One of the biggest problems Amtrak has had to face throughout the years is its lack of exclusive railroad tracks. Almost all of the train tracks in the U.S. are owned by rail freight companies, which means that Amtrak trains are often delayed by freight trains that have priority on the tracks. Of course it would be a huge expense, but now just might be the time to lay down a new system of tracks across the country for passenger trains only. It could represent a way to put the rising ranks of the unemployed to work, and would also be a huge step toward this "energy independence" thing people keep talking about. After all, train travel has a lower environmental impact than both flying and driving, and it's smoother and more comfortable to boot.
And as long as we're laying down new tracks, let's develop a new kind of train. Americans have shown their preference for large vehicles. Witness the popularity of SUV's, wide-body jets, and increasingly huge cruise ships. Maybe we need to start making double-wide trains. Hear me out: instead of being merely a means of transport, trains could become mini-destinations themselves, with spacious seats, internet-enabled business lounges, fancy restaurants and bars, and retail stores. Passengers are more likely to tolerate slower train speeds if they're comfortable and occupied, and it would open up a new tourism market as well: the train trip as cruise. Come on, if they can pull it off in Europe, Australia, and Canada, why not in the USA? We'd be thrilled to go on a trans-American luxury train ride.
Finally, we've got to use the latest thinking in train travel to keep things running smoothly. In order to be a viable form of transportation, trains have to depart and arrive on time. One way to achieve this would be to streamline the process of boarding and disembarking passengers. It wouldn't work for big hubs, but for local stations, why not try the Taiwanese method of boarding trains that never stop? That way the train would merely need to slow down to accommodate the handful of passengers who need to get out at Palookaville and still make it to Capital City on time.
This is all a long-shot, of course, but as someone who commutes by train every day of his life, I'd love to see a U.S. rail system that's so good, people would be happy to leave the cars at home and take the train. So come on, America, let's beat the Europeans at their own game and give our country the best rail system on earth. I'll see you in the rolling cocktail lounge.