Traveling The West Coast: Stop-Motion Video From Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

The West Coast might not be known for its train service – it doesn’t have the extensive network that the Northeast has – but if you’re traveling in Washington, Oregon or California and haven’t considered making the train part of your travels, you’re missing out.

Portland to Tacoma used to be a regular travel stint of mine, and quite frankly, I’ll take sitting on a train overlooking the Puget Sound over sitting in I-5 traffic any day.

But it’s not just the short distances that are noteworthy in this area of the country. Although it takes much longer than driving or flying, for those with time, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is everything a romantic train ride should be. Just watch this stop motion video filmed by Kyle Hanson McKee and you’ll see what I am talking about. It’s the love of train travel wrapped up in less than a minute.

Locomotive” from Kyle Hanson McKee on Vimeo.

Via: Amtrak

New Legislation Would Allow Pets On Amtrak Trains

Would train travel be more appealing if you were allowed to bring Fido and Fifi along? That’s precisely what four members of the House of Representatives are proposing in a new bill that would require Amtrak to allow dogs and cats, reports The Hill, a blog that tracks the ongoings on Capitol Hill.

Under the “Pets on Trains Act of 2013,” one car of each passenger train would allow furry friends, who would need to be brought aboard in kennels or crates that conform to standards set by Amtrak. The service could only be used on trips less than 750 miles in length, and a fee would be required. Currently, Amtrak only allows specially trained service animals on trains.

When introducing the bill on Tuesday, the sponsoring Representatives pulled at other Congresspeople’s heartstrings, explaining that pets are part of people’s families. “If I can take [my dog Lily] on a plane, why can’t I travel with her on Amtrak, too?” asked Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), one of the bill’s cosponsors. If things pan out, it won’t be long before dogs and cats will be able to ride the rails alongside their owners.

[via Grist]

Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Wanderu’s Site Lets You Research And Book Bus And Rail Travel

If you’re a traveler, then you’re a Kayaker. Not a paddler, but a devotee of, the airline (and hotel and rental car) search engine that makes booking the lowest fares a breeze. If you’re a traveler, then you’ve also probably cursed the fact that a similar site doesn’t exist for bus and rail travel.

We can now count our blessings, thanks to Wanderu. According to Thrillist, this ingenious domestic search engine offers “hundreds of routes, operators, and schedules into a free, trip-aggregating database.” You can even make bookings, which is like a giant gift from the Travel Gods.

As soon as Wanderu or a competitor makes this info available for international travel, budget travelers won’t have anything left to complain about – except maybe the quality of their guesthouse banana pancakes.

[Photo credit: Flickr user]

Report: Amtrak’s Growing But Bleeding Money On Long Trips

Vice President Biden is hardly alone on the rails these days. When the sequester sparked the return of Amtrak Joe (as a senator, Biden famously made about 8,000 trips between Delaware to D.C. on the train), it coincided with a report from the Brookings Institution that says Amtrak ridership is up 55 percent in the last 15 years.

The report from the venerable left-leaning think tank (accompanied by this interactive map of each route’s ridership and revenue) includes another rosy number: 31 million people now take Amtrak each year, an all-time high, it says. More than 80 percent of riders travel on routes of 400 miles or less. Longer routes are bleeding money, according the report, to the tune of $614 million in 2011.

The report, issued March 1, created a flurry of positive tweets and articles about Amtrak repeating the Institution’s message: “American passenger rail is in the midst of a renaissance.”

But the Cato Institute, another think tank, quickly chimed in with a different train of thought and theories. Its reality check noted quite a few downers:

-1997 marked the “bottom of a trough in Amtrak ridership,” so it’s easy for today’s numbers to look impressive. Compare them to 1991 instead and the growth is 8 percent, not 55 percent. Air travel, by comparison, grew 68 percent in the same period.

-Population has grown 25 percent since 1991, so more riders might not reflect a growing preference for Amtrak.

-Amtrak ridership may be up, but intercity train travel is still so miniscule – accounting for just .36 percent of total intercity travel on all modes of transportation – that it’s nearly irrelevant.

-Bus travel between cities is growing faster than train travel.

-Amtrak twists its numbers. By categorizing maintenance as a capital expense instead of an operating expense, the organization can claim that its operating costs are half of what they really are. Cato says none of Amtrak’s lines are profitable when maintenance is taken into account.

-Amtrak counts its substantial state subsidies as revenue.

Sounds like average Joes still aren’t as excited about Amtrak as Biden is.

[Photo credit: Flicker user Russell Sekeet]