Amtrak: I WiFi, You CryFi in the Northeast Horridor

I’m sitting in coach class on a D.C.-bound Amtrak and five minutes out of Philadelphia, where I boarded, a confused murmur rises up among the passengers and quickly escalates into an agitated roar. There’s no wifi! Can you connect? The wifi is down!

I pull out my phone, turn on the hotspot feature for which I pay an extra 25 bucks a month, and change my network name to I WiFi You CryFi. Within ten seconds my network blinks into existence on sixty flailing iPads and I chuckle to myself as everyone on board starts discussing the bitch throwing her personal network savvy in their whining faces.

Amtrak only extended free wifi to all their trains within the last six months, and they’re sure to let you know with lots of bright colors and exclamation points on signs all over every station. They’re quite proud of this magnificent leap into modern times and you should be positively thrilled to have such a service offered on your passage at no extra charge.

This is what trains look like in 2012?

The ridiculous thing about this is that the lowest price for a ticket on a low-speed train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. is $49. Yes. For a two-hour commute to a nearby city I have to pay a minimum of $49. Heaven forbid I wanted to save myself 25 minutes on the “high speed” Acela; it would cost a minimum of $80.

In a country that has a fleet of killer robot planes, I find it somewhat insulting that the cheapest Amtrak ticket for a two-hour ride on a train straight out of the seventies has a base price equal to 2.48 days of my rent.

But when the “conductor” comes round to tear our tickets he gets a wave of rabid passengers demanding to know why the wireless is down. When will it be back up? Is someone working on this urgent problem right now? They should be. You should be. Will you go reset the router already?

Where do these people come from? Yes, I’m actually sitting here doing work on my laptop, as I’m sure a few other people are, too. (Or, I was going to work until I decided to rant about this.) Too bad nine out of ten of these complainers are just trying to surf the internet aimlessly on their iPads because there’s no possible way they can content themselves for ten minutes by looking out the window or conversing with their companions – like they had to six months ago.

I need to calm down. Let me look out the window for a few minutes.

Ok, I’m back.

Where is all the outrage over the fact that commuters in the Northeast Corridor have to pay such obscene prices for such obsolete trains? Where is the outrage over the fact that Amtrak really thinks some token wifi can make us forget that US mass transit is decades behind the rest of the industrialized world? Where is the outrage over the fact that it is actually cheaper to make the drive alone in a car than share an electric train with 500 other people?

Oh, it’s nowhere, because the free wifi is back up and everyone’s wailing has dissolved into gurgling contentment over their iPads.


  1. David Gunn

    How on earth is the United States’s ownership of drones in any way related to fares on Amtrak? Perfectly ridiculous to link those things in any way. You might as well say if America has drones, then I demand a pony. Additonally, if you think the fare is too high, don’t take the train. Amtrak has seen record ridership for years now, and often sells out in the Northeast, so the fares do not seem too high for the market to bear. Finally, might it occur to you that Amtrak is as upset with the poor support it receives as you are? Your grievances are not with Amtrak, but with Congress for starving the railroad and feeding the highways.

    • Ah, see, you did get the point. The problem is with Congress, the body that gives out drone funding but not infrastructure funding. Linking those “ridiculous things” shows the whole thing to be ridiculous. The market may be able to bear the rates with record ridership, but that isn’t very forward-thinking.

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