Compared to the modern coach airline cabin, traveling by train is a relative luxury. No long security lines! Ample leg room! Big windows! But the government-owned Amtrak is always fighting for its piece of the federal budget, which has led to both belt-tightening cutbacks in basic amenities and some of the saddest Amtrak stations you could imagine.
New York City’s upcoming expansion of Penn Station into Moynihan Train Hall, coupled with a surprisingly generous budget from Congress for the year, could change that, as Amtrak is taking the opportunity to appeal to the higher end of the market. Its plan for new “enhanced passenger facilities,” slated for inclusion in Penn Station’s expansion into the historic post office across the street, looks a lot more like a chic airline club lounge than any Amtrak station you know.
The posh space–which arrives as Amtrak hopes to upgrade over 400 of its aging cars–will serve premium long-distance customers as well as those traveling Amtrak’s popular Northeast Corridor (NEC) route between Boston and Washington, D.C.
The renderings give us a taste of what to expect: plush armchairs, cafe tables, work nooks, a conference room meeting space, and a lactation lounge, with cozy woods on the floors and walls. It looks more like a WeWork, or even a Starbucks, than any Amtrak station you’ve likely seen. And the pièce de résistance is a balcony that floats 20 feet above the train hall itself, which looks perfect for sipping a latte while people watching.
How this could impact Amtrak’s business is tricky to dissect, since passenger tickets only account for 55% of the company’s operational income, with the remaining 45% falling to the government itself.
But if the airline industry is any example, offering a luxe experience for some, and really milking those premium passengers for all they’re worth, could be a means to increase profit margins per trip without blowing up coach ticket prices for the rest of us. That approach seems to be what Amtrak is after by making an exclusive area open to its premium passengers. Today, flying coach is often cheaper than taking a train over many routes. That’s a shame for both the state of affordable travel and the environment alike.