Matthew Yglesias has been having a field day criticizing Amtrak’s airline-style boarding procedures:
At Union Station there’s a bizarre process where they list a gate instead of a track. The gate is a door and the door is closed. Outside the closed door there is a long snaking line. You wait in line, and then eventually the door opens. Then everyone shows their ticket to an agent, walks through an ante-chamber of some kind, and only then do you reach the platforms.
The ticket-checking is completely superfluous because you could walk to any platform once you’re out there. But it’s also unnecessary because conductors check the tickets on the trains anyway. But then you walk to the appropriate platform and board the train that’s waiting for you.
This method is both slower than the standard method and also involves overcrowding the interior of the station. Amazingly, Amtrak says it wants $7 billion to ameliorate track capacity constraints and station interior overcrowding when for the low price of $0 they could adopt standard train-boarding procedures.
Indeed, this is totally idiotic and without justification. But it gets worse — because the policy is being replicated all over the country.
Station plans for the California High-Speed Rail show lots of security theater; including mezzanine-level “waiting” rooms (holding pens), pre-boarding ticket check, and perhaps even x-ray machines. There is no thought to passenger circulation, and the underground platforms will be every bit as cramped as the “obsolete” ones at Union Station. All this security theater doesn’t come cheap. The new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco just got hit with $56 million in cost overruns to meet “unanticipated” Federal security requirements.
And then there is the All-Aboard Florida rail project. Here is how they plan to manage train boarding with station ushers:
Because the AAF service will be an ‘all reserved service,’ ticketed customers will pass through a control gate to gain access to the vertical circulation leading to the secure ‘ticketed passengers only’ spaces. In all cases, passengers will not be allowed access to the station platforms until approximately 4 or 5 minutes before departure of an arriving train. Train departure and arrival information will be electronically updated both in the public ticketing/information area, as well as in the secure waiting room and Business Class lounge. Access to the platform will be provided by means of two escalator/stair pairs and ADA compliant elevators, controlled by an AAF usher in the secure waiting room.