Try Amtrak, the American train which is almost the same as in Indonesia

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Erome - When you hear the name of the United States , perhaps what comes to mind is the country's progress, where space tourism , asteroid mining or going to Mars have even started to become a business. But in fact, in terms of railways, it seems that the United States is quite far behind other developed countries. 

In Japan there has been the Shinkansen for a long time and finally China was followed which was able to make a similar fast train. In Europe there is already something called ICE or Intercity Express , which even though it is not actually a fast train like the Shinkansen but is more medium, in fact trains in America are still the same shape as trains in Indonesia which are still pulled by locomotives, carriages that are connected together, and the speed is also classified as below the speed of an ICE train.

When backpacking, sometimes the cheapest transportation is of course the main choice and one of the cheapest is the train. When I was in Japan, I tried the Shinkansen and during a Eurotrip I tried an ICE train. So, when I happened to be in America, I was curious about what the trains in America were like. 

One of the train companies in America is called Amtrak (equivalent to PT KAI in Indonesia) and the ticket I bought was a train bound for Rochester in New York state to Chicago in Illinois. This train is called Lakeshore Limited (in Indonesia it's like Argolawu, Argo Parahyangan) because the route it takes is the cities around the very wide Lake Michigan.

The Lakeshore Limited train journey starts from Boston City and ends in Chicago. If you count it, the total number of states (in Indonesia equivalent to provinces) passed through is 6 states. The journey from start to finish took 22 hours but because I was traveling from the city of Rochester, the journey took 12 hours.

Well, because it was mentioned at the beginning, the condition of the railways in the United States is similar to that in Indonesia, where it is managed by one dominant company, namely Amtrak. There are also several other train companies but Amtrak is the one that dominates. Because it is similar to the KAI train, there are several things that are suitable to compare.

As a tourist, ordering Amtrak tickets is very easy. For payment, you can use a credit card or debit card, even those issued by banks in Indonesia can also be used. On the ticket sheet there is a kind of QR code which will later be scanned by the conductor.

The funny thing is, Amtrak train tickets don't have seat numbers (well, you know), so passengers can sit in any empty seat. Of course, passengers will definitely choose seats where they can sit alone and in reality that is what happens, but there are train officers who will tell passengers to change seats if there are passengers who have joint tickets, for example a family group, who can definitely sit together or next to each other.

Travel Experience

In Indonesia, tickets are scanned by officers before we get on the train. For Amtrak, tickets are scanned when we are on the train by the conductor. Tickets do not need to be printed because the device the conductor has can read the code on the cellphone screen so everything is paperless .

The train itself is similar to KAI's train model which uses carriages pulled by a locomotive, and there is a dining train too. It's really similar. The only difference is that the train is a little wider. And there are only two classes, namely sleeper train and regular seating.

The bench itself is very comfortable and the distance between the seats is very wide. Wider than the executive class of KAI trains. The train carriage also feels a little wider. The bathroom can also be said to be spacious and clean, compared to KAI's trains, the toilet area is 2X the size. Each seat also has a plug for a charger . There are no flight attendants selling food during the journey, and if passengers want to have a snack, they can go to the cafe car .

It could be said that the Lakeshore Limited train makes many stops at various stations. There are always passengers getting on and off every time it stops. If it is night, there should be no noise and the lights should be turned off. A passenger who was on the phone was reprimanded by an officer, so the comfort of other passengers was also considered.

Train station

One of the advantages of taking the train is that the station is always in the city center. This is different from the airport which takes a long time to reach.

Likewise with this Amtrak train. The train stations in America are nice and very clean. Especially in big cities like Pennsylvania Station which is just near Times Square. And besides that, intercity train stations are usually connected to local commuter trains or the subway network. 

Why aren't trains in the USA developing?

Actually, that was also my question after experiencing Amtrak. Out of curiosity, I finally tried looking for the answer on forums such as Reddit and Quora, from which conclusions can be drawn that the reasons are more or less like the following:

1. Car Culture

Americans like to take a car, including driving for 6-8 hours. And because most of them have private cars, that's all so they don't have to spend any more money to buy train tickets.

2. The distance between cities is too far

People travel on average to two big cities (for example from San Francisco to Denver) and the distance between two big cities in America is very, very far. My own trip took 12 hours from Rochester to Chicago because I had a lot of free time as a tourist. Well, not everyone feels that long trips are practical so in the end taking a plane that might only take 2-4 hours is much more reasonable with a price that is only a small difference from the price of a plane ticket.

3. The price is also not cheap

In Indonesia, train tickets are affordable because there are economy and business classes. Meanwhile, Amtrak only has 2 classes, where even the cheapest class still feels expensive for some people compared to the long travel time.

As a country that will soon have a fast train (despite the many controversies) it means we are already one step ahead than the United States, you know. Because the market conditions in each country are different, in the United States itself, because of its geographical and demographic conditions, in the end developing high-speed trains will become commercially unprofitable.



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