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Windowless Amtrak Trains - DESCRIPTION" "Are windows necessary on passenger trains?
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Are Windows Necessary On Passenger Trains?
Amtrak Is Not Sure.

I love to ride in most Amtrak and even Metrolink cars. My least favorite cars are the Horizon and Amfleet cars. They are both single level cars and thus don't afford the view possible from the bi-level cars. Amtrak Superliner, Amtrak California Cars and even the Metrolink Cars are all bi-level and provide a view over most single-level buildings, fences and other obstructions often found along urban rail lines.

The modern bi-level trains seem to have been designed with the intent of maximizing the view outside the train and a sense of openness inside the train. The windows tend to be large and the seatbacks short so that each person can see, not just out their own window, but out many windows in the train. There are few obstructions inside the train to interrupt the sense of openness or the view. With one minor exception on the Metrolink trains, all of these trains have windows by every set of seats. The designer of the Amtrak California Cars have even gone so far as to make all interior partitions out of Plexiglas so that even the walls don't block the view or the sense of openness! I believe this is the way trains should be designed. One thing this mode of transportation has over all others is the spaciousness and the view.

In contrast, the older Horizon and Amfleet Cars do little to take advantage of the features that trains have above others modes of transportation. The Amfleet Cars are built like the body of airplanes, tubular with small windows that are difficult to see out unless you sit up straight. The chairs are fairly large and comfortable with lots of leg room. But what good are such comfortable reclining chairs when you would also like to look out the window while you travel? All they had to do was make the windows a lot larger to solve this problem, but I guess they didn't imagine passengers would have any desire to look out the window during their travel. After all, there usually isn't much to interest most people outside an airplane at 30,000 to 40,000 feet during most of the journey by air. Why should passengers on a train feel any different about the view outside?

From the look of most new passenger trains that have been built in the late 1980's and 1990's, it is obvious that the people who put no value on the view from a train no longer work on the design of trains. However, I think I have found where they are now working. They evidently must be doing the photo layouts for Amtrak's schedules and travel planners!

If you have a "1997 Amtrak Travel Planner", take a look at the front cover. Notice the two gals on the cover playing cards, sort of leaning and facing inward away from the windows. These people obviously don't take any pleasure in the unique scenery offered by rail travel! From the yellow haze outside the window, I guess their lack of interest can be excused. Maybe they were going through Los Angeles during a major smog alert and there was nothing to see out the window. While you still have the "1997 Amtrak Travel Planner" in your hands, flip it over to the back. It appears to be a husband and wife enjoying a fine dinner in their private deluxe room in a Viewliner Sleeping Car. They would probably find dining a bit more comfortable if they ate in the Dining Car with everyone else where the seats aren't so far away from the table. From the mesmerized look on her face, she is probably watching the in-room video featured in the Viewliner Bedrooms. Another case where Amtrak has avoided the opportunity to promote one of the most unique features of rail travel ... the scenery along the routes. Nothing can be seen out the windows in this picture except for a dim reflection of the room. If you haven't had enough, page carefully through the entire Travel Planner. You'll find dozens of photos of people on the train, but seldom will you find anyone with a remote interest in looking out the window! I could only find 4 exceptions which are on pages 27, 37, 49 and 54. Even in those pictures, most of the people on the train seem oblivious to the fact that windows do exist on the train!

Unfortunately, the lack of understanding by Amtrak's marketing department of one of the greatest advantages of train travel doesn't end there. Pick up the "Amtrak National Timetable - Fall/Winter 1996/97 - November 10, 1996 Edition". Open to the inside front cover. You will see about 24 people in 5 different photographs. Not one of them is looking out a window! One photo shows 4 people in the Lounge Car with their backs to the window. I have no idea what they are looking at. They aren't looking across at the window on the other side of the car. They aren't looking at the television which can be seen in the photo above and to the left of them. From my best recollection, it looks like 3 of them are looking at the bathroom. Maybe somebody forgot to close the door before they pulled their pants down and they are all having a good chuckle over that. How about that photo of the Coach Car? 8 people in that one and not one of them is interested in anything outside the window either! Then take the Dining Car. The 6 people in that photo definitely seem to be enjoying their food. I've had some really good food on the train, but it has never been so good as to distract me and my fellow rail travelers from glancing out the window frequently during our meal. The Dining Car has often been said to be the restaurant with the most scenic view in America. You wouldn't know it from the diners in that photo.

Wish to continue? Pick up the "Amtrak Northeast Timetable - Fall/Winter 1996/97 - Effective November 10, 1996 Edition". The main picture is of a woman reading a book or newspaper. Below that, we see a family of 5. Two children are playing checkers and the rest are watching them play. Naturally, everyone has their backs turned to the windows!

Last but not least, let us turn our attention to the latest addition to Amtrak's marketing materials, the "1997 Amtrak Vacations" booklet. On the "Table of Contents" page you will find that same family still playing checkers! Looks like they still haven't noticed the windows behind them. I think they are missing the spectacular view of the waves crashing against the cliffs that can be seen in the photo below them. The only other photo of passengers in this booklet is on page 3. It isn't clear whether those people are conversing with or staring at the people across the aisle from them, or are looking out the window on the other side of the train. Let's hope it is the latter.

As far as the rest of the content of these Amtrak marketing materials, I could travel faster, cheaper, and spend more time at most of the destinations promoted if I went by airplane rather than train. Amtrak needs to place a lot more effort on promoting why people should take the train to their vacation destinations, at least as much effort as they currently put into what people will find once they reach their vacation destinations. Amtrak has to do everything they can to promote the fact that the vacation starts the moment a person steps aboard the train and not when the person steps off at their destination. To do otherwise only encourages people to question why they should take the train at all.

Very little of these marketing materials is devoted to selling people on what they will experience on the train that cannot be enjoyed by any other mode of travel. One of the biggest factors in enjoying train travel is the ability to enjoy the view in comfort. If Amtrak doesn't promote this aspect at every opportunity, then they have thrown away one of their most valuable marketing tools. It appears that Amtrak has done just that from the look of these materials. They have thrown one of their major assets right out the window, the window that none of the passengers in their brochures can seem to locate!

If Amtrak is trying to imply that there is much to do and enjoy on a train, just like a cruise ship, they are going to lead potential passengers astray. Don't get me wrong. There are activities on the train. Most trains are stocked with playing cards and a number of board games. Current magazines are readily available and free newspapers are usually brought on board every morning. Recent movies are usually featured in the Lounge/Cafe car each evening and around the clock in the private bedrooms of Viewliner Cars. Three meals are usually served each day in the Dining Car with real china, silverware, white linen and often by candle-light. Snacks, sandwiches, beer, wine and cocktails are available from the Cafe/Lounge Car from early morning until about midnight. Often a happy hour along with trivia contests or treasure hunts with prizes will be featured. The Coast Starlight even features the special Pacific Parlor Car where a wine or champagne tasting along with cheese, crackers and fruit are featured every afternoon along with the live entertainment of a magician or musician.

Unlike a cruise, however, these features would not get many people to book a one to three day train ride to nowhere. These activities on the train help to pass the time, but few people ride the train just to experience these activities. Some take the train because they don't like to fly. Some take the train because it is the least cost method of travel between smaller cities where the airfare wars have had little effect. Many travel because they enjoy the total experience of travel by rail. That may include many or all of the above activities, but it also almost always includes the sights outside the window that are unique to this mode of transportation. This should be the central subject of Amtrak's marketing effort of "why take the train." It shouldn't just be a footnote of "And there is also great scenery."

New National and Northeast Timetables will be appearing at your local Amtrak station soon. Let's hope the marketing people actually stepped onboard a train and noticed just how much time people spend looking out the window at the passing scenery. Maybe they can put a realistic representation of this phenomenon in the photos included with any future marketing materials. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until 1998 before we get to see Amtrak's new ideas for next year's "Travel Planner" and "Amtrak Vacations". If they want more people to travel and vacation by train, they are going to have to start explaining a little better the advantages of going by train rather than other modes. If Amtrak tries to convince us that the unique view from the rails plays a major role, as they should, they are going to have to start showing a few more of those passengers in their brochures looking out the windows and enjoying those views!

Let's hope Amtrak turns around and notices the windows before it is too late.

Stephen Grande

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  visits to TrainWeb since Aug. 01, 1998. Last updated: 12/04/2005  Web Author: Steve Grande

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