25.2.03

EMULATING THE COMPETITION. Michael Jennings notes that railroads often attempt to attract traffic by making their trains look like, well, not trains. "Sometimes, when private firms without much experience in railways take over railway companies, they decide that the way to revitalise the business is to try to pretend that the passenger is not travelling by train at all. In particular, they often conclude that since more people travel by plane than by train, the best way to increase the number of people travelling by train is to make the experience more like air travel. This generally fails to take into account that the reason people fly is because that is the only way to travel long distances quickly, and not because they love the service." That's his take on Virgin Trains's venture into British passenger service. But it's not limited to Virgin (also an air carrier.) The first streamliners emulated the latest airliners, the Penn Central Metroliners had the whole assigned-seat-boarding-pass ritual, Amtrak redecorated lounge cars with orange seats and purple carpeting halfway up the walls, and the Acela Express has latching overhead luggage storage bins. Jennings also finds an interesting blunder in the Virgin enroute magazine. I disagree, by the way, with his characterization of the enroute magazine as "neither particularly positive or negative." At one time, railroads provided dome cars, the better for the passenger to be able to see where he or she is. Enroute magazines, and the rifle-slit windows on the latest coaches, are a step backwards.

UPDATE: Michael Jennings has some further observations (this is beginning to look like the Comment and Reply section of the American Economic Review). He too, notes that modern train operators have (for the most part) forgotten to provide the opportunity to allow passengers to move around, find a card table, or buy a drink. Believe me, the pain is greater when you distinctly remember such things. I have no recollection of any dome cars on the Australian railroads, and only the Germans tried them in Europe. His gripe about Eurostar is instructive. Perhaps it depends on your perspective. There are no interline tickets from Amtrak to any other passenger service operator (suppose you're going by train from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Brewster, New York, for example: you cannot buy a ticket at Kenosha for the entire journey, you have to change stations at Chicago (short walk) and again at New York City (subway ride), and buy yet another ticket in Grand Central Terminal.) And adult fares have begun at age 12 on US railroads for as long as I can recall. Thus, Eurostar's practices would not come as much of an annoyance to me, on the other hand if I had grown up taking interline ticketing for granted I would be annoyed.) The comment by Eurostar's corporate flack deserves only one response: look what annoyance your policies cause. People remember such things.

FURTHER UPDATE(Now this is beginning to look like a parody of Comment and Reply. The Superintendent is considering a Suggestion Box.) Michael Jennings notes in his further update that some British trains do have club cars, of a sort. I think he and I are in agreement that connecting carriers that don't sell interline tickets are doing something wrong. I would offer the following as well. Some of the British train stations have decent pubs trackside. I would particularly commend Reading's, with a view of Track (er, platform) 4, the express track for the Great Western service from Paddington to Everywhere West. Buy a pint (or several) of Great Western Railway Stout and enjoy. Crewe is also worth a visit, they serve Guinness, and I spent a pleasant part of a spring break evening (warmer spring break trip than Florida, I discovered on return) with a pint and a view of the North Western action before continuing to Manchester.

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