In an effort to compete with the ever-growing fleet of cheap buses that are cruising up and down the Northeast corridor, Amtrak has announced that it will begin featuring free Wi-Fi service on its Acela trains starting this March. It’s part of a larger five-year upgrade plan, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said in a recent conference call, which also includes the purchase of over 100 locomotives and “several hundred” new passenger cars.
Boardman won’t say that the Wi-Fi will always be free, as it may become part of a pricing structure, but it’s certainly an incentive for business travelers to get more done on the road. But as for us non-business travelers, the relative speed of the Acela, and even the commuter rail, can’t really hold up to the cheap prices that the buses offer, particularly given how far behind the curve the United States in the development of fast trains as compared to other countries.
But there is hope: President Obama has stated that the creation of a high-speed rail system is a priority, and the 2009 economic stimulus bill included $8 billion for states to create high-skilled jobs in railroad systems. And Vice President Biden, in his recent love-letter to Amtrak in Arrive Magazine, was unequivocal in his support for the railroad:
But my support for rail travel goes beyond the emotional connection.
With delays at our airports and congestion on our roads becoming increasingly ubiquitous, volatile fuel prices, increased environmental awareness, and a need for transportation links between growing communities, rail travel is more important to America than ever before.
He points out that if you were to shut down the railroad along the Northeast corridor, you’d have to add seven additional lanes to Interstate 95. Which is a dreadful thought. So perhaps Wi-Fi and new cars are the first step toward the first-class rail system that we’ve all been wishing for.
For more on the development of a high-speed rail system in the United States, check out “Coming to America: Fast Trains” in the the November/December 2009 issue of Traveler. Will WiFi make you more likely to take the train? Tell us what you think.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Photo: Via Jaunted