More seats may be coming to Amtrak

Richard Anderson never met a transit vehicle he didn’t want to add more seats on.

That seems to be the reasonable conclusion to draw this afternoon as the former Delta Air Lines CEO stepped in to his role as the new co-CEO of Amtrak (he gets sole possession of the title on 1 January 2018). The national train operator indicated that it is considering “some creative things in terms of creating an economy class” with tighter pitch on the seats. It won’t only be the pitch that changes; outgoing CEO Wick Moorman added, “There will be some other things that just don’t make it quite as comfortable” in a presentation at the National Press Club on Wednesday according to a Reuters report.

Amtrak has plenty of problems, mostly in the part where its long-haul routes are hemorrhaging cash. That said, it is closer to operational profitability than it has been in 44 years; it still missed that mark by $227mm.

But on the high demand routes, namely in the Northeast corridor between Washington, DC and Boston, there is potential for some upgrades in the rail cars to deliver a product that people continue to pay for and add capacity without requiring additional train sets.  Just like with airlines, buying a new vehicle is WAY more expensive than upgrading the interiors on the existing ones. And the current cars could use some help. They’re dark inside and feel dingy.

Toss some LED mood lighting in and add a couple rows of seats – but keep it at 2-2 without a middle – and the trains could increase the number of passengers (and revenue) without really degrading the product too much overall. Heck, toss in a few streaming media servers like some airlines offer and the on-board wifi service might improve as fewer people try to use it for playing movies and such. Expose some ancillary sales options in the portal or even put a 360 camera up front to stream the engineer’s view and maybe have a little fun in ways that help improve the product. That’s a big part of attracting more travelers, especially when things like increasing speeds or frequencies are unlikely to develop.

But I wouldn’t try to increase density on the train lines outside of the NE Corridor and a couple other high-volume routes focused on commuters rather than long-distance travelers. Much like on airplanes a slight squeeze for a couple hours is far different from on an overnight.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I’m not sure they could really reduce pitch much on the Acela trains; it’s not that generous in business class to begin with. The Regionals, though, could stand for some densification in the coach cars. Doing that would also add value to the business class Regional cars, if they maintained their current pitch, since the difference between the two seating classes would be greater – and it might drive more people to buy up to business.

    I think Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor equipment is in need of an interior refresh – it’s not that the product is bad or uncomfortable, but it does feel dated. New interiors, new seats with better tray tables that are designed for laptop use, better positioning of power ports (between the seat back in front of you as opposed to on the wall, which means snaking a power cord across the legs/lap of the window seat person when the aisle seat wants power), new lighting, new entertainment options are all areas they could definitely improve the product on the existing rail cars.

    1. I was mostly thinking of the Regional product, not Acela, with my comments. Lots of little things that could be done, but I have to assume new interiors are expensive on trains like on planes. Maybe no 16G HIC test, but still not a bunch of lawn chairs bolted to the car floor.

      1. I’m sure they’re expensive, but at some point you have to invest money in the product. The struggle with Amtrak, of course, is getting Congressional approval for such things, which could prove nearly impossible in today’s political climate.

  2. Even if Amtrak doesn’t go full airline pitch, their seats could be densities in economy without impacting the experience much. Add center armrests, slim the thickness of the seats and tray tables (seriously, the tray tables alone are like 2″ thick) and they can probably pack 2 more rows of seats in per car without changing the amount of personal space.

    1. Agreed on all counts, though many people will likely say that the super plush/soft seat is way more comfortable. Trimming that down could end badly.

  3. There is much generous room on those seats. Even a reduction in space there could still leave enough reasonable space to be quite okay.

  4. The current seats aren’t very comfortable. I just hope they don’t go high density like the GWR HST train in the UK. What NJ Transit has room wise on their multilevel cars is as tight as I would want it to go.

  5. Who cares about passenger comfort? Squeeze as many seats in those smelly old trains as you can and reduce frequencies by one third. That way you can raise prices. Charge for luggage, for Wi-Fi, and seat assignments . Lay off half the staff. Reduce the demand for Amtrak by raising prices and You have a break even operation.

    1. Your version of supply and demand theory is just as misguided as our moronic Secretary of Energy who believes mining more coal will create increased demand for the product and improve profits in that sector. Cutting frequencies and raising prices will absolutely decrease demand, but that won’t make it a break-even operation.

  6. Thanks for sharing your insight. Good to point out the difference between NEC and the other routes.
    Congressional funding for Amtrak as you know is on an annual basis which makes funding/planning for long term/expensive changes difficult but refurbishing existing rolling stock if phased per (financial) year should be achievable within their unique funding constraints.
    Regards, Alastair Majury

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