Amtrak Takes the Blame for Union Pacific.
In his wonderful book, Waiting on a Train, James McCommons interviews a former Union Pacific Railroad executive. When discussing problems Amtrak has running on time over tracks owned and controlled by Union Pacific, thus inconveniencing hundreds of passengers, the man shrugs and says, “You don’t get it, do you? We don’t care! “
I was scheduled to leave New Orleans on the Sunset Limited yesterday at 9:00 a.m. en route to San Antonio. We didn’t leave until 12:09 p.m., three-plus hours behind schedule, because the eastbound Sunset, Train #2, didn’t arrive in New Orleans until 4:00 a.m. It took all that time for the incoming train to be cleaned, re-stocked, and made ready for its return trip to Los Angeles.
But the reason for this mess–for the inconvenience to passengers on both the incoming and the outbound trains and for the additional expense to Amtrak–can be traced back to the Union Pacific Railroad. I know because there happened to be an Amtrak supervisor who rode from L.A. to New Orleans and back on those two trains … and he told me. Here’s the scoop:
First, we need to understand that the Sunset Limited operates on track owned by Union Pacific. Furthermore, there is a lot of track work going on all along the route–old track being replaced and, in many areas, a second track being laid. All that results in a number of “slow orders” for all trains, passenger as well as freight. And slow orders, of course, mean delays.
But in at least one location, the track work was extensive enough to require that particular eastbound Train #2 to deviate from it’s normal route and make a detour around the area. And here’s where it all started to go bad.
Railroad engineers can only operate a train over routes for which they have been certified. That meant Union Pacific would have to provide a “pilot” for the Sunset … one of their engineers who is certified to operate a train over the detour.
In this case, however, Union Pacific waited until the Sunset Limited actually arrived at the point where the detour began … and then they set about the business of finding a pilot engineer and transporting him to the location somewhere in the boonies where Train #2 with passengers and crew were waiting.
And that’s the main reason why a couple of hundred passengers arrived in New Orleans at 4 o’clock in the morning, six hours late … and why we left New Orleans just after noon instead of 9:00 a.m. … and why I finally got to San Antonio at 3:34 this morning.
Truthfully, what bothers me the most is that the passengers on those two trains will tell all their friends that they took Amtrak and were six hours late. Amtrak gets the blame for the Union Pacific Railroad’s casual–even callous–disregard for the several hundred Amtrak passengers on those two trains.
Congress could fix that, of course, but like the former UP executive, most of them don’t care. Why? Because Amtrak and non-profit organizations like NARP cannot make political contributions. And Union Pacific can.