Why Do Trains In America Suck So Badly?

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Let’s state the obvious: trains in america are awful. They’re slow, expensive, and not very reliable. And there are a few, largely unsolvable reasons why that’s the case.

As Wendoverproductions explains, part of it boils down to where American cities are located. Trains are only more convenient than planes when cities are located 200-300 miles apart...which is really only the case if you live in the Northeast, on the west coast, or in Texas. Everywhere else is just too spread out. Strike one for trains.


Unlike in Europe, most cities in the US aren’t particularly walkable either. That means taking one form of transportation like a bus or cab to a train, only to disembark and probably grab another cab or bus. Added cost. Added frustration. Strike two.

But the thing that makes trains absolutely suck has to do with ownership. Commuter rail services like Amtrak operate on tracks owned by other companies—companies that prioritize freight cars and have limited interest in making sure passenger cars can hit their top speeds or get to their destinations with minimal delays. And because rail infrastructure is so damn expensive, Amtrak and similar companies can’t simply build parallel tracks or switch to a different rail system, so we’re left with trains that aren’t much faster or cheaper than just driving a car to where we’re going.


On the plus side, trains tend to be a bit faster than most busses and smell somewhat better than subways. Someone please just invent teleporters already?

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Bryan Menegus

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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