Saturday, September 10, 2011

Putting Amtrak on the Fast Track

MSNBC: When you’re talking about the future of travel, the train is probably not the first image that comes to mind. In the U.S., at least, many travelers still view the railroad as more iron horse than innovative operator.

Amtrak would like to suggest otherwise. Despite an oft-well-deserved reputation for being slow on the technology uptake, the nation’s intercity-rail provider is rolling out initiatives like a Silicon Valley startup.

Among the recent developments:

> Amtrak on Hipmunk: On Thursday, Hipmunk, the airfare-search site that uses a graphic display to highlight itineraries’ “agony index,” began showing train fares/schedules alongside air information for city-pairs that Amtrak serves.

> Amtrak on the iPhone: In August, the company unveiled a free app in Apple’s App Store, allowing customers to plan and book travel, modify reservations, check train status, explore stations and connect to their Amtrak Guest Rewards accounts.

> Amtrak rethinks the ticket-punch: In California and New England, Amtrak is running pilot programs in which conductors are using handheld readers to scan ticket barcodes rather than the paper-punches they’ve been using for decades.

“The ticket-punch is a 120-year-old technology and, unfortunately, that’s the state Amtrak has been in,” said Dee Waddell, group information officer. “We hope this will be the start of a revolution in the industry.”

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