|AFTER A SCATHING GOVERNMENT REPORT about Amtrak's operations, Congress is swinging the axe, the company is crying foul and Americans are asking, "Amtrak? Isn't that some kind of direct marketing scam?" Now, the under-utilized, over-subsidized passenger rail monopoly has just nine months to wean itself off Uncle Sam's ample man-teat. The following strategies can help Amtrak fend off its competition: air travel, cars and hobo chic.
Move It or Lose It
With no competitors, Amtrak has little incentive to stay on schedule. To speed things up, rival carriers should be granted access to the existing rail network and encouraged to engage Amtrak trains with deadly "Ben Hur" tactics. Buzzsaws, flamethrowers and conical drills on the front of rival trains will get the Sunset Limited in on time. The company that derails the most Amtrak cars in one year wins a trip to Japan for the Bullet Train Finals.
Hit the Pavement
Laying new train tracks is prohibitively expensive, but Amtrak can serve more routes by modifying part of its fleet for highway travel. Once outfitted with special tires that fit on train wheel sets, Amtrak's twenty-car locomotives will glide down interstates offering a smooth, comfortable ride. While their size and weight will make them difficult to control and changing lanes impossible, these highway trains will cause only a few more accidents per year than SUVs.
Though air travel is occasionally dangerous and always time-consuming, American commuters still choose it over rail for even short trips because they subconsciously equate peril and inconvenience with high-speed efficiency. Amtrak should exploit commuter psychology by:
- outfitting passenger compartments with oxygen masks, floating seat cushions and bullet-proof doors
- moving its stations far away from major population centers
- including magazines in the seat-back pockets that feature articles on where Kevin Costner likes to eat when he's in Toledo
Focus Group Cars
Rail travel can be made more affordable by selling passengers' attention to market research companies. These consumer pulse-takers pay millions to recruit focus group participants in shopping malls, and they will pay even more to tap sophisticated, inter-city commuter opinion. Passengers who ride in focus group cars will enjoy substantial fare discounts and disembark with their bags full of exciting samples.
Document Shredding Cars
The document shredding industry is only going to grow. Amtrak can capitalize on the Enron fallout by serving companies that need to get their incriminating paperwork out of town and ground into harmless pulp. Diesel locomotives generate up to 4,700 amps of electrical current, more than enough power to erase decades of creative accounting.
Muhammad Ali Cars
No figure in history has embodied America's heroism and diversity like Muhammad Ali. The three-time heavyweight boxing champion and devout Muslim has earned Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Century Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The nation's rail system should honor this great American on a daily basis, charging upwards of $20 for admission to mobile Muhammad Ali museums built into to every train in the system.
Return of the Caboose
More than just a "bar car," the caboose was once a staple of our nation's westward expansion. Gambling, prostitutes, and gunfights were just some of the diversions available in the caboose, entertaining generations of businessmen en route to subduing the American continent. Amtrak's single best chance to compete with airlines in the cross-country executive travel market is a big, red caboose exempted from state and local vice laws.
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