Amtrak’s Boarding Procedure Brings the Stress of Airports to Trains

December 2, 2013

from ChiStreetsBlog, by Steven Vance

While intercity and long-distance train travel is on the rise in the United States, Amtrak could still do a lot more to improve the customer experience and boost ridership further.…

There was no special knowledge required to get on board, but the process embodied the unpleasantness of most major American train stations. Amtrak has a cumbersome boarding process at Chicago’s Union Station (which it owns) that forgoes the international standard — people board the train as they arrive — in favor of airline-style gate checks. The method packs passengers into long lines in a fluorescent dungeon.

Despite the logistical difficulty and annoyance for passengers, this serves no purpose — humans have shown a propensity to consistently board the correct train for over a century. Imagine if Metra required passengers to present their ticket before boarding.…

By importing the security theater of air travel, Amtrak loses a key advantage — the lower-stress experience of train travel.…

Making passengers find their gate instead of their train’s platform is also different than the prevailing travel experience. At airports your gate is the same place you board the plan, but Amtrak at Union Station routes you through an arbitrary gate and then to a platform 100 feet away. Airlines check tickets to ensure the right people get on the plane, but Amtrak’s gate check doesn’t assure that: The staffer at the gate doesn’t check the validity of the ticket, and once past the gate, people can proceed to any platform. Ticket validity, as is standard around the world, is checked after the train departs.

The gate check at Union Station reduces the amount of time one can relax at the station’s restaurant and bar, or in the beautiful, well-lit Great Hall. In most train stations around the world, including small ones across the United States, passengers can arrive up to minutes before the train leaves, or wait in the station and then walk on when they please, without having their tickets checked.…

Read the rest of the story on ChiStreetsBlog.

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