For Father’s Day we decided to take a road trip down to visit my folks in Vancouver, WA. It was a great weekend and spur of the moment we decided to let the kids and Mom stay with the family for a few more days while I took the train back to Seattle. I’ve never taken the train anywhere. Purchasing the ticket online was a breeze and the Vancouver depot is old and just darling. Right after I got on the train and we started pulling away, I looked back to see the bridge the train just came over rotating on its center to allow boats through, and that was just the beginning of the picturesque trip I am now experiencing. I’m in Business Class which means I paid the extra $13 for an electric outlet I can use to power my laptop during the 3 hour trip. It’s quiet, and pretty smooth once you get used to the rocking from side to side. There’s a sign, in the front of each car that says, “Using a cell phone? Please be considerate of others.” And if someone has a long, loud conversation they take it to the enclosed vestibule in-between each cabin car. It’s quiet and comfortable. There are wide isles! I’d have to really reach in order to touch my neighbor across the isle. Also, I didn’t have to be at the station 2 hours early like for an airplane trip, and there are no lines! (Incidentally, there was no security check of my bags at all! I guess trains are not as big a security risk as airplanes? I don’t know…)
I’m half way through the ride as I type this and all I can say is if AmTrack is not growing, it’s simply because they haven’t figured out how to improve and sell the experience of classic train travel. I could easily envision luxurious lunch appointments, private booths, full Wi-Fi internet access and large windows. They could have family cars for longer trips, where children don’t have to be strapped to a car seat, or confined to coach class seats on an airplane. No more road trip bathroom stops. There would be constant access to excellent food, time and access to movies, board games and always a dynamic and beautiful view. This is to say nothing of having your young child gently rocked to sleep. (As I look around right now, there are already 5 adults asleep.) If I were in-charge of AmTrack I’d remake it into a posh, elite experience that people could look forward to and remember as the calm, peaceful way to travel, a level above cars and planes. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey when you are on a train. When you are paying for a commodity, you are destination driven, but when you are paying for an experience, then you can charge a premium, and this is exactly what Apple sells, but Amtrack hasn’t figured out yet. It’s all about the experience. On top of all that, who wouldn’t pay more to have every kid, in every car, at every intersection or passing park wave at you?