Long term, I hope Amtrak is looking into a policy change in this area (or attempting to get policy-makers to change the law), because this boarding procedure is a bit ridiculous.
Boarding at Our Busiest Stations
Ever wonder why the boarding procedures in our big stations work the way they do? Why we check your ticket multiple times and escort you to the platform at New York Penn Station and Washington, D.C.,'s Union Station?
Well, it's all meant to get you safely on the correct train and to your destination on time. Here are three more reasons for special boarding at our two busiest stations.
1. It's the law
Security is super important to us and to the TSA. We work with lots of agencies and commuter partners like LIRR and NJT in New York City and MARC and VRE in Washington to ensure you're safe when you ride our trains. Making sure there's one ticket per passenger is an important step in that security process.
2. It keeps you safe
We adjust our boarding procedures at stations with narrow platforms like New York Penn Station and D.C.'s Union Station. Those efforts mean we can help board customers who need special assistance and that passengers don't experience over-crowded platforms when trains are coming and going.
3. There are lots of people
Thanks to our record-breaking ridership, our busiest stations host tens of millions of people a year. In fact, 650,000 people use New York Penn Station everyday and trains are dispatched at a rate of one every two minutes. To keep Amtrak travelers, commuters and our employees safe, we limit the number of people allowed on the platforms at a time.
Read More All Aboard!: Huffington Post's Katie Linendoll Roots from Team Amtrak
So this is a load of crap, right? The Europeans don't seem to have problems boarding their trains, even at their busiest stations. One of the biggest attractions that Amtrak has is the avoidance of the security theater that airports are saddled with. Why bring something similar to your biggest stations? Are you trying to piss people off?
Your excuse that this is for security reasons is really stupid. Nothing is more safe than forcing everyone to stand in a tight mass in a confined concrete space. What's the worst that could happen? If someone really had nefarious intentions, and was for some reason intimidated by your "security," they could simply board at Newark, Back Bay, New Carrollton, or Alexandria instead. Your "measures" are rendered meaningless.
Quit the excuses, stop inconveniencing your passengers. Even the most loyal among us have their limits.
Amtrak - did you see their response? http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/07/17/amtrak_s_unpersuasive_response_on_boarding_procedures.html
And why can't you board elderly and handicapped people, and families with small children, ahead of the mad rush? It can't be against the law, since airlines do it. At WAS, equipment for departing trains is usually spotted a half hour or more before departure.
Also, I'm in a wheelchair. I have to get (and tip) a redcap to even get on the train.
Looks like you have the wrong link for the busiest stations. It'd be interesting to see the numbers. (You're linking to http://www.infrastructureusa.org/guest-on-the-infra-blog-petra-todorovich-messick-senior-officer-amtrak/ instead of to an article listing the busiest stations).
My biggest gripe at Union Station in DC is none of the above. It's the messy boarding procedure. Some people arrive early and stand in line by the gate, while some people sit down and choose to slide into line when the Amtrak staffers announce boarding will begin. Which is it - stand in line, or don't stand in line? Please pick a procedure and announce it and hold people to it. This works fine at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where everyone stands in line except, of course, for elderly and disabled passengers. Union Station is a logistical/efficiency nightmare.
Do you guys get a chance to look at rail systems internationally? For points 2 and 3, visit China, Japan, Germany and countless other places around the globe. They work with more people in less space than either New York Penn or DC and I have never experienced a problem. Reserved seating would also make it easier to board since it would be less of a mad dash, people would have specific seats they are heading to instead of a cattle call. This worked great in Japan, and their trains sometimes stop as little as 60 seconds at a station.
As for point 1, is the law that you have to only check tickets at New York Penn and DC? Of the places I board on the NEC those are the only stations where you have to show your tickets before boarding. Every other busy stop I have been to on the NEC (BWI, Baltimore, New Carrollton, etc.) had no one checking the tickets until on-board. There seems to be a different way of doing things at some stations compared to others, and it presents a confusing atmosphere for infrequent rail travelers.
I appreciate the need for security, but the operational philosophy in NYC and DC does not fit the rest of the corridor and I can't say current procedures make me any safer, either from terrorists or platform widths that exist from a time when the stations were much busier.
The security argument (Point #1) is completely disingenuous. After all, any terrorist could evade it by just going one or two stations down the line and getting on there, where the onerous boarding process isn't in place.
@mxk372 I have to agree with you. When I take the 315am train it is no big deal, because there is not a lot of people there.
When I take a mid-day train then that is a different story. There I are like five different lines for five different trains that leave within minutes of each other. The lines are so long they go down the entire corridor. Don't know why Amtrak can't be like the airlines and assign people to boarding groups based on when they purchase their tickets.
Terrorists prefer to attack commuter and subway trains where checking each passenger for security is infeasible. They have a pattern of doing so in the attacks they did in Spain and the UK. They also planned to target new york city's subways not the Acela.