What was old is new again: Amtrak continues to break records

A recent New York times article covers the huge uptick in Amtrak travel, especially along the Eastern corridor. 75% of travelers between New York and Washington, D.C opt for rail.

Duh. Why should this come as a surprise? It’s not news that air travel, when one factors in the extra time required for our vigilant TSA screeners to do their work (forget for the moment the hassle and dehumanization), loses its only advantage — time.

I am not in the Eastern corridor, but I can attest to the attractiveness of train over plane. Between September 2001 and October 2010 (the start of the nude scanners and TSA gropefests), I took dozens of plane trips: Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Kelowna BC, Calgary, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Roanoke, D.C., New York, Hartford, Barcelona, Athens, Rome. I’m probably missing one or two. Several of these locations involved multiple trips.

Since October 2010 I have traveled to Virginia a couple of times, Des Moines, Minneapolis, Grand Forks, Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Albuquerque, Roswell, St. Louis, D.C. Again, I’m probably missing a city or two. But for this set of trips I used nary an airline mile. These trips were made either by car or train. I actually took all of my accumulated frequent flyer miles and liquidated them, transferred them to Amtrak miles, or cashed them in for stuff.

The airline industry has lost hundreds of millions of passenger miles because of the TSA. I feel confident stating that, because that’s the only reason I no longer travel by air. I would put up with cramped seats and nothing to eat, but I will not tolerate being assaulted. And I know that others here at TSA News are of the same mind.

I stay away from the TSA as much as I stay away from abusive relationships. I hazard to guess that without the over-the-top personal integrity infringements that currently pass for “safety,” many people would still put up with the other aggravations of air travel. It’s worth a couple of hours in a sardine can for the time saved.

Besides, I have found that the most interesting people travel by train! I’ve met authors and reporters, sustainability engineers, NBA champions, someone who actually played Broadway, Eagle Scouts fresh-eyed about their blossoming new lives, and cute little toddlers who flirt most endearingly. I never expected that last part: just an extra added bonus from avoiding the TSA.

The more onerous the TSA becomes the more people will avoid it. And that means airlines will lose money.

Gee — what if they threw a party and nobody came?

  • FulanoZutano

    With your permission, I am reposting an article I wrote on a private blog back in 2010:

    “If you want an image of the future, imagine a TSA hand groping your private parts forever.”

    Here is the good news – boots no longer have to stomp on human faces. Americans are voluntarily surrendering their right not to be physically molested by the government. At least that’s what the TSA claims on its Orwellian website. A helpful Completely Bought Sycophants (ie. CBS) poll reveals that 4 out of 5 Americans agree with the complete body scan. Wow. That’s a helluva lot of sheep!

    Hang on. Isn’t this precisely the sort of government abuse the Tea Party swore to oppose? Have you heard a single peep of protest from these Glenn Beck-worshipping frauds? Why did they not rush to defend John Tyner, the brave young man who told the TSA to fuck-off? What does this tell you about the Tea Party’s commitment to individual liberty?

    “If we don’t like it, we don’t have to fly” And what about tens of thousands of daily business travelers? What about emergency fliers? Surely it is those who are too nervous to share a plane with unmolested grannies and 8-year olds who should be catching the bus.

    “But it’s the age in which we live”, Joe Liebermann assures us above the din of squealing Department of Homeland Security piggies feeding from the trough of porno-scanner contracts. Wrong Joe. It’s the age which you and your fellow scoundrels are trying to impose on us.

    “But what about the underpants bomber?” Oh, you mean the guy who was on a no-fly list and was still allowed to board a plane? So instead of enforcing the existing rules, you prefer to put thousands in the pockets of Michael Chertoff Consultants Inc. and humiliate millions of totally harmless air travellers day in and day out?

    Will the TSA scumbags win? They certainly have the upper hand. A “scare” can be easily manufactured to quell protests.

    Meanwhile these clueless control freaks are subjecting pilots to the same humiliation. Just how do these idiots reckon a porno-scanner or a good grope is going to stop a “suicide pilot” already armed with a pistol in the cockpit from deliberately crashing a plane?

    And what happens when the evil ones (I refer now to the suicide bombers) “pull off a Madrid” on American soil? Think of all those crowded trains, tubes, buses, stadiums which are potential targets. Will TSA start zapping and fondling everyday commuters?

    Enough is enough. Boycott travel to and within the United States until the government restores fundamental human dignity to their air travelers.

    “Hey, hey, TSA – how many kids d’ya grope today?”

    Pass it on.

    • FZ, agree, and some of us have been saying this till we’re blue in the face.

      One caveat: this is a bipartisan assault and a bipartisan reaction. There are just as many cowards on the so-called left as on the so-called right. We here at TSA News come from all over the political specturm. This has nothing to do with the false dichotomy of left/right, liberal/conservative, Dem/Repub, blah blah blah. I identify as far left, and most of my friends, who identify as liberal, are just as sheeplike and acquiescent as anyone from the Safety-At-All-Costs right.

      We’re all in this together. Civil liberties are for all of us. And unless we unite in fighting their steady erosion, things are only going to get worse.

      • FulanoZutano


        Sorry but got caught up with other blogs like Craig Murray’s where we are giving the feckless BBC and bogus liberal Guardian a hard time for their relentless attacks on Julian Assange.

        I agree with what you say. The left/right split is meaningless here just as it is over US and British aggression in the Middle East. The mainstream left is just as guilty as the mainstream right and I only singled out the Glenn Beck worshippers and the Tea Party crowd because at the time they were the ones talking loudest about how we were all about to lose our civil liberties but seemed to be dead silent about the government-approved daily molestation of travellers at airports. In fact, it says alot about the capitulation of the political class and collapse of debate in the United States (and Great Britain) that the only people who seem to give a damn about these issues for now are the so-called extremists on the “far left” or “far right” (eg. Ron Paul). We have reached a stage where you don’t love your country unless you are paranoid, it seems.

  • FulanoZutano

    Maybe the increase in train travel is unrelated to TSA but I can tell you that I avoid travelling to the United States whenever I can (I live in Argentina).
    Moreover, I respect anyone who takes steps to avoid the TSA Gestapo. 2 years ago I was passing through Denver with my family on the way back from a ski holiday and I witnessed the humiliation of 2 elderly women one of whom was crippled and travelling in a wheel-chair. A TSA troll told her that she would have to stick her hand down her pants.
    Why do Americans put up with this nonsense? What happened to all that supposed rugged individualism or did that just exist in John Wayne films? Why do 5 year olds and elderly not enjoy the presumption of innocence in your airports? You are trashing the values upon which civilisation is based.
    I have even seen comments such as “if you don’t like it you can walk”. It seems that gone are the days when someone who could not bear the thought of travelling on a plane with unmolested toddlers or grannies would be the ones told to walk. Everything has been turned upside down. The question then becomes: what happens when they start to molest train and bus travellers? Are Americans going to accept that as well?
    Remember: People shouldn’t fear their government – the government should fear the people!
    Keep up the good work TSA News. You are reaching more people that you realise. I will spread the word.

    • Thank you, FulanoZutano.

      In answer to your question, I don’t know why people are putting up with this. I can’t fathom it. I don’t put up with it, but I’m in a small minority. Most of my family, friends, and colleagues think I’m nuts. They’re fine with the abuse — as long as it doesn’t happen to them. (Which makes their position even more despicable.)

      They and those like them are, indeed, as you point out, trashing our rights.

      Oh, and the TSA hasn’t stopped at the airport. They’re already infesting every other form of transportation — which was predictable and which some of us did predict — bus, train, subway, ferry, even highways. When I’ve tried to raise holy hell about this, too, the same people who shrug over TSA abuse at the airport shrug over this.

      The sad, bitter fact is that more people will have to be abused before they get it. In other words, they won’t get it until “it” happens to them.

      • FulanoZutano

        You are a courageous woman. I wish there were many more like you in the United States. It must feel like a very lonely battle sometimes.
        Maybe there will be a rebellion when people see how there is no money left for schools, hospitals, roads, real policemen etc. but how there is always money for new porno-scanners, checkpoints and military adventures in the Middle East. I can’t help thinking that some very powerful people have decided that Israel is a model for the United States. Speaking of which, the security gangsters must be licking their chops at the prospect of an Israeli attack against Iran. That will put the US on extreme alert with all the obvious side-benefits for DHS and TSA sub-contractors.

    • cjr001

      People put up with it because they fear that they will be the one an absurd chance that they will be caught in an Oklahoma City or 9/11.

      Never mind that the odds are much better that they’ll be in an Aurora theater or Milwaukee Sikh Temple. Both of which are the kind of incident – whether you consider them domestic terrorism or otherwise – that are occurring with far greater regularity than anything foreign terrorists are doing.

      Or, further still, that they’re most likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than they ever will be the victim of a terrorist attack period.

      No, it’s far easier to hide from the terrorist boogieman, let all of our rights be stripped away, and be treated worse than a common criminal.

      Most people in this country are nowhere near free or brave.

      • FulanoZutano

        cjr001 – Sadly I have to agree with you. The United States appears to be ruled by fear. I remember a while back a news item (not an ad!) on US television saying “Going to the hairdresser can save your life”. The media’s purpose is to frighten you, to herd you into the pen. Scare ’em and control ’em That is the name of the game. And use it to line your pockets The so-called security industry are milking it like never before.
        It is amazing to me that there is no movement of civil disobedience. Where are the people united in the demand for dignity? Do people even understand the meaning of that word anymore?

        • cjr001

          To be fair, fear is a pretty overwhelming emotion practiced the world over. The US is far from alone in using the terrorist boogieman, and there are plenty of boogiemen that can be found other places, too.

          But politicians and corporations here have milked 9/11 for all the fear and profit it’s worth.

  • Responding to the interesting conversation among CityGuySailing, LeeAnneClark, LHFO, and the author of this post (Wendy), I can only say I don’t see how it’s possible to get accurate, reliable statistics about how many people have quit flying or drastically reduced flying because of the TSA. Not without a broad, well-constructed poll.

    You’re right that so far all the evidence is anecdotal. The evidence in the NYT article, the testimony of travel agents and foreign tourists (I’ve heard from them myself), the testimony of people like Wendy and me who used to fly a lot and who’ve simply stopped. Yes, it’s all anecdotal.

    Personally, I don’t think we, in this country, are anywhere near a critical mass of people ready and willing to stop flying. To bring the airlines to their knees. Because that’s what it will take. But we’re years, years, away from that.

    The sad fact is that more people have to be abused. More people have to be bullied, harassed, robbed, assaulted.

    Just as the civil rights movement took many years to accomplish its goals — it was over 5 years between Rosa Parks and the Freedom Rides, not to mention all the years of protest following that — so, too, is it going to take many years before enough people in this country are willing to stand up and say, “Enough.”

  • CityGuySailing

    I doubt that the airlines have lost ”
    hundreds of millions of passenger miles” due to the TSA. Do you have a source for this claim? Millions, perhaps, or even tens of millions, but hundreds of millions seems like a stretch. It might be correlation, but my guess is that the causation is the economy.

    • LeeAnneClark

      I’m not a statistician so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the number, but I can assure you that the TSA plays a significant role in the reduction of air travel among Americans. People are finally beginning to get fed-up with being felt-up, and are choosing alternate transportation whenever possible. And it’s not just the molestations – it’s the lines, the hassle, the time added to the trip.

      I live in the LA area, and I have a large family, many of whom live in Las Vegas or Phoenix, so there is a lot of travel both directions. Used to be we’d always fly – it was a quick drive to the airport, hop on the plane, an hour long flight, and boom – you’re there. Now, NONE of us fly – we always drive. Always. Yes it’s 5 to 6 hours in the car, but given the hellacious TSA lines at LAX, flying isn’t going to be any faster. Add in the fact that we have to check our luggage since we can’t carry our cosmetics aboard, that adds even more time. And that’s not even counting the fact that none of us want to be sexually assaulted! So we drive.

      Our family alone has resulted in huge losses for Southwest, who used to get all of our back-and-forth business. We’re talking thousands of dollars in airfare that we spent on gas instead. We used to have a family member on a Southwest flight at least once a month, if not more. Now, Southwest hasn’t seen a single one of us for over two years.

      And we are just one family. Think of all the other families, businesses, and individuals out there making the same choices, for the same reasons.

      • CityGuySailing

        LeeAnne, I don’t doubt your experiences, nor those of friends/acquaintances. What I can not see, as someone who has studied/used statistics extensively over the past 30+ years, is your statement being true on its face. You might feel that there is correlation in this matter, but, correlation is not causation. You might better qualify your statement with POSSIBLY, or PERHAPS, or some other words that do not convey an absolute or near certain truth. That is all I am trying to say. Your experiences are anecdotal, and a full-blown study if available would give your statement credibility. I am saying this to help you, and not to provoke a fistfight 🙂 Keep up the good work.

    • LFH0

      Whatever the actual number might be, I think her point is that there are people for whom this is an issue, and they’re avoiding commercial aviation. I’m one of those people. But I am skeptical, as I think you are, that the number of us is so substantial as to threaten the aviation industry (at least outside the northeast corridor–where I live). I think a majority of commercial aviation passengers are drinking the Kool-Aid and are willing to accept the loss of dignity and civil rights in order to benefit from the perception of necessary aviation security. Others are not so willing to accept those losses, but believe that they have little choice as their bosses (or their having limited time to travel overland) precludes any alternative but flying. Thus, while I don’t see the problem to be as severe as the writer makes it out to be, I am very interested in the matter and wish I had more options to travel overland by rail and motorcoach, and overseas by oceanliner.

      • 1amWendy

        As the author of this article, I never said, nor intended to say, that commercial aviation is on the brink of failing. It has reduced capacity and it has come up with all sorts of cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing changes and fees to offset the triple hits of TSA-discouraged trips, an anemic economy and higher fuel prices. While “hundreds” might be on the high side, it doesn’t take much fall-off to get to nine figures: there are 82 million available seat miles in a single month (source: BLS, April 2012 US Air Carrier Traffic Statistics)… 10% diversion to other modes of transportation gets you to 9 figures for the 11 years since 9-11.

        If the comments of the VP of the USTA (and Chair of the ASAC Sub-Committee on Passenger Advocacy) can be assumed as representative of the industry, I heard him clearly state at TSA HQ that “we have to get people back on airplanes.”
        I do have another source, although the information given was at a cocktail party. A McKinsey consultant specializing in the travel industry did corroborate that air travel, especially NE corridor commuter air travel, is down precipitously.

    • 1amWendy

      According to the US Travel Association, flyers are on average taking 2-3 fewer trips per year due solely to the TSA, at an annual cost of $85 billion and 800,000 jobs. Here’s the link: https://images.magnetmail.net/images/clients/UST_PRESS/attach/TSAAnniversarySurveyExecutiveSummary.pdf

      • CityGuySailing

        I went to the link, and all I saw was the Executive Summary. I need more of the details before I can comment on this survey. It looks like a good one, but I need more information.

    • Fisher1949

      As I recall the USTA $85B number was the cost to the travel industry and included air travel, hotels, rental cars and meals. The average 5 day business trip, leaving Monday and returning Friday costs $1,500 on average.While TSA is not the sole factor it is a major component in the decision string.

      The personal invasion aspects aside, security at peak hours (the push) often requires the traveler to arrive two to three prior to flight time. Add the probability of weather, traffic or mechanical delays and it can take someone four or more hours from arrival at the airport to get airborne.Frequent fliers who travel 30 or more weeks a year will encounter these sorts of delays several times a year.

      Every frequent flier I know recognizes that TSA is useless and dislike having to deal with them. Many have taken to alternative means of travel just to avoid the airport circus or resorted to teleconferencing methods to reduce air travel.

      The fact that the number of airline passengers has decreased 4% each year since 2009 while rail and auto traffic have increased is evidence that people are avoiding air travel. The costs are often similar so economics isn’t the factor, on time arrivals have improved but fliers are leaving anyway and ground transit time is usually longer so the only remaining factor that would explain this paradox is TSA.

      • CityGuySailing

        I would agree that there is less business travelling, but I would disagree as to the primary cause. It isn’t the TSA. It is most likely the economy, and the incredibly rapid rise of technological options for holding meetings while not leaving your principal offices. Plot the cost of webcams, Dollars per Megabits/second of bandwidth, and air travel trips in aggregate from American city Sunday to Thursday, to foreign cities (plus vice-versa). You should see the dropoff in trips starting in 2008 when the economy tanked as well as the rapid fall of $$/MBs. Teleconferencing was available in the late 60’s. I remember being in the President of AT&T’s office (or was it the CEO’s?) as a child of about 10/11, and he gave a demonstration of HIS video link to the San Francisco offices. Teleconferencing now is really starting to grow with the advent of cheaper webcams and falling bandwidth prices. It is a natural result of less expensive alternatives that air travel will decline for business travelers. That is not to say that all business travel will be eliminated, but most discretionary travel and some needed travel will be delayed or discarded entirely. The airlines know/knew this (unless their marketing research staffs are dunderheads) and are making their plans accordingly. Look at the consolidations in the industry over the past 15 years. If you want a peek into the future of the airline industry in 25 years, take a look at the U.S. Post Office. This is a weird example, since the P.O. is constrained by Congress and needs their permission to so much as go to the potty, but the concept is the same. EMail WILL destroy the P.O. as we know it today.

  • Kitten

    I checked into train travel for a couple of trips I wanted to take. If they would add auto-trains on the City of New Orleans and the Empire Builder, and a few others, I’d be delighted to take the train. Especially since, as a handicapped individual, I can get a handicapped room for me and my husband for the same price as a roomette. It would be ideal to pack up our van, climb aboard, and the next day, we’re in Chicago or Washington DC, with out own transportation. Now if only Amtrak would accept pets….

  • I long for more trains! Right now they’re not a serious option due to their infrequency (for those of outside the eastern corridor), but boy I’d love to have that choice.