The United States passenger railroad, Amtrak, hopes technological improvements will attract more passengers. Amtrak announced that it plans to equip their trains with free Wi-Fi Internet in the following year to draw more riders.
“We’ve been testing this whole process on Capital Corridor in early 2004,” said Jim Allison, senior planner for Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority. “We have just been waiting for the technology to catch up. Our procurement for the Wi-Fi service is aiming for December and then we would install probably in the late summer.”
This five-year strategic preparation is designed to improve customer service and modernize the trains, as well as stimulate the growth of the number of passengers and revenue. In order to reach these goals, Amtrak will upgrade its reservation methods to include alternatives like e-tickets, allowing passengers to obtain their tickets through cell phones.
“We know that the Wi-Fi service is something our customers have been interested in for quite awhile,” said Luna Salaver, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority public information officer. “In terms of installing and implementing the Wi-Fi, we are not there right now. We did send out a request for vendors to submit to us their plans of how they would put a viable system on our trains.”
Amtrak also plans on improving their food and drink selections on the trains. All old locomotives will be replaced and updated with more current car interiors.
“This all would probably attract more riders. However, probably not as many as they think,” said sophomore psychology major Sara Shapero, who frequently rides the Amtrak train. “If you don’t have a car or cannot find anyone going home over the weekend, it is definitely a good option, but not my first choice due to the cost and length of the time it takes.”
The boarding and waiting stations, platforms and trains will be redesigned to be more handicapped-accessible. The national railroad service also plans to step up security with baggage screenings and their K-9 explosive detection teams.
With these developments, Amtrak hopes to increase its number of passengers by 15 percent in the next five years. The corporation hopes to increase its annual riders from 27.2 million in 2009 to 31.4 million in 2014.
“We must think big, be innovative and pursue opportunities and decisions that make good business sense because the competition is real,” said Joseph Boardman, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer in a written statement to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Recently, Amtrak’s annual ridership numbers decreased for the first time since 2002. With airlines also stepping up their game, companies like Delta Air Lines Inc. are expanding their Wi-Fi service to attract business passengers. Planes will charge travelers for their use of their Wi-Fi service, as opposed to being free on the train.
“Our biggest competitor is definitely the automobile,” Allison said. “The best marketing we have is that a car has to deal with stop and go, with green and red lights while the train goes nonstop and free of traffic.”
Amtrak offers a number of discount fares in order to appeal to large families and groups of travelers. Students can receive 15 percent off of their fares for one year if they show a valid Student Advantage Card and a valid photo ID at the time of purchase and while aboard the train.
“Wi-Fi would be a great amenity to students,” Salaver said. “What you see when you’re on I-80 is the traffic. Using Capital Corridor to get to Sacramento from the Bay Area is more convenient, less stressful; it costs less and there are things you can do on our trains that you can’t do on other transits, like buy food or use power plug-ins.”
Amtrak will receive notice of federal stimulus funds in January and then begin the first phase of installation.
SAMANTHA BOSIO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.