For the first time in fifty years, America has an intercity passenger railroad worthy of pride. In the heart of downtown Miami stands the shining new MiamiCentral Station, the southern terminus of Brightline—a private railroad linking Florida’s largest city with Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
A journey on Brightline is quite a departure from the experience American rail users are used to. Inside MiamiCentral station is a modern atrium with helpful staff, food and drink outlets, bright digital displays, a kids’ play area, and fully stocked lounges for ticketed passengers. Once your train arrives, you are whisked up to the elevated platforms for a smooth journey over carefully rebuilt tracks on a brand-new high-speed train with spacious seating and an airline-style snack and beverage service. Passengers traveling in the “Select” class even get a hot towel. You reach Fort Lauderdale in less than thirty minutes and West Palm Beach in less than an hour.
Contrast that with my journey from Cleveland to Buffalo on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. I had to get up early because the train was scheduled to depart at 5:35 a.m. from Cleveland’s Lakefront station, a stop along its painfully slow twenty-hour journey from Chicago to New York. Lakefront, despite being close to downtown, is barely accessible by any means but car; the only walking route is alongside a freeway ramp. The station consists of little more than a strip of concrete and a small hut. Cleveland Metro trains whistle straight past it without stopping.
In the end, my early start was unnecessary; the train was more than an hour late. I was escorted across the busy tracks of the metro and several hundred yards down a bare platform to board via a single open door. There, the train attendant issued each passenger a seat number. No advanced seat selection on Amtrak—just a randomly assigned piece of paper before you ascend the steep steps into the coach.
The journey was rough. . . .
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1 Craig Sanders, Amtrak in the Heartland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 5–7.
2 John S. Land, “Amtrak Isn’t Railroading through Improvements for Passengers,” Eugene Register-Guard, October 17, 1971, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=B6FWAAAAIBAJ&pg=6761%2C3461756.
3 Richard Hall, “The Slow Train to South Bend: What an Amtrak Ride to Pete Buttigieg’s Home Town Taught Me about America’s Railroads,” The Independent, March 4, 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/pete-buttigieg-south-bend-amtrak-transport-b1812129.html.
4 The Historical Guide to North American Railroads, Third Edition (Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Books, 2014), 236–37.
5 Sanders, Amtrak in the Heartland, 8–9.
6 Land, “Amtrak Isn’t Railroading through Improvements for Passengers.”.
8 Alan Ohnsman and Antoine Gara, “Inside a Wall Street Tycoon’s Plans to Get Americans off the Highway—and onto His Trains,” Forbes, June 11, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2020/06/11/inside-a-wall-street-tycoons-plan-to-get-americans-off-the-highway---and-on-his-trains.
9 State and Local Finance Initiative: Highway and Road Expenditures, Urban Institute, https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/state-and-local-finance-initiative/state-and-local-backgrounders/highway-and-road-expenditures (accessed March 30, 2021).
10 Richard Hall, “The Slow Train to South Bend: What an Amtrak Ride to Pete Buttigieg’s Home Town Taught Me about America’s Railroads,” The Independent, March 4, 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/pete-buttigieg-south-bend-amtrak-transport-b1812129.html.
11 Jim Tankersley, “Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy,” New York Times, March 31, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/business/economy/biden-infrastructure-plan.html.
12 Paul Detrick, “High-Speed Rail Advocates Should Pay Attention to California’s Costly Disaster,” Reason, April 2, 2021, https://reason.com/video/2021/04/02/high-speed-rail-advocates-should-pay-attention-to-californias-costly-disaster.