Planning Early for A Late Arrival.
I really hope that something can be done to ensure better, more consistent on time performance for Amtrak’s long-distance trains. Late trains cost me money. In fact, they costs me money even when they run on time because I literally add days to any mainland trip, which mean extra nights in hotels and other expenses. The problem, you see, is there is a very good chance your train will be late. And quite possibly VERY late.
For instance, here is an actual example from an itinerary taking me to Washington, DC, next month for NARP’s annual Spring meeting.
My plan is to fly from here to Seattle and take the Empire Builder to Chicago, connecting there with the Capitol Limited for the overnight ride to Washington. In theory, that should be do-able: the Builder arrives in Chicago at 3:55 in the afternoon and the Capitol Limited doesn’t depart until 6:40 p.m. That’s a two-hour-45-minute connection.
But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough to feel safe about it.
Everything could work out. But consider the consequences should the Empire Builder be three-and-a-half hours late and I miss the Capitol Limited. I could take the same train tomorrow, of course—assuming there’s a roomette available—but I’d miss the NARP board meeting which is tomorrow at 5:00 p.m.
There is no viable rail alternative, so I’ll have to fly—tonight or tomorrow morning. But that means an extra night in a hotel, either in Chicago or in Washington, plus confusion, anxiety, frustration and a host of other emotions, most of which are better avoided.
So several months ago, in planning my itinerary, I decided to leave home a day earlier, planning to spend that additional night in Chicago to be sure of making the Capitol Limited the next day.
Ka-ching! That’s an extra day of meals, a couple of taxi rides, and an additional night in a hotel. Call it $400 I’m spending because I simply cannot count on Amtrak being less than three hours late into Chicago.
And isn’t that a helluva note!
Hi Jim, I’ve read your book and the info. You mention take a stay over to be sure we make our connections. Well that is what I did for Emeryville, Portland and Chicago on the way back. I didn’t book a night over in Chicago going. I had the idea that the Capital would arrive within the 4 hours between trains. Am I making a mistake? I think I can change my date to one day early because I’m just going from Lancaster, PA to Pittsburgh and catching the Capital there. This part of my trip will be coach so I figure I can get my ticket changed to a day early. Am I making a mistake. I called Amtrak an they said I should have no problem sticking to my original schedule. Am I making a mistake depending on the Capital to make it to Chicago on time or near on time? My current tickets leave Lancaster on April 23. Thanks for your help.
I really appreciate your posting. I’m planning my first big Amtrak trip starting next week. I expect some issues–I’m Roometting all the way. I will leave on the Capital Limited from DC to Chicago, pick up the Empire Builder there and on to Seattle–4 days in Seattle–then the Coast Starlight to Sacramento, the California Zephyr to Chicago, and the Cardinal back to Washington, DC. My worry is in the layover in Chicago on the way home–only 2 Hrs 55 min. So I called Amtrak and they offered the following: 1) If the CZ is not too late and has multiple transfer passengers they will hold the Cardinal, 2) If the CZ is later, but still not too late, they will send it on and hold it at an Indiana station to accommodate a catch-up for passengers via a charter bus. 3) Because the Capitol Limited leaves after the Cardinal, if possible they will transfer me to that train. 4) If it’s really late, they will pay for hotel accommodations and place me on the train the next day (your scenario). Seems like they have developed a cadre of options… I never expect travel to be perfect–after all, it’s meant to be an adventure, right? Keep the insights coming.
Ha! Well, I understand your concern. There’s no doubt you’ll be taking a chance with that Zephyr-Cardinal connection. The problem, of course, is that the Cardinal only runs three days a week. The one possible alternative would be to cut your stay in Seattle short by one day but, with your trip just a few days away, I can’t imagine you’d be able to get roomettes on both the Coast Starlight and the Zephyr a day sooner. If you do miss the Cardinal, but not by much, they might put you on the Capitol, Limited which leaves an hour later that same evening. Seems to me you only real option is to hope you make the connection with the Cardinal. If you are running late and it looks like a close call, be sure to talk to the conductor on the Zephyr and let him know you’er connecting to the Cardinal. He’ll radio ahead and make sure they know you’re coming. It’s a great trip no matter what! Do let me know how it all works out.