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What To Do About Late Trains?

A few years ago, I was in the railroad station in the Italian town of Lucca, waiting for a train to Florence. An Italian gentleman sitting on a bench near me shook his head in disgust and pointed to his wristwatch. The train to Florence was eleven minutes late! I remember wondering what he would think if he knew I had four-hour connection in Chicago on my way home and was worried I wouldn’t make it.

First-time Amtrak passengers most likely begin their ride with a simple expectation: that they will arrive at their destination safely and on time. 

But there are times when a train—particularly one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—is running so late that the connection to another train is missed. When that happens, first-time or occasional Amtrak customers are surprised and upset; veteran Amtrak customers may be upset, but they are not surprised.

Amtrak will usually do its best to make things right, but sometimes the fix is worse than the problem. For example, if the connection is missed by just 20 or 30 minutes, Amtrak will sometimes put the incoming passengers on a bus and head off cross-country to intercept their train at a station en route.  Sound like fun?

Or sometimes they will send you to a nearby hotel for the night and put you on the next day’s train. Of course, if that train is sold out, too, you’re screwed. 

And, while I can’t prove this (and Amtrak will probably deny it), passengers holding sleeping car reservations are given more consideration than coach passengers when it comes to compensation for missed connections: a night in a hotel instead of a voucher for a couple of meals in a fast food joint.

The one thing you will know for sure: In the best case scenario, a missed connection will be a serious inconvenience.

Personally, I have a very simple policy when it comes to making connections from one long-distance train to another: I almost always get a hotel room for a night, and continue on my journey the following day. Yes, of course, that adds to the cost of my trip, but I consider it another form of travel insurance.

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