I wrote an article for Environmental Graffiti talking about how it's time to fix Amtrak. You can read it here. In that article you can see why Amtrak suffers. It barely owns any right of way, it's suffers from delays and poor trackage and it's been having to complete against airlines and cars which have been given far more money.
With that said, after we fix the infrastructure problems of Amtrak and start to operate new and more frequent service, how should Amtrak get rid of the stigma that is has about itself. I broke it down into Amtrak should operate into brands much like European rail travel does. This will help Americans identify with what particular service they want. You can read below.
Amtrak - This brand would continue to operate the 4-12 hour trips that are typical for current Amtrak routes. They would be offered as a low-cost alternative to flying and driving and typical speed average would be around 60-80mph with no delays as infrastructure improvements would have been made. A few examples of routes could be New York to Cleveland, Chicago to Memphis, Kansas City to Dallas. Typical trips would be no less than 200 miles and no less than 500 miles.
Nightrak - This brand would operate the long hull routes across the country that would be exclusively sleeper cabins and coach would be consist of an open bay bunk bed set up and a much larger lounge area. It would operate as a cheaper alternative to flying under most circumstances but would be much more comfortable. The normal trip would be 12 hours to 30 hours. Service would be sped up so that it wouldn't take longer than 2 nights to get across the country. Typical routes would be Chicago to Los Angeles, New York to San Francisco, and Las Vegas to Miami. Trip lengths would be anything more than 500 miles. Average speed would be 70-90mph
Daytrak - This would be a brand that provides short intercity services between states. While most commuter rail services would be funded by municipalities and states, Daytrak would fill any intercity gaps that may exist. Typical travel time would be 1-4 hours. A typical type of service could be Chicago to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh to Cleveland and Portland to Seattle. Trip lengths would be anything from 100 miles to 200 miles. Average speed would be 60-80mph
Speedtrak - All services that operate on a high-speed rail network and operate as speeds faster than 200mph. Service will be comparable to Daytrak, however speeds will be much faster. Business Class services and higher will use Biztrak branding on a separate train.
Biztrak - Biztrak would be the new brand to oversee the service targeted towards business travels. Some Biztrak services could operate on the same line as Daytrak services, but they will operate at a higher speed and offer only Business and Higher class seating. There will be several levels of Biztrak services.
- Biztrak Express - Sservice that operates 200mph or faster on a HSR right of way and only stops at the most popular stations.
- Biztrak Regional - Service that operates 200mph or faster on a HSR right of way and stops at all stops on the line.
- Biztrak Commuter - Service that operates at 120mph or faster on a conventional right of way and stops at half of the rail stations.
- Biztrak Suite - A potential service that can run across country from NYC and LA for business travelers, operating at speeds of 200mph. Service will take 20-24 hours and private suites will be offered.
State Operated Rail
- Intrastate HSR (i.e. California HSR) that doesn't cross borders
- Intrastate Regional services (San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliner)
- Intrastate Intercity services (Capital Corridor)
City/Regional Operated Rail
- Light Rail
Of course, if passenger rail service ever got to the point where it was truly profitable again for private companies to run it, I think we should look at that route as well. At which point, I would hope that Amtrak and companies would be spun off as a private company and any government funding would go only towards capital improvements that all passenger services could utilize. I've always been a proponent of "Socialize the Risk, Privatized the Profits", so I can see rail transportation taking off if we actually invested in it because private companies can compete to offer the best services as long as they don't have to pay for the infrastructure.