Dealing with the Late Train Issue.

Veteran rail travelers know from personal experience that Amtrak’s long-distance trains often run late— sometimes very late—and rather than take a chance on making a connection, we’ll stay overnight and continue on our way the next day. The fact is, it’s risky to take an Amtrak schedule at face value and assume any given long-distance train will run on time. We know better.

 Let’s say I’m heading east from Seattle to attend a meeting of the Rail Passengers Association in Washington, DC. I’m on the Empire Builder, which is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 3:55 in the afternoon. From Chicago, my journey will continue on the Capitol Limited to Washington, DC. It departs Chicago at 6:40 p.m. That’s a 2 hour, 45 minute window for a connection from a train that will be concluding a 2200-mile journey across two-thirds of the North American continent. If it’s my itinerary, there is no way in hell I’d feel comfortable with that connection. I’d leave Seattle a day earlier and spend a night in a Chicago hotel, taking the Capitol Limited the following evening.
Having peace-of-mind about my connection in Chicago is very nice, but it does come at a cost: one night in a Chicago hotel; a dinner, a breakfast, and a couple of cab rides. Are you thinking it’s not fair to load that additional expense onto an Amtrak customer?
I think you’re absolutely right. Still, in my opinion, it’s better to plan your itinerary allowing for the possibility of a missed connection, rather than having to do it “on the fly”, in which case you may very well be charged as a “no-show” anyway.
And for those who missed it, a couple of days ago, Amtrak’s Train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, became stuck behind a fallen tree in deep snow in a relatively remote area north of Eugene, Oregon. With 183 passengers aboard, the trainwas isolated by downed trees and power lines blocking one of Union Pacific’s main lines, had to wait 36 hours before a Union Pacific locomotive arrived to tow the Amtrak train. I must confess that my first thought upon reading an account of this ordeal was that a Pacific Parlour Car would have made the experience bearable.