Amtrak will begin cracking down on an excess baggage policy beginning Oct. 1.
Amtrak will begin cracking down on an excess baggage policy beginning Oct. 1. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

Passengers on Amtrak trains may have gotten a scare recently. An announcement reminding riders that beginning October 1, Amtrak will begin cracking down on a long unenforced policy – a $20 charge for every piece of excess baggage. But, calm down, there’s nothing to get derailed about. And before we get to trains let’s talk planes. What you can take on them without paying extra — practically nothing.

But, when you climb aboard an Amtrak train, you can bring 250 pounds of luggage.

“That’s much much, more than any airline,” said Rod Diridon, executive director emeritus of the Mineta Transportation Institute, a nonprofit transportation issues research organization.

But still not enough. And Amtrak says that’s the problem. Passengers are bringing 250 pounds, plus more.   

"It isn’t so much a revenue generator as it is a baggage space control device,” Diridon said.

And that’s too bad, because as Diridon notes, the system needs more revenue. When it comes to to per capita investment in transportation, the U.S. is way down on the list.  According to Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, in 2015, the U.S. spent $4.40 per person; China, $94.81. 

Still, Amtrak will have to tread carefully when announcing the charges, so passengers don’t panic, said Stuart Sproule, president of branding firm Landor's North American division.

But at the same time, he notes he doesn't expect the policy to ruffle passengers' feathers.

“I don’t really think that it’s going to make them less attractive to the average person who uses their services,” he said.

Not when you compare riding the train to the other option — standing in line at airport security.