Integrating Rail Service Part I

By John Dornoff

This is the first of a five part series on integrating rail passenger service.

When it comes to rail passenger service in the United States, the last thing you will say about the service is that it is integrated. You have one major carrier across the country and that is Amtrak, but you also have commuter carriers and transit lines that operate totally independently of Amtrak and for the most part don’t even realize it exists. A major problem is Amtrak itself which still has a hard time with the concept of building a customer friendly system.

However, the problems did not start with Amtrak; they actually started with the private railroads that Amtrak took over. When the private railroads operated passenger trains, trains of the same carrier were often poorly integrated to say nothing about trains from other carriers. Except in very few cases (such as the California Zephyr, City trains, Empire Builder, NorthCoast, etc) there was very little integration between them. Just look at Chicago were the railroads were spread over several different stations.

Today despite 36 years of progress with computers and other technology, our rail systems are still poorly integrated. A perfect example is inSouthern California were the trains of Metrolink and Amtrak run throughout the region. While there has been some progress such as the rail 2 rail passes, for the most part there is very little integration between the two. While there has been talk of integrating schedules and services between the two, little has been accomplished so far. Metrolink ticket machines were even designed to sell Amtrak tickets but a couple of years after they were put in, they still do not dispense any tickets for Amtrak.

So how would we integrate rail services? Over the next few weeks I will show how we could better integrate rail passenger service and make the service more convenient for the most important people: the customers.

Part 1: Poor Integration History

Part 2: The Airlines-Code Sharing

Part 3: The Airlines-The Regional Carriers

Part 4: How the System Should Work

Part 5: Politics

John Dornoff is a principal in the Dornoff Consulting Group

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