To Chicago on the Empire Builder.

I have no idea what the obstacles are–cost is obviously one–but Amtrak really must find a way to provide internet access for passengers on the long-distance trains. I’m certainly not an addict … I don’t have to be constantly on line … but I do feel uncomfortable not being able to check my email every so often. And there was a dust-up between the Red Sox and the Yankees a few nights ago which I had to read about in a newspaper account on my phone the next day. I can deal with it but, like it or not, there are many people for whom a long-distance train trip would be unthinkable if they knew they weren’t going to have access to the internet while on board.
We experienced a couple of delays on my Seattle-to-Chicago ride on the Empire Builder. Just routine stuff–mostly just stopping somewhere in the middle of nowhere and, as is so often the case, there were no announcements by the conductors informing us as to the reason. It’s such a small thing, requiring no effort, and it’s very frustrating.
One more complaint while I’m at it: Amtrak has stopped printing timetables for the individual trains. This is very frustrating for anyone who really likes train travel because it makes it easy to keep track of your train’s progress … something I always want to know. If the westbound Lake Shore Limited arrives in Utica, New York, at 9:15 p.m. and the schedule says we should have been there at 8:48, I know we’re probably going to be at least a half-hour late into Chicago. I’ll check when we arrive at another town five or six hours later and will then know if we’ve gained or lost time since Utica.There’s not damn thing I can do about it, of course, but I do like to keep track of our progress (or the lack thereof). Not having timetables for passengers is just another one of Amtrak’s cost-saving devices, and it’s counter-productive because it annoys all of us who travel by train a lot.
The attendant who looked after me in the 30 car was O.C. Smith and he’s a good one. Friendly, but with a little distance, and he had everything under control without bustling around so we could all see how busy he was. And–for my money, the mark of a truly conscientious car attendant–he told me he would be in roomette #1 and I shouldn’t hesitate to call him if I needed him for anything.
Saturday night was spent in Chicago’s wonderful Palmer House, where the front desk clerk, Edgar, gave me a late check-out at no additional charge. It turns out he was originally from Hawaii. The Aloha Spirit at work.


  1. Thanks for the tip! I haven’t taken a train trip for over a year, and wouldn’t have known this. I’m headed on the Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief next month, so just downloaded them.

  2. I purchased a tablet (Amazon Fire) mostly for reading on the train. Now before I leave I download a PDF version of the timetable, and it’s always there as I log the train’s project. Still, agreed that it’s dopey not to just print them. I also miss the big book with ALL of the timetables included. I spend hours with those plotting grandiose trips–like seeing all 30 major league ballparks by train!

  3. “I have no idea what the obstacles are… [to Internet]”

    Raising my hand as a Systems & Network Architect, with ~30 years in IT … in large part this goes back to now owning the infrastructure, and freight railroads have no interest in Internet access for obvious reasons – or at least none beyond low-bandwidth M2M. If you want consistent connectivity for a vehicle traveling 60+ mp/h you need track-side network facilitation. If you do not own the right-of-way you cannot have track-side network facilities. A lot of track with P2C has fiber connectivity and the network can be built on that available core infrastructure . . . but only if the owner of the infrastructure is interested in the expense.

    1. And raising my hand as anadmitted technology illiterate, how is it that there is internet access (albeit admittedly inconsistent) along the Coast Starlight’s route?

      1. You did mention “admittedly inconsistent”! The current system uses multi-network cellular repeaters. With that technology any portion of your route that is in higher-density area with principally low-rise development you are going to have the ‘illusion’ of consistent connectivity – as there will always be an available channel to subscribe to as the previous channel fades out [the essence of *cell* service]. It works, albeit with latency issues, when you always have multiple overlapping cells – which you will always have in an urbanized area whose development pattern [high-rise, tunnels, etc…] does not impede the natural shape of the cells.

        But you will still have latency issues, which will be noticeable in voice and video streams, as you cut between carriers which can change significantly the packet’s routing.

        Track-side network facilities create a single network, to which the passenger is connected for the duration of the trip.

        It is the nature of TCP/IP that packet loss, which requires retransmission, with is first detecting packets in a sequence have been lost, the sender resends them after not receiving an acknowledgment of receipt [a timeout – which takes time], and the sender may then resend more than is necessary. Also the receiver then receives packets out of order and needs to buffer them until it has a complete message . . . and the whole thing may start over if the receiver abandons the held packets before the sender has a chance to resend the missing parts. The math gets complicated but the short version is that those momentary breaks in connectivity, or just the latency of cutting from one carrier to another, can have a significant ripple effect in terms of the performance experience of the network.

        1. I do wish I could say I under,stand all of that, but I am quite sure there are many out there who do, and on teir behalf, many thanks!

  4. As for the timetables…..Unbelievable!
    That means we all have to be sure and print out our own before leaving,
    plus guard it en-route. It does deserve a comment from PRA.

    1. There are a few of those bills floating around. My car attendant had two and gave me one, which I returned when I left the train in Chicago. Another of our guys got one in the station, but it appeared to be homemade … that is, xeroxed, printed on one side.

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