The California Zephyr was 40 minutes late leaving Chicago with no explanation given. That doesn’t bode well because the freight railroads create “slots”, narrow openings in their schedules, allowing Amtrak trains to slip through at speeds two to three times faster than their freight trains. But slip out of the “slot” and there are problems.
Sure enough, little by little during the night, that 40 minutes became 90 minutes, and by the time we reached Fort Morgan, the last stop in Colorado before Denver, the Zephyr had fallen in behind a slow freight, which we followed all the way into Denver, trundling along at a breathtaking 34 miles per hour.
The Zephyr’s schedule says our official departure time from Denver is 8:05 a.m. I don’t know what the official log will show, but my watch had us running about 2:45 behind schedule at the moment.
We begin the slow climb from mile-high Denver up into the Rockies to an elevation of about 9.000 feet, the highest point on this route.
Emerging from the Moffat tunnel, the Zephyr stops at Winter Park and at Fraser, but continues to slog along at 10 miles-per-hour. We’re heading for Glenwood Springs, not quite halfway through our journey, but the Zephyr has fallen almost three hours behind schedule.
Another 70 minutes is lost in the wee hours of the morning somewhere west of Salt lake City when our locomotive’s headlights reveal a car, unoccupied and apparently abandoned on the track. A tow truck removes the car and we’re moving again.
It’s 8:05 p.m. when the Zephyr finally eases to a stop at the Emeryville station, four hours and 15 minutes late— a good example of how a series of seemingly unrelated minor delays can add up. And it’s why I rarely schedule connections.