There is something about the train in America. People love them : as toys, as holiday distraction, as leisure but not as a real transportation mode. Poor trains.
Let's dig a bit
While you might picture america as high tech and high speed, you will soon discover that it applies to everything but the train system. Do not take me wrong, there is a system, there are trains at the stations, they have huge comfortable seats, internet and cupholders but oh my god this is so different than Europe (and from China from what I read). They are so slow, reliability is an option, frequency is low, price is not cheap at all, they are really old and ...diesel powered (outside of the DC/Boston corridor). Yes, diesel powered. Actually, the night train we recently took from Florida to DC was slower than the night train we took 5 years ago in Thailand… It takes 2h30 to go to DC (110miles).. It is ok but this is not what you would expect from the GAFA land.
I guess that the US have decided that the train system was not a priority and as a result, it is just way behind. Look at the figures in the article below, this is striking. You might say that this is because the country is big but if you think about the US as 2 high density coasts totaling around 160 millions people, it should somehow make sense to have a decent system in place to avoid having massive air traffic with small little planes and overcrowded highways. Not an easy project but how cool that would be to go from DC to Miami in 5h.
What to expect outside of the big east coast corridor
Travelling by train is actually nice and cosy : seats are huge, there is a lot of place for the legs, luggage etc, the wifi is great, people are nice as nobody is really in a hurry. Apart from that, you will enjoy some folklore.
First : delay notice. The personal never really knows what to expect in term of delay. The priority is given to the fret trains and so if something happens with them, it screws up the whole passenger train schedule and the personal never really knows in that case as communication does not seem straightforward between them. Just picture the time required to move a 2km long fret train being stuck on a 1 track line…
Second : the food. Stations are fairly small and without many amenities. There might be a little shop with a few snack but I would recommend you to buy your food upfront to not rely on that (or on the food train).
Third : embarking. Most of the little station do not have a dock at the train’s height. So, in order to keep it simple, they would open just a few doors.
At least one great thing : they do not strike.
The american marketing genius
How to turn slow, massive, old, not reliable trains going through a beautiful empty country into dollars ? Fret and leisure ! I love America ability to convert whatever in dollars.
Fret trains : millions of trains transport goods throughout the countries plus how cool are they ? They are 2km long in average, they have all sorts of wagons, a lot of locomotives, colors, sounds. They are so slow that you can watch them really well. As we have a 5yo train lover, we frequently go to the station or any nice bridge to watch them passing by. A few spots below. A big amount of marketing is done around it and there are a lot of train lovers, not only young but older building replica.
Leisure trains : more surprising here. We recently found out that there are some dedicated trains to explore the wild. We could call them the scenic trains. In the end this is still faster than walking or biking, safer than driving and really relaxing as you just stay there enjoying nice food and drink. For that they even use steam train sometimes… to really make you feel like travelling in time.
A few links below but do not hesitate to go on a trip. There so many beautiful landscape in the US that it would definitely deserve a trip.
So based on that
Hoping that one day the train takes over car, I will continue to take the train for my business trips on the East Coast enjoying the opportunity to travel back in time and to relax at the same time.