Uh-oh … A Dreaded “Service Alert!”

A veteran Amtrak employee once said to me that if you can’t be flexible, you’d better not work for the railroad. It’s very true and, in fact, the more I do this, the more I run into examples of changes being made to a train’s schedule or routing or equipment because of some event that has occurred hundreds of miles away. And that’s fine, because discovering the “whys” is often interesting and sometimes even fun.
 For example, I’ll be traveling in July—to the East Coast, then on to Europe—and one of the early segments will be the Lake Shore Limited overnight from Chicago to Boston. Normally, the eastbound train splits in Albany, with one section heading down the Hudson River to New York City, while the Boston sleeper and several coaches continue due east to Springfield and Boston.
But a few days ago, I received an email from Amtrak advising me that there was a SERVICE ALERT for the Lake Shore on the day I’ll be traveling. These always set off alarm bells with me because very often it means there has been a mudslide or a freight train has derailed or there’s flooding somewhere and you end up for too many hours on an Amtrak bus diverting around the problem.

 Happily, it turns out, not in this case. I called Amtrak and was informed there will be “track work” going on somewhere between Albany and Boston on that particular day. As a result, they said, I will have to change trains in Albany, transferring bag and baggage to an all-coach train for the balance of the journey into Boston.
That isn’t a big deal—as long as it really is a train and not a damn bus—but I will be giving up my cozy roomette in the Viewliner sleeping car. Still, I’m wondering why the second train? If a locomotive can haul three or four coaches from Albany to Boston on that day, why can’t it haul the Boston section? Why do I have to change trains at all?
There’s almost always a simple, logical explanation for things like this and most of the time, when explained, it’s easy to understand. Even for me.