For one thing, and this doesn’t cost $66 billion (really shouldn’t cost a million to develop and implement), some reasonable set of standardization for passenger experience. I don’t necessarily mean a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all service level as there are lots of practical obstacles to that. But you ought to have some expectation of what you’re going to get from route to route based on the name of what you’re buying.
One of my pet peeves is business class. It’s a class of service available on tons of trains throughout the system, yet what you get is different on nearly every train. Even on the NEC, Acela Business Class is different from Regional Business Class in terms of seating and amenities. On the west coast, Business Class is different on the Cascades vs. the Surfliner vs. the Starlight. And those are different from BC on midwestern trains. If it requires coming up with a couple of other names to describe the classes of service in order to allow differentiation, so be it. But lumping 12 different experiences under the generic term “business class” is confusing and can lead to disappointment and unmet expectations if Amtrak passengers from one region wind up trying Amtrak in another region.
Also, while you can never really get a consistent boarding experience because there are a bunch of different station designs/track layouts, they could put some effort into making the experience a bit more consistent at the larger terminals. Get rid of the “kindergarten walks” at CUS, and replace it with a priority boarding area of those specifically needing assistance (which they kind of already have). Otherwise, open up the platform access as soon as the train is ready for boarding and let passengers board at their leisure like they do on pretty much every commuter train system in the US and most other passenger railroads in the world.
The $66 billion of course should go to equipment replacement, station upgrades and route upgrades, and there’s been plenty of discussion/debate already on how to work that. Having the service run reliably will require some kind of government intervention in railroad operations, and/or building separate rights of way (and the latter will run through the $66 billion really fast).
Relatively minor improvements also include things like speeding up trains by reducing dwell. The NEC and California already do this with their open platforms and trainlined doors. The other corridors should do this as well. Again, have one designated spot on the platform for passengers who will need assistance. Otherwise, passengers are on their own to get themselves on and off the train. Again, virtually every other passenger railroad system in the world (including commuter systems in the US) manage to do this. Yet we funnel all the passengers through the one manually operated door with a conductor, adding several minutes to the dwell at busier stops.
If we assign seats (I am of mixed opinion on this, due to capacity optimization issues associated with potentially losing the ability to sell through tickets on routes with turnover), charts or signs on the platform can tell passengers where their car will be spotted. Common in Europe, but supposedly impossible to do here because “we don’t know what kind of equipment will be on the train or which way the consist will be facing” and all that garbage. Also, make cars and consists face the same way. Amtrak manages to do it with the single-level LDs because of the vestibule arrangement. No reason the rest of the system can’t do it as well. This would also enable passengers in sleepers to know ahead of time which side of the train their room will be. Amtrak could even make a few extra bucks then by charging an extra fee for the ability to pre-select a specific room. No point in doing that now if you’re just going to disappoint the passenger that spent the extra $100 or so to wind up on the wrong side of the train for the scenery.
There’s a bunch of other stuff, too. But for me, a lot of it comes down to corporate and operational discipline, and removing the general sense of “whatever”ness that allows each region, terminal and crew district to basically make up their own rules.
Maybe add one more thing that would improve the customer experience: do what VIA did, put two folks in the locomotive, and have a “train manager” or whatever responsible for passenger interaction. Far too many on-board customer service issues are because of conductors with a God complex.