Saturday, January 9, 2010

Train Blog

Travelling by train has become somewhat of a passion for me lately. EVERY time I get on the train, I don’t want to get off. The last trip, coming home from Seattle, I just wanted to stay on the train to LA, and then turn around and come back. If I didn’t have to work, I would have done just that.
This discussion centers on the assumption that I am getting a sleeper car. While the coach seats are more comfortable and roomier than on an airplane, I haven’t travelled coach since I was 18 years old. It is an inexpensive alternative to air travel, and infinitely better than taking the bus (motorcoach).
There are 4 different types of sleeper compartment; they can be found here:
When I am alone, or if 2 people don’t mind being a little cramped, the roomette is fine for most trips. For longer trips (or if I can get a cheap upgrade) I’d go for the Bedroom. Once I got upgraded to the family room.
Typically, I pack a suitcase that I check for all my needs at my destination and I take one carry on type of bag for my train needs. If you want some good tips for travelling by train, go here:
Or here:
Train travel is not cheap. Round trip to the east coast can easily cost you about $2,000 the trip takes about 4 days, one way. But if you calculate accommodations for 8 days (like you are in a hotel), and 24 meals (8 days x 3 meals), factor in transportation, you are right in the ballpark.
Dining on the train can be good or bad. Here is a sample menu:
The meals are pretty good, considering. Side salads are of the ‘crappy’ variety.
As much as I love the train, here is a differing opinion:
There are a couple of things you have to remember when taking the train:
1 – It’ll probably be late
2 – You CANNOT be in a hurry
3 – It’ll probably be late
4 – If you have to make a connection, make sure there is at least 3-5 hours layover. The longer the leg, the more hang time you should build in.
5 – It’ll probably be late.
Remember, Amtrak does not OWN the tracks, Southern Pacific, or Union Pacific, or Burlington Northern does. Freight takes precedent over passengers. It is entirely possible that you may get sidetracked 2-3 hours while a freight train uses the tracks.
Once taking the Sunset Limited:
There were 15-20 people leaving out of Jacksonville, FL for a Caribbean Cruise. The Sunset was 12 hours late; they missed their boat. Too bad, sorry. SOMEONE should have told those people to plan on getting into Florida a day early and just hang out. Instead all these people lost out. Maybe they charted a boat to meet up with their cruise at the first port of call, but who needs that headache. Did I mention that it’ll probably be late? In Amtrak’s defense, their on time rating has much improved lately. You can go here to check that:

There are problems travelling no matter WHAT you mode of transportation. Here is a brief discussion of problems I have had:
1 – Taking the Coast Starlight to LA. I was bringing a tuba to LA for repairs. I was 8 hours late. Getting a rental car at 2 AM is challenging. No sleeper this time. It was only SUPPOSED to take 11 hours.
2 – Sunset Limited CA to Florida. As mentioned above, due to being sidetracked for freight, 12 hours late. Since I planned on a late arrival it was no big deal for us.
3 – Sunset Limited Florida to CA. This leg was fraught with problems:
a. A hurricane came through and broke the tracks (they are STILL not repaired). They (Amtrak) wanted to put us on a bus from Orlando to New Orleans. 18 hours on a firkin’ bus? No thanks! I rented a HUGE American automobile and drove right through the hurricane. We got to New Orleans a day ahead of the train. Had a wonderful dinner and hung out on Bourbon Street. The refund covered the car rental, the hotel and the dinner. I think I ended up with $35.
b. In the middle of Texas, we hit someone on the tracks. HIT SOMEONE! How the hell does a train in the middle of the desert hit you? We had to wait 8 hours for the coroner to get there. They took some time with the investigation and then we were on our way.
c. Said train was SO late, that in Barstow, they put us on a bus to help us catch the Coast Starlight north. We caught up with it in Santa Barbara (I didn’t build lateness into this leg of the trip)
4 – Last April, on my round trip to Rhode Island, I built in a 4-hour lay over, from CA to Chicago. We got in with one minute to spare. They held the Capitol Limited 15 minutes for the 20 of us that had to make the connection. I had already lined up a rental car to meet the Cap In South Bend, or Elkhart, or Waterloo, IN. Also, there was a chance I could have gotten on the Lakeshore, directly to NY.
So, dear readers, when taking the train, you must remember a couple of things:
1 – It’ll probably be late
2 – You CANNOT be in a hurry.
3 – You’ll meet some cool people at dinner, especially if you put out a little effort
4 – bring plenty to read, or your laptop to watch a movie
5 – Build in plenty of hang time if you have to make connections. If you are taking one of the cross country runs, like the CA Zephyr, or the Sunset Limited or the Empire builder and are taking a train to the beginning of the run. Get there early, like maybe the night before.
Did I mention that you would probably be late?