To Connect or Not To Connect?

There’s almost no end to things that can go wrong on a railroad. Locomotives break down; boulders tumble down rocky slopes and block the tracks; several cars on freight train slip off the rails; an earthen embankment gives way and six feet of mud covers the tracks; heat kinks twist the rails out of alignment; sub-zero temperatures freeze switches. The freight railroads have emergency crews and equipment ready to deal with events like these … events that can shut down a main line for hours or even days and cost the railroad big money.

This one was a real mess. It’s a tunnel located near the town of Oakridge, Oregon, on Union Pacific track. The tunnel was undergoing scheduled maintenance at the time of the collapse and luckily no one was injured. It did interrupt service by Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, however.
It’s a fact that a lot can go wrong on a railroad, whether passenger or freight, and I’m always impressed at how quickly the freight railroads find the problem and get it fixed. It makes sense, though, because delays cost money.
It costs the freight railroads money when their trains are late. And that’s true also of Amtrak because it costs money to accommodate affected passengers. and the reality is they lose confidence in Amtrak anyway.
When I’m asked about making connections, my advice is almost always the same: Don’t do it!
Stay overnight and continue your journey the next day, even if Amtrak tells you it’s a “guaranteed connection”. Get off the first train at your scheduled destination, go to a hotel, get a good night’s sleep, then resume your journey on the next day’s train. That’s my best advice and—believe me!—I learned the hard way.