Everybody Pays for Amtrak Misconnects.

I don’t suppose there’s any way of coming up with an actual number, but Amtrak’s spotty on-time performance is costing them ridership and us money.
For example, I’m going to be attending NARP’s annual Fall meeting in Indianapolis next month and, to get there by train, I have to go through Chicago. Specifically, I’m taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago and the Cardinal from there to Indianapolis. In theory, I ought to be able to make that connection in Chicago. The Empire Builder is due in at 3:55 in the afternoon and the Cardinal departs not quite two hours later, at 5:45. That’s almost two hours.
But I just checked NARP’s Train Status board and the Empire Builder that left Seattle yesterday afternoon is now about halfway across Montana and running four hours late. Furthermore, over the past five days, that train, Train 8, has been late into Chicago by an average of almost exactly two hours.
So, because I’m a veteran at this, I know that the only prudent thing to do is leave Seattle a day early and spend the night of October 14 in a Chicago hotel, taking the Cardinal to Indianapolis the next day, the 15th.
The trouble is, while that may be the prudent way to go, it’s going to cost me a couple of cab fares, $270 for the hotel, plus a dinner, a breakfast and a lunch. That’s an additional four hundred bucks … at least!
And as annoying as that extra expense may be, it could be worse. All you have to do is wander by Amtrak’s Customer Service desk in Chicago’s Union Station to see the people who aren’t veteran rail travelers with the dazed “missed connection” expressions on their faces, wondering how they’re going to get to Burlington or Utica or Cincinnati or wherever the hell it is they’re going.
There are a lot of reasons why Amtrak’s long-distance trains have such a problem running on time: freight traffic, equipment problems, bad weather, to call out just the most common ones. But passengers don’t care. They just want to know when they’re going to get to their destination … and they want to actually get that pretty close to that time. If they don’t … if an Amtrak trip leaves them stranded because of a misconnect … if they have to pay for an extra day just in case … the next time they’ll opt to fly or to drive or to not go at all.
Surely … surely! … we can figure out how to get Amtrak long-distance trains running on time.