OK, here's the extended version...
First of all, I'd like to say to JCS that although your experience wasn't pleasant, it is not entirely AMTRAK's fault. There was a derailment, and lifting hundreds of tons of twisted metal (including hazardous material) off the tracks is going to take some time. You can't blam AMTRAK for something it can't control.
That said, there is absolutely no reason why the U.S. passenger rail system should be as shabby as it is. This is a case of the counterintuitive being the real solution. Congress and, therefore AMTRAK by dint of budget restrictions, have cut service time and time again with the idea that they can cut it down to the most efficient routes and then start making money. The result: a map of routes that used to form a web around the U.S. is now a skeleton of three major transcontinental routes (The Empire Builder, The California Zephyr and The Sunset Limited) connecting tiny webs in the Northeast and Southern California.
If you were to colorcode the routes that make money black and the routes that lose money red, then there would be a lot of red connecting small areas of black.
Enough of those analogies. The counterintuitive solution would be for the states to work with AMTRAK to set up inter- and intrastate, medium haul routes. In Ohio they've been talking about "The Three C's" route for years... A passenger rail route connecting Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The problem is that ODoT has instead added a third lane to I-71, which connects the two cities.
For comparison - along a six-lane thoroughfare you could build, at a minimum, a ten-track system complete with grading, crossovers and sidings. The environmental impact is much less, since there's generally less chemical runoff and less danger to animals crossing the right-of-way.
In essence, the better railroads you build, the more demand there will be. If you can provide safe (railroad is already safer than auto travel), reliable and comfortable transportation, people will use it.
The problem is that people have become too accustomed to their automobiles. They can go where they want to, when they want to. But there are benefits to "committing" to several hours' worth of train travel. You can watch the scenery without taking you eyes off the road. Most modern rail cars (including AMTRAK) have power jacks so you can plug in or recharge your laptop (or your GameBoy if you please.) You can read a real book instead of having an audiobook compete with audible traffic signals (like horns or the sound of a vehicle in your blind spot.) If you're so inclined, you can even meet and talk with other people in the lounge. There's no risk of falling asleep at the wheel. There's little risk of missing your exit (since the conductor tags your seat with your destination) and there's almost negligible risk of an accident when compared with auto travel. Even better -- no road rage. You can actually socialize with other travelers instead.
Although the time difference doesn't compare, train travel does have some advantages over air travel. [Bear with me, A.netters!] There is less risk of illness because the train has an ample supply of fresh air (you can stand by a door,) and generally has a good heating/ventilation system (preventing comparable dehydration and altitude sickness.) You have more room to get up and walk around, and there are only rare occasions when you'll be asked to remain in your seat (such as when coupling or uncoupling at a station.) On long-distance trains, even the coach seats have foot rests and a generous recline when compared with that in air coach. Once again, the scenery you can appreciate on a train is miles (over)head that which you might take in while traveling by air.
If I seem like a spokesperson for AMTRAK, I plead guilty. I'm not paid; in fact I pay all but a meager AAA discount for any of my tickets. So what that I was 6-1/2 hours late into Las Vegas after a 2 day trip (alas, LAS
was cut just after I whistled in)... I met fellow rail-riders from Australia, Germany, and Great Britain; was treated to a first-class meal in the dining car; and had wonderful chat with my coach seat companion for the two days we slept next to each other. Being four hours late out of Denver had its benefits: we went through the Rockies during daylight. (Since my trip, AMTRAK has adjusted its schedules deliberately in order to provide the best scenery during daylight hours.) The experience was unforgettable, in a most positive way.
ABOARD! See ya on the rails!