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.
How depressing to read this. I am booked on the Texas Eagle from Austin arriving in LA 5.25am, and leaving on the Coast Starlight 5 hours later. It never occurred to me (or my UK travel agents) that this would potentially allow insufficient time to make the connection. I am beginning to wonder if my trip of a lifetime is going to turn into a a nightmare! Have delay problems improved or should I really be worried!
if it were me, to be on the safe side, I would have the travel agent try to book the Coast Starlight for the following day (It is a daily train). The downtown Los Angeles area surrounding Union Station is worth spending a day with museums, Olivera Street, etc. That said, should you miss your connection, an Amtrak agent at L.A. station will book you on the next day’s train assuming there is space (I’m assuming you’re in a sleeping car.) That said, and not knowing your travel dates, I would say you would have an 80-85% chance of making your connection. Good luck!
On the other hand, Who doesn’t love free time on the train? You get fed more and it’s more time for your money! For trains like the builder, the arrival time is in the morning so you’d still arrive in the daytime.
Very true. It’s the breakdowns when they lose HEP and/or run out of food that stop being fun real fast. Still, kudos to this bunch of passengers. Thirty-six hours is a helluva long time to be sitting in the middle of nowhere. All it takes is one person to start yelling at some hapless car attendant, ranting about how badly they’re being treated. When the wrong people start taking over, things can go south awfully fast. Clearly, this was an exceptional group. The accounts I’ve seen don’t mention car attendants or the dining car staff, but I’ll bet they all worked hard at keeping things under control.
No chance of a change I fear -I am told I got the last available sleeper on the Coast Starlight leaving on the Monday of Thanksgiving week (and I do need a sleeper as I am travelling solo). Hopefully freight traffic isn’t too heavy the prior Saturday/Sunday during my trip across to LA. Also there looks to be quite a lot of slippage built into the timetable -I couldn’t figure out quite why the train took so long between leaving Austin and arriving/leaving San Antonio.
We witnessed this exact situation on the Empire Builder during a trip last August. The train eastbound had been running several hours late, and our lunch companion on a Thursday afternoon was pretty anxious about making his connection with the Cardinal on to New York. That’s only a two-hour window, and we rolled into Chicago a little over three hours late. We were spending several days in Chicago anyway, so for us it just meant a late dinner.
Agree about the Parlour Car. We were once stuck north of Santa Barbara on the Coast Starlight for 4-5 hours behind a broken freight train. Sitting in the PC and drinking wine while watching the Sun set over the ocean was pretty OK!
Train 11 was stuck near Oakridge, Oregon, which is southeast of Eugene.
Thanks for the clarification.