penn station, LIRR ticket, having relative pick me up, etc, etc, etc. For two people, it's cheaper. And now with a baby, forget public transportation.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754667)

I think it's still true that Amtrak carries more passengers in the Washington, Boston, New York travel corridors than do the all the airlines combined. Those are the "high-speed Acela lines". Of course, it's just a coincidence that the lines that carry the most politicians are actually funded and effective, while the rest of the country languishes due to underfunding.

Population density, dude.

Most politicians fly private jets "loaned" to them by "concerned" parties. Or are married to centi-millionaires who can just give them their own jet.

Joe Biden was the only politician who road Amtrak and then when he became VP, he got a brand new Trans-AM - the rich get richer!

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755701)

Most politicians fly private jets "loaned" to them by "concerned" parties. Or are married to centi-millionaires who can just give them their own jet.

I think you meant hecto-millionaires (i.e persons having more than 100million bucks), since the hecto- [wikipedia.org] prefix means one hundred of a quantity. The centi- [wikipedia.org] prefix means one hundredth of a quantity, so a centi-millionaire has a mere 10thousand bucks. There are lots and lots of centi-millionaires, and not many of them have their own jet...

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755859)

That would explain why nobody's impressed when I tell them I'm a nano-billionaire...

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (3, Informative)

milbournosphere (1273186) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755047)

Amtrak doesn't do horribly in the southern coast region, either. With the upgraded wifi, the only real argument against taking the train is the time required to move anywhere. From LA to San Luis Obispo is around 6 hours, vs 4 at the most via automobile. From SLO to San Diego, the end of the line, can take almost 10 hours at times. I can drive there in a little over half the time.

That said, the seats are comfortable, the cars are relatively quiet, the wifi seems to be improving, and I've had worse free coffee. It beats driving on cost, and beats flying on both cost and convenience in that I don't need to give up my civil rights to get on the train (yet). I yearn for the day that CA and other places have high speed rail.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755359)

There at one point was a serious proposal to get a high-speed rail line starting from San Diego and expanding north. It got shot down by Orange County, because the residents were worried that those trains would bring the wrong sort of people into their neighborhood.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43757027)

lol they already live in California, it doesn't get more wrong then that!

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (2)

AnalogDiehard (199128) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755051)

it's just a coincidence that the lines that carry the most politicians are actually funded and effective, while the rest of the country languishes due to underfunding.

Not just coincidence. It's fact. In the early days of Amtrak in the early 1970s, most of the routes catered to whomever was in a position of power in elected office. Ten years prior to Amtrak, railroads were in dire financial condition and federal regulators required them to run the passenger trains even if they were empty. Railroads were so anxious to get out of the moneypit passenger hauling business that they deferred maintenance on passenger cars and right of way to drive passengers away, even to the point of replacing dining service with impersonal vending machines. By the time Amtrak took over, there was no money to replace the 30-year-old badly neglected rolling stock. Most of the distribution of equipment was subject to the whims of politicians.

Today the northeast corrider still gets the bulk of the revenue and service upgrades, but at least the other routes now travel with modern clean well riding equipment.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (2)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755073)

i've flown the delta shuttle NYC to Boston pre-911 and it was FAST. we would take the 7am to boston and be back by 5 for dinner. arrive 20 minutes before the flight and just get on the plane

post 9-11 you have to get to the airport early to stand in line, wait around and sit in your chair and wait
might as well take the train with wifi, better seating, LTE access since its outside and a power outlet by your chair so you can charge your phone

same travel time

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (5, Interesting)

squiggleslash (241428) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755187)

Historical accident, not politics. The NEC is the only part of the national rail system Amtrak actually owns.

Amtrak exists because a giant railroad company that operated most trackage in the North East called Penn Central was going bankrupt. In the early seventies it went to Nixon and said, essentially "We might survive if we can get rid of passenger service. which costs lots of money and isn't covering its costs for us. Hey, whatsay we make passenger service a government program, and then you guys can screw it up even more and close it down after two years? Then we can sell all the track we no longer need, cover our debts, and just do nice profitable freight in future."

(You probably think I'm doing a dig at Amtrak there with the "government program" and "screw it up" bit, but actually, that really was the plan. I'm not kidding. A few years after Amtrak's creation, Louis W. Menk, the then chair of the Burlington Northern, actually blurted it out in public, saying that the government was making a mess of screwing it up. Look it up.)

So, anywho, the other railroads were also invited to join, as most (but not all) were having similar problems. Amtrak was formed. Penn Central went bust anyway.

The bankrupt Penn Central was then reconstituted as Amtrak and Conrail. Amtrak got the NEC. Conrail got the rest. Conrail became amazingly profitable, was privatized, and finally split between CSX and NS. Amtrak has finally gotten the NEC to be profitable over the last few years, though the rest of its passenger service is still technically "loss making". But the non-NEC services suffer from not being under its control. It can't run Acela Express services on CSX tracks, for example, because it would need massive upgrades to lines that Amtrak would barely benefit from.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755211)

The bankrupt Penn Central was then reconstituted as Amtrak and Conrail

This is poorly worded. What I meant was that Penn Central's assets were divided between Amtrak, and Conrail, the latter being a new government corporation specifically created to take over the bankrupt entity's assets. Amtrak, of course (as should have been obvious from what I'd written earlier) already existed.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

glenn.ramsey (1668759) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755581)

(You probably think I'm doing a dig at Amtrak there with the "government program" and "screw it up" bit, but actually, that really was the plan. I'm not kidding. A few years after Amtrak's creation, Louis W. Menk, the then chair of the Burlington Northern, actually blurted it out in public, saying that the government was making a mess of screwing it up. Look it up.)

I did look it up. [google.com] You are correct sir, but man it took some digging to find.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

kriston (7886) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755823)

The NEC is not "the only part of the national rail system Amtrak actually owns."

Amtrak "actually owns" 224 miles of other lines in addition to the Northeast Corridor. Let's try to keep our facts straight.

1) Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line, approx. 104 miles.

2) Empire Corridor (portions a.k.a. Empire Connection) from New York Penn Station to Spuyten Duyvil, New York, 11 miles.

3) Michigan Line (a.k.a. Chicagoâ"Detroit Line), 98 miles.

4) Post Road Branch (upstate New York), 12 miles.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756337)

I stand corrected [wikipedia.org] . That said, I stand by the point that reason for the NEC's success is that Amtrak owns it, not because it's near Washington DC.

Depends on who owns the track... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755251)

In the Northeast and Harrisburg corridors, Amtrak owns the track. They maintain it, and it only sees passenger and MOW service. Perhaps this is also the case in the some other parts of the country, but mostly, freight railroads own and maintain the trackage that Amtrak uses. They don't maintain it to the same standards, freight trains can really beat up the roadbed, and the freight railroads don't always give passenger trains the priority [over freight operations] needed for timely performance.

Re:Depends on who owns the track... (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755883)

Last time I rode Amtrak it was understood that fright traffic got priority, (I'm pretty sure we spent a few unscheduled hours on a siding every time I rode.) I didn't realize that it was not absolutely shitty on every line.
If you're going north on the Coast Starlight, schedule it on a full moon, the only non-sucky scenery goes by at night.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (3, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755553)

People don't understand how large and empty most of the US is.

The rest of the country languishes because everything is so far apart. Do you want to spend days on a train to get from Chicago to LA, or do you want to spend 4-5 hours on a plane? Even high speed rail can't beat a jet. In the Northeast the density of cities plus the ability to work/talk/move around on a train trumps the cost and hassle of air travel, elsewhere not so much.

"Hello air travel? It's train travel... you win."

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756247)

People don't understand how large and empty most of the US is.

The rest of the country languishes because everything is so far apart. Do you want to spend days on a train to get from Chicago to LA, or do you want to spend 4-5 hours on a plane? Even high speed rail can't beat a jet. In the Northeast the density of cities plus the ability to work/talk/move around on a train trumps the cost and hassle of air travel, elsewhere not so much.

"Hello air travel? It's train travel... you win."

Let's look at that. Say, Salt Lake City to Denver. If you live in, say LakeWood, CO you have, probably a 2 hour drive to the airport, you need to be there 90 minutes ahead of departure, 90 minute flight, so 2 hours by the time you disembark and get to your rental car, 30 minutes into the city center. 7.5 hrs. Assuming a track following I70, high speed rail would pick you up in Lakewood, it would probably take about the same time, but maybe up to 8, or 8.5 hrs to drop you in the city center. I do that anytime - and so would MANY others. I don't have to have an anal probe, or turn off all electronics occasionally. I can get some work done (using the WIFI) in a comfortable seat and get a decent, if not gourmet meal.

Trains will work, and work well, on any corridor less than about 600 miles ESPECIALLY in the relatively unpopulated areas where airports can be hours of driving away.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (2)

Gothmolly (148874) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756619)

If its picking you up in Lakewood or making other stops on the way, it's not the "high speed" you're thinking of.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

AJH16 (940784) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756235)

Or it's just coincidence that the lines in other parts of the country that are less utilized have to be used by both freight and passenger traffic and are thus slower.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

HangingChad (677530) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756301)

Of course, it's just a coincidence that the lines that carry the most politicians are actually funded and effective,

If memory serves the Obama administration tried to put more money into high speed rail and Republicans in Florida made a big show about turning the money down.

In an efficient transportation system planes would carry passengers between major airports and trains would fill in for commuter airlines. We subsidize every form of transportation in one way or the other, I don't see why passenger trains get singled out for ridicule.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43757047)

Because only *those* kinds of people take then train. Those of us who are *better* have cars and fly where we need to go.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754971)

> a dozen people

At a cost of (more per person than those people will spend on phone, Internet, and cable TV in their lifetimes), no doubt.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754975)

I'm on the West Coast, you insenstive clod. The rolling stock of the Pacific Coast Starlight hasn't been upgraded in over 30 years.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

sconeu (64226) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755031)

The WiFi on the Pacific Surfliner (SantaBarbara-SanDiego) sucks.

Re:I believe I speak for a dozen people when I say (1)

kriston (7886) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755891)

It may not have been renovated in thirty years, but like most Amtrak rolling stock it has been overhauled and rebuilt several times in thirty years.

As a frequent Amtrack "flyer"... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754415)

The smoke signal system they were using was getting long in tooth...

Re:As a frequent Amtrack "flyer"... (1)

Salgak1 (20136) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754819)

Hey, it beat the older semaphore interface all hollow. . . .

It's a new definition (3, Funny)

LeadSongDog (1120683) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754481)

... for "high speed trains"

Re:It's a new definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754765)

Indeed, it goes something like 'our high-speed [internet] trains'[*]

[*] for low values of 'high'

funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (4, Interesting)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754551)

amtrak has a couple places they'll go to 110 MPH, and mostly 80 MPH is the limit. On good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast. I could drive my dodge caravan around at 100MPH too and call it a high speed sports car....

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (5, Interesting)

RevDisk (740008) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754857)

It's optimized for freight, not passenger service. US has the most advanced freight railroad system in the world. Passenger service makes sense in some area, in others it will always be break even at best. 15,000 tons of coal is not something you need or want to move at 80+ MPH.

It doesn't receive a lot of attention (folks often want high speed rail for mass transit), but our rail network is pretty good for what makes economic sense.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755489)

It is hard to talk about what makes "economic sense" here, since the passenger rail business was killed by competition from heavily subsidized alternatives: the interstate highway system, and airplanes. Had no federal money been spent promoting cars and airplanes -- had the government instead allowed competition between businesses determine how Americans travel -- passenger railroads would probably remain a viable business (but I doubt we would see high speed rail, for the same reasons that private Internet services are slower than the government-run services in other countries).

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (4, Interesting)

Miamicanes (730264) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755709)

That's part of the reason why FEC (Florida East Coast Railroad) has never been actively *hostile* towards passenger trains, compared to railroads like CSX(*). FEC runs mile-long trains hauling limestone at 60mph on glass-smooth welded-rail tracks that are maintained to higher standards than some stretches of track in the NEC itself. FEC's one non-negotiable mandate for voluntary passenger service on their tracks has always been that someone else had to pay to lay down a second track, maintain it to FEC's no-compromise high standards, and equip every train that runs on them with in-cab signaling and the kind of automation rarely found outside of Japan(**).

Once Amtrak, Florida, and a federal funding act or two cleared the way for the feds to pay most of the bulk cost of double-tracking FEC from Jacksonville to Miami, FEC announced that Amtrak was welcome with open arms (Amtrak itself is still trying to scrape up funding for the trainsets themselves, or come up with a good way to split & join NY-Florida trains in Jacksonville so half can proceed straight down the east coast to Miami, and the other half can run to Orlando & Tampa (historically, Amtrak has always resisted splitting/joining trains anywhere besides an endpoint).

(*)About 15 years ago, FDOT approached CSX with a request to double-track it from Auburndale to Tampa for Tampa-Miami passenger rail. CSX refused. FDOT offered to TRIPLE-track it... and CSX still refused. Exasperated, FDOT offered to elevate a ~12 mile segment running through Lakeland, and CSX told them that the only way they'd voluntarily allow it is if FDOT agreed to let CSX refund the purchase price and demolish it at will if it later decided that the support columns or track structure were in the way of whatever they felt like doing. That was the turning point when FDOT decided that any future rail route between Orlando and Tampa simply *had* to run along I-4 instead of CSX... CSX was impossible to deal with in any sane way, and taking the corridor via eminent domain would have ended up costing more than building it down the middle of I-4 instead (I-4 was planned for complete reconstruction over the next 10-20 years anyway, and FDOT owned a fairly wide corridor that was straight and flat, so they just designed the empty space into the new road and bridges so it would be there when the day came to build the new tracks).

(**)FEC is a HUGE proponent of cross-training and automation, and because it operates entirely within a single state, it can get away with telling its union to go to hell over things that would get CSX crucified. For example, FEC requires all engineers and conductors to be cross-trained and capable of serving either role as needed (sensible and efficient, but *vehemently* opposed by railroad unions because it means the conductor can operate the train while the engineer takes a break, instead of having to staff a second engineer while the conductor twiddles his thumbs). I believe it also requires engineer-conductors to have college degrees.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756815)

CSX is a freight railroad. Any QOS (to put it in our terms) will shit on their bandwidth, and they're unwilling to allow that. Would you allow someone to come disrupt your core business? Also, the union challenges, buried in the bottom,are significant. Further, by allowing passenger traffic on the line, they're saddled with a huge set of Federal Railway Administration rules that will cost them dearly.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754861)

On good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast. I could drive my dodge caravan around at 100MPH too and call it a high speed sports car....

However, it'd be far more entertaining for the rest of us if you drove it around at 100mph (on good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast) and called it a train... :p

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755355)

On good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast. I could drive my dodge caravan around at 100MPH too and call it a high speed sports car....

However, it'd be far more entertaining for the rest of us if you drove it around at 100mph (on good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast) and called it a train... :p

Done by Top Gear [topgear.com]

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756367)

for the movie "running scared" in 1986 there is a car chase scene where the cars ride with one side on the ties. Interview about making that scene reveals producers went through a mountain of tires to make that short sequence because of tires bursting every few seconds.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

Seumas (6865) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754943)

Don't worry, the idiots keep pushing for european style "high speed rail" in America, too. They're somehow convinced it's the economical solution to pollution and traffic while they put their heads in the sand about the actual corruption and incredible expenses it will actually have (not to mention, it own't be high-speed at all, if they ever get around to it... you know.. you do have to actually stop and let people on and off after all).

Re: funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755747)

Well, we could put our heads in the sand and pretend the highway system isn't a hotbed of corruption and graft, not to mention the automotive industry.

Hey, did you catch that Tesla story about North Carolina?

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

whitroth (9367) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754959)

The problems are that a) Congress has consistantly underfunded Amtrak for decades, leading to slower maintenance, and b) in just about all of the rest of the country, Amtrack goes over leased trackage from other railroads... who do no, or almost no, passenger, and all freight... and so they maintain the trackage to *freight* standards (trains hitting 80mph are *very* rare - 55 or 60 is full speed, and slower for long, heavy trains.

Note that in 1915? 25? a Pennsy E6 Atlantic (passenger steam loco) was clocked in Indiana pulling the Broadway Limited at 115mph. Again, the trackage was to *passenger* standards.

And, of course, Congress let the railroads prioritize Amtrack, on the leased trackage, *lower* than the frieght traffic, leading to frequent *long* delays of schedule.

              mark "why, yes, I do like trains...."

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

Salgak1 (20136) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755123)

The problems are that a) Congress has consistantly underfunded Amtrak for decades, leading to slower maintenance, and b) in just about all of the rest of the country, Amtrack goes over leased trackage from other railroads... who do no, or almost no, passenger, and all freight... and so they maintain the trackage to *freight* standards (trains hitting 80mph are *very* rare - 55 or 60 is full speed, and slower for long, heavy trains.

OR, you **COULD** note that Passenger Rail was effectively killed by the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, and Congress funds AMTRAK primarily to keep the only viable lines going: the Northeast Corridor, and to a lesser extent, the San Francisco-San Diego corridor. Highways and airlines have effectively obsoleted railroads for most passenger applications in the vast majority of the US. . .

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

gsnedders (928327) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755573)

In most countries with 250km/h (155mph) plus high speed rail, it's taking back marketshare from the airlines --- because it tends to be quicker, by virtue of not having to arrive at an airport an hour before departure, not having the hassle of security, etc.

To use the typical North Eastern corridor example, it'd be far from impossible to build a line from New York to Washington DC, with one stop in Philadelphia, that would run in under two hours. This is half the time of driving between the two, and only half an hour slower than a plane (and quicker than that once you consider airport security, etc.).

A broad statement like cars and planes making trains irrelevant is untrue: certainly I wouldn't want to do a transcontinental journey by train, but there's no reason why trains can't better compete with air, instead of just competing (time-wise) with cars.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755655)

certainly I wouldn't want to do a transcontinental journey by train

Speaking as someone who has done exactly that...it is not really so bad, as long as you have time for it. The biggest problem was not with being on a train (it is far more pleasant to spend 4 days on a train than one hour on an airplane), but with delays caused by freight railroads prioritizing their traffic. If Amtrak were running on its own right-of-way rather than leasing, the journey would probably face far fewer delays, and the trains could run much faster (though not as fast as Japanese trains).

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755511)

And, of course, Congress let the railroads prioritize Amtrack, on the leased trackage, *lower* than the frieght traffic, leading to frequent *long* delays of schedule.

Not exactly. What happened was this:
- In the early days of Amtrak, railroads were required by law to prioritize Amtrak over freight traffic.
- In the 1980's, Congress quietly slipped in a provision at the behest of railroad lobbyists that said that while railroads were still required by law to prioritize Amtrak, Amtrak no longer had the power to sue the railroads to enforce that rule. This of course allowed the railroads to ignore the law, since no one could enforce it.
- George W Bush of all people got through a repeal of that provision. I'm unclear why or how this happened, but I'll take it.
- Trains sped up noticeably on leased track after that provision went through. For instance, in 2002 the Chicago-Boston route was frequently 4-6 hours late in both directions due to freight traffic. By 2009, it was mostly on time again. (I mention this route just because I've taken it many times over the years.)

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

moeinvt (851793) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756107)

The problem is that the federal government killed the railroads by subsidizing the automobile and petroleum industries. Rail didn't stand a chance when government was funneling billions into projects that boosted their competitors. Then, when, government nationalized the railroads during WW1, they never recovered.

Automobiles and all the associated problems (emissions, urban sprawl, accidents, etc.) are the "central planning" solution to transportation. If the auto and petroleum industries had been forced to compete against rail on a level playing field, the transportation system in the USA would have evolved much differently.

Re:funny comparing to "high speed rail" elsewhere (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756209)

Actually most of the NEC is continuously-welded rail on modern concrete sleepers and I've got a GPS snapshot of going 125MPH, not even on the Acela, just the normal trainsets. Still a joke compared to other countries, but you can do Philly-Newark, about 100 miles line of sight, in 58 minutes (real-world and experienced), for $51. For one person, you beat the cost of driving, and for two, you beat the cost of driving and time (especially when you include comfort).

So what? (1)

bistromath007 (1253428) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754555)

They don't even have wifi on all of their trains yet. They need to do that before they worry about how good it is.

broadband technologies? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754565)

they're not really moving to transferring the data through the tracks or something like that, are they, is it that they're switching to faster cellular technology?

what's amusing in the article is that someone complained that she had to use her own mobile data connection to keep working. well, doh, that's what it's for. which gets us to the point that the networks should just build better coverage so patrons wouldn't need the train as the proxy between the network and their machine..

of course, americans should just get on the all you can eat data for seven bucks a month or whatever train that the rest of the world is getting on - 10mbyte download size limits, HAHA WTF? they're probably running some http proxy in between too? how the hell does anyone work with that?

Re:broadband technologies? (2)

hypergreatthing (254983) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754841)

They set up a captive portal on the trains, put the antennas on the outside. Probably just upgrading from a 3g cell card to one that supports 4g. The cell signal outside the rail car is much better than trying to get a signal inside a metal can. You're also assuming that everyone has a phone. What about wifi only devices? There's many a laptops that benefit from using the wifi/cell service they're providing.

For $420 per year (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755239)

What about wifi only devices?

For a little over a dollar a day, users of Wi-Fi-only device can buy a cellular radio with a Wi-Fi router. You could think of it as a cell phone that doesn't make calls because it's only designed for tethering.

Re:broadband technologies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755015)

of course, americans should just get on the all you can eat data for seven bucks a month or whatever train that the rest of the world is getting on - 10mbyte download size limits, HAHA WTF? they're probably running some http proxy in between too? how the hell does anyone work with that?

Eh, some people are just made of tougher stuff, I guess. Some of us, as hard as it may be for you to imagine, don't collapse into tears and shakes at the mere thought of temporary interruption of a supermodern first-world convenience. That's how in the hell we work with that. I, for one, have never paid for internet service on an airplane or train. I also don't consider free wifi to be a selling point as to where I get lunch. I don't get nervous when my cell phone loses its signal, either, nor is my cell phone's battery dying a life-threatening-crisis-level problem. Yet, I'm still a software engineer, computing is my major hobby and a very large part of my life, and I've done a lot that wouldn't have been possible without the internet.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just living life wrong? Should I be worrying over every nuance of 24/7 internet connectivity? Did I miss the part where I was supposed to get the heart plugs installed that self-destruct if they're disconnected from the internet for too long? Well, whatever the case, I'm certain I'll find some way in the hell to work with that.

Re:broadband technologies? (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756915)

I regularly go weeks at a stretch without internet access. I get enough news from John Stewart to bridge the gap.
It is actually a long bike ride, uphill both ways, to the school library for research, I do miss it.

Kansas City to New York (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754813)

I considered taking an Amtrak from Kansas City to New York but it was going to take 34 hours!
A quick calculation told me that the train would average 40mph. Not very impressive!

All ten of them will no doubt be thrilled to hear (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754821)

A bit of good news for American travelers

All ten of them will no doubt be thrilled to hear this.

Reliability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754825)

The reliability of Amtrak Wi-Fi is the same as the reliability of anything Amtrak runs...

Doubtful ... (1)

tgd (2822) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754875)

Unless they did the upgrades and left them off the entire time, and then flipped this on in the last week, it hasn't made a damn bit of difference on the Acela trains.

Upside, its a good excuse to not be productive for a few hours.

Behind on more than one metric (3, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754923)

I'm not sure why we should be so worried about lack of Wi-Fi when most of us don't have access to high speed rail, period. The only current high-speed line on the Amtrak system is on the east coast, which connects the biggest east coast cities but does nothing for anyone else. We can't really start comparing Amtrak to actual high speed rail until we start connecting more cities at speeds greater than what the average Hyundai can achieve. There is plenty of demand from passengers tired of requisite anal probes at the airports, it is time to produce a real plan and go forward. NYC->Chicago would be a great start for one.

Re:Behind on more than one metric (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755003)

Exactly. I'm on the west coast- the Pacific Coast Starlight goes over 1500 miles with NO wifi access at all. And I can drive to Seattle faster in a Prius than on either the PCS or the Cascades.

Re:Behind on more than one metric (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755363)

Sad thing is when I commuted to NY from DC, the Acela would save me only 30 minutes of travel time and it would cost $91 more. Not really high speed savings there. Means I napped for 30 minutes more.

who pays for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754939)

i assume the price is baked into the ticket prices?
trains are prohibitively expensive.

Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43754951)

I ride Amtrak (Acela) all the time. I've never had a real issue with the networking (even before the recent upgrades). Sure, they blocked streaming video and Netflix, but for most reasonable purposes it was more than adequate. I could e-mail, update docs on google drive, chat at reasonable speeds. I couldn't video conference, but color me surprised if they get this reliable enough for that even with the upgrades.

There are tons of things I'd spend money on before this if I were Amtrak.

Who cares? (1)

Bugler412 (2610815) | about a year and a half ago | (#43754995)

Amtrak is more expensive than airlines on the same route, is usually slower than both airline and intercity express bus (including airport security times) to the same destination. And offers both worse service/schedules and en route service than either. Why would anyone ride Amtrak other than for nostalgia? (not that it can't be made better, but that will take tons of investment that it appears no one is willing to make)

Re:Who cares? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755319)

No groping and nude-o-scopes for Amtrak (yet)

Re:Who cares? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43755415)

I've had to commute from Boston to NYC multiple weeks in a row before. I'd take Acela over the airlines most times. When you add in getting to the airport, dealing with security, getting down to LaGuardia, then cab into the city, the times ended up being about the same, and I'd be more comfortable on the train.

Re:Who cares? (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755741)

Well, I actually fit in an Amtrak coach seat (I'm 6'2", which, as I understand it, is ridiculously tall in America, nobody could possibly be that tall, and that's why airline seats are designed for people no more than 4' high, which is presumably normal.)

That's a good reason to begin with.

Also: the ability to get up and walk around, the view out the window, and the fact I can arrive at my destination relaxed. Show me someone who says they're relaxed after a long distance bus or air trip, and I'll show you a liar.

Re:Who cares? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755769)

And offers both worse service/schedules and en route service than either.

The en route service is actually significantly nicer than buses or planes: You get about 2-3 times as much leg room, on some routes there's a full-service diner on board, and there's almost always a lounge / cafe car with very comfortable seating and snacks for sale. Some of the Europeans I've run into say that Amtrak's on-board experience compares favorably to what they get in their countries, even if the trains are slower.

For long distance trains, part of the appeal for some is seeing the country from what is in effect a moving hotel room. Neither buses nor trains really offer that.

Also, quite interestingly, it's the standard way to travel long distances for Amish and Mennonites.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43756279)

1) If you're travelling from Boston to New York, for instance, and you are going anywhere near Penn Station, then it can be a lot faster and convenient to just take Amtrak, 2) Amtrak is generally more comfortable; you can get up, walk around, etc. It makes the trip a lot more pleasant, and 3) (last and least) you can tell your earthy-crunchy friends about all the carbon emissions you saved.

Re:Who cares? (1)

slimjim8094 (941042) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756851)

Not in the Northeast. It's cost and time competitive with planes from Boston to Washington (even better for points in between, like PhillyNYC) when you include security (and sometimes without). And it's miles more convenient, since it takes you right into the middle of the city. And miles more comfortable.

Some comparisons - from Amtrak website and Expedia, for June 3

Bos - DC - $70 for 7h40, $251 for 6h40. 18 trains between 5AM and 9PM
Bos - NYC - $49 for 4h (faster than you can drive it), $107 for 3h25, 19 trains between 5AM and 9PM
NYC - Philly - $36 for 1h20 (much faster than you can drive it), $97 for 1h5, 48 trains between 3AM and 11PM
NYC - DC - $49 for 3h12 (faster than you can drive it), $144 for 2h44, 38 trains between 3AM and 10PM
Philly - DC - $35 for 1h50 (faster than you can drive it), $127 for 1h33, 39 trains between 12AM and 11PM

vs (adding 2 hour minimum "arrive early time" and Google Maps center city to airport, and from airport to center city, by public transit time and cost)

Bos - DC - $79 for 1h26+2h+30 (bos) + 1h30 (DC) = ~5h30
Bos - NYC - $90 for 1h10+2h+30 (bos) + 1h (NYC) = ~4h40
NYC - Philly - $159 for 6h stopping in Charlotte, $265 for nonstop, 55m = stupid idea to fly
NYC - DC - $67 for 1h36+2h+1h (NYC) + 1h30 (DC) = ~6h
Philly - DC - $188 for 8h via Boston, $315 for nonstop, 55m = stupid idea to fly

The only place airlines are even competitive is the Bos-DC route, and even there it's close to a wash considering the hassle of public transit transfers, security, and how uncomfortable planes are by comparison - not to mention their propensity for delays. In reality most of those "to the airport" times need another 20-50% on top to account for the fact that the bus or subway/etc doesn't leave exactly when you'd like to be there in time to get through security. You could take a cab of course but then you have to add another $60-$100 to the costs, and you wouldn't save much.

The cheapest planes aren't competitive with trains on price, in some cases because they've given up (NYC-Philly and Phil-DC) and in some because planes are just more expensive, even for the longer routes (Bos-DC). And the cheapest planes are at times like 6AM. In all cases, the cheapest trains are spread throughout the day (obviously rush hour is more expensive, but if you can leave 10A-3P or after 7P you're probably going to find one).

So no, "Amtrak is more expensive than airlines on the same route, is usually slower than both airline and intercity express bus (including airport security times) to the same destination. And offers both worse service/schedules and en route service than either.". Amtrak is cheaper and either marginally slower in the best case (about even in the average) or faster, sometimes by a lot, and it has more options at those prices. I didn't even bother with bus because in all cases Amtrak beats the optimal driving distance, and buses are hardly optimal ever.

Admittedly this only counts the northeast Boston to Washington area, but there's rather a lot of people and cities there, so I think it's more than sufficient to counter your claim. There's a lot of the country where trains, properly executed, would be the best option - pretty much anywhere under 400 miles [wikipedia.org] , which incidentally is almost precisely the line of sight DC-Boston distance. The faster the trains go, the longer that distance gets.

Great news! (5, Insightful)

Phoenix666 (184391) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755145)

Train travel far exceeds air travel in the experience, especially if you get a sleeper compartment. You get your own TV, outlets, desk, toilet in your compartment, complimentary drinks, and access to all the first-class amenities. It's like travelling around in your little apartment or office. And there's something about working while the scenery flashes by that is mentally and creatively stimulating. When you get tired, you can lay down on a real bed. When you want to stretch your legs, you can walk the whole length of train if you want, without squeezing through the forest of elbows on the cattle cars they call "jumbo" jets.

You also get to go from city center to city center, so the connections to the train station are always easier and cheaper than getting to the airport and getting your anal probe from the TSA. Japan and Europe have had high speed train travel forever, on land masses roughly the scale of the US (Japan, for example, is longer that California, Europe is bigger than the continental US), so it can be done.

Re:Great news! (1)

Bugler412 (2610815) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755471)

oh yes, it's great if you want to spend $300 a night for a fold down bed in a closet with a bathroom down the hall that you need to reserve months ahead of time. What a great deal!

A little bit off subject (1)

BlueCoder (223005) | about a year and a half ago | (#43755863)

I think Amtrack should for frequent travelers price match air travel (including non luxury rooms for multiple people). They need to romanticize rail travel again. Also probably work with travel agencies and cities with circular routes to popular destinations.

For those of us who live next to railroad tracks.. (2)

tech.kyle (2800087) | about a year and a half ago | (#43756407)

I think we'll all enjoy 4 seconds of free WiFi.
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