The Internet is abuzz with the news that Amtrak is trying out a writers’ residency program after a group of writers called for the idea on Twitter. The railway gave another social media-related experiment a try this week with its #AmtrakLive train ride from Los Angeles, CA. to Austin, TX for a small group of SXSW attendees interested in live-tweeting and networking along the way.
I wouldn’t normally think to take a 30+ hour train ride to an event like SXSW. If you’re like me, Amtrak is more for nostalgic rides and short commutes than it is a long-distance option. Still, the trip turned out to be both energizing and restful.
Amtrak’s case has been helped by the TSA’s insertion into the flying experience. I used to love airports and flights, but now they’ve become something to be dreaded.
#AmtrakLive’s cohort, which took up most of a sleeper car, was an interesting mix of entrepreneurs, writers, social media folks and others. Programming stayed fairly light, though a few members took some time to pitch their latest projects and startups. Since we were all headed to SXSW, we came to the trip with a similar purpose, but our diverse backgrounds and the train’s contained environment made for an inspiring ride.
I’ve heard of other hackers trying hackathons and startup events on trains in the past, but it’s meaningful that Amtrak is taking a first with #AmtrakLive by directly planning the event.
To be clear, it wasn’t a perfect ride. The major wireless networks don’t have full coverage of the remote Southwest, so we spent a large part of the trip offline. That might be a boon for those of you who are more productive while unplugged, but you’ll also need to plan your work schedule around the times when you’ll unexpectedly go dark. I also couldn’t figure out a way to keep the door to my room closed, and the blaring 30 minute-interval loudspeaker announcements starting at 6:30am were quite the killjoy.
As tech enthusiasts, it’s easier for us to rely on the latest technologies. As modes of transportation go, mass flight is newer than the locomotive, but we shouldn’t overlook the rails, which have the potential to be more affordable, relaxing and fun if you can spare the extra time.
I’m not calling for all of Amtrak to turn into a startup bro party train service, but the upcoming official writers’ residency launch and #AmtrakLive are reminders that the American rail system is ready and waiting for a new generation of connected riders. Now, if only we could convince Amtrak to install nation-wide Wi-Fi.
Now that we’re on the ground at SXSW, you can head here to keep up on our coverage of the event.
Disclosure: Amtrak sponsored the event, but had no influence over our coverage.