"Amen" to Max about the "human touch" where rail passenger service has the only real potential for that human touch of any other form of transportation, be it public or private. I feel that a major reason why passenger rail has suffered low patronage relative to air is because society has lost touch with its human element in all aspects of like, not just in travel.
On a plane everyone sits regimenteed, and most wired into their own individual earphones. What the airlines have succeeded in marketing the real DISBENEFIT of "at your seat meals on a tray" (oops, you've suddenly dripped your gravy onto your tie by sitting back in your "accommodation"!) or "plugged in" isolation to spin it to make it look like a "benefit" of air travel, when it really was necessary to be done on account of the confined spaces of a plane.
So what do the rail services do? They duplicate the same pattern on their "high speed" services even in Europe! Try to find a civilized way of eating on the Thalys service in Europe or on the Japanese Bullet Trains! Certainly on a train, the passenger would expect something better than on a plane because the train is not confined and therefore can provide a "human" service with tables and chairs for food to be able to "sit up" instead of partly laying back so that the gravy stays on the plate and not on your suit, and nor is it not necessary to have expensive 5-star cuisine where the waiters cut the bread for you at yor table, nor would one wish as MacDonalds either where some European lines actually had used. The "normal" type of train diner service that existed in the USA was adequate. And, instead of regimented isolation of a plane or a bus, do better than that by having lounge space for passengers to meet, chat and socialize, that can ONLY be done on a train.
You talk about the new "super-jumbos having human facilities? Think again from airline history. When the Stratocuisers were new, they had sleeping cabin accommodation and proper meal facilities, but over time these disappeared and got crammed into more butts on seats. When the 747 first came in, the upper deck was a lounge and had a spiral stairway down to a piano bar lounge on the main level as well. Guess what happened? And mark my words all these promotional ideas for a human air service, like the current "sleeping seats" and "future" dining tables will go the way of the dogs too. Air services need the volume to keep the vehicle in the air at fuel. Trains can provide more with less, IF the economics were done on the same fully allocated costs bases by air services as are demanded politically for rail services.
Yes, the human element is on a ferry or ship too, but these have gone away from A to B transportation at reasonable fares into "only one trip of a lifetime un-affordability" as cruises with 5-star cuisine and unnecessary over-the-top luxury (as opposed to still adequate enterntainment and good dining facilities on the trans-Atlantic transportation ship service) which unfortunately are heading in the rail direction as well, looking at our own Australian overpriced and over-luxuriated "Indian Pacific" and "Ghan" service.
Now getting into the actual initial posting about New York-Chicago overnight service, having traveled in the past while living in New York on both business and pleasure pre- and post- Amtrak, between New York-Chicago, places in betwen, and beyond, I am still convinced that the speedometer itself is not what you need. What you need instead for an overnight business trip is a "post business hour departure" and a pre"business hour arrival, over a single night between whatever a major city-pair business market can be identiies, be it New York-Chicago, New York St. Louis, Chicago Denver, Philadelphia-Pittburgh, Los Angeles-San Francisco, New York- Scranton, New York - Washington, New York-Boston, Salt Lake City- Portland, Boston-Washington, whatever, makes no difference the mileage, as long as you can get the train from here to there from 6pm to 8am.
You can even use a single train with multiple destinations (Surprise! - wasn't that done back when?) by the use of lay-over sleeping cars to pick up and set out along the way to give the passengers sufficient 8 hours of sleep, plus a few hours before and after, if your trip is between New York and Philadelphia and you wanted an overnight relaxed trip.
Some trains will have to run like the dickens (beefed up track, high-speed technology etc) to achieve this, others can poke along. It makes no difference to the passenger because he'll be sleeping 8 hours in sleeping car room anyway, it takes an hour to shower and clothe, another hour to have a HUMAN LEISURELY breakfast, an hour and a half PROPER dinner, another couple of hours to socialise meeting new people on board (possibly new business contacts not possible on a plane unless you are actually seated next to someone by fortuitous coincidence), and say another hour and a half to focus on what you need to achieve in the next day's meeting, and you really DO NOT want to have a train trip shorter than 16 hours, because with less time you will have a more hectic trip! Your 16 hours will be calm and collected and ready for what you must do on your trip.
Compared if you travel by plane or even ultra-high-speed train, you will either have to get there at your destination at an ungodly hour (even a 1 hour flight in the evening, by the time you get to the airport, check in, go to secutity, wait on the taxiway and runway, land, go though baggage claim, find a cab, by the time you're at your hotel it wil STILL be close to midnight, and you'll probably want to shower before turning in because you will have "had it" during the hectic "fast" trip with your tie and suit jacket stained because of the gravy dripped when you reclined back with the food on the tray at "your seat" - even in first class, let alonne business class or horrors economy class! As a business traveller, what have you actuallly achieved during those 16 post-business and pre-business hours that could not havebeen achieved on a train in a relaxed and calm same 16 hours?
What about the other way? Depart in the morning of a 6am flight? Even worse, even more hectic!
Is your morning meeting over by noon? Fine fly back the other way. If your meeting is in the afternoon, fine, fly there, but come back by the overnight train. But if the business is all day, or if even part day, why not have a few hours to relax and enjoy what your destination can give you and go by overnight train in both directions. I have had "composite mode" trips when the occasion demanded, but the most successful results on my business triups have been when I used the overnight train in both directions. Even on transcontinental trips I have had the chance to focus on what I needed to do ti give me a chance for quiet and concentration time by transcontinental train (AND to shut off the mobile phone, which fortunately did not yet exist on most of my USA trips. Traveling by train does not spend or waste time, it GIVES YOU tme!
It is this spin-doctoring of speed to society which is the problem. It's just like when someone drives a car and drives as fast aws they can right up to the traffic light, and then has to wait, while the slower driver, when approaching the intersection seeing it red, stops accelerating and coasts toward the intersection, trying to pace when the light goes green. The slower driver coasts into the intersection as the light goes geen and he's also in motion before the "faster" driver can respond from a dead stop. Yet so many drivers keep thinking thast they MUST speed toward the intersectionn to slam on the brakes because the lights are red. This spee-"spin-doctor" marketing is what has destroyed passenger rail service by creatiung a society where people cannot appreciate that the tortiose is very often at the finish line before the hare. Why do even rail passenger operators buy into a false "efficiency" that their competition has spun rather than promoting what the train has to offer that only a train can: a human, sociable, and relaxed way of travel for the same time overall necessary from when to when. Why not turn the tables to "spin" the other way: society will be better off for it.
Vytautas B. Radzivanas
Perth, Western Australia