In Praise of Timetables.

When I travel on an Amtrak long-distance train, I need a timetable.

I don’t mean it would be nice to have a timetable . . . or if you happen to see a timetable lying around and have no use for it, I wouldn’t mind if you slipped it under the door of my roomette.

What I mean is I NEED a timetable!

Twenty years ago, when you boarded an Amtrak long-distance train and stepped into your roomette, a timetable would be among the three or four items slipped into the space behind the little pull-out table under the window.

Ten years ago, the car attendant had a small supply of printed timetables and, if you asked, he was happy to give you one. . . as long as you were a sleeping car passenger.

Today there are no timetables. None. Not anywhere. Not even on the Amtrak website. If there were, I could bring up the image, print it and have it with me when I’m on the train.

What’s so important about a timetable? 

I use it to keep track of the train’s progress. For example, if Train 5 (that’s the westbound California Zephyr) arrives in Omaha, Nebraska at 10 minutes past midnight, I’ll know that we’re running an hour-and-a-quarter late.

If I’m having breakfast in the dining car the next morning at 7:55 when we reach Fort Morgan, Colorado, I know we’re now running almost three hours late.

That night, the timetable tells me the distance between Green River and Helper, Utah, is 71 miles. Knowing that, and knowing how long it took the Zephyr to make the run between those towns, I can compute the Zephyr’s average speed at 73 miles-per-hour.

Later the next afternoon, I check the timetable and determine we’ve lost a little more time trailing a slow freight over the Sierras and I’m now projecting we will miss our scheduled arrival time at Emeryville by almost four hours.

Not to worry. I call my brother-in-law on my mobile phone and he says he’s glad I called because he was planning to meet the train at the scheduled arrival time, but he’ll call the restaurant and re-schedule our dinner plans.

See? Timetables are important. Come on, Amtrak! Add a penny to the cost of every ticket sold and bring back timetables!