To Bus or Not to Bus …
I think we all tend to overlook the fact that Amtrak has an extensive bus system that takes people from out-of-the way towns to larger towns and cities with Amtrak stations. Buses are also pressed into service whenever one of the trains cannot make its normal scheduled run.
I confess that I really hate buses. That’s probably because I do so enjoy train travel and if I find myself on a bus, it’s probably because a train was annulled for some reason.
Yesterday I received an email from John Gilbertson of Sparks, NV. He planned out an interesting itinerary from Sparks to Los Angeles and back using mostly Amtrak buses and the San Joaquin trains. The westbound California Zephyr took him through Truckee and over Donner Pass to Sacramento where he boarded a bus headed for Stockton, California. He arrived there in time to catch another San Joaquin train (#714) to Bakersfield, where they connected to another Amtrak bus that took him to Los Angeles. Total elapsed time—Sparks, Nevada, to LA: 13 hours and 45 minutes.
Two days later, John made the return trip, starting with a bus leaving Union Station in L.A. for Bakersfield at 3:00 a.m. (John says in his email that there had been a later bus scheduled to depart LAUS at 8:00 a.m., but it had been cancelled.) Clearly, the kind of guy who looks on the bright side, John noted that they encountered very little traffic at 2:00 a.m.) The return trip went smoothly and he was back in Sparks at 4:00.
The next time you’re on line, check a few of the timetables for the long-distance trains. Specifically, take note of how many cities and towns are served by an Amtrak bus, taking people to a railroad station, sometimes from several hundred miles away. In many ways, it’s the Amtrak bus system that brings mobility to literally million of Americans in almost every part of the country. It’s actually quite impressive.
I’ve taken many “Amtrak” bus connections in my years of traveling on Amtrak. They’ve provided ways to get to places the train doesn’t. But they have their problems also, sometimes connected to late trains. I once had to have a friend drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to get me (I’d already taken a rural bus to Santa Fe) to take me back to Albuquerque to get a bus that had to leave from Albuquerque to Denver because the train was too late to have the bus leave from Raton to Denver. Another time the bus broke down, causing me to miss a train. And now there’s the possible excuse of using bustitution that’s just came up with the SWChief….now with my back pain I can’t sit for more than 3-4 hours without a break laying down…there may be less train travel in my future!
Good God! My bus/horror stories were a stroll in the park compared to yours!
The main risk is they might be tempted to replace more trains by buses. And we know how hard it is to get a train reinstated after it’s gone.
But yes, buses are an ideal complement to trains, and there should be more buses with a guaranteed connection in more stations. Perhaps they could have an arrangement with the bus company to staff the station, too, for a fee.
I would add that a bus is not a bus – that all buses are not the same. In Michigan our Amtrak through-way buses are operated by Indian Trails, and they are “luxury motorcoaches” with big seats, overheard luggage compartments, power outlets, etc… Both my city and the one to the south have Amtrak rail service to Chicago; and the bus back and forth matching the train means we have much for flexible scheduling than relying on just “our own” trains.
Of course, buses are buses, they get hung up in traffic and road construction – – – so one has to learn which buses generally manage to meet their schedule and which ones don’t. But then one could say the same thing of Amtrak trains operating on private right-of-way.
Absolutely right. We–and I mean many passenger rail advocates–undervalue or even overlook the Amtrak buses and what they contribute to the entire operation.