What To Do About Missed Connections.
I just received a very nice email from a reader who’s about to leave on a wonderful, extended rail journey: Starting from Washington, DC, he’s taking the Capitol Limited to Chicago, the Empire Builder to Seattle, the Coast Starlight to Sacramento, the California Zephyr back to Chicago and the Cardinal from there back home to Washington. He’s booked a roomette on every segment and it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it!
There are three connections in this itinerary and two should be OK. But he’s concerned about a three hour connection from the Zephyr to the Cardinal back in Chicago. It’s a three-hour connection and he’ll probably make it, but the Zephyr will be finishing up a run of more than 2400 miles and a lot can happen over all that distance to make a train more than three hours late.
OK, so here’s my best advice for anyone in a situation like this:
First, if you think you may not make your connection, consult with the conductor while you’re still on the incoming train. He’ll know how many other passengers are in the same boat and he’ll radio ahead to alert the Amtrak people in Chicago.
When you get to Chicago, run—do not walk!—to the Customer Service counter inside the station. There will be a bunch of people on the train with similar problems and the object is to be as close to the front of the line as possible.
When you get to the counter, remember that the people there didn’t cause the problem, but they have the power to solve it for you. So be nice!
If there are more than a few people connecting to the same train, they may hold it for 15 or 20 minutes. If they can’t do that, and if there’s a later train with a vacant room, they may put you on that one. (See why I said run, don’t walk?) Or they may put you all on a bus and catch up to your train at one of the first few stops along its route. If the incoming train is really late, they will pay for hotel accommodations, provide a voucher for meals, and put you on a train the next day . . . again, assuming there’s an available room.
And that brings me to an important point about that last option, meaning the hotel room and something extra for food. It is much more likely to be offered to sleeping car passengers, especially someone like this reader who is coming off an extended itinerary.
Late trains mean misconnects and they cause concern, worry and upset. And it’s why I have long since adopted a simple rule: I don’t connect; I overnight!
I just booked my first rail trip and just found your blog. Should have done that the other way around! Think I made a connection faux pas (SW Chief -> Coast Starlight with just over 2 hours for transfer). Not sure if I should cross my fingers, or modify for departure the next morning, which means another vacation day and missing an event at home on my planned day of arrival. Didn’t realize this was something I needed to consider. The next train is a midnight departure (I am scheduled to arrive at 10:10 am), but staying overnight in LA just doesn’t thrill me, and booking a last-minute, one-way flight home to Portland is likely prohibitively expensive (and leaves a $600 train ticket on the table). Advice for the newb?
Thanks for this inquiry. I will respond to you directly by email.