If Congress sees fit, you could soon be accompanied by your dog or cat on Amtrak, adding adorability to the increasingly popular national rail service. You could also be crowded into the proposed "pet car," accompanied by someone else and their stinky dog or allergy-inducing cat, fueling commuter rage just as Amtrak was starting to calm down the Acela set over bad wireless connections and not-so-quiet quiet cars.
Currently, the only pets allowed on Amtrak trains are service animals — not even comfort animals are allowed. But the U.S. government can very much regulate Amtrak, a new bill set to hit the House floor soon — H.R. 2066, also known as the majestic-sounding "Pets on Trains Act of 2013" — would do just that. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) designates one car of every Amtrak train as a pet car, and riders would be able to transport their dogs or cats provided they are in kennels and are traveling less than 750 miles:
"My dog, Lily, is part of our family and travels with us to and from California all the time.... If I can take her a on a plane, why can't I travel with her on Amtrak, too?" Denham stated on Tuesday, outlining his argument, according to The Hill, as a boost for efficiency and revenue for the seemingly always under-funded Amtrak. It's unclear whether Denham, who represents California's 10th District up by Big Sur, is talking about travelling with Lily to Washington, D.C., which under his own bill would not qualify in that 750-mile radius for the pet car. (Nobody could sit next to a dog on a cross-country train trip without going crazy, and no dog owner wants to subject a pet to a carry-on size bag for even close to that, do they?) In any case, it sounds like Denham's heart is in the right place, and that he's already got support:
"@samsteinhp: Thought for Amtrak. Why not have a designated pet car?"/will propose to Amtrak/got Tn.parks 2 allow pet friendly cabins— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) May 12, 2013
But this is Amtrak, a method of American transportation governed by its own set of rules. Case in point No. 1: the glorious institution that is the Quiet Car. Because, you know, it's never exactly quiet. We'll let The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates take it from here:
These people are almost always dealt with by a conductor or other passengers. But I've never quite been able to figure out why they come to the Quiet Car. It's not a matter of not knowing the rules, so much as a matter of not caring. It's almost as if the offenders regard the regular cars as a public lavatory, and the Quiet Car as a private bathroom where they may repair to handle their shit.
It's hard not to complain about Amtrak, especially about its notoriously horrible WiFi. Which brings us to case in point No. 2: Just last week, Amtrak finally upgraded the WiFi on its Acela route from DC to Boston from really bad cellphone-based wireless to slightly better 4G wireless. And while there were instant testimonials that the Internet had indeed gotten faster and better, there were plenty of social media complaints bemoaning the fact that streaming sites remain blocked.