High Speed, Low Service

I’ve traveled in first class on the high speed trains in the UK, France, Spain, and Italy. They all go faster than the US Acela, which can reach 186 MPH in theory, but usually only hits about 150 MPH and then only on limited stretches of track. (To give you a comparison, my Bentley is rated at 205 MPH, and let’s just say I know it can go over 150 without breathing hard. It’s faster than the train without traffic.)

However, the Acela service is far, FAR superior to anything I’ve experienced in Europe. In Spain, there weren’t even announcements at stations. There was virtually no service in first class at all. Your luggage was your problem. In Italy, there were announcements and a casual bag of snacks with a glass of wine in a horrid plastic cup. There were porters, but no help on the train and no first class lounge. On the Eurostar in the UK and France, there’s a rudimentary meal (sort of like airline coach when they used to serve meals) but horrible, rude, uncaring service. The attendants watch you struggle with luggage, which you also have to lug through security machines in the UK where porters are like unicorns—hypothetical. I wanted to throw the smug attendants off the moving train.

The Acela offers free wifi, first class lounges in it’s major city stops, the equivalent of first class airline meals with plenty of choices, free liquor, and two very well trained first class attendants. They help with your luggage, and there are also red caps at the stations. The seats are far larger and there are fewer of them.

I wouldn’t mind cutting the train time to New York and Washington, but fast rail travel in Europe unfortunately conforms to the overall service standards you find there: something beneath Fargo, North Dakota.

© Alan Weiss 2016


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