August 11, 2009

Amtrak partners with Google Transit

Travelers may now use Google Transit — Google’s public transportation trip planning function — to plan their journeys on Amtrak as five of the railroad’s routes were recently added to the Google Transit system.

"Google Transit offers Amtrak’s passengers a valuable travel planning tool while introducing rail travel to a whole new audience" said Matt Hardison, Amtrak’s chief of sales distribution and customer service.

Google Transit provides travelers public transportation connections when planning a trip in more than 400 cities. Through the Trip Planner, users receive step-by-step transit directions, details on transit stations in their area and schedules. By adding Amtrak to the mix, travelers now have expanded transportation options.

Plans call for all Amtrak routes across the country to eventually be available through Google Transit. The first five routes now available include:

* Empire Service (New York - Albany - Buffalo - Niagara Falls)
* Ethan Allen Express (New York - Albany - Rutland)
* Hiawatha Service (Chicago - Milwaukee)
* Pacific Surfliner (San Diego - Los Angeles - Santa Barbara - San Luis Obispo)
* San Joaquin (Oakland - Sacramento - Fresno - Bakersfield)

When queried, the Google Transit Trip Planner provides users with up to three different transit- and rail-based options to get to their destination. Included is the amount of time each option will take, the number and mode of transfers and walking directions from the train station to the destination.

If Amtrak is an option, a link to Amtrak.com will appear so users may make a train reservation. Street view imagery provides travelers with ground-level images of their route, in addition to a map. Query results also provide users information for transferring from Amtrak to the local transit system.

The Google Transit Trip Planner also provides users who request driving directions a detailed route which includes travel on Amtrak, if appropriate. Alongside the driving directions is a link offering public transportation as an alternative. In this way, travelers who may not have previously considered public transportation can investigate Amtrak as an option.

Google Transit is also accessible through any Java-enabled hand-held device, putting Amtrak schedules at users’ fingertips. Queries made on hand-held devices also include a link to Amtrak.com, allowing users to make a reservation. Further, the Trip Planner supports 40-plus languages and provides access for the visually impaired through an output that is compatible with screen readers. A tutorial of Google Transit is available at http://maps.google.com/help/maps/transit/.

In addition, Amtrak continues to use the funds it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to improve the service it provides. That includes using $400,000 of ARRA funds to automate the process of compiling electronic Amtrak schedules that can be shared with Google Transit.

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