Amtrak has had an uneasy relationship with the American public. Anyone who has ever traveled in countries with high-speed trains such as the Shinkansen in Japan knows that trains are capable of so much more than what is offered in the United States. And though there are plenty of technical excuses and political complexities to explain this national underachievement, the truth is at some point the public simply became apathetic about Amtrak.
To quote a generation: Whatever. We’d given up on trains. Trains were inefficient and clunky, but also the best option for people who wanted something more upscale than a bus but not as cost prohibitive as air travel. Train travel was the purgatory of movement. It’s where people ended up who didn’t commit to any other means of transportation. Then something happened.
Air travel became increasingly exasperating as perplexing security measures, delayed flights, lost luggage, hidden fees and overworked employees became the face of air travel. Airports were places where one could inadvertently end up for the weekend, and on the local news holding a cot. Rising fuel prices also conspired against travel by car, and snarling traffic around major hubs could delay travel plans for hours. And then came Wi-Fi. Glory. Glory.
Amtrak is poised to reboot the travel game as it bolsters its Wi-Fi service to travelers. This is a long overdue selling point for train travel. The most appealing aspect of train travel is that it isn’t fraught with the security and bureaucratic morass that afflicts air travel. You don’t have to arrive two hours early just to get on the train. Yet, the train’s greatest liability is speed. The train takes a while compared to flying. But with Wi-Fi, those hours lost on the train are no longer lost.
Train travel, like air travel, once represented a romanticized period in American history. With a broadband upgrade and robust Wi-Fi, trains may be able to recapture the attention of the American public. Business travelers and vacationers can catch up on PowerPoint presentations or personal emails while the train clatters along. This amenity—though one many today consider basic—can’t be overestimated. We’re all living, at least in part, online now.
Is reliable Wi-Fi as impressive as a bullet train? No. But is it better for travelers who don’t consider flying a viable option? Yes.