Hearing a Different Perspective.
DAVIS, CALIFORNIA–This was an interesting trip in several different ways.
First, both the Southwest Chief taking me to Chicago and the California Zephyr that brought me here to Davis, ran spot on time. By that, of course, I mean we ran a few minutes to a half hour late some of the time, but always managed to catch up and I arrived in both Chicago and here in Davis dead on time.
The service was very good on both trips. Competent, efficient car attendants and dining car crews. And the food was good, too. Oh … one exception: I tried the “Baked Chilaquiles” from the new lunch menu and didn’t like it. And–doggone it!–they don’t serve ice cream for desert anymore.
At breakfast this morning, I was seated across from a youngish French couple–mid-to late 30s, I would guess. They had never been to the U.S. and thought it would be a good idea to cross the country by train. They flew to New York from Paris and, after spending several days there, took the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. After two days there, they booked the Zephyr to San Francisco where they are spending several days before flying home.
Of course I asked them what they though of their two Amtrak rides. I must admit it was to my surprise that they had nothing but high praise for their Amtrak experience. They were overnight in coach on the Lake Shore and both admitted they should have opted for a sleeper, especially after having now experienced the comfort of a roomette on the Zephyr. They had high praise for the Superliner and for the efficient design of the roomette. They had especially liked the spaciousness and comfort of the dining car, and for the friendly atmosphere created by the community dining. In particular, they raved about the Sightseer/Lounge car where, they said, they spent most of their time. They said such a car was unheard of in France.
Of course, they acknowledged that their trains in France are fast and efficient. But, they said, there is no such thing as a restaurant car anymore and overnight trains–meaning those with beds to sleep in–are almost nonexistent. The Franch national railroad is in the business of providing transportation, they said, nothing more. You get a seat and the SNCF gets you there efficiently and often quite rapidly. But if you get hungry during your journey, you had better have purchased something to eat in the station before you left. In short, they both agreed that Amtrak was providing a wonderful experience and at reasonable cost.
Do you suppose we are sometimes overly critical of Amtrak . . . nit-picking a lot of little stuff while failing to recognize that most of the time, often under adverse conditions, they do a pretty damn good job? I think maybe so. Merci to the French couple for providing a different perspective.
On two trips from London to Edinburgh via train the last two years, I came to appreciate Amtrak even more. Yes the British experience was fast and smooth, but austere in space and refreshments. There is a wonderful ambience to Amtrak that I hope is never lost.
Yes, the German, French, and British fast electric trains give the impression of souped-up interurban cars with relatively austere interiors, although the snack bars and the attempts at food service are decent, at least on the cross-country German trains and the Eurostar.