Catching the Lake Shore Limited in the Wee Small Hours

BUFFALO, NY —  I’m now two days into this three-day retreat for the NARP* board of directors. I came here prepared for the worst, but it was almost 60 degrees when I arrived Monday morning on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Quite balmy. Yesterday was colder, and this morning is in the low 30s. The Hawaiian expression describes it perfectly: It’s “freeze-ass cold!” 

The Lake Shore is scheduled for a 9:00 p.m. departure from Chicago, too late for a dinner service, but sleeping car passengers are boarded about an hour early and Amtrak provides a nice reception in the dining car. It’s a chance to chat with fellow passengers and each is served a nice plate of fresh fruit and cheeses and there is complimentary wine to go with it … with generous refills.
The Lake Shore is a big train, operating in two sections. The eastbound train travels overnight as one unit (the railroad term is “consist”, pronounced CON-sist), but divides into two sections when it reaches Albany at 2:50 the next afternoon. One section turns south and runs along the Hudson River into New York City arriving about 6:30 p.m., the other section continues east and reaches Boston a little after nine o’clock.
That’s all well and good, but here’s the problem … and the reason who so many of the Amtrak routes would better serve so many more people if only the railroad could operate two trains a day in each direction instead of just one. Look at these departure times after the eastbound Lake Shore leaves Chicago at 9:00 p.m. on it’s current schedule:
South Bend, IN   midnight
Elkart , IN   12:22 a.m.
Fort Wayne, IN     1:15 a.m.
Bryan, OH             1:40 a.m.
Toledo, OH   3:20 a.m.
Sandusky, OH           4:12 a.m. 
Cleveland, OH           5:50 a.m.
Ridership on the Lake Shore continues to increase year after year, but imagine how many more people would opt to take Amtrak from one of those cities — especially those big cities — if a second daily train ran on a schedule convenient for them? Oh, by the way, the schedule isn’t much better for the westbound Lake Shore: it gets to Buffalo at midnight and Cleveland at 3:27 a.m.
*National Association of Railroad Passengers (