Getting on Board with Amtrak

UNITED STATES

Trains are different than planes. Yet at some high-traffic stations, the boarding process is strangely, mysteriously, similar. (Vox)

Use our resources to engineer better access to public transportation.

These people have been waiting to board since 1974. Kidding! These Amtrak passengers are waiting at the busy 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Nothing much but the fashions have changed. Photo by the Environmental Protection Agency, courtesy the National Archives

These people have been waiting to board since 1974. Kidding! These Amtrak passengers are waiting at the busy 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Nothing much but the fashions have changed.
Photo by the Environmental Protection Agency, courtesy the National Archives

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through the fun Vox article. (Keep in mind that a “queue” is a line of people waiting their turn, and “queuing” simply means “lining up.”) Why is the boarding process for a plane usually so different from boarding a train?
    • According to the article, “Airplanes typically only have one [non-emergency] door, which makes single-file queuing unavoidable,” while trains typically have at least a dozen doors (usually two doors on every car).
    • “What’s more,” the article continues, “trains typically use either turnstiles at station entrances . . . or on-board conductor checks . . . to verify payment. This makes a ticket inspection queue unnecessary.”

 

  • Read through our easy GeoStory on “Public Transportation.” How does the boarding and payment process work for the different forms of public transit in the GeoStory? Are the processes more similar to planes or trains?
    • Bus: Boarding is similar to a plane. There is typically one entry door, and travelers pay before they take their seats.
    • Ferry: Boarding is similar to a plane. Even on large ferries, such as the Staten Island Ferry in New York City, there are few entrances and passengers must line up to board.
    • Train: Rail traffic, such as that managed by Amtrak, varies depending on the size of the station. The Vox article details how smaller stations allow passengers to board trains and have their tickets checked after being seated. Only in larger stations (such as Penn Station in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C.) do passengers have to line-up for pre-boarding ticketing (payment) verification.
    • Metro: Subways and other metros use a combination of plane- and train-like boarding procedures. All passengers pay before boarding the metro. There are usually multiple turnstiles or other points of entry to the metro platform itself, and each meto car has two entrances.

 

  • Read through our media spotlight on the “Public Transportation” GeoStory. Work through the questions in the Questions tab.
    • Why do you think public transportation systems are more popular in urban areas than rural areas?
      • Urban areas are more densely populated. Public transportation saves time and money by reducing the number of cars on crowded streets and highways.
    • Why do you think buses are a much more common form of public transportation than metros or trains?
      • Buses are much, much less expensive and time-consuming to construct and maintain than metros or trains.
    • If your community does not have a public transportation system, do you think it would be a good idea? Why or why not? If you think it would be a good idea, what public transportation system (bus, ferry, train, or metro) do you think would be most useful? Why?
      • Think about the landscape:
        • do commuters spend time and money navigating around a river or lake?
        • is there a small downtown area where many people travel short distances to work?
        • are roads and highways constantly busy? This could be because of traffic congestion or the presence of natural or man-made barriers (such as mountains or buildings) that restrict the flow of traffic
      • Think about the economy:
        • are traffic and parking fees costing commuters time and money?
        • is the local or regional community willing and able to invest in constructing a public transportation system?
      • Think about the people:
        • what forms of transportation are commuters using now? If they are not using cars, would a public transportation system impact their commute? (Would pedestrians lose footpaths? Would bicyclers lose lanes?)
        • are commuters willing to give up the independence of having their own vehicle?

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