Upscale sightseeing tours, new products from Amtrak, and planned high-speed routes are making U.S. train travel more comfortable and convenient.
By Barbara Peterson, September 7, 2021
Rail is on a roll, thanks to a new emphasis in Washington on infrastructure and the environment. These efforts are boosting not just Amtrak’s fortunes, but those of private sector high-speed rail projects across the U.S.
But will American travelers reap the benefits—as in, better and more reliable trains? Train journeys have long been viewed as more sophisticated than traveling by either road or air, but train travel in the U.S. has long lagged behind Europe and Asia, where intercity trains are both high speed and high quality experiences. In contrast, Amtrak has been plagued by aging rolling stock (some of its rail cars date back almost to its inception 50 years ago) and sagging on-time performance. That’s because the quasi-public company has spent much of its history battling congressional critics who’ve periodically voted to slash the line’s federal funding, arguing it’s a waste of taxpayer money.
But sophisticated travelers are voting—with their wallets, at least—in favor of rail, and they’ve been doing so in greater numbers since the pandemic struck, experts say. A recent poll by Virtuoso travel agency consortium found that 69 percent of respondents prefer to travel closer to home. That sentiment is fueling interest in high-end train travel in the U.S., says Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s vice president of global public relations. “[Train travel is] a way to enjoy the beauty of the U.S. and its diverse landscapes without having to drive,” she says. “More spacious seating and ability to roam appeal to those looking to avoid chaotic airports, crowded flights, or cramped cars.”